Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gotcha' Eve

Four years is 48 months, no matter who you are. But depending on what you're measuring, it can be either the blink of an eye, or an unimaginable stretch of eternity. The funny thing is that sometimes, it's both.

Sometimes, four years is forever. As in, "Oli has always been with us. When was he not part of our family?"

At other times, it seems that four years ago was just yesterday. "Has it really been that long since he first came home?'

Four years ago, I left a post-surgery Jo home with a friend and drove Atticus and Logan to a local shopping mall. I returned home with Atticus, Logan ... and Oliver. And so our new lives began. Logan became a big brother for the first time. I became the mother of four. And Oli? Oli was well and truly GOT

I had dreamed of a dewy-eyed, romantic Gotcha' moment like the ones I had watched over and over on YouTube. I had planned on holding back tears as my child was placed in my arms for the first time. In reality, I was handed a cranky 14 month-old past his nap time and a plastic tub of his toys in the play area in front of a Sears. I hauled the baby back to my Suburban, while my older sons dragged the plastic tub behind me. 

There were no soft-focus still moments, no swelling symphonies. Just the reality of our new family ... and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Happy 4th Gotcha' Day, little man. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Repurposed love

My first sewing project for Seven was a sweet little skirt with little yellow duckies on a pink background. A simple yellow bias tape made up the hem and-- voila!-- an adorable little homemade Easter pretty.

It was so cute that she wore it all the time. Here she is rocking' the skirt in a group photo from July 4th.

As will happen, the skirt was eventually outgrown. It broke my heart to pack it away, so I didn't. (Hey--I'm the Momma. I can do that sort of thing.) Instead, I left it hanging in her closet, where I could visit with its cuteness every once in a while and remember how sweet it was covering her fluffy cloth-diapered bum. At least once a week, I pulled that little skirt out to hold it next to one that currently fit my growing girl. Deep sighs ensued. I may have gotten teary at certain hormonal moments, but I'm not going to say for sure.

A few weeks ago I began the sorting process for the latest batch of outgrown clothes. In the midst of this skirt and that onesie and that adorable dress, I found a denim jumper. Originally a like-new consignment shop find, it had been in serious rotation from the second Seven started walking until the point when Mr. Blandings raised an eyebrow and asked if we were too short on funds to keep our daughter from being a peek-a-boo bottom queen. It looked cute with just about everything. She wore it to the zoo. When she played with play-doh. Outside pushing around her little pink Cozy Coupe. Everywhere.

More fodder for the closet of memories?

Not this time. 

Holding the Duckie Skirt next to the Perfect Jumper, it occurred to me: this was exactly what I'd seen at Osh Kosh: a denim jumper with a patterned skirt attached. Hmmmmmm ...

Maybe I could take that idea and tinker with it? Make it more Seven somehow?

Twenty minutes and 16 inches of pink rickrack later, it was done.

A little longer, a slightly A-line cut, not quite as flouncy as it is funky ... Seven perfect.

Out of the closet and back on my girl. <3

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

30 ways, #7


My kids went to bed one night expecting the next day to bring nothing more unusual than maybe a peek of the NW sunshine that's so elusive this time of the year.

They woke up and found that they could now write on the walls.

Well, not all the walls. Just one. And only with chalk. But still ... pretty amazing stuff.

Leaving little notes for one another. Decorating for guests. Chalk-a-thons. Time with my kids.. laughing, drawing, being close.

Pretty much the best $12 I've ever spent in my house.

Do something completely random in your house--just for you and your kids to enjoy together. Who cares what it looks like or what others think? This is YOUR home ... it belongs to you and the people you love. Pick something that you have space for, can afford, and that makes your heart sing. A book nook. A chalkboard wall. A pin-up board where you leave love notes for one another. Guaranteed to make you fall in love with your little people all over again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Growing up

Sometimes, it just hits me. Jo is growing up. 

I have been here, right alongside her, for everything. Everything. Aside from a few selected events, I've been somewhere in the picture. Maybe standing outside waiting, maybe holding the camera, maybe front and center directing the production ... but I've been there.

And yet, it's still not enough, is it? It's still achingly brief, this childhood. Even the seasons that feel like eternity--parenting the preschooler going through a biting phase, maybe--are so, so short when you step back and drink in the big picture. It sounds cliche. But it is heartbreakingly true: they grow up so fast, and are grown before you know it.

I want another chance to read "Charlotte's Web," to a pig-obsessed Jo with too-big glasses over her grey eyes and too-short bangs bobbing high on her forehead. Another morning of watching my lanky pre-teen mismatch her Chucks. One more go at hearing the sticky-sweet faux English accent she used when playing with her American Girl dolls.

But that Jo is gone. Instead, I have the Jo who reads The Omnivore's Dilemma and pours over every label that goes into the grocery buggy. I get to watch tall, thin Jo as she figures out which skirts go best with which leggings, and which tops look best on her inherited, bustier figure. I get to share a blanket with her on cold winter nights, our feet encased in heavy wool socks and our knees bumping, while we knit by the fire and listen to Mr. Blandings read aloud. 

This is a good place to be. A healthy place. A right now place. Soon enough, I'll be longing even for this as I watch my daughter launch into yet another season of growth and independence. No doubt, I'll feel that these precious moments slipped through my fingers, despite my presence. And that's o.k. I will always have my memories ... and the pictures in my mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mother's Intuition

Mother's intuition is a wonderful thing. I don't know how it works, but I do know why: God loves our children even more than we do. And since He knows them better than we can, every once in a while He throws us a tip in the form of a nudge, an inkling, or just a gnawing something that won't let go until we nail it down.
One of four felt strawberries.

Fourteen years of mothering has taught me not to let go of those little somethings. Fourteen years of parenting has taught me that doctors, family members, and professionals don't and can't hear from the Lord in the same way that I do regarding my children.

So really, it wasn't a shock when the initial testing we had done regarding some slightly funky stuff with Seven came back a little cloudy. And it wasn't too strange to me when the next round of tests brought some odd news. See, I've felt in my gut since forever, that somehow this amazingly strong, sweet, bright little girl had some hint of fragility. I couldn't put a finger on it. And I certainly couldn't name it. But there it was. Mother's intuition. 

Seven is allergic to (wait for it) plastic. Yes, plastic. That most ubiquitous of materials, the most versatile component, that kid-friendly everything: plastic. 

Felt cookies.
We don't yet know which kinds specifically, or what exactly this means. All we know is that the less of it we can manage to have in our home, the healthier our little girl will be. Which is, of course, no small task. Sippy cups. Action figures. Doll faces. Shatter-proof dishes. The high chair.   All plastic. 

We started a sweep this week. All non-Seven friendly toys have been escorted upstairs, to the boys' room. I didn't have the heart to force Oli to give up his Little People collection, or to make Mani abandon his love of Duplos. Instead, we're reworking how we use our space. Bedrooms have historically been sleep quarters and little else around here, but that's changing as we ask ourselves how we can give the other kids access to the toys they adore and still keep Seven breathing happy.

Felt watermelon.
A sweet family gave us an adorable, all-wood booster chair that puts Seven right at the table with us. We've been on the hunt for a safe travel cup for our girly, and have started teaching her to drink only from a regular glass at home. I've been on a felt food rampage, replacing the bucket of plastic play food that was, until it was suddenly off-limits, was in constant use around here from sun-up to sun-down.

We're learning. Adapting. Figuring things out. Because that's what we do, isn't it? Life throws us a curveball and we, the clay jars that have been entrusted to nurture and care for these precious souls, we get on with it. We absorb the new norm and put our foot to the path, knowing that God saw all this coming ... and cared enough to let us in on part of the story.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Long Haul

I started potty training Oliver in February of 2009. His second birthday had been two months before, he seemed to be responsive to my attempts to sit him on the potty and, well ... he was already two months older than anyone else I'd ever potty trained before. 

While it was obvious that Oli wasn't developing at the same rate a neurotypical child would progress, the word "delayed" was still being used as a catch-all to explain his inability to function at the level that his age suggested. It was a full year into his inclusion in our family, and I was beginning to suspect that "delayed" didn't quite sum it all up. But truly, I was still in the dark and just plugging along with the notion that at some point, he'd catch up to his peers and his rough start would be nothing but a sad memory.

So I did what had worked so well in the past. I found a couple of t-shirts that skimmed his knees, put a potty seat in the bathroom, prepared myself to spend many quality hours reading children's literature in the john, and stripped his bottom half nekkid.

Right away, it was obvious that while Oli was more than willing to pee on the potty, he was also completely clueless about the fact that he should rearrange his habits to begin peeing there exclusively. Being totally up front and honest here, I'll say that this was a bit of a shock to me. I'd already trained 3 kids, and only one of them had had more than a handful of accidents once the diapers were gone. Go ahead and hate me, call me a liar, or quit following this blog, but it's true. I was pretty smug about it at the time ("Most of mine have quit having accidents after the first week. A month seems like a really long time.") but if you make it to the end of this post, you'll see that I no longer feel that sure of myself and my training prowess.

My most difficult trainee to date had been my son who had sensory issues, so I shifted to the tactics that had helped him make the connection. No more "Buck Rogers" as we call it in our house. Oli got some thin cotton undies for his bum, and I waited to see how long it would take for him to connect the dots that so clearly spelled out pee=wet, wet=uncomfortable, uncomfortable=I should have gone to the potty.

Four months later, we were still waiting. And you know, it was frustrating. I was playing by the same rules that had worked so effectively three times. Why wasn't the whole thing "taking"?

Meanwhile, Manolin crossed his first birthday marker. We started making motions to move to Nepal. Life was marching on ... and I still had a boy in diapers. 

Things began to feel tense. Oli was pooping in his underwear four and five times a day. He urinated constantly--not trickles, but full-on, I've-been-holding-this-but-now-I-will-let-it-go floods. My house started to smell like a public restroom. Worst of all, the bulk of my interactions with Oli felt like they revolved around pottying. "Are you dry?" "Do you need to go to the potty?" "Let's go read a book in the potty."

It was that fall, after 6 solid months of seeing absolutely no progress whatsoever, that I gave up. With a heaving sigh of what I'll readily admit was relief, I violated the cardinal rule that had served me so well with all of the other kids: Thou shalt not put a potty training kiddo back in diapers. Ever. Not even for an hour.

But I did it. I endured my own guilt, and later--as he hit his third and then fourth birthdays still wearing diapers--I began to endure the judgment of others. Family members hinted that if I weren't so busy with the other children, I would take the time to train him. Moms at the Y offered advice about what had worked for their difficult to train toddlers. Helpers in church childcare pointed out that he was the only one in his class not yet able to use the potty. 

Mani learned to use the potty six weeks before his second birthday. It took him three days. He had no more than three accidents during those days, and he was done. That was it. No fanfare, no drama ... just one more kiddo out of diapers.

Which was, of course, bittersweet. Because Oli was still cluelessly pottying in his dipe. And yet here was Mani--growing up and growing ahead of his big brother in so many ways.

Right around this time, I had the blessing of meeting a fellow special needs parent who was unabashedly frank with me regarding her experience in helping her children learn to use the potty. As a long-time foster parent and adoptive mom of many cognitively challenged children, she was a treasure trove of tips and comfort. There was no firm time frame, she assured me, but they had all gotten there eventually. Then she added, "I've never had a special kiddo start using the toilet before age 5, though. I don't know why, but that's just been how it is in our house."

I greedily snapped this little bit of information up to refer back to when the disapproval--or pity-- of others seemed especially hurtful. It became something of my security blanket. "He's not even 5! Let it go!" 

On December 1 f this past year, Oli hit the magic age. And like the folks waiting for the implosion that the dawning of the year 2000 was supposed to bring, Mr. Blandings and I held our breath ... then looked around, waiting for the punch line.

Because nothing happened. Nothing. If anything, Oli seemed to get worse--backtracking from pooping on the potty more often than not to actually waiting until we had installed a fresh nappy on his bum to produce an especially disgusting mess for us to change.

And then, just as we settled back in to the status quo, a light switch was thrown.

For no reason, no reason at all, Oli quit pooping in his pants. Just quit. Even better--he started to tell us that he had to go.

Now, this was news. Never, ever, in all those years of escorting him to the toilet, had he ever indicated a need. It had always been Mr. Blandings and I who were actually potty trained, and while we knew it, we figured it was better than just letting him think it was o.k. to use his pants at will. 

But now--now he was asking to go! And then doing the deed! We were ecstatic.

In January, things were looking good enough for me to venture a hope. Should I try it? Put him in underwear? Bite the bullet? With my husband as cheerleader, I did it. Miraculously, he was relatively accident-free within days. Two weeks in, and he was dry all day, every day, with only the occasional accident.

And now, after five weeks, I am proud to say that my son is finally potty trained! Oli is 5 years and two months old, and yes, he seems to be pretty proud of himself. He likes his new undies, and he's rather fond of the additional book time that he gets from mom when he rushes to sit on the potty. 

And me? Well ... I'm relieved. I'm thankful. And I'm a wiser woman. I feel bad for assuming that Oli could do something that clearly he wasn't ready for, but I'm at least happy that we're not the high-pressure trainer type parents who punish for accidents. I regret the amount of time I put into hurrying Oli along, and have nothing to show for it. But maybe there's some redemption in this story, after all. I'm not saying that all special needs kiddos will train around their fifth birthday. I'm not saying that there's one sure way to even get the job done. But I am saying that patience, perseverance, and grace go a long way to not centering your relationship with your child around something that truly is as mundane as knowing where to put your poop. Letting go of my preconceived notion of when the time was right helped to tear down the wall that I had unknowingly been building with my own hands.

 Oli trained when Oli was able. I hope I remember this when he tackles counting, or reading, or learning to swim. Oli does what he can, when he can. My job is just to be the cheerleading support system that helps him get there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homeschooled teens

Please don't feel sorry for my homeschooled teenager. 

I don't know why I even have to say this, but I do: she's not pining away for the chance to hang out with her friends at the bus stop, mourning the loss of a homecoming date, or chomping at the bit to be on the school's Quiz Bowl team.  Anyway, even if she was ... she could actually do most of those things and still be home schooled. Just so you know.

But the fact is, she's not. She's fine. She's happy. She likes her life the way it is. Go ahead and ask her yourself ... just know that you won't be the first to interrogate her on what it's like to be a teenager who doesn't attend a brick and mortar school.

At 14, Jo's a bit of an anomaly around here. Many of our former companions on the homeschool journey have enrolled their teens in public school. Others have yet to cross the invisible but tangible bridge between "little kid" and "big kid" and are still in the early years of their homeschooling. And still others never drank the kool-aid and bought into the homeschooling gig in the first place.

Whereas I rarely encounter many curious citizens when I'm out and about with my younger brood during school hours these days, Jo draws more attention. Store clerks seem to eye her somewhat suspiciously, as if teens skipping school normally head into the local craft store to buy embroidery floss for fun. Fellow shoppers and other bystanders seem unconcerned that my elementary-aged kids are missing out on the joys of public education, but something about a teenager not attending a traditional high school seems like an affront.

Some days, it feels like we've journeyed back a decade, into the era when it wasn't unusual at all for a total stranger to corner me as I tried to decide between Fujis, Braeburns, Cameos, or Honeycrisps and ask why my kids weren't in school. 

The difference is this time around, many of the questions are directed at Jo. 

"School out today?" the lady adjusting my glasses asked my daughter.

"No. I'm homeschooled," she answered.

"Oh my gosh, my daughter would hate that. She loves to be around people," volunteered the technician.

"Holy cow, you did not just imply that the girl you've just interacted with--the one who you've seen talking to at least a half dozen people since we got here-- isn't around people?" I wanted to say. But I didn't. Nice of me, wasn't it?

"Me, too. That's what I like about homeschooling," was Jo's reply. And the tech looked ... well, confused.

Some people ask her if she's on any sports teams. (She's not.) Others ask if she has a job. (She doesn't.) Still others want to know if she's ever visited a high school building to, you know, just try it out

"Oh, yeah. My mom and I help judge the senior applications for our city's library scholarship every year. We go down there once a year on a school day. I like the fact that I have time to do that stuff since I'm not in a classroom all day."


Jo isn't your typical teenager. She doesn't go to class from 730 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. She doesn't follow the traditional subject load. She isn't on the Debate Team, into cheerleading, or taking an art class. While none of that is bad stuff, it just isn't our stuff. And we--Mr. Blandings, Jo, and I-- are o.k. with that.

Because what the person assuming that Jo is missing out doesn't know--what he or she can't understand--is that homeschooling a teen has a richness that none of us expected. The amazing experiences that the flexibility of homeschooling have afforded her just keep getting better and better, year after year. She's built a house in Tijuana, castrated sheep on a working farm, given a few phonics lessons to her younger brothers, witnessed the birth of a baby, become friends with children who call Mexico, Thailand, England, Burma, and Nepal home, learned to navigate public transportation routes with her dad, started her own business sewing & selling quilted handbags, shopped at a market in Hong Kong, exhausted just about every source of information on the Titanic, ran the cash register at a used book sale, repurposed clothes, raised funds for her travels, been a Mother's Helper, read through the Bible, sold items at craft sales, participated in spelling bees, practiced animal husbandry, competed on quiz teams, designed costumes, made a movie or two. It doesn't sound like a boring, dry existence to me. It doesn't sound like something to pity.

What it sounds like, to my clearly biased ears, is an incredible launch pad. A beginning that opens up onto a veranda of possibility that is almost endless. Could Jo have done all these things while enrolled in public school? Sure. With some finagling, the demands of a public school setting could have been satisfied and room made for the self-exploration and spirit of discovery that Jo has enjoyed. I'm not saying it can't happen. But I am saying that the one thing--the thing Jo has-- is no less real, or enjoyable, or beautiful than the experience common to most teenagers. It may be different. It may not be for everyone. But it is not less.

So please, go ahead and ask Jo if she likes being homeschooled. Ask her if she wants to keep doing it. Ask her if she regrets not going away to school every day. But please ... do her the honor of actually listening to the answer. You might be surprised at what you hear.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

30 ways, #6


I prayed for a baby brother for as long as I could remember. When I was 7, God answered.

If you're anything like me, you love flipping through photos of your children as babies. It's just something you do from time to time to clear out any emotional backlog that you might have accumulated since the last time you realized that life was So you sit down, immerse yourself in images of their sweet, soft babyness, and relive every stinking new tooth, every cute outfit, every funny bath time shampoo 'do.

To steal a line from The Three Amigos, you know your children like you know your own smell. 

And they know you, too. Well ... they know the NOW you. The pre-baby you? The you who fell in love with their Daddy? The you who learned to ride a two-wheeler? The you who once collected ceramic unicorns and cried when your baby brother broke your favorite purple glitter one playing with his stupid --- oh, wait. A little too real. Sorry. :-)

Anyhow, your kids know the 2012 version of you. They may even recall the 2000 version of you, if they're old enough. But they sure as shootin' don't know much about the you that existed before. Guess what? They're missing out.

And so are you.

Gather up some props (photos, the remnants of that special collection, the dried rose your beloved gave you on your first date) and introduce your kids to their mother in a whole new way. It's amazing how this simple exercise binds you to your children in a whole new way.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Allergy-friendly, toddler-pleasin' breakfast

Breakfast really ought to be easier than it is. It's the first meal of the day. The kitchen is clean. Just about anything sounds good. And yet ...

Around here, it's usually the one meal of the day that makes me want to run and hide. 

First off, we've got the ravenous littles factor. What is it about children under the age of 6 and their inability to be nice or say something without a whine until they've had something to eat? I've got three in that season right now and boy, it's no fun at all. It requires something quick, something that can be prepared by one of the older kids if I am called away to deal with a mini-emergency ("Momma! Seven unrolled the whole roll of toilet paper! Silly baby!"), and something that will make them want to actually, you know ... eat it.

Second is the "real meal" requirement. Mr. Blandings often pushes lunch until quite late in the day so that he can use his lunch break to work out. That means any breakfast I serve needs to be substantial enough to carry him through a morning that stretches into early afternoon. 

And finally, there's the allergy issue. Oli is allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy related to cows, and chicken eggs. Seven breaks out in a rash when she has cow cheese or milk. Usually, this means two separate breakfasts. Some days, though, I just can't pull it off. After whipping up a half dozen omelets made to order, the last thing I want to do is pull on another hat and play allergy short-order cook.

Which is why I thank the Lord above for oatmeal. We eat a lot of oatmeal. It's cheap. It's filling. It can be tweaked to make just about everyone happy. And no one in our house is allergic to it! Woot!

With that in mind, I thought I'd share the easiest, yummiest oatmeal recipe I have. It's a tinkered version of one that I picked up a while back. Try it. Adapt it. Make it your own. And enjoy a morning made that much easier by a breakfast that almost makes itself!

Oatmeal and Peaches 

1 quart peaches canned in light syrup (or 1 29 oz. can of peaches)
2 c. Old Fashioned oats
.5 c. brown sugar
dash cinnamon

Spray a 9x13 glass dish, and dump entire contents of peach jar in the bottom. Mix oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Pour on top of peaches. Gently stir until most oats are wet. Bake in oven at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes or until oats are softened and appear done.

A couple of notes: I have tried backing off on the brown sugar, but my kiddos don't like it without plenty of sweetness. Also, I double this recipe, but find that it turns out better if I make two separate pans rather than simply doubling the amounts and baking them together. Go figure.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

30 ways, #5


No, really. Let them eat cake.

For breakfast.

Seriously--if you want to remember exactly why you signed up for this mothering gig ....

If you want to be somebody's hero ...

If you want to sit down to a meal where the accolades flow forth like a fountain ...

Let them eat cake for breakfast. Bake it the night before. Pull it out with a flourish after making normal morning preparations. Watch their eyes pop. Then enjoy the (sugar-fueled) ride.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The very bad blogger

You know that blog that's never updated? The one that you follow a link to, then see that the most recent post is more than a couple of months old?

That one?

Well, sadly, I'm quickly becoming that blogger. 

I don't want to be. I have plenty of fodder rolling around in my head, just waiting to make it onto the blog, and yet ...

The hours in the day are so consumed with well, life.

I'm not apologizing, because frankly, life is what it's all about. Blogging is extra. Gabbing with Bee on the phone, sewing a sweet little apron with Jo, watching Atticus' robot perform its most recent program, listening to Logan's verses, making allergy-free cookies for Oli, answering Mani's zillionth question of the day, interpreting Seven's latest words for the world at large ... that's what I have for this moment. 

The blog will always be here. 

The bairns, though ... they are moving at the speed of light. And I'm determined to keep up with 'em.

So be patient with me, if you've got it in you. I'll post as I'm able, promise!

And hey, if you didn't realize that my posts has crawled to a halt, that's fine, too. :-) I'm not offended!