As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24, 2013 - Snapshot

Here's another snapshot for another week (starting top left, and moving clockwise to center):

One of the best things we ever did was to put the older boys in piano lessons.  We have a great teacher who takes them during the school day and lives not too far from us, and after a year and a half of lessons I am amazed at how they are progressing.  I can see the connection between music and everything else they are learning, and hope that with a good foundation, it will be a central element of our family for generations to come.  We both grew up in very musical families, so it makes my heart happy to hear the kids growing in their ability and confidence to play an instrument.  Music really is beautiful, for so many reasons.

This guy - I love him!  I have crossed a new bridge with him in that I am accepting his troublesome ways as part of his personality.  It can be challenging, make no mistake, and for a while I was just so exacerbated with him.  He's two, and I think I've been buying into the terrible two myth, which makes me sad because two is such a beautiful age.  When I manage to sit back and look at things objectively (you know, not like he is deliberately trying to do things that drive me crazy!) I realize what a gem of a little boy he is.  So smart, so full of life, and so funny.  And he's mine - hurray!  Oh - and that's blue marker on his face.  Life with a two-year-old...yep.

My oldest son has been stepping up to the plate in big ways around here, taking responsibility for things like preparing snacks for everyone, helping the kids get loaded into the van, and even changing his little brother's wet diaper and dressing him for bed.  I just can't believe how quickly the time goes, and what a joy it is to see him enjoying to help out.  People always say don't wish their life away, and of course I don't.  But I also recognize there is so much to enjoy in every stage, and I am loving each new year that comes our way, each new part of them that develops or grows into something I had previously not seen in them.  Life really is beautiful, and I'm happy to have a front-row seat, to see it all unfolding.

Do you remember being lifted way up in your Daddy's arms?  I do.  I also remember what a thrill it was as the oldest (who always said, "do it to me too!" but was always too big) when my Dad did pick me up.  There's nobody in the world that can measure up to a Dad, and these kids have a pretty great one.

My second oldest boy has taken my daughter under his wing, and it's so sweet.  With the wintery weather (and her just barely four) she can't go outside unattended.  When I put it to the kids who was going to take her out one day last week, he didn't waste any time in offering.  He has been outside with her every day since, and she adores it.  She loves to be taken care of, and he is so sweet with her.  While they are out he never leaves her side, and I can hear her chattering away and him happily answering all of her questions and explaining how every little thing works.  I love that she has big brothers.

I also love that she has a little sister.  Don't get me wrong, while many people called her the poor girl with all the brothers prior to the arrival of our newest girl, I don't think she had it too bad.  Nevertheless, she is revelling in having a little sister.  Her eyes shine the moment she sees her, and she runs around the house saying things like, "I want to kiss my baby sister!" And the feeling is definitely mutual - her baby sister adores her.  I am so glad they have each other.

This little guy is growing in leaps and bounds these days.  He's getting tall and slim, much slimmer than his brothers, which I think means he takes after my mother's side of the family.  I'll throw out a prediction now that he will be taller than his brothers one day, which would be fitting for him as the third boy.  Maybe he won't, I don't know, but it's fun to think about it.  Anyway he's also starting to put letter sounds together and is just on the verge of reading, which is really exciting.  He's doing really well in all his subjects in fact, not that it's very intensive in Kindergarden, but I can definitely see a big difference from when we first started the school year.  He is so peaceful and mild, and just a really happy little boy.  And I love him to pieces.

And this...never gets old. It occurred to me that the way babies love their parents is so unique.  I know I must have loved my parents that way, but I was too young to remember exactly what that felt like.  Which made me think about fact that this joy she is experiencing at her Daddy, the same joy she experiences with both of us many times a day, will grow and develop into something much different than it is now.  This moment right here is something that will be gone from her memory in a short time, but will be in ours forever. In that way it is a unique and special gift.  Parenthood really is such a beautiful blessing.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Starting Off Small

So lent began a week ago.  And I gave up grinding my teeth.  That might sound silly, but anyone who knows me well will tell you - I have a temper problem.  I yell a lot.  And that yelling is always accompanied by teeth grinding.  Don't believe me?  Watch my little ones clench their little teeth when they get angry.  I'm sad to say they get that from me.

So wouldn't it have been better to just give up loosing my temper then?  Alas, this issue has been my single greatest trial for my nearly nine years of parenthood (save maybe the first two years, during which time I only had one sweet little baby who had not yet learned to misbehave, and was just the cutest, sweetest, most obedient baby ever!)  If it was as simple as that, I would have done it a long time ago, nipped it in the bud before it became the persistant problem that it is today. It is however much bigger and more difficult for me, and the thing that causes me the greatest shame.

The bible refers to hell as a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth".  This scripture is not lost on me.  When I grind my teeth and start to lose my cool, it is my own personal hell.  Well-meaning people will say, "there there," but you shouldn't.  I know I will have to answer someday for the ways in which I've mistreated these little ones entrusted to me.  I am so grateful they are so very patient with me, as I fumble my way around this parenting thing.

So - rather than set myself up for failure by choosing to give up something I could in no way, possibly succeed at actually giving up - at least, not just like that - I looked to the symptoms.  What causes me to go off the deep end?  Well the kids, sure, but I can't control that.  I can only control myself.  That's when I realized that grinding my teeth was someplace I could focus my attention - a physical, measurable reaction that I had control of, that somehow didn't seem as big to conquer as my temper, and yet was directly linked to it.

After a rough start (Ash Wednesday Mass alone with the six kids at 9 am was a little trying) I am happy to report that I am noticing a BIG difference.  I am finding, by the Lord's grace, that it is not that difficult for me to not grind my teeth.  What I am also discovering is that when I take a moment to have a little self control, it makes me a more patient parent.  Sure I still raise my voice.  But I'm not having a whole physical reaction - I'm not flying off the deep end.  I've been able this past week to discipline my children, even yell at them if the situation warranted it, without getting fighting mad.  I have been able to stay one step outside, so that I am acting with a calculated firmness instead of an emotional attack.  And once the moment passes, it's gone.  There is no lingering anger or tension, no guilt over having blown my top.  I believe I am slowly getting a glimpse into the way discipline is really meant to be.

This is part of a bigger picture with me.  When my daughter was born four months ago, her labour and delivery (and the time leading up to it) were the most anxious and difficult I have experienced so far.  Through the most painful parts of her delivery I called on the Lord, breathing deeply and repeating the name of Jesus (the only words I could muster) over and over.  I knew the Lord was teaching me to weather the storm with my eyes fixed on Him - that even though my body was telling me to do one thing (panic!) He was calling me to a very different response, and that I needed to fix my gaze on Him.  I feel like this is the same lesson He is trying to teach me now - that even when the circumstances of my life are such that I feel like I'm going to explode, I don't have to.  I am not a slave to that.  In the same way I need to get better at calling out to Him, "Jesus, Jesus!" in spite of mounting frustration.  I am not a slave to my emotions.

I'm not pretending all my problems are solved.  I know I still have a looooooong way to becoming the patient parent the Lord wants me to be (and my children deserve).  But I feel like, thanks to the beautiful season of lent, which encourages us to look our weakness in the face and decide how we can let the Lord meet us there, how we can lean on Him to help us out - I feel like He is revealing to me the road I need to travel.
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
(Gathering Prayer, Ash Wednesday liturgy)

February 19 Snapshot

What a busy week last week was!  This is the first time I have not been able to get my snapshot in over the weekend.  I guess it's better late than never though, so here we go (starting top left as always, and working around clockwise to the center):

Last week ended up being a busy one for us.  We had our usual gym class on Monday and I went to my parents' house for supper that evening, only to find myself snowed in overnight by a surprise storm.  That took away my guaranteed day home on Tuesday, which I was counting on to offset the rest of our running around that week (lent began on Wednesday and we had to squeeze in an early morning mass, since it was the only time that would easily fit around our piano schedule that day).  So when friends invited us to spend Valentine's day at their house, I was hesitant.  Since our kids are homeschooled, I relish opportunities to get them together with friends to do things like I enjoyed in school growing up, like exchanging Valentines.  I set my mind to going, and I'm so glad I did.  There were five families and twenty kids in total, and we had a blast. Some things are worth the extra effort, and time with friends is definitely at the top of that list.

This girl starting rolling onto her belly this week.  Jeff and I were watching TV one night while she was playing on the floor, and when she got fussy I leaned forward to pick her up and discovered her like this.  I couldn't believe it, she's growing so fast!

We celebrated a birthday this week for a very special little girl (who has been asking every day since before Christmas, is the next day my birthday?) That blessed day came this weekend, and we celebrated with a girls' day out (her and I, baby, Nana, Nanny and Godmother) and a family party at home.  This shot is a little blurry, but still one of my favorite ever of her Daddy giving her a big birthday hug.  Oh how we love this girl!

A good friend of mine is a hairdresser, so as part of our girls' day celebrations we took her to the salon for a princess hairdo.  Her birthday was about celebrating all things girl, we had so much fun!  

We spent a lot of time like this last week, and these guys were troopers.  I'm not going to say it was without its challenges, nothing is.  But I find the more I do the hard stuff (like getting six kids loaded into the van to go anywhere) the better we get at going with the flow.  I've starting giving simple instructions, like "please get buckled without screaming at each other" which really helps, as opposed to simply, "go get buckled up" (which usually resulted in them screaming at each other anyway).  Also I gave up grinding my teeth for lent, which is enormously helpful in keeping my cool.  Funny how the hardest things are also the ones that make us better - there must be something to that.

Fitness is a family affair in our house!  I bought this cool exercise program for the WiiU with a gift card I got from my brother for Christmas (thanks!) It's so much fun, and the kids love taking part with us.  Jeff and I signed up for a 5K run in May, and I'm eager to get outside and training as a family.  There's a kids event as well that I'm hoping some of the older boys will take part in, I'd love to train as a family.  I'm really pining to do something - four months post-delivery will do that to a girl.

Is there any better picture to describe life with a toddler?  This is birthday cake all over his hands.  He reminds me of a potter with clay on his hands - budding artist, perhaps?

Speaking of my toddler, I gave him an impromptu bangs-trim this week.  Our boys are all long overdue for haircuts, which has not been an easy thing for me to coordinate since I can't take everyone by myself at the moment (it's too hard with the baby).  Our one day in town is the one day the barber is closed, meaning I can't just get Jeff to meet me after work.  It will take a coordinated effort to find an extra day to take everyone out, but in the meantime this poor little guy's hair was right into his eyes.  I thought it turned out pretty good, Jeff says he looks like a Vulcan.  I'm hoping that means we can move "trip to the hairdresser" a little closer to the top of our list.

And finally, a picture of my birthday girl to end off this post.  We did a silly photoshoot the other day, and this was my favorite shot.  There is nothing this girl loves more than being silly, she is such a cutie!  Look at her little eyes, they say it all.  Life with girls is so much fun.

Here's to a much calmer week this week.  Last week was fun, but we need a rest.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Our Beloved Pope Benedict XVI

Like many Catholics, I woke to the news yesterday of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.  And let me say this - I was shocked.  I had no idea a Pope could even do that.  I was confused, and could not make sense of it. My husband and I shared a series of text messages about it, and he was in the same boat.  Kind of like being tossed in the air, knowing of course that you are going to land somewhere that is safe, but still that feeling of being in the air is terrifying until your feet hit the ground once more.

I talked briefly with the kids over breakfast, only to say that the Pope had prayed and discerned it was time to step down, and that he must have had a serious reason for doing that.  That we needed to keep him in our prayers, as well as his successor, and our Church.  It was a passing moment for them, but for me it just sat so deeply inside. I am so grateful for the wisdom of good friends that I trust in helping me to navigate a situation like this.  I composed my initial thoughts and emailed them to a handful of people I trust, who are in similar walks of life. People I wanted to ask how they were handling it in their families, what they were telling their children. I laid myself out and asked for their thoughts, insights, and corrections to my thoughts.  And I got all three.

Perhaps the most helpful response came from a mentor of mine who admitted she was struggling to process things as well, and that she was waiting for wisdom from the Holy See.  There is so much virtue in waiting, and her response showed me that I didn't need any answers right now - that it is okay to ask questions and to still trust that the Lord has a greater purpose.

Over the course of the day I read many wise words from different people that helped set my mind at rest and convinced me that this was indeed a work of the Lord.  As the responses from my friends trickled in I could sense the goodness in waiting for answers, and gratitude for the witness of Pope Benedict's service.  What made it harder for me initially I think was that Pope John Paul II was the only pope I ever knew - he was the pope for my whole entire life prior to Pope Benedict.  And as I struggled to understand how Pope Benedict could step down in the wake of John Paul II's witness of long suffering for the Church, my dear friend and mentor put everything into perspective when she said that maybe, perhaps, the Lord intended John Paul II as an example of suffering and perseverance, while He intended Pope Benedict to teach humility and courage in the face of weakness.

Rest well Holy Father.  May the Lord grant you many more peaceful years, and continue to guide the Church through your wisdom and your legacy.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snapshot - February 10, 2013

A snowy week to kick off February!  Here is what we have been up to (starting top left, and working around clockwise to the center):

Mary continues to grow each day, and become more vibrant and alert.  We marvel at how coordinated she is now, able to pick up toys and play with them all by herself.  I am loving her emerging personality as a quiet, content and happy little girl.  She makes me think of the scripture, written of one of her namesakes, "she pondered all these things in her heart".  I love her quiet concentration that reminds me so much of our blessed mother.

We had a crazy snowstorm yesterday, and the big boys couldn't wait to go play in the "snow tornado".  It was too cold and the snow too deep for the little ones to venture out, so they watched the excitement from the warmth of our living room.  The big boys spent most of the day outside, and I love that even in inclement weather they are still inclined to be outside.  Nature is truly the best playground, and God the supreme architect.

When things got quiet Saturday afternoon, I knew something was up.  I went searching for my little boy, only to discover he had put himself to bed.  He doesn't nap too much anymore, but I guess he needed one that day.  Self-sufficiency reigns supreme in our house, it seems.

Jeff started Weight Watchers again, which means healthier food for the whole family. We love having lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in the house for snacks and easy lunches.  I also made bread for the first time since before Christmas, which feels really good.  Hoping to get back on track with easy and nutritious food, and away from a lot of the convenience foods that have found their way back into our house over the winter.

Two buddies on the stairs!  These two have shared a special bond since the first day we brought Aaron home.  Joseph is such a kind and caring big brother to him, and his little brother just adores him.

A kind neighbour called this morning and offered us the use of her snowblower.  Thank goodness, because we had quite a pile of snow hit us yesterday, with raging winds that meant it was packed down hard.  We are so blessed to live in such a great neighbourhood, with many kind people as neighboors.  I am truly thankful for our little piece of the world.

The kids love dressing up in winter gear to play around the house.  I do not like it.  Winter stresses me out - specifically finding and organizing hats, gloves and boots that always seem to be either missing or wet.  However, I do have to admit that she is pretty cute.  Now if I could only figure out a way to lock this stuff up so the bigger kids could access it but the little ones couldn't...maybe in another couple of winters I'll have it all figured out.

Stephen drew a picture of his baby sister.  He tried to show it to her but, ungrateful that she is, she wouldn't even look at it.  I decided to take a photo and document it, because (sad as I am to say) it will likely find its way to the garbage in the not-too-distant future.  I used to feel terrible about throwing all their pictures away but honestly, there is no way I could ever find space for everything.  Some of these guys make ten pictures a day for me!  I photograph and document the ones that are really special though, so at least that's something.  I love that they are so giving.

A little baby love on a snowy afternoon.  Have I mentioned how much we love her?  Have I mentioned how much I love him?  Life is good.

And finally, my two oldest boys.  Best friends for life.  At each other's necks a lot of the time, but then they have moments like this that make me so grateful they have each other.  They are on their way out to their friend's house, and I can't believe how big they are, and that they get invited places and go by themselves.  Weren't they just babies not long ago?  Aren't they still babies?  Of course not.  They are beautiful, growing little boys.  And I love them so much.

Cheers for this week!  Stay warm :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Shock Factor

I was in another room this morning when I heard one of my dear little boys shout, "you suck!" to one of his siblings. It was early morning, the day was still a blank slate, and I was full of calm. My response was a simple, "please don't talk that way," and the behavior was corrected. Would that all these such situations were as peaceful. Sadly they are not. And sadly, much of the fault is my own.

That sentence crept into our older boys' vocabulary last week, and the first time I heard it I was not so graceful. I was so shocked that my little boy was speaking this way that I raised my voice in a way that I'm sure made him think he had committed a capital crime. "DON'T you EVER say that to ANYONE!" This morning I couldn't help but think about how shock can color a situation, and how often I allow that to push me over the edge prematurely, escalating what gshould be a simple correction into a declaration of war.

This is especially meaningful to me these days because I can really feel the Lord convicting me of how often I react to a situation without thinking. I allow so many things in my daily life to control the way I deal with things, often leading me to a much more emotional (and much less reasonable) action. I have been trying instead when confronted with a disciplinary challenge to give myself a quick minute to take a deep breath, to help me be realistic. For example, instead of:

Bang! "Wahhhh....MOOOOOOOOM!"
Me: heavy sigh, panicked and running down the stairs, "WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"

I am trying this:

Bang! "Wahhh....MOOOOOOOOOM!"
Me: Deep breath, quick prayer, wait to see what happens next.

One of three things will happen: there will be no further calls for me and we'll all continue as we were; the child, still distressed, will come find me and tell me what's going on; or they will continue screaming from where they are, possibly escalating, and I will go to them to sort things out. What I'm finding is that the simple act of taking a moment helps me to compose myself enough to respond with compassion and reason, and to not be a slave to my emotions. Conflict and chaos causes a reaction in me, and when I don't take the time to put things into perpective, I am allowing myself to be tossed about. And that's not their fault, it's mine. How on earth will my children learn not to allow their emotions to get the best of them if I don't first show them that it is possible to be peaceful in spite of the storm?

I am so grateful for the little things the Lord uses to teach me to lean on Him. I am so sorry for the ways in which I am harder on my older children, who are the first to exhibit any negative behaviour associated with the ages they reach before their siblings, and hope they can forgive me for the times my shock has caused me to be overly harsh on them.

Please please please Lord, help me to use these examples and mistakes of early childhood to mold me into a firm but compassionate guide for these little souls, as they continue to walk towards older childhood and the discovery of their freedom. May my actions (and reactions) help them learn to make good decisions on their own, and always point them to you.

Fun times with our oldest boys

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This Crazy Life

Can I share this with you?

And this?

And just a few more.

I have been called crazy on more than one occasion, both by people who know me and people who don't.  And I think the best, the only, defense - is this.  They speak for themselves.  There is so much love for this little baby, and it overflows to all of us.  Just when you think your family is bursting at the seams, and you couldn't possibly give more of yourself because you're already spread so thin - she's there.  This perfect, beautiful addition that completes your life in a way you didn't even know you had previously never been.  Maybe the Lord does know my life better than I do.  And maybe that's not crazy at all.

I sure do love this crazy life.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snapshot - February 3, 2013

Happy February!  Here are a few of the memories we made this week (starting with the upper corner, and working around clockwise to the center):

We loved having Jeff home for the last two days of the week.  I wish he could be home every day, he is the heart and soul of our family life.  On this particular day I sat the kids down with their school work and set out to do some chores of my own.  Our kindergardener needed help, and before he had even finished asking me to come over Jeff was right there.  Not sure if you can tell but he's got his outside clothes on, he was on his way out to do some work.  But he dropped everything so that I wouldn't have to, so he could teach his son. I love when he works with them - they relate so much better to the way he teaches.  They are so lucky to have such a great dad.

On one of Jeff's days off we made a road trip to a newly constructed aquarium outside the city.  We had visited the old one many times, and I didn't even know there was a new one on the way.  It was spectacular!   This photo is definitely my favorite of the day, the seals were always the biggest attraction at the old aquarium (which only had an outdoor pool).  This pool was two stories high, and you could view the seals from the lower level inside or from the upper level out on the deck.  It was amazing!

This is one of Jeff's favorite photos of the day, he loves how interested the kids all are.  Jeff is so in his element here, he loves wildlife.  I don't even know how he knows everything he knows, but he does, and the kids just eat it all up.  

Another favorite on our trip to the aquarium is always the touch pond.  This is full of all kinds of Atlantic marine life that is safe for picking up.  The starfish is always my favorite, but there are also things like crabs, sea cucumbers, urchins, clams, scallops, sand dollars...there was even a big flounder!  The kids were not overly brave at picking things out themselves, but they loved directing Dad to the ones they were curious about, and he was happy to oblige.

Sundays in winter are beautiful.  They are so quiet and cozy.  After Mass I had to work for a bit so Jeff and most of the kids came home before me, which made me even more happy to have some downtime with the younger ones after I got home.  These guys could listen to stories all day.  This one is Dr. Seuss, a favorite in our house.  

This was such a sweet moment the other day, when Aaron decided to read to his baby sister.  "Read story to Mary Clarice" he announces, and sits right down beside her. I love how interested she is, she adores her big brother.  I think the feeling is mutual.

What can I say about this little guy?  I think this photo says it all.  He cracks me up :)

And finally, not to be outdone little Mary is quite a storyteller in her own right.  Here my girls and I soak in the early morning sun, while Katie and I listen intently to the musings of our baby girl.  Life really is amazing in its simplicity.

Many blessings on your upcoming week!