My favorite award

Life is full of milestones.  When you’re primarily a stay-at-home  mom, most of those milestones are for other people.  First steps, first foods, “I dressed myself today,” academic or character recognitions at school, a raise, a nomination to a professional society…these are things I celebrate with my family.  I rejoice with them.  Joy shared is joy doubled, and I am a joy doubler. I have had my own share of various milestones, but the last ten years or so have been my Mom Years, full of daily toil without any expectation of honor or recognition, unable to take on the kind of projects that earn accolades because I have to keep the main thing the main thing.  The Mom Years feel invisible and exhausting.  The Mom Years are treading water.

But last year was an especially difficult year for me.  My dog died, my dad’s health continued to deteriorate at an ever-increasing and frightening rate, Andy started his doctorate and shocked us all, including himself, with the enormous mountain of work he had to accomplish and the exhausting pace his physical and mental absence would take on our family of six.  Phoebe wasn’t sleeping (ever, it felt like), Theo needed replacement ear tubes, Phoebe needed ear tubes, June’s sleep issues and ADHD were hampering her daily life and needed to be addressed, orthodontics for 2/4 kids, Gideon was great but always under threat of being forgotten in the chaos, Theo was flirting with the idea of being the family’s next Napoleon, and I kept putting off things I wanted to do, or decisions I wanted to make, until I had time or things were under control.  But that time never came.  My guitar gathered dust, some friendships became more distant.  There were plenty of things to celebrate along the way, but they were always floating on top of an undercurrent of worry, apologies, stress, exhaustion, caffeine, and depletion.  

But I kept on, because when life gets tough, the tough get going.  I don’t think I won any battles, but I kept it together.  I don’t think I impressed anyone, but I didn’t quit.  I kept loving my kids, caring for my family and home, encouraging my spouse, being a friend–however imperfectly and sloppily done.  I showed up to my commitments, as many as I could, even when I came to potlucks empty-handed but full of apologies.  I confess that at times it felt like it would have been easier to stay at home, if only to avoid public embarrassment.  But I showed up anyway.  

And then my dad died.  I had to begin to process that, my kids had to process that, I had to help my kids process that, I had to grieve with my family, all while letting detail after detail slip through my fingers and trying to let the grief wash over me without pulling me under into the waters of disappointment, doubt and insecurity.  It felt like I’d been treading water for too long already and someone just threw me a bowling ball.  Oh, and it was Advent, and my husband’s a pastor.  

Some years you just sit down with Jesus and put your life on the table and stare at it together.  “Been a hard year, right, Jesus?  I feel like this year is hard…You ever felt that way?” “Yes, I have…It gets better.”  “You keep saying that, Jesus.”  “I know.  Just a little while longer.”  “You’ll stay with me?”  “Every step of the way.” “Even when I can’t feel You?”  “Especially then.”

Early this year, a representative from our United Methodist Women stood up to announce the winners of the annual UMW award at our 8:30 a.m. church service.  She called two names, and one of them was mine.  My mouth fell open in shock and I walked up to the altar to receive my award.  As she introduced the other recipient and noted his accomplishments, which included running an incredibly successful church-wide capital campaign while taking care of his wife throughout her cancer treatments, my mind raced to guess what I had done to merit such an award.  I drew a blank.  Perhaps they had made a mistake?  But as she turned to me, she said something along the lines of, “This award goes to Christine Hargrove, who always shows up for things and is constantly working behind the scenes to support our church and community.  We notice and appreciate how much you do here.”

I think I laughed and joked, because that is what I do when I am caught off-guard, but as time has gone on I realize this is one of my favorite awards of my entire life.   This award helped me realize that I’d misjudged it.  The invisible Mom Years?  Because I was willing to show up, none of what I was doing was invisible.  My community saw and affirmed the gifts in me and offered friendship and encouragement.  I thought back and remembered that we had had friends from church babysit, send us out for meals, give us handmade gifts or hand-me-downs for the kids, serve up drinks on the deck while we put our feet up for a chat together, hug my kids and tell them they’re loved, listen to my parenting problems and offer encouragment, bring me a birthday cake on my birthday, and cry with me and flood us with food when my dad died.  Hugs, encouragment, prayer, meaning, patience, kindness, friendship–these are all things I get when I show up in my church. And if I had any doubt that my imperfect presence was valued, they gave me an award, just for showing up.  I still think I’m getting the better end of the deal by far.

The pin I wear on Sundays, and on other days at will, is a wonderful reminder to me that sometimes just showing up is an accomplishment to be celebrated.  Sometimes not quitting is your milestone.

Some years are like that.  And they’re not invisible.  And praise God when they are over.

So when the clock hit midnight and 2017 began, I was ready to declare 2016 “a year to forget.”  But now I think I’ll remember it as the long, hard current I successfully swam/was pulled through and the pin I have to prove it.

And with that, we are a family of 6

With the first baby, there’s so much boredom–waiting for the baby to sleep, waiting for the baby to wake, waiting for the baby to finish eating, waiting for the baby to be old enough to go to playgroup so you have the opportunity to make some mommy friends.

With the fourth baby, life is a game of hot potato on a moving train with butter fingers, but it’s fun.

Miss Phoebe Ruth was born on November 17th after a very fast labor.  The anesthesiologist barely had time to get my epidural in before it was time to push, and the medicine hadn’t kicked in yet.  I held off for long enough that it had half taken (the left half) and out she came.  She was 8 lbs, 9 oz and beautiful.  Her arms and back and thighs already had fat rolls, and she had a full head of dark hair.  (Interesting side note–I had two placentas! One was the main one, and one was a connected “placental lobe.”  Perhaps this explains some of the events this summer?)

As they rolled me from the L&D room to the recovery wing, the lullaby that is played when a new baby is born began to chime throughout the hospital for Phoebe.  Tears sprang into my eyes for the sweetness of the moment, but also for the palpable feeling of crossing over that I felt for myself as a mom.  With that, my baby-making days were behind me.  Though I treasured and enjoyed the years of pregnancy and anticipating the next baby, it felt like a release to let that chapter of my life close. 

Phoebe’s name means “bright, pure” and in some places I’ve seen it translated “light,” and it’s a fitting name both for her and for our time of life.  Though this pregnancy was the most painful and frightening, I think I’m enjoying her babyhood more than I’ve enjoyed any before.  If first-time motherhood is a tsunami, the fourth kid is just the gentle increase of the tide. I’ve been able to let go of much of the anxiety over identity shifting (I’m decidedly a Mom now), whether I’m doing this motherhood thing perfectly (I’m not), or when my baby will sleep through the night (not anytime soon, so no pressure).  We don’t feel we have to save every item for the next kid–we can just pass it on to another family when we’re done.  We don’t feel we have to set perfect precedents for how to handle situations–if we haven’t gotten it right yet, we probably won’t this time either.  There is a sweetness to motherhood in knowing this is the last time though.  There is an internal permission to savor and enjoy.
  
The nurses told me just after Phoebe was born that the post-partum cramping is worse with each child.  It’s also far more effective, pushing the various stretched-out parts of mama back into place with lightning speed so you can bounce back quicker.  I think this is God’s version of tough love–it’s painful, but it’s over before your help leaves and real life begins again in earnest. I feel far more like myself, albeit sleep-deprived, than I ever have before at this stage postpartum.  It’s a good thing, too, because I’ve got three other kids whose lives haven’t slowed down a bit since her birth.  I don’t want to miss a thing, so I’m glad to be able to keep up.

All those years, saving baby clothes, reading baby blogs, running the marathon of trying to learn how to be a mom, and now I’m jogging a fun run.

All those months, fretting about whether this pregnancy would go to term and if she’d be okay, and now she’s here, and she’s perfect.

Release.

Light.

And with that, we are a family of six.

4 a.m. Prayer Over my Children

Baby Hargrove #4 is due this week, so I’ve been struggling with the inevitable insomnia that helps me prepare for having a newborn.  My other kids have also been struck lately by a persistent need for middle-of-the-night snuggling, so between the baby, the children, and my husband, I spend most of my nights being snuggled, whether I want to or not.

As I sat and rocked Theo around 4 am, I glanced over at his face as he settled his still-toddler form in to my motherly curves.  The nightlight illuminated his sleeping face just so and I realized, again, just how much he looks like the grown man I have slept beside for more than ten years now. The juxtaposition in my mind of my son and my husband, both needing me in different ways, made me wonder about how Theo’s tender heart will fare when he has to find a spouse of his own.

  • When he wants to share his joy or pride of accomplishment, will she celebrate with him?
  • When life sows the seeds of doubt and discord in their family garden, will she have the wisdom to take the time to dig them up and throw them out?
  • When monsters of loneliness that take over the night threaten to overwhelm him, will she show her own strength and keep the monsters at bay for the both of them?
  • Will she love him for more than the lifestyle he offers, the money he makes, or how pampered he makes her feel?
  • Will she choose to model forgiveness in their home, even when she struggles internally with it?
  • Will she have enough of a spine to hold her own in a disagreement, but a big enough heart to love him in spite of his mistakes?
  • Will they be able to tell each other the truth?  Even the parts that hurt.
  • When she faces her own darkness, or demons that loom so large that she’s terrified to acknowledge them, will she turn toward him?
  • When the temptations of greed, lust, selfishness, anger or insecurity threaten the sanctity of their home, will she have the wisdom to stop, circle the wagons, and defend what God has entrusted to her?
  • Will she be humble enough to learn from her mistakes, but confident enough to try again?
  • Will the sound of her laugher and the the warmth of her hug be a healing balm that is freely and generously given?

Of course, I wondered about the kind of man Theo will grow up to be, as well as the kind of people my other children will grow up to be.  What characteristics will emerge as they enter into adulthood?  Will they embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?  Will they build lives with others who embody the same?  Will they be trustworthy?  Will they be honest?  Will they be people of value?

My 4 a.m. prayer over my children today extended to my future children-in-law.  God, spare them from the heartache of an unhappy match.  Give them the wisdom they’ll need to be able to recognize the love that lasts a lifetime, and the patience to wait for it.  Help them to be worthy of their spouses, and above all, grant them the ability to begin each day anew with intentionality.

And God, help me to raise my children the way You want them raised, through Your grace and mercy.  Amen.

Heartbreak Hill

I am at Heartbreak Hill in this pregnancy WAY too early.  For those of you who don’t get the reference, Heartbreak Hill starts at mile marker 20.5 on the Boston Marathon course–and it’s uphill.  I’m 31 weeks, and I look it.  Baby girl is kicking up a storm, and she’s strong enough to wake me up at night.  This pregnancy is probably one of my bigger ones, and feeling like this is getting old.  Heck, maybe it feels like this BECAUSE I got old.  I have to roll out of bed, I am outgrowing my own pregnancy clothes, and I get winded just walking up the stairs.  I’m so irritated by all of it.  It feels like I’m wearing a fake pregnancy suit that kicks me and makes my back hurt.  My real body is in there somewhere.

The real uphill battle is mental right now.  I’m just ready to move on, be done, have my last birth safely and healthily behind me.  But it’s too early to prep for baby, and I’ve got too many things that I need to do before then.

Only nine weeks to get all my stuff done!  Ugh, NINE WHOLE WEEKS until I’m not pregnant anymore.  Time will fly, time will drag.  I’m trying not to let myself dwell too much, but it’s hard. 

I was thinking about why this pregnancy feels so different, and I think (besides the drama that has hampered my enjoyment of it), it’s partially due to the ages of my other kids.  Even when I was pregnant with Theo, I lived in the world of preschool-transitioning-to-kindergarten.  Gideon wasn’t even potty trained for most of it.  June was four until *right* before she started kindergarten.  I had only dipped half a toe into the world of older kids.  My life was little kids and their activities, and adding another baby to the mix just meant more impending cuteness. Everybody leaked from somewhere.  Theo was just one more.

And now, I’ve got two kids who are rocking elementary school and one little brother who keeps up like it’s his job.  My kids are so much fun.  June is at the stage where she’s transitioning into a much more mature elementary school girl, and says the most insightful things for her age.  She’s helpful with the boys, creative, entertaining, and kind.  She’s beginning to have her own dreams and goals and she thinks beyond herself.  Having a third-grader is like a whole new world of parenting.  Gideon is in kindergarten and loving it.  He will be six in November and at this point, his maturity is so much more determined by age than by grade.  He has been ready to go to elementary school for a long time, especially compared to how June was at this point.

So, I have two big kids gone all day, and a 2.5 year old who has 2.5-year-old emotions but has developed some older-kid habits, and a baby on the way.   We have transitioned from feeling the general parental sadness of, “But he/she’s not LITTLE anymore!” to, “There are so many FUN things we can do together now!”  Instead of our dynamics being focused on playing to the middle (preschool) in terms of age, my little and middle kids try to keep up with the big one.  And it’s good.  I don’t know how the dynamics will shift when the new baby is born, but I expect we’ll adjust somehow. 

I feel like I should add that in the last year, a fly on the wall would have seen us become much, much, much stricter parents.  It was a hard decision to make, because I love them so and want them to love me back, but I really felt that the flexible, learn-from-your-own-consequences parenting manual we were trying to follow was not working for us.  It wasn’t helping them in school, it wasn’t making the family run more smoothly, and frankly, I don’t think they were learning much.  I think they were learning bad habits followed by lectures from Mom and Dad.  We shifted our focus to the creation of good habits and solid boundaries, which was reinforced by a book I read by Dr. Kazdin from the Yale Parenting Center.  I’m so glad I read it because it felt like the first book I had ever read that “clicked.”  And as we work with our kids to create good habits, it seems they are more positively self-directed and self-confident.  At least once I week I now have a parenting moment that feels like a cool drink of water on a hot day with them–surprisingly refreshing and welcome.  A corner has been turned.

I will tell you, it takes a lot of humility to admit the style of parenting you’ve been practicing isn’t as effective for your kids as you had hoped, and even more effort to shift it.  There was pushback from the kids  There were so many habits to be broken.  There was some soul-searching (“Am I even good at parenting at ALL?  Have I permanently botched this whole thing?”).  There was guilt.  There were discussions with my spouse, setting a new game plan with reasons and potential scenarios.  But we were united, and determined, and we worked and worked and worked until it began to click.

And I’m just going to throw it out there, it’s a little nerve-wracking to admit we’ve intentionally made a change.  I feel like it would be safer to keep it to myself and avoid hearing anyone’s, “I didn’t want to tell you at the time, but I KNEW you were doing it wrong.”  That would sting.  But I guess I am saying this publicly so that any of my friends or family who have kids or might have kids someday will know that it’s okay to change your parenting tactics.  If you feel it’s not working and you need to shift, it’s okay to do so.  I won’t judge. 

But, we’re in a really good place now.  My kids love school, they’re doing fantastic with their chores, they have extracurriculars they enjoy, they’re kind to one another, and they are so excited about this new baby that she’s the star of the show before she’s even emerged. 

I feel like 9 more weeks until the big show-stopping song of this act of our family musical (a comedy, of course) begins.  I hope it’s a good song because I’m pretty sure it’ll be loud enough to hear from miles away. 

How to Raise Generous Kids

Recently, a friend of mine queried Facebook how to help/make her children be more grateful for what they have. Some of the answers were pretty hilarious, and I had just finished a book called Cleaning House in which the author spent a year working on the entitlement of her own brood of children, and that author had some funny tidbits to share about their struggles as well.

Then, in a magazine, I read some reader-submitted one-liners on this topic, and a woman noted that she often pays for the coffee of the person behind her when she grabs a cup of joe with her daughter.  This example, she felt, showed her daughter the everyday joy of generosity, and would encourage her daughter to become a generous adult someday. 

Clearly, I’ve lately been inundated with the question of how to raise grateful kids–the subsequent question, I believe, is how to raise generous kids.  It’s a hard one in our insulated, comfortable world.  When they hint (and hint, and blatantly beg) for personal electronics, a larger home or a lavishly decorated room, I see an opportunity for growth–a growth of mindfulness.  It’s not wrong to want these things, but I want to teach them to think through the entirety of their choices.  When you spend your money in one area, you can’t spend your money in another.  More important, and difficult to teach, is the fact that there are plenty more ways to spend your money than just what you see.  What questions should you ask when considering how to design your spending?  We try to open with our kids about the choices we have made regarding the use of our resources in the hopes that they’ll understand what intentional generosity and self-discipline can look like.

In the example of the coffee pay-it-forward, it’s a cute example of a way to demonstrate generosity.  On the flip side, it’s a cheap way to bask in the sensation of your own generosity for a few hours, thinking of how much the person will be surprised, flattered and inspired by your random act of kindness.  It cost you money you had to spare.  And, better yet, you didn’t have to interact with anyone of a significantly different socioeconomic class or think about a system of inequality that would lead to someone’s not being able to afford a $1.50 cup of coffee. 

Random acts of kindness are great, but if that’s all my children learn to do, then I believe I will have failed to teach them true generosity.  Generosity involves not just a rush of emotion or righteousness, but planned, intentional giving that enables those receiving assistance to build lives with dignity and equality.  I want my kids to know that neither they nor we were born into a wealthy country simply because we are more worthy than those born into war-torn, ravaged countries.  Each of us is cherished by God.  It’s a hair’s breadth that separates us from being in need.  We have never gone to bed with a bare fridge or pantry.  I expect we never will.  But that doesn’t mean we should spend our energy lusting after the next toy while others send their children to bed with empty stomachs. 

What we are trying to teach our kids is that money and resources are a test as well as a gift.  We can use them to benefit ourselves and attempt to live in a bubble of equally self-centered choices, or we can step back from the bubble and try to see what God sees.  At Christmas, sometimes we receive gimmicky catalogues, and we open them side-by-side with a World Vision, Compassion, or Heifer International catalogue.  The game we play is to try to find an equivalent “product” in the charitable catalogue and determine which would be the better value in God’s eyes.  For our oldest, we add in the math challenge of combinations of products to get closest to the final cost.  What’s the best use of $35?  What’s the best use of $100?  $1500?  $3000?  It’s a fun and sobering game during the Christmas season.

You’d be amazed at what you can do with your budget when you put it all on the line and ask God for His red pen.  Andy and I still aren’t there yet, but every year we work harder at getting rid of more and giving more.  We donate cast-offs as well as “nice” items to the Salvation Army.  Our financial contribution begins, but does not end at, a 10% tithe.  We sponsor a child through Compassion International–one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, by the way.  We’re avid Kiva lenders.  We’ve slashed our budget left and right and still look for opportunities to be better.  Every time we find a way to improve, we experience the pain of doing it and the release of having done it.  It’s hard therapy.

And those of you who know me, which I imagine is all of you reading this blog (or you might as well), you know that this is not said in an attitude of self-righteousness but of deep, abiding gratitude.  Jesus has redeemed me from such an unacknowledged, unabashed life of entitlement and ignorance that I can hardly explain His reasons except for His goodness and mercy alone–certainly not my own merit.  If there was something that had me in chains, this was it.  And for the longest time, I believe I was afraid to face it because I feared there was no respectable way out. 

I regularly thank God for releasing me from that gilded cage, even as I see the temptation to climb back in.  It’s a failing I confront regularly, but now not with passivity.  Because He lives, I can face the temptation to cocoon myself from the world with confidence and action.  I can actually choose to do the things with my money that I believe God is asking me to–not just “intend” to “someday” when I “have enough.”  I can give out of my need, not just my abundance, because I know God sees.  God has gifted me with the courage to ask the right questions.

In a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the day before he was assasinated, he spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
“But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

The opportunity for generosity, and the corresponding sentiment of gratitude, is much like the challenge of finding a man abandoned by the roadside in need of help.  I rework Dr. King’s speech in my mind to explain my goals for creating generosity and gratitude in my own life as well as in my children:

When we have opportunities to be generous, I want us to think not, “If I do this for them, what good feelings will I get?” like the Levite. 

Instead, I want us to question, “If I do not do this for them, what will God think?  What will happen to them if I do not help?”  Because it is God who will hold them in the shadow that follows as I pass them by.

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A sample of my daughter's classwork from last year. More of this, God, in my heart and in our family.

The Result

Going through the waiting process to find out if there would be any partial triplication on the 13th chromosome was relatively surreal.  The process of analyzing the results of an amniocentesis had been explained to me, so I understood why the results could not be instantaneous.  I decided to proceed as though everything would be fine, but there was a section of my brain devoted to whatifwhatifwhatif.  Without meaning to, my mind argued with the results that hadn’t yet come through, making their case as though a medical condition could be argued away.  “But she’s so active, she must be healthy.”  “She’s still growing, I can feel it, she must be on target.”  “If something were wrong, I would KNOW…wouldn’t I?”  “Surely this is just all a bad dream, a mistake, it can’t be happening.  I will look back on this as a blip in time and say to some other pregnant woman someday, ‘I remember that one time I had that one scare and it turned out fine.'”  But part of me knew I was just talking to myself.

I got the call on Wednesday.

She’s fine.  No triplication anywhere.

False alarm.

Oh the relief.  Oh, sweet relief, sweet sweet relief.  I can love her and have her and celebrate over her and see her smile and tell everyone she’s my daughter.     I am not preparing myself to say goodbye.  When my mom had asked me what my gut feeling on this whole situation was, I had to tell her I just didn’t know.  Before the “borderline abnormal” result, I had been feeling so…complete.  We were going to have two boys, two girls.  I was going to have my last child about at the age when I imagined being done having kids. I was going to pass on my boy clothes and pull out the girl clothes and set aside the pregnancy clothes for other moms to be and move on into this next phase of my life.  So many times I feel like I’m just riding the wind in life, trying to hold it together no matter which way it blows, but on this issue, I felt a sense of divine and blessed closure.

I’ve still been going through and decluttering/minimalizing like mad, which I’ll write about later, but my words of the summer have been:

Release. 

Light. 

I’ll add to that:  Relief.

Rough week

I realized I hadn’t posted some relatively big things from my Facebook over here, so I’m posting them for posterity.  Here we go: 
_______________

Tuesday’s post: 

It’s been a rough couple of days.

Yesterday I got a phone call telling me my blood test results came back “borderline abnormal” for trisomy 13, a condition that is fatal for babies. My doc wanted to let me know he was referring me to the high risk OB for an in-depth ultrasound ASAP. I got off the phone in shock, told Andy I needed to talk with him immediately, explained the situation and then answered the phone and accepted a 1:30 consultation and sonogram for today. The words, “discuss your options” were said. Was this really happening? I got off the phone, went to bed and cried all afternoon, evening and night. Could. not. stop. crying. And of course researching what this is on the internet and trying to figure out what this would mean for our family, and if it would leave me so broken that I would never feel whole again. I could not figure out a reliable percentage for the possibility of a “false positive”–they seemed to range from .05% to 50%. I held my last sonogram photos an inch from my face to see if I could spot anything wrong–as if I’d know. Andy alternated between handling all the child care, researching trisomy 13 and chromosome blood tests, and comforting me. He had no good options; I was lost in my fear and grief.

I made it through this morning hour by hour, trying to keep it together so as not to scare the kids. My mom came to watch the kids at lunch, Andy came to pick me up, and off we went. Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry, Christy, keep it together.

Walking into a hospital in this scenario was terrifying. We prayed all over the place, but what can you say when you know what you want but you also know to accept God’s will? “Just please don’t leave me, Jesus, stay with me through this.” There weren’t words enough formulating in my numb and frantic mind.
The genetic counselor was kind and thorough. Andy caught more than I did. I remember thinking, “Those little tiny chromosomes can cause so much trouble. How strange that something so small can change my life in such a huge way.” Andy nodded like it made sense. I just wanted her to tell me it was all a mistake.

I went in for the sonogram. The sonogram tech was extremely thorough. If the baby had trisomy 13, something should have shown up. I squeezed Andy’s hand harder during that sonogram than I ever remember squeezing it during labor. He intently watched the machine, I tried to keep breathing and stay calm. The sonogram came out absolutely perfect. The brain, the heart, the blood flow, ear placement, nose width, nostrils, hand waving, leg lengths, spine curvature, kidneys, stomach… Everything and more was measured, watched, and evaluated. We even saw a lens of her eye. We saw her in 4D. She is beautiful.

The high risk OB came in, went through the results, and did a second sonogram herself to verify the findings. All perfect. We talked through what’s next. There is one possibility of a partial copying of the 13th chromosome, which wouldn’t show up until birth. I elected to do an amniocentesis because I just need to know. I had never done one before, and I will keep this child regardless, but I felt I just had to face my fears or put them to rest. So I did it, and have got to stay off my feet and do no heavy lifting for a day or two to make sure the amniotic sac heals. Friday I will have the preliminary results of the amniocentesis.

I guess I’m sharing this to ask for prayers for good test results, for our family, and for grace extended to us this week as we muddle through this.

If I tell you in a year or so that I’d like to be pregnant again, please throw a bucket of water over my head.

_____________

Thursday’s post: 

Not entirely out of the woods, but…

Preliminary amniocentesis results came back perfect! No triple chromosomes on 13, 18 or 21. Full results that would show partial copying should be in next Friday.

_____________

So at this point I am just waiting for the final results next Friday of the full amniocentesis, hoping they look as good as the sonogram and the preliminary amniocentesis results do. 

Once we let people know what was going on, we got a lot of prayers and support.  That means so much, it’s really surprising.  I don’t know how people get through life feeling alone. Being frightened is isolating enough and keeping secrets makes it feel worse. 

I found myself trying to look for the good in this and instead I thought, “People usually reflect after something like this that it made them realize what matters most in life.  That doesn’t help me right now.  I’ve known what matters most for a long time, and I’ve focused on what matters most, sacrificing plenty of other things along the way, and the very thing that matters most is the thing that’s in jeopardy.”  And then someone at church said it crossed her mind that if God needed to send a special-needs child into the world, she couldn’t think of a better family to shower that child with love for as long as the child is alive than Andy, June, Gideon, Theo and me.  Another woman, sitting nearby, exclaimed with tears in her eyes, “I thought the SAME thing!” 

The more I sit with that thought, the more seriously I take that compliment.  I know our family wears our mistakes on our sleeves–what you see is what you get with us, even though we try every day to do a good job of life.  But to have people who see us with our kids regularly, and know how our kids are with others, think enough of our family to believe God would be blessing a special needs child by sending her to live with us?  I don’t know if we could ever receive a higher compliment.

Until then, I’m just waiting for Friday.

 

Two’s company, three’s a crowd, four’s a party

It’s nearly 3 pm on a peaceful Tuesday afternoon, and I’m sitting down with a cup of tea.  One son is having a nap while the other is playing quietly, and here I am to update my blog.

All has been quiet here on the blog front for a few months because I had had the worst morning sickness of my life for month after month.  That’s right, I’m pregnant with our fourth child, due November 12th.  I’m starting my second trimester now and my morning/afternoon/evening/middleofthenight nausea has gone away, so frankly I just feel like throwing myself a huge party.  My only significant pregnancy symptom now is sleepiness, but I can roll with it.  So that’s the plan–a sleeping party!  I’m in. 

This pregnancy has been fraught with complications, but all of the fixable variety.  I had two separate rounds of bleeding that seem to have been caused by common pregnancy infections, cured with a round of generic antibiotics, but because of them I was convinced (multiple times) that I was miscarrying.  (I didn’t find out that was the cause until a couple of weeks ago.)  Between my anxiety levels, my overwhelming morning sickness, and my complete exhaustion, I was struggling to keep it together.  Andy would come home, ask what I had planned for dinner, and quickly realize that what was for dinner was “whatever you are making, Andy, I don’t even care, oh please don’t even talk about food.”   And I couldn’t bear to tell anyone that I was pregnant for nearly the whole first trimester because I was so afraid the pregnancy wasn’t viable. 

BUT HERE WE ARE.  Viable, fine, no morning sickness, cup of tea on a Tuesday.  Beautiful.  And let me tell you why the previous paragraph was a blessing to me.  In my three previous pregnancies, I could not have told you I ever felt “done.”  I seemed to feel it deep in my bones that each of the pregnancies would not be my last.  Would I ever feel done?  Would I always feel a sense of waiting for the dissonant chord to resolve into the final chord of peace and rest?  Would the years pass by and see me entering into my senior years, wishing for that one last child?  God has gifted me with a new experience this time around, in part because of my difficult first trimester.  Assuming this pregnancy carries to term, I feel…done.  I feel very peaceful with the sensation that this is the last time around, that once this baby is born, our family will move into the next stage of life.  In my mind, it feels like the difference between trying to feed a round of people while still cooking for years on end, only to realize that with this very last dish, I can actually sit down and eat WITH my family.  I’m really looking forward to it.

— When I undergrow these maternity clothes, I can pass them on.  Same with my size-up-up and size-up clothes as I retreat back to my normal size.
— Whether this baby is a girl or boy, I have boxes and boxes of kid clothes I can give away.
— When we’re done with the baby bath tub, it can be passed on.  Nursing accessories, baby stuff, most everything can be gifted to a mom who’ll use them.
— When we are budgeting for our “big vacation years” (every few years we go on a real vacation where we actually pay for lodgings), we can know how many children there will be, how old they will be, and whether I’ll be allowed by my doctor to participate. 
— When we plan for college, we will know when they will go and how many kids there will be.

I’m not saying, by any stretch, that giving away treasured baby items will be easy, nor will I give everything away.  I may try to figure out if there’s a way to sew together some of my favorite baby blankets so we can have a couch throw that will be known as “Mommy’s favorite blanket.”  But oh, this round feels so much easier emotionally than the last.  I’d say the only nagging feeling of regret is simply that life passes so quickly.  My children, they are so precious, and I treasure my time with them.  I regularly revisit the question of whether it is the right choice for me to stay home with them instead of pursue a career, and over and over again I feel a desperate pull to continue on this path.  I want to soak in these years of my life and relive them when I am old.   I pray if I must be afflicted with mental incapacitation when I am elderly, God please let me believe I’m rocking my babies, sweeping my daughter’s hair behind her ear as her foal-like legs attempt to fold up and cuddle next to me, laughing at my son as he shows me he believes he can fly mid-jump.  Life is just too beautiful with children around.  And this is the part I regret with knowing this is my last pregnancy–simply that time marches on, and I wish it would slow down.  Staring at a newborn baby’s face feels like looking into the face of immortality–so much promise, so much hope.  But I believe God is merciful in this life and the next, and He knows my heart, He experiences these moments as I do. He will not forget, or let me forget. Not forever.

So to answer common questions, yes we will find out the gender and tell everyone, the kids are over the moon excited (Gideon tells me daily how much he loves my stomach, and the baby in it, and happy birthday baby), Theo’s grasping the idea that there’s a baby inside of me, everyone desperately wants this child to be a girl, and my guess is that it’s a girl as well.  This pregnancy seems to be going more like my pregnancy with June did, meaning I’m pregnant everywhere instead of the tidy basketball figure I had with the boys.  We should take bets on the first time someone asks me if I’m having twins or if I’m due any day (I’m going to say 6 months). 

If this baby is born two days early, he/she and I will share a birthday.  If he/she comes later than that, my chart will put me in the “advanced age” mother category (35!).  If that doesn’t make a woman feel done, I don’t know what does.  They even sell special “35+” prenatal vitamins.  Might as well get out the Ben-Gay and rosewater.  But before I get to that, I’ve got to find and purchase a maternity swimsuit, and I have so many negative things to say about that that I might should make a whole separate entry.  But that’s for another day.

The Best Years

My kids are at the best ages.  The best.  If you haven’t seen us in awhile, here’s where we are:

June:  J is 7 now, and starting to change from that little-girl person to a more mature, but still young, girl.  She says things like, “That sounds reasonable” without simply parroting me.  She’s smart, beautiful and kind.  I can see her thinking through sequences and lining up for what she wants.  She has reasons for her thoughts.  She gets irony and humor, spending hours poring over comics (Calvin & Hobbes is the current favorite, followed by Snoopy).  She finds opportunities to be helpful to her family and friends.  I see so much of myself in her sometimes.  When the other kids are trying to act overly mature and sassy, J seems to stay a straight-shooter.  She’s open and friendly.  She loves, loves, loves little children and seems to have a gift with them.  They love her too.  It’s such a kick to see her set aside her own preferences and meet Theo where his developmental abilities are.  She’s sharp as a tack with the memory of an elephant.  She’s comfortable in her own skin and knows her own interests.  I love her so much.  I think she will make a positive difference in the world because her intellect, integrity and kindness are a unique mix.  I want to encourage those traits in her.  I feel like I am about to blink and she will grow up and I will have missed it.  Please, time, slow down, so I can drink this all in.

Gideon:  G is 5 and still having lady problems.  That is, the girls all want to marry him and he’s game for marrying them, except that he thinks he’ll probably marry someone he hasn’t met yet (someone who is a “happy girl” who “loves me.  A lot”).  Numerous girls have fought and cried over him.  I can’t blame them; he’s kind and affectionate and oh so cute.  Plus, speaking as his mom, he’s a hopeless romantic.  He’s already worried about what will happen when he has to grow up and move away from us, and he’ll often turn to me and say, “I luff you, Mommy” or “Your hair looks just like a princess.”  He’s almost always inclined to be happy and pleased with life.  He takes his role as big brother seriously.  He’s just a really good, likeable kid.  He bounces a lot.  His humor is physical–reenacting bloopers or showing me new tricks he’s just made up.  I love him.  I like being around him.

Theo:  Everybody loves baby Theo.  Except, he’s a 2-year-old toddler, the biggest toddler I’ve ever had.  He’s over 35 lbs now and solidly built.  He moves like a baby bear.  He’s so meticulous and order-focused.  He spends his time noticing routines and patterns, then mimicking them.  He’s always watching.  I even heard from the childcare workers last week that he was watching them put up various toys, then would navigate to a hidden stepstool, pull it out, and bring it to the item he wanted out of reach.  Multiple times he succeeded in reaching something no other kid could.  He also lines chairs up in Sunday School so they can all play “choo choo.”  Of my 3 kids, I’d peg him for the most likely to be an engineer or architect.  He’s so easily pleased, affectionate, and quick to warm to new people.  It’s almost as though he’s so used to being loved that he’s happy to be loved, always.  I think when he meets a kid someday who just doesn’t like him, period, he will think, “What is wrong with that kid?”  I pray he never internalizes someone else’s desire for emotional manipulation but rather stays strong in his right to be accepted as he is.  I love him so much.  Everyone loves him.

They all love music.  They all love hugs.  They all give love and forgiveness freely.  2/3 of them clean their own bathroom, make their own beds, put away their own laundry and even wash the laundry at times.  1/3 of them “helps” while the other 2 try to make him “go help Mommy with something” because he’s not actually as helpful as he means to be.

They’re at the best ages right now.  I am getting  such a kick out of being their mom.

Decrapifying

I’m in the process of “decrapifying” our house.  I saw on Facebook a Lenten challenge to fill 40 bags in 40 days–donate, recycle, sell, etc.  It sounded like a pretty decent idea, and my friends were doing it, so I signed up.  (Foolproof rationale, right?)  For the record, “decrapify” is a term used in the #40bagsin40days challenge, and it’s pretty accurate, so I’m using it.

I’m just over 20 bags in, not counting recycling or trash, and I’m already seeing a difference.  We’ve done various cleanouts regularly, what with our frequent moves, but at this point I’m aiming for a major minimalist-ish overhaul of our stuff.  I don’t even know the term—“right-size” my stuff?  Appropriate amount of stuff?  I browse minimalist blogs for inspiration, but don’t expect to be able to decrapify to that extent.  If I am ever that successful, I want new couches as a reward. 

The surprising thing about this process is how willing our kids are to participate.  We moved everything out of the space, then put back only what was necessary, and let them get used to it.  They found that they loved it–it was so easy to find what they needed and put things away.  So when I say, “there isn’t room for all of the stuff in this box.  What needs to be donated?” they hop right on and separate their items.  They want to keep their room accessible.  When they enjoy their toyroom without stress of impending cleanup due to all the toys they threw over their shoulders in pursuit of “the” toy, they are much more willing to bring toys to me and say, “We can donate that one, Mom.  I really don’t play with it that much.”  But of course last summer we had the Great Toy Cleanout of 2014 so this was not a huge shift from normal for them.  (We still have more cleaning out to do.)

I realized yesterday, though, just how much easier it is to clean out items that have already been initially cleaned out.  I had to go through the craft supplies, old school papers/projects, and various baby toys that Theo’s grown way out of (and we have duplicates).  Oh man.  Talk about starting from ground zero…these are the items I stuff in boxes and pretend they aren’t there until they overflow their boxes, then I add a box and continue to pretend they’re not there.  Yesterday was hard.  Believe it or not, it wasn’t hard because of sentimental value.  It’s because all the little pieces of the craft kits and projects and mismatched baby toys DRIVE ME NUTS.  I feel like I have to have every single piece of even the chewed-on cardboard jigsaw puzzles before I can throw them out.  Stress stress stress.  And then after the kids went to bed we worked on taxes.  I was so stressed out that I hardly slept a wink last night.  But it’s done.

I keep hitting points where I’d like to throw in the towel, but in all honesty I really feel this is what God is asking of our family at this time.  It has nothing to do with any moving (woohoo!) or even guilt over consumerism, per se.  I just feel like I have this vision in my mind of how our home needs to function so that we can be what God is calling us to be.  The more I force myself to do this dirty work, the closer I feel to the vision, and the more I believe we can attain it. I am on the right path–I can feel it.  I am not convinced that I can attain it on my own, so I pray about it regularly and I believe the Holy Spirit is helping us through it.   

One side effect of this that I never noticed before with my infrequent “give some stuff away and organize the rest” efforts is just how much more TIME I have.  It’s like I save my future self minutes and hours with each thing that goes.  I’ve never been able  to pick up my house so fast, ever.  I’ve never had such willing children to pick up stuff, ever.  But it has only been possible with a massive decrapifying effort, not small.  It feels a lot like the difference between trying to enjoy workouts when all I do is power walk and complain about how much effort it is to work out (it never really gets easier in that scenario) and really hitting the treadmill and eating right–a few weeks in, I start to realize it’s ten times easier and more enjoyable.  That’s what being home is like for us now–it’s already so much better that we’re finding it easier to keep going.

Some friends have asked Andy’s role in this.  He is so excited about this project and has been wanting to decrapify for years.  We have our system in which he does specific tasks that I ask of him, separates out stuff to donate but lets me check through it, and anything that’s on the porch has been photographed and is ready to go.  He’s like BFFs with the Salvation Army dropoff guy, probably.  He does all the dropoffs for me and I appreciate it so much.

Pray for us this Lenten season.  I really feel it’s time for this.  I’m trying to beat back the voices in my head that say we’ll fail, or just fill our house with clutter again, or that there’s just no possibility of achieving this goal.  We’re already on the right path.  Just going to keep at it.  Lent is a time for persevereance even when the future is murky.