Monday, October 24, 2022

Musings on This Stage of Life

* I found this post today, February 2, which I had written in October last fall. Clearly I need to write and publish all at once or I'll simply never quite get back to it! *

A new school year is well underway, and with it many enjoyable things that I want to remember.

It's a bit hard to believe that I have a fifth grader, a third grader, and a kindergartener this year in our homeschool, but here we are -- and with a two-year-old along for the ride too, of course. I find myself amazed at both how much constant effort this life seems to require, and also at how many good things there are right now, in this stage of life.

In terms of constant effort required, we've got daily homeschool subjects to check off, of course. Each child also has her "Responsibility Chart," which includes everything from getting dressed and combing one's hair and giving Mama a hug (some children more than others need these "low-hanging fruit" tasks just to have a few easy check marks in their life... if you know, you know!) to bigger rotating chores. The girls rotate through emptying the dishwasher, clearing and wiping the table after meals, vacuuming the downstairs, cleaning the two bathrooms, and other tasks. We don't get 100% of it done on 100% of the days, but I'm nonetheless pleased with having a more organized system for employing their helpfulness this year, and it's been working pretty well. I'm also continually surprised by how much effort it takes on my part to remind to stay on top of their responsibilities each day, and to make sure everyone has done her necessary tasks throughout the day.

That said, while it does seem to require constant vigilance, it's a delight to have all these things done on the days when we do, indeed, get them all done. It really does make my own life so much better, even if it means bedtime gets pushed fifteen minutes later, if the girls have cleared and wiped the table, put dishes into the dishwasher, and wiped our kitchen counters down. And having kids at ages who can do all these things is pretty great. It's admittedly way easier to devolve into chaos in the household (how does it always happen so fast?!), but if we stay on top of things we can claw our way out on a daily (or at least near-daily) basis without letting the chaos completely overwhelm. 

In addition to homeschooling and staying on top of housework and meals, I continue to teach violin lessons from my home studio. This year during those lessons, Nell (10) is delighted to be earning $4.00 / hr to babysit her younger sisters. In general helpfulness with siblings is just expected as being part of a family, but we decided that during times when Dad and Mom are earning money, it's a good opportunity to begin to teach our own kids about earning, saving, tithing, etc. I found an app I'm happy with that allows each child to have a "virtual account," not linked to any real bank account or money, but essentially a running list of "deposits" and "withdrawals" in one place. It's all virtual until someone wants to cash out and withdraw something to make a purchase. This makes it easy for me to stay on top of paying Nell (or whoever is earning money) without needing to have cash on hand constantly, and really has made the whole process simple. Often during my teaching hours, the girls have a checklist of responsibilities they need to complete, and Nell helps keep her sisters on track. She plans little story hours, often complete with coloring pages she'll select with me online and print ahead of time. She also plans games or imaginative play to do with them like "hair salon" or "playing library," etc. So far it's been a very good solution -- so much more affordable on my end than hiring a sitter to come to the house, and so much better for all of us than utilizing the TV as a "babysitter." 

* * *

So, that's the part of life that continues to amaze me just with how much constant effort it all takes. Generally I reach the end of a day and think to myself, "OK, phew, we did it. We checked off most of the homeschooling things I hoped to do. We talked through and solved sibling squabbles. Two or three kids practiced their violins and at least one practiced the piano. Most of the chores got done. Laundry got folded and put away. Everybody had three square meals. Success! Now... all I have to do is do all that again, every day, for about eighteen more years." An overwhelming thought, no?

* * *

But I'm also amazed at how many good things there are, at how much fun there is in these ages and stages. 

Nell and Marie are loving their Saturday morning ballet class, and are delighted that this December they get to participate in a production of The Nutcracker their ballet school is doing. 

Nell is in a group of children ages 10+ who are reading Shakespeare together this year, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream. Later this fall they'll present a couple of acts in a dramatic reading complete with simple costumes. She has been enjoying this even more than I expected, often laughing at humorous turns of phrases in the play. In the upcoming performance, she'll be a fairy, one of Titania's attendants. She sings Titania to sleep at one point, and Nathan helped her write a melody for the song, which has come together so nicely and was a fun way for Dad to get involved in homeschooling.

Ree enjoys math, and is finally beginning to take off with reading, too. Nell didn't read comfortably until age eight, so I've tried not to worry too much when Ree also just wasn't that interested in reading over the past couple of years. We worked at it steadily but the progress felt slow, I must admit. I think there was something at play for both girls where their comprehension level had them enjoying being read to or listening to audiobooks like Little Women, Swallows and Amazons, Marguerite Henry books, etc. etc.... and sitting plugging through elementary readers just didn't interest them. But I'm hopeful we're finally getting there!

Speaking of reading, Molly suddenly started asking me what sound every letter made, and how they blended together into words, and I've been trying to capitalize on her clear interest and readiness and sit down with her daily to do some reading. It wasn't necessarily on my plan or to-do list to teach my kindergartener to read, but she delights in the one-on-one time with me and the process, and is having a wonderful time.

Nell continues to practice her violin with increasing amounts of independence, which is wonderful to see. This year we've started sight-reading in a book of simple duets together. Playing them together with her inexplicably makes me feel that the past ten years of my life, and specifically the years teaching her to play the violin, have indeed been worthwhile! Perhaps it's a silly thing to mean so much, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to enjoy music with her. It is such a long journey and takes so much time and effort to reach a point in the study of a musical instrument where music begins to become easily accessible and just simply enjoyable-- it's fun to feel that we're on the verge of more and more of that enjoyment being open to her.

At two, Sylvie is suddenly old enough to really play with Molly, and the two of them are often able to play while I'm doing school with the older two. Sure, we still have dozens of interruptions and sometimes the play ends in arguments, but in the best of moments they play dress up together, or legos or magnatiles, or Molly will "read" books to Sylvie just looking through and describing the pictures to her. It's lovely to have those moments of people just... getting along.

Nell and Marie enjoy sketching and watercoloring and other forms of art, and have impressed me with some of their most recent work.

one of Nell's works-in-progress

They've also been participating in a new quilting group of similarly-aged children beginning to learn quilting, which they are enjoying a lot.

Nell has begun doing more of her own "written narrations" to reflect on readings we do in history or other subjects. Her most recent page of writing on Nathan Hale was well done, and made this Mama proud that she's developing a real writing style.

Sylvie's language is exploding, and it brings all of us, parents and siblings alike, sheer joy to hear her able to articulate what she thinks about. Her turns of phrase have us all smiling throughout the day every day. She's mostly moved from the crib (except for naps, which she no longer takes every day) to a toddler bed we've put in Nell's room. Sometimes at bedtime she'll say to me, "It's gark! (dark) Will you keep me safe?" Of course I reply that I will, but once I leave the room she turns to her biggest sister, who she has wrapped around her little finger. "Nell? Sylvie snuggle with you in your bed? If I'm with you, no monsters or bad guys can get me." Always said with the precious little occasional pauses of a two-year-old figuring out each word as she goes. 

The nearly-abandoned crib will be used again sometime in February, with baby girl #5 due at the very beginning of the month. Hard to believe sometimes (Five girls! What are the chances?), and also so nice to think we haven't yet seen our last baby snuggles or cherished our last two-year-old phraseology. 

Life is oh-so-busy, but good. I recently read an interesting little thing on Twitter. 

I don't know who this person is, nor do I know how I came across it, but it struck me as quite interesting and likely true. Though I don't have experience with addiction as such (for which I am grateful), I often think how important it is to have a variety of things that bring joy and pleasure (and this can and should include work, not just leisure activities!). When I think about my goals, hopes, and intentions in raising the girls, I want them all to have deeply meaningful lives, which I think almost necessitates exposure to a variety of things that can interest, intrigue, and bring enjoyment. Here's hoping our little daily efforts add up to getting us towards those goals. 

"We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can."

-- Charlotte Mason  

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

the endless bubble-overs, a foot injury, and perspective

 Perspective, I suppose, is a gift mainly granted us by the passing of time -- and with it, experience.

Today being March 16 marks one full month of near-constant illness in our household. 

Oh, it hasn't been without its brief moments and days of respite and health, but really on the whole it's been a brutal month. Nell started us off with a stomach bug on February 16, and a full week later when I thought the rest were in the clear, Ree was "bubbling over," as we say, for a brutal 48 hour period that left her dehydrated, eyes sunken, even confused at times. She turned the corner and a week after that Nell was sick again. Wait, what? I thought we'd checked her off with this one, but apparently not. All were healthy for a few glorious days, but it was not to last! 

On Ash Wednesday I turned my ankle, an incident that seemed quite nondescript at the time. The girls and I went ahead to church services for the afternoon and evening, but by the time we got home that night I was in so much pain that Nathan took me to the ER. (I have since informed him this is never to happen again!) Six hours later and one utterly sleepless and miserable night later I was discharged with a tylenol I'm sure I could have found myself much more quickly at home, a pair of crutches, and instructions to call an orthopedist in the morning. Nathan took the following day off work and took quite good care of me, but by Friday morning he was back to work -- not before, however, Sylvie had unexpectedly vomited all over me first thing that morning. Never a dull moment! 

I hobbled around on crutches for several days, pondering that God must have really felt the need to remind me of my mortality for Lent. Nothing to make one feel one's age and a true sense of "dust to dust" like injuring a tendon just by, well, walking. A subsequent visit with an orthopedist confirmed the injury was a strained tendon, painful enough in its own right and doubtless made more so by the odd existence of a small extra bone in my foot which likely pinched things all the wrong ways when the injured tendon swelled. At least the "boot" they gave me was easier to hobble in than using crutches. Additionally, the crutches had already put a painful shoulder, recently adjusted and fixed by my chiropractor, right back in its previous painful spot, necessitating a few days of additional pain and another chiropractic visit!  A week and then some past the original injury, things were beginning to feel noticeably better and I was hopeful. Spring is around the corner, everyone seemed healthy at last, and hopefully I'd be walking without the boot in the near future.

But it wasn't to be! Next to fall victim to the stomach virus was Molly, the day after her birthday (March 10 -- she's five now!) and right after a dinner celebration complete with the "castle cake" she requested. Three days of true misery followed by another with the odd bubble over here or there. At least, at five, she can manage to get it into a receptacle nearly 100% of the time! And finally, Sylvie joined her this Monday, making it clear that her brief vomiting the previous week was not the full treatment this virus planned for her. She's still intermittently throwing up as of this morning, when she was lying so sweetly on her back beside me in bed, and a veritable fountain erupted all over the both of us with no advance warning whatsoever. 

I can't help thinking that all of these things that past month have brought our way would have had me in a substantially worse frame of mine a mere five years ago. It's been hard, absolutely. But experience has taught me that we'll have our times to thrive and our times to just survive as a family. Right now we are pretty clearly in one of the latter. I can accept that a tidy house, being caught up on laundry, and having regular homeschool days are simply not in the cards for us. It's the "busy mundane," as I've always experienced times like these -- long days with nothing to show for them except parched lips that were dabbed with balm, thirst that was quenched with tiny sips of water at a time. 

We've been through times of survival like these before: four hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancies, that time I broke my foot six years ago (also during Lent -- what is God trying to teach me?), plenty of other times when week seemed to follow weary week of sick kids, and so many other little trials that never seem small until they are quite a ways behind us. 

With this bit of perspective, I find myself sitting here tonight, holding Sylvie through what I truly hope will be the last of the sickness this household sees for some time. The house is messy, and my arms are weary from holding a child so needy for so many days. Violin lessons I had to cancel will have to be made up sooner or later. Homeschool plans will be altered or made up over the summer. But I'm far less discouraged than I thought I might be. 

We have been in a long month of survival mode, to be sure. But that means that it's at least possible that a time of thriving could be around the corner at any moment!

This evening I scrolled back through the past month of photos I've taken with my phone. I sort of expected to see only photos reflecting how I've experienced the long weeks, photos that look like this:

But what I also found were photos that showed a lot of pretty enjoyable life being lived in between cleaning up after sick kiddos. Pictures of healthy kids playing even as sick siblings slept in my arms.

an incredible and unexpected gift of magna tiles has facilitated hours of creative play

sweet big sisters made Sylvie an origami hat!

when Nell and Marie were sick, Molly found that she could draw Sylvie into her imaginative play

something fun happened here

after watching the charming Royal Ballet production of Beatrix Potter while sick ones rested, Molly declared herself to be Beatrix Potter, and looked out the window sketching what she saw of nature for nearly an hour

just because she's cute!

I found a creative little paper fairy sitting beside my bread box one morning -- Ree's handiwork

Sylvie wanted to join in on Nell's practice session

a very sweet little girl turned five...

...and found that she could blow up balloons herself, now that she's five.

her mother made her a castle cake, with more than a little help from a friend who piped the details 

{this photo taken about one hour before the newly-minted five-year-old began her own bout with the stomach bug! She didn't even eat any of that cake, after all!}

Not pictured is the little song her two older sisters wrote her for her birthday, complete with ukulele chord chart added by Nell, who strummed along as they sang. And the pairs of cozy socks given to me to provide a little comfort when I injured my foot. And the friend who stayed up most of the night holding down the fort with our kids during my ER trip, and has brought us groceries so I didn't have to navigate the grocery store with four kids and crutches.

And really, if nibbling olives off chubby baby fingertips can bring Sylvie this much joy, then I too can find joyful, ordinary, holy moments in the past month. 

{But I really, really hope that cutie wakes up healthy at last tomorrow...!}

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Mollyisms, Vol. 2

This kid... I've got quotes saved from her going back to when she was three. It's hard to believe this girl will be five in a couple of months, and it seems past time to do another installment of her personal quotable.

These pictures are some I snapped with my phone on a random morning way back in October, shortly before Molly gave herself a haircut and subsequently found herself with a necessary bob and bangs. She was playing dress up that morning, and dancing on the coffee table in between clowning around with her silliest faces.  Just the best of times, being four...

Until pretty recently, "becksist" was breakfast, "mown" was how she said morning, and she was "soosty," not thirsty. She loved pocksasuhls, aka popsicles, all summer long, and declared it "soggy" anytime it was, in fact, foggy. She got confused a time or two and called a porcupine a "pine needle," a skunk a "stunk," and animals in general are still sometimes "amimals."

* * *

"I was reading a book and then the corner scratched me."
"Oh, did you get a paper cut?"
"No, I got a book cut."

* * *

Sadly: "I like chocolate cookies all the time.  But I don't get to have chocolate cookies all the time." 

* * *

Showing off her building block skills: "My tower is so good and so beautiful and so bigness!"

* * *

Waking and fussing at night: "Can you buckle me in Mama? Buckle me in with my blankets?"

Me: "It's time to take your clothes off and get ready for bed!"
Molly: "Take my toes off?!?!"

* * *

At bedtime: "I don't want to be in my bed or anything because I don't like that. I just like eating and being awake. I like two things! I like eating and playing. And I like Daddy and Mama kissin' me and huggin' me and squeezin' me.  And I like eating food.  That's all I like.  I don't like going to sleep all the time."

* * *

Early one morning, slipping into bed beside me in just her undies: "Good morning Mama, I'm just having myself some naked belly time."

* * *

Hearing spring peepers last spring, Molly asked me what the sound was. I replied that it was frogs, but Molly was not convinced. "No, that's not a frog Mama because a frog says RIBBIT like that. So no, that is not frogs."

"I'm hungry! I'm hungry!" Then, unimpressed with the lunch offering: "What else can I have? You're not making anything very great for me to have so I guess I'm not gonna be healthy!" 

* * *

"I have a headache on my back."

* * *

After watching a video of Nell playing her violin when she was younger, Molly asked, "Now can we watch a video of me playing the violin when I was older?"

Hmm... we all tried to explain the way in which time is linear and no such future video of an activity she has not learned existed.  Molly was quite disappointed.

* * *

During Holy Week: "We need to pray for Jesus! We need to pray for Jesus because he's dead!"

* * *

"Maaaamaaa! Marie made me have a headache!" 
"Oh, how did she do that?"
"She hit me in the head and that's how she made me have a headache!"

* * *

"I wanna grow big so I can cut things with knives."

* * *

Watching a staged performance of Die Walkure on YouTube one day: "This is a little bit creepy! I would not be in any of those places. Because a monster might come and stab my leg."

* * *

One day while, ahem, wiping her bottom, I sang absentmindedly, "You are my sunshine..." and Molly responded promptly, "Oh no Mama, don't sing beautiful things to me when I just did a yucky poop. It doesn't seem beautiful. It just doesn't seem right to me."

"How you make goldfish crackers is this: you take fish and you take gold and you stir it around and you put it in the fridge for a long time. That's how you make goldfish crackers."

* * *

"Mama, when I grow up can I touch hot things carefully like you can? Will I grow up tall? And then can I?"
Me: "Yes, you will grow up more and then you can! You'll learn how to do it carefully like I do."
Molly: "And when I grow up will you grow down and then I'll be the mama?"
Me: "No, I won't grow down but you'll grow up... people only get older, they don't get younger."
Molly: "Oh, so then will we have two mamas?"
I told her that if she grew up to be a mama some day, that would make me a grandma, and she found this curiously hilarious.

* * *

With a happy, contented sigh: "I'm so fed up!"  
"That means everything is beautiful."

* * *

Bedtime conversations:
Molly: God is with me, right? But why can't I see him in the room? 
Me: Yes, God is with us everywhere but we can't see him.
Molly: But what shape is his head? I mean what does he look like? Is his head a circle? 
Me: We don't know what God looks like.
Molly: But maybe you could show me a picture on your phone or your computer or something.

* * *

Reading a little children's book about animals, I pointed to a picture of a turkey, its tail feathers all spread out, and asked, "What animal is that?" Uncertainly Molly responded, "...a helicopter?"

* * *

On a long car ride Molly asked, "Hey Daddy? Could you reach back here and put your sweet sweet hands on my little feet?"

Bringing me a glass of water, for which she apparently found my "thank you" inadequate: "You should give me hundreds of diamonds for being nice to you today and bringing you this water. I mean, hundreds of pennies. Or nickels."

* * *

"Mama, I want you to help me find a dress to wear today."
"OK Molly, shall we find you a beautiful dress?"
"No, I want a beautiful beautiful beautiful dress."
OK then!

* * *

To a babysitter who evidently read with less inflection than Molly is accustomed to hearing: "You read like you're sleepy."  (Burn.  Sorry, baby-sitter!)

* * *

"How does banana spell? A-T-R? M? S-T-A?"

* * *

"Mama, where do poops and pees live?"
"In your belly."
"But food goes there!"
"Yes, poop comes from food your body has digested and used up."
"What?! Poop is food?!??"

One morning I came downstairs to find mouse poop on my kitchen counter. The girls were appropriately horrified (as was I), and Molly mused, "Did the mouse come and poop on the counter while you were asleep?" "Yes, isn't that yucky?" "But you could have called the police you know, polices help people! They could get the mouse and put the mouse in prison!"

* * *

On a walk one day, Ree declared, "I'm looking for an acorn today, and maybe a pine cone." Molly responded, "I'm looking for money. Or maybe a diamond ring." (One of these children was successful in her endeavors, and the other one, not so much.)

* * *

Recently she referred to an ambulance as a "weeoooo" truck ("weeooo" being the sound she would make for a siren), and a whole week later she said with a tone of condescension to her former self, "When I was little I used to call ambulances weeooo trucks."

* * *

"Daddy likes spicy things. Daddy likes beautiful things. Daddy likes shiny things. Daddy likes meat and chips. Daddy likes everything except vegetables and centipedes and bugs."

* * *

"Mama? By the way? I like mansions."

Me too, kid. Me too.

* * *

Arriving home after a day at the beach last summer, Molly flopped down on the floor and declared, "I have a really hard life."

* * *

Looking out the window one morning, she called out excitedly, "MAMA! I see a teeny tiny TIGER in the street!!!" And in that moment I realized that maybe she's watched too much Wild Kratts and spent too little time with ordinary domesticated pets.

* * *

At bedtime:
Me: "Do you want me to sing you a song tonight?"
Molly: "No, thanks. But I want you to stay with me forever."

* * *

"What are we havin' for dinner?"
Suspiciously: "What is gravioli?!"

"Can you rewind me in the morning?" she sometimes used to ask, when she meant "remind."  She doesn't say this anymore, and I sometimes find myself wishing I could rewind her, indeed, to these kinds of moments...

* * *

"Mama, I love you.  Don't go any places in the mown (morning) time. Don't go any places at night. Don't go any places any of the days. Stay here at home with me forever."

* * *

"I love you super much," she says to me sometimes.

We love you super much too, Margaret Elizabeth. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Third Grade and First Grade, Retrospectively

Spring of 2021 was filled with so many unexpected things that the end of our school year trickled to a stop without a grand finale of any real sort.  I didn't even get around to taking pictures of the girls with their books (a bit of a tradition around here) until it was almost time to start our new school year!  So, utterly late to the party, here we are with a wrap-up of third grade for Nell, and first grade for Ree.  

Highlights of the year as a family included reading Pagoo by Holling C. Holling, portions of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Wonder Book of Greek myths, and Children of the New Forest by Marryat. They were particularly struck by a term's study of Richard Wagner, love Little Pilgrim's Progress, and loved singing and dancing around the house to folksongs all year, with a particular affinity for The Golden Vanity.  We studied reptiles, rivers and oceans, and wildflowers, and got to observe so many wonderful things up close.  Both girls enjoy math, history, science/nature study, art, music, and so much more.  It's truly a delight to watch them making all sorts of connections across fields of study and terms or years of their education.  They recall so much and connect it to new things they learn with great enthusiasm, and their enjoyment of school keeps me going.  

Ree is learning to read, and loves her little old-fashioned primer that teaches reading in both print and cursive.  She loves math and sometimes surprises me with her ability and quickness in that subject.  (It doesn't go over well when she answers her older sister's math questions ... oh dear!)  

It really does help me get going with a new school year (now two weeks underway!) to look back on the previous year.  We didn't accomplish everything on the lists I had made, to be sure, but we did accomplish quite a lot of things, and best of all, we are all eager and happy for the new school year, which I consider to be a very good sign indeed.

Here's to another good year of learning together!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

the trouble with birthdays and wishes

 She wants a lot of things, this daughter of mine who is seemingly never satisfied - or not for long, anyway.  The new pair of shoes has her enamored for a few days, but soon she wants something else.  Yesterday's dessert is quickly forgotten and I hear, "We never get to have treats!" Today's trip to the Crane Estate was filled with beauties and delights, but driving home she began to whine because she wanted to go to a playground.

My first instinct was to unleash my own frustration in the form of a lecture about gratitude, to tell her how frustrating it is to hear her grumpily declaring that her mother never takes her to playgrounds literally moments after walking through beautiful gardens and running joyfully through the salt spray of one of our favorites beaches.  Yes, I almost laid it all out for her -- and it wouldn't have been the first time she'd heard me express the importance of gratitude for the things we have, the things we get to do.

But then, in a moment of clarity, I realized I had been feeling a little off all day, too.  Like that daughter of mine, I want things, too.  And while I spend most of my days fairly content with the little life I lead, on a day like today when it was asked of me, "What do you want for your birthday?" -- well, then I start to think about what I want.  And I realize that the answer doesn't lie conveniently in the $10-$20 range of a little birthday gift.  What do I want?  That could fit into one day of the year and one little budget?

You see, what I want is for the lattice project off the back addition of our house to finally be finished so the back of the house doesn't look so dilapidated.  I want us to have the time or the money to finish it.  I want to be able to afford to bring in a crew to repair and paint the exterior trim on our house which so badly needs to be done.  I want gardens like the ones I walked through at the Crane Estate today.  

Cascades of roses, armloads of peonies, and impressive alliums, a well-graded lawn that is actually more grass than dirt and weeds - I want that.  In fact, I want a whole estate like the Crane Estate.  I'd like very much to live a Downton Abbey sort of life in a grand house.  

Come to think of it, Burleigh House would be more than acceptable.  

I wouldn't say no to a small household staff, or at least the occasional help with a load of laundry since I'm up to my ears in unwashed items lately.  What I want is for the house to be tidy, for the chaos of the children to be mitigated somehow.   I want the kitchen renovation we've dreamed of doing to be something we could actually afford so I can stop my seemingly futile efforts of trying to clean the cracking old formica countertops and the black stains along the caulking behind the sink.  I dream of soapstone counters, but I'd settle for anything spacious enough for a kid or two to sit on and make pancakes with me on Saturday mornings.  

I want a huge porch with rocking chairs and a big swing, to spend summer evenings drinking wine in the evening open air.  I want to eat ice cream every couple of days and still somehow lose ten pounds.  I want to travel to places like Italy, and New Orleans, and Turkey.  I want all these things, and more.  And so, when my loving husband asks me what I want for my birthday, I hardly know how to answer because the answer is so impossibly enormous.   And unlike my tiny demanding daughter, I have the social acumen to know that brooding about all of these things with a discontented heart isn't exactly admirable. 

* * *

I spent the day feeling ever-so-slightly off center because of all this.  I want all the things, but I also feel badly for wanting all the things.  Unlike my young daughter, whose emotions and big asks in life run wild and unrestrained, I know I have everything to be grateful for.   I know that I ought not to have spent my birthday in the margins of a funk, and all because of what?  Because my house is messy and in need of renovations?  Because my yard is not filled with the gardens of a grand estate?  Because my life is ordinary and filled with everyday responsibilities, stresses, worries, and unending tasks that may never be finished? 

I prayed for my heart of discontent to be replaced with a heart of gratitude today, on this day when my daughter's free and entirely unselfconscious requests reminded me that my own heart was discontented as well.  And we came home from our day's adventures to that messy house, just as we had left it.  The lawn was still filled with anthills I can't seem to eradicate.  The baby's room was still piled with clean laundry waiting to be folded.  This dear old fixer-upper of a house welcomed us home with her dingy trim paint and broken old garage door.  

And yet, she is a dear old house indeed, and filled with joy and memories and good things.  I prayed for gratitude, and almost immediately my vision grew more clear.  I saw one daughter finally get the hang of jumping rope in the afternoon sunlight.  My four-year-old brought me a birthday card she drew me, a picture of a rainbow with the word MAMA spelled out above it.  The baby wrapped her sweet chubby arms around my neck this evening.  Another daughter demanded I let her help me with dinner as much as possible since it was my birthday.  

Ordinary little nothings, perhaps, these moments of gratitude.  But this afternoon I realized that instead of wanting to chastise my daughter for the wild and expansive things she wants so desperately in life, I can understand her.  I, too, know how it is to want the world handed to me exactly as I wish it could be. But I also know the antidote to discontent can sometimes be as simple as a prayer that brings me into the presence of God: "In your presence there is fullness of joy."

I know that God would have us be grateful for all that he's given us, but I also have a secret suspicion that my heavenly Father is neither shocked nor angry that a corner of my heart longs for the grandest of spaces and gardens.  Yes, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth," he tells me, and I surely need the reminder.  But he also promises a mansion with many rooms, and grand feasts.  Perhaps he sees and understands the silly longings of my daughter's heart, and of mine, too.

* * *

Dearest little seven-year-old of mine,

If your Mama sometimes butts heads with you, perhaps it is because we are somewhat alike.  There's a burning fire inside of you, to do things, to have things, to go places, to be somebody.  I feel those things too sometimes.  I know you dream of having the "fanciest" life imaginable, girlie.  It's OK to want wonderful and big things in life.  I'll try to remember that I'm not so different from you, after all, and to temper my occasional little lectures with a little more understanding.


your mama

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Sylvie Anne

Seeing as this little lady has been a bonafide member of our family for over six months, it seems about time to chronicle a few memories of her arrival and earliest moments.  Those first moments are such precious ones, aren't they?  Difficult and precious all at once; the sort of moments you'd want to live over and over again if it weren't for the fact that while being so wonderful they're sometimes also so hard.

More and more often lately, I find myself missing the days of long-form social media. Remember the early 2000's, before bloggers were replaced by instagrammers and before everyone was trying to be an influencer? I realize I am now hopelessly out-of-date in this regard, but I still cherish the family memories I have recorded on this old-fashioned blog, and I sometimes wish I had time to record things here more often. In any case, since we now have four daughters (four!), it seems that an update of some sort is quite overdue.

Sylvie Anne joined our family on Monday, April 27, at 8:52 am. She was born at home in our family room in an inflatable tub at the height of a pandemic, and I like to think she'll be all the more resilient for it. She was also born partly en caul (with the bag of waters still intact over her head and body), which is considered a sign of good luck.  She weighed 8 lbs, 14 oz (my biggest baby!), and measured 21 inches long.  

Her three eager big sisters ran in to meet her when she was moments old, and were immediately smitten with that squishy, slightly bruised little face, her head of soft hair, her delicate and intoxicating newborn scent.  

The story of her birth is the first time I have managed a birth without an epidural.  Back when Nell, our oldest, was born, I had hoped to have a home birth, but a very long (~72 hrs) labor eventually landed us in the hospital for pain relief and rest.  Marie's labor was likewise quite long and also ended in a transfer (from birth center to hospital) for pain relief after about 36 hrs.  With Molly, in the hopes of avoiding the postpartum sense of failure that had accompanied my first two, we decided to make the hospital and the epidural "Plan A," and in this way, everything went according to plan, ha!  

Early in my pregnancy with Sylvie I sort of figured we would do the same thing again, but by sometime in January I began to find myself toying with the idea of trying once more to have a home birth.  It was, frankly, really weird and inexplicable.  Even Nathan said, "Honey, your labors are long and grueling and full of unbearable back pain that never relents.  Why on earth would you be considering trying this again?  Your epidurals have had zero complications and everything has gone really well."  And he was right!  I couldn't explain the niggling thoughts that I just couldn't shake, that maybe this time we should try home one more time.  

By February we had met with a delightful midwife based out of New Hampshire, and we soon booked her services.  As you may be able to guess, it wasn't long before we became very, very grateful that we had gone this route.  Yes, by mid-March when the United States totally shut down and we were all hunkered at home looking at graphs and charts and watching numbers that rose daily, well... I was quite grateful to think that, if everything went well at home, we could avoid a trip to the hospital and all that might entail amidst a pandemic.  If a hospital transfer became necessary, would Nathan even be able to be with me?  How long might it be before the older girls would meet their new sister?  If I developed a fever or any other symptoms, would baby and I be separated in the hospital?  These were all worrisome thoughts, and scenarios we hoped to avoid by just staying home.  

After literally weeks (!) of prodromal labor that started and stopped, started again and stopped again, that Sunday night I thought maybe things were actually really going to happen.  Of course, I had already thought this a dozen times before, so I was losing some serious trusts in my instincts in this regard.  Still, by this point I was a week "overdue," so it seemed like it really did need to happen eventually.  When he got home from work that evening, Nathan drove to Beverly and picked up some Indian food for me at my request, and we relaxed and watched a little TV together.  A couple of hours after going to bed I was awakened again and couldn't get back to sleep, so I came downstairs and tried to rest on the couch, dozing on and off between contractions.  Between midnight and 4:00 am or so, I was able to rest, watch some TV half awake, and generally cope pretty well.  But at about 4:00 I remember yelling up the stairs, "NATHAN!" and feeling pretty urgently that I needed his help at that point.  He came downstairs groggily, but soon sprang into action and started filling the inflatable birth tub with water for me.  

We called our midwife to let her know things seemed to be happening for real at last, and I texted my sister-in-law, who was planning to come be with the older girls during the birth.  After that a lot of what happened is a bit blurry for me.  Once the tub was filled with warm water I got right in--looking truly stellar I'm sure in a bikini at 9+ months pregnant.  As I had an increasingly hard time coping with the unrelenting back pain that is how labor goes for me, Nathan would hold the hose of running warm water right over my lower back for me, which provided some relief.

Around 6 or 7 am our midwife arrived together with her assistant and a young midwifery student who was doing her clinical hours or... something.  Like I said, a lot of this is blurry for me.  In any case, they bustled around on the sidelines getting things ready and I hummed and moaned and occasionally screamed from the back pain in contractions.  I tried turning on my hypnosis recordings and soon yelled, "HYPNOSIS IS A BUNCH OF CRAP!"  Well, it was nice until things were really serious anyway, which by now they were.  I kept waiting for my midwife to say something nice and definitive, like "Oh, honey, this is transition and it'll be over soon," but failing to hear these exact words while feeling that surely I couldn't take any more of this, I said things like "I want to go to the hospital! I need all the drugs! Nathan, these mean women won't listen to me! You need to take me to the hospital right now! I want my Mom!"  And my midwife, calm and serene, replied, "This is all a very good sign!"  

At some point when it all felt pretty unbearable -- oh and also, I had almost drowned myself a couple of times by dozing off in the tub in the brief moments between contractions, utterly exhausted, and slipping my face down into the water only to wake with a nose full of said water -- I told Nathan I urgently needed to use the bathroom and tried to stand up to get out of the tub.  Our lovely midwife calmly said, "Or maybe you're going to have a baby!"  When I insisted, she was ready and willing to help me out of the tub;  but of course she was right and I sat right back down in the tub and promptly delivered that baby.  

Later my brother-in-law, who had quietly arrived with my sister-in-law and their sweet little toddler in the midst of all of this, would be able to laugh with me about that endless horrifying "five-minutes-without-stopping-for-breath" scream that had accompanied the birth.  "I thought you had mastered the art of circular breathing!"  Ha!  It's a good thing this was my fourth baby and family is family; somehow I didn't die of shame having them one thin wall away from all this drama unfolding.  

As soon as Sylvie was in my arms I just collapsed with relief and happiness.  I ugly cried (I have pictures to prove it), and then the girls came running right in as soon as Nathan fetched them and they were utterly awestruck by the magic of it all, meeting this newly born human being who would be their sister forever and always.  A massive rainstorm had been going on throughout the labor but my midwife tells me that at precisely the moment of Sylvie's birth the rain stopped and the sun came out and the world was clear again.  It was almost 9 am but somehow it felt like the wee hours of the morning, and all was calm and still and messy and perfect.  

For the labor itself, at any given moment I would have probably preferred to be laying in a hospital bed with an epidural and a popsicle.  But the minute it was over, I would have done it all over again.  I was so grateful to be home, with family.  It was so wonderful to rinse off in my own shower, rest in my own bed, and eat food from my own home.  The pampering I received from my family (and, in subsequent days, friends) was far beyond hospital food and care!  And the moments the girls got to spend with their newborn sister were priceless.

Like her big sisters, we chose for Sylvie a middle name that connects her to the music of the church, which is her Daddy's occupation and great love.  St. Anne is the tune name for the hymn "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past." 

Back in January when I began to contemplate the idea of a home birth, I couldn’t quite identify why I wanted to change my model of care mid-pregnancy, but in light of Covid we consider it a divinely-inspired nudge. Born amidst a pandemic, it seemed a fitting time to recall with Christians across the ages: 

“Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.” 

Today this sweet six-month old is sitting beside me as I type, all gummy smiles and sweetness.  Of course, we already can't imagine life without her.

The older girls requested that we listen to music by the Peasall Sisters earlier this week, and when Nathan heard "I'm That Sparrow" come on, he commented, "I would think you'd be scarred by this song!"  I listened to it while I was in labor with Sylvie.  Oddly, I don't feel 'scarred' at all, but it does make me feel a little teary, remembering that dark and stormy night -- and the sunburst of a sweet babe in our arms.  

Never has a baby been more adored than this sweet child, and even a pandemic and social distancing can't change that.  It's true that many people in our wider community haven't yet even met her, but I think her adoring immediate family and the close friends we've seen almost makes up for that (but not quite, of course -- we wish so much she could meet her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends).  Her sisters clamor for her attention, and when she was a newborn I practically had to get in line to hold her, so eager were her big sisters to snuggle her.  And last night, as happens almost every night right now, she lay asleep beside me when Nathan came to bed.  He lay down beside her and just gazed at her sweet sleeping face for a while, alternately smiling at her and at me like the giant sap of a Dad I'm so proud that he is.  We both looked at each other in the dim light and we didn't have to say it because we both knew-- we're the luckiest people in the world.

Of this one thing we can be sure after a long day of parenting: however short the naps were, however long the tantrums may have been, however extensive the mess, and however many times I may have lost my temper, when the day draws to a close and the baby is finally asleep, we can put all the other stuff aside and be what we should be: profoundly grateful.