Sunday, February 26, 2017

Military Spouse of the Moment

The other day one of my oldest friends messaged me and said, "How are you? Like, how are you actually doing? Not the "I'm good" answer." It made me think about how often we-- as moms, as military spouses, as friends-- give the socially acceptable answer, not the Real Answer.

For the past year and a half, we have struggled through this duty station. I didn't realize what a challenge we were up against as obstacle after obstacle came our way until, finally, one day, I had enough. I was done. I couldn't pretend anymore that I was fine or that I had it together or that I had a plan. I was burnt out from always having to "make it work," from managing our household on my own, from living so far away from family, from not having a support network, and from the overwhelming stress that we had been under. I started giving the Real Answer to people-- strangers, acquaintances, people who really didn't want to know. I cried in public. And I felt like that, out of the few resources I had at this duty station, I burnt every bridge with my depression and general unpleasantness. I was the Debbie Downer.

As a military spouse, there are so many aspects of this lifestyle that we take for granted. We have these challenges that hit us constantly and instead of identifying them as stressors, we take them as "givens" and suppress healthy responses. On top of that, as parents, we often focus much more on our children and guiding their responses over our own emotional health. For instance, we have an allotted amount of time at each duty station. We worry and worry over when a good time would be to detach from our current command... when we should PCS next... if we should leave early? As soon as we get orders? Have our spouse move ahead and us finish out the school year? But when should we sell the house? And these events aren't due to happen until a year and a half from now, a year from now, months from now. Yet we worry about them like they are decisions we need to make now-- today. We also worry about deployment schedules and school schedules and travel schedules and if our kids feel connected. As soon as we bottle the panic and get our minds to stop racing over things we can do nothing about at this moment, our spouses come home from work and start conversations that double the original anxiety, "So I was talking to the detailer..."

Being a military spouse means making 1 to 2 to 3 years of our life work at each of our duty stations. We have the "givens" of being a military spouse threaded in to our day to day lives. Our children wake up every morning and wrestle and argue all through breakfast as we get them ready for school. We have errands, doctor's appointments, and after school activities in our calendars. We find grocery stores and wholesale stores and compare commissary prices. We carry copies of shot records and lists of past doctors to get our kids registered on time and plead with new pediatricians to make an opening for physicals before seasons start. We research potential duty stations and extracurriculars and possible schools after each "I was talking to the detailer" conversation. We know approximately how much our ideal floor plan will cost at any given duty station, even if we've never lived there. And we are all struggling to get those playdates, make friends for our kids, give them solid memories that they can hold on to instead of giving them our worst fears-- those nagging feelings of doubt that hit us at 10 pm when we are scouring forums. Will our kids hate us when they grow up? Will they feel like they never made friends? Will this upcoming PCS be even harder on them than our last PCS? Should we get out of the military? Is it worth it?

The overwhelming loneliness that consumes us is constantly kept at bay as we make the most of each duty station-- bloom where we are planted. Every once in a blue moon, a duty station is effortless. We don't always realize it at the time. We are unpacking our houses and researching soccer leagues, when a fellow military spouse knocks on our door with cookies. Suddenly, you are running errands together, staying up late with champagne after the children go to bed, venting about this and that and how hard it all is. When she moves away. And you move away. And you are left with this black hole inside your chest because you wonder if you will ever have a friend like that again in your same city. Will your best friends perpetually live elsewhere? Will your friendships primarily be online? Through your cell phone? And that punch in that gut happens again-- will my children turn to forums or Facebook instead of face to face, in person friends?

I have been reading a lot of blogs and books lately about making the most of it-- life, the military life, my faith. Making the most of everything. It all sounds so easy in the books. They go over the importance of friendships and opening up to people. As a military spouse, it feels like sometimes we are all alone. Does anyone else actually understand our life? Our struggles? These time windows we are given-- they sometimes close. Eventually, people don't want to make friends with you because you are "on your way out," about to PCS again. Who wants to invest in a friendship with an expiration date? You think, "Me! I would!" But you see the faces of the other military spouses when you say when your spouse detaches and you know they won't be texting you for park playdates or coffee meet ups. Or, for whatever reason, friendships just don't take off. Is it me? Do we have too many kids? Are they too old? Too young? Am I too outspoken? Not outspoken enough? Did I come on too strong? Was I desperate? Suddenly, you are plagued by social anxiety and you aren't sure if you should text or not text or show up with cookies? Or invite them over for a playdate? It all feels wrong. And what the hades-- you were never this nervous about making friends before! Social media makes it even worse because as you wrestle a toddler in to the bathtub and are hollering at your other kids to clean up their toys, you thumb through your feeds to see they all met up without you. Was that intentional? Or did they just not think of me? Which one is worse?

What I have learned from my quasi-emotional breakdown is that it is so easy to get caught up in our own heads. It is so easy to "pile it on." Look for reasons to have your feelings hurt, to feel left out, to have a bad day, to struggle with the kids, for the kids to be going through "hard phases." Sometimes, it isn't that hard. Sometimes it is just perspective. I decided I need a better perspective. Who promised life to be easy? How many blessings am I not counting as I focus on all the hardships? This situation has reminded me of the Bible verses, "In your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:6) and "In all things, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). I have struggled with that. Struggled. I'm still torn. Is this the life Christ has for me? How am I to make the most of this duty station? What is my purpose here? Do I have a purpose here or am I biding my time to the next duty station? Why can't I connect when there are actually so many things I love about this duty station?

You know, this may be our first duty station that I don't make a lifelong friend. Perhaps we move away from here, scratching our heads wondering why we felt so let down by the military community. And maybe-- as the military community already has recently for us-- we are surprised by it pulling through at just the right moment. Maybe we move away from here and think, "I hope we never have another duty station like this!" And maybe, at our next duty station, we look back with rose tinted glasses and think of all the things we missed about this duty station-- the ages our kids were, the schools our kids went to, our church... whatever it is. Maybe tomorrow I go to story time and bump into a mom of 5 kids with twin kindergartners, just like me, and we get coffee and exchange stories. Just like I can't change anything by worrying about a PCS happening over a year from now, I can't change anything worrying about whether or not I am living life to the absolute fullest, enjoying each and every moment of this duty station, the age my kids are at, etc. I don't know what the future holds for me at this duty station or if I will ever feel connected here. I don't like that, but it is what it is and maybe that is okay. Maybe I will leave here and reflect on this duty station feeling like I learned a life lesson... and maybe I won't. Who knows if the problem here is me-- the number of kids we have, the problems I've had since moving here, my months of depression. Perhaps those factors contribute to my difficulty making connections here. It could also just be that this is a rough duty station. This is where another aspect of military life comes into play: it's not forever. Eventually we will leave this duty station and we will move to our next one. I can always hope that our next duty station is better.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Surgery + recovery

I've written about this before, but after I had baby #4 2 and a half years ago, I had complications that required surgery. The surgery included a hysterectomy. We weren't sure if we were done having children (correction: I wasn't sure if I was done) and so we talked to my OBGyn about the risks of another pregnancy. He told us that the complications most likely wouldn't get worse during pregnancy, but that, while the pregnancy would be safe, it wouldn't be comfortable and that the complications would be worse post-partum. We had a tough decision to make: one more pregnancy or a hysterectomy? After a lot of late night discussions, we decided to try one more time. We had 4 boys and we were "going for the girl." We started trying for baby #5 when baby #4 was almost 6 months old. I got pregnant with baby #5 almost a year later.

From the beginning, it was a rough pregnancy. My morning sickness (all day sickness) exasperated my complications. We were told the pregnancy wasn't viable and that it was probably another molar pregnancy. It wasn't until 18 weeks that we got the all clear that baby #5 was healthy. And then the next ultrasound immediately showed problems and once again we were wondering about the health of baby #5-- our first girl! I was so excited that we were finally having a girl and terrified we were going to lose her, especially since I knew we would not be trying again if we lost this pregnancy. This was our last pregnancy. We had many appointments with high risk doctors hours away from our house and countless appointments with our OB, often with 4 kids in tow. When the perinatologist finally gave us the all clear and only wanted to see us for monitoring, I started battling pre-term labor from 27 weeks on. At 30 weeks, we were told there was no way I would be pregnant by the end of the week. I was given steroid shots and, after many, many trips to the OB and the maternity ward, against all odds, our baby girl hung on until 39 weeks gestation!

It was such a blessing she had longer to grow and avoided a premature birth, but the extra weeks of contractions tore apart my stomach on top of the post-partum complications we were expecting. Then, a week after delivery, I started feeling horrible. I was spiking fevers and felt disoriented and exhausted. My OB recommended admitting me, which I declined since we do not have help locally (and have 5 children). I instead made a follow up appointment with her for the following week. That night, 2 weeks post-partum, I started hemorrhaging. I was rushed to the ER for an emergency D&C. It took me much longer to recover from this delivery than even with baby #4 when I first started having post-partum complications.

For months after delivery I worked with my OB to set up my surgery. When we finally had a January date, I had weeks of pre-op appointments with my 2 surgeons' offices. I was told what the surgery should fix and what will feel differently afterwards and an idea of what I should expect from recovery. I was very nervous heading in to the surgery. We have 5 children and live across country from my family. However, my parents were flying out for 2 weeks to assist in my recovery and that made me feel confident we would get through. Everything was set for my surgery!

As the day actually approached, I felt sad about the hysterectomy. On one hand, I am so glad that I will no longer have menstrual cycles or have to worry about birth control. On the other hand, I would love to have more children. It is a silly thought though, since my body cannot support future pregnancies. I told my husband that it feels like I'm thinking about my body abstractly, as if in an alternate universe there is a Kimber without these complications that could have more babies. I know that there are too many risks for me to carry another baby, but it feels sad to close that chapter of my life that has dominated the last several years for me.

The surgery went very well. It was a laparoscopic surgery. They told me that I can expect a shorter recovery time with it. At almost 2 weeks post-op, I would agree with that assessment. I have not needed pain killers since the first week post-op. I had 3 procedures done and, for the most part, I've mostly just felt tired and uncomfortable. Any pain has been very well managed. It has helped resting between activities, especially using the heating pad while reclining. I'm so glad I've had family in town because for 2 weeks I cannot lift over 10 lbs. They told me nothing heavier than a gallon of milk, which means no picking up our 7 month old baby. After 2 weeks, I have a 20 lb weight restriction and then no weight restrictions after 4 weeks. My family flew home yesterday and I don't know how I would have gotten through without them. My husband's work set up a meal train for us and they brought us meals for almost 2 weeks! That has been such a help because on top of caring for our 5 children and our house, I have been recovering and been another person for my parents to take care of. I haven't done anything at all around the house with my parents here! After they went home yesterday, I really noticed their absence!

As for my complications, it is amazing what a difference I've noticed even while recovering. I didn't expect to notice things being better immediately, some as early as in the hospital! As the days have gone on, I've noticed more and more things that are better. My doctors had told me the surgery would fix those things, but it is just a whole different experience actually having those things fixed! Some of these problems I've had since after our twins were born over 5 years ago (babies #2 and #3), but most were after baby #4-- 2 and half years ago. It's crazy that after having these problems dominate my consciousness for over 2 years (and some for over 5 years!) that they can suddenly be gone, fixed. It makes me excited for how different things will be when I am fully recovered.

It has been a journey getting here, to this point. I am so thankful that I will never have to go through another pregnancy like our last one. I am also so incredibly thankful for our precious baby girl who came out of that! It was such a challenging time and I just look at her every day and think what a blessing and a miracle she is. She was our missing family member and now we are complete. I still have a couple weeks of recovery ahead of me and I'm sure this week will be tough, with my family back home and my husband back at work. But after getting through this past year, I know we can make it through anything.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Semi-charmed life

Happy New Year!

I got sleep last night! Woo! Babies #4 and #5 have been waking me up all night. I've been staggering downstairs and pouring my bleeding heart out to my espresso maker each morning. Last night, my husband took all the kids and I was in bed before 8 pm, asleep before 8:30. Even better, I SLEPT THROUGH until 6:30 am. (Don't judge-- that's big stuff for mom life.) I came downstairs literally singing. Turned on my favorite 90's hits and have been singing since then.

We are over HALFWAY DONE with our current duty station. I've written some blog posts about what it's been like for us here and it's been nuts. I mean, just about everything possible has come our way since getting here and it left me feeling pretty low at times. I've had a hard time processing all of it. But one thing I have done is to hold on to each challenge. I've carried EACH challenge close to my heart and refused to put it down so one after another they piled up. Whatever happened, I would add it to my list that I had hot and ready.

The new year and the "over halfway through" mark seem like the perfect time to drop my list. I did a little ceremony for myself when the new year came around. I wrote down all of the "hurts" and "disappointments" and "hard times" and "challenges." Every one of them that bothered me-- big or small. Things I felt went unrecognized, unnoticed, or forgotten to others. Things that I've chanted to the world or allowed to turn into a bitter seed inside of myself... and I let them go. I wrote them down, acknowledged them, looked at that list... I thought of each of those hard times, and I allowed myself to move on.

As a mother, it took me awhile to give myself the space to process our past year. We've had many heartbreaks and many hard times. It is hard to grieve or to take a moment as the parent, especially when I was, most of the time, the only parent handling the day to day life of our 4 (and then 5) children. But this fall, I did. I let it all in. It was hard and I had to back out of a lot of my commitments because I needed time to focus on where I was at, instead of letting the bitterness and the anger continue to flourish, which lead to depression and sadness. I realized that is not who I am. Once I had done that, I started forgiving. Forgiving myself, first of all. Forgiving the disappointments that came my way, whether intentional, accidental, personal, or corporate.

But I found, that even though I had forgiven and even though I had let in all the feelings, I was still holding on to the incidents. I didn't know how to let it go. It felt like life wanted to march forward and all of the things I had gone through wouldn't matter anymore. No one acknowledged them at the time and no one would ever acknowledge them once I let them go. I was stuck and it took me a minute to realize how focused on the past I was.

Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time with my kids. The holidays this year were, hands down, horrible. I am not even going to get in to it, but I actually ruined Christmas for my kids this year (not joking or exaggerating-- I did). I tried to make it fun and instead I ended up with 4 crying children on my hands for weeks on end. Ugh. It was exhausting. And I told myself, "It's one Christmas. It's one year." Which of course, made me think of my list. This is ONE duty station. It has been ONE pregnancy. It has been ONE year. How much have I learned from these experiences? How much have I grown? My family grown? I mean, really... we have learned SO MUCH. Even this messed up Christmas taught us valuable lessons. We came through-- as a family.

That thought made me realize that it doesn't matter to me if the world knows everything, in detail, that we went through this past year. Why do I have to set the record straight? Why do I have to carry around this heavy list, this play by play, this weight, with me everywhere? It is over. It is in the past. My family and my best friends know. This is part of my story, part of what makes me me. My husband has walked this road with me and, while our paths have varied, we recognize in each other the journey both of us have had to take. No, we never want another year like the one we just went through. Yes, life sucks sometimes. But look how beautiful it is now. Look at where we are.

And so I wake up singing. I've released the list. I've grieved. I've forgiven. I've let it go. It didn't happen overnight, but I did it and am better for it. My husband keeps teasing me because I've told him 2017 is the year of positivity. I'm not focusing on the hard times this year-- past, present, or future. I'm focusing INTENTIONALLY on the blessings, the good things. In the midst of chaos, in the midst of disaster, in the midst of the moments that feel impossible, there is beauty and goodness and love. There is a purpose to our fight and to our struggles. My purpose lately has been our five children. That wasn't my purpose when we arrived here. Lately, our children have needed support and to figure out the challenges of life and that has been my task-- to offer stability. I find this ironic since, for the last year, I have felt like I'm running on the sand. My footing shifts underneath me with each step and my muscles burn with the task ahead of me. But God has placed me here, in their lives at this moment, to give them stability. Through that, I have found that my footing is more solid than I thought and that, while my muscles burn and ache, the view is gorgeous and that the distance isn't as great as I thought. I've learned: I can do it.

My husband and I were joking about nicknames for me this year, since over the last week I've pointed out all of the positive things happening in our day to day life. We decided on the "The Princess of Positivity." You know how new years resolutions go-- they don't last long. Who knows how long this one will last-- a week longer, months longer, maybe half the year. My hope is to train my mind to focus on the good instead of the bad or the hard to handle. My hope is teach our children through my positive outlook that life can come at us-- wave after wave-- but we can keep running. We can find our footing together. We can do it! And we can do it together. From my new vantage point, I'm able to look back on this past year with a new outlook. It is amazing all we've been through. The curves life took and the way we managed to get through. God has lead us thoughtfully through all the hard times. We have grown so much.

We are over halfway through at this duty station and already I know life isn't done challenging us. We have a lot to get through at the rest of this tour. And that's okay because we are going to approach our semi-charmed life with positivity, even if I have to blare 90's music every single morning.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Life sucks sometimes

It's the time of year for reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the new year. When I reflect on this past year, I have a lot of mixed feelings. There is overwhelming joy when I think of our new daughter. A smile comes to my face when I think of our 4 boys and all they have accomplished-- big and small goals. One of my favorite memories was cheering one of our kindergartners to the top of the rock wall at the YMCA. He was so afraid to climb up there, but one day while we were there he told me, "I'm going to do it." And he did! Our oldest started 2nd grade. Our twins started kindergarten! Their first year in school all day. That was a rough adjustment, but I'm happy to say we are finally falling in to the swing of things (though Christmas holiday was a much welcome break). Our toddler's vocabulary has grown so much and he's finally learning *some* house rules (I say some, because we are certain he's still feral).

I think about all the challenges we have overcome. This time last year our family was in a bit of a tailspin as our beloved Granny, my grandmother, suffered a stroke. It is amazing looking at where she was a year ago and where she is now! Functions that we often take for granted-- walking, talking, writing-- she couldn't do and it is such a miracle that she recovered those skills. That in itself is worth applauding how far we have come in a year. She is close with all of us and we were so worried about her.

Other challenges came big and small. It was a year I never want to repeat. Looking at this past year, I wish I had handled a lot of things differently. For a long time, I didn't realize the challenge that I was up against. I didn't realize the pregnancy would be so rough or that my health would suffer so much. I approached the situation like I would if all the kids got sick-- hunker down at home and ride it out. And when it became apparent that the health issues weren't going away immediately, I became frustrated. I felt frustrated being so useless to my family, frustrated being so far from family, and frustrated being at a duty station with a lack of support. I felt getting through the end of the pregnancy would be the answer. When that wasn't, I became depressed and withdrew. I didn't know how long these health issues would plague me and I felt like I would have the same level of support as I did during the pregnancy-- that is, little to none. I projected a lot outwards. I think I burned every bridge I had here, big or small.

There is now a plan in place to fix my health issues. I've been going to, what feels like, a million doctors appointments and undergone uncomfortable exams and testing. Knowing when it will get better, even though it is happening months later than we had originally hoped, makes me view this past year very differently. Instead of feeling hopeless that I went through all that and still don't have an end in sight, it feels like we have answers and that it was all worth it. It makes me wish I had handled a lot of things better.

I think one of my biggest struggles is wanting to be understood. This past year, I never felt understood. I had so many different things to juggle and so many different stresses and heartaches to process. It felt like one disappointment after another. And when I would try to talk to people, it was like they would only see a tiny window of what I was going through, "Oh, I had a rough pregnancy too," I would hear. And I'm sure they did. But I never felt like anyone understood how rough mine was, how alone I was, all the things I had on my plate, and what it felt like handling all of that on my own. It made me angry and it made me feel more isolated. Instead of listening to other people, I felt like I was comparing our stories. I would hear, "Oh, my preschooler is driving me insane," and I would think, "Mine too. And I have two preschoolers driving me insane, a 1st grader driving me insane, a toddler driving me insane, my husband isn't home, I'm on bedrest, and I still have to do everything at the house by myself." It felt to me that when people were telling me their challenges, that they were disregarding mine. Why would someone complain to me about a rough night with a child, when I have all these challenges to face on my own? I had a particularly hard time when it felt like the people who were venting to me had help-- family in town or relatives living nearby or regular and available childcare. I do not have a network here or close friends here or consistent childcare or support of much kind here and I felt very envious of people who I perceived to have more help than me. I've pined for past duty stations where I was driving distance to family or childcare situations we've had before where our sitters had better availability or when it was less expensive.

I didn't start with that attitude. It evolved. Being a Navy wife, I'm accustomed to making friends at new duty stations. I have a system and know how and where to seek out "mom friends." Nothing I did here worked. I found people who I felt like would be great friends for me, but when I struck out those friendships, I got lukewarm responses. I felt like I went out of my way, only to not have favors returned or feelings reciprocated. That didn't bother me at first, but after all this time "going out of my way" and still having no more friends to show for it, the bitter seeds to started growing. After I had our 5th baby and my health issues became a standing concern, I withdrew. Why was I putting so much emphasis on finding friends here? Why did I expect people to understand where I was coming from? Why was I so angry about this duty station-- the support, the friendships, the submarine community? I was taking it all so personally and feeling like each interaction was a statement about me-- people meeting up and not inviting me, backing out of my life during the pregnancy, not coming over after the baby was born, etc.

And that's where I feel like I had done things differently. If I could go back and do this year, I would tell past Kimber, "Life sucks sometimes." How can I expect people, even people in the submarine community, to understand what life is like with 5 kids-- when they don't have 5 kids? How can I expect people with little kids to understand what it's like to have bigger kids? (This one makes me laugh because 2nd grade is still little kid, but when your oldest is a toddler or preschooler, damn, 2nd grade looks old.) How can I expect people who don't have kids in school to understand what it's like to have kids in school? How can I expect people to understand what I went through during this pregnancy when I myself am still trying to process everything we went through this pregnancy? And how can I expect people to take my life choices-- the choice to have a big family, the choice to follow my husband's career, the choice to move across country from family-- and make them their problem? Even bigger-- how can I expect people to see the mess I made of my life this past year and take me on as a friend? The hardest question to ask is if I would take myself on as a friend, if I had met me this past year. Would I? I don't know. Was I actually being a good friend to people? Was I approachable, likeable? Could I blame them for not wanting to befriend me? I doubt it.

If I could go back and re-do this past year, I would take a step back. Maybe 12 steps back. 20, if I had to. I would look at the big picture. Looking at it close up, I put my life on hold this year. I withdrew from college because of my health. I didn't accomplish any of the things I set out to do at this duty station. I have no more friends this year than last year. I really haven't done anything of note this year except survive. I am biding my time until my surgery, until recovery, until we move from here. Life sucks sometimes. Duty stations turn out very differently than we hope they will be. Sometimes we get nothing but curveballs.

This is why it is important to take 20 steps back. In the midst of all these curveballs, we have had countless blessings. Every time childcare fell through, we made it through somehow. We may have scrambled for childcare this entire past year, but it worked out. Even when we dragged anywhere from 1 to 5 kids to countless appointments near and far, we got through. We even had unexpected childcare step in at times! We may not have had much support here like we've had at every other duty station, but our marriage is going strong. While we've had challenge after challenge, my husband and I have leaned on each other and grown together. We've seen God love on us through this rough pregnancy and seen his blessings as our hearts healed from past lost pregnancies and lost babies. The ups and downs of this last pregnancy brought a lot of those feelings to the forefront again and it has been amazing healing some of those hurts as we welcomed our last baby into our family.

As for myself, I have found the strength to get through things I never knew I could. I rely heavily on the support of my friends and family, especially my momma. This is the first time that I've truly had to "figure it out" all on my own. Having 5 children, life continues moving no matter how I feel. I've had unlimited long distance support and encouragement from my far away friends and family, but it is another situation all together being the only adult with 5 children-- including a nursing baby-- when the stomach flu is marching through the house and you are out of diapers. I consider it a blessing, though it sounds less so when I say it out loud, that through this duty station I have learned the importance of living near family. I felt living in the Northwest would be a fun adventure, the last corner of the United States our family needed to live in. While there are many aspects to the Northwest that we love, the distance from family is insurmountable with 5 children. Finally, I feel like I've finally found my stride in parenting. Being at a disadvantage with my health issues, the children were wearing me to the ground, physically and mentally. I attempted to maintain a level of parenting that was beyond my abilities. One of the biggest blessings of this year was discovering that my mother's love doesn't come from activities or a standard of parenting that I impose on our family or milestones I feel our children should have or experience at certain times, but finding freedom in letting things go. I gave myself permission to say NO. No to the frenzy of after school activities, no to the rote bedtime routine, no to practically everything that before this year I would have said are my baseline parenting must-dos. I discovered through this that even when I am saying no to the children, that sometimes I have to say yes to myself. Yes to calling in a sitter so I myself can take an early bedtime. Yes to bottle feeding because, you know what, I'm just done breastfeeding. Yes to fun when their are chores to be done.

I have always considered myself to be competent and self-reliant. Being at this duty station without support, doing life on my own, I've realized just how much I rely on my friends and family. When I look back at past times in parenting, I realize that I didn't manage them on my own. This was the first baby that we brought home from the hospital without my mom swooping in for 2 to 4 weeks to get my family in line and on schedule, meaning the first time I was responsible for changing newborn diapers around the clock. This is the first duty station I haven't had a "ride or die" friend where I pop over and fold her laundry while commiserating over toddler tantrums. This will probably be our first duty station where I do not make a forever best friend. We have just under a year and half here and I don't see how that will happen at this point, with my surgery schedule, etc. (Plus, I'm fairly certain I've burned every bridge here! Eeks!) Being alone really taught me how much I depend on those around me.

For this next year, I'm letting it go. I have held on too long to the hurts of this past year-- the hurt feelings, the frustration and anger. I've railed against this duty station for too long. I've let this bitter seed grow and grow in my heart until every conversation I have is turned into a statement against me-- comparisons, jealousy, envy, and hurt. I've longed for aspects from each of our past duty stations-- childcare from there, friends from there, house from here-- and made it so nothing will ever live up to my expectations. I've dragged myself over the coals over all the ways I've failed our children this past year-- missing out on our daughter's first year, things I haven't done for our boys, everything they've had to deal with since moving here. I've broken my heart over longing and wishing and pining for family to be closer. I've wallowed in the disappointment of all the things I had to say no to, foremost my own goals for this duty station. I have spent all my time living in the "if only ifs," the "what ifs," the "I wishes," and the "coulda, shoulda, wouldas." I need to let it go and accept that sometimes life.just.sucks.

To end this on an encouraging note, I truly believe that the times where we run out of our human power is when God comes in with his divine power. The control we can assert over our lives is so small compared to what he can do. I may feel like I've ruined my chances for enjoying this duty station-- ruined any possible friendships I could have built, ruined any enjoyment from my last pregnancy, ruined whatever I feel I've ruined for my kids or my husband (trust me, there is no end to what I attempt to take responsibility for). Those times when I finally let go and hand it over to God are when God comes in and makes something beautiful out of my mess. I have no idea what this next year holds for us-- what new challenges we have in store or if we had enough after this past year. What I do know is that I'm finally done shouldering the weight of all of it. I've laid it down at God's feet and, because of that, something good and true and pure will come from it. Something I would never have had the courage or wherewithal to build. I'm taking 20 steps back as I approach this next year.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to CLEAN HOUSE with 5 kids

I go through phases in regards to house cleaning, where I can't function without a housekeeper and our bathrooms are covered in toothpaste and our floors with dirt clots, dragged in from muddy boots, and there is a layer of crumbs on every surface. Other times, having a housekeeper is more of an inconvenience-- making sure to have the house tidy on a certain day at a certain time, keeping the children out of her way, and possibly getting out of the house while she's here. Plus the expense. Currently, we are in the latter category. So, for the time being, we are back to cleaning our house, 5 kids and all.

So how do you clean with 5 kids? Well, our youngest is an infant, so I don't have much to worry about with her, save for feedings and naps interfering. I tend to do loud cleaning, like vacuuming, right after she wakes up from nap. That way she's happy and content to bounce in her Excersaucer. For the in depth cleaning, like the bathrooms, I try to do that when she's entertained, either napping or happily playing.

Our other 4 children are a 2nd grader, twin kindergartners, and a toddler. For them we have a variety of jobs. As opposite as it seems, the 2nd grader is the hardest to involve in housecleaning. For starters, it is amazing how he can have boundless energy to play with friends but as soon as he picks up a broom, he has a stomachache or his arms don't work. It's surprising how many selective illnesses a 2nd grader can have while housecleaning, that quickly resolve themselves once chores are over. Sporadically non-functioning arms aside, 2nd graders can be exceedingly helpful when housecleaning:
  • Sweeping the floor
  • Cleaning the bathroom, including the toilets
  • Taking out the trash
  • Fully unloading the dishwasher, including putting away almost all of the dishes
  • Washing handwash only dishes (such as pots and pans, nothing valuable)h
  • Small organizational tasks (for instance, sorting through jumbled puzzles or board games, cleaning out his desk and throwing out the trash, sorting through his sock drawer, etc)
This age is old enough to execute a task. I have to train him in these tasks (sometimes more than once). But once I oversee him doing them a time or two, I can trust him to do the jobs and do them well (er, pretty good).

For our kindergartners, there are a ton of tasks that I have them do:
  • vacuum the stairs with our dust buster
  • unload the dishwasher (putting the dishes on the counter that they cannot put away)
  • reload the dishwasher
  • tidy the floor ("floor helpers"), this means picking up all the little toys and trash that otherwise I'd have to pick up to sweep or vacuum
  • clean the bathroom: shower/bathtub, counters, sinks, cabinets, sweep the floor
  • fold laundry
  • put away laundry
  • clean the kitchen: counters, cabinets, kitchen table, chairs, etc.
  • load/unload the van when we get home or are leaving
  • helping with the baby: diaper changing, putting on pajamas, fetching things from her room for me
  • dusting
  • putting toys away: cleaning the loft/playroom, cleaning their room
  • helping others with their chores, especially the toddler
These are also tasks that I have the 2nd grader help with. However, my policy is that I have each age group do jobs first that the younger age groups cannot do. For instance, the 2nd grader starts with jobs the kindergartners cannot do and the kindergartners start with jobs that the toddler cannot do. That way, when each age group is finished with their work, there is a pool of jobs to choose from that any of them can do.

Training the kindergartners takes longer than the 2nd grader. Kind of. With them, they either are too energetic or reckless in their helpfulness (not listening to all of my directions, carelessly knocking things over, etc). While sometimes the kindergartners "don't want to," it is usually the 2nd grader who "doesn't want to." The kindergartners do throw fits and get moody, but they still will usually grudgingly obey when I say, "Okay, this is what we are doing." The 2nd grader, though... man, he can make sweeping the hallway take 45 minutes... just to let me know he doesn't want to do it. Anyways, training them takes some patience. For starters, we have twin kindergartners. When training them in a job together, they often get competitive. Kindergartners want to be "chosen." If I say to one, "I need you to vacuum the stairs." The other will start pouting, "What about me? He always gets to do the job..." (The ironic thing is that if I did chose the whining kindergartner, he would say, "Why do I have to?" The other ironic thing is that a whining sibling makes "the chosen" kindergartner suddenly cherish the job.) Training them separately usually works best. Not just our twins, but all of them. If I train all of them together, our oldest starts rubbing in... whatever. "I've been doing that job for years." or "You are doing it wrong!" A simple task suddenly turns into an all-out argument. The biggest problem with kindergartners is their desire to rush through the job, either to snag more desirable jobs faster than their sibling or to have the job over with so they can be done. With our 2nd grader, I have to emphasize that doing chores is just part of living in the house, something we all have to do. It may not be fun, but it is part of life. With our kindergartners, I have to emphasize responsibility and ownership, making sure to do the whole job well.

Part of teaching that message is handing over the responsibility and the ownership. It is so hard not to nit-pick. It is so hard not to hover and criticize. It is so hard not to let sulking children sour the mood. I mean, I don't want to be doing chores either. (After being up all night with a baby and changing stinky diapers all morning while dealing with pouting children. I mean, come on, kids. You want to play who has it worse? You don't win.) But... that doesn't motivate them to own it. Instead, I train them in their jobs. For our kindergartners, I try to clearly and succinctly make sure they understand the job at hand. "All right, bud. You get to vacuum the stairs today. Please vacuum all of the stairs just like this [demonstrates]. And remember to do it well and to take your time. Thank you." For our 2nd grader, I give him positive and constructive feedback on jobs he is working to master. "Hey, bud. I'd like you to sweep the floor, please. Would you please make sure to get under the table? Crumbs like to hide under the chairs and table legs." I make sure not to put blame on him (such as, "You never sweep under the table well") and I also try not to give him an out or make the job sound harder ("I know it's a lot of work to pull the chairs out, but you need to make sure to get under the table"). And then I hand over the whole job to them. It is hard to do as they pout or sulk through their work. It helps me not to watch, to leave the room and come back when they ask for help or when they finish.

Outside of attitudes and bickering, the hardest part of having young children help clean is how well jobs get done, or, rather, don't get done. Because no matter how well I train our children, they don't do it like I do. I try to be laid back. We have 5 children. I can't hold on to the reigns so tightly. But my heart doesn't know that. My heart loves a shiny floor and a couch that isn't covered in crumbs. So when the 2nd grader actually tries his hardest to sweep the floor and there are still little crumbs or a spot he totally missed, it takes a lot to say the right thing. When the kindergartner proudly shows me the hard work he's done cleaning the bathroom, it is up to me to say the right thing. What is the right thing? Of course I give feedback. If there is a spot to fix, I have him fix it. But if he did the job to the best of his abilities, the right thing is, "Thank you. Good job, bud." And that's it. Because mastering a job takes practice. And burning him out on a job won't make him better at it. And parenting is a long game. The long game here is teaching them life skills and to eventually fully hand over these household chores to them. Be mindful when assigning their chore lists. Their chores should actually help around the house and they need to complete their entire list. The children should learn that they need to finish each one of their jobs, not that they can get out of their list by pouting or taking too long.

Now, for the toddler question. We've had various numbers of toddlers/preschoolers in our house at any given time. As a family, we view chores as part of life. We make them fun. We turn on music and we bust them out as a family. It may not be the most fun, but it is something that needs to get done. Even if we have a housekeeper, there are still chores to be done and skills our children need to learn before entering adulthood. So, we start them young on chores. There are a lot of things toddlers can help with:
  • Unloading the dishwasher (with supervision), putting away the silverware
  • Dusting (a favorite job of mine to give toddlers)
  • Sweeping up the piles made by sweeping the floor
  • Tidying, picking up toys
  • Folding laundry
  • Putting away laundry
  • Cleaning bathtubs/showers
With a toddler, I try to keep it fun. I keep him involved, make him feel useful. I also try to keep the toddler out of the way of older siblings. Often our older boys feel "Why me?" when doing chores and throwing a toddler in the mix who is "messing up" their chores is the last straw for them. (I do make a point to remind them that when they were toddlers, we made accommodations for them.) While the toddler may not have jobs that he sees through from start to finish like our older 3 do, I do make sure that he has jobs that he could finish. Part of that is having jobs that he can clearly see he finished. Unlike cleaning a shower, unloading the dishwasher has a start and end point that he can clearly see-- no more dishes in the dishwasher. At 2 years old, he doesn't really grasp whether or not he has thoroughly wiped clean a bathtub. Even with cheerful involvement, there will reach a point when the toddler is done. Often, I just ignore him when that point happens. If he wants to sit in the bathtub and sing "Old McDonald," then why can't he sit in the bathtub and sing "Old McDonald?" He's not in my way and he's not in his brothers' way. When I finish in the bathroom, I have him "finish up," and then move him with me to the next room. The big lesson at this age is that we all have chores and that doing chores is a family activity. As he grows and as he masters things, his responsibility level will change.

With 5 children and involving those children in our chores, safe cleaners are essential. I need a cleaner that I don't need to worry about our kids drinking or getting on their hands or even spraying places they shouldn't (like dumping it on the carpet). To that end, I make most of our household cleaners. For recipes, check out my blog post "Homemade household cleaners." I rely a ton on vinegar. Personally, I don't mind the smell of vinegar. It's not a favorite with our children, but the smell dissipates quickly. I also use clean sponges that I spray with homemade cleaners. I use these instead of Clorox wipes. I store all of our unsafe cleaners in a plastic bin on a top shelf of our laundry room. That way our toddler cannot accidentally ingest them and our older children can't accidentally use them.

The last thing to remember when involving children with chores-- especially a lot of children-- is to make it a routine. We have an assigned chore day. On that day, each of the children do assigned chores that are age appropriate to their abilities, including skill level and attention span. There are some chores that I rotate who does each week, by desirability. I do not want to frustrate them by always assigning a job that they truly dislike doing. I also focus on mastery. I want them to learn how to do a job thoroughly. Having an assigned day with expected chores allows the children to feel more in control on chore day. With a set routine, they know cleaning the house will take 2 hours. They know there will be a start and there will be a finish. They know they won't have to do this chore again until the next chore day. It keeps chore day separate from other days. Now, that doesn't mean they don't have other jobs throughout the week. In our house, we call them tasks, such as putting dirty clothes in the hamper, being a laundry helper, keeping their spaces clean and tidying up after themselves. But chore day is different because that is when we do in depth cleaning, compared to the surface cleaning we do on the other days of the week.

Welp, those are my tips. Cleaning with children is a chore in itself. Some weeks go better than other weeks. I don't know what makes it so hard sometimes. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. Everyone has napped. Everyone has full tummies. It wasn't a stressful day, but then chores start and suddenly everyone is whining and fighting and bickering. Those are the days that I dig deep. Turn on some soothing music, breathe in, breathe out, and love on the kids. Encourage them along. "I'm going to go upstairs and finish the upstairs bathrooms. I can't wait to see what progress you make while I'm up there." Be careful setting timers when housecleaning; you don't want them flying through a job to beat a timer. When they do a job exceptionally well, make sure to point it out. I can't say for sure (our oldest is only in 2nd grade), but I feel like that one day it will all be worth the effort. I picture one day our children knowing how to do laundry, cleaning the house for me before I come home from a trip, or cleaning the kitchen on their own after dinner. Even better, when they have homes and families of their own, being equipped to handle it all because they were taught these important life skills.

At least that's what I tell myself as I bounce a crying baby, the toddler chasing everyone down with vinegar water, while our older 3 get into a knock down drag out fight over who gets to vacuum the family room. Hey, a girl can dream.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Best for baby {feeding newborns with the Honest Company}

 
Sitting down to write a post on feeding newborns, I was surprised at how raw some of those feelings were for me, even years later. Having attempted to breastfeed each of our five children, my experience has taught me that each child is different and that each breastfeeding journey is different. Discovering what worked best for me as the parent and for each of our newborns in regards to feeding-- breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or a combination-- was not always an easy or simple solution and it often was laden with guilt that I wasn't living up to certain standards, worry that I wasn't making the right choice, and frustration when things didn't live up to expectations I had put on myself.

We welcomed our fifth baby to our family this past summer so you could say that I am well-versed in the newborn days. With our first son, I was so nervous about if I was "doing it right." I worried about when I should be nursing him and for how long the sessions should be and it always felt like I somehow was falling short, like there was a standard of motherhood that I wasn't living up to. I remember when he was having a hard time sleeping and I had anxiety over whether or not to put cereal in his bottle; I tried so hard to do everything "correctly." In the end, I nursed him until he was almost 6 months old before we switched to bottles and formula and even some solid foods. He lead this early weaning and I didn't fight it. Honestly, I was glad to have breastfeeding behind us and get in to feeding I could measure more easily.

When our twins came home, I once again struggled with nursing. Our twins couldn't latch and I spent hours crying with the breast pump or struggling through emotionally charged nursing sessions where I felt like a failure twice over. I would try nursing one baby and then have to go through the same thing with the next baby. I made it through 2 months breastfeeding this way before we switched to bottles. I was much happier and could care for our 2-year old and newborn twins better, but the decision was wracked with guilt. I felt like I could have done better. On top of that formula for twins was expensive. Unlike the first time I nursed, there was a growing "normalize breastfeeding" movement and my newsfeeds were flooded with success tales of breastfeeding multiples and how it was worth the effort. It didn't help that one of the common questions from strangers when I went out with our twins was, "Do you breastfeed them?" When I said no, I would often hear back, "Omigosh, I wouldn't breastfeed multiples either!" I did not often follow up with, "I tried." Trying didn't seem to count for much.

With our fourth son, breastfeeding came a bit easier. He latched well and-- with 3 busy older siblings-- I enjoyed the ease and freedom of nursing. I didn't have to load down a diaper bag with bottles and formula for an outing or worry about where I could find room temperature water-- not too hot, not too cold, but at the exact temperature the baby would take the bottle. Unlike nursing our first son, I heard a lot of comments this time around while nursing in public, such as, "It's so good you breastfeed him." I think the comments were largely due to the breastfeeding movement. I appreciated the encouragement and the nursing support, but it also made me feel even guiltier about my previous breastfeeding experiences. I often felt like I needed to confess how nursing hasn't always come easily. I breastfed our fourth son until he was over a year old and by the time I weaned him, I was ready to have nursing behind us. As easy and convenient I found nursing, I was also ready to have my body back. My husband is in the Navy and we had recently moved across country. I felt exhausted unpacking our household, managing our children's feelings regarding the move, and settling in to our new community. After I got the children to bed for the night, I wanted some quiet moments to myself, not to start a nursing session.

I was asked a lot while pregnant with our fifth child if I was going to be breastfeeding or bottle feeding. I like breastfeeding because it is better for our budget and not having to worry about packing bottles or how much formula I will need for each outing is convenient when leaving home with 5 children. However, I wasn't sure what my breastfeeding journey with her would look like and I was nervous about all the emotions surrounding breastfeeding. Once she was born, I surprisingly found it easy to let the negative feelings go. After all the ups and downs of the pregnancy (it was a rough pregnancy) and the awareness that this is our last baby, my attitude changed. Just like each pregnancy, every breastfeeding experience is different. Not just mom to mom, but child to child. My breastfeeding experience with each one of our five children was different-- including our twins and how each one of them nursed. Instead of shame or guilt for "only" breastfeeding each child for however long I nursed them, I realized that my breastfeeding journey has been a labor of love.

I've found myself looking back through old pictures as our fifth and last baby has grown-- comparing the noses on each one of our babies to hers or looking at our children in well-loved hand-me-downs that we no longer need to hold on to. One of the pictures that made me laugh out loud was a picture of my husband washing a sink full of bottles for our twins. They went through a can of formula in one day! It was unbelievable. A picture that brought happy tears to my eyes was my grandmother feeding our oldest pureed peas; my son was her first great-grandchild. He would pull such funny faces eating foods he didn't care for. To this day he pokes at the peas on his plate, though overall he is our most adventurous eater. With our across country move during our fourth's son first year, I delayed starting finger foods since I didn't want to add anything else to my already busy day. When we finally sat him down in the high chair to start finger foods, he was eager to try everything. Our new house has an amazing bakery just down the road and, of course, my husband and his 3 older brothers felt a ginormous donut would be a great starter food for a one-year old.

As siblings close in age (including a set of identical twins), there is much our children have in common. Often they wear the same clothes. They share the same toys. They have many of the same friends. But they are individuals and when I move past the ways they look the same or act the same, I can see that each of them have different rhythms, thoughts, interests. They are actually very unique and learning their different quirks has been one of my favorite parts of parenting, from their mannerisms to their speech cadence to their sleep cycles. Looking through the old pictures and thinking of each breastfeeding journey as something unique to that child-- not an unrelenting standard of measure-- I have been able to accept my own feelings regarding breastfeeding, to give myself grace, the same grace that I so easily give to my friends and sister for their breastfeeding journeys.

What I have appreciated along the way is support from companies like the Honest Company. With their high level of standards, they make it easy for first time moms or fifth time moms to make the right choice when it comes to feeding newborns. They understand that the right choice is the choice that is best for baby and offer products to make feeding time-- no matter how I choose to feed my baby-- easy and enjoyable with products I can trust. Because I trust them when feeding my newborn, I find it easy to trust them with bathing and diapering and more. It has been easy to incorporate the Honest Company in to our family routine. With all of the other hard to make decisions that come from feeding a newborn, I know that I don't have to stress about our Honest Company products.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Morning school drop off

We now have 3 children in school: a 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. Since school has started, the go-to line I hear is, "You must be loving having 3 kids in school! What a break!" I can tell you, that so far it has felt like anything but a break. It has been absolute chaos. I have to get 3 kids ready for the day-- with lunches, backpacks, folders, uniforms, and appropriate footwear. Then I have to get them somewhere on time with a toddler and infant in tow. After that, I care for 2 children while getting all of the things done I need to in my window of time while the older 3 are at school, and be back in time to pick them up from school again-- on time. (This on time thing is a killer.) Let's throw in 3 hours of before school mayhem and 4 hours of exhausted after school whirlwind: dinner, bath, stories, pajamas, all with 3 kids in perpetual meltdowns. And caring for a toddler and a nursing infant. Major break. (Sarcasm.)

The first couple weeks I was in a constant state of near tears. The time I had with our children wasn't fun. The mornings were busy and the afternoons were nothing but meltdowns and the time they were at school was go, go, go. Last year with only 1 child in school, I could manage after school outings a bit easier. I only had 1 tired kid that I could manage, even with 3 other children in tow. This year I have 3 tired children plus 1 busy toddler and 1 nursing infant. It makes after school outings much more of a hair raising experience (and not at all feasible with my post-partum complications). Since we have 5 children, I tend to avoid taking them anywhere on the weekends when it is busy. But since I now have 3 in school, weekends are kind of our only option. I've also found that they aren't as helpful around the house. They come home in a high-strung, over tired, easily excitable state and need a little downtime and childhood play-- not the time to be heaping chores on them, which means more has fallen on my plate with less time to do it (the window of time they are at school when I'm not caring for our other 2 children). My last complaint on this subject is that school here in the Northwest has such strange hours. Their elementary school doesn't start until after 9 am and gets out at 4 pm. That may sound agreeable, but my children are up at 6 am and 4 pm is a wretched time for kindergartners to get out of school-- they are hungry and need a snack, which ruins their dinner. They are tired and need a nap, which ruins their bedtime. They are exhausted from a full day at school and want to rest, which makes it difficult to participate in after-school activities, even things like hitting up a park or going to a restaurant. They are so tightly wound that it makes our time even more stressful.

It is November now, so we've been in the back to school routine for a bit and have finally settled in to a morning pattern that has offered us a small amount of normalcy and *possibly* keeps some of the chaos at bay. Here is how I get 3 kids ready for school with 2 littles in tow.

Babies first...

To have the best start to our day, I feed the baby first thing in the morning. Often she will go back to sleep after a 5 or 6 am feeding and this helps give me extra hands in the morning (not having to juggle a fussy baby). I change our toddler's diaper and give him a breakfast snack, such as a banana, yogurt, or cereal bar.

Breakfast...

With the babies happy, I can get our older 3 fed. I start the water for their oatmeal while I make my latte. Depending on how many times the children woke me up that night, I make either a double or a quad latte. The first month of school was a quad latte situation. Breakfast must be a "stick to yer ribs" type affair. When school first started, our kindergartners continued their normal eating habits, which was a slow breakfast followed by a 10 am snack. Since they were now at school at that time, they often left for school complaining they were hungry or telling me how starving they were by lunch time. I realized cereal had to go. Our boys absolutely love cereal and so we have "cereal Fridays." They still get one day a week of their "treat" and the rest of the week we don't fight over what's for breakfast. On Mondays I make a small pot of oatmeal, since breakfast is supplemented with pancakes leftover from the weekend. Tuesday through Thursday they have oatmeal with flax seed with various toppings (berries, bananas, brown sugar and granola, milk and white sugar...).

Getting dressed...

I don't really like our boys to wear their uniforms at breakfast. Mondays they drip syrup down their fronts and that often leads to shirt changes. It happens and that's fine when it does, but after breakfast whoever isn't in uniform has to go get dressed. This is also when I have them make sure they tidied up their spaces. Pajamas, diapers, and toys all must be picked up from the floors of their rooms. They all go upstairs to brush teeth and our asthmatic takes his morning medicine. They must leave the bathroom tidy (drawers closed, toothbrushes put away, etc).

Homework...

Thankfully our boys' kindergarten teachers do not believe in homework for kindergartners. (Thank goodness because, honestly, neither do I.) Our 2nd grader has at least one worksheet every day. We do homework in the morning before school. Normally he sits at the bar, but sometimes he does it in his bedroom. I do have him check his homework folder while I get breakfast started. That way if he has a lot of homework, he can get started earlier in the morning.

Loitering...

This is the time in the morning when all H breaks loose. The baby wakes up. The toddler starts throwing oatmeal or drawing on homework sheets. Our kindergartners start wrestling. I approach this in between time with a firm hand. I have the kindergartners unload the dishwasher. I have our toddler sit at the table with some art or I turn on his favorite show and plop him down on the couch with a banana. Often I have to feed the baby again, so I change her diaper and sit in the family room. A great trick has been reading the boys' library books during this time. They are very excited to share their library finds from school and tell me long rambling stories about why they picked that particular book. I do not allow any wild games before school. The first couple weeks of school the boys wanted to play in the loft, like they do many mornings. I allowed it only to have tempers high and injuries higher. It was exhausting dealing with the tears and bloody noses or hurt feelings. I couldn't feed the baby or get anything done running back and forth to the loft. So the loft is officially off limits. The boys are allowed to do art, watch TV, read library books... any quiet activities that do not involve physical contact and can be easily and quickly cleaned up.

Getting dressed revisited...

After the baby is up and fed and changed, I have to get myself ready for the day. This is a quick process. I get the children settled in various activities and go upstairs for 10 minutes. I throw on some make up, brush my hair (or pull it on top of my head), pull on some clothes that I can go to school drop off in, and grab appropriate clothing for the baby and toddler. When I come downstairs, I check that our older 3 are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather. If it is downpouring, I have them wear appropriate shoes. If it is chilly, I make sure they have warm jackets and hoods. I task them with this job while I get the babies dressed.

Packing lunches and backpacks...

I pack lunches in the morning. I don't have enough room to store 3 lunches in my fridge nor do I have an inclination to add more work to our evening, so mornings it is. Our boys do best with snack type style lunches so I grab 3 of everything and usually have at least one of them help me. Once the food is in the lunches, 3 ice packs, 3 water bottles, zip up 3 lunches, and make sure they get in 3 backpacks. I make sure 3 folders follow suit. I make sure 3 boys are each in a jacket, shoes on, faces clean.

Jackets...

While they zip up their backpacks and wash their faces, I check the babies' diapers again. If they are stinky, I change them. Otherwise, I put them in their bunting and jackets and load them in to the stroller. I have any boys who are ready to go help put blankets on the babies. I don't like them to get rained on during our walk and I ensure their little hands don't get cold. I check jackets again. Because often someone has decided to change or take off their jacket or set it down... you'd be surprised how often someone bursts in to tears because 5 seconds before we walk out the door they decide they want to completely change their clothes. Or find a pair of mittens we lost 2 duty stations ago. I put on my boots and my jacket. This is the last thing I do before we head out the door because I strongly dislike arguing with children while I am overheating in an overcoat.

Out the door...

With the babies contained in the stroller, I push it out on the porch. I count the older boys as they follow: 1, 2, 3. Jackets. Backpacks. Lunches. Appropriate shoes. Lock the front door. And off we go! With 5 kids making the trek, I make sure to leave enough time to make the walk. We've had many mornings where the toddler threw fits and refused to go on or the baby kept fussing and we had to stop every couple steps. Most of the time, I can at least make the walk without too many incidents. Library days tend to throw a kink in things. All of our boys have different library days and they must bring back their old books to check out new books. They usually remember they have library that day as we walk away from the house, resulting in an immediate panic/freak out and a meltdown that they "have to go back in!" Of course they have to find the book, open their backpack... yadda yadda. It is a production. But we do many checks before leaving the house and that really cuts down on how many things we forget before leaving the house.

Cleaning up...

Walking back in the door after dropping the older 3 off at school is another whirlwind. The baby often wants to eat again. The toddler wants to play. The kitchen is usually a mess. This is when I do a quick 20-minute pick up of the downstairs and loft. I finish getting ready. I feed the baby and make sure she is dressed for the day (and our toddler too, if it was a crazy morning). By 9:30 or 9:45 am, I usually can have everything settled for the day: myself dressed, our 2 littles dressed, and our older 3 off at school! It is very busy and very hands on every morning with lots of emotional battles (the toddler stealing the school folders, missing uniform pieces, shoe battles...) but overall we have found a good pattern for the morning. By about 8:30 every morning my head is pounding and I'm extending grace over each of our children, but at least it all gets done.