Category Archives: Motherhood

Making Room

The other day, I was pretty annoyed with the family at large for not doing their share, or any share, really, of the housework. I’d spent the whole day working, and the whole lot of them were gone. Disappeared. Two of them cp-henry-play-blockshad an acceptable reason: they were at work! But the rest of them? Not so much. And they heard about it.  Later that evening, as we went about our Advent devotions, I suggested the song “People Look East”.  The older children got the message right away, but the younger ones were cheerfully oblivious.

Actually, I really like that song, don’t you?  It’s hopefully expectant.  We make time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, and why not?  I would tidy up the house for any other expected guest!  Maybe we shouldn’t go quite so far as Old Befana, who is so focused on cleaning that she misses the Lord entirely, but a little prudent cleaning, I think, will not go amiss.cp-tommy-play-living-room Our hearts are very much influenced by our environments. It’s a challenge to feel at peace when the home is cluttered and messy. It’s easier to be calm and recollected when one’s spaces are well-ordered and attractive.  At least, I think so.

It’s a constant battle for me to keep things neat, partly because I have a very large family, and partly because I have a bit of my father’s propensity to collect and save things.  I go through cycles of accumulating and purging, and my desk is almost always covered with books and papers and the detritus of my daily life.  If you want to know what’s going on with me, just glance at my desk! img_4945

This Advent, I’m looking for breathing room. I’m trying to work around the challenges and find space to be the me that doesn’t just spend her days taking care of an active family. There’s a me who loves to write, to photograph, to make art, useful and otherwise. There’s a me who makes home nice and enjoys it as a creative activity. There’s a me who reads and takes bubble baths, sometimes simultaneously. And there’s a me who has time to spend in quiet prayer with my Lord.  I’ve been missing this version of me.

Today, my desk is tidy and stocked with art supplies. My camera battery is charged. The main areas of the house are actually pretty neat.  There’s room to think and create and be.  And this is just where I want to be.  Today and always.

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Loving Henry

It was really hard to be Henry’s mother.  From the moment he was born, he cried.  He cried because he was hungry and my milk hadn’t come in yet.  He cried because it had been twenty minutes since his last nursing and he was hungry again.  He cried because I wasn’t holding him.  And, increasingly, he cried even when I was.  For a while, when he was very young, he slept through the night, and I actually had to wake him to nurse, but as the months slipped by, he was waking more and more frequently.  Every three hours.  Every two hours.  Every 90 minutes.  Every hour.  When I hit the end of my rope, he was waking every 45 minutes, all night long.

It is hard to love when you are exhausted.  It is hard to love when nothing you do can make this baby happy.  It’s hard to love when the size of your world has shrunk to the circle of your arms.  It is hard to love when there is never any relief.  I tended to his needs as well as I could without knowing why he cried, and I prayed that genuine affection would grow out of that faithfulness.  It hurts to admit that.

henry-eats-his-toastIt’s been two weeks now since Henry and I began our tomatoes-and-peppers fast, and he is an entirely different child.  He’s happy, and he’s a joy to be around.  He’s clever and affectionate and busy, just like a baby is supposed to be.  He naps a couple of times a day for a couple of hours at a stretch.  He still wakes too often at night, but not as often, and I think genuine discomfort has been replaced by just bad habits.

He is seven months old, and I am only just now falling for this little guy.  I wish it hadn’t taken so long, and I will forever feel some guilt for not feeling that affection, and that he suffered for so long when I could have spared him, but right now, I’m just loving Henry.

 

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Kitchen Work

I have always genuinely enjoyed housekeeping and homemaking.  Well, maybe not always.  We’re each of us, after all, products of our families of origin and the larger culture, and neither one really encouraged a love of homemaking in me.  So, in the beginning, homemaking and I had an uneasy relationship, really, because I did enjoy it, and I could see the value in it, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.  Then, one day, I met Edith Schaeffer.  My deepest suspicions were confirmed, my efforts applauded and encouraged.  On that day, I embraced motherhood and housekeeping wholeheartedly and did not look back.

That doesn’t mean it has always been easy.  My family has grown and changed, with people in all sorts of life stages demanding more from me than ever before.  The number of “hats” I’m wearing has increased drastically.  But, still, I see the value in keeping house and preparing meals, and I am most relaxed when I get to dedicate myself to those tasks.  I just don’t have as much time for it as I’d like.  Because of that, I’ve been actively working to streamline and minimize my kitchen work.  I might be mentioning a few things in coming weeks.

On the Henry front: I mentioned that he was waking in the night specifically to spit up, but really, it had more the quality of vomiting.  Spit up doesn’t seem to cause any discomfort, but these nighttime episodes were uncomfortable beforehand and the vomiting offered relief from that discomfort.  He’s been doing pretty well with that, until last night.  Last night, I had pizza with tomatoes, onions, sausage and bell peppers, and I think it might have been the peppers that caused our problems.  I blame the peppers because that was the only ingredient I hadn’t eaten in the past two weeks.  Most members of the nightshade family are highly poisonous, but a few are only slightly poisonous and more or less edible.  Maybe for Henry, he leans toward the less.

The hunt for the source of Henry’s tummy troubles continues!  By the way, there’s no particular heroism in this for me; I am inspired and energized by a good challenge!

 

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O, The Irony

When Henry was a newborn, he slept too well.  I never thought that was even possible!  But he’d sleep all through the night, and I actually had to wake him up to nurse.  He is such a big baby that I was really worried about diminishing milk supply if we went that long between feedings.

And then, without me even realizing it, something changed.  He stopped being able to sleep well.  He began waking numerous times each night, sometimes just to spit-up when I picked him up.  It was getting worse and worse, and I was feeling more and more out-of-control… and exhausted.  It’s really hard to love someone when you’re sleep deprived.

All this time, in the back of my head, I wondered, “What if he doesn’t like all the milk?” His dad is unique in our family in that he doesn’t tolerate milk very well, and Henry seems to take after David much more than any of our other children ever have.  What if all this dairy I consume is making him uncomfortable?

So twelve days ago, I gave up all the dairy products, which is where the irony comes in.

I was hoping that, within the first couple of days, he’d be feeling better and sleeping better.  I was hoping that it would reduce the frequency of spit-up.  I was hoping that, if his tummy felt better, he’d be less clingy.

It was kind of a lot of pressure to put on a glass of milk and a slice of pizza.

He does sleep better sometimes, but it’s very inconsistent, and the reality is that we have also developed some bad sleep habits.  And he could use a white noise machine.

He is waking less often specifically to spit up, though he does still catch me unaware sometimes.  However, he’s an active little guy, and the problem has not diminished at all during his waking hours.  I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting for maturity of that muscle group.

And I’m his favorite person in the whole wide world.  He’d rather be with me, up in my arms, than anywhere else on the planet.  No other person is as beloved, no other arms as comforting, no other activity as intriguing as the one I’m engaged in.  The lack of dairy in my diet has not diminished any of my enchanting qualities, and Henry is still as insistent on being held as ever.

So, in the absence of miracles, we have to look at the small details.

He is happier during the day.  Almost right away, he quit crying through the evenings.  At night, when he wakes, I think it is less and less from discomfort.  He has managed a couple of long naps, too, which have been non-existent in recent months.  And the frequency of dirty diapers has unexpectedly dropped.

The dairy-free diet does seem to be having a positive effect on Henry.  And it’s not quite as challenging as I thought it would be.

We’ll keep going with this new adventure and see how it all plays out.

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Henry, Four Months Old

8x10 feet bw 8x10 henry hand bw henry face

I just adore this child.  Especially those legs!  Those arms!  He is so chunky, so sturdy, and he has the most gorgeous skin.  Most of us are pretty fair, but Rosie and Henry have this gorgeous Mediterranean skin, smooth and deep, and did I mention gorgeous?  He’s round about 20 lbs already. (!) He’s very much wanting to taste our meals, so I share anything that’s tastable, like mashed potatoes and ice cream.  He usually sleeps pretty well, but he’s so big that I wake him up between 2 and 3AM to feed him, just to keep my milk supply up for him.  Lately, though, he’s been waking two or three times per night, and sleeping a lot during the day.  I suspect another growth spurt is imminent. (!) He has a most lovely personality, much milder than Miss Evie, which is good, because two Evies in a row would be crazy!  One Evie is more than enough for anybody.  But if you can follow an Evie up with a Henry, you’re doing okay.

A couple of weeks ago, I had both of these babies lined up on the floor for tandem diaper changes.  (Evie’s taking a potty break.)  “Look at me!” I said to Davey. “I’m 44 years old!  What were we thinking?”  But here’s the reality.  These people – these children, this man – are my road to Heaven.  They are the ones who inspire me to be more than I am.  They open me up to a bigger and more meaningful life than I would ever have found on my own.

So, twenty years into my motherhood, I still change lots of diapers.  I still cut food into tiny pieces or mush it in a blender.  I still wake multiple times in the middle of the night to check on small people.  I still think of outings in terms of stroller-friendliness.  I’m still limited, bound by the needs of children who depend on me for their most basic needs.

And twenty years into my motherhood, I still need to learn over and over again about sacrificial love.  I still need to learn to die to self, to not mind another diaper change, to work cheerfully with only one free arm, to patiently rise from my bed to nurse by the light of a digital clock, to listen to another story, to toilet train another child, to commit to educating just one more.  It’s hard, and in some ways, it’s getting harder.

But then, those sweet faces smile at me, pudgy arms wrap themselves around my neck, and I melt into a puddle of contentment.

What the heck.  Sleep is for sissies anyway.

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A Post About Nothing

A pile of flannel blankets used to catch the plentiful volume of spit-up [produced by Henry. Looking forward to the end of this particular stage!

A pile of flannel blankets used to catch the plentiful volume of spit-up [produced by Henry. Looking forward to the end of this particular stage!

This morning, I awoke to a still-quiet house, and I slipped out of bed and into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. The sky was just beginning to lighten, a few low clouds on the horizon catching the first rays of red, orange and gold, the pond reflecting the glorious scene back up toward the heavens. I poured my coffee and paused for a moment, undecided. Should I go out and sit on the patio, and enjoy these minutes, or wait indoors for the baby to waken and cry for me? I chose the patio, near an open window, and I watched the sun rise over the distant trees, sitting in companionable silence with a large toad. In that moment, feeling my soul reaching outward in solidarity with all of creation, the stress melting away, I realized that I have passed the point of needing sleep more than solitude. It’s time to reset my alarm for an earlier hour. I need time alone with my own self and my God. I need time upon which nobody else has any claims.

Home and farm projects in the works, and menfolk to do the heavy lifting.

Home and farm projects in the works, and menfolk to do the heavy lifting.

Facing the twin trials of a potty-training toddler and a newborn has been wearing on me.  I’m not usually prone to long bouts of discontent, but not having any time to call my own is negatively affecting my mood.  Little Henry rightly enjoys my arms above all other places, but I miss writing and sketching and painting and even cooking anything even slightly complicated. I see some small signs of him settling in a little, maybe taking a longish nap without my help soon. He sleeps well at night, from 8 or 9 to around 6, with a mid-night nursing around 3, so I’m not complaining too much.  Just a little.

A rare photograph of our Brenna, deploying a patio umbrella.

A rare photograph of our Brenna, deploying a patio umbrella.

On the home front, we are moving along with some projects, namely a patio kitchen that David has been working on for quite a while. I think he’s going to get it finished soon! Or, if not finished, at least not muddy. I haven’t had any say in this particular project, and it’s really not like me to mind my own business, but I think he’s having fun working on this, and I know it’s a gift for me. Sweet, yes? And while he’s doing that, I have to build two more chicken crates, one because he accidentally ran one over in the field with the tractor and it’s just limping along, and another because we have more chickens than we intended to have. I have all the materials now; we just need to cut and glue. Each takes about two hours to build.

Children messing around on a long, lazy summer evening.

Children messing around on a long, lazy summer evening.

The other night, I walked in on Evie in the bathroom. “You forgot to knock!” she scolded. Back out I went, to knock, knock, knock on the door. “Who is it?” she called.
“It’s Mama,” I replied.”
“Oh! Come in, Mama!”
Silly girl.

After dinner last night, out on the patio, Delaney asked, “Why is it that when we eat out here, we’re never in a hurry? We just sit here long after the dinner hour is over and never notice.” It’s true, isn’t it? There are no clocks, no humming appliances, no messes to clean up or chores to finish – just lawn and trees and sky and food and children jumping up from the table to play in the sunshine while the older folks chat about life and love. Good stuff.

So how are you doing?

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{p,h,f,r} Welcome, Baby!

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henry 1
Meet our newest child! Henry David, born April 18, 10 lbs 15 oz and 22 inches long. That should do it for the vital statistics! Henry is our ninth child and third son, and made his debut nine days past his due date. Most of my babies have been late, several as late as ten days, so I didn’t think anything of it, really. I’ve already delivered several nine pounders without incident. Henry was a bit of a shock. :-)

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IMG_2972
The children are head-over-heels in love, just like I knew they’d be. Of course, for a few days there, I was feeling a bit unloved myself, as each morning they’d greet me with a disappointed, “Oh, you’re still here? We were hoping you’d be at the doctor having the baby.” (photo credit: Delaney)

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henry 3
Evie has been absolutely hilarious. This morning, when he spit up, she scowled at him and announced, “That’s bisgusting.” Last night, she ran away in horror as he latched on for a nursing. “Ah! He’s eating you breast!” She’s still not quite convinced that I survive the ordeal whole and intact, but she’s coming around, I think. She’s loves him anyway!

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henry 2
So. Birthing an eleven pound baby. I don’t really recommend that! We escaped without a c-section, but his head was almost too big, and his shoulders did not deliver easily, and I pushed harder than I’ve ever had to push in my life to get that baby born. I’ve never been so sore after childbirth! Poor Henry’s face was bruised and swollen, and he was only able to open his eyelids Tuesday night. They’re bloodshot still from the trauma. I needed all the help I got, from the doctor to the nurses to my husband to my beloved prayer warriors, most of whom I’ve never even met!  (I love you ladies so.)   And Davey now feels quite vindicated in his insistence on hospital births. :-) Not that I ever quarreled over it; his peace of mind has been worth it, even if I’d rather be home.

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}!

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Confirmed in the Holy Spirit

Newly Confirmed!

Newly Confirmed!

And some family photos, which never come out quite as good as I’d like them to. :-)

The happy (and expectant) parents...

The happy (and expectant) parents…

Just the boys!

Just the boys!

Just the girls!

Just the girls!

All the kids together. :-)

All the kids together. :-)

The archbishop used so much chrism oil this morning, the confirmandi were fairly dripping with it!

Our small parish shares a priest with another nearby, and the Confirmation Mass today was held at our sister church.  Therefore, we ran into lots of people who either don’t know us at all or see us only occasionally, and so there was a lot of, “When is the baby due?!” At eight days late, we’re long past worrying about due dates, though.  So when will the baby arrive?  Some theories:

All of my babies have been born on either Wednesday or Saturday, with the exception of Tommy, who is generally acknowledged to have a special destiny.  He was born into the darkest period of our family life, and he was a bond and a bridge between two people who had forgotten how to love each other.  He has exhibited his whole life a gentle compassion and empathy for people.  I think it’s safe to consider his Thursday birthday a special case.  So, Wednesday, April 20 is a good option.  Hopefully not Saturday the 23rd, because two weeks is overkill, yes?

Another good option is Tuesday, April 19.  I was born on the 19th, as was my mother, and her mother, and her mother, so there is a tradition there.  We considered the fact that it may not be a girl, and have decided that there is a possibility that gender is not a concern, even though this birthday phenomenon has occurred along the female line thus far.  But!  My mother had only one sister, and her mother, if I recall, was one of three girls.  I’m not sure about my great-grandmother, but it appears that there may not have been any boys in these families, so the fact that it has generally passed along from mother to daughter may be irrelevant.  Therefore, we consider that, boy or girl, the 19th would be a good day.  Also, I have been ten days late three times, but never later, so that’s another boon for Tuesday.

Then again, we’re talking about a baby here, and they are generally unpredictable little creatures, so none of our theories or guesses matter in the slightest.  We’ll just have to keep watching and waiting, and whatever will be will be.  :-)

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Creating a Family Culture: Children’s Friendships With Each Other

I had to pop in and talk to the anesthesiologist the other day as part of my hospital pre-admittance checklist.  “Is this your first?” he asked, and I’m not sure why, but I’ve been getting that a lot lately.

“No, this is my ninth,” I said.

“I knew it!” he replied, and I looked at him funny.  “We  have four and my wife said, ‘No more.”  I knew I married a quitter!”

He’s actually a great guy, a devoted father and husband, and the ensuing conversation with him made my day.  (You don’t get so many of these random conversations with strangers any more, since cell phones took over the world.)

8x10 five sistersOne of the things we talked about was sibling rivalry.  It’s a question I get a lot, with Evie being so obviously spoiled with attention: “What is Evie going to think of the new baby?”  The truth is, I don’t even think about it.  I assume she’s going to adore her new sibling, just like her siblings adored her, and just like each baby that came before her was adored.

All I have to do is stay out of the way.

Well, almost.  I’ve talked before about vision and intention in creating a family culture, and it helps to have some ground rules in place.  These are some of ours:

  1. Your brothers and sisters are your best friends.  Whenever there has been an altercation between siblings that required my stepping in, I mediate, without taking sides, and then force a reconciliation.  Yup, I force it. “Give your sister a hug and tell her she’s your best friend.”  Anesthesiology Guy remembers having to kiss his brothers, but it breaks the tension, and sets them back on friendly ground, and, eventually, they actually are best friends.evie snow 2
  2. No tattling allowed.  This one can be tricky, because you have to teach them that sometimes, they’re really and truly going to need an adult and what those times are, but you also don’t want to be constantly jumping into sibling squabbles.  They’ll use you as a pawn to get their own way, and you want to stay out of that.  My rule: “Are they hurting themselves or someone else?  Is anybody’s personal property in danger of being destroyed? No?  Then you guys are going to have to work this out yourselves.”  And then there’s the companion rule: “Well, she shouldn’t have done that thing, but since you just tattled, I can’t really punish her for it.  And you, don’t do that thing again!”  After a (very short) while, the children quit telling on each other, since it has no effect, and they learn to trust each other.
  3. Let them have their secrets.  You don’t need to know everything.  But at the same time, you have to teach them the difference between good secrets and bad secrets.  Most of what normal children will want to keep from you are just silly or embarrassing things, but some secrets are dangerous, and children need to be taught what kinds of secrets to keep and which to tell.  Questions they need to ask themselves: “Is my sibling being hurt by this secret?  Is somebody else being hurt?  Is someone else’s property being damaged or destroyed?”  If the answer is yes for any of these, they need to get a parent involved.  I know my kids have secrets from me, but they don’t have secrets from each other.  And I also know that if someone is in actual trouble, or in danger of getting themselves there, those same best-friend siblings will come to me, and I’ll figure out how to deal with the situation without betraying that trust.  IMG_1605
  4. Don’t be envious of their relationships with each other!  You are a powerful force in their lives, an irreplaceable source of love and wisdom, and allowing them friendships with each other in no way takes away from what you are to them as mother.  I know my older girls really start to feel it when work and school schedules have kept them apart for more than a day, and when they are finally all home at the same time, they’ll hide in their room for hours, giggling and chatting and secret-sharing.  That’s a good thing, even if you’d like to catch up with them, too.  They’ll get around to you eventually.  :-)
  5. One last thing: Kids are people, too.  What I mean by that is that they won’t all have the same interests, strengths or dreams, and just like we take our adult friends each as individuals, with their own quirks and beauties, we need to embrace that in our children as well.  We can’t have cookie-cutter ideals of who our children should be, try to force them into the same mold, compare and contrast.  Admire them for who they are individually, and the gifts they bring to the world, and they’ll learn to admire the best in each other, too.  Help them each to work toward their dreams and overcome their weaknesses, and they’ll learn how to encourage each other, too.  Just love them through their sorrows without trying to preach or correct, and they’ll learn to be compassionate and supportive of each other, too.  Basically, model good friendship with your children, and for your children; they’ll learn by watching your example.

insta kids carsNone of us really likes to think about it, but hopefully, these children will outlive us.  Wouldn’t strong friendships with their siblings be a most beautiful heritage to leave them?  To pass on to the generations that follow?

And thanks to Anesthesiology Guy for getting me thinking about children and friendships!

(PS: Your wife is not a quitter; she’s probably just tired.  Two year olds are hard!)

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37+ Weeks and Counting

They smell like fish, but the bees are just in heaven.  There are all kinds buzzing around up there, from honey bees to bumble bees.

They smell like fish, but the bees are just in heaven. There are all kinds buzzing around up there, from honey bees to bumble bees.

Brenna took advantage of a sunny Spring Break day to catch up on her reading.

Brenna took advantage of a sunny Spring Break day to catch up on her reading.

She'd disagree, but I think she's beautiful.  I mean, look at this hair!  The color, the thickness, the shine, the curls at the ends.... Just lovely.

She’d disagree, but I think she’s beautiful. I mean, look at this hair! The color, the thickness, the shine, the curls at the ends…. Just lovely.

Grape hyacinths - so tiny, yet so fragrant, and they remind me of home.  The only other place I've ever seen them is growing alongside my mother's house in New Jersey.  I don't think you can buy seeds or bulbs for these.  :-)

Grape hyacinths – so tiny, yet so fragrant, and they remind me of home. The only other place I’ve ever seen them is growing alongside my mother’s house in New Jersey. I don’t think you can buy seeds or bulbs for these. :-)

I don’t blog much these days, and for one simple reason, really: one isn’t able to muster much energy for non-baby related things in late pregnancy!  What energy I have goes toward maintaining home and home school as much as possible, and preparing for the little one to come.  I’m at the Weekly Visit To the OB stage, which is always a bit annoying to me.  BUT, baby is doing well, and my midwife seems satisfied with my health, except that I’ve quit gaining weight.  I, personally, am okay with that. :-)  My diet right now relies heavily on raw fruits and veggies, and I make an effort to keep plenty of good fats and proteins on my plate.  I wish apples, carrots, and heads of lettuce were more filling!

I only have one last thing to do to get ready, and that is to adjust the car seats and install the baby’s.  Easy-peasy, right?  And maybe pack a hospital bag.  But there’s plenty of time for that once the contractions start.  No sense getting ahead of myself.

I told the midwife the other day that I was looking forward to an early delivery.  “Oh,” she wondered, “how early do you usually go?”

“Actually,” I clarified, “I’ve never been early.  Mostly late.”  But a girl has got to have something to hope for!

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