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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The Gift of Dinner at Joe’s

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN.

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN. 10/23/13

Usually, when I write about life with a “big” family,* I’m complaining. Not because I don’t like my “big” family, but because of the way my “big” family and I get treated when we’re out in public. This weekend, however, we had an absolutely wonderful experience, so I thought I’d switch things up a bit and tell you about that.

Friday night, we decided to take the kids out to dinner. We went to Joe’s Crab Shack, which, if you’ve never been, is very family friendly. It’s a bright, loud place with trash buckets and paper towels on the tables (intended for the crab eaters, but super useful for spills and other kid messes) and a playground outside. The kids were pretty tired from coop and a full day of other activities, so I figured Joe’s was a safe bet. If they decided to misbehave, I figured it would be less noticeable in a place like that.

As we approached the hostess stand, the manager walked over from nearby and asked, “Oh wow. Are they all yours?”

Josh: “Sure are!”

Him: “I just don’t know how you do it…”

Me: “With lots of craziness and fun.”

Him: “I have a 2 year old and that’s more than I can take.”

(I never know where to go from here. I can totally relate. 1 kid is super hard. 2-years-old is super hard. But how do I briefly articulate that with sincerity and compassion without being incredibly awkward? I find that when I try people do another headcount of my kids and react like I must be patronizing them. I’m not. I really feel for them. Simcha Fisher once wrote a piece that describes what I mean. But it seems like a bit too much to say as I’m walking away from the hostess stand…)

As we walked to the table we got the looks we normally get. Internally, I shook my head. Externally, I smiled, held my head high, and hoped I could get everyone seated and settled without making a scene. (You mothers know what I’m talking about: But, mom, I want to sit over there! He took my crayons! Why didn’t I get a blue one?? Where’s my silverware?? I want to keep my knife!)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a in December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a last December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

Amazingly, there was no scene. We did play a small round of musical chairs with Ben, but it was mostly calm and quiet. The big boys sat exactly where we put them and didn’t complain. They unfolded their menus and began talking about what to order.

Incredibly, the rest of the meal went off without a hitch. All the boys ordered for themselves, used their manners, spoke clearly and respectfully to the server, etc. We had a lovely time! Even Leila sat in her high chair the entire time, which is somewhat unlike her when we are in public. She’s a bit clingy and likes to be held when she’s in an unfamiliar environment.**

Somewhere about midway through dinner, I realized all the servers kept walking by our table and looking at us. But not with a look that I was used to receiving. I wasn’t sure what was going on. After it happened a few more times, I was starting to feel a bit like we were in a fish bowl. Towards the end of our meal, the bartender came over. He said, “While you’re here, do you want to give a few lessons to some of the other parents sitting around you?” I just laughed awkwardly. Then, he looked at my boys, told them how awesome they were, and went back to work.

On the way out, the manager made an effort to get over to us again before we passed the hostess stand. He thanked us for coming and told us they looked forward to serving us again. I know this is the kind of thing managers say. But there was something about his tone and body language. He really seemed grateful to have met us that night.

I walked out feeling simply overjoyed. Not just because my kids were well behaved. Not just because we were complimented. Not just because no one said or did anything negative to us. I felt like, somehow, we made a difference that night. I felt like, somehow, the staff that encountered us saw the beauty and the joy of family life. Somehow, for that short hour or two that we were there, children and parenting didn’t seem like such a burden to those people. Somehow, we were able to convey that message.

I don’t know how we did it. We didn’t do anything differently than we usually do when we are in public. I guess we were just in the right place at the right time. But I really believe that our little family made the world a better place for that short window of time. And, maybe, just maybe, had a big enough impact that someone who saw us was willing to change their view of children and/or family life. I realize this may all sound like a stretch, but that’s truly how I felt leaving the restaurant that evening. It was almost magical. Unfortunately, I just don’t know how to better explain it. It was simply the most positive, uplifting experience I have ever had with a bunch of random strangers that I will likely never see again. They gave me such a gift in affirming the dignity of my family, and I really believe that we, somehow, gave them a gift too.

                                                                                   

* I still don’t think I have a big family. I’ve admitted before that I am aware that we are larger than average, but we just don’t feel big to me. In fact, when we’re missing even just one of the kids, we feel so incredibly small. Maybe my perception just adjusts with each child? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t feel like I have a big family.

**Behaving in the restaurant in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. The majority of the time, they do. We have high expectations for behavior in public, which we clearly communicate to the children, along with the consequences that will follow misbehavior. Moreover, we make them behave appropriately every night at dinner, which helps tremendously. They are already used to behaving at the table. I was concerned about behavior on this particular night because they had a long day and tired kids doesn’t usually equal well behaved and/or “rational” kids.

To Love Somebody

coke-parenting-hed-2013You know you’re pregnant when Coke commercials from other countries make you cry. Nevertheless, I love this commercial. It almost makes me want to go buy a Coke…despite the fact that I don’t really like Coke. Maybe I’ll like the new Coke Life if we ever get it here.

(Unrelated sidebar: I’m super impressed that Coke made a diet drink without aspartame. I truly know nothing about stevia, other than it exists, but I’m glad to see a move away from the former.)

Go ahead. Watch it. It’s a commercial. It’s short.

Feel free to nod in agreement, pull your hair out in frustration, and weep with joy at the succinct, true, and beautiful message this commercial sends.

I think I’ve watched it 300 times in the 48 hours I’ve been aware of it’s existence…and, yes, I tear up every time. (I’m going to blame it on the hormones, but I really think it’s just seeing this great reflection of the chaos and the beauty that I lovingly refer to as parenting.)

Love is a Battlefield

boundariesFor whatever reason, one of the most viewed posts on my blog this week has been a “breakup letter” of sorts. I wrote it many years ago…2008 to be exact. And if that doesn’t date the letter enough, it was originally published on my MySpace page! Just for giggles I tried to log in to my MySpace page, but I couldn’t. Guess my poor page was canceled due to inactivity or something. I’m pretty sure I’ve admitted once before that I was truly sad to see MySpace fall by the wayside. My page was absolutely adorable. Being the perfectionist that  I am, I worked on it regularly, ensuring it looked just right and portrayed me just the way I wanted to be seen. No such luck with Facebook. Same boring blue for everyone.

Truly though, this isn’t a post about Myspace. Or Facebook. It’s about the blog entry that has been so popular this week. More than that, it’s about me.

Believe it or not, I don’t talk about me very well. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite topics. My discomfort with the topic of me was the root of the difficulty I was experiencing when I referred to blogging as virtual exhibitionism many moons ago. It was also what made me cringe and…let’s be real…come close to having a panic attack…when I saw what had been drudged up from my past.

But then something happened. In the midst of the sheer terror involved with thinking someone may have caught a glimpse of the real me, the interior me, the me I work so hard to keep inside, I realized something even more upsetting.

I could have written that entry recently.

I could have written it this morning, even.

I’m fighting the same battle today that I was 5 years ago.

The same, infuriating battle that has no hope for resolution.

The same battle that drains so much of my energy can often (albeit, less often than in the past) consume me, and always leaves me drowning in a pool of my own rage and unmet needs.

Intellectually, I know many of the right answers. If I were my own friend, I know how I would coach myself to develop and demand healthy boundaries. I know what I would say to help validate the feelings I’m experiencing, but then start working to release the emotional hold those feeling maintain. I know exercises to identify cognitive distortions and retrain automatic thoughts…

But none of that matters.

I’m trapped in the same place I was five years ago with very little improvement.

And it’s infuriating.

The truth is, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to move past this without professional counseling. But I’m just not willing to let her spend my money on top of all that she’s cost me emotionally. I know, I know…that’s very mature, right?

I wish I had a happy conclusion for this post. A light-hearted look at what I’ve gained from this experience and how I’m attempting to grow. But it just doesn’t exist. At least not right now. Right now it just hurts. And I just feel trapped. Right now, I guess both she and I just need your prayers. Thanks.

My Choice?

This is the rhetoric of pro-choice feminists. As a woman who has chosen to have a family, I can attest that this is certainly not the reality these feminists have created.

This is the rhetoric of pro-choice feminists. As a woman who has chosen to have a family, I can attest that this is certainly not the reality these feminists have created.

Recently, I shared some of my hope for what life would be like in a society that accepts and embraces women in their totality. Today, I’m going to share some of the pain I experience living in a society that doesn’t.

Every time I hear the phrase, “My body. My choice.” I vomit a little.

Seriously.

Ok…not seriously.

But it makes me incredibly angry.

The women who coined this phrase don’t really mean it. They mean that they will wholeheartedly support any woman who does not want to be saddled with the burden of pregnancy, children, and family life. They will fight to the death (tragically, I have to say no pun intended) to ensure that a woman will never be forced to shoulder these responsibilities if she doesn’t want to.

But what if she does want to?

By their own logic, it seems that a woman should also be able to CHOOSE pregnancy, children, and family life. If that’s what she wants, more power to her. Right?

Sadly, I know first-hand that the reverse is simply not true.

They do not support women who want to be pregnant, who want to raise children, and who want to devote their lives to their families. And, unfortunately, this lack of support doesn’t stop with them, but extends to society at large.

I can’t begin to count how many snide, rude, and downright cruel comments have been made to me and my children when we dare venture out in public. Men occasionally make comments about my workload, “My, you’ve got your hands full…” But they rarely, if ever, have anything ugly to say. Women, on the other hand, are often vicious in their commentary, and have no qualms about questioning the need for my children’s existence right in front of them. Interestingly, when my husband takes the kiddos out in public alone, he never gets nasty comments, only praise and admiration.

I’m certainly not looking for praise and admiration. I haven’t chosen my family life for the sake of what others think. But it would definitely be nice if I didn’t feel like I was preparing for battle every time I left the house. It would be nice if I didn’t have to rehearse witty answers about my knowledge of the reproductive process or my ability to provide financially for the little ones that have been entrusted to my care on the way to the store. It would be nice if I didn’t have to warn my children that if someone is nasty to us at the store, they should simply smile or stand there quietly because mommy will handle it. It seems funny that a group who loves to make posters about “rosaries on their ovaries” and “government in their bedrooms” has no issues busting up into my bedroom in the checkout line at the grocery store. Double standard much?

I don’t need a reason to have a child. And I certainly don’t need your permission. My children have a right to exist. More than that, they are a gift. Each child brings a new spark, new joy, and a new dynamic to our family. I am so grateful for each one of them.

When questioned by strangers if she’s “done yet” my girlfriend, also a mother of four, joyfully replies, “I certainly hope not!” I couldn’t agree with her more.

It makes me so sad to know that it doesn’t matter how much I love and want my children. The fact is, the world doesn’t want them. The world thinks they don’t deserve to exist. But I can’t understand why. Why would you not love these precious, irrepeatable, bundles of joy and laughter and creativity. Aren’t those good things? Why can’t the world want more of that? But even if you don’t want more of that, isn’t it supposed to be my choice?

This is my decision about what to do with my body. Don't infringe on my right to privacy by assuming you have a voice in my most intimate decisions. No one has more of a say on my own rights than me. If you're going to be pro-choice, you better get prepared to stand by your own logic. Meet my "choice." I am grateful for every one of them.

This is my decision about what to do with my body. Don’t infringe on my right to privacy by assuming you have a voice in my most intimate decisions. No one has more of a say on my own rights than me. If you’re going to be pro-choice, you better get prepared to stand by your own logic. Meet my “choice.” I am grateful for every one of them.