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.