Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mary Ellen Is Two

Mary Ellen is two. This may seem obvious to you, as it clearly states in the sidebar that her birthday is December 27th. In fact, she is nearing three even as we speak. But she has hit two in her personality, and so as to make sure she doesn't miss anything she has hit it particularly HARD.

Mary is our most stubborn, rebellious, and downright naughty child to date. She makes Leah look positively tame! We didn't catch on in the early days to the extent of her unruliness because she hid behind the cloyingly sweet exterior of a petite, blonde haired, blue eyed, quiet child. She spoke later than my other children, and when she did it was in a tiny voice coveted by Whos all over the world. Boy, were we bamboozled - not so, anymore!

Mary screams when anything is not going her way; and I mean screams. She refuses to wear anything she did not pick out herself. Mary squawks at sitting down for dinner, standing up for getting dressed, laying down for going to sleep, and in all other instances willfully chooses to be contrary to the generally accepted norms of body placement protocol. But to all this I would be willing to turn a blind eye if she would but stay (prone positioning being optional) in her bed for nap and bedtime.

Mary hoodwinked the tent! We finally took the silly thing down, and instructed her to stay put. This worked marginally well if you count success being quiet and out of bed versus being loud and out of bed - either way she was constantly out of bed. When we moved it was apparent that her crib was not going to make it into the new room. We transitioned her rather abruptly into Leah's big girl bed, moving Leah to one of the bunks. Mary was thrilled. Of course, I don't know that she has spent more than 5 minutes in it over the past 4 weeks.

The other night I finally had enough. I was tired, feeling icky from the pregnancy, irritated with the still chaotic interior of our home, and generally fed up with my little ogre. I told Christopher that I thought we needed to bring back the crib. He wasn't here to listen to her stomp around with her sister's boots on during nap time. He didn't have to deal with picking up every toy she destroyed during her quiet time. He wasn't listening to the heartbreak of her sisters that once again their diary, doll, game, book, dress, stuffed animal, or blanket was taken hostage and had war crimes committed against it while in her camp. Yep, I was done.

Christopher brought me back to reason, as he does so often. He reminded me that putting her back in the crib would not solve the problem, and would probably only make matters worse. He pointed out that she needed some better boundaries (like a stone wall), and firmer consequences (I'm thinking Siberia).

That's all fine for you to suggest, but I am the one home alone with her! I am the one that has to manage adding this to my already packed day!

You're right, hon. Well, I think our only other choice is clear - military grade reform school.

I am making inquiries in the morning... unless she kisses me first.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Or, You Can Just Cut The Counter

After nearly 2 months of living with WalMart Classic Rooster vinyl tablecloths tacked to the sub-counter of my kitchen we are getting tile! Not just tile, but beautiful gloss 8x8 inch white tile that stretches from one end of the counters to the other, up the backsplash and across the window sill. Ahhhh....

Of course, as anyone knows who has done tiling (or watched in wonder as someone else did it) laying tile requires more than just dividing the counter's square footage by the tile measurements to come up with the amount of rough material necessary. One of the more important steps is a mysterious, and deeply guarded secret that tradesmen alone know the power of called, "setting center." This task precisely determines the spot where every eye ever to enter your home will rest. It does not matter if you have purple ostrich feathers protruding from the ceiling in the upper-left corner of your entry, if center is not placed correctly in your kitchen all guests will immediately recognize your foible, and comment ruthlessly on the inadequacy of your feng-shui. It's important stuff.

So our tile setter came last night to "set center", and begin the rough layout for our counters. The general rule is that the kitchen's sink is used as the central mark, and everything radiates out from it. In fact, this has become such a trend that many architects are designing the sink to be an obvious focal point of the kitchen layout. Our home was apparently not designed by an architect, since the sink is not center for anything from our cupboards to counter length. And because our non-architect also lost all of his issues to Architecture Digest (before reading any), there is no true center to the kitchen... anywhere. This makes tile layout somewhat complicated. But our tile master was up for the task, and began giving us option after choice on how we could set center. The final plan took into consideration the peninsula that stands center stage when entering our kitchen, and therefore makes an ideal radiating point. Then my naivete over tile setting became glaringly obvious as once again I was asked where I wanted full to begin. Um... what? Because our counters don't run in only one direction we had to decide where we were going to start with full tiles. This means deciding whether to have full tiles at the base of the counters, at the top of the peninsula, or at the joint of the peninsula to the counter because, once again, our non-architect/ghetto designer did not own a tape measure which would have helped him logically choose coordinating depths and widths for the varying countertops. We were stumped. The eye was automatically drawn to the peninsula, making it the perfect selection to receive all full tile priority, but that left a sliver running the entire length of my sink counter which was, admittedly, ugly. And then it happened! The reality of home ownership came down like an angel singing Glory Hallelujah. Our tile setter suggested we cut about two inches from the overhang of the peninsula to allow for a full tile at both the peninsula's end AND the sink-counter. It was brilliant. Christopher and I stood stone still for a full 30 seconds trying to grapple with the reality that we could simply cut our counter to match our tile, rather than the more acceptable version of cutting the tile to match the counter. It was our house!

And so we did.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One Year Old!

Josiah is one year old today. I can hardly believe it. He has grown so quickly, warming our lives with his smiles, personality, quirks, and habits for 12 months. I can literally look back to yesterday when I delivered him. I remember last week when I took the pregnancy test that told us we were expecting our son. How did it go so fast?

I remember nursing and rocking him to sleep in the middle of the night. Now he is eating graham crackers!

I can still see his beautiful infant smile. Now the smile lighting up his face has 8 teeth included.

His cuddles have been traded for independence.

The tiny onesies outgrown for jeans.

My littlest baby is a full grown toddler. He loves to walk everywhere. He explores everything. Nothing is safe from his mouth! He is babbling, saying Dada when he is happy and Momma when he is sad. His laugh has a belly chuckle to it that melts anyone's heart. I miss the tiny baby I brought home from the hospital. But I am thrilled to pieces at the idea of watching him continue to grow, change, and experience the next stage in his precious life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Order

In case you are stopping at Starbucks on your way through Marina my order is:

4 pump
no water
extra foam


Whoever Loves God Must Also Love His Brother

1 John 4:21 says, "And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother."

One of our strongest missions is to teach our children how to love their siblings. I grew up as an only child, and can remember so well the desire I had for brothers and sisters. I envied the giggles underneath the blankets, or the shared stories of a history that began at birth. I longed for the camaraderie that comes with sharing everything from toothpaste to nosebleeds. I automatically thought that having siblings was the only part of the equation necessary for close and lasting relationships between children of the same parents. Ha!

Christopher has two sisters, and while he loves them both he wasn't raised with an understanding for the priority of building friendship into those relationships. He remembers the prevailing philosophy was more, "as long as it doesn't get loud enough to bother mom or dad," than one of, "is this encouraging a deepening of mutual affection for one another." There has been much pain and regret for loss of friendship over years spent in unconnectedness. He automatically thought siblings would tolerate one another, but gain their true friends from outside the home. Ha!

We were both wrong. Big surprise there *wink*. God has truly opened our eyes to better understand his design in family, and the relationships built in a home that loves him, and respects one another. We don't have delusions that our children's only dear friends must come from inside our nest. That would be absurd, not to mention unhealthy. But we are quick to point out to our children that their siblings will always be their brothers and sisters, regardless of whatever else might happen. And we don't believe that children can simply be left to forge those relationships alone. Children need training in how to be friendly with their family members just like they need training in every other venture from brushing their hair to addressing an audience. Learning to seek forgiveness, not harboring a grudge, communicating expectations, and genuinely thinking of another person first do not come naturally to anyone, let alone a rather self-absorbed little person. As parents we must take the initiative to teach our children the value in their brothers and sisters. For us, in particular, it is vital that we acknowledge the reality of sacrifice necessary from the entire family as a result of our choices to trust God for our family size. The payoff is no different for me, than it is for my children. I am willing to give up comforts and conveniences for another human being - and I want my children to want the same thing. But as an adult I have the advantage of perspective, and control. So, we try to be diligent in our communication with each child about the reasons why we have submitted to the conviction we hold so dear. And in the midst of it, we also work to allow them the most enjoyable fruit of our decision - the blessing of real relationships with all their siblings.

Only time will ultimately tell if we have done our job well. But I am so excited as more and more of my children's spontaneous responses are centered around the friendships with their family members. A couple of night's ago was a perfect example. Caleb and Bethany were scheming all day on how they could have a "sleepover" with each other. They were so well-behaved that I knew it was the night to allow them this treat. When I went into their room to check on them before bed their were fast asleep in each other's arms. What a precious picture of brotherly love!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Man's Home Is His Castle

Our many friends, family members, and even acquaintances have been so endearing in their interest over our transition into our new home. The most commonly asked questions is:

Are you getting settled in your home?

Christopher and I both struggle with how to answer this question. On the one hand, we don't want to appear as though we aren't getting anything done by answering, "Ha! Settled? Are you kidding? We aren't anywhere NEAR settled! We still have boxes in every room, the countertops in the kitchen are raw plywood with vinyl tablecloths (WalMart rooster print!) tacked to the top, all three bedrooms need paint, the garage is an overflow of yet-to-be-unpacked boxes mixed with yet-to-be-finished-using-them tools on top of all the normal garagy stuff you find in a family our size (think clothing - each gender, every size 0-10), the window covering are ordered but sheets still hang over the bedroom windows, and so on and so on goes the list.

But, we have gotten used to our new freeway exit. The kids have met other children in our neighborhood and become fast friends. The ease of cleaning our new hardwood floors continually reminds us of the blessing in purchasing an older home with oak short boards already installed. We realize every time we chose a color, put a nail in the wall, look out at the dirt pit which is our backyard right now, that this house belongs to us. We own it! And we are settling into that feeling very nicely.

We are excited to finish a few more projects on our list of priorities for the home. Of course there is always something around the bend! We have are our eye on certain landmarkers that will definitely carry a sigh of relief for their completion. However, we are excited that no one can come in and tell us how to manage our house. No one can intrude on our property for the sake of an "inspection." No one tells me what they are, or are not going to do in my house. I am settling very nicely into that freedom.

All in all, we are getting settled. It is taking much longer than anticipated in some areas, but the process is a reminder that Rome wasn't built in a day. And at the end of it all, the house is really just the outside shell for what a man's REAL castle is: his home, which is his family; and in that, we are completely settled.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Little Feet

Your house must be a zoo!

At the surface this statement is innocuous. Indeed, a house with 12 little feet can certainly be a bit lively at times. However, I recently saw something more subtle, and probably unconscious in the disparagement our society continues placing on large families. By mere merit of belonging to a large family, many erroneously buy into the belief that children cease to exist as independent beings. This could not be further from the truth. Please indulge me while I demonstrate a possible heart attitude at the foundation of this all too popular off-the-cuff remark.

A zoo is, by definition, a place full of wild animals meant to be enjoyed from a distance, but never embraced as a home for humans. It contains bars, fences, and gates to keep contact to a minimum. The architect's design of any zoo has one primary focal point - to give visitors a seamless window into another's habitat without actually endangering the viewer of inclusion in the scene. And at the bottom of it all there is the dehumanizing effect of equating the pitter-patter of children's fee to the dull thud of hooves, the eerie scraping of talons, and the wily tread of paws.

My little feet are not a pack of wolves, nor a herd of elephants, neither are they a flock of geese. This is, I assume, perfectly evident to you. I also assume it is perfectly evident to our culture, at large. What I do not believe is so evident are the individual lives attached to each set of little feet, making them not merely members of the "Mob", but perfectly ordained, indispensable people with a unique purpose as different from any other human on this planet as you.

Each person has an identifiable print to their toes, similar to their fingers. There are no two sets identically alike, even in twins! My children do not look around them and think, "Now who are all these crazy people with whom I share a house." We don't memorize stripe patterns, or tag them for recognition by researchers. I doubt you look at the children in your home and wonder how you will ever keep them straight. Do you forget their names? How about their favorite story, or worst fear? Do you keep blanking on what they look like when you try to pick them out in a crowd? These are certainly ridiculous questions. But in bringing the subtle to the obvious I think the point can be made that often those questions are wondered about me, and my family. How can I keep them all straight? How can I remember all their food aversions? How do I manage all those kids? The answer is rather simple: the same way a mom with one manages her child. I consider myself the mother of six only children.

I have Hannah, an only child, who is bright and competent. She is a natural leader, and takes responsibility very seriously.

I have Bethany, an only child, who loves art and beauty. She gives generously from her heart in soft, gentle ways.

I have Caleb, an only child, whose robust energy stops only for bedtime. He genuinely encourages with uplifting words of affirmation, and recognizes the importance of verbal communication.

I have Leah, an only child, who finds the hilarity in nearly any situation. Her use of expressionism bears the mark of a master.

I have Mary, an only child, who never doubts her own mind. The confidence, and comfort of her own skin shines through an independent personality.

I have Josiah, an only child, whose smile is readily given to anyone. He is equally at home in the comfort of my arms, or wandering the house oblivious to anyone.

I have my only child due in April. What a wonder of delight their little feet will be when I first lay eyes on them.

These children are not an indescribable horde of wild beasts. They are not merely a noise level to be endured for a few moments, and them ignored. When someone asks me how I have the patience for them all, while they stand at my hip, it is essentially asking me why I would want to put myself through "such an ordeal" for no justifiable end. I have a beautifully justifiable end: little feet.