Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Joy

I woke Christmas morning to a small face at my ear, whispering in a slightly nasal tone: "I wet the bed, Mama. [Pause.] Merry Christmas."

And, oddly enough, that was a wonderful start to the holiday. Just one of those remembrances that has kept me chuckling every time I imagine him tiptoeing down the hall, thinking to himself, "Now what were the two things I needed to tell Mama? Oh, yes..."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Be Glad

Twelve years ago, I was a struggling mother. I was struggling because I had a fussy newborn who didn't know you could safely be awake and not nursing. I didn't understand about dairy and newborns, and this constant nursing led to constant fits of crying. I was crying because my baby was constantly crying, and he was crying because his tummy hurt.

And also, he was crying because he was a baby.

We only had one vehicle for the first 8 months of Benjamin's life. Ethan would drive that vehicle into work, and I would stay home on this huge plantation where we rented a little modular home. For eight months, I had nowhere to go but the petting zoo and the strawberry patch and the river and the farm market, where they sold freshly made pumpkin donuts.

With Aunt Jamie, Aunt Michelle, and Mama on the farm
Every day, I would strap this fussy baby on and walk all the way around the farm. He would cry, and I would sing, because no one could hear me out there in the country. Eventually he would calm down and fall asleep. I would walk back to "the trailer" (what everyone called it) and ease him onto the couch and sip a wine cooler while he slept. That was a hot winter (80 degrees in November!), and those twenty minutes before he woke were the best part of my days. I would scurryfunge the house (took all of ten minutes in that little place!) and play Ethan's Harry Connick, Jr. CD. (Did someone give him this CD? I don't know, but I can't imagine him buying it and I sure loved it!)

Then Benjamin would wake, and I would nurse and console and walk around the house with him, doing the "Indian walk" that my Aunt Thelma taught me as a way of dealing with fussy babies. (Basically, you walk a few steps then lunge as if you are falling. It stops a crying baby in his tracks! And also, it gives your quads an incredible workout.) Every couple of minutes I would look at the clock, and then I'd walk some more, and then I'd look at the clock, and then I'd walk some more.

Those days were so, so long.

I felt alone, and incompetent, and frumpy, and frustrated.

We had six married months before we were expecting Benjamin. Those six months were fraught with busy-ness and exasperating work (we both taught) and dreams of what we would do when we were "off" for the summer.

And then, BOOM! We were starting a family.

Only it took a while for me to accept that we were "starting a family." It took a good, oh, two years after Ben was born. It felt more like we were "ending a couple." No more freedom to be spontaneous. ("Go shopping? OK. Let me nurse him and change his diaper and check the diaper bag and can you get the head support for the car seat and...")

Even a few children into our family, we were still talking about "Some Day." Some Day we would travel, Some Day we would exercise regularly, Some Day we would have people over for dinner.

Still living on the farm. Sweet, sweet memories!
And I'm not quite sure how it happened, but one day we realized that "Some Day" was an evasive illusion, a chasing after the wind.

There are good and valid Some Days, I think. Some Day we will see Christ face to face. Some Day we will hear no more crying. Some Day we will be glorified.

Christmas in Alaska with Ethan's sisters and mom, who is taking the picture.
We were so young!
But the satisfaction, the contentment, the joy that comes with realizing that THIS is the Day that the Lord has made...not Some Day of my own conjuring that never comes to fruition...this is such freedom!

Each child, each interruption to the moment, each deviation from our plan? Well. They are part of Today! They are part of this day that the Lord has made! They are part of His crafting of my life and my days.

Instead of pining away for what may never be, it is truly most satisfying to long for what will be and superimpose that on my day. Let's live like people who will see Christ face to face!

It is also most satisfying to long for what is. I've already been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! (Gal. 2:20) I long for Him to live in me...and He does!

Perhaps one of the greatest realizations I had practicality-wise as a young mother was that I was going to have to live this life, so I might as well learn to love it. Cooking meals every day? Yep. So let's check out some cookbooks from the library and some cooking shows online. Let's figure out how to do this thing. Laundry dried and folded? Yep. So let's see if we can get this done by noon each day (I can't anymore, but that's OK!). House able to be walked through without hazard? Yep. So let's check out Flylady and Pleasant View Schoolhouse and Like Mother, Like Daughter and Edith Schaeffer. Homeschooling? Yep. So I would head over to Large Family Logistics (her old blog, which sadly is no more, but much of that blog can be found in her book, and you do NOT have to be a large family to find many gems there!) and Susan Schaeffer Macauley and Gregg Harris.

Looking back, there were two very providential factors in those early days as a mother. The first was that I had to stay home, and the second was that we had a dial-up Internet connection. You could only get so many pages to load before your patience totally ran out and you were done for the day. Which was good! I would load a page, read it and be inspired, and get off the computer.


So how's that for mixed advice? Get on the computer to get help, and get off the computer to get help! Well, yes.

So I'm still a struggling mother. I struggle to use my time wisely. I struggle to stay away from the Internet, which ever beckons me... I struggle to bite my tongue instead of lashing out about the freshly mopped floor. ("GUYS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? If the floor only gets mopped once a year, you very well better stay off it for at least a week!")

But I really don't struggle with this being my life, not like I used to. I'm not resigned, either. Far from it! I love this life and these children and even our challenges. I love figuring out how to do this life and this laundry and sarcasm from a pre-teen (wherever did he get that? Pardon me while I wipe the floor. My sarcasm is dripping.)

I have been given so much. Longing for the way things were, for Egypt and the foolishness! This is what God has chosen, and that means it HAS to be the best way!

"This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24-25).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Outer Banks, Large Family Style

Well hello there, Much Neglected Blog. You and Laundry Room should talk! (I guess Front Porch, too, but as it's not the main entrance it's easiest to just pretend it isn't least, that's what I do.)


We did get a vacation this year. We decided to spend a full two weeks but not travel as far as we have in the past to get to our vacation destination. So to the Outer Banks we went, and it was a breeze of a trip (only 5 hours, which is totally doable without meltdowns!), the weather was delightful (I may be sold on late September vacations now!), and I have decided the beach is GREAT to visit but boy, am I glad I live in the mountains.

And isn't that the perfect vacation? You have fun but are rarin' and ready to be HOME, possibly even before the vacation has officially ended.

Which brings me to another point. Or maybe just "a" point, since I'm not quite sure I could detect a first point.

This. Vacationing as a large family, and a large family with one newborn and one ornery 18-mo. old, requires a bit of strategy.

We have the unique distinction of being the largest number of passengers that Charlie the Ox has ever pulled. Also, here I learn that "ox" just means "cow bull (sheesh, Ben!) that has been taught to work." How did we just finish all of the Little House books and still I totally missed this?
 And mostly, the strategy is this: Let's talk about what we expect from our vacation, and then let's cut those expectations by about a third.

When you tell someone, "We are going to the beach for a vacation," they picture beach chairs and boogie boards and magazines and margaritas and lounging.

Perhaps we should qualify: "We are going to the beach for a vacation. But we are still taking the children, so you know, there's THAT."

What WE expect from a vacation:

1) Papa will not be officially working. Oh, he might be gathering information for future sermons/Sunday Schools/other occasions, but he won't be leaving to go into church every day. He will be with us. So TOGETHERNESS.

2) People will still need to eat and still need clean clothes. So meals and laundry will still need to get done. It's best to just acknowledge that and deal with it head-on in an efficient, cheerful manner instead of pretending we're on a honeymoon with ten stowaways.

It would be a bummer honeymoon, anyway.

3) While we are going to "the beach," very little of our time will actually be spent at "the beach." Most of our children are not yet strong swimmers. It is impossible for two adults to rescue nine drowning children, especially if one of them has a three-month old attached to her.

4) There will be splurges. Coffee is one of them. Daily. And not the brewed-from-the-pot kind. We had to decide between risking damage to our espresso machine or leaving it at home and being OK with splurging.

We were OK with splurging.

5) We're making memories. No one wants a memory of us sitting around the beach house quietly while babies nap. (Oh, all right, so I can't get anyone else to want that memory...) So while there will be some of that, there will be times when it's just Mama doing that, and there will be times when we are not doing that; but Papa and Mama will be considerably more tired after outings that took the place of naptime. Your naptime is for our rejuvenation! And while coffee is a great balm, it is not a cure-all.

We need to be armed and ready for when naps must be missed. How to be ready: snacks, snacks, snacks, and snacks. Good music in the van. Coffee for Papa and Mama!

6) We will explore. Oddly enough, some of our best family memories are of driving around, finding new spots. Case in point: Manteo. Oh, Manteo, Manteo, wherefore art thou Manteo? Why did no one tell us about Manteo? Ocracoke can ocrachoke and Nagshead can go to bed, but Manteo was a delight! Oh, the cute downtown, the Bluegrass Festival, the ice cream by the library, the Island Farm, the aquarium, Festival Park, the old homes, the pumpkin spice lattes...

7) If you are a large family, and we are, expect to be gawked at like you're part of the exhibit. We even had a man take a picture of all of us just so he could show his friends a family with ten kids. (I guess he doesn't watch the Duggars.)

This also means we should make sure faces are relatively clean, diapers are not sagging, and your head and a hairbrush have tangoed (tangled?) in the last day or so. You know, since we can be SURE we will be watched. Let's pretend we're one of those respectable large families and not one of the messy ones.

But I don't care if your crocs are on the wrong feet. Kudos for finding two of them, even if they are different sizes!

And for my own memory's sake, here's what we did:

Beach in Waves
Sound in Waves
Fishing at Rodanthe Pier (Ethan, Ben, Abe)
Boogie boarding at Jeannette's Pier (Ethan, Ben, Lily, Abe, Mimi)
Jeannette's Pier
Festival Park
Roanoke Museum
Island Farm
North Carolina Aquarium
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge
Jockey's Ridge State Park
Kitty Hawk Kites
Thrifting in Nagshead

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Settling in

Things are finally starting to settle into a semi-routine. The crazy hectic non-busyness of summer has mostly dwindled; and we are easing into a new pace of sorts, discovering how we do this thing of functioning as a family while keeping the dishes and the laundry clean, schoolbooks found, and babies fed and dry.

Eden (6) enjoying her first taste of cotton candy. "It's yucky," they all agreed.
"Mama, next time you can just get more funnel cakes."
The tips and tricks of mothering a large family are few and effective: 1) assume the role of Child of the Light rather than Martyr, 2) learn to love your job (aka Fake It 'Til You Make It), 3) fiercely love your husband, 4) realize you do, after all, have it really, really, really good so choose to laugh, and 5) get off the computer. 

Simple, really.

I am amazed at how complicated we like to make things. 

(I readily admit, it's undoubtedly taxing [esp. that 3-yr. old in green]; but it's not rocket science.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday morning

I'm sitting here looking out the window, and there are delicious signs of fall. The morning glory has climbed almost to the middle of the telephone pole across the street, our butterfly bushes are gargantuan with a few purple blossoms left yet, and the porch swing is swaying gently with the breezes still left from last night's cold front passing through. If I look very selectively, I can perhaps forget that the windows are in desperate need of washing and that the front porch needs a good dose of elbow (and knee!) grease and a rather vicious scrubbing.

The children are sitting at the breakfast table, giggling and enjoying each other. If I listen very selectively, I can perhaps forget that I know their humor is over the comment, "It smells like rotten eggs in here. No, it smells like throw up on top of rotten eggs in here."

Signs of fall, and signs of The Fall.

There are no deep thoughts here (obviously), just a glimpse of my morning.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A mini-tirade on giving birth many times

You've been warned. (And if you haven't, read the title. Now you've been warned!)

Six weeks ago, I gave birth to our tenth child. It was my eighth pregnancy, sixth singleton labor.

In the days, weeks, months preceding Zeb's birth, I overheard many people -- doctors, midwives, nurses, friends, church family -- telling others, "This is her tenth. This is a walk in the park for her!" or the like.

And I really had to bite my tongue.

The thing is, I don't think it matters if it's your first or your tenth, multiples or a singleton. Giving birth is No Fun. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.

And each labor, each pregnancy, even, is a First. It's your first time being pregnant with a child, or it's your first time being pregnant when you have a toddler, or it's your first time being pregnant with twins, or it's your first time being pregnant with twins when you have twin 5-yr. olds, or it's your first time being pregnant when you're 36 and already have nine children, or what have you. (Or what have me!)

And the same can be said of labor. Each labor has its own variables that make the outcome seem unpredictable, and the veteran mother has only the consolation that she has done this before. She has done this before.

"I have done this before." That became my mantra this pregnancy, only instead of being a consolation, it became a bit of an obsessive reminder. "Oh, no! I have done this before! I know this will hurt, and this will be messy, and this will disrupt our lives for quite some time!"

And I was right.

There were new variables this time (there always are). This time it was pre-eclampsia and the sudden, "You need to have this baby. Do you want to have it tonight or tomorrow?" and the ensuing strangling fear that always precedes my labors.

But in the end, we had a chubby, healthy baby boy and a chubby, healthy mama, and that's wonderful.

Wonderful, but not in any sense easy. Wonderful, because I have a husband who has done this coaching labor thing 8 times and is stronger and wiser for having done it that many times. But still not easy. Not for me, and not for him.

I guess I'm just saying that doing something unpleasant many times does not always make it pleasant. Doing something hard many times does not always make the hard thing easy.

And that's all.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ten Little Indians

So, yes, our tenth little Indian has arrived. A boy! ("Of course," say all the children. "Now we're even again.") We have five girls, and we have five boys.

And one of the things, you see, about marrying a man with Swedish and American Indian lineage, is that you have married into lineages that are not subtle. In your children, your own Welsh/German/British lineage will be swallowed up by Swedish bright blue eyes and pale skin or Indian dark skin and dark chocolate eyes. This is another Indian.

The children meeting their brother for the first time

Oldest brother and youngest brother


His father and I have secretly taken to calling him Manuel Gonzalez, because in the hazy glow of late-night television, there is something so very Hispanic-looking about his shock of dark hair, round face, and intense eyes.

But that's not his real name.

Do you know it is very hard to come up with ten names that you like enough to attach to your last name and claim as the chosen names for your offspring?

Especially if you have self-imposed regulations, such as, "It shall be of two or three syllables, be a rhyme or slant rhyme with our last name, and be found in the Old Testament."

Just to make things interesting.

We almost gave up this time. We almost said, "Let's just say those rules were for the first nine children. We'll start a new pattern with the second nine"... but that was just exhausting and terrifying to even joke about (and also, not that funny), so we stuck with our original pattern.

His very first open-eyes photo
Zebulun ("Zeb") Warfield Allison
July 13, 2013 @ 3:59 PM
10 lbs., 9 oz.

And honestly, the more you say his name, the more you get used to it. I actually am rather (OK, extremely) fond of it now, despite having to explain constantly that "It was one of Jacob's of the tribes of Israel" or "Grandpa Walton's name was Zebulun, remember?" depending on the audience.

His name means "honor." His middle name is after the theologian B.B. Warfield (another tradition, the boys all have middle names of theologians: our oldest: "Robert" [after my father and my father-in-law, both theologians in their own rights], the others: "Machen," "Van Til," and "Vos"). The boys will have no excuse to be unfamiliar with Reformed theology!

The Lord has been good. He always is. Each child reminds me of my insufficiency and His sufficiency. Each day I am reminded of His love to me through my unruffled husband and this crazy mob of children with their bright blue eyes and dark brown eyes and pale skin and tanned skin.

It is an honor, indeed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

For Gerald

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This post is for Gerald. He came up to me Friday night, at the ice cream social that followed the closing ceremony of this year's VBS, and said, "So I noticed your blog is dead."

Well, and it is. But only "mostly dead," as any "Princess Bride" aficionado can attest.

So here I am, struggling to figure out what on earth would be worth posting, and coming up with very little.

But when has that ever stopped me?

Here goes.

I am going to write about Gerald.

Gerald is a woodworker, a Southerner, an outdoorsman, and the husband of one spitfire named Mary Ann. And of course, you say both of her names when you say her name, because she is a Southerner and a spitfire. And don't all spitfires have their middle names said often?

Miriam Marlys (8), our own spitfire. And as my mother-in-law said, "Oh, no! I'm a middle name!"
It gets used often.
 Gerald and Mary Ann thrive on ensuring that the younger generation in our church does not grow up ignorant nor unspoiled. So they do things like take the oldest boy to the gun show and reward anyone who sits with them in church with an entire family-sized package of cookies.

Are you aware of the candy war that is an ongoing part of each Sunday's worship service? Every Sunday, at least six of my children are usually to be found cuddling with adopted grandparents and aunts and uncles all over the congregation. They sit with them through the service, asking for help to find the right hymn or their place in Scripture. Or for a different colored marker.

And then at the end of the service, these longsuffering saints rifle through their pockets and pocketbooks for a Werther's, or a package of mini-M&M's, or some rainbow goldfish, or a lollipop, or whatever little bit of sugary goodness they can offer.

(Except for the one time Midge offered a box of raisins. The ensuing tears and tantrum from a certain son of ... someone's ... ensured she did not offer raisins again. ::sigh::)

But the love that my children experience every Sunday does not stop with the evening service. Within the last month, Midge and Dotti gave two of my children painting lessons (and baked cookies with them), Paul dropped off an "awesome" tent and camping pack (complete with gear) for Ben, Barbara took a child out for his birthday (and the other Barbara post-poned taking the boys out for pizza so that Birthday Child could also attend), Mary Ann had several children over to "help" (help what? consume root beer floats and Happy Meals? I'll come over and help!!!), Gerald chauffered Miriam (8), Karen chauffered Ben (11), Helen supplied us with vintage kitchen glasses (delivered via June), and myriads of others loved on them during VBS.

And I wonder, I really do, if my children know how very blessed they are. I wonder if they understand this mystery wherein the older generation thoroughly loves on the youngest ones, and not just the pastor's kids. It's universal. If you are a child, you will be cuddled and hugged and smiled at and held and prayed for fervently.

And in return? Well, my children know the names of the members of our congregation. They pray for them daily. They often know more about their week's plans than we do! Lily (9) has decided that the previously abhorred piano lessons are absolutely wonderful because Anna (16) decided to talk to her one Sunday, and Anna plays the piano beautifully.

It's overwhelming, and in a totally wonderful way.

When I met Ethan, I thought how ridiculous all those lists were that our youth group leaders made us write. You know, the "My Ideal Husband" lists. He blew those lists out of the water. He was more than anything I could have even known to list or want or expect. He was more. He is more. He becomes more.

And the church is so very like that. If I were to write a list of "What I Want in a Church," well, it would be inconsequential. The closest (and wisest) I could get would be to stick with what the Bible demands of a church. A shepherd and his qualifications. Elders and their qualifications. Deacons and their qualifications. The means of grace. Discipline. All the "one another" verses.

But my children will expect so very much more. They will expect to have others correct their own children when they need it. They will expect to be able to have other children sit with them when they are grandparents.  They will expect to call church members "Brother" and "Sister" and then really treat them as if they mean that.

And I couldn't be happier. I just couldn't! Without words, without lengthy explanations, without a treatise or a formal study or a lesson plan, and with only a reasonable amount of chocolate, these saints have taught my children what it is to be the Body of Christ.

We are so very blessed.

And in other summer news...this is what Ethan calls "The Ramona." After having her flick her unbrushed hair into my face for the 3,000th time during a reading lesson, I asked, "Do you want a haircut?" Eden (6) said, "Yes!" and so we watched a youtube and I gave her one.

And I must admit, she fits the part of Ramona perfectly, often to my chagrin!

And the trampoline. After years of debating and "but is it safe?" we realized that we were arguing against our normal sensitivities and falling into "Worst Case Scenario" thinking, which is a stupid place to be. So Memorial Day brought the trampoline, and we have been thrilled with it!

And...there you have it. See, Gerald? Only Mostly Dead.
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