The Thing About Having A Lot Of Kids I Didn’t Mention…

A while back I talked about what it is like having six kids. Which I feel a little silly writing about in the first place because I know plenty of other families that have the same amount of children, and several that have more.  But big picture having more than 3 kids is out of the norm, and having more than 4, or dare I say 5, qualifies as an alternative lifestyle.

Since it’s popular these days to lament about the struggles of living an alternative lifestyle, I’ve decided to jump into the fray.

Let’s talk about what it’s like to go out in public when you have a big family.

When you have a big family people stare at you. They stare unashamedly. Many times they stare and then shake their heads as they turn and walk away.  I suppose it’s kind of like coming upon a parade while you’re in the grocery store. Heck, spectate long enough and there may even be candy thrown.  ( or toys, or crayons, or cheerios, or the car keys that somehow made their way out of my bag and into the fist of a small child.)

Apparently seeing a mom with several children is one of those car accident situations where you just can’t look away.

I try to tell myself that it is just because I’m insanely attractive and my kids are so cute and well behaved that people stand and stare in amazement.

Probably not. But it could be.

Every time I leave the house someone somewhere will comment about the size of our family.  Like a mathematical equation where 1+1=2 , only in this case me+6 kids= please-comment-about-my-life.

The thing I hear most often and without fail is, ” You’ve got your hands full!”

This is true and I’m sure they mean well.  I certainly do have my hands full.  But the thing that is frustrating about this comment is that people say it because they want to say something about the size of our family but don’t know what to say.  So it’s a safe way of commenting on the pack of kids we have without being obviously rude.

Imagine you are wheelchair bound and someone says to you, ” Looks like you have a hard time getting around!”

That is a true statement, but truly unnecessary all the same.

The ” You’ve got your hands full” comment is the most common reaction I get.

The second one is, ” Are all these yours?”

This one is just a little awkward because it’s being asked by strangers. What if I had a sibling pass away and I now have guardianship over their children and it’s been an extremely painful loss and family struggle, and I burst into tears as I explain that a few are my late brothers children who we’ve adopted…

Thankfully for them the answer is simply, ” Yep! They sure are!”

Those two statements I hear every time I leave the house, no matter where I go- I am not exaggerating.

” Do you run a daycare?”  Is next in the lineup.

What?

This would be understandable if I were at a park, or the zoo, but I always have this said to me when I’m in a store.  Once I was in Woodmans and literally had this said to me 3x in the span of 15 minutes, all as we made our way through the produce section.

Why in the world  if I ran a daycare would I bring my daycare kids grocery shopping with me? I barely want to bring my own kids, let alone someone else’s kids. I’m a little nuts, but I’m not insane.

Next would be the all too clever, ” Don’t you know where babies come from?”

…. why yes. Yes we do. Obviously…

and the beat goes on:

” You must be catholic.”

” Are you farmers?”

” You should watch more t.v”

” You and your husband need a new hobby.”

” How many kids are you gonna have?”

” How do you afford all those kids?”

” You must have to drive a bus.”

” You’re too young to have all those kids.”

” You’re crazy!”

” I can’t believe you have all those kids.”

” Couldn’t you get a babysitter?”

A few years ago I was in a small town grocery store going through the checkout. I had a pregnant belly and 4 kids with me. The cashier said to me,

” Is four kids not enough for you?

Sigh*

Here are some interesting observations:

Observation #1: White middle aged women are the worst.

They make the most comments and do the most head shaking by far than any other demographic.

Black women make comments too, not as often, and when they do they have a very different feel.

An example would be: (as opposed to the middle aged white woman cashier who asked me if 4 kids wasn’t enough for me) I was checking out at Wal-Mart once and the 30 something black woman cashier said , ” Girl you crazy! I don’t know how you do it. I got 3 kids and they drive me crazy. They talking at me every second I’m home an I’m like, go.”

or another time,” Them all yo kids? That’s amazing. You get it girl!”

There’s surprise, but a lack of condescending voice.

Then there are Hispanic women. Who never fail to smile at us and say things like, ” These all yours? They are so cute! I want a big family too, but I only have 3 now.”

There are many reasons why my apocalypse plan is to run away to the Mayan Riviera.

Observation # 2: Seniors are the sweetest

I can’t think of a single time I’ve had an older person say anything to me other than, ” What a beautiful family you have!”

Which just goes to show how quickly culture changes and shifts in what is considered normal. These are the people that most likely had big families themselves or were raised in one.  They will never know how much I appreciate their encouragement.  When I have a wrinkled old couple stop to coo at our baby and ask me how old they all are I want to say, ” Bless you! Bless you!”

Observation #3 People don’t harass my husband… just me

Proof of sexism, maybe? Maybe not.  Regardless of why, it’s true. My husband rarely has people say anything to him while he is out with all of the kids. Because  a daddy with a pack of children is sweet, but a momma? Is irresponsible.

 

I’ve been followed around stores by overly concerned employees before who reprimand the kids if they get a little too close to merchandise. This has happened on more than just a few occasions.

The strange thing is my kids don’t act like animals in public. Sure the baby cries here and there, and I have to tell my 4 and 6 year old from time to time that the stacks of toilet paper in the store are not a good place to take a nap. But all in all they walk along with me, laugh, poke one another, and talk about the stuff they want to buy.

What bothers me most about all of this nonsense is not how it affects me. Sure I get embarrassed or angry, like the time I was at the clinic and a woman walking down a hallway said, ” Oh my g-d ! Are those all your kids? ”  so loudly other people turned to watch our conversation.

What really gets to me is the fact that my children are old enough now to feel embarrassed.  When strangers make these comments it is as if my children are accessories rather than real people with feelings and thoughts; deserving their respect. Imagine someone talking about why you exist in front of you as if you are not there.  The underlying message they get from society is: you are a nuisance, you are too much, you shouldn’t be here.

Society likes to talk real loud about how they care about kids, especially in politics- they are held up as a primary reason for supporting that platform: Do it for the sake of the children!

And yet our culture is very intolerant of them. Parents feel guilt when they have to bring a child along to an appointment, to the store, or with them on an airplane where some parents pass out earplugs and an apology note to the other passengers; because heaven forbid they have to share space with children who you know, act like children occasionally.  We love kids, and they are really important- but could you please put them away, keep them hidden, keep them in school or daycare where we don’t have to mingle or put up with them. And this applies to all parents. It doesn’t matter the number of children you have, at some point parents will be made to feel like they are an annoyance for bringing their kids out in public spaces.

Here is what these people don’t see when they look at us:

They don’t see that my husband and I have been blessed with meeting a sweet new baby six times. There is nothing like it in the world the first time you hold your newborn and we’ve gotten to experience that joy over and over.

  1. They don’t see my 7 year old son who spends the day quietly daydreaming about traveling the world and rescuing animals. 

My 10 year old daughter who is so capable and happy to help her momma, balancing our roly poly baby on her small hip.

Or our 6 year old who sings the most hilarious songs at the top of her lungs while she’s in the bathroom, supposedly brushing her teeth.

The 2 year old who says to me, ” Oh Mommy, I got it!” while he tries to help me fix something or carry in groceries.

Our 4 year old with big beautiful brown eyes who loves to brush my hair and is always setting up a salon so she can brush her sisters hair.

And finally our fat baby.

When I’m alone with her people tell me how cute she is, they stop to ask me how old and what her name is. When we’re all together she becomes just one more.  But she’s beautiful and soft with rolls on her arms and thighs. Her cute smile lights up our family and her crazy adventurous spirit makes us laugh.

They don’t see them laugh and play with one another. They don’t see dear friends who pile up on the floor and watch movies together, run in the sprinkler, or work together to keep our home running.

What people see when they look at them is work.

What they don’t seem to see…

is the reward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things I’ve Learned About Marriage

We celebrated our 11 year anniversary last weekend which is a pretty big deal by today’s standards, but on the grand scale of till death do us part, 11 years is a drop in the bucket.

 

I wanted to write something about marriage in honor of the occasion; what to write about is difficult because marriage is such an intense complex relationship.  But if I were going to throw some important things I’ve learned about marriage into a 10 point blog post- this is it.

 

#1. Always make them their own food- or bring them their own drink

” Hey baby I’m making a sandwich do you want one?”

” Oh, no thanks, I’m good.”

This is a lie. They aren’t good- they are never good. They will eat yours. Whatever it is that you made to snack on, whatever beverage you have settled down to enjoy, the spouse who passed up the offer will take the snack or drink and consume most of it- because marriage is actually socialist in nature and there will be redistribution of snacks.

Don’t even ask. Just bring one for them right away.

#2. Be specific

Be specific about where you are going, who you will be with, what time you expect to be home, and update when/if plans change.

Ladies- if you are going grocery shopping but “may” also “swing by” Target, or Kohls, or TJ-Maxx, or all three – LET HIM KNOW. Just tell him, ” I’m going out to shop- I may not return until tomorrow- I’ll keep you posted” Get over your guilty feelings and be honest with yourself and him about what you’re doing and how long it will take.

Guys…. same. Be realistic about when you will be home. If you realize it’s going to be later- call-text-facebook-snapchat-carrier pigeon or falcon your lady a message so that they know you haven’t ran off with another woman, or been abducted by aliens.

It is always ALWAYS better to know what to expect from your spouse. Being mentally prepared for how long they will be absent is far better than leaving them counting down the minutes until you return.

#3. Get over stuff

When we first got married my husband would throw his wet towel on the bed after taking a shower in the morning. This use to irritate me to no end. After asking, nagging, and internally complaining about this- I gave up. I stopped ragging about it and just started hanging up the towel.

In turn I prop my feet up on the dashboard when I sit in the passenger seat and absent mindedly press my toes up onto the windshield. This leaves little toe prints on the glass. My husband doesn’t think this is cute or endearing. He’s asked me on several occasions not to do it, but I inevitably do it anyway- not out of spite- but out of laziness.  And while I doubt he has become endeared to my cute lil toe prints smudged onto the bottom right side of the windshield- he doesn’t say anything about it anymore.

Because it’s dumb. It’s just dumb to let yourself be upset about the little mindless things that your spouse does! They’re not trying to annoy you, they’re not engaging in their little quirky behaviors out of spite- they’re just things they do without thinking.

That is what I mean by stuff. The small things they do that get under your skin sometimes- that stuff

– get over it.

You are just as irritating, I promise. And the more grace you give to your spouse ( assuming they are not a jerk) the more grace they will give to you.

 

#4. Listen to that inner voice that tells you when you’re being a jerk

This may be just me, but I definitely have an inner voice that lets me know when I’m being a jerk.  In the middle of an intense discussion, borderline argument, or a moment when my temper flares I can feel it – the gentle reminder that I’m the one at fault, I am over reacting, I need to shut down the sarcasm, or stop talking and just listen.

Heed that voice! Be honest enough with yourself to admit in those moments that either you are the problem, or you are contributing to it, and be willing to step back.

My husband thankfully has a lot of emotional control and rarely says or does things he regrets in the heat of a moment.  I on the other hand need to listen to the ” don’t be a jerk voice” and when I do, I’m always thankful for it.

#5. Don’t shut down

This is the opposite side of don’t be a jerk. I suppose you could call this the ” Don’t shut down” voice.  Communicating emotion doesn’t come easily for everyone, and if you are one of those people- know that your silence or lack of participation in the conversation is hurting your spouse.  You are sharing  your life with them and need to trust them enough with your heart to share what you think and feel.  Your effort to connect in this way and work through difficult issues will help your emotionally driven spouse to feel close to you, and it may even help them be better listeners- as they won’t feel the compulsion to fill the silence during times you tend to shut down.

#6. Be honest about money

Be real about your spending habits. Be willing to take responsibility for the ways you help or hinder your finances. If you feel like you have to hide anything in this department- something is wrong. Your spouse should know and have access to every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out.  Be unified in this area.

#7. Be honest about sex

Be honest about what you need. Be honest about what you don’t like. Be honest about what you do like. Be honest about how you feel. Be honest about your struggles. Be honest. Be honest. Be honest. If you feel like you can’t communicate openly with your spouse about this part of your marriage- seek counseling.

#8. Be someone you’d want to be around

I had a moment a few weeks ago where I was irritated about my husband being late at the end of the day. I was burned out and ready to have another adult in the house. As the minutes ticked by and I waited for him to get home, I got more and more un-likable.

He got home, I was unpleasant, we bickered a little bit and then had to stop and say to ourselves, ” What are we doing? I’ve been missing you all day and this is how we’re going to spend the time we have together?”

It struck me- why am I acting this way? Would I want to come home to me?

Nope. Not at all.

This is not to say people should perpetually be happy even in the face of real stress or heartache; but ask yourself, ” Am I an enjoyable person to be with?” ” Would I want to spend time with me?”

Or am I just a complaining nagging ornery spouse? On any given day, am I sucking the life out of the people around me?

I’ve known some life suckers; they are miserable themselves and make those around them equally miserable.

#9. Don’t think you are better

You are not a better person than your spouse.

If you think that you are working harder, you probably aren’t.

Think you care more about your children? You probably don’t.

Think your spouse is less humble and giving than you? Wrong.

It’s easy to be self focused.  I can’t always see what my husband does to keep us going. And he can’t always see everything I do.  It’s not as easy to tune into the life of someone else and all the burdens they carry.

  1. Unfortunately it is all too easy to tune into their faults. I can see where my husband fails, and while I could easily make a list of my shortcomings- mine are understandable. I have justifications for them and plenty of reasons why I do what I do.  I am easily convinced of my superiority as a  partner.

Continue reading “10 Things I’ve Learned About Marriage”

We Don’t Need Fathers Because Of What They Do

If I were to find myself a single mom and have to be all things in managing our family; I could step up to the plate and make it happen.  I’m not saying it would easy, on the contrary it would be very difficult. I would need the support of family and friends to keep life moving along. But if push came to shove I could juggle his role.

I could be the bread winner. I could manage to keep our yard mowed, haul garbage to the dump, keep track of our investments, fix up our home, keep our vehicles in working order; I could do all of those things.  As difficult as it is, families can be managed without fathers.

We don’t need a father in this family because of the tasks that he performs or the role that he plays in managing our home, we need him because he is a man, and a family is not whole without the unique love and presence of a good man.

My husband Michael with our youngest son Theo.

 

Celebrating manhood is not very popular right now. I would even go as far as to say that society is hostile toward the very existence of anything male in nature. And I get it- I really do. I’ve struggled with hostility myself. This idea that men are lazy, selfish, ignorant beings that exist for their own (sexual) gratification.

Cause that’s the narrative right? That is the message pushed all around us. Dads are dumb- moms are smart- Dad wants a beer and some porn and to be left alone- make him a sammich and don’t talk so much…sports-gaming-cars-guns-blah.

And we all know that the entertainment industry and media are very accurate in their sweeping representations of people groups… and women are always represented well, so why shouldn’t this portrayal of men be spot on?

*crickets chirping*

In reality manhood is wonderful.

When our first daughter was born I was in labor for a long time. I walked around the labor suite at the hospital all night working my way through intense pain. My husband stood behind me and held me through each contraction. He smoothed my hair, he kissed my head, and when our daughter finally made her way into our world I will never forget the look on his face.

All of the strength, dignity , and power of a man gathered into an awestruck gaze. The way he touched her and held her against his chest.  The tears that flooded his eyes.  There is a beauty in fatherhood that touches our souls in a different way than motherhood, and they are equally important in the lives of children.

Through the next 10 years of our journey as parents I can see now that it took both of our unique bodies as a man and a woman to create our children, and it takes both of our unique spirits to nurture them.

Mothers and fathers are needed not for what they do, but for the distinct love that they each pour into the hearts of their children.

This is why I don’t say happy fathers day to single moms. Because children need a mans love in a way that cannot be replaced by a woman.

When men step in to fill a void where their presence is needed families flourish in a way they cannot in their absence.  Men exude a strength, a perspective, and a relational connection that is different than a womans and children need that connection. Mothers cannot step into that space. They can try- but they can’t be men. Moms cannot be fathers. And where a father is absent their is emotional emptiness.

Fathers never stop being needed. That desire for male relationship carries over into adulthood. Men and women continue to draw strength, safety, and wholeness from the father figure in their life. When adults don’t have that as part of their support system they struggle.

 

We need men, in all of their masculine glory. They ought to be celebrated for who they are and treated as not only relevant and equal in raising children, but as necessary.

Indispensable.  Irreplaceable.  Appreciated.  Loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, I Don’t Like Being A Mom

If I close my eyes and think back to before I had children, and think of how I felt about motherhood; I can barely remember what I was thinking and feeling. In my 10 years of motherhood I’ve changed so much; as a human being, as a woman. I know what I imagined motherhood to be was idyllic. This fantasy wherein my home is clean and well decorated, my children are well behaved, and I’m still me, the me that I’ve always been .

But after 10 years of mothering, in many ways I’m not the same me. Sometimes I barely recognize myself.

The truth is, I roll out of bed at about 6 a.m and shuffle myself down to the kitchen where I fill a kettle with water and set it on the stove. I grind coffee, measure it out into the french press, and then take a 3 minute shower. During the week I barely wear makeup, I remember deodorant about half the time, and then every once in a while I somehow manage to put it on under only one arm. I realize this halfway through the day when I smell interesting on one side and manufactured on the other.  I shave my legs maybe once a month… my bikini line is on indefinite strike from razor blades. I talk to myself a lot, and then talk like an auctioneer when I get the chance to be around other adults, which is probably a good reason why my friendships struggle.

My point is… I look in the mirror and I’m just tired. I have a wrinkle on my forehead, by my right eye, where I furrow my brow too often. I have bags under my eyes, and random hairs popping up on my chin. But I only look in the mirror in irritation long enough to acknowledge that things are going downhill quickly, and then rush out of the bathroom to see why my 6 year old is bawling and for crying out loud who set the baby on top of the table?!

 

Somehow the whole mom thing seemed more glorious when I was 19 and only dreaming about what motherhood would be like. In my mom-hood dream world I never doubted that my husband would trust me and my children would rise and call me blessed. The reality is my husband can’t trust me to be anywhere on time, and the kids rise and ask me what’s for breakfast, where is my toy, there are no clean clothes in my drawer, can I watch cartoons, and other things not even close to blessedness.

The biggest surprise has been the overwhelming feeling of failure. My children are only 10 and under and already there is so much scrutiny. How well behaved are they, are they reading well enough? Are they talented? Are they developing normally? Are they socially up to par? Are they speaking multiple languages and playing concertos on the piano yet? Are you planning pintrest worthy parties for them?  How’s your house looking?

I am a mother to a 9,7,6,4,2, and 1 year old and most of the time they can’t find anything to wear. Their socks are mismatching and they’re putting on their snow-boots for church because, heaven forbid I’m able to keep track of anyone’s dress shoes.

We eat meals in the car and my kids throw food on the floor. We’re perpetually late everywhere we go, and we’re that family showing up at story time with crazy wild bedhead and breakfast on faces.

I’d like to be able to gush now about how I’m loving the little years, and these days pass by quickly so I cherish the moments. But you know… I’m the mom that sits on the kitchen floor and cries in the afternoon because I sometimes feel like I’m going insane. I snap and apologize. I  resent the housework and constant messes. I have days where I want to lock myself in my room alone, curled into the fetal position and cry tears of regret thinking of what else I could have done with my life.

Then I stand in my children’s bedrooms at night, just watching them sleep. I cry then too, quietly choking back tears, this time they are tears of shame. I know I’m blessed. I know they are growing quickly and that someday I will be an old woman whose life has passed and I will long in my bones to be a young woman again with my children all around me longing to be loved.

I’ll close my old, half blind eyes surrounded by wrinkles, and long to hold one of my babies to my breast again. Rocking them in the early hours of the morning, running my hand over their soft skin, kissing their small head.

A younger me didn’t realize the selfishness of my own heart, and the battle it would be to put it aside. Motherhood is difficult because it calls upon me to say no to myself constantly. Being a mom has shined a bright light on just how sinful a human being I am.

How can I love someone so much and not easily lay down my life for them? I mean, my daily life? Why does it feel like all too often I am kicking and screaming inside to do the things these beautiful people need ?

How often do I snatch a toy out of exasperation? Stare at my cell phone when they need my full attention? Distract bad behavior when they need to be corrected? Force myself to be empathetic when they get hurt for the millionth time? Drag my feet on putting tired children to bed… choose not to read a book because I’m just ” too tired” ?

There are many days when I am ashamed. Some of that is my own pride and caring too much of what others think of me; the other part is a true sobering fear that I will somehow mess up their lives or leave them with deficiencies and wounds that become impossible hurdles for them to jump over.

Because contrary to popular memes on facebook, I do believe parents can, and do impact their children in life altering ways all the time. It’s a serious, sobering reality.

In all the ways I fail, and in all the ways that I hope I’m doing something moderately right, I pray that in the end my children know they are loved. I mean really know it. I pray they know it by the way that I look at them, by the way I listen and respond. By the choices I make with my life, by the way that I speak to them, and the way that I love their father.

God’s mercies are new every morning. That gives me hope that even though it’s impossible to look back without regret, I will always have fresh opportunities to try again. That someday a love of self will truly come second to my love for them.

My heart aches to think of them grown and gone.  It’s easy to remember that in the quiet moments of the evening while they sleep.

Sometimes I don’t like being a mom, that is something I didn’t expect.

But all of the time I feel my heart wrapped up irreversibly in the lives of my beautiful children in a divine way that I also, never could have imagined.

So, as cliche as it is… it is worth it. It is worth it a million times over. I may not recognize this woman that I am… but I wouldn’t change her for anything. And I wouldn’t change them for even more than everything.

Holly

The Joy Project Phase 1 : GETTING RID OF OUR CLOTHES

Piles and piles and piles of laundry.

Next to washing dishes, laundry is my least favorite chore. I think the reason is because of how constant both tasks are. Everyday I could literally spend hours just washing dishes and doing laundry. I’m like a zombie that wanders back and forth between the kitchen sink and our laundry room, lingering mid-way here and there to correct school work, dole out some discipline, or give someone a hug and a kiss. ( a 10 minute span in our house usually comes with a lot of emotional transitions.)

And still the piles are always with me. Piles of dirty laundry in baskets around the house, piles of clean laundry in the living room, piles of laundry folded and stacked in baskets waiting to be put away.

To anyone who is a laundry aficionado, you are probably eye rolling and thinking, ” She just needs a system and some organization.”

Sure, okay, first of all, unless you are doing laundry for 8 people, shut your smug laundry face.

Second of all… you’re probably right. My dear husband has tried to help me get it under control with his expertise on business processes and efficiency, since laundry is my business, unfortunately I have a very huge struggle that keeps me from fully implementing any organizational solutions.

The struggle is, I don’t want to do it.

There, I said it. I do not want to do my laundry. I DO NOT WANT TO DO MY LAUNDRY!

So I admit that I don’t give 100%. Physically I give probably about 75% but my heart is just not in it.

I’m left with 3 choices.

  1. I can whip myself into laundry submission and fully commit to battling it out everyday to keep it done.(<– unlikely)
  2. We can become nudists. ( <— We live in Wisconsin so, between mosquitoes and frostbite, it would be rough)
  3. I can scale back our clothing situation. ( <—— BINGO)

Dealing with this laundry catastrophe and getting out from under all the piles was my first step in the minimalist direction. It goes without saying that wasting my life on laundry has got.to.go.

So! Here is what I did:

  1. Washed and dried all of the dirty clothes in our house.
  2. Took all of the clothes out of bedrooms and piled them up on our living room floor.
  3. We then sorted the clothes into baskets, one basket per person in our family.
  4. Finally, we went through the baskets one by one and asked the “Joy Project Questions”

Do I need this or do I want this?

Does this item bring me joy?

Seeing all of our clothes separated into baskets was like, ” No wonder this is such a burden!”  Because it’s just so excessive!

Here is my daughters basket, who is 9 years old, why? Why does a 9 year old need this many clothes?

AJ’s Basket

My son Theo who is 2 also had a surprising amount of clothing. HE IS 2!!! So he doesn’t even know or care! I’m the one that looks at him and get’s him dressed! Why do I care if he rotates through the same 4 shirts every week? I decided that I don’t care.  The kid will spend most of the summer running around the yard in his barn boots and birthday suite anyway. (he takes after his father)

I thought the kids would be upset by this process, especially the girls, but it turns out they didn’t really care that much either. They got to keep the few pieces of clothing that they really liked, and all the rest that they typically change in and out of 4x a day and throw around their room like confetti at a New Years Eve party, got placed into trash bags and loaded into our truck for donating.

Here are the results.

We managed to scale back on our clothing to fit into these 3 baskets. ( sans my husbands dress clothes for work, which also got a major purging)

Clothes for all 8 of us folded into these 3 baskets. Sweet relief.

Seeing all of our clothes bagged up and ready for donating made me feel ashamed. I’ve lamented so many times that we have nothing to wear. The truth is, we have had more than enough to wear, I’ve just been dissatisfied.

My problem has been with my mind.

Most of our problems can be solved by changing our minds.

If I don’t want, suddenly I don’t need, and life get’s a whole lot simpler.

Here’s to phase 1, ( holds celebratory beverage in the air)  I already feel the chains falling away.

CHEERS!*

 

The Joy Project – My Journey Toward Minimalism and Away From Depression

I’m going to be frank with you, I cry almost every week…

Too often I find myself standing at the kitchen sink with my arms elbow deep in hot soapy water choking back tears.

” What is wrong with you?” I say.

” I can’t do this. I can’t keep up! I’m tired, there are never ending messes, and I just don’t want to do this anymore.” I wail to myself.

Sometimes I feel trapped under the weight of the same monotonous tasks that are on repeat and waiting for me every morning when I descend the stairs. There is no end in sight. I am never finished. It will all be undone in the same day. Redone and undone 5x over.

I cry from laziness, I cry from defeat, and I cry because I often times give into the lie that the grass is greener on the other side.

The other side being a world where I get up in the morning,  put on a classy pencil skirt, do my hair and make-up just so, and head out the door on time with a cup of coffee in my hand ready to do something economically important.

It’s easy to give in to complaining and ungratefulness. The attitudes in life that drag us down and choke the life out of us are the easiest. Dissatisfaction is a natural state of mind to live in.

But I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough sadness and complaining. I’m tired of spending the day just trying to get through it, and then kissing my sleeping children before I go to bed, awash with guilt of the time I wasted that day feeling defeated rather than reveling in the beauty of their childhood. When I watch them sleep shame fills me. How can I love them so much and still be unsatisfied?

Last week I was standing on a beach in Florida. The beautiful sun and the vastness of the ocean stretched out before me. Standing there I felt so much peace, watching my children dig in the sand and then run in and out of the surf. It struck me that the reason I was happy in that moment was because I was surrounded by the things in life that truly bring joy. The beauty of the earth, and the pleasure of my loved ones.

 

So I asked myself, ” What keeps me from enjoying those two things in my everyday life?”

The answer? Stuff.

So much useless stuff.

Toys, clothes, dishes, and more toys and clothes and dishes.

It struck me that I literally live my life for my possessions. But do my things really make me happy or bring me joy?

Why do we have so much stuff? It’s never truly satisfying because every month there is some new thing we want or “need” . Some new toy to be fought over, or shirt to be worn a few times and then buried in a dresser drawer with the 15 other shirts we’ve become bored with. I spend my days cleaning and organizing, coming up with systems and routines to try and keep up on all of our “stuff”. But I’m tired of it. I don’t need  a new system or to reorganize. I need less stuff.

I want to be free of the things in my life that do not bring me joy.

So this week I started the ” Joy Project”,  where I go through our home and ask these questions, ” Do I want this or do I need this? ” and if I only want it I ask, ” Does this item truly bring me joy?” If not, it’s gone.

Because how many possessions do we have that we can say truly bring us joy?

My theory is the fewer possessions I have that are simply wants, the happier and more satisfied I will be.

Phase 1 of the Joy project will be clothing.

Stay tuned.

 

Dealing With Crap In 2017

By: Holly

We’ve all been there, I am there now, dealing with crap… literally.

I put my two year old son down for a nap today after lunch and 15 minutes later I found him sitting in the corner of his bedroom with more poop smeared in his hair than cream cheese on my bagel. ( Which is a lot. When I eat a bagel, I’m really just needing an excuse to eat cream cheese.)

Why? What was he thinking? Like, ” Oh wow, this poop in my diaper is uncomfortable, mays-well transfer it to my head!”

BRILLIANT!

**Crawls out of crib, strips down naked, paints the town with feces.**

I spent the better part of an hour cleaning poop off of the floor, wall, door, clothes, the side of the crib, and then off the fingers, toes, legs, buttocks, and hair of our sweet little possessed child. ( Yes, possessed with inner demons of digestion)

While I attended to the task at hand I was struck by the parallels that can be drawn between a major poop accident and our everyday lives.

Trauma in life is followed by many of the same feelings as finding poop everywhere.

Surprise

Shock

Anger

Disgust

Dissapointment

Tears

Resentment

Clenched fists shaken at the sky

Oblivious perpetrator(s)

But really, any time we’re given a load of crap to deal with, we get the opportunity and motivation that we need to clean up areas in our lives that we’ve been ignoring. Thanks to my sons excrement exploration the boys bedroom is clean and scrubbed to the hilt with disinfectant. Our bathroom got a good ole’ bleaching, something it’s needed for well over a week… er, or two. And Our little guy is cleaner this evening than he will ever be again in his life.

It also gave me a smidge of motivation to sit down and write this. ( Yes, I wrote a December post, then procrastinated, and now it’s irrelevant! )

In this next year you will undoubtedly encounter plenty of crap, possibly more crap than you have in previous years, and when that happens, when you are working through the gross , uncomfortable and slightly alarming mess, hold your nose, and see how the stink has pushed you to deal with things that you knew needed your attention all along… things that might have made a painful explosion necessary to get your attention.

I’m optimistic about 2017. Not because it will dole out less excrement, it probably won’t, but I’m hopeful that in the end I’ll have a cleaner, healthier, sweeter life for being blessed with the opportunity to clean it up.

 

The Poop-atrator

 

 

An Open Letter To Step-Parents From a Former Step-Child

By: Holly

Dear Step-Parent,

I do not envy you. You have a very difficult job ahead, for you are in the position of filling a man-made role that was never intended to exist.

In a perfect world, a sinless world, there would be no step-parents. One where death does not make widows and widowers of happily married husband’s and wives. Where anger, bitterness, and infidelity aren’t around to drive a splitting wedge in a marriage that should have been till death do us part. But our imperfect world has made divorce or loss a reality. Either by nature, necessity, or human failure broken families exist, and thus families become glued together in unnatural ways.

When I say unnatural I do not mean ” bad”, what I mean by unnatural is simply the opposite of natural. Situations are created where relationships that made sense before like: father, mother, sister, brother, daughter, son; become something to work at and work through.

You dear step-parent are tasked with the job of loving a child that is not “your own”,  as if they were ” your own”, without actually adopting them as ” your own” .

You may not be their mother, you may not be their father, but your position demands that you love them as if you were.

“But they already have a parent.”  So what.

” But they don’t even like me.” It doesn’t matter.

” But they’re not mine, and I already have my own children.” ………..

Wrong. They are yours. You married their mother, or their father. You share a home with them in the position of a parental figure, so regardless of the way they feel, when you said ” I do”  you inserted yourself into that role in their lives and they deserve to have someone living with them that does not view them as second class citizens in their own home, as not part of your ” real family”. Because they are, they are part of your whole, real family.

They deserve to have someone present and paying attention. Who asks about their homework and shows a genuine interest in their future. They need someone who engages in their interests, admires their artwork, praises their musical talents, cheers them on at sporting events  regardless of whether or not they like you. They may hate you, that may be your reality. But I would guarantee that any amount of indifference directed at them by you will only make that problem worse. Your consistent involvement and encouragement will help them feel safe and loved, like everything is going to be okay.

They may not feel parental love toward you, they may not want to call you mom or dad and that’s okay. Don’t force them. Don’t force them to pretend any feelings exist that don’t for your benefit, but do extend genuine parental love to them anyway. Be patient, be kind, forgiving, and gentle.  An angry step-child is a hurting step child, a child whose heart is broken. Remember that.

Do not ever speak negatively about their biological parent in front of them, even if there is plenty of negative to talk about. What will that accomplish? Nothing. It will only serve to increase strife in your family. This will not somehow bring closeness between you and your step-children. As if maybe they will like you more if they realize their parent is a loser. In fact, it may create more confusion internally for the children involved, because chances are even if their real parent is a jerk, they still love them and want desperately to be loved by them. Be that person to help your step-children learn to love their dysfunctional parent in a healthy way. Protect them and shield them from the negativity of the situation as best you can while still maintaining honesty. Ease the burden from their small shoulders and help them carry it.

Rest assured those kids will notice and feel every instance in which they are treated differently.  Out at a restaurant with the family and paying separately for your spouse while they pay for “their” kids? Stop it. Nope, don’t care that they receive child support. It doesn’t matter. Buy them Christmas presents and birthday presents out of your own pocket. Every time you divide your family, weighing and measuring where you and yours begin and end you send the message to them that you are in it for the marital bliss, and they are just necessary baggage.  Figure out finances behind closed doors and make an effort to show them that you are happy to care for them in every way because you are a family.

Will this be difficult? Maybe even feel overwhelming and unfair? Probably. Especially when the children you are trying to love and the family you are trying to create may take years of healing and growing before it is cohesive even in the best of circumstances.

I encourage you, for the greater good, to rise to the task with selflessness. Look at your step-children not as an obligatory responsibility as a result of your union, but as an integral part of the heartbeat of your family, and your legacy as a parent.

God’s Grace,

Holly

 

Perfect Childbirth

By: Holly

I’m sitting here on my sun porch 4 days past my estimated due date, and feeling rather sentimental. I had first thought to write a post about Donald Trump, but I value my mood for the rest of the day, and high blood pressure isn’t good for my unborn baby, so… I’m going to table that idea and instead write about what occupies my mind most of the time these days, childbirth.

Captivated by our 3rd little darling Estella.
Captivated by our 3rd little darling Estella.

 

Childbirth is a very personal subject, one that can elicit strong emotions and opinions that land all over the map. Some people may not realize it but birth, as simple as it may seem at first, can truly be polarizing. Women ( if they’re emotionally healthy ) want what’s best for their children, and want to feel like they’ve given them the best even before they have made it out into the world.

When I was pregnant with our first I was hardcore Natural Childbirth. I was pretty familiar with the home birth movement and had fantasies of what it meant to be the ultimate birth goddess. Throughout my pregnancy I meditated on all things Natural Birth, read books, watched movies, surfed every website, trying to glean as much information as I could to prepare me for the best most empowering birth expirience.

We decided to have our first baby in a hospital with a midwives group. This had been a compromise between my husband and I.  I was ready to birth in the comfort of a tranquil forest, but he wasn’t feeling that so much. He frustrated me with his lack of faith in the natural processes of my body, but it was important to me that he feel comfortable with our decision as well. After all, he not only loved our growing baby, but he loved me, and wanted to be sure that we were in a place where both of us could be rescued if we needed to be.

So along with everything else I prepared to do battle in the hospital for the perfect birth, having fully embraced the notion that hospitals are pretty much anti-natural anything.  I had a great birth plan typed up, with several copies printed off so I could hand them out to anyone who entered our labor suite. It outlined all of the things that were really important to me during the process.

I wanted to:

Eat and drink in labor.
Be free to move as I wished.
Wear my own clothes.
I didn’t want an I.V.
I wanted dim lights and gentle music.
I wanted to push in whatever position I wanted.
I wanted the baby on my chest right away with time and space to nurse.
I wanted to be left alone as much as possible.
I didn’t want any interventions of any kind.

When I brought my birth plan to one of my prenatal appointments I was met with, “ No problem!” I had expected to have to make a case on some point, but apparently nothing on my list was going to be a problem.

My labor started 5 days past my estimated due date with a bang. The very first contraction that hit me I had to stop eating supper and take a few breaths. I knew this was it. It hurt. There wasn’t much easing into it. Everything I had read about the pain building, and contractions becoming closer together fell apart in the next few hours. My contractions were 5 minutes apart right off the bat, and painful enough to require some focus.

The first thing that surprised me was that I felt anxious while we were at home. We tried watching a movie, I took a shower, and then puttered around our apartment. We decided to head into the hospital because I just didn’t want to be at home anymore and once we got there I suddenly felt this weight lift off of my shoulders. I didn’t expect to suddenly feel out of control at home, but being in a place where help was there in case of an emergency truly made me feel more calm and able to just focus on labor.

The second thing that surprised me was how kind and respectful everyone was. The staff was quiet and helpful, and they gave us plenty of space just like I had wanted. In fact other than occasional fetal heart tones being listened to my husband and I were alone through the night in our room strung up with Christmas lights and soft piano music playing.

The third thing that surprised me was how much I disliked being in labor. It hurt ( no kidding right?) in a way I could not have been prepared for. I couldn’t get comfortable other than being on my feet. I walked and swayed and my dear husband held me up half the night when my legs grew tired. My contractions were “coupled” so I would have two contractions back to back and then have a 3 minute break. This went on for hours…and hours.

I had been dilated  5cm when we arrived at the hospital, and now 17 hours later I had not dilated one single stinking bit… My midwife was totally supportive of me and said I was more than able to continue labor intervention free for as long as baby and I looked good if I wanted to.

I finally sucked up the tremendous pain in my tailbone and sat down on the bed and sobbed. I felt weak and pathetic. I was failing at this natural birth thing. Through tears I choked out that I wanted an epidural, which was like the ultimate symbol of defeat. But I needed to sleep, and I didn’t want to keep going.

Lucky for me this all happened in the morning right as the shift was changing. Within minutes I had a bright eyed and happy team of a few nurses and an anesthesiologist in my room getting my epidural placed. It took only a few minutes, and before I knew it I was laying on my side feeling the intense pain subside.

A wave of incredible relief came over me. I felt so guilty, and so ashamed, but the relief was amazing. My husband and I both drifted off to sleep for two hours. Two beautiful sweet restful hours. Then I woke up suddenly feeling an enormous amount of pressure in… Places.

I called the nurse in and happily she told me I was ready to push. I couldn’t believe it! After laboring all evening, all night, and into the next morning I couldn’t believe I had dilated fully in just a few hours.

The next surprise was how quickly the pushing phase went. With just a few pushes our little girl was born and placed wide eyed on my bare skin. I will never forget how beautiful she looked and how alert she was. I was afraid she’d be a drugged zombie baby with a low apgar score after having an epidural, but she was perfectly pink and wide awake. She didn’t cry, she just looked up at her Daddy. My husband was crying and so was I.

Our first little boy Eian melting my heart.
Our first little boy Eian melting my heart.

 

Fast forward and I’ve gone on to have 2 more births with an epidural and 2 unmedicated births.
Through the experiences we’ve had I have discovered that the perfect birth for me turned out to be very different from what I thought it would be. I had focused so much on literal/physical do’s and don’ts to create what I thought would be empowering and impactful, but what I discovered was it didn’t matter whether I chose to have medical help in labor or not, what mattered was how I was treated during the process. My births with assistance from medicine helped me enjoy childbirth in a different way than my unassisted births. With our 4th I felt totally ready to face labor pain and had a quick  delivery without any medical help, but with our last baby I felt exhausted and just wanted to hold our little boy as quickly and painlessly as possible, so I decided to be induced at 12 days past due and have an epidural right away. I am completely happy with both of those experiences as opposite as they were. Because I’m not always the same woman from one year to the next, and I’ve needed something different from one birth to the next.

What has caused me to look back on our first baby experience and feel empowered and happy with it was accepting that I was wrong to hold myself up to an assumed standard of birth perfection. The perfectness of my birth experience is that I was loved and supported in my decisions. I was respected and cared for with dignity during a vulnerable and important time in my life.

The ultimate perfection has come from ending up each of the 5 times I’ve gone through labor with a healthy baby snuggled into my chest and tears of joy streaming down my face.

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Our sweet kids meeting their new baby brother Theo.

 

So here I am full of baby number 6, eating a bowl of freshly sliced pineapple because you know, Google told me it could help induce labor ( throws head back and laughs), and enjoying a different kind of birth fantasy than I did with our first… Where I don’t know what my labor will be like this time around, but I’m ready to journey through it without guilt, shame, or expectations for what I should do, be, or feel, and look forward to the moment I become a mother again

Becoming a Mother and Loving a New Person

If I close my eyes I can still feel the the moment we met of our first born, her tiny body warm and wet, so new, curled up on my chest staring up at her daddy with her big round eyes. What I felt in that moment was something I had spent the past nine months anticipating, imagining what it would be like when I labored our little girl out into our arms and I became a mother. But that moment, what I felt, was unimaginable. Like every good and beautiful thing in the world had just been handed to me in the form of a little soul that was mine to care for.

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I was forever changed. I had not just birthed one new person that day, but along with our daughters birth, a new version of myself was born. Loving our daughter and seeing her only as perfect in every way was easy, but loving the new me… was not.

I’d spent plenty of time preparing for our daughters birth. I read books, watched movies, and read many blog posts and articles about pregnancy, birth and taking care of our new addition. What I didn’t spend much time thinking about at all was how I would change physically. I knew that I would most likely be a little emotional from surging hormones, I expected a little extra weight and some stretch marks… I didn’t expect to hate myself, to stand naked in front of the mirror and think, “ Who are you? Where did you come from?”

I was heavier, stretched out, marked, loose skin hung around my abdomen. My breasts were not my breasts, much too large and etched with squiggly blue veins. I didn’t even want to think about what certain parts of my body looked like that never see the light of day.

Ugly. I didn’t anticipate feeling ugly.

We live in a culture that hides the postpartum body. We may hear a few women complain about stretch marks, or trying to lose baby weight, but the body of a mother is rarely a celebrated image.

There were 3,988,076 babies born in the United States in 2014 (according to the CDC) this means that postpartum bodies are everywhere. That most women have given birth, and the vast majority of those women did not walk away from giving birth with the body they had when they conceived. And yet we’re ashamed, as if our bodies are mutated and disfigured beyond beauty or desire.

Listen mothers, the perfect body is a product, a constructed image that is sold to you in order to make you buy anything and everything that promises to contort you into that image. Your body may have changed with birth, and it will take time to get to know your new body and to see it’s beauty, but you are not ugly. You are not deformed. You are not some freak of nature. In fact your body is the epitome of all that is natural. Your beauty and allure culminated to the moment of creating a new life, and your new body is a display of your multifaceted womanhood. The strength, beauty, and power of the life giving female body is displayed by every part that bears the memory of a new soul that was brought into the world.

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It has taken me a long time to make peace with my postpartum body, and now I regret the many tears that have been shed at the “ loss” of myself. It came with the realization that I didn’t lose myself, but rather I discovered a new self.

My physical body will take many shapes throughout my life, and eventually it will deteriorate, and change to the point where I am only a wrinkled reminiscence of the pictures of my youthful face. Will I have lost myself then? No. Just as the age of our bodies ushers us into new realms of beautiful womanhood, so it is with birth.

My body tells a story, a story of love, romance, intimacy, new life, and hope. Now when I look in the mirror I no longer mourn, I’m thankful. I can see the sensuality my husband sees in me. I can see the beauty of the soft comforting body that my children snuggle into. And I can see the eternal loveliness of my womanly soul that will always be tucked inside of me as the passing of time continues to leave it’s impression.