Discouragement and Humility in Motherhood

We’ve been homebound a lot lately with the sicknesses and the car troubles and the cold weather.  (I am not a fan of leaving the house with four children in car seats in sub-zero wind chill!) Plus my husband has been working a lot of overtime.  I’ve had plenty of time to wander around the house surveying the state of the family.

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I’ve been thinking about how difficult it can be right now for me to maintain a level of cheer throughout the days.  It seems particularly easy to slide into discouragement and I think one of the reasons is that when you are home alone with the kids all of the time, you spend your days pretty much marinating in your own weaknesses.  The thing about being a mom is that you have an incredible and terrifying amount of power over your environment.  When the house is a mess, who do you blame?  Yourself.  When the meals aren’t working, who do you blame?  Yourself.  When the kids aren’t receiving the level of enrichment you think they need, who do you blame?  Yourself!

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The kicker is — as the person in charge, you really are the one responsible!  You can’t pass the buck.  The house is a mess because you aren’t disciplined and you aren’t consistent with your kids.  The meals aren’t working because you didn’t meal plan or you half-assed the grocery shopping trip.  The kids aren’t getting the best education/etc. because you aren’t giving it to them.  Yes, you have a bunch of little humans on your hands with their own tendencies toward chaos, but you are the one who teaches them to rise above their base impulses.  So much of what they do is rooted in the world you provide for them. The things you allow them to do. The food you feed them.  The way you order their days.

You have an overwhelming amount of control.

And an overwhelming amount of human weakness to contend with.  For example, I am not a good manager.  I have the management abilities of a fruit fly.  Along with the discipline of said fly!  I don’t struggle with being too strict, with obsessing about order and expecting too much of the kids.  I struggle with an inability to set the bar high enough and it shows in every aspect of our life.  I live in the ramifications of that weakness every moment of the day and that can be incredibly humbling.

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Humility is good, of course.  Vital.  But true humility is about knowing who you are in light of who God is.  Not losing sight of your value by defining yourself by your own inabilities.  The latter is such a temptation when you are a stay at home mom.

My Father’s Father

2186_1083401291669_3589_nThe other day as my dad affixed a new counter to my basement wall and I sat on the stairs nearby trying not to puke from the most recent stomach bug, I asked him to tell me what his dad, Grandpa, was like.

I don’t ever remember meeting my paternal grandfather and honestly I don’t even know what year he died.  I know I was born by then but that’s about it.  I’ve seen pictures of my grandfather as a man and can envision him in my head as an old man — a smallish person like my own father in some ways but with less hair and fleshier cheeks and large rimmed glasses — but up until now I don’t know that I’ve ever thought much about him.

“You know, Grandpa lived through the Great Depression,” my dad said.  “And that colored the way he lived his life.  He never went to school past maybe third grade and work was hard to find to support my family.”

My dad was the sixth of seven kids. (I am the sixth of his seven.)  There were only two girls in his family, the first two, and the oldest died as child.  I have seen a black and white photo of her, my Aunt Phyllis, as a baby and she had this incredible curly hair around her sweet doll face.  Dad said she walked maybe three miles home from school on the day she fell ill with spinal meningitis and when the doctor arrived, was immediately quarantined.  My grandfather wasn’t allowed to see her that night when he came home from work and he never saw her alive again.

“Grandpa was a maintenance man at a foundry.  When he walked in the door at the end of the day, all you could see of his flesh was the skin around his eyes and the rest of him was covered in black grime.  We never really knew what he was like as kids because he was exhausted from the long hard hours.  He would fall asleep in church on Sunday.  It wasn’t until we were older that we found out what he was really like.  He was funny! And fun to be with!”

As my father told me this, my mind flew to my grandma.  What was it like for her?  To lose her precious firstborn with the curly hair?  To watch her husband work himself to death?  To run the house — four boys! — in his absence?

I was in first grade the year my grandmother died.  We all drove to Minnesota in the full-sized white Dodge van with the blue stripe down the side.  They sang “The King of Love My Shepard Is” at her funeral.  For as long as I can remember, my father has choked through the words of that song and I already know we will be singing it at his funeral.  I will probably never be able to sing it without crying after that.

“Grandpa ran circles around your dad when he came out to help us build the house when you were a baby,” my mom chimed in.  “He could really work.”

“When he retired from the foundry, he got a part-time job,” my dad said.  “The place he worked had a port-a-potty that had been vandalized, tipped over by teenagers or something, and the boss told him to clean it.”  Dad laughed as he told the story. “My father went out there and took one look at that toilet covered in crap and he went back to his boss and told him he could take that job and shove it!”

“His whole life, every job he ever had, he had wanted to say that to his boss but he never could because he was uneducated and work was hard to come by and he had a big family to feed.  Until that day with the port-a-potty.  He finally got to say it.”

My mom has boxes of pictures and memorabilia from her own parents and I know a great deal of her history.  But not my dad.  There were not many physical objects  to pass along to the sixth child.  It’s all tucked away in memories.  Memories that my father doesn’t think to tell and I don’t think to ask about.  That needs to change.

I Am Not A Writer! What A Relief.

This may sound silly, but the other day I read a post on writing — on who is a writer, I guess — and I had this great realization that I am not “a writer”!  I don’t know why I care.  Would you care to know this about yourself?

Going through high school and college there were not a lot of things that I could do particularly well and writing seemed to be one of them.  When I started my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts college, I wasn’t allowed to be “undecided” so I listed my major as English with a writing concentration and my advisor basically signed a blank course list each semester and told me to pick whatever I wanted because I planned to transfer after two years to a design program.  Like all freshman, I took writing courses and I remember very clearly a paper that I wrote in which my professor (incidentally, my advisor) wrote “Very Good.  Get a Masters in English writing.”  I thought about that comment now and again through the years and though I know without a shadow of a doubt that I could never, ever, ever, have survived trying to earn my keep as a writer, I have wondered if maybe deep down inside I have the untapped heart of a writer.

Nope. I don’t.  Phew.

Sometimes it feels good to just items off of the list of things you maybe could or should be doing with yourself.  I like to write and I think it helps me to clear my head.  And I like to blog and share myself.  I will keep writing as the fancy strikes, but somehow with this realization that I don’t really fit the mold of a writer, I feel free of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  Inner expectations to be able to communicate through writing in ways that maybe I’m not capable of?  Who knows?!  All I know is that I feel better about the whole thing.  Should I write with fewer grammatical mistakes?  Probably.  Am I a writer?  No.  Do I claim to be?  No!

Therefore, I am exempt from undo blog scrutiny.  Or something.

Interestingly, I have been listening to the “Read Aloud Revival” podcasts (they really are fascinating and great listening for the four o’clock crazy hour) and I think that apart from maybe a natural shyness that makes me gravitate toward communicating on paper, any proficiency I have for writing came from being read to throughout my life and my own reading. (Oh, and a solid education!  Thanks Mom!)  Several of the podcast mention the vital importance of hearing good writing in order to become a better communicator.  When you listen to good writing, even if it is over your head developmentally, you internalize what good writing should sound like and that teaches you better communication all around.  That’s one of the reasons you should read to older children (teens, no less) — because they will continue to internalize even more complex uses of language as they hear higher level literature.  Also, when people (kids and adults alike) read to themselves, they tend to skip over things they don’t understand or read too fast and not fully digest the writer’s use of language.  Like I said, interesting stuff.

When we started homeschooling, my mom read to us for about a half hour every morning while we drank hot chocolate and cross-stitched.  Good memories.

Gaaaa.  12:22 a.m.  Screaming baby.  Gotta post and run!

Little Things Going On

I think it would be fun to write down one fact about each of my children each day.  What a wonderful archive of silly information I could amass by ledgering faithfully about them over the course of their little years.

Doing it would take a) remembering, and b) discipline; and we all know how poorly I excel in both of those areas.  But for today, here we go:

Roo:  Roo likes to hum.  She hums quite a bit.

ZouZou:  ZouZou usually narrates their imaginary play.  She tells Roo “Now you say…” when they are acting out characters and Roo goes ahead and repeats exactly what Z told her to say.

Jack:  Jack likes that Lego Ninjago show on Netflix.  Or as we like to call it, “Ninja Go.”

Evie: She says “Da dooo” which means “Thank you.” And “Da” which means yes.

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Jack has a virus of some sort.  I would peg it as a mild rendition of what ZouZou had a couple of years ago, which was gastroenteritis.  Basically, he’s puking and has diarrhea but no fever to speak of.  It started yesterday morning and continues on, neither better nor significantly worse.  Tomorrow we had planned to go on a Fire Station tour with our homeschool group and Thursday I had signed us up for the big Valentine’s Day shin dig.  Needless to say, this was not the ideal week for him to be coming down with something quarantine-worthy.

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Mr. S. stayed home from work today due to a mild version of whatever it is Jack has and by about 7:30 p.m. said something along these lines:

I didn’t really accomplish anything today.  I mean I did — I cleaned the kitchen and watched the kids and stuff — but I don’t have anything to show for it.  My head is going nuts.  I feel like I wasted the day.

Yes.  My life.  Everyday.  Though I don’t really feel like the day is wasted, just spent doing humble, mundane, and occasionally futile tasks.

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We haven’t seen my parents since I came to visit them in Michigan in November while Mr. S. was in NYC for work for a week.  We had the opportunity to go see them the four-day-weekend after Christmas but got hit by that flu virus and decided to forego travel.

Anyway, they are hoping to come visit this weekend if the weather holds out.   Our weather has been mild, mild, mild.  Their weather, about four hours north, not so much!

If they can come, they are bringing with them cabinets for my “craft area” in the basement and a counter.  My parents, my father in particular, is something of a professional cheap-thing-finder and enjoys frequenting his local recycle stores and used material places.  When I first started thinking about my basement and decided I would like some upper cabinets, I immediately told my parents to be on the lookout and was NOT disappointed.

After specifying that I wanted some paintable cabinetry to cover six feet of wall space, they look around and sure enough, a week later, my mom sent me these pictures:

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“There are two of them.  They are 36″ wide and the wood is unfinished.  They each have one shelf but Dad can cut another one if you want.”  Oh, and they were $10 each, she said.

They had a harder time locating a counter, but are bringing along something that they got for $5 that might work.

Total awesomeness.

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Sadly, we painted the basement and it is all shades of — well, maybe ONE shade of — awful.  We wanted a neutral earthy color, like a light taupe-grayish color that didn’t read yellow-ish because in theory we aren’t fans of buttery neutrals.  But we got it too dark and clay-ish colored and now the room looks like a prison for children.  Mr. S. suggests that we could simply paint some nice “faux bars” to round out the cell-block theme!  Heck, why not?!

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I should go, but before I depart, I better add a picture of ZouZou.  Wouldn’t want her to be left out!

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Where I’ve Been?

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I noticed that in my “posts” file for the last few months there were a whole ton of drafts but very few published words.  I don’t know what caused the shift, but sometime around the end of last year I started asking myself “why are you writing this?”  or “what is the message you are hoping to get across?” when I looked over whatever it was I wrote.  And I never liked the answer.  I would sit down and write a vent and “have nothing good to say” and decide to publish nothing at all.  I couldn’t find any inspiration for much of anything else and my sense of humor abandoned me.  I didn’t want to hang out at Slice, or I felt like I couldn’t.

Some time has past now and I guess I am okay with sharing that I was going through a period of depression throughout the fall and early winter — during all of those months when I mostly filled my “drafts” folder.  It wasn’t awful enough that it warranted professional help, it was just a period of feeling out of sorts with my situation.  I felt confused. Lonely. Unsatisfied in my vocation.  Lacking in joy.

It certainly did not help that the fall was incredibly rainy and cloudy!  I don’t have seasonal affective disorder, but gosh, it was really a dark fall.

Anyway, December was a crazy month in many ways and once the haze cleared come January, I looked around and realized part of the problem was that I didn’t see enough of myself in my life.  In my surroundings.  In my pattern of living.  I had been doing really well at keeping the house “clean” at the end of the year, but essentially I had been spending weeks doing nothing but wandering around the house tidying up.  And seriously, that’s no way to live.  I began sewing again and blogging about it at my sewing blog.  I initiated a basement reno and we are painting the toy room and planning to re-carpet it once the painting is done.  I have plans for a crafting/art area for the kids along one wall and am assembling materials for that.  These projects are definitely giving me pleasant things to occupy my thoughts and hands and that is making such a difference!  There are still some internal struggles, but there always have been and always will be and I’m not worried about that.  I’m just happy to be feeling more hopeful and to have the spring ahead and some of the low feelings past.

There are still some challenges to work through in the new year.  Starting the first week of January, my husband went back to his old 10-7 p.m. shift and he ends up working overtime almost every night.  Though we are used to life like this after our many different schedules, it is set-back I don’t much appreciate and still need to regroup mentally.  I see him out of this shift by summertime, but that doesn’t make it anymore pleasant at the moment.  However, despite this new/old schedule and the myriad of ways it negatively affects our family life, I am still feeling better than the end of last year and am thankful for that!

I don’t know how much I will be blogging, but most likely it will be more.  Maybe at least a “New Twigs” post will come around once the toy room is in place.

I know there aren’t too many reading at Slice these days and I just want to thank whomever is left for sticking with me ;).

~ Liz

January! Birthdays!

Oh gosh, today is Evie’s birthday.  Yes.  Evie!  She is one.

Remember that day when she was born?  If not, read here.

We are celebrating on Monday.  After eating Jack’s birthday cake for the last three days, more cake sounded kind of yucky and we thought we’d take advantage of her blissful little one-year-old ignorance and pretend that Monday is her birthday instead.  Mr. S. has the day off and that would be a lovely end to our three day weekend, though the older kids are not as excited about the arrangement.

I’m conflicted about getting her birthday presents this year since I can honestly think of nothing she would need or want!  I even spent a portion of today at toy stores and left empty-handed because I just couldn’t stomach buying for the sake of buying when we have so many things for kiddos to play with already.

Perhaps there is something personalized I could find for her.  A keepsake?

On Wednesday, we celebrated Jack’s 3rd birthday.  Three is fun because they know what is going on more than when they are two.  For breakfast we got him Dunkin’ Donuts because he loves donuts.  It’s winter here as you all well know and I couldn’t think of anything for us to do out of the house that he would be old enough to participate in — that wouldn’t also involve me having a mental breakdown (watching four children alone in public is not for the faint of heart) — so we hung out at home.  But Mr. S. took off after lunch and the neighbor’s grandkids and their mom stopped by so we had company for the evening and it was nice. My apologies for no photos!  I need to download them to the computer.

For the most part things have been quiet here in the Sparrow house since we got over that awful flu we had at Christmas.  (Well except for the one quick trip to the ER the first week of this month for Jack — to make sure that he hadn’t drank cough syrup.  He hadn’t.)  We are all kind of bored, I guess.  It’s winter.

We did get a piano which is very exciting.  Doesn’t every family need a piano?  In the fall my neighbor offered it to us and after Christmas she insisted that she still wanted us to take it.  It was much too heavy to us to maneuver and we ended up hiring a moving company to trek it from her house to ours.

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It was made for us ;).  There were not a lot of places for us to put it!

Anyway, I will wrap up this post.  My apologies for the incompleteness and abrupt ending but I honestly don’t feel like blogging.  It’s weird.  I don’t want to share the things that would make writing therapeutic, and writing about everything else sounds like work.

Maybe that will change one of these days.  I hope so.

The Apocalypse?

Hyperbole much?

I guess it is the flu. I don’t even know.  Think of the most miserable cold, add in the occasional vomit, a red-alert temperature or two, and you will have described this house since last Thursday. Miraculously, my husband hasn’t caught anything despite the fact that there are no doubt germs on EVERY SINGLE surface in the house.  It’s almost comical.  Sadly, I was not fortunate enough to stay healthy and have had (at the very least) a mean cough for quite a while.  Last night after Mr. S. had been gone to work and then the funeral and came home at 8:30 p.m. (a very long day for me), I took my temperature and brandished the thermometer victoriously in the air.  “I have a temperature!  Proof that I am sick!”  My husband just shook his head at me.  No one would ever have guessed by the glossy eyes and chills.

Evie and I were up with a merciless cough at the crack of dawn today.  We both fell back asleep, Mr. S. eventually went to work, and Jack woke up late.  The kid came into the living room, sat in the chair for five minutes, and then puked all over everywhere for no apparent reason.  He doesn’t even have a fever.  It’s just that kind of week.  The older girls are pretty much doing fine now, other than runny noses and a cough for ZouZou.  I’m giving them free range to take care of themselves however they see fit and so far they’ve played five million hours of Minecraft.  Jack doesn’t have a fever anymore which is a relief, but he’s still whiny and has been taking late naps which have killed bedtime.  He was up until 11:00 p.m. last night, and the night before.

It’s awful, awful, awful.  And someone is crying so I have to go.

Merry Christmas to all?

A Terrible Loss, Please Pray

Dear Friends,

Please pray for the repose of the soul of my dear neighbor who took his life this week.  And plead grace for his wife and his young teenage son.  I know that you are praying people and I ask that you bathe this entire situation in prayer.  Yes, these are the neighbors that I have spoken of here, that we have really been blessed to have in our lives from the moment we met them.  My heart breaks for his wife who found him in their home last night.  This is difficult to process on many different levels.

In this moment before Christmas as I contemplate the coming of the Light of the World, God made man, Adonai, I am reminded of the great darkness that remains here on Earth.  Of broken, fallen, hurting mankind.  And of the unfathomable depth of God’s love. For the darkness is not dark to Him.  He runs to the darkest places.  We are never alone.  He was there, He is there in the darkest places.

Lord have mercy!

~ Liz

Where to start?

Dare I break the silence on this here blog?

Have I mentioned how much easier it was to blog when there were fewer children and more time?  Back in the day, I could write a whole post on the woes of having a child who stopped napping and close the computer with a happy feeling of accomplishment.  Mission fulfilled.  The important details of life — covered.  Go me.  But now?  Not so much.  I don’t know where to start.  Should I write about Jack’s renewed interesting in throwing things and biting?  Should I expound on the glories of Evie’s new tooth and first word? (It’s “up,” by the way.) Should I wax on about ZouZou’s and Roo’s response to their new Screen Nazi mom?  Or tell the story of that one time ZouZou and I ended up with a dead battery at the grocery store at 9 p.m.?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know how to write about life anymore in a way that is meaningful to both me and you.

It kind of stinks.

Sorry.

10 Things About Jack

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1.  He is really great about using his manner words and the way he says “Thank you Mommy!” unprompted, melts my heart.

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2.  He is still a blanky-baby and treasures his “Key.”

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3.   It seems like the only time he willingly cuddles anymore is when he reads books or he gets hurt.  Otherwise, he prefers his space.  Even at bedtime and in the middle of the night when he wakes up upset, he doesn’t particularly care for snuggles.

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4.  He is the cutest pretend puppy you’ve ever met.

WP_20140926_12_05_32_Pro5.  When riding in the car, he points out all construction equipment, semi trucks, and buses. “Look mommy!  A backhoe!!!!”

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6.  He’s not always trying to get into trouble, but sometimes it feels like it.  The messes, oh my friends, the messes are endless!

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7.  Today I found him standing in my husband’s sock drawer, holding one of the candles that had been on the dresser.  The sock drawer is the second drawer to the top of my husband’s upright dresser and was only open about six inches.  I wanted to take a picture but I couldn’t rationalize leaving him there while I got the camera.  That’s saying something since I have been known to allow my offspring to continue doing all manner of crazy things while I run to get photographic proof.

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8.  He absolutely cannot handle having the old soiled diaper under him while you are wiping his poopy tush and as soon as he can, he whips it away.  I’ll leave the ramifications of such actions up to your imagination.  Or not.  Yeah, don’t think about it.

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9.  Daddy coming home from work is, hands down, his favorite part of the day.

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10.  He is napping today!  He doesn’t nap much anymore, but when he does nap, it sure is glorious ;).

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