Tuesday, April 16, 2024

on total eclipses and having babies and other unrepeatable life moments

We packed up our five kids in the minivan a week ago Sunday evening and drove up to Vermont for the much-anticipated total solar eclipse. 

I experienced totality and even a week later, every time I think about it I sort of want to cry.

I'm so incredibly grateful that my parents had called me up some weeks back and encouraged me to make the short trip if at all possible. They had traveled to Oregon in 2017 to be in the path of totality, and shared with me their experience that it was the sort of thing not to be missed -- the next total solar eclipse that will cross New England won't be until 2079! Convinced that the 93% partial eclipse Massachusetts would be experiencing was thus cool but totally insufficient when totality was so within our reach, we planned a trip to Vermont with friends for the big event. 

Since the small hometown of one of our friends was right in the path of totality, we settled on an excursion to her hometown of Jericho, VT, with the wide open fields of her friend's farm as our viewing space. In the end five families from our homeschool collaborative made the drive up and met for the day's activities. We had a wonderful day together ending with maple creemees and then lots of texting commiserating messages back and forth as we all endured bumper-to-bumper traffic on the drive home, traffic that turned a 3-ish hour trip into 9-ish hours for us. 

I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

I keep thinking on what it is that made it so utterly, indescribably amazing of an experience. And alongside those thoughts, I periodically have strange thoughts of regret -- Did I look at it in the right ways, take it in fully? Did I research enough ahead of time to know what I should be looking for and seeing? Did I know the difference between Baily's Beads and solar prominences? Did I appreciate it properly? Why can't I remember more details? Why didn't I take more pictures? A better picture of each of my kids that day? Why didn't I take a good video? Why weren't we quieter to listen and see if there was insect activity? Did we let the kids (and ourselves, if we're honest) make way too much noise in our totality of excitement and joy? All these thoughts boiling down to this: did I do this total eclipse the "right" way?

* * *

Silly thoughts, but they remind me in a way of the ways I've felt after having each of my babies. I'd go into the big experiences with a plan, or so I thought. This time I'll labor better, I'll be more prepared, I'll stay calmer and more focused, I'll make sure things go according to plan. This time, I'll cherish the newborn moments and experience it all fully and stay present and be joyful and take the right amount of pictures but not too many because... being in the moment and all that. This time I won't let anxieties or baby blues weigh me down. This time I'll do it "right."

And each and every time, it just went the way it went. Yes, my plans and preparations played a significant role, I'm sure. But also, things we could never have prepared for just happened. The moments of birth happened, and those moments and the days that followed were the sort you wish you could bottle up and save forever. And then they're gone, and no matter how much you told yourself you'd savor it the right amount, you can't ever get that newborn head smell back again once it's faded. The newborn days will fade into baby days of equal sweetness, and those will fade into one-year-old days and into toddler days, each every bit as good as the last. But if you find yourself wishing to experience those bygone moments again, just once more to nuzzle a freshly-born head or to kiss a chubby baby tummy or scoop a toddler into your arms and feel her arms wrapped around your neck, you can't. They've slipped away, fleeting and unrepeatable.

* * *

In a strange way, to experience the total eclipse felt like a reminder of the births and growing up of all five of my babies in the timespan of three minutes. It happened so fast, it was so deeply beautiful, and then it was over. Could I chase another eclipse someday, by going to Iceland or Egypt or waiting 20 years and traveling to Montana or living to be 95? It's theoretically possible, but not entirely practical. But I experienced it this once, and in its strange and surreal beauty of mid-day twilight, it impressed upon me the fleetingness of every morning, mid-day, and twilight of our ordinary lives. 

Over lunch before the eclipse began, Nathan had shared his opinion that we should just be in the moment -- that plenty of professionals with proper equipment would take amazing pictures and we should just experience it. I have a video, purposely poorly shot -- I just recorded video on my phone without looking at it or caring what I captured; I wanted to remember my kids' reactions without missing the experience myself. It's a couple of minutes of everyone screaming "I can't believe it!" and "It's amazing!" and "I can see Venus and Jupiter!" and "I'm going to cry!" And it's somehow good enough even though it's objectively a horrible video, because we lived in the moment, and preserved something that can carry us all back to that time and place just a tiny bit. Not the same - for like looking at a picture of a baby once that baby has grown, it's not ever the same - but it's a glimpse and a memory. 

In the end, as Nathan has reminded me, we were there and we experienced it. And I don't really think you can always choose how to experience something, especially not something that happens in a matter of minutes and is, like a child and her childhood, so fleeting and unrepeatable. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Reflecting on Third and Fifth Grade

 As usual, I'm late to mentally recapping our school year, and also pleasantly surprised as I sit here looking back on the past academic year -- as I first observed several years ago, "We didn't do everything, but we didn't do nothing!" My first inclination tends toward a sense of failure at the "check marks" we didn't attain to, and it's a constant battle within myself to step away from judging myself too harshly in this regard. 

Our book club with other homeschoolers continued to be a highlight of the year-- this year, featuring Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge, and Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. We paddled small boats around a pond, made paper windmills, went to a zoo, and as always, ate plenty of thematic yummy foods. 

Another highlight of the year was continuing our weekly hikes with friends. We live in a beautiful place, and it's always good to walk out the door and go exploring. 

Nell finished fifth grade. We read lots of good books, many together and some she read on her own. She looked at great art, particularly enjoying Van Gogh and John Singer Sargent. She made a deep connection with the historical figures of both Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. We read part of Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels and absolutely loved it. She started keeping a Book of Centuries. She participated in a wonderful Shakespeare club, reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and performing a scene from it, and then reading Henry V, and memorizing the Crispin's Day monologue. She loves calligraphy and hand-lettering. We read some wonderful science books, including a collection of general science and nature stories and a more specific book on anatomy. A friend from church led a group of girls in weekly quilting sessions, and Nell made both a small wall hanging size quilt and a quilted pillowcase. She continued her violin practice, and although I'm never as consistent with her as I want to be, she's currently working on the Bach "double," the Concerto for two violins, and I know it'll be such a deep pleasure to be playing it with her before long. She's also been practicing the piano, with the occasional impromptu lesson from me, and has continued singing in our church choir, as well (she sang the solo for Once in Royal David's City for the second time this year at our church's Lessons and Carols, and also sang a small solo in Wash Me Throughly by Samuel Wesley). She still loves ballet, and was in her ballet school's performance of The Nutcracker this past December as a cherub and a lamb.

Here's Nell, age 11, with books representing our school year as well as just a few favorites she read for fun. (Thursday's Child!)

Somehow I can't not include a picture of this sweet little acorn fellow Nell made for me for Christmas. His violin is made of pinecone scales. He's been perched on a low shelf near my kitchen sink since Christmas, and he brings a smile to my face every time I see him!

Marie finished third grade. She loves being read to and listening to audio books, and just this summer she has finally been discovering the joy of reading to herself, too. (Harry Potter seems to have worked his magic in turning Ree into a certifiable bookworm at last!) She loved a biography of Marie Curie we read together, joined Nell in her obsession with Helen Keller for a while, and developed a passion for the Victorian era and all of the finer things. She's kept up her violin playing as well, making her way through Suzuki Volume 2 at the moment. She has a remarkable ability to sing harmonies she makes up herself, and it so often brightens my day to hear my girls singing folk songs or other bits of music in harmony with one another as I go about my day. Marie also takes ballet, and was a mouse in last winter's Nutcracker

Marie, age 9, with books representing our school year, and some favorite fun ones, too. 

Molly turned six in March. She'll start school officially this fall, but she listened in a lot over the past year, as we read books about birds, stories from the Bible, Dr. Dolittle, some Dallas Lore Sharp nature stories, and more. And surprise of all surprises to this mama, this girl can READ! (Having a child practically teach herself to read at age five is very new to me, since my two older girls definitely learned later and were slower to reach a point of really enjoying it.) She's a full-fledged reader these days, powering through Ramona books, All-of-a-Kind Family books, and even biographies (she joined the Helen Keller obsession around here) and Life of Fred math books for fun.

And Molly! Age six, and "clever as clever," as the A.A. Milne poem goes.

* * *

All in all, it was a good school year. The best part of the year was also the part that threw school (as such) into a bit of turmoil and contributed to our ending the year a bit "behind" some of my aspirations -- sweet Cecily joined our family! So, along with reading good books and encountering interesting things of all sorts, four big sisters have had lots of opportunities to practice their baby-care skills.

Aside from adding a fifth daughter to our family, if there was a theme to the year from my perspective, I'd say it was trying to level up in our organization, specifically with regards to the girls' chores. I began the past academic year with newly updated chore charts for everyone individually, as well as a family chart with bigger daily chores that rotated every couple of weeks. Remembering, reminding, and supervising these daily efforts of theirs required a lot of effort of mine, not surprisingly, and I adopted for myself as motivation Proverbs 14:4: "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox." And while our 'manger' was rarely truly clean, there were some pretty substantial glimpses over the past year of the abundant crops my little oxen are bringing to fruition.

If you're still reading, here are a few more glimpses of our year, demonstrating school as "a life" around here, in ways both overtly academic and not so much! 

This post barely touches on the full year we've had, but it's nice to look back and see that we really did accomplish something, I think. And now, back to my efforts of planning our next school year, which begins in just over a week...! Building on our highlights of the year I mentioned above, we're leaning into all the good that friendship and community have to offer, and together with a number of like-minded mothers implementing a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in their homeschools, we are starting a two-day-a-week school. It's a lot to wrap our heads around, and we're going to have to get a little better at getting up early in the morning, but we are really excited about the possibilities it will offer. Here's hoping it's a beautiful and rich experience for the ten families and their 35 children, collectively. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Thoughts on Turning 40

I turned 40 on June 10. Leading up to my birthday, I found myself suddenly recalling a poem I read years ago, Fiddler Jones by Edgar Lee Masters, an American poet from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.  
The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind's in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

A poem about a fiddler who never got ahead in life, whose forty acres never multiplied into more worldly goods or wealth, who dropped what he was doing over and over again to go play his fiddle for dances. The birds and the sounds of everyday life made him think of his music; his plowing was often interrupted by the opportunity for another jig. 

I re-read it a few weeks ago and it settled into my heart just as it had years before when I first encountered it. "...fiddle you must, for all your life." "I ended up with forty acres; I ended up with a broken fiddle-- And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, and not a single regret."

A year or two ago Nathan was sorting through old CDs and cassette tapes (!!) and listening to snippets of things as he came across them. I heard some violin music floating out of his study -- The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams. "Who's playing that?" "It's you." "What? No. This sounds fine, but I never played it well at all." "Well, it's you." A bit later, piano music -- Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu. "Who's this now?" "You again. In high school." "No! I remember recording it because my teacher wanted me to submit it to a competition, but I tried and tried to get a good take and it was always wrong..." 

I've thought about this experience a lot in the past few years. Am I only able to appreciate something when it's far behind in the rear-view mirror? Is perfectionism hindering me from enjoying life in the moment, whether it's my experiences in music, or anything else? How many times have I thought something was not worth documenting or enjoying or celebrating because it wasn't "perfect"? What if all along, those things were wonderful and my eyes were clouded from seeing it? What if all those summers where I wished I weighed 5-10 lbs less, I could have just enjoyed the sun on my skin, my toddlers in my arms, my kids leaping in the sand, and seen more beauty in it? What if all the recitals and concerts I played were worth enjoying exactly as they were, the imperfections less perceptible than they seemed to me at the time? What if my yard and gardens were perfectly nice places to be in spite of the weeds? What if my professional life has been a greater accomplishment than it's ever seemed to me? What if life was worth enjoying even when the house was messy? What if my kids are doing pretty well, and being slower to learn to read, or struggling with math for a while, or taking time to progress through violin repertoire is OK after all? 

What if things being imperfect doesn't make them any less worth enjoying, remembering, celebrating? 

* * *

So, I threw myself a party for my fortieth birthday. I had said for years that I would do it when I turned forty - that I would let my kids see me face it head-on, no black balloons or gag gifts involved. It was cocktail attire, under the lights on the back patio, with my kids passing appetizers. (They were so excited about this.) And when Nathan's work life got turned a bit upside-down in the weeks leading up to my fortieth and he didn't have time to help plan or prepare, well, I'm incredibly thankful for friends who offered -- no, insisted -- help: baking me exquisite cakes, helping with food, and even coming up with a signature cocktail (which has become a new favorite of mine). 

Nell has really enjoyed learning hand-lettering over the past year, and made lovely little signs for me.

mini galettes were fun to help make and even more fun to pass around the mingling adults.

one of the cutest three waitresses of the evening!

every bit as delicious as they look - I had to try a small slice of each, of course!

blurry imperfect photo captured by one of my kids

Molly, who is six now, went up to a friend at my party and said with a happy sigh, "I'm SO glad my mother is forty!" The friend told me of this later, saying, "She sees it as a great honor bestowed upon you!" And I love that. 

"Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the days to come."

It drizzled a tiny bit at one point, that evening of my 40th when we celebrated on the patio. I am still carrying some extra weight from having Cecily five months ago. Nathan's work life continues to throw a fair bit of stress in our direction rather continually. But that evening, after everyone had gone home, I stood on the patio for one more minute listening to the music that was still playing, enjoying the glow of the lights and the sudden stillness. And I said to Nathan, "It was exactly the party I wanted." I looked around that evening and felt that if this is forty, I'm here for it.

I intend to try to spend the next forty years worrying less about all the imperfections and failures, and finding the wild wonderful successes that have been here all along. To make and store up those "thousand memories." I hope someday I can say that we've fiddled for all our lives, stepped away from the work to go and dance at every opportunity... "not a single regret."

Saturday, February 11, 2023


This girl! This past fall, Sylvie's language skills exploded and she was suddenly speaking in complete sentences, giving us a wonderful glimpse into all that was going on in her head. She's had so many things to say to us that it seemed like a good time to record her most quotable expressions of late! We've loved watching her go from her earliest words and phrases to the sweet halting sentences with pauses as she figured out what she was trying to say to the talkative almost-three-year-old she is today.

* * *

She spent last summer and the fall referred to a pool as a "cool." And when one day she wriggled herself out of her puddle-jumper poolside at our neighbor's, and walked right back into the pool and promptly submerged herself... she spoke of it with wide eyes for a long time after, saying "Shylfee fall in the cool!" (It was utterly terrifying to see her underwater even though it only took me a few seconds to get to her... that mental image of my submerged child will stay with me as a reminder to constant water-side vigilance, oof.)

* * *

A typical two-year-old, she quickly learned and frequently utilized the phrase "Self do it!"

A lullaby was a "yubabye," and a little bit was "a yibabit." "I'm guck!" means "I'm stuck!"

Her earliest approximation of "thank you" was "gee-oo," and this one has stuck with her. She's very polite and utilizes it frequently! 

* * *

She's in that fun stage where her tenses are a bit mixed up, and she says "Mama, I was findin' you!" when she means, "I found you," and "I was going..." when she means "I went..." We rather love this stage and I notice that Nathan employs her two-year-old "tense sense" on the regular lately.

* * *

I asked her one day, "Sylvie, do you want to go play in a park?" And she responded, "Yeah, play! Play in parking lot!" Well... not quite, kiddo.

* * *

Upon biting her finger while eating: "Oh no, Mama! Sylvie eat my own finger off!"

* * *

Early in her speech development, she seemed to think that all words should have two syllables, perhaps like words like Mama and Daddy do. So Nell was "Nell-Nell," Marie was "Ree-Ree," Molly was "Mo-Mo," and even words like "my" became "my-my," and "your," "your-your." So her sweet compliments would run like this: "Aw! Nell! Yove your-your earrings!" "Mama! Yove your-your dress!"

* * *

One day I asked her, "Hey Sylvie, who's the sweetest two-year-old?" and she tapped herself on the chest with a finger and replied modestly, "Right here." Subsequently we all enjoyed asking her "Who's the smartest? Who's the most fun?" etc., and she would repeat the trick with aplomb.

She shares her opinions on music freely, including whether something is "bad scary music" or "good nice music." (And the word "music" was previously "hanguck," an approximation none of us quite understood but all of us found amusing.) Examples of bad scary music include Mahler 1, the last movement specifically, and examples of good nice music include Haydn's Surprise Symphony, among many others. 

* * *

One evening some of the girls' bedtime music was not to Sylvie's liking, and she expressed from her toddler bed in the room she shares with Nell that this was "bad scary music." Nell responded, "It's ok Sylvie, it's not bad, it's just in a minor key!" Sylvie replied matter-of-factly, "Don't want it minor key!" Subsequently she decided any and all music that she didn't care for must be in a minor key. When our church choir did the Rutter Requiem in November, she came and whispered in my ear during some of the movements, "Don't want it minor key!" And when listening to O Come, O Come Emmanuel during Advent she declared, "Don't want it Emmanuel! Don't want it minor key!"

She called to me frantically from the stairs one day: "Oh no! Daddy feet! Daddy feet!" I ran in to see what the problem was and discovered a Daddy Long-Legs spider in the corner of a step was the cause of the commotion. Well, she had conveyed a solid part of the idea! 

* * *

Chatting with Nell one evening just after bedtime, she declared her food-loving intentions for the coming day: “Nell? Cracker. With cheese on it. And ‘yami (salami). Shylfee eat it tomorrow!"

* * *

And speaking of food, she goes to bed thinking about food and wakes up thinking about food. "What's for dinner?" she'll ask me first thing in the morning. "It's not dinner time, Sylvie. Do you want some breakfast?" Throughout the day she asks for meals irrespective of time of day. Right after breakfast, "What's for dinner?" Upon being reminded again that it's not dinner time, she'll try any other word for a meal to see if she can eke some more food out of us. "What's for lunch? What's for snack? Breakfast? ... Dessert?" A few favorites at the moment include oatmeal or polenta for breakfast, smoothies any time of day, homemade bread all the time, a variety of soups, clementines, peppers, and pears.

* * *

Her demands after Mexican food one night for dinner: "I need forty chips! I need forty-five or forty-six chips! Why go bed now? If Sylvie go bed I can’t have forty chips!"

* * *

One morning I was making waffles when Sylvie asked what was for breakfast. 

Mama: "Are you ready for a waffle?" 

Sylvie: "Um, no, I don't like awful." 

* * *

One evening at dinner I asked her, "Sylvie, do you want some more mac and cheese?" She responded matter-of-factly, "No gee-oo. I want a glass of wine."

When Sylvie was snuggled up in bed with me early in the morning as Nathan left for work, she sat bolt upright in horror when she heard the front door close behind him and said: "Uh-oh mama! Daddy didn’t kiss you!"

* * *

And while she's fully potty-trained now, much to my joy, there was a time last fall when I was failing to commit to the process but also growing weary of diapers. Each day, I'd ask her, "Sylvie, when do you think you'll be potty trained?" And she'd respond either, "Um, last night," or "Um, last year," or "Um, tomorrow."

* * *

When she was wearing fairy wings for Halloween, I asked her, "Sylvie, can you fly?" She responded matter-of-factly, "No I can't fly. Because it's too cold to fly."

* * *

With similar logic, another day she informed me, "I can't dance, Mama. I'm too tall to dance."

* * *

Pointing to the drain in the bathtub she informed me with a clear sense of trepidation, "I am not gonna fall in the... in the... in the that thing."

* * *

Apparently perturbed after watching me get my blood drawn at an appointment with my midwife, Sylvie asked me several days later, "Mama, why that lady take out your blood? Why? Why Mama?"

"I'm hiding'!"

Lest you think that being a mother of all girls saves me from gross jokes and humor (oh, you would be wrong!) -- 
Upon passing gas and coughing at the same time: "Haha, I just toot on my cough!"

* * *

The whole family went to work with Nathan for a day, helping him with a variety of tasks. Sylvie carried around her pocket-sized little dolly all day. I suppose it was understandable, then, that she became quite distressed when she heard Nathan talk about putting away a "dolly" (hand cart) in a closet within the facilities. Sylvie immediately began to wail: "No Daddy, don't put my dolly in the closet!"

* * *

In December, when Nell and Marie were in a production of the Nutcracker, Nell hopped in the car after a dress rehearsal, with her adorable lamb face paint still on her face. Sylvie was perplexed by the look, to say the least.

Sylvie: "Nell, why your face looks... bad? Why, Nell?"

* * *

At bedtime: "No I don’t want to go to bed today. And I said that before."

Oh! Well, in that case.

* * *

Out of the blue: "Mama is nice. Daddy is weird."

* * *

Among my favorites because it's oh-so-sweet -- Snuggling up with me in the rocking chair at bedtime one evening she whispered, "I am so safe. I am so so safe."

And the ultimate toddler burn, so good it stopped me in my tracks:

Sylvie: "I don’t like Daddy."

Mama: "Hey, it makes Daddy and me both sad when you say that. It’s not nice. We love Daddy!"

Sylvie: "Ok. I like Daddy." (Long pause) "I said I like Daddy, but I don’t like Daddy."

Girl, you are a handful and you have so many opinions and thoughts. We love you, Sylvie!

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...!}