G is for Grateful

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

My family of 7 can be a lot of work. Some days I find myself so completely drained and exhausted that I can’t quite remember what it feels like to just be me. (That usually means my priorities are some how out of whack and that I’m not taking care of myself, but sometimes it takes me a few days or weeks to figure that out.)

Other days, my heart is so full and overflowing that I don’t have the words to adequately express the joy that my family brings me.

Today was a lot more like the former.

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Because I nurse my baby and I co-sleep, I literally (Yes, literally.) have someone on my person about 23.5 hours a day. I’m not complaining about this; I’m just stating the facts. The truth is I wouldn’t trade either of those for a little more time to myself. This very needy newborn period is short-lived and well worth it in the long run. But that doesn’t change the fact that it takes a huge toll on me. If I’m not careful to take care of myself, it can easily become overwhelming.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

One of the things I like to do when my attitude is getting out of whack is list out the reasons I’m grateful for my big family. The list of reasons varies from time to time and isn’t in any particular order, other than the order things pop in my head.

Today I’m going to share one such list with you.

I am grateful for my big family because…

  1. My kids always have someone to play with.
  2. And they have someone else to play with when the first playmate makes them mad.
  3. There’s always someone to curl up and snuggle with.
  4. Life is never dull.
  5. There’s a chorus of people who are excited to see you if you’ve been away briefly.
  6. We all learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is priceless. Every child has their own perspective and observations. I get to see the world through all of their eyes.
  8. When I’ve got my hands full, there is always someone nearby who is willing to help.
  9. There’s always enough people to play games. Board games. Card games. Duck, duck, goose. We’ve got the players!
  10. Dinner time conversations are amazing! Sometimes they’re hysterical. Sometimes they’re surprisingly insightful. You never know what might pop out of the kids’ mouths to the captive audience at the dinner table.
  11. And you never know how the next kid might run with or twist whatever was just said.
  12. We have tons of inside jokes.
  13. We have many natural opportunities to learn basic skills like sharing, taking turns, expressing frustration appropriately, etc.
  14. And we all provide each other with plenty of opportunities to serve someone besides yourself.
  15. All of our little athletes have an automatic cheering section at their games.
  16. Kids come up with really creative solutions to problems. We get creative solutions from all of them, so we usually get a solution we can work with.
  17. We get a lot of tax deductions.
  18. Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

    Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

    We’re the life of the party. Every extended family function gets kicked up a notch when we arrive with our family.

  19.  There’s always something to celebrate. (Baptismal anniversaries and birthdays) x 7 = lots of parties
  20.  When we work together, we can get the whole house cleaned in an hour.
  21.  Seeing my older kids with my babies is such a phenomenal gift. I can’t explain what it’s like to see the big ones care for and find joy in the littles. They truly delight in one another. It’s beautiful.
  22.  Some women never get flowers. I get weed bouquets nearly every day.
  23. There’s always a reason to laugh.
  24.  Imaginary games get really amazing with multiple imaginations at work.
  25.  Little voices singing little songs always make me smile.

25 is a nice number, so I’ll stop there. But just remember…

There’s nothing that can change your attitude quite like a little gratitude!

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Thankful Tree

2013-11-20 18.22.05Every year, I make a really big deal about the “thankful” aspect of thanksgiving. I work really hard to help foster a spirit of gratitude in my littles, and a national holiday that can back me up in that endeavor is too good to pass up. One could certainly argue that the thankfulness is missing from the holiday at large, especially with the materialism of Black Friday nearly eclipsing the family feasting, or that the history of the event should play an important role in the focus, but I say I’m gonna take what I can get. It’s a rare occasion that society backs me up in my parenting philosophies, so, when it does, I’m going to run with it.

In years past, I’ve had the kids make “thankful turkeys” in preparation for Thanksgiving day. They would trace their hands on red, yellow, orange and brown construction paper. Then, I would ask what they were thankful for and record their answers on the turkeys. I really liked this activity because it captured the size of their little hands along with the dates and adorable things for which their little hearts were thankful.

There was only one downside – I never found a way to display the “thankful turkeys” that I really liked. Most years, they simply got taped to the kitchen cabinets. One year, I tried to arrange them in a dish to make a centerpiece. On the cabinets, I usually ended up viewing them as clutter, which took away from some of the heart-warming quality. Plus, they usually got wet, bent, or knocked down in the chaos of daily life. The centerpiece thing was ok, but you couldn’t really read their sweet thoughts. The display issue wasn’t really a major one, but, nevertheless, I found myself itching to do something different this year.

While perusing the Oriental Trading catalog, I saw an an adorable tree meant for bulletin board display in a classroom.  When I first saw the tree, I thought we’d just make our own, but who am I kidding? I ordered the tree from Oriental Trading. The tree did come with precut leaves, but we didn’t use them. The kids really like to trace and cut and glue, so we made our own leaves just to make the project a little more hands on. (We actually intended to add glitter, but we never got around to that… There’s always next year, right?)

So here’s what we did.

Each person in our family was told to make 6 leaves, except Leila. She was exempt this year. Ultimately, the kids decided to make leaves for Josh and me, so pretty much the boys just made 30 leaves. They used the original leaves as templates. Their little hands were tired after that, so that was all for day one.

P1060718The next day, they were assigned the meat of the project. They were to address one leaf to each member of the family, sort of like a valentine. On the flip side of the leaf, they were to write why they were thankful for that person. On their remaining leaf, they were simply to list all that they were thankful for. (Major bonus: this also killed lots of educational birds with one stone! They were writing, spelling, forming thoughts into concise, leaf-sized statements, etc. They were very pleased to learn that there was no copy work/dictation, handwriting, or spelling assignments while were were working on the leaves.) It took a few days to get everyone in the family to complete the assignment, but, finally, they were done.

Once all the leaves were completed, I had the boys sort them into piles by addressee. They passed them out one night after dinner. We all took turns reading the leaves addressed to us. Then, at the end, read the leaf that we wrote listing all we were thankful for.

The part where we read what each family member wrote about us was truly magical. The boys beamed as they heard leaf after leaf acknowledge and recognize their value. It could have been the hormones, but watching them react to their leaves was priceless. Of course, I cried.

Finally, after all the leaves were read, we attached them to our little tree. To concretely connect God as the giver of all these good things, I wanted to place the tree on the wall by our “home shrine” (which is just our little prayer corner), but the wall wasn’t big enough. Thus, our tree stands proudly in our foyer. I passed out the tape, and the kids attached their leaves. It was almost as fun as decorating the Christmas tree.

Next Friday, after the Thanksgiving festivities are over, I’ll take our tree down. I’m going to place all of this year’s leaves in a page protector, which will eventually be collected in a binder. I’m going to put what’s left of the thankful turkeys from years past in the binder, but, sadly, many of them haven’t survived. What a treasure it will be to look back at all we’ve been grateful for over the years!

P1060724

Listening for God’s Voice

This brief little conversation over dinner absolutely melted my heart. I am so thrilled to know that my sweet little ones are already seeking God’s plan for their lives.

Me: Hey, Jack, Andy thinks Ben would like to be a priest. Do you think Ben will be a priest?

Jack: Umm..no…probably not.

Me: Would you like to be a priest?

Jack: Well…I don’t know what God wants me to be because I can’t exactly hear his voice. It’s too quite. I think because Heaven is so far away…you know God is so way up high…I can’t exactly hear Him when I’m outside playing or in the house.

Me: That is wonderful that you’re listening for God’s voice. If you keep listening, you will hear what He wants you to be.

Andy: And, “alsoly”, Jack, Fr. Hart said that if you go in your room in the quiet without the tv or radio on, you will be able to hear God’s voice.

Me: That is exactly right! Fr. Hart did say that. (High five Andy)

Just a note: It’s was months ago when (now) Msgr. Hart gave that homily on vocations and being open to God’s plan for your life. I didn’t even realize that Andy was listening, let alone that Msgr’s words were still with him! It’s amazing what little ones pick up on!

Thank you, God, that my children are open to and seeking your will for their lives. Please grant that their hearts remain open as they grow, and that their wills will be perfectly conformed to yours. In Jesus name, Amen.