Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh Dear. Are those MY children?

I'm not quite sure about what kind of fashion statement my children were making here.  Watching The Sound of Music inspired Sawyer's shorts (20 year old hand-me-downs shoved in the bottom of the drawer). 

While I would imagine shorts hiked up to the armpits uncomfortable, my children find this look hilarious.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Sincere Preemptive Apology

Dear Family, Friends and Acquaintances,

I would like to extend this preemptive apology for the housework I am not going to do, the conversations I may cut short and the general slacker attitude I may demonstrate.  This lack of ambition to at least maintain the status quo in my life, much less strive to complete long planned projects is not completely my fault.

I blame the library.

It seemed innocent enough.  For the past couple of months since we have been home from China, I had placed a few (okay, more than a few) requests for books.  Through the magic of computers, I could see where I was on the waiting list.  Occasionally there would be more than 30 people ahead of me.

I truly believed these books would become available to me at staggered intervals.  I had no idea that so many of the books would be ready for me within a few short days.  I have nearly 5,000 pages to read in the next few weeks with more books to become available to me shortly.

As it is completely illegal to renew them with other tax payers waiting to read them, I have no choice but to read at a frantic clip.

Yes, I realize that most people won't grab every available waking moment to finish a 644 page book in two days.  But I am not most people.  I finished that one today and have already begun another one.  I believe my hands have begun to cramp from maintaining their fixed positions on the hardcover edges of  literature.  My fingertips are a horrifying sight of paper cuts.  Still I soldier on till my eyes burn and my mind dulls, rereading the same paragraph over and over, without comprehension in my sleep-fighting state.

So, while not completely accepting my blame in the situation, I apologize that the meals I have been cooking may have been lackluster.  The dishes are piling up, laundry is unfolded in baskets and telephone calls are going unanswered.

I am sorry children, for being a mediocre mother who's admonitions to "find something to do" or "just go outside and play for a while" are really my chance to buy more time sitting on the front porch with a book in my hand.

Dear Husband, I will try to fight the urge to ask you yet again to cover the kids bath time, and try to resist the inclination to let them be stinky or hose them off in the backyard. I will also try to avoid ranting in your general (and very cute) direction about a heroine's poor choices or a ridiculous plot twist.  I will acknowledge publicly that these literary shortcomings are not technically your fault.

And I will try to step away from that tempting offer to "request next available copy" from the library.  For now.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Little Arms

I didn't realize what was missing. 

I have been telling everyone how great the adjustment after this adoption has been going.  And I meant it.  Really. 

Veronica had been adjusting to life as a Nelson, we had been adjusting to life as a family of seven.  She's understanding more English, and I'm learning to anticipate her reactions.  She astounds me with her insatiable appetite for cooked spinach, and I have been captivating her with raspberries blown on her belly. 

So all was well in the Nelson castle. 

But it just got better.

From the day we first met, Veronica has been allowing me to comfort her.  She has let Ben and the kids into her little circle of favored ones, too.  She will snuggle her head into the crook of my elbow as we are rocking before bedtime.  She will walk across the room to plop her cute little body onto my lap.  She will grin at kisses bestowed by her adoring fans, er, I mean family.

I feel slightly ridiculous for not having noticed what she wasn't doing - until yesterday.

She hugged me.  Finally.  She reached those chubby little arms around my neck and squeezed.  Then she pulled away slightly to smile and look me in the eyes.  And then my little Sugar Muffin put those arms back around my neck.  A few minutes later, her hugging started up again.

These moments before bed felt like a big leap in our relationship and made my mommy heart just burst with joy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

I love birthdays.

I have never quite understood the dread some of my friends feel as they get older, especially for milestone birthdays.  Today I turn 35 and am officially closer to age 40 than 30.  I've gotta say, I'm feeling pretty terrific about it.

What is the fear people have with growing up?  The maniacal youth obsession in our country astounds me.  Why do people in their 30s and older refuse to think of themselves as adults and verbally "refuse to grow up"?  I still get a happy little thrill when children refer to me as Mrs. Nelson.  It doesn't make me feel ancient.  It makes me feel respected.

People disregard the perks of getting older.  Each year we acquire more wisdom and life experiences - sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully.  Now that I am 35, I feel like I really know who I am at the core.  I am liking the person I am turning out to be.   I can see the life path I'm on and its looking pretty fabulous. 

Would I trade that for the flat stomach of my youth?  Okay, in all honesty some days I would, but not usually. 

Right now I am in the midst of my life's work - raising my family.  I am extraordinarily excited with each passing year to know them more and see how my babies are turning into kind, compassionate children.  I can't wait to see how they use their God given gifts as they become adults.  Each year that passes is another glimpse into their future.

So its time to celebrate my birthday!  Sweet hubby took the day off so I have no real responsibilities all day.  I'm thinking the day will involve some food that I did not cook myself, many enthusiastic renditions of "Happy Birthday", a good book read on the porch, board games, a rented movie and cake absolutely coated in sprinkles courtesy of the kids.  

But, as I get all the adulation I so clearly deserve today, I still need to give credit where credit is due.  My mom.  Thank you, Mom, for all the morning sickness, which led to labor pains, which led to pushing out a 2-week late, 10 pound baby girl.  You are awesome!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of Baked Goods

Our social worker visited today for the first time since we came home with Veronica.  He had come to make sure everything was going well and see that we knew how to access any resources we may need now that we are home.

Or that could be just a nice way of saying that he was making sure he hadn't made a mistake in approving us for an adoption.  No pressure.

Before I tell you how I prepared, I want to congratulate myself on being much less neurotic than the last time he came to our home for the infamous "home study visit."  To prepare for that visit I not only scrubbed the house, cleaned the curtains, washed the windows and sewed new throw pillows, but also organized the children's books based on height.  I wish I was joking about the book thing.  I'm not exaggerating and I do feel adequate shame for my over-eagerness to impress. 

This time I only had time to focus on the main things like making sure no child had any major injuries before he came.  That alone is a full time job.  For extra credit, I made sure they were all clean and in clothes with no holes and stains, but unfortunately by the time he came in early afternoon the kids were practically coated in dirt.

Knowing I wasn't going to be able to scrub every inch of the house or children (again) in preparation, I relied on my time-tested strategy.  Baked goods.

Whenever I'm inviting people over, the scent of some kind of just-baked morsel can hide a multitude of sins.  Dust?  Who cares when you are eating a brownie.  A few toys scattered around the floor?  No problem when you've got a cupcake in your hand.

Not a baker?  That's alright.  The smell of bacon works, too.  Mmmm.  Bacon.

Anyway, while answering the social worker's questions in a hopefully acceptable manor, I offered him a fresh baked Snickerdoodle.  He couldn't resist the power of baked goods.  He said that Snickerdoodles were his favorite kind of cookie.


I believe that was the final push we needed to pass as acceptable parents.  It also helps that Veronica was her usual charming little self.  And the other kids were as sweet as could be.  I'm lucky to have such terrific kids that can behave so well.  For an hour at least.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Multiple Child Crisis Mode

Any parent of a bigger-than-average family has heard this too many times to count:  "How do you manage with so many kids?"  Often it includes the ever popular addition, "I could never do that."

I am still a bit startled to hear these comments.  I don't think our family is that extraordinarily large to warrant as many, "Are all those kids yours?!?" comments.  When I look around, I don't (usually) see an infestation of children, I just see the great kids who call me Mom. 

When people hear that I have five children under age ten, I believe they picture a whirling dervish of children swirling through the house at mach speed dirtying and breaking everything in their path.  Often they will recoil slightly in horror.  They don't imagine five children's birthday cakes, five sweet faces to kiss goodnight, five kids singing together off-key.  They don't see the good stuff.

Because the good stuff about bigger-than-average families would take a whole blog post in itself, at this time I'll just address some of the crazier aspects.  You know, the kind that makes many people wince and cross their legs at the mere suggestion of more than 2.3 children. 

I'll admit it.  Sometimes there is chaos.  There are frantic times when all five children are crying, usually each over something different.  Please study the following example.

Child A is crying over a dead mouse found in the yard.   Child B wants the toy Child A is clutching while staring at the dead mouse.  Child C scraped his leg climbing a tree and "There's lots of blood, Mom!"  Child D is frustrated to tears by math story problems.  Child E just doesn't want to be left out just joins in with the tears to be part of the team.

Note:  Oh my goodness.  I just realized I had enough children to get to Child E.

Sometimes being a mother of more than one child is like being a triage nurse.  You need to prioritize.  First, is anyone bleeding, choking or on fire ?  Deal with the flames and choking first.  Next check out the bleeding situation, especially if more than one child is bleeding.  Is it a gushing head wound or does it need stitches?  Is it a scrape that barely warrants a band-aid?

After basic first aid is administered, plan out your next tasks.  

Prioritize what needs attention first.  Estimate how much time everything will take.  Then decide what can be delegated.  Getting through immediate, overwhelming situations is just a matter of figuring out what the next "right" response is.  Focus on one minor crisis at a time.

In the illustration above what should the mother do?  Here is the proper answer.

1.  Deal with Child C's bleeding wound.  This is the obvious choice.  Well done.  However, be aware that the leg wound is probably superficial and the "lots of blood" comment is most likely an exaggeration unless a bone is sticking out.  In another circumstance, dealing with this child may have been further down the list.  Give child hugs and send him inside to find a band-aid.  If there really is a lot of blood, take the extra effort and get the band-aid yourself.

2.  While comforting Child C, warn Child A not to touch the dead mouse nor poke it with a stick.  Hug Child A while Child C gets his band-aid.

3.  Comfort Child E, who doesn't know why he is sad, but wants to join the crying anyway.  This will most likely be a quick fix and eliminate one set of screaming lungs.

4.  Take the time to sort out the toy sharing situation of Children B and A.  Who was playing with it, how can you share, etc.  This may take a bit of time.  Remind them both repeatedly during toy negotiations not to touch and/or poke dead mouse.  Finally, dispose of dead mouse.  This is done by you instead of covering the dead mouse with leaves and "forgetting" about it till wonderful spouse comes home and can scoop it into the trash. This is more a stalling tactic before dealing with the final problem.

5.  Commiserate with Child D's frustration with math.  Secretly stall for time because the 3rd grade story problem is actually a tricky one and you don't want to look foolish.  Tell child to take a study break and play for a while because she will have a fresh perspective on it after supper.   Delegate math homework supervision to husband when he comes home.

And that, my friends, is how to manage with so many children.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When Does Momma Love Start?

I'll admit.  I am a little afraid of the reaction of this post.  But, I know I would have felt better having heard this almost 9 years ago when my oldest child was born.  So, here goes nothing.

I didn't have that overwhelming "Momma Love" when my children were born.  Nor did I feel it upon seeing my child's adoption referral picture.  For each of my children it took a few weeks for that overwhelming, all-encompassing, extreme feeling to kick in.

Yes, I did love them.  But more in an abstract kind of way.  I loved the idea of them.  I loved them generically.  I felt like I didn't have "real" mother love for them.

And with my first child, this terrified me.  I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake and that I was an awful mother and that my poor little baby would be stuck with a horrible mom for the rest of her life.  I thought I would have to fake the mommy love for the rest of my life.

Nobody told me I might love steadily and gradually.  But, that love that makes me sniffle at those sad country songs where daddies sing about their little girls growing up, that has kept Hallmark in business, and is involved in half the plots of Lifetime Television for Women movies crept up on me within a few weeks.

Once I felt that love for my child, I could no longer watch "Kids in Danger" type movies.  I actually pulled over and cried after hearing a particularly awful story about kids on NPR.  I got it.  And not only did I feel this incredible bond with my child, but I also felt an amazing empathy and love for mothers and children everywhere.  

Fortunately, once I knew I was capable of this, the gradual love build-up with my other children wasn't nearly so scary.  I knew the feelings would come once I learned all about this little treasure I was entrusted with.  With every cute expression, every personality quirk, every smell of their little heads I loved them more.

So why share this now?

The typical adoption narrative includes a prospective adoptive parent seeing a picture of a child and experiencing overwhelming parent love filling up their hearts.  The typical birth story includes immediate bonding at least by the time the baby's body leaves the birth canal, if not sooner.   I wanted to share my experience so that others who may not feel that intense love initially won't freak out like I did years ago with the birth of my oldest. 

To be clear, there was obvious excitement and joy involved with seeing my children's beautiful faces for the first time.  And, with our adoption, my anticipation grew with each day I waited to hold her in my arms.  But the mommy love wasn't quite there yet.  It was more that my mother's heart was ready to expand to love them.

I think every time I learn more about what makes each of my children a special and unique creation of God my love grows.  Every time I put their needs ahead of my own I my momma heart grows.

And then when I wasn't looking, Poof!  That unique love was there.  And the love grew just the same once I held my children, all my children.  There isn't adoptive love and biological love.  Its just love.  I am grateful to be at that stage with all my children now.

So, I'm sharing this for all the other parents waiting for their children or with new little ones in their family.  Its okay if the Momma Love is immediate, like a lightning bolt.  But its also okay if it is more gradual, like a sunrise.  Both are beautiful, powerful and illuminating.  The speed of your love does not correlate with the depth of your love. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gardener Wannabe

I have planted an approximately 10x25 square foot vegetable garden for the past dozen years.   Every year I get an excited thrill to plan and plant.  I envision straight rows of beans, lettuce, and onions.  Even the zucchini will stay in tidy bunches and not dare to thread its tendrils into the surrounding yard.  The plants will strain under the weight of the vegetables.

This has never actually happened.  My good intentions never  quite make it to follow-through.

I like the idea of gardening.  I actually enjoy weeding (when its not too hot, too mosquito-y or too wet).  I like the gardening lingo.  Just saying, "crop, yield" and even "noxious weed" gives me a giddy little high.  I like telling people how my lettuce is coming in and how the rabbits got to my peas.  But I'm really a gardening poser.

In spring, the empty garden, recently tilled and smelling like clean, fresh dirt calls to me the same way new notebooks hold the promise of perfect answers and essays at the beginning of the school year.  There are no mistakes yet and the possibility for greatness is in my grasp.

However, life creeps into my well-intentioned plans.  And the big secret to gardening is the need for consistency.  Weeding, no matter how enthusiastically done, can't save the plants that have been choked out weeks earlier.  Its not so helpful for me to douse my shriveled plants after they have turned crisp from neglect.   

So, last night I gave the garden a much needed weeding.  I did this not because I had much hope of salvaging more than the sturdy vines of zucchini and acorn squash, but because some friends will be visiting and I want to give the impression that I have everything under control.  The overgrowth of my garden plot did not convey anything other than disheveled chaos.

The garden was worse than I thought.  I didn't even have any stinkin' green onions this year.  How can a person kill green onions?

I did have some grass longer than my forearm and some type of plant that spreads with runners and has overtaken everything.  Imagine Creeping Charlie's taller, obnoxious cousin.  The kind that thinks he's so cool and offers to buy the alcohol.  Somehow a plant mullet creeps into my head.  I realize that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but my formative years were shaped by the 80s.  Cut me some slack.

So I pulled the mullet weeds till my hands were like claws, mosquitoes had drunk their fill and abandoned me, and sweat dripped off my forehead to water my sad little plants. 

Why do I continue with this charade year after year?  Its like a compulsive gambler sure the big payoff is right around the corner.  This may not be my year, but I can see my garden next year.  The tomatoes are hanging low on the vine and let me tell you about those beans...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Unkind Words

I took my children to the library today.  While the older children were picking out their books, I had the little ones with me in the toddler/preschool play area.

While we were there, a boy who was about 7 or 8 looked at my sweet little girl and said loudly, "Eww! She's scary!" and ran away. Anytime she moved within 10 feet of him, he repeated this. He didn't have any parents with him and I wasn't quite sure what to say or do so I left pretty quickly. Fortunately, I don't think Veronica really understood.

I am used to the stares and questions from other children. I understand this is new to them and usually after hearing my standard response of  "God made her that way, isn't she cute? Don't worry, it doesn't hurt at all." they don't much care and continue to play. That really doesn't bother me at all.

I had known eventually something unkind like this would happen, but that was when she was a theoretical child, before she was actually MY CHILD. I know I need a thicker skin about it, but my heart just ached for my sweet girl.

I know I won't be able to protect her from every unkind comment she may receive, just like I can't prevent my other children from teasing or unkind words.  Instead my job is to love my children oodles so they know that the thoughtless words of a few people don't dictate their self worth.  They are loved unconditionally by myself and God.

But its still hard.  Its been a tough day.