Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Laundry Epiphany

I've heard it called Mt. Washmore. And while mountain is an accurate description, my mountain is always Foldmore. I can process my laundry through the washer and dryer like nobody's business. It's the next step which revels the lesser part of my character and forces my husband to play a game he calls laundry gopher when he looks for his outfit for the day. It's a game, he assures me, that he is not fond of.

Before you suggest her, yes, I'm friends with Ms. Flylady. Okay, well, acquaintances with her. I know I'm not supposed to have a mountain to fold because I'm supposed to fold it right after it comes out of the dryer. Tell that to the baby who is trying to climb the piano. It just ceases to be an emergency for me once those clothes are clean and dry.

I see the pile (and that's just half of it) and quickly remember that I have many, many other pressing duties. Yep, just about anything other than face those menacing, wrinkled piles of cotton.

I had an epiphany today, though. It came from my mother-in-law, who we store in our basement. (Don't judge. She has a rockin' three bedroom apartment down there. Your mother-in-law should be so lucky.)

A week ago, she threw some of my niece's clothes in with a load of our laundry. I went outside to supervise the girls in the yard. When I came back, I found her folding the load.


She's always so nice and always wanting to help but I find it really embarrassing. One, when anyone comes in and helps me with housework I feel it is a commentary on my competency. Second, those are my underwear, eeek!!! Third, she never let's her place look like mine or her laundry pile up.

But, whatever she thinks, she's never mean. She's always encouraging. She's really a great mother-in-law. I've enjoyed having her living with us for years, yes, voluntarily. I don't know why I'm embarrassed. She's watched me give birth. Twice.

So today, I made a comment about working my way into the pile of clean clothes and telling her the washer was available. She said she was thinking when she folded that load last week that it took FOREVER. She had said to herself, "Wow, I know why she gets behind on this!"

That made me pause. She thought it was daunting. Why? She doesn't have trouble with her own piles of laundry. What was the difference?

I realized, occasionally, I'll do a load with just tops and bottoms for Theo and I. Those are so easy to deal with. Each item makes a dent in the load and they are all essentially the same to handle. That is more like her laundry.

I know I love diaper laundry. (Sounds weird to my disposable loving friends, I'm sure.) It's streamlined: a pile for covers, a pile for prefolds, a pile for wipes. There are no decisions involved, just a repeated motion that completes the task quickly. Even loads of towels and loads of napkins and dishtowels are easy.

So, I've decided, I'm doing each child's laundry separately. John does his already but I help him fold. It's not bad because it's all sized the same. He does pants. I do shirts.

Starting tomorrow, even the baby is getting her own laundry hamper. We'll see if this will make things better. Regardless, I paid with a little embarrassment and got some empathy and a ray of hope in the never-ending laundry cycle.

What do you do to make folding laundry easier?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dangerous friends

I have friends who have homeless people for friends, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center and do all sorts of other good in our community. Those friends inspire me and challenge me. I think part of me wishes we'd stop getting close to them. They take risks and do dangerous things. Too bad that Theo and I really like them and they keep teaching us more ways to love people. They love Jesus and that love spills out onto everyone around them.

It's easy to just feel guilty and try to justify all that we have. We are pretty good stewards of our money and Theo works very hard. We give a good percentage of our money to charities and missions. But I'm no longer worrying about those justifications.

We are blessed. We are richly and lovingly blessed. When I move past the guilt and the justification, I am becoming joyfully grateful for what we've been given. It's okay for us to enjoy it. But I will not close myself off from the world and revel in my riches. There's a whole world that He died to save and I've been busy hiding from as many of them as possible.

It's starting to sink in that Jesus really meant for us to do those things He mentioned. We are supposed to take care of the poor (amongst other tasks) and not sit around and wait for the government or some other organization to do it for us. It is affecting my heart and therefore starting to change more of my outward behavior. An example of that is illustrated in my Bowl of Rice post.

Then it rained the other day. It rained really hard. It was cold, dreary and the most rain I've seen in a long time. Normally, I would have only thought about how we were going to have to stay inside the whole day.

But something new struck me. I had images of people stuck out in that rain, huddled down in the cold dreariness with nowhere else to go. My gratefulness welled up and I thanked God for the blessing of our water-proof shelter and prayed for the people represented by those mental images.

I posted my thankfulness in a status update and my dangerous friend mentioned visiting his less fortunate friends and needing to check in on them. Theo and I finally had a chance to discuss it today. We have plans to send some money to our friend's ministry to help buy some tarps. (Pretty soon, we are going to have to meet some of these friends.) We were casually having this conversation at lunch with the children present. We've had a lot more talk about homelessness and hunger lately.

We finished our lunch and started to clean up. John disappeared. He's not generally a fan of cleaning up. When he returned, I asked where he'd been. He held out his hand with some wadded up dollar bills and said, "Here, I want to give this to the poor people."

I've been crying off and on, ever since. My John who's need for security based on his early life experiences, causes him to hang on to material possessions and obsess about food and to never fully trust in our love as his parents, brought the money he works so hard to attain with a look of tender compassion on his face. As we change and become more generous, as our hearts melt for Christ, his does too. A lesson I've tried for years to instill in him sprouts dramatically when I begin to finally practice what I preach.

Want to see some of the friends of my friends who John wants to help?

A Bowl of Rice

A few years ago, our family drastically switched from eating the Standard American Diet to one of mostly whole, unprocessed foods. We still eat a lot of food and we still spend a lot of money for it. Our total food bill didn't increase because we used to go out to eat very frequently. We don't go nearly as often now but we buy a lot of food and it is high quality.

I've been concerned about waste for a while. When we started losing lots of weight, I eschewed the "clean your plate" philosophy. It's a wise move for someone recovering from obesity. Sure, some food might go to waste but I frequently stated the excess was going to waste on my body or outside of it. I knew my body didn't need so much excess. But that was just the beginning of my journey.

Last year my father saw someone speak about how the French use 8 inch plates and Americans use 10 inch plates. He changed his mindset and lost significant weight. For a few months, I've been using smaller plates as much as possible.

John, for any number of possible reasons, is obsessed with food. I learned a few years ago, I could give him lots of snacks before dinner but it was never enough to fill him up and he would complain how little was available at dinner. I found if I took the same amount of food and put it all together on a plate, his eyes widened at the prospect of all that bounty.

When I switched to smaller plates, no one complained, not even John. In fact, everyone seemed more satisfied after meals. It was like they were happy their plates were so full. Sometimes, I even serve food on saucers for lunch. Still, no one seems to notice. Sometimes, like today, the kids gasp with joy because they think they are getting so much food. Complaints about being hungry before dinner have remained the same.

But then...

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a message on Facebook from The Simple Way about 50 Ways to Become the Answer to our Prayers. Number one and number forty-three impacted me. The first one suggested fasting and remembering the two billion people who live on less than a dollar a day. The latter mentioned eating only a bowl of rice per day for a period of time and remembering those who are starving.

I realized It wasn't a good idea to fast and nurse at the same time, so I opted to fast seconds at meals. I reasoned that there was no possible way to eat a full plate of food, even a small one, and still be actually hungry. Now, I finish most meals without a full feeling.

I find myself thinking how I'd really like to have just a little bit more of such and such. Then I say, sometimes out loud, that what I just had was way better than one bowl of rice all day. Then, I find I've really had enough. My stomache doesn't ache and I feel quite nice, actually.

I've started to talk more about the hungry with the children. I've been conscious of how much food I put on our plates and not just try to fill them up. Our meal time prayers include prayers for those who don't have as much to eat.

My plan is to see how much we are saving by eating less food and find ways to feed the hungry with the difference. I've found my appetite has seriously diminished and that I slow down and savor my food more.

Theo and I had a date the other night. At dinner, at a Mexican restaurant, Theo chose to forego his combination fajitas and chose from the pic two combo that came with rice and beans because his appetite has been affected too. I almost chose the pick two but realized the rice had butter (Cote's food allergies govern many of my food choices). I decided to order a la carte. I ordered one tamale and an order of refried beans. It was actually too much food! And our bill was $13 when it would have normally cost around $25 - $30.

Today, for lunch, I made quesadillas with shredded cheese and leftover grilled steak. I sliced steak that John didn't want the other night (it was about four ounces) in the food processor and mixed with some cheese. I've been able to use the mixture to make quesadillas for two separate meals for both kids. My 8 oz steak will end up feeding me about four different meals.

I served a total of three small quesadillas, one apple with peanut butter, a large handful of spinach, a few cherry tomatoes, one carrot and some salad dressing for lunch today. I fed myself and my three kids with that amount of food.

Before you think I'm cheating anyone, go back and look at the picture. No one went hungry. We had plenty. There was no waste on the plates or on our bodies. No one complained. Instead of "rounding up for the hungry" at the grocery checkout, I'm going to continue rounding down at my meals. It's better for both of us.

What are your thoughts on ways we could all help those less fortunate than ourselves?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All By Myself

The other day, John wasn't feeling well, so he took a nap. My mother-in-law offered to watch Hannah and my visiting 4-year-old niece for a little while.

And then Cote fell asleep.

Clouds parted.

Music played.

I was going to nap but it felt cheap to waste the moment on sleep. So I took a bath. I was giddy as I fantasized about my garden tub. I ran toward my bathroom, stripping as I went. (Ok, I know, you didn't need that image. But I had to paint a picture to express my excitement. You will have to deal with it.)

I enjoyed about 15-20 minutes of luxurious, hot, steamy water AND silence AND solitude. I felt like I was getting away with something illicit when I realized there were absolutely no plastic toys floating in my water. I sneered at those toys as they wished they could join in the fun. "Not today, my friends, you only get to watch and eat your little plastic hearts out."

Cote cried and I realized my activities (or lack thereof) must come to an end, but as I quickly wrapped a towel around my body I found myself creating a parody of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself."

My new lyrics aren't a complete redo of the song but I've been singing them for three days and they make me happy. I know some of my Mommy friends will appreciate them. If I had some sort of musical ability beyond that of being able to totally rock the melody of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, I'd perform it for you.

All by myself, I took a bath 
All by myself today at four 
All by myself, and I wanna PEE 
All by myself...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not-so-happy Anniversary

**Miscarriage discussed**

I was on the phone with my mother. I was hiding in the bathroom. My miscarriage was a few weeks behind me and I was angry. I called her because I was blindingly angry and I knew that anger was one of the stages of grief. I was angry that I was in that stage. She reminded me that it was a stage of grief and her reminder made me angry.

What was the good of knowing the stages of grief if I couldn't somehow acknowledge what was going on and pray and skip that part? I mean, logically, it seemed like I could do that. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.

It's like a developmental stage. Head control. Sit up. Crawl. Walk. You gotta go through them. Well, granted, some skip one or two but only because that is determined by their own personal physiological development.

I remember watching my mother place a toy in front of my cousin's four month old baby. It was made for older babies, but she could tell he was interested in it. In an act of curiosity and kindness she brought it over to him. It was obvious he knew what to do to activate it and was very motivate to play with it. Unfortunately, his motor skills didn't match his cognitive skills and it frustrated him greatly. In the end, it was a greater kindness to take the toy away.

I was learning a very important lesson. We all develop in our own way, on our own timetables. Just knowing the stages of grief would not exempt me from them. You know what? It still doesn't.

Oh, I've learned all about loss. It's part and parcel with raising a son with the particular issues mine has. It's part of my training and my interest as a foster parent. It's part of my training as a special education teacher. It's part of my experience as a parent of a child with special needs, the aunt of a child who has battled stage four cancer and the experience of grieving three babies I'll not meet this side of heaven.

One of the things I've learned about is anniversaries. No, not the happy wedding anniversary kind. I'm talking about anniversaries of losses and traumas. Children who have experienced the loss of a parent, even very early in life (early enough they can't remember) experience difficult emotions on the anniversaries of that loss. Even if it isn't the same date, it will be the same time of year.

We can move on. We can pray, forgive and work through them. But the scars usually remain. Why are they still there? I don't know. Maybe to remind us of our human frailty. Maybe because of our human frailty.

We don't know how those scars, physical or emotional, will manifest themselves. But eventually, given enough time, we get familiar with our scars and learn to deal with them.

When I experienced my first miscarriage, I read a lot about miscarriages and joined forums for women who had experienced such losses. You never know what will trigger a wave a grief, especially if the loss is recent. Shortly after my miscarriage, I cracked an egg for breakfast and I was immediately overcome by tremendous sobs. For a dear friend of mine, it was a big glass of iced tea.

I found holding babies and baby dolls to be very comforting, which surprised many people around me. On the other hand, I thought baby showers were going to be okay but I found them to be immeasurably torturous. I excused myself so I didn't traumatize the poor mother to be. I almost refused to have a baby shower when I was pregnant with Hannah because baby showers were so hard for me.

Many people warned of the emotional trauma that may accompany the due date. That date came and went with a somber acknowledgement but no worse than many days.

But as I approached Thanksgiving the first year after my loss, I became increasingly out of sorts. I experienced mood swings and an unidentified sense of anxiety. I found myself withdrawing from activities. I found myself unable to accomplish every day tasks and it made me angry. It went on for a few weeks.

A few days before Thanksgiving, when I, super-party-loving girl, declared I didn't want to participate in the holiday. I didn't want to get together with family. My husband kindly dug my hand out of the melted heap of tears and angst. He held my hand and asked WHY I didn't want to celebrate. He already knew the answer that I didn't and he wanted me to realize it on my own.

The year before, I found out the day he left the country for a mission trip that the new life I was so excited about inside of me was no longer alive but my pregnancy was continuing for a while nonetheless. I was waiting for a miscarriage. My husband returned after two weeks and it still had not begun.

I was finding I was able to breathe occasionally. I found an amazing outpouring of support as people stepped up to fill in the gap while my husband was away. We went to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother's house with a sense of bittersweet thanksgiving. I was cramping a little on the drive, but that had been happening for several days by then.

I was sitting at the dinner table, enjoying the loving company of my family. Someone made a light-hearted joke and I found myself able to laugh and enjoy it for the first time since my news. The physical action of the laugh coincided with the beginning of my physical loss. My laugh ended in a gasp. It was several hours before things calmed down enough I could leave the bathroom and ride home to continue the experience. It was what I had wanted and dreaded for weeks. It was cleansing and traumatic at the same time.

I was experiencing a grieving anniversary. It wasn't what I expected. I wasn't even thinking about losing my baby. Oh but the scar was aching. And it aches every year, usually, about this time. It happens to varying degrees depending on what else is going on in my life. It's happening right now.

So please understand that I'm extra sensitive. If I say things that seem harsh, please know that I don't mean them and I am trying to be aware of my extra sensitivity and moodiness. One minute I find myself overwhelmed by the most mundane of tasks, and other times I'm my normal gung-ho, lively self.

Last night, my husband wrapped his arms around me as I tried to express how I was so thankful for my babies and that it wasn't due to thoughts of this specific baby anymore and it wasn't fair that this was still happening and causing me pain six years later. But mostly I sobbed.

And today, the sun shines and I think sweet thoughts and the friend I thought I lost yesterday because of a super sensitive move on my part said she wasn't angry and willing to reconcile this morning.

I love Thanksgiving. I love that my thankfulness is all the more poignant for me each year, because of this experience. But I hate that old aching scar. (By the way, I experienced another loss over Thanksgiving two years ago.) Usually, it gets a little better when I realize what is going on.

I always try to remind myself to get ready beforehand but life seems to be going so well, I can't imagine a very large wave of grief striking out of nowhere. But sometimes it does. And it's usually more after a year when the anniversary isn't so bad. Last year I was pregnant with Cote. I've found pregnancy does a pretty good job of distracting me. But the next year takes me by surprise, maybe because I think "Last year wasn't so bad. Maybe I'll be exempt this year".

There are some who say I should just get over it. I'd sincerely love to. But I think comparing it to labor and not fighting the waves and understanding this process is necessary for some reason, helps me to grow and release an unbelievable amount pain slowly and safely which could not be dealt with in a few "acceptable" weeks right after my loss.

Monday, November 8, 2010


The events involving the glue gun, the subsequent blog post, as well as the responses to it via facebook and the blog have given me the opportunity to further hone my parenting skills. I don't know what I was hoping for when I posted.

A lot of emotions went through my head before I wrote that entry. One emotion was admiration for my son's creativity. Another was fear for his safety and, as my dear sister-in-law was not shy to mention, the safety of my home and everyone in it. Yet another emotion was the enjoyment of experiencing yet another story I can share with the world.

I guess I was kinda hoping for some kind of King Solomon-split-the-baby-geniousness that would drive the point home and ensure my son would never sneak behind my back and do something potentially destructive again. Oh, and because it was still fresh for me... also, I would have enjoyed a side order of vindication.

The truth is that this particular incident happened between nine months and a year ago. (We are certain it was in our old home but he didn't get the K'nex until Christmas.) In the life of a child, that is a very long time. The particular situation and development that led to this particular crime simply no longer exists.

John is not the same person he was a year ago. But, as some of you point out, consequences exist regardless of how long ago the event happened. We certainly don't want to teach our children that if they remain in hiding long enough, they can dodge their responsibilities.

The wonderful discussion and observations by people who love my family caused me to reflect. And that's always an opportunity for growth.

Given time to reflect, I have to examine my purposes. Whenever I discover one of my children has done something wrong, I have a desire to dole out a punishment. (Or get back at them...) And conversely I desire to dole out a reward when they have done something right.

What I have learned in 9 years of parenting, is that punishments and rewards aren't necessary for every behavior. One can praise and reward too little as well as too much. It is the same with punishment.

When I was in college, we talked a lot about behavior and discipline. One important discussion was the definition of punishment. Punishment is a consequence enacted after a behavior which lessens the likelihood of that behavior happening again.

Upon remembering this, I realized I don't need to punish John for sticking a plastic toy in a glue gun. The liklihood of that specific infraction happening again is unbelievably low. Whatever experiment he was testing, he completed. He satisfied his curiosity. He won't need to do it again.

So I have to look at what is the real issue here. The real issue is that he broke a stated rule and then lied to cover it up. That part we're going to work on. And guess what, we have lots of opportunities around here to practice.

If we are talking about a police/societal situation, we can't deal with intent. We only have the law. But in this case, I'm a parent... and my job is to teach. So intention is actually very much to the point. I desire my children to operate morally and be responsible for their decisions.

The beauty of homeschooling and having my children with me so much is that I have a chance to see these character flaws magnified in our daily lives so that it becomes obvious they must be dealt with. Ironically, these are two areas (breaking stated rules and lying to conceal) we have been focusing on with John for a few months.

The consequence of this pattern of behavior is already being dealt with. The discovery of this particular act just solidifies our need to stay the course. But one thing it did bring to light was to remind me of John's need to experiment physically with things.

So we had a talk with John the day after my blog entry, reminding him that we have rules for his safety not to curb his joy. We talked about practices that we have in place to remind him how important it is to obey. We also expressed our understanding of his need to find out how things work.

So we have a new class at Laughner Learning Labs called things John wants to know. And we will endeavor to walk him through the scientific process to ask questions, hypothosize, test. And if something doesn't work, we are going to help him research why.

So, be prepared. He's been wanting to light an aluminum can full of dry leaves on fire for a while. He thinks he can make a fire starter. Sounds like a perfect subject to start studying. Safety will be our first consideration, of course. I guess you could say we've decided to fight fire with fire.

Do they make baby-sized safety goggles?