Thursday, September 1, 2016

We've lived here for one year...

We have been living at our "new" duty station in the Pacific Northwest for a year now. It has taken me awhile to post a blog post since baby #5 was born. To be honest, I don't feel like I've been in the best head space. It was a really hard pregnancy-- physically and emotionally. For me, this has been the hardest year of my husband's Naval career. Adjusting to life back on a submarine-- while pregnant with 4 children in tow-- has been hard. It is hard always having to "figure it out" and "make it work" and do it alone, all while also trying to be supportive of his crazy hours and exhaustion and manage the children and house. Ah! And since baby #5 has been born, I've needed to get back in shape and in the swing of life again. On top of the complications I had after baby #4 (which were much worse this time), I had a whole other set of complications after baby #5. It just has been challenging.

Emotionally, I feel like I'm focusing on all of the wrong things. I feel like I'm trying to get back to "normal," which is impossible with a submarine schedule and kids going back to school and our twins' first year of kindergarten (that they don't want to go to) and pregnancy complications. I've really missed my family. I felt it a lot going through this past year, but since baby #5 was born, I can't help but focus on the distance between us. Living across country from family is hard! I had retained placenta and needed a D&C 2 weeks post-partum. It was a scary time. Plus we had to find childcare for our children, bring the nursing baby to the hospital (who I immediately had to nurse in the recovery room), and take care of 5 children all while recovering from a D&C. I missed my mom so much then. Then we came down with a stomach bug and our toddler became dehydrated. We spent 6 hours at urgent care having him monitored and pushing fluids and several repeat doctor's visits. It took days for him to get better. This week our 4 boys had dental check-ups and well-child check-ups, our twin kindergartners both have parent/teacher conferences, and our oldest started 2nd grade(kindergarten starts next week).

It has been a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff for me to figure out and a lot of days where I feel like, "What the heck are we doing here?" Sometimes submarine life makes me question why. Why do we live so far from family? Why do we move so often? Why are we dealing with these long hours? Why do I spend most of my days by myself with the children? I think about all the things that could be different: how different this past year would be if we were living next to my best friend or my family, how different it would be if we had an established community around us, how different it would be if my husband worked a job where he could be there to support me... I keep thinking, "If I was at my parents' house, they would have worked from home... they would have taken time off... they would have driven the kids to this appointment or gone with me to that appointment..." Instead my husband works erratic, long hours. I'm doing the children's bedtime routine by myself. They go days without seeing him. I went through bedrest by myself. I took care of all the children by myself while our toddler was so sick with the stomach bug.

So I feel like I'm focusing on the all the drawbacks. I feel lonely here. We have made some really amazing friends here, but our day to day life is spent alone. Most days last year the only time I saw people outside our home was during school pick up and drop off. I love being a stay at home mother and I love our children. They absolutely crack me up and I just love their personalities. However, going through day to day to day to day life with just me and the little people is wearing. I don't have anyone to laugh about the shenanigans with or anyone to say, "Me too, sister." I need the playdates where the moms get together with drive through coffee and the children go play while we chat. I need people to text and say, "Where are you?" I need girls' nights where we all show up with spit up on our shirts but we are trying so hard to be glamorous again in wedge heels and skinny jeans. Parenting is thankless. So thankless. I made lasagna from scratch last night and sat at the table nursing the baby while our 4 boys complained that they weren't hungry, they don't like that... on and on (and none had even tried it yet!).

Last night I decided to bring our boys to a class at the Y. When we showed up, the room was dark-- lights off, no one in the room. Someone told me the class was being held somewhere else so I dragged all the kids across the building-- it wasn't there either. I dragged all the children back up to the membership desk to find out there was no class that evening and, even if there was, we couldn't go because you had to register for it, and I hadn't. The boys were done-- upset, crying. I was frazzled. Long story short, I ended up crying at the membership desk. I must have looked like a crazy lady. We stayed for awhile longer and I let the boys climb the rock climbing wall before I drove them back home. On the drive home, I started crying again. Our boys chatted happily about what they had accomplished (two of our boys climbed to the top of the rock climbing wall) and all I could think about was how I really had wanted to sit and write while they had been in the class, how I hadn't had a moment to myself all day, how I was headed home to an empty house to get all the kids in bed by myself.

I've written many blog posts the past several weeks and haven't published any of them because they haven't had a positive ending, nothing to bring it all together, nothing inspiring or uplifting. But last night on the drive home I had that moment where I felt God speaking to my heart. We were listening to the Christian radio station, which we have on quite often in our van. There wasn't a specific song that came on, but listening to the praise songs I started thinking not about what we had been "dragged" through this year, but what God had supported me through this past year. I thought about all the praises we have. I thought about what a busy, hard year it has been and how constant God has been for me. The worries of this year have been overwhelming-- my health, the baby's health, my husband's schedule, on and on.

After the children were in bed last night, I thought about this coming school year and all the changes we have coming our way. This year could be just as hard for us. I could spend just as much time home alone with our children. God never promises that we will make best friends at every duty station and live vibrant social lives. We do have friends here and we do have a circle of influence and maybe God just wants me to keep on keeping on. Who knows if I will get any "me time" and accomplish any of the goals I set for myself here. Who knows if I will ever see how I made a difference here. Who knows if I will leave this duty station feeling like it was "worthwhile." God never promises us happiness. But he does promise us joy. For the first time in awhile, I didn't go to sleep thinking about what a stressful day it had been or how overwhelmed I am or trying to find deeper meaning in our day to day life or what "the point" of this duty station is (I'm always trying to find "my purpose" or "mission" at each duty station). Instead, I focused on finding my joy. We have so much to be thankful for and there are so many reasons to praise God. Normally I feel like my "purpose" at each duty station is outside of the home. Instead, I think this year my mission is to find my joy in the day to day life, regardless of how far away I live from my mom or how many people I interact with (or don't interact with) each day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where did the time go?

School is starting up for the 2016-2017 school year and everyone is starting to post back to school pictures. This year we will have a 2nd grader and twin kindergartners. While I am (nervously) excited to have three children in school, I cannot believe how quickly time has passed. And I feel like I'm not the only one who feels that way. So many of the back to school posts say, "Where has time gone?" There is an expression that always pops up in the mom circles: "The days are long but the years are short." When I think about our twins, this is how old I think of them in my mind:


And instead, they are big bad upcoming kindergartners now:

And our oldest... I still think of him as a preschooler.

Instead, he's now the oldest of FIVE children and our towering upcoming 2nd grader, at 4'8":

The first days of preschool were shocking to me as well, disbelief that we now were at an age where our children were off to school on their own. Disbelief at how much time had passed. Disbelief at how adorable and grown up our children looked with little backpacks and serious, drawn faces, anxiously excited to find out what preschool was all about.

I know they aren't that big. I know that in the scheme of things, 2nd grade and kindergarten are still baby ages. But, back when our first was a baby and a toddler, school age kids looked so big.

I couldn't wrap my head around how quickly time would go. How quickly things would change from newborn days and around the clock diaper changes and feedings, to toddler ages and stages and tantrums and constantly learning new things (good and bad), to preschool age with those tantrums and new learning experiences (again, good and bad), to school age. Yet here we are. Our oldest is now the gangly older kid on the playground that moms with toddlers glare at. Our twins are now the kindergartners barreling through the toddler playdates. And our toddler is now a big brother himself.

It feels like our family is bursting at the seams, busy and moving and fun and growing. And time rolls faster and faster and faster. Milestones happen without us even noticing and the ages and stages that took a million years with our oldest whirl by with our twins and our toddler and happen in the blink of an eye with baby #5.

I feel like I'm finally realizing just how short these years are. The years that these children are ours 24/7. Where we are the only influences in their lives. Where we are the only people they want to impress. Where we are the end all, be all to them. It is fleeting. And each year grows them more and brings in amazing changes. They are turning in to such wonderful people with wonderful ideas and friends and relationships. Seriously, my heart bursts with pride at the people they are becoming. But I keep thinking about how full our arms are now...

...and how time keeps slipping away from us. Our little guys are becoming bigger guys. Right now when I sit down to feed the baby, I have 4 boys that crowd around to snuggle me and play with baby #5's baby toes as she eats. In a couple of weeks when school starts, our house will be quieter. And the year after that, our toddler will start preschool and it will be even quieter. Our days are getting busier and my lap is getting emptier. For goodness sake, our oldest is nearly as tall as I am.

These years aren't easy. It isn't easy managing a toddler and newborn twins. Or a kindergartner, toddler twins, and a newborn. Or a 1st grader, preschool twins, a toddler, and a newborn. There are days that I want to pull my hair out, that I want to cry, that I look forward to when my days will be a little quieter and Costco trips will be a little easier and when I can drop them off at school and actually get things done. There are days when the packed lunches make me scream, the homework makes me scream, the sick kids make me scream, the laundry, the neediness, the constant fighting, the endless lists of things to buy... My plate is never empty and it rarely feels like I'm making a difference or that I'm appreciated or needed or wanted... But then I think all the way back to the beginning.

All the way back to our first bath with our first baby. To our first pregnancy test. To the babies we've lost. To the babies we've had. Through all the years of parenting we've gone through. Look how far we've come. Look at how quickly it went. In the blink of an eye we handled so many things. We got through so many hard days and sleepless nights, to now. It flew by.


It makes me wish I could go back and do it all over again knowing how fast it would go. I feel like maybe I would be more patient. Maybe I would approach things with an eye on the long game. Maybe I could grasp how quickly 5 years can fly by. In 5 more years we will have a 7th grader, twin 5th graders, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartner. All 5 children in school. Maybe this is what makes parenting so challenging: I have an idea of how I want to parent, but it isn't until later that I can see how I should have been parenting. Or what I would have done differently. Or what truly doesn't matter. All these battles I fought that really didn't mean a thing and all the ages and stages I struggled with that naturally took its course and went away on its own. All the tears I shed over things that didn't matter. How harshly I judged myself and how much I worried and how hard I was on our kids. How I anxiously waited for stages to pass and now I would love to go back and do them all over again. What I wouldn't give to hold each of my kids as babies and toddlers again or to tell my past self, "It's okay," and to enjoy some of those little moments that were so challenging to me then.

But I am who I am and it is what it is. What's done is done. All I can do now is love them to the fullest I can. In 5 years I will be looking back to today wondering where the time went, how my little kids became such big kids.

So this is what parents mean when they say, "Where did the time go?" Because, truly, how does it go so fast?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bedrest with 4 kids

My first trip to labor and delivery for contractions was at 27 weeks. Each week after that I've had to take it easier and easier. I haven't been able to drive the children anywhere or take them out of the house by myself for almost a month. Now we've had preterm labor and steroid shots for baby #5. I've been on modified bed rest for a couple weeks. My OB has told me to keep taking it easy and do the minimum and I'm supposed to lay down and drink as much water as possible each day. My other favorite part of the instruction, "If you have someone to help with the children, you should use them."

It sounds easy enough on paper, but our day to day life is not conducive to bed rest. My husband is on submarines and we have 4 boys: a 7-year old, 5-year old twins, and a 1.5-year old. Managing our house (with minimal assistance) and 4 young children while being on modified bed rest has been challenging. So here are my tips on surviving bed rest with 4 children:

1. Limit errands

I'm about to have to totally hand the Costco run over to my husband, but so far it has been my one time of the week that I get out of the house. Obviously he is pushing the cart and managing our boys there, but I do enjoy walking around and picking things out for the next week. It is also nice doing something "fun" out of the house as a family (we absolutely love getting berry sundaes in their food court). For everything else, I shop online. Amazon, online grocery shopping, free shipping... I watch for it and I utilize it! I wrote a blog post on utilizing online shopping and cutting down errands.

2. Cut back the schedule

When I first started taking it easy, I limited social engagements. I took the kids to places that I could manage them easily, like open parks without much walking to and from the vehicle. Then slowly, I had to start declining all social engagements. In the end, I was involved in one club, our preschool co-op, our 5-year olds' preschool, and our oldest in 1st grade. Even then, I had to back out of the club and the preschool co-op until the only things left on our calendar was school drop off and pick up for our older 3 boys (1st grader and preschoolers). It was too hard finding help/childcare when I was exhausted and running around all day with things I didn't have to be doing (and not taking it as easy as I needed to). At the end of the day, the only things I can't back out of are: feed the kids, take them to school, and survive the bedtime routine. I have to have energy to get through these tasks and it makes for a happier house when I'm not stressed over all of the extras.

3. Find help

This one is really hard. I've thankfully managed to find some baby-sitters to help out on evenings that I just can't make it through (busy day for me or busy evening for the boys). It is so nice to have the children bathed and put to bed while I rest. But for most of our tasks... it all falls on my shoulders. We've had to really adjust how we do things, like scheduling our Costco trips during times my husband is actually home (which sometimes means we have to wait a week or make a mad dash on his one day off). Sometimes help is really good delivery food and sometimes it is saying yes when your friend offers to drop off a pizza for dinner. Help can be letting the kids do things in ways you normally would have a little more participation in--like unloading the dishwasher or sweeping the floors or putting away their own toys. We had to reorganize certain areas to make them more kid friendly, like the toy closet and our preschooler and toddler's closets. We wanted them to be able to access things without adult supervision and, more importantly, put things away entirely on their own. Having moved to this area less than a year ago, it has been slow going at times finding help from brand new friends, having 4 children and being pregnant with my 5th (plus it being a complicated pregnancy from the beginning). Thankfully I've been able to work out a couple childcare swaps with friends for OB appointments during the 2nd half of this pregnancy because it was very difficult going to all my appointments with 3-4 children in tow during the 1st half. Since I have to take it easy, when swapping childcare days, I keep all the kids on the first floor of our house and turn on a kids' movie. I also plan an easy snack that they can all eat at the table. I do have to get up and down a bit more than if it were just my kids at home, but, for the most part, it isn't much more work than taking care of my own 3-4 kids (depending if my oldest is at school or home). Now at 34 weeks and having to spend so much of my day lying down, this isn't as feasible as the past couple weeks, but it has been worth participating in for childcare during my OB appointments.

*I want to add under this category: finding help can also be moving things around in the house so your day is easier. My husband majorly baby-proofed our house to make it easier being at home with a toddler. I have door locks, drawer locks, baby gates... etc. Anything to help keep him contained so I can actually (or possibly...?) put my feet up for a minute. This also applies to finding your comfortable spot and moving things to within reach there. I have a spot I like on the couch and we made sure I have easy access to outlets (using an extension cord) and a good spot to put my water.

4. Easy meals

Why do children need to eat everyday? And it isn't even just everyday. It is 3-5 times a day everyday. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner... and one more snack, Momma? Throw in sippy cups and spilled drinks and our life revolves around the kitchen. I had to reorganize the pantry to make it a bit more kid-friendly-- easy snacks within reach and supplies for our oldest to pack his own lunch. On top of their snack needs, the pregnancy has affected how I eat meals. One day I'm eating at every meal; one day I'm snacking all day. I love Costco for all their healthy easy snack and meal options. We buy a pack (or two) of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese every time we go. They have freezer meals. They have packaged snacks: granola bars, fruit snacks, dried fruit, apple sauce pouches... They have cheese sticks, Go-Gurt, Cuties... Costco. I love you. But all this easy food at home means kids being able to easily feed myself and my family. One of our current favorite lunches is cooking a pound of pasta and throwing on some of Costco's basil pesto sprinkled with Parmesan. If we are feeling fancy, I cut up some fresh tomatoes to go with it. The other important factor for meal times is knowing where to grab or order a quick and easy meal. The other night we ordered in Dominoes, though we also have a list of places my hubby can run into for fresher, healthier options (um, grocery store pizza definitely qualifies as fresher and healthier than Dominoes). Are you ready for a true confession? I keep hard boiled eggs and Ramen handy at all times for super easy meals.

5. Stick to one floor

When I am home with our little kids, we are either upstairs or downstairs. I can't run upstairs because our preschoolers are fighting or our toddler is causing mayhem. So I plan our day around what floor we are on. I move laundry in the morning before coming downstairs and then finish it in the long stretch of the afternoon when the boys want to come back up to play in our loft space. For most of the day, we are downstairs. I have our oldest help carry my things downstairs for me in the morning and I set up camp on the couch. That way I have a place to rest and easy access to all the downstairs amenities (kitchen, backyard, art, television, etc). The other nice thing about this floor arrangement when on modified bed rest is that each of the floors are "new" to the kids at some point during the day. When they are downstairs, they can whine about how they want to be upstairs... and vice versa. It keeps them entertained and keeps me from doing the stairs 12,000 times a day. Another tip: employ the children on stair trips. If I run out of diapers downstairs, I can send even the toddler up to grab another one. Our 7-year old is clearly far more capable at following complicated instructions ("In the drawer next to my bed, I need you to grab my chapstick..."), but even saving one stair trip is nice because, inevitably with 4 kids, it feels like I go up and down and up and down those stairs all day.

6. Household chores

This could probably be combined with finding help. A huge saving grace has been having a housekeeper throughout this pregnancy. I have no idea what I would do without her. Through the majority of the pregnancy, the boys and I would pack up on housekeeper days and go get breakfast out and then do a park trip. Now, while she cleans the master bedroom, we hang out in the living room and then lock ourselves in the master while she does the rest of the house. One of the best things about having a housekeeper is that she does all our deep cleaning, so I can have our boys be fully responsible for all the maintenance cleaning in between housekeeper visits. They sweep. They vacuum. They wipe down counters. It saves me a lot of effort not following after them to get everything "just so." They are learning how to clean bathrooms and the like and I am not having to do it-- nor would I able to keep up with it all right now anyways, even if I wanted to. The biggest thing that I have to keep on top of them about is cleaning up their messes at the time they make them. We try to do this anyways, but now on bedrest it is crucial. I cannot have them dump out every toy bin and then expect me to help them sort out what goes where. Big messes are very overwhelming for 5-year olds and under (even our 7-year old) and it just isn't something that I can undertake right now. I make sure that before they move on to a new activity, they clean up the old activity. It does make me feel like that I'm often nagging them from the couch, but they are actually getting into the swing of it and I've caught them more than once cleaning up messes without me asking-- behavior that I greatly rewarded.

7. Indoor entertainment

Wrestling. Why does it always have to be wrestling?! I spend so much time telling our children to stop wrestling. We sit down to watch a movie or play a game or do anything and one nudge leads to a punch leads to a head lock leads to at least one bleeding child. I feel like wrestling and wild play are two things that will drive me crazy before the end of this pregnancy (that and children asking repetitive questions). Here are the indoor activities that we have been using to pass the time while I take it easy:
  • Movies. Thankfully, several of my children do like movies. Of course they never can agree on the movie and some of them only watch movies in the right mood, but peer pressure is strong and so they tend to cluster if the majority is in favor of watching movies. One of my favorite tips is Netflix Streaming. It is so great to be able to change the movie without having to get up and pop in a new DVD.
  • Art. Our 5-year olds are very in to art. They could spend hours doing art. Our oldest will occasionally sit down and do art and our youngest will often spend a lot of time at the table where art is to eat the crayons, but even entertaining 2 of the 4 is nice. It is especially useful when our oldest is at school and our youngest is napping. I make sure that all of their art supplies are not only easily accessible to them, but easy for them to put away as well. This is a huge step in letting them do art while on bedrest. Otherwise, what would I do when the toddler gets up and finds scissors, glue, and markers everywhere? I'd be chasing him down to take supplies away... or cleaning the walls like we had to do a couple weeks ago.
  • Accessible toys. Accessibility is key. Whether your kids like playing with play sets or cars or costumes or whatever, if they need your help getting everything down, you will either be dealing with a lot of whining when you say no or a lot of getting up and down and up and down. The next biggest part is it has to be easy for them to clean or you will have the same problem. Our toddler has one big bin for toys in his room. Our older boys have bins for Lego Duplos, playsets (Playmobile/Imaginex/etc), costumes, stuffed animals, and cars in our loft space. I have everything else out of reach, meaning the small "real" Legos, K'Nex, puzzles, and board games. These are things that they cannot easily clean up and that, frankly, I don't want to deal with right now. Sometimes when we are doing upstairs time, I will pull out puzzles and the like for the boys to play with and that is always a fun treat. I can get a lot of laundry folded with our two 5-year olds busily doing "big boy" puzzles in the loft space and our toddler sitting on the floor next to me doing toddler puzzles.
  • Imaginative play. A fun thing that I have started the past couple weeks isn't totally new in our house, but the frequency of the games is. I pull out various things for them to play imaginatively with, such as flat sheets to make tents or large plastic bins to use as boats or lots of little cups to sort things in... the list goes on and on and sometimes the location of the activity is what makes it so fun. For instance, I never let them play in my master bedroom, but while the housekeeper cleans the house I let them build forts with the sheets and that was a treat. Or when I put a whole bunch of bowls and wooden spoons in the family room for them to make music with-- whoa! Sometimes having house rules and designated areas for certain activities automatically lends itself to childhood magic when you intentionally break the rules. "What, Momma?! We can have snacks on the couch?!" Another fun activity lately is using baby #5's real baby equipment for their baby dolls, like the bouncy seat and bassinet. Obviously I supervise this with 2 5-year olds who would be quite pleased climbing in those things themselves as they pretend to be the baby, though it has actually lead to long periods of happy cooperative imaginative play.
  • Cooking. This one, sadly, isn't something that we can do everyday. If I had a long or hard day, I am not up to being on my feet to cook dinner with the kids. However, we do try to cook breakfast and lunch together when we can. They love being given tasks. It makes them feel like such big kids when they prep and prepare their own meals. I also shamelessly have had our 7-year old make boxed macaroni and cheese for us all on really tough nights. The benefits of us cooking together are abundant: quality time, hands on learning, enforcing math skills, foundation for reading, building confidence, pride in their meal... on and on. The drawbacks are that sometimes it is exhausting and too trying on my patience. There are days when the boys have short tempers and I don't feel well and I just don't want to deal with it. There are other days when I have every intention of cooking together, but I'm having too many contractions. So we play this one by ear.
  • Reading. You would think this one would be a given. Ah, I love reading with our kids-- normally. Now, it is a major chore. My lap isn't big enough for 2 5-year olds and a wiggly toddler. It hurts to get elbowed and bumped and jostled. I'm majorly uncomfortable with contractions and my hips and I don't want everyone piled on me at any given moment. This we also play by ear. I have been able to employ our 1st grader more and more lately. He really has an interest in the topics that our 5-year olds enjoy (Batman... Batman... Batman...) and so has much more patience for the, "Who is that guy?" comments on every page of the book ("Oh, that is Penguin"). We do read and I have sat and read for 2 hours straight. I just tell them no a lot more lately than usual, depending on how I'm feeling when they ask.
8. Outdoor entertainment

This has been absolutely clutch to my sanity. My husband built a gravel pit (instead of a sandbox) for our boys to play in in our backyard. Our toddler loves it. He goes out there and will scoop and pour gravel for almost an hour with no interruptions. Our 5-year olds go outside and do who knows what... sticks, bubbles, chalk, yard balls, gravel pit... Our 7-year old loves "relaxing" outdoors after school, usually by himself; I feel like that is his time to decompress. Having a safe, enclosed space for them has really helped me get some time with my feet up or an opportunity to complete a downstairs task without "helpers" underfoot. I open our windows and backdoor when they are in the backyard and that way I can see them and hear them. A good tip, especially with the toddler, is that sometimes outdoor time can be too much of a good thing. If they spend too much time outside-- just like inside-- they get irritable and short with each other. The hard thing about outdoor play though is that I have a lot more work bringing them inside than when they are bickering indoors. With that in mind, I have them come in when I sense they are getting "done." I also will tell them if I really need a minute to get some rest, "You guys can go play outside for a little bit, but if I have to keep getting up and down, I'm going to have to call you in." Rotating outside time throughout our day also keeps the day feeling a little "fresher." Sometimes I will have them go out for a bit after breakfast or before lunch and then again later in the afternoon or while I'm making dinner. It adds a little variety.

9. Fighting boredom

Even with rotating floors and activities, the kids get restless. We have days where they are whiny and bickering and days where I am in a horrible mood from a sleepless night (or for no reason). We all are ready to get out of the house, see friends, be somewhere else, hit up our favorite local places... I can't wait to take the kids to get donuts and then walk to the park. Really, I can't wait to just walk anywhere. I want to get back into the swing of life. Sometimes on those days the best solution is separation. I send the kids to their rooms to play quietly for awhile, keeping the toddler with me downstairs on the couch. Often times when the 5-year olds are in that foul of a mood, they fall asleep with a little enforced quiet time. When I am the one needing the break, I will sometimes move us all upstairs and close my bedroom door, letting the boys know I need them to quietly play while Mommy rests. This usually lasts for all of 5 minutes before someone is knocking at my door tattling or bleeding or the wild play is so loud I'm getting more stressed than relaxed, but there is that one time where they actually play kindly to the toddler and keep their voices down. Other times, instead of separation, I feel like the boys need some face time and attention. I judge what it is they need. Face time? We read stories or I turn off electronics and we chat. I ask them about they've been drawing. I have them draw me things or show me things or ask them questions. Quality time? We pick a movie and I have them all pile on top of me or we just sit and snuggle for awhile as I read and eventually they all doze off in my arms. It is hard. I can't cheer them with my countdown, "Only 6 more weeks until your sister is born!" 6 weeks doesn't mean anything to them and-- if it did-- I highly doubt a month and half more of this schedule would be very encouraging to a 1st grader and preschoolers. I try to take advantage of spicing things up whenever I can. If my husband is actually home early or has a day off, I make sure they are dressed and ready for some good out front play where they can ride bikes and shoot hoops and run up and down our street. We buy treats when we are out, like ice cream at Costco, or a ginormous box of Otter Pops for the afternoons when they need a pick me up in the backyard. We get new release movies and make a big deal of a "movie night," like pulling out bags of candy or blowing up the air mattress to make nests in the family room. Those little things are fun and keep things a little bit more interesting around here, though the days are long, long, long.

10. Staying positive

I've re-written this part of the post a lot of times an so I feel what gets me down through all of this comes down to 2 main points for me. The first being guilt. I feel like that if I known how hard this pregnancy would be, I would have had my surgery for my complications after baby #4, which makes me feel like, "Why did I bring this on myself?" Do not misunderstand me: I want this baby so bad-- boy or girl. (I am so, so, so glad we are finally having a girl, but we were going for this one last baby regardless.) I will be so glad to hold her. I just feel like, should we have pursued other options? What is this doing to my body? What am I doing to my family? All of that. The second part of this piggy backs of the first: no matter how you slice it, bedrest with lots of kids is hard. The only other time I've been on modified bed rest is carrying our identical twins and we only had 1 toddler then. It has been a far different experience this time with school drop off and pick ups and homework and meals and needs for 4 children... it is hard and tiring. I sometimes feel like I only have the energy to do the basics and that a lot of the other stuff-- some even essential stuff-- I am dropping the ball on. The other day one of our boys fell down really hard. It was a struggle getting to him and, afterwards, I couldn't pick him up or do much for him except force him to limp over to somewhere I could sit to check out his owie. I know what a burden I'm putting on my husband. He has been working crazy hours (if you've ever had a spouse on a submarine in shipyard, you know what I'm talking about) and he comes home to do all the dishes, take out all the trashes, do anything he can to help with the kids, and on and on... On top of that, his only days off are used up doing errands and chores, often all day long (literally until after the kids go to bed). It hasn't been easy.

With that said, staying positive can be hard, especially fighting contractions and thinking negative thoughts or wondering how I will get things done. Being tired (both myself and my husband) has taken its toll on our moods and communication. When I find myself spiraling I follow these steps:
  • Is what is bothering me an actual "big deal" or a small nuisance/minor setback?
    Whoever said, "Don't cry over spilled milk," obviously never attempted bedrest with 4 children. Children are messy. I don't know how many times a day I hear "uh-oh" only to find that phrase to be a vast understatement (an entire Costco bag of chips dumped upside down on the ground!). These little messes are big deals for me-- the repeated and extended crouching down to pick them up-- and they aren't even part of my bare bones daily obligations! It is hard not to lose my cool during those times. "Why are you touching this?" "Why are you in this room?" "Why are you doing this to me?" But they aren't. They are children. They get curious and disobedient and attention-seeking and bored and life happens. Those are the times I take a deep breath and ask them to help me pick it up. It may not be cleaned up perfectly (I currently have the streakiest floor in America), but it is no longer sticky or being dragged all over the house.
  • Focusing on one day at a time... one hour at a time... one minute at a time...
    I don't have any idea what the next weeks will look like, when baby girl will actually get here or how my complications will affect my recovery post-partum. What I do know is that I can put one foot in front of the other-- right now. Narrowing my focus when I am exhausted before lunchtime helps take the panic out of the, "Oh, my gosh, how will I survive this entire day?" thought. I get through the morning hustle and bustle and through lunchtime and through school pick and suddenly it is evening and I'm winding the kids down and slowly getting through bedtime routine. And then another day has passed. I breathe in, I breathe out. I fill another water cup, make another snack plate, clean up another mess... slowly, slowly, slowly...
  • Making goals.
    This one is personal and ever changing. One day my goal is take a shower before bedtime. Another day my goal is to sit outside with the boys while they play. Another day (after a hard couple days) is to spend as much time lying down as possible. When I am really tired from contractions and kids and life, my goal is to make it one more day without going into labor-- to make rest a competitive sport that day. The goals may be small, but it does feel nice at the end of the day to at least accomplish something I set out to do.
  • Vent and complain and wallow.
    Well, this is actually horrible advice. But every once in awhile I have needed to just let go of "keeping it together" and have a bad day. A day where I cry and a day where I'm stressed and a day where I text my best friend way too much about the most mundane of complaints. Having that support is so nice. Even if it is a friend that texts you back or has been there or just has a great listening ear. Of course we want this baby and of course we love this baby and of course we think this will be worth it, but, it is hard.
No lies, it hasn't been easy. Physically I am drained from weeks of contractions and back and forth and taking care of the house and kids (thank goodness for prescriptions to get sleep at night!). Emotionally, I can't keep everything straight. It isn't just a lot on my plate, but my husband's as well and it has been very trying. Thankfully we have been a great team, though there are still moments where the frustration and tiredness takes over and we have a ridiculous argument over nothing. I am wish I could fast forward time to when this pregnancy is over because it is exhausting. I wish it was over now and yet I'm glad baby #5 has baked longer. I'm ready to get the children back on schedule, my life back on schedule, to see people (it is so lonely), to feel better. I feel like when people ask how it's going my best response is, "Hanging in there!" Because the dark circles under my eyes, my aches and pains and complications, my frustration and feeling of impotence, everything my husband has had to take on... it is just hard to sum it all up. Pretty much that angry feeling you get right before you start crying when you don't want to be.

What are your tips for surviving bed rest with older children at home?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Speaking up for equality

I am really naïve when it comes to politics. First of all, it never crossed my mind that a transgender person would have to use the bathroom for the opposite sex. Why would a transgender female-- a female-- have to use a men's restroom? Have I just had my head buried in the sand? Is that really what it has been like for transgender people before now?

I feel like this whole topic of bathroom equality brings up a whole slew of issues that I can't even begin to delve into. I don't know the answer for all of this-- prisons paying for gender reassignment, school locker rooms, on and on. It is a huge subject, a lofty subject. My guess is that any transgender kid in high school is having a much harder day than I am though and, as a momma, that breaks my heart. This topic gets my gears turning.

First of all, I don't understand the anger regarding the bathroom debate. Do I suddenly feel public restrooms are a danger? Hell no. Public restrooms and locker rooms have been a danger from the beginning. I am the mother to 4 young boys. Our 7-year old 1st grader is 4'6" and weighs almost 80 pounds. He wears a boys' size 8-10 and a men's size 4.5 shoe. Whenever I take him with me into the women's restroom, I get glares and muttered remarks, "Too old to be in here..." Our oldest is not a leader. He is a trusting, naïve, sweet 7-year old boy. There is no way when I am at a fairground or a movie theater where the restrooms have more than one entrance that I would let him go into the men's room by himself-- where I cannot go. There is no way when I am road tripping alone with our 4 boys that I would let him go in the men's room by himself. I do not have a fear of transgender people. I have a fear of sexual predators. Wolves in sheep's clothing that look for those small opportunities when our guard is down for a moment. What scares me are cases like Adam Walsh's, where the toy department becomes a hunting ground. Or when walking home from school or running into car trouble become dangerous.

Second of all, in a lot of the articles, blog posts, and news stories on the subject, a common theme seems to be having someone sexually assaulted in a public restroom tell about what happened to them-- which somehow should prove bathroom equality is at fault. What about the people raped when leaving work later than usual? Or stopping at the gas station? Or going to a party? Or getting a ride from a family friend? Or a child staying the night at a friend's house? Or walking home from school? Or doing any number of trusted activities?! Every time I read these posts about how dangerous public bathrooms now are, my blood boils. Sexual assault should never be minimized or regulated to bathroom equality. This makes a mockery out of what is happening to sexual assault victims, past and present. No one will now be raped because "men" or "gays" or "transgender sexual deviants" suddenly have access to women's restrooms. No. People-- men and women-- will continue to be raped by sexual predators no matter what those predators' sexuality or genders may be. This is not new. This has nothing to do with the LGBT community. This has to do with sexual predators, who come in all forms.

Third, feminism. Ah, feminism. As a feminist, mothering 4 boys has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. From the daily "boys will be boys" comments to the expectations placed on each of their shoulders. Yes, it is still a Man's World-- pay, equality, on and on and on-- though this bathroom debate his given every mother to girls and every woman a soapbox-- keep those men out of our restrooms (which, in itself seems to shut out the entire population of male sexual assault victims). As a woman myself and a mother to boys-- ah-- it makes me pause. Why is there such a strong support system for the LGBT community? Because it is a hard road. Think of Matthew Shepard. It makes me sick. Feminism calls for equal rights. Knowing my struggles, it makes my heart ache thinking of their struggles. What if that was my boy? I can't even type that without tearing up. Equality. It matters.

Fourth, equality matter so much. I am vocal about my faith. It is included in my blog posts and my daily conversations and all my parenting choices. It is part of me, who I am. It is in every fiber of my being and it is how I identify and process the world. My life is my testimony. And it sounds so silly to say it out loud, but we live in America. Our ancestors came here for a reason-- freedom of religion-- for that one reason alone. I cannot imagine living in a country where my beliefs and my convictions and my way of life was wrong or illegal. I can't imagine having my basic human rights violated. I can't imagine feeling shamed over my day to day choices. I can't imagine telling people how they have to live or feel or love or any of that. My faith is a choice-- a choice I made. Equality is so important. It is important for us to protect that.

Finally, I start thinking about the bigger picture. What is making people so angry or uncomfortable over the bathroom situation? Do they truly believe that now suddenly they will be victims? Do people have a fear of the LGBT community? Do they feel it violates their own personal convictions? I also start questioning myself-- what am I missing here? I don't pretend to know a lot about politics. I find a lot of it confusing, unpleasant, and upsetting. It feels like there are so many problems in the world and what politician can fix them all? At the end of the debates, it feels like the solutions are all "making the best" type answers. I think sexual predators find a way to commit violent acts regardless of bathroom laws. I think people-- all people-- deserve equality. I think a lot of things in our country need to change-- laws, budgets, education, attitudes. I think there are bigger issues out there. I think if you are going to boycott Target, you need to include Disney.

I don't know why I wrote this blog post. I really try to stay out of politics and I really try to avoid these types of topics on my blog. I am surrounded by this topic right now. It is on all the blogs I read, it is posted on all my social media, it is on the news, in my magazines... It feels like so much is being said about it and it is hard to remain silent when it makes me so emotional. I can't support the idea that the transgender community are sexual predators. I can't support the idea that public bathrooms have overnight become a danger. I can't support the idea that rape is tied to bathroom equality. I can't support that this is only a women's issue. Staying silent feels like agreeing to those notions. I'm sure I will start getting comments about what I'm missing in this debate or emails about why I'm wrong. I have only walked in my shoes and lived my life. I think what this is missing is grace.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Errands, online shopping, and the family budget

Well, baby #5 has decided that I apparently do not need sleep and she isn't even born yet. I thought I would put these wee hours of the morning to use and write a blog post while I sipped my lemon ginger tea in a quiet, still sleeping house.

With 4 children and another on the way, I am not always eager to drag all the children to the store for small errands. Throw in having a husband on submarines, 2 asthmatic children, twin preschoolers, and the roughest pregnancy yet and you can bet running errands is my least favorite thing to do (well, changing pee sheets is probably actually my least favorite thing to do). When our twins were newborns, I really started utilizing the convenience of online shopping. Now I have honed that skill to level expert.

Here are my tips on making online shopping work for you and avoiding small errands:

1. Buy in bulk

The first step to successful online shopping: go to Costco. We plan our Costco trips every 1-2 weeks. Our twins are in preschool, our oldest is in first grade, my husband is in the Navy... when I'm not packing lunches, I'm packing snack day for preschool. We eat most of our meals at home. Buying in bulk allows me to plan for these contingencies without making a mad dash to the store. Almost all of our grocery shopping is done at Costco. I personally prefer Costco over Sam's Club due to the meat and produce departments, but we've lived in duty stations where we had to make do with what we lived near. BJ's is an awesome wholesale store, especially for smaller families because they do have more variety of single/smaller portioned items, plus they have an all-star coupon policy. Buying in bulk requires planning. You must be able to store the items and you must also be able to use the items that you buy in bulk before they spoil. It took us a little while to figure out what things we really needed in bulk and what things we don't. It also helps if you are able to approach your grocery shopping creatively. For instance, I buy the huge bags of fresh spinach from Costco. However, I rarely make it through the whole bag before it starts to spoil. The price of the Costco bag of spinach is so much less than the grocery store that I always buy our fresh spinach from Costco. When the bag starts to spoil, I freeze it. I use frozen spinach in a lot of my recipes and so this works out perfectly for us. Another example, our children (and my husband) are fickle about tomatoes. If a flat of tomatoes starts going bad, I use the tomatoes to make a sauce (supplementing missing tomatoes with canned tomatoes). I freeze the sauce in portioned bags for future use. For us, bulk shopping not only keeps our grocery budget manageable, but it also is the only way for us to eliminate mid-week grocery runs. A box of Cliff bars from the grocery store would last us one day if we all ate one!

2. Online grocery shop

The world of online grocery shopping... ah, it is such an amazing thing the first time your groceries are delivered to your house and set on your kitchen table, all while you are still in your pajamas and there is a child throwing up in one bathroom and another crying on your hip. I almost hugged the grocery guy, "I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. I mean, look at this fresh food! And I didn't leave the house!" There are several online grocery shopping options that I have found and some just didn't work at various places we have lived. Here's what I've found:
  • Curbside pick up: While this is not a grocery delivery service, it still is far more convenient than dragging all the children through the store. This usually has a flat fee, like $5. I have found some stores offer seasonal promotions, such as free curbside pick up all summer long or a holiday time promo code. I have also seen stores that allow you to pay a certain amount each month for unlimited curbside pick up. My advice: if you do not have a grocery delivery service available and the curbside pick up is in a convenient location to you, go for it. If you have unlimited curbside pick up for an entire month, use that to buy those single items when you are out doing other things. I used to schedule a curbside pick up order on my way home from preschool pick-up with my oldest. One embarrassing trip, I picked up feminine products and butter. Hey, I didn't have to unload a preschooler and toddler twins to run in the store for those things, so I consider that a win!
  • Tiered grocery delivery: This can be very expensive and when I usually skip online grocery shopping. However, I do keep it in mind, because if my husband was deployed and I had vomiting children in the midst of an asthma flare up, no way would I be making a trip to the grocery store! The way this works is grocery orders under $100 cost X-amount of money, grocery orders between $100-$150 dollars cost X-amount of money, and so on. One of the stores, the base fee for grocery delivery was $20. I would have to save a lot of money on my grocery trip for that to balance out! But, as I said, sometimes paying for sanity is a good option.
  • Free over a certain amount + purchasing certain items: This sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through for grocery delivery, but it actually isn't hard with a large family. Our current grocery delivery option offers this way. Basically, we have to spend over $150 and by 6 items from their special list and we get free grocery delivery. The last time I ordered groceries from them was around Thanksgiving and canned pumpkin was on the list at a sale price. I bought 6 cans of canned pumpkin and my grocery delivery was free. The only thing I don't love about this option is that since my husband has been home more often, I'm able to have him pop into the store around the corner to pick up the 1 or 2 items I need and so hitting the $150 mark takes a bit more planning or storing up on our grocery list.
  • Grocery delivery services: Then there are 3rd party grocery delivery services. A lot of places have local services that will go to the store and pick up your groceries for you. Some places you can find independent people (which I have never used) and some offer services, like Peapod. Pricing for these can vary, just like the above options when ordering from a grocery store. I cannot vouch for any of them, as I've never used a 3rd party grocery service, but I can say I've heard spectacular things about Peapod.
  • Promotions: Another thing to keep in mind is that often times, once you start using grocery delivery, you will receive promotions. I can testify that this is true. I get promo codes in my email for free delivery, discounted delivery, great sales... so if grocery delivery is something you want to do, at least register for the places that you would order from and see if they send you anything. Also, a lot of times they run great specials on first time users! This is something to keep in mind if you happen to live near a lot of different online grocery shopping options. Lastly, most chain grocery stores do not accept tips so even if you end up paying a grocery delivery fee, there is no other cost!
 3. Write a list

This seems very basic, but if the goal is to eliminate unnecessary trips to the store, making sure you are buying everything you need for the next 1-2 weeks is imperative. We keep a magnetic list hanging on the side of our refrigerator that we jot down anything we need. And, no, telling your spouse, "Hey, don't forget I need body wash," right before you fall asleep does not count as writing it on the list.

4. Know your sizes

I do the bulk of our clothing and shoe shopping for our children online. I have found that knowing how various stores/brands run helps a lot when making purchases. For instance, at Target, I always buy the "up" size (if the children are wearing 18-24 months and there is only an 18 month or 2T option, I would buy the 2T). If I'm shopping at Crazy 8, I would buy them the down size. If I was ordering at Gymboree, I would most likely buy them the size smaller than what they currently wear elsewhere. In general, I know how the stores and brands I purchase from fit our kids. One way to figure this out is to actually take them in to the store to try the clothes on. Another way is to make a small purchase and see how the clothes fit before placing the large purchase or the "I-must-have-this-before-family-pictures" purchase. If you are unsure about sizing, reading reviews does help give a little guidance. (Although, in general, I hate reviews, "The quality of this shirt was horrible," one person says regarding a $3 shirt...) I also like the size charts provided by the companies. If you order clothing or shoes from somewhere like Amazon, make sure that the size chart you are using is specific for that company/brand and not just provided by Amazon. If you cannot locate a specific size chart for the product you are ordering (from Googling their site or whatever), use Amazon's size chart only as a guide. Size charts work best if you are able to measure your children. You will need some sort of tailor measuring tape and I highly recommend the Squatchi shoe sizer. These two things have saved me a lot of hassle when making online clothing and shoe purchases for the children.

5. Know the return policy

Of course mistakes happen. The last time I ordered our children's shoes-- I have no idea what got into me-- I ordered our preschoolers' shoes 2 sizes too large-- for no reason. I just ordered the wrong size. On the same order, our 1st grader's shoes arrived and were nowhere near the color they looked online. Out of the 4 pairs of shoes I ordered, I had to return 3. One thing I love about ordering from Amazon (not vendors on Amazon, but Amazon themselves) is that returning items is so easy. I print off the label and drop off at the UPS store, most of the time using the original packaging-- no scrounging for boxes. A major pet peeve of mine is having to pay for return postage on online purchases so I make sure to never order from sites that I will have to pay to make a return. With Amazon, not only are returns free, but my card is refunded as soon as the package is scanned at the store. With this last shoe debacle, by the time I had driven home from the UPS store, my card had been refunded and I placed my order for the correct shoe sizes, which arrived 2 days later (Amazon Prime for the win!).

6. Amazon, Amazon, Amazon, and... why, yes... Amazon

Guess what? I love Amazon. I've got the app on my phone. I have it saved on my computer. I. Love. Amazon. Why? We have Amazon Prime and I can order just about anything from there and it will be at my door in 1-2 days. I order everything from cat food to baby supplies to dishwasher soap to office supplies to clothing and shoes to, well, everything... it has everything. I love their return policy. I love how easy the app is to use. Now, that doesn't mean everything is cheapest on Amazon. I have splurged on kitchen spices, once paying $1 more just to avoid a grocery run. I even once considered an outrageously priced flat of Lysol Disinfectant because I was tired of our kids being sick and I had run out. If I don't know how much an item should cost, I usually do a quick Google search before placing my order. However, I love that I can mail birthday and holiday gifts directly to people's house with free shipping and no Post Office trip. Sometimes splurging a little is worth avoiding an outing, but, in general, their prices are competitive.

7. Consolidate errands

I do all of those things and every once in awhile I still end up having to make a grocery run. If this happens, I check my list. If I have to make a trip to the store for fresh basil, I make sure there is nothing else I will have to have before my next Costco run (our one true store trip). I would rather pay a little bit more for a bottle of antacids at the grocery store than make an additional trip to Costco during the week (of course there are exceptions). What I mean is, if there is a much needed item on your list, buy something to tide you over until the next Costco run or online order. I really try to make the most out of our store runs. This even applies to the products that we buy. I would rather buy something that I can buy at a place where I already shop or is convenient to me instead of having to make a special trip just for one item. For instance, whenever I take the dog to the groomer, I buy a bag of pet food, whether we need it or not.

8. Shop around

With a family of 6 (soon to be 7) the grocery budget can feel astronomical. Throw in seasons changing and wardrobes for 4 children and shoes and on and on and on... The household budget is crazy. One thing that I keep in mind is that sticking to the list and shopping online really do help keep us on budget. I make better purchases when I'm not stressed at the store wrangling children. Here are a few tips I have for finding the deals:
  • Watch the sales. Plan to buy when items you need are on sale. For instance, I'm waiting on buying our boys' back to school wardrobes until the Anniversary Sale, though I've already started adding a few pieces I know will work at the start of the school year (shorts for our soon-to-be kindergartners).
  • Buy in advance. This only applies to *some* things. There are big calendar events that you can plan for, like holidays or back to school shopping or birthdays. Being prepared helps eliminate the "oh, crap, we have to buy something" purchases and helps you purchase the "this is the right item at the right price."
  • ...but not too far in advance. You cannot predict how your children's feet will grow, so unless you live somewhere where it is warm all year round, stocking up at the Croc sale probably won't end up saving you money. You also cannot predict your child's style. While you may find your child's love of sea turtles adorable and have thus stocked up on a wardrobe for next year heavy with a sea turtle theme... your child may only like Batman next year and refuse anything sea themed. Being a military family, it is also tempting to buy for "the next duty station," except when that means buying all warm weather items only to find out you are heading to the Northeast instead. It is better to purchase items that are guaranteed to fit/be the right style/season than to stock up on things you can't use.
  • Stock up. When sales happen, stock up. When Costco runs instant rebates, we buy 2 of the items we regular use, like dish soap or washing detergent or paper towels. Buying diapers and wipes in advance-- when you know the return policy-- is a great way to save money. You can exchange boxes for the next size up if one size doesn't fit (of course, not at the original sale price). I also did this over the past school year with our oldest whenever I found uniform pants that fit him on sale. I bought a pair, even if his current pair worked, because, hey, it is only a matter of time before the knees have holes.
  • Cut corners. I do this all the time with our boys. I look up the designers and name brands and find similar items at more affordable stores, like H&M, Gap, Osh Kosh, Gymboree, and Target. Recently I added Crazy 8 to our stores I shop at. I love finding coordinating pieces for our boys. I also love when they look like they didn't get dressed in the dark. I get on the stores' email lists and also Google coupon codes before I place my order. I also keep a close eye on stores and brands I love for sales. This is how I shoe shop for the kids. Whenever the seasons start changing, I start keeping a close eye out for shoe sales and finding deals for our 4 children.
  • Buy quality. There are a lot of things that I have discovered don't matter how much I invest in. Jeans, for instance. I bought our oldest only designer jeans for a long time until I realized that he will tear holes in Sevens just as much as Target brand. Now our kids pretty much hang in Levis, second hand if I can find them on consignment. Store brand grocery products are just as great as the name brand grocery products. But, for us, every day children's shoes are always something I invest in. I would rather pay more and have the shoes last through the season. (Fancy shoes or church shoes, I will buy off brands because they don't play in them.) I'd also rather buy a versatile shoe than a single purpose shoe (flip flops over swim shoes, for instance). Our oldest has finally reached the age where winter jackets need to be a bit more durable, as last year he tore holes through the inexpensive one I bought him, but his sturdy jacket this year survived unscathed. Living in the Northwest, I love when the children's jackets have layers and so I can make it a fall jacket and a winter jacket. These are the type of items that will vary family by family and child by child. While one kid may be really hard on shoes, another may only be hard on shirts (anyone have a sleeve chewing kid?). When you figure out what the items are that you should splurge on and what you should save on, it helps take the pressure off on your budget.
9. Run the errands you want to run!

This post sounds like I never leave the house. (Lately, that is true.) But I do enjoy taking the kids out. I enjoy shopping at local stores and I enjoy making bakery trips and going to local coffee shops. I have more energy and more time for these things when the obligatory errands are out of the way. Having a busy family gets us out of the house everyday whether we plan to or not.

What are your tips for running errands with a large family? Do you have any great online shopping tips? What do you do to stay in budget?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Last pregnancy

"Stuck inside these four walls...
Sent inside forever...
Never seeing no one nice again...
Like you, Mama, you..."
-Paul McCartney

I'm trying to sort out all of the different thoughts in my mind and channel them in to a cohesive blog post. So let me fill you in. I've been having contractions and irritable uterus. The contractions have been every 10-20 minutes for almost 2 weeks. When I went in to Labor and Delivery they told me that a lot of it has to do with my complications from my last baby and also from this being my 6th pregnancy. Basically a pat on the back and a "keep your chin up, girl." I've backed out of just about everything, some because I just don't have the energy (hosting preschool co-op this week) and some because of physical limitations (I don't feel comfortable driving the children distances and I cannot wrangle them while out... and then drive back and finish out the day). Literally our day is getting the oldest to school in the morning, our 5-year olds to preschool in the afternoon, and then picking up the preschoolers and our 1st grader when school is out. I don't go further than 5 minutes away from the house with our kids and even then, man, that is a chore!

Our days have been a bit of a struggle. I've posted before about the ups and downs of this pregnancy and how we knew that it would be a difficult pregnancy going in to it, with the complications... but walking the road has been hard. Emotionally, I've been struggling a lot lately. We really wanted to have another baby (I really wanted another baby). I am itching to hold this baby. Not just because we are having a girl (which I am so, so, so excited about), but also because I really felt our family was missing one more member. So this was a wanted and planned pregnancy. I fully know how quickly pregnancy struggles are wiped away when the baby is placed in my arms (none of my pregnancies have been easy) and how "worth it" this little girl is. I am counting down the weeks... the days... the hours... the minutes... the seconds... until I will be holding this baby. She is loved. She is wanted. We are all excited for her arrival.

That is what I've been focusing on. Those thoughts make me take a deep breath and quiet my soul. They give me the patience to stretch through another restless night, another trip up the stairs that brings me to tears, another child plopping too quickly into my lap, another meal to make in the kitchen, another walk to school pick up, another evening routine with 4 busy children, another time for me to tell our boys, "No, Momma can't do that right now," another struggle with our toddler who wants me to pick him up, another phone call from my husband letting me know he won't be home until late.

7 weeks is so close. I can see the finish line. It feels like time will fly until then-- not just because time does go quickly taking care of 4 children with a husband on submarines-- but also because this is our last pregnancy. My last 3rd trimester. I know that in a blink of an eye these hard weeks will be behind us and I will be holding our daughter and start recovering from this pregnancy.

What makes the time long is that 7 weeks is an eternity for our boys. 7 weeks wraps up our 3 oldest boys' school years, that is the parade for Boy Scouts (that we are going to have to miss), the end of the year class parties (that I don't know if I can go to), the warm weather playdates, the conclusion of our family Bible Study (that I haven't gone to in weeks). They are going to miss all those things. They want to ride bikes and invite friends over. They want to say yes. It hurts me telling them no. I would love to do those things with them. I want to do the field trips and weekend adventures. I love having their friends over after school and lazy dinners with the doors and windows open. It hurts me thinking that even after I have the baby, all my complications will still make me say no.

My frustrations center around myself. I feel like when I miscarried those two times, my body betrayed me. When the doctors told us this pregnancy wasn't looking promising either, I was so angry at my body for putting me through this again. Since then, I have felt that my body has continued turning on me. My complications keep throwing a kink into things. I threw my back out a few weeks ago and spent a week on the couch before I nimbly attempted the stairs. I hear everyone tell me to take it slow and take it easy... I am. I do the minimum. I don't drive anywhere. I don't go anywhere. I plan the day out so I am not doing anything active in the evenings besides the bedtime routine-- even that we start early so I'm not struggling through that too late in the evening. (Also, there have been plenty of nights I call a sitter in to do that for me.) I feel like delivery will be a relief. But I also feel like it will bring in the full force of my complications, all leading up to when I have surgery and cannot lift anything for 6-8 weeks (super easy with a husband in the Navy and 5 children). This has been a hard year for my body and it's limitations keep chafing on me.

As a parent, I want to do. I have things I need to get done. I have children to take care of. As a spouse, I want to be an equal partner and assist my spouse. I want to be a help. I want to show my love. As a person, I want to accomplish my goals. I want to check off my lists. I want to achieve my dreams. Everything feels shelved. I feel like I've slowly had to let go of one thing at a time since this pregnancy started until now... when I am essentially just making it through each day. I've either said no to everything or backed out of everything. It is hard. I feel like the earliest I would be able to commit to something is after my surgery when I've recovered... in February 2017. It feels so long.

My oldest crawled into bed next to me the other day, "Mom," he says. "Was it hard being pregnant with me?" I told him yes, that each pregnancy has it's own challenges. He says, "But then you get to hold a baby at the end." I told him yes and gave him a hug. He sighed, "You must really love us if you do this just to hold us." I thought that was a very sweet way to look at it. I do love these kids and I love this next baby. I just need to hold on for awhile longer yet.

Have you gone through a hard pregnancy? Or a hard time while taking care of your kids? How did you get through?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day disappointment

Mother's Day is disappointing, isn't it? Or maybe I am the only one with that problem.

Let me start this over. Holidays... blah. Why do they always have to go hand in hand with disappointment? I feel like the biggest pressure comes from "what everyone else is doing." In parenting, I'm always telling our children to focus on their own blessings. Who cares what their brother has? Look what you have. And here I am, their mother, thinking, "They went to brunch... they had a weekend getaway... they spent the day at the beach..." on and on until the end question is: what did I do today? So much for focusing on my blessings.

For me it truly isn't a competition-- my Mother's Day must be better than your Mother's Day. No, it is about validation, "Look how much that family appreciates her. Look how they are loving her. Look at how they are going out of their way for her." That seed of doubt springs up and I wonder, "Does my family appreciate me? Am I worth it? Am I noticed?"

Because motherhood is thankless. People say that all the time, but it is true. No one congratulates you for changing the 3rd stinky diaper that day. No one shows up at your house to say, "Great job," after you were on watch all night with an asthmatic child. No one tells you, "Hey, hang in there. You are doing the right thing," when you leave the store with a child under each arm and your cheeks burning in shame. No one swoops in to put your kids to bed when you are struggling through a ridiculously hard 3rd trimester.

The small and big sacrifices go unnoticed. The jobs you turned down. The classes you didn't take. The friends you didn't meet up with. The clubs you backed out of. The hours (and hours and hours) of sleep that you forewent to wake up in time to finish the homework, make the snacks, wake them up with a smile. The nights you powered through when your back ached, your head ached, your arms ached, and yet you sang the lullaby again.

And what usually happens when you make those sacrifices? Disappointment. You have to call and cancel last minute, "I'm sorry, but my child is sick." "I'm sorry, I completely forgot to send the email." "I'm sorry, I forgot about the meeting.. or appointment... or the playdate... or whatever it is." You get lectures: "Our cancellation policy is..." "We really need you to..." "Part of your job requirement is..." Promising friendships slip through the cracks because you meet someone at a "weird time:" an exceptionally hard cold and flu season or in the middle of a rough pregnancy or a needy season for a particular child (after the 2nd playdate where your child peed on their couch, they stopped inviting you over). All the blame is focused back on you. You didn't live up to expectations. You failed. You dropped the ball.

Then Mother's Day rolls around and everyone starts paying you lip service. "I don't know how you do it." "All you do, day in and day out." "You are amazing." "You are the glue." You start getting excited about the holiday, the day where your family is going to say, "Thanks, Mom." The day where those sacrifices you made were the right ones, the day where you can rest and think, "This was worth it."

So, yeah, sometimes I hear about what other people are doing for Mother's Day and all I can think about is how ideal that sounds. I've had those Mother's Days where the heavens align and the children have coordinating outfits and I slept until I woke up on my own. This year just happened to be the year for me to cry in Home Depot because it was such a long walk back to the car and I am so incredibly uncomfortable from this pregnancy.

The expectations of the holiday-- even the ones I don't know I am holding on to-- often cloud the actual day. When the children bicker all the way to the restaurant and I just wish that today, of all days, they would ride in the car like gentlemen. When I walk out of my room and the toddler is wearing winter pants with a summer polo and our other 3 boys look like they got dressed in the dark at a Goodwill in the late 90's, I start feeling like, "Can I even get one day?" But that is when I think about what I tell my kids: to count your blessings-- not anyone else's blessings, just your own.

When I line up their actions today, I can see how they all circle around loving on me. Everything my family has done today, in their own ways, has been an expression of love. We never had an Instagram worthy moment. I was across country from my own mother. We ran 2 errands on our way home from dinner (including picking up diapers). But the love was there, all day. It may not have been exactly how I would have planned it (I would much rather be at the Hale Koa than Wal Mart), but I have 3 handmade cards from 3 precious boys proclaiming their eternal and undying love for me. I have 3 handmade gifts that have been shuttled around the house for days, "Don't look at it, Mom! It is a surprise!" I have a toddler next to me saying, "Ruck! Ruck! Voom voom!" as he drives a Matchbox monster truck up and down my arm.

This year was also the year that my husband worked his behind off to complete the garage project he's barely had time to finish so that I can organize the kids' hand-me-downs (and walk through the garage without tripping!). It was the year that our 1st grader stayed close to me so that he could hug me all day and tell me that I am the world's best mom about 10 times every hour. The year our toddler fell asleep in my lap and was so small, so precious, so not-yet 2-years old that my heart almost burst from pure happiness at that moment in time. This year was the year that my family rallied and did house projects all afternoon while I stayed in bed and blogged and read.

Focus on the blessings, mommas. Because it is the small things-- these Mother's Days with small children-- that you will miss. You will miss when all the gifts were thoughtfully handmade and full of expectation to be the perfect gift, "See? I wrote this about you." You will miss when the little feet no longer follow you from room to room to serenade you with "one more song" or to babble entire movie plots to you (why? Why do I want a play by play of Despicable Me 2?). You will miss when their faces swell with pride to see you display their crooked crafts and lopsided cards. Ah, these moments are bursting with love and one day they will be gone. One day I will be sitting on the lanai at the Hale Koa having brunch, wearing a clean and pressed linen dress, wondering where these years went and how they slipped by so quickly.

Happy Mother's Day, from my family to yours. You are loved.