Addendum to The Far Side of Crazy

January 14th, 2018

Did anyone notice that one of the most indispensable parts of my job was left out of THIS POST?  Anyone who was looking for it wouldn’t have found time for planning logistics in the schedule I described.  When does it happen if I have easily two days’ worth of desk work (planning, organizing, researching, answering emails, phone calls, paperwork, other writing, etc.) each week but only about three free hours on a Thursday evening that is not during business hours and was really intended to be…well…a night off?  You know, time for emailing a friend back or having a friend for tea, time for reading, time for personal writing projects?

How do I as mom manage to stay on top of the complexity that is our family’s normal life?   Or what happens when I don’t?  Notice I didn’t say, “If I don’t.”  Let’s just say we hear the sound of more and more balls chaotically dropping around us!  During those increasingly stressful time periods, I’m happy if I remember a detail at least thirty seconds before it’s too late, I have shown up for appointments that have been canceled, forgotten people’s Christmas gifts, scrambled at the last minute due to forgetting I wouldn’t have a vehicle, taken months longer than necessary to fill out paperwork, and am chronically late.  Oh, how this list could go on.  Not a good way to live.  I’m a naturally organized person who needs a stable foundation under my life to help balance out my equally strong propensity to being a rather impulsive “I have an idea!” person who doesn’t like any two days to have to be the same.  I like to be organized enough to buy us the freedom to be spontaneous and creative.

Regardless, a family like ours has to have a decent grip on life in order to simply accomplish the basics.  However, the challenge for me and many other moms of super-sized homeschooling families that include multiple children with high needs is the extremely limited time we have for organizing the logistics that enable it all to work.

We plan one day a month for Joe to take the children on a field trip, so once a month I have the five hours between 9 am (Verity on the bus) and 2:15 pm (Katie off the bus) for all necessary catch-up work, including physical organizational tasks such as messy storage areas.  When I’m so far behind that the situation is growing dire, I tend to fall back on either taking half days of homeschooling as “teacher in-service” or doing what I did this weekend.  Since our time for homeschooling is already severely restricted and constantly jeopardized by interruptions, I hate to take more time away from it.  If a friend comes to help with the homeschooling for a few hours, I disappear with the phone and to-do list faster than you can blink!  But outside help is a luxury here, and not to be depended on, as a rule.

What did I do this weekend?  Yesterday, I jumped at the chance for a desk work marathon, the benefits of which will ameliorate the relatively minor collateral damage caused by losing sleep and essentially disappearing from the family life for a day!  Mindy calls this “being “hermit-y,” and it only works because Joe and I are a team and he can see the gravity of the situation as well as I can.

I got fourteen hours of desk work done between 4 o’clock yesterday (Saturday) evening and 12 noon today, Sunday.  The other six hours out of the twenty were comprised of one hour of caring for Katie, one hour of reading to the middle kids, and four hours of sleep.  Now I’m stopping to tell you about it, which is a sure sign that I’m feeling relatively caught up.  Ha!  Tomorrow morning, I hope to knock a bunch of phone calls off my list, since we’re taking a break from homeschooling while the three girls are off school.

And…!  Because it’s a holiday weekend, I can go to bed after publishing this, and sleep until 7 rather than the usual 5 am!

In the longer term, Joe and I have agreed that the final two weeks before Christmas need to be proactively blocked off with no appointments as much as possible.  This was our first Christmas without Laura’s help; I was going on four to five hours of sleep per night those last two weeks, and it still wasn’t enough to keep us from falling far behind.  Very stressful.  Not good.  Also preventable.

In short, if we want a healthy family, I have to run our logistics like a competent professional.  It’s just part of my job.

 

My planning place hasn’t looked this tidy for a looooong time.  It wasn’t what you’d call fun getting there, but it was worthwhile.

 

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Our 2018 calendar is now filled in with great detail into June.  I highlighted all the dates that are no longer open.  We have a few open days remaining each month, always nice to see.  I counted them.  Five in January, six in February, seven in March, eight in April, four in May, and seven in June.  However, I still have to set up all the annual medical appointments, so…less impressive.

Under the calendar lie all pages that are related, such as schedules from the girls’ schools, the church calendar, et cetera, even though I’ve transferred the info to our calendar.

 

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My weekly planner sheet for the upcoming week.  After last night’s work, the planner sheets for the following five weeks are also filled out in great detail, stacked underneath this one.  I only planned the menu for the next two weeks, though.  My weekly planner carries all the reminders I must heed in order to reduce errors and stressors that have been commonplace here–prompts to write checks, thaw meat, or have specific children lay out their clothes, shoes, and coats the evening before they have an appointment.  My oldest son Joseph made these sheets for me many years ago according to my description; we just print a six month supply at a time.  We save our family calendars each year, but I toss these planner sheets in the trash at the end of the week.

 

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A less detailed run-down of the week’s planned activities is transferred to the giant glass whiteboard at the end of our living room.  We are all dependent on this whiteboard!  Sorry so grainy; I didn’t take the photo until dusk was touching the eastern sky.

 

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You may have seen the stack of folders to the right of my desk in the top photo.  There are eight folders for organizing papers I currently need.  When I don’t need them anymore, they are either filed away or tossed out.

The top three hold homeschooling records.

 

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These hold papers related to the diagnoses of each child that I might need to have handy over the next six months or so.  The folder on the bottom holds information about the child we sponsor.

 

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I want to fill out that pocket calendar after making the rest of the annual medical appointments.  I’ve never used a pocket calendar; I’ve always told them I’ll make the appointment after returning home.  But with my trouble getting to phone calls, this might be a smarter method.

The index cards sit there to remind me to fill out Thankful Cards when God shows us that He’s taking care of us.  The purple sticky note lists the annual specialist and other medical appointments I must make, hopefully tomorrow.

To avoid losing the books I’m currently reading to the children, they stay on my desk in between times.  I’m also reading two books to Josie, but they don’t disappear from her desk, so they wait down there.

 

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I had the grocery list up here while working on the menu planning for the next two weeks.  Under that is a large stack of paperwork that must be filled out for Josie to attend Aaron’s Acres this summer!

Last but not least, the current To-Do list on the left.  The first ten items are phone calls.  You know what I think when I look at that list?

“Hmmmm.  I wonder what I forgot to write down?”

As long as I remember it at least thirty seconds before it’s too late.  <grin>

 

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Life on the far side of crazy

December 3rd, 2017

Many of us began our adoption journeys with the belief that we had a stable, happy and healthy family to share with a child who needed one.  Some of us brought our child home and found the transition easy.  Maybe that encouraged us to try again.  For many of us, at some point after we brought a new child home, whether the first, the third, or the sixth adoption, so much chaos and turmoil ensued that we wondered where our formerly stable, happy, and healthy family went and whether we’d ever see it again.  This was our experience after we brought Tom-Tom home in the summer of 2013.  Since his death the following summer, God has wrought extensive changes in us, our marriage, and our family.

Having Josie join our family two years ago was one of the biggest blessings that God has ever given us.

December, 2015~

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She is a joy to our family, bonding with us and giving back so much love that nothing we pour into her is truly a sacrifice.

 

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Of course, the entry of her needs into the mix also started off a practical and logistical chain reaction in our household that is reverberating down to this fall and beyond. We’re grateful to the Lord for those who have helped us in practical ways, especially to my big brother, the men in our church, and those among our friends who gave of their time, energy and money to see the addition project through to completion.

 

The finished retaining wall~

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Phil Funk made that beautiful bench for us out of some of the cherry wood he removed from our property!  It needed a place of honor.

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Phil also dug a swale across the hill behind the house to divert the streams of water that come down that hill during heavy rains.

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Standing on the swale and looking down at the house and wall.

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Looking back up the hill from the left side of the house.  It was an all-day project for the four boys and me to rake the rocks down out of the dirt mound, then the men came home from work and helped us finish.  Joshua planted grass seed, spread the straw, and fertilized the area.  The grass is up now!

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In bad weather, we can back the van up and lower the handicap lift right onto the porch!

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God graciously provided the desperately-needed space and just enough breathing room necessary to get very organized before this new season arrived with its triad of drastic challenges–first, the loss of Laura’s help, then, the necessity of rising at five o’clock each school morning, and finally, the addition of ten regular monthly appointments in addition to the random routine medical and dental appointments already on our calendar.  If we were trying to navigate our current life with the physical and emotional tools we possessed three or four years ago, we would again be swirling the drain, unable to keep up, with severe sleep deprivation and stress levels off the charts.

But we’re not swirling the drain.  Oh, we haven’t climbed every mountain and forded every stream yet, but in contrast to where we were four years ago, we are adjusting to some hefty changes with relative ease.

Here’s how one super-sized, Christian, home-educating, public school special-educating, special-needs adoptive family is managing to thrive on the far side of crazy.

 

Perspective

Our change in perspective has been so far-reaching that it would be impossible to even think of everything in this category.  But it is at the top of this list because it is the single most important factor in the health of this family.

We are willing to let go of our former lifestyle.  We used to have so many lofty ideals and entrenched preferences about so many things.  We are over a lot of them and have amended our perspective on the rest.

We no longer ask, “How did we handle this in the past?”  Life has changed so dramatically for us since “the past” that our former strategies are obsolete.  Furthermore, too often we forced unworkable things to work by leaving my needs out of the equation, a sure recipe for failure in the long term.

We have let go of the desire to always do everything together.  We have discovered that the only way we can make our family work is by being willing to tag team.  Tag-teaming means some of us miss out on things that we would otherwise be enjoying together, but it also opens opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Almost everything I will write about below applies only to the nine children from Katie on down.  Of those nine, two are preschoolers in need of close supervision and four have life-altering diagnoses that mean they need much more from me than typical kids of their respective ages.

We also have five young adults living with us, however, we are not micromanaging parents to our older kids.  Jane, at almost sixteen years old, is the most involved every day, but I give her a lot of freedom.

I keep as much of the load off Jane as possible to reserve her strength for the times it’s not possible.  She needs hefty breaks for rest, silence, and solitude to be at 100% when she’s supervising and caring for the younger crew.  She also needs plenty of opportunities to read, study, build friendships, and participate in activities she enjoys, such as working with her plants and being in the ultimate frisbee league with her older siblings.  She needs to feel connected with me, know that I’m on her side and trying hard to make sure her needs are being met, and hear from me how her help makes a difference.  I let her know as far ahead as I can what we’ll need from her, and I give her as much flexibility as I can when asking her for help, both in giving her tasks that she enjoys and in giving her space to decide when to accomplish them.  For instance, I might say first thing in the morning, “We’ll need you to make laundry soap at some point today before you leave for ultimate frisbee.”

It’s important to Joe and me that we make the sacrifices necessary to meet each other’s needs for breaks, rest, friendships, and doing whatever else God designed us to do.  Thanks to Jane, Joe and I recently attended the wedding of our Amish neighbor girl who cleaned our home weekly for over four years.  Now that was an unforgettable experience!

Would you look at these two ol’ fuddy duddies, dressed for the Lancaster Chorale~

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We are willing to let go of activities that cause more stress than they’re worth or simply don’t work at all any more.  The examples are numerous.  Spending hours browsing at used book sales is a pleasant but very distant memory.  I’ve let go of Girls’ Night or other evening outings that involve kids during the school year.  I’ve let go of making lotion bars to sell in my friend’s shop, and passed the whole micro-business on to her married daughter.  I was unable to be part of a local Day of Pampering for special needs moms this fall that I could have attended last spring.  After giving activities a fair attempt, once I can see it’s not going to happen, I’m determined to let go freely, with an open heart…and…

Capitalize on what IS possible, and find opportunities to make the most of what IS part of our lives now!  Does an appointment mean losing a day of homeschooling?  Then we’ll throw ourselves into making it the best appointment day ever.  Am I on the road with one child?  That’s a wonderful opportunity for one-on-one time that rarely happens otherwise.  Do I have a chance to rest?  I will throw myself into resting as thoroughly as possible. I may be unable to take children on evening outings during the school year, but I can read to them or play games with them! I may not be able to manage church on Sunday mornings, but I can be creative in connecting with the family of God in other ways at other times.  I am not a martyr, nor am I a slave.  God is the one who has put our family together and freely given us all the resources we need to parent them wisely.  I choose to wholeheartedly embrace this life God has chosen for me, with all that entails.

 

Appointments

When at all possible, and sometimes it isn’t, I keep ongoing appointments to twice a month rather than weekly.

When at all possible, and sometimes it isn’t, I schedule appointments for the beginning and end of each week to preserve a homeschooling flow Tuesday through Thursday.

One of my special needs adoptive mom friends mentioned to me her genius survival idea of taking regular vacations from appointments.  As I work through next’s year’s planning, I’m marking out a week per quarter to be appointment-free.  One of these breaks will be longer and include family vacation, but the rest are just planned to be ordinary weeks of living but without appointments.  Aaaaahhhhh!

I take as many children as is practicable to each appointment.  It’s part of that tag team mentality.

On one particular day recently, we had three appointments at duPont in Wilmington, and I had Josie, the four boys, Verity, and Benjamin with me.  There were about four hours between the last two appointments.  First, we killed a bunch of time by eating lunch in as leisurely a manner as we wished, for a change.  Then we spent as long as the children wanted to in front of the interactive wall, for a change.  The children played outside on the playground as long as they wished, for a change.  (Josie and I half froze just walking them out to the playground, so we went back inside and watched from behind a glass wall!  No photos!  But I laughed to see how our kids looked so much like a party that other kids kept tagging along and playing the games my boys thought up.)  Then we went to the waiting area for our next appointment and kept ourselves occupied with whatever they had provided to keep kids occupied.  About the time the first child asked when it was time for the appointment, the tech called us back.  It was unexpectedly a very pleasant day, with plenty of time to fully enjoy each activity without the typical need to rush along to the next thing.  I was particularly proud of Verity, who behaved perfectly appropriately the entire day.  Based on her size and behavior, one would have thought she was a typical five or six-year-old.

What could these kids be doing??

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The one in the middle with striped pants is not ours!

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I blurred his face and his grandmother’s face to protect their privacy, but this young boy had some cranio-facial differences familiar to anyone who hangs out on Reece’s Rainbow.  He asked Stephen to play with him.

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Some sort of Angry Birds game.  

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Homeschooling

I am essentially unavailable from 5 to 9 am each school morning while moving the three school girls and myself through our morning routines and putting them onto their buses.  I do have fifteen to twenty minutes between putting Katie on her bus and waking Verity to begin her routine, and I use that for laundry and a quick cleaning and tidying that didn’t happen after I went to bed the night before.  On a normal school day, with no appointments, from 9 to 10 am I care for Nathaniel, then catch up on household work and supervise the four boys as needed, sometimes dealing with disability-related duties.  From roughly 10 am to 12 noon, the four boys work on their math and English (John Michael has completed the Shurley English program and has moved on to formal logic).  I always have a variety of other responsibilities that need attention by mid-day, so I usually skip lunch and keep working on those while the children eat.  After lunch and clean-up, Nathaniel is put to bed, and I go through the phonics flashcards with Ben and send him up for rest time with quiet activities for an hour.  On a good day, the four boys and I’ll do history together from 1-ish pm to 4:15 pm with zero to minimal interruptions.  That usually means reading and discussion and sometimes an oral quiz, maps and timelines.  Often, I can only manage an hour of history, and that hour comes hard won.

This year, instead of breaking up our time into smaller categories daily, I’m planning to finish history for the year and then focus on science in the afternoons.  I incorporate teaching on an extensive list of subjects with the teaching of history.  I also combine the teaching of spelling and writing with other subjects.

Of the five boys I’m homeschooling, two of them usually need constant supervision or assistance to accomplish their “independent” studies.  One has a smart, differently-wired brain combined with some related struggles which are still being evaluated and identified (so far, high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety), and the other has a smart, neurotypical brain combined with a mile-wide stubborn lazy streak, ahem.  Anyone reading this who has personal experience parenting a pre-teen boy with high-functioning asd will understand when I state the fact that we have increasingly seen the need for outside help as adolescence approaches.

My current favorite quote~

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Why am I including Ben as a student?  Benjamin is four-and-a-half.  He asks every weekday if he’s doing school that day and is overjoyed when I say yes, usually two or three days each week.  He’s almost finished working through the same set of Rod and Staff preschool workbooks all our other typical kids used.  He’s a verbally precocious and highly motivated kid who went from mastering the alphabet and letter sounds this summer to memorizing the phonics flashcards and reading more and more fluently this fall.  Having had several other children who learned in this seemingly effortless manner, I am plum grateful for another one coming down the pike.

I call a Reading Day on Friday when needed.  The children spend half a day on assigned independent reading, and the other half with me reading and discussing history aloud with all four.  I also often assign several children to take turns reading aloud to the little boys.

When one or more of the girls is home from school either due to a scheduled day off or illness, it can be ultra challenging to accomplish even the basics.

A photo I sent Katie’s school teacher to show her why I was keeping Katie home~

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This sick-enough-to-stay-home-from-school thing occurs more frequently than the inexperienced might imagine, as a result of living in the cross-hairs of contamination from three different schools.  So we must always maximize our learning time.  We rarely attempt fancy homeschooling extra projects.  If we’re going to do a hands-on project for history, it is an edible one, so it doesn’t leave anything behind.  Imagine the typical history craft times four boys, times thirty-six weeks of school?

My secret weapon against homeschooling burnout is field trip days.  When Joe takes the children, he also takes Ben and Nathaniel along, so I get a completely quiet day and a desperately-needed break to catch up on things I’ve had to push off.  When I take the children, I leave Nathaniel and sometimes Ben at home to go through their routine under Jane’s supervision.  What does she think of that arrangement?  Last time I asked her how the day went, she said, “It went well.  They’re nice people to spend a day with!”  When I take the children on an educational trip, the change of pace provides a much-needed break for me, especially when we take a homeschooling friend of theirs along.

 Trip to Indian Echo Caverns~

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We had a family membership to Lancaster Science Factory this year.

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John Michael solved this brain puzzle so quickly I could hardly see his hands, they flew so fast~

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Brain wired differently doesn’t equal dumb.

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We began our school year early this year and have pushed on through what feels like overwhelming odds every day.  There is no easy way to home educate under our circumstances.  Thankfully, we’re not looking for easy, just doable, and this is what’s working for us right now.  We passed the halfway point at the end of October. If we are able to continue, our final day of homeschooling for this academic year should fall on Good Friday, the end of March.  The plan is to use the remainder of the girls’ school year, minus a 25th wedding anniversary trip and family vacation, to start a vegetable garden, rehabilitate our property to a sustainable place, and maybe add some chickens.  Maybe after family vacation, add a dog?  I said, “Maybe.”

 

Daily routine

Joe rises at 6:30 am and makes a breakfast tray for Katie, Nathaniel and me before giving Josie a bear hug goodbye as her bus comes up the driveway and then leaving for work.

Katie gets home from school at 2:15, Josie at 3:15, and Verity at 4:15.  I put them on the buses in the mornings, and Jane takes them off in the afternoons, so that I can continue to read history.  Katie and Josie join us in the living room, and I keep reading until it’s time to stop for the day, usually about the time Jane walks in the door with Verity.  Josie always sits right next to me, because she likes to see the book; also, the others have had access to me all day.  Katie goes back and forth between my lap and her favorite chair next to the toy bin (with all the noisiest toys removed until I’m finished reading).

At that point, I get Nathaniel up from his nap and put Katie on her potty, catch up with all three school girls’ communication books, attend to other school-related responsibilities they brought home, make sure their outfits and other supplies for their morning routines are laid out, do Josie’s stretches with her, and on Wednesdays, help her with her homework.

We moved Josie’s stretches from before school to after school.  I can usually give Josie the option of showering before supper to gain forty-five more minutes of sleep the next morning.  Otherwise, she just gets into her pj’s when appropriate for the evening, so she doesn’t lose out on any of the evening’s family fun!

We keep a strict bedtime for our four littles, Katie, Verity, Ben and Nathaniel, of no later than 8 pm.

Katie has been home for six years now!

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Verity is doing well at school; that is my next planned post!  Here she is “reading” at home.

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Benjamin~

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And Nathaniel’s silly camera face~

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The drawback to my current sleep schedule is that Joe is sleeping when I rise in the morning and I’m sleeping when he comes to bed at night after seeing that the four boys are in bed, the laundry is folded and the house is generally tidy. However, because of the work God has done on our marriage, we are closer with less interaction time now than we were in the past with far more interaction. We end up talking out necessary issues past my bedtime or fitting them into random times where they really don’t fit.  I also miss the regular interaction with our older children that happens in the later evenings.  Occasionally I stay up late to hang out with them anyway, in spite of knowing I’ll feel like I will surely die when the alarm rings at five the next morning!

 

Weekly routine

Monday night is Work Night for repairs and similar projects that are difficult to fit into the rest of the week.  This is when Josie likes to do her extra chore–cleaning out under the cushions of the living room furniture.  Blech.  When she told her class about this chore, she mentioned that she finds chicken nuggets in the living room chairs, so of course we heard about that later!  We will be remembered fondly by Josie’s school team as the family with chicken nuggets in their furniture.  If you care about your reputation, don’t have children.  Haha!

Tuesday night is Date Night/Quiet Night.  Date Night for us looks like me stopping history early and working hard to fit five hours’ worth of work into half the time, so that once Joe has had his shower and comes up to our room with our supper trays, my days’ work is done, my pj’s are on, and I can hug and kiss the children goodnight, “Bye, kids!  Love you!  We’re leaving for the night!  See you tomorrow!”  For their Quiet Night, we have the children choose activities they can do quietly in their rooms, with the four boys taking turns to stay downstairs with Josie to keep her company, since Laura is usually still at work.  To make it special without breaking the bank, Joe usually stops at the grocery store on the way home from work and chooses amongst the discounted sandwiches and salads and adds a few other inexpensive extras.  We keep a Date Night stash of good chocolate on hand to enjoy together, too.

Wednesday is Kids’ Night/Dad’s Night Off.  While I put the four little kids to bed after supper, the middle kids (Josie, John Michael, Peter, James, and Stephen) clean up the kitchen.  Then I either read to the middles or play a game with them.  We plan a special treat for them that night, maybe marshmallows to go in hot chocolate, or soft pretzels, or some such little thing.  This gives Joe a chance to catch up on his stacks and stacks of paperwork.

Thursday Night is Reading Night/Mom’s Night Off.  Every other week, my Thursday afternoons usually look like my Tuesday afternoons.  On the other weeks, I stop history even earlier to ensure I can have my work done before leaving with a child for his regular 5 to 6 pm appointment fifteen minutes from home.  My weekly night off is typically from 6:30 or 7 pm to 9:30 or 10 pm or whenever I can’t keep my eyes open anymore, and again, I typically kiss and hug everyone goodnight, get ready for bed, close my door, and use this time for emailing and/or other writing.

Friday Night is Movie Night.  We don’t do movies throughout the rest of the week, so other than the 1 to 1.5 hour weekly computer turns Josie and the four boys are allotted, this is their screen time for the week, and we do it in a big way!  It’s the much-anticipated relaxing end of a long and exhausting week!  Peter and Ben set up the equipment (laptop, projector, speakers, wiring, and sheet hung on one wall) and the living room (moving some furniture and covering it with picnic tablecloths).  James puts supper in the oven, always chicken strips, fries of some variety, and applesauce, while I work at my evening responsibilities.  Jane helps me by putting pj’s on the three littlest, Josie gets into her pj’s and robe, and I pj Katie and myself.  We aim to begin no later than 6 pm.  If I don’t have it all together and am delayed in coming downstairs with Katie, Joe will play an episode of Studio C or a Piano Guys music video or some other such light fare.  He always makes a supper tray for Josie and one for Katie and me.  Ben and Verity eat their applesauce at the kitchen table, but otherwise the kids eat in the living room while watching.  Our movie night extravaganza features Signing Time and a fun video like Thomas the Tank Engine for the little kids, then an educational (science, history, geography, etc.) video, then we break to put the littles to bed while the middles get themselves a treat.  We follow this up with a feature for middle kids, then they go to bed while whichever olders are home get their bowls of ice cream before watching the feature we’ve chosen for parents and older kids.  We’ve been doing this for years.  Since our new schedule began, about half the time I’m so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open and head to bed after taking Katie up.  Otherwise, I go back down and doze off and on through the evening.

Each Saturday, I sit with my calendar and a simple planner and write out the next week’s schedule, then transfer it to the giant glass whiteboard on our downstairs wall.  With weekdays like ours, there are always more tasks for Saturdays than fit into Saturdays. Joe is gone all day running errands, and then he studies to teach Sunday School until late into Saturday night. I work toward the goal of going to bed Saturday night with the children ready for Sunday and the house ready for Monday morning.  I rarely meet that goal, but it doesn’t bother me any more.  I work until I can’t keep my eyes open and then go to bed.  I have done my best and with that, I am content.  It’s time to rest.  The end.

 

Meals

Our meals have definitely suffered the most during this season.  I rarely cook, as it takes time directly from child care or homeschooling, either of which should take precedence.  At this point, in order to prevent the supper from being late and having a negative domino effect on the whole evening, Musser meals have to be able to come together in fifteen to twenty minutes or be made by a child or group of children, use a minimum of pots and pans while being made, and not cause a huge mess while being eaten by many children of dubious table manners.  When planning meals, I choose from a short list.  Some of the simplest meals, such as slow cooker spaghetti, are anathema to our children because of overuse during too many survival seasons.  The meals I considered simple six months ago are now too time-consuming.  Any ideas from those with experience?  I always welcome recipes that fit our criteria!

 

Chores

Each boy begins his school day by addressing ten zones, so we’re not wasting potential education time reorganizing chronic trouble spots.  These ten zones are as follows:  Make his own bed, scan the bedroom floor for his own items and put them away, check the laundry room counter for his own clothing pile and put them away, tidy his own clothing bins in their shared closet, check his own school shelf and tidy, check the side porch and then the back porch for his own items and put them away, check the cellar way for his own items and put them away, check the old basement and the new basement for his own items and put them away.  Each boy’s bleary morning eyes only need to look for his own items.  This system is working as chronic trouble spot prevention.

After making, eating, and cleaning up from his own breakfast, each boy has his own daily chore to accomplish before beginning his morning school work.  Remember, I am largely unavailable during these morning hours, so although I wake the boys at 7:30 am when I wake Verity and start her routine, our goal to begin morning school is 10 am.  If that seems like a long time to accomplish the ten zones, breakfast and morning chore, you are absolutely correct.  It is.  We’ll get there someday, truly we will.

We used the Mom Bucks system for nearly a year until I had trouble keeping up mid-fall and wasn’t able to provide the privileges they typically work for.  So we’re taking a break until the new year and will re-evaluate.

We had an Amish neighbor girl come and clean weekly for over four years.  She stopped a year ago, and as mentioned above, Joe and I recently attended her wedding!  In her place, a girl from church kindly cleans floors and bathrooms (and usually a few extras) for us every other week, and Jane takes the alternating weeks.  We pay both girls the same rate.

Lo, how my housekeeping standards have fallen!  With as many people as live here full time, the girls’ Thursday cleaning job is undone within two days.  This means that even with a daily sweeping, our floors and bathrooms are usually dirty.  It’s hard for me to function with visual clutter, so I am continuously tidying between all my other tasks.  The net result of these factors is that our house is usually generally tidy or within fifteen minutes of being tidy, just not what you’d call clean.  I do take a Norwex EnviroCloth to all kitchen surfaces a couple of times a week.  There are nearly always dishes in the sink waiting for the dishwasher.  And that’s in spite of our liberal use of paper products.  I’ve learned to tune out a lot of what I can’t change and isn’t important enough to fight for.

 

Phone calls, desk work, emails, paperwork

No spectacular solution for this problem yet.  It would take me a full two days each week to catch up on this list, but I give a half day during the school week to the most urgent stuff that must be handled during office hours and a half day Saturday to the most urgent stuff that can be pushed to the weekend.  Hence the need for strategic procrastination.

There’s survival procrastination and strategic procrastination.  I’ve lived through lengthy periods of survival procrastination, meaning I had NO choice but to push things off, and let me tell you, that is stress- and anxiety-producing!  However, I now have a choice, and I often plan my procrastination carefully.  The risk of this method is that occasionally, all the procrastinations seem to come due at once!  As long as one is prepared for the risk and knows how to breathe through stressful situations!  There’s a definite benefit to pacing oneself, but you have to weigh the risks with your eyes wide open.  The great thing about procrastination is that some things really just go away when they’re ignored, and nothing bad results!  It’s a beautiful thing!  I’m getting better at tossing the non-essentials without a second thought rather than letting them molder in the dark corners of my fridge, I mean to-do list, of course. I realize at this point that I may be talking past a large majority of my audience!  Haha!

An older friend from church asked if she could come and help occasionally as she’s able; lo and behold, she taught BiblioPlan to her son during his final few years of homeschooling!  She spent most of her first day here reading history to the boys for a few hours while I knocked half the phone calls (six) off my list!  What a huge help!  Words cannot describe!  Not only that, but she texted me later to say she enjoyed it!

 

Laundry

We’re so thankful for the ability to have two sets of washers and dryers in a second floor laundry room, because we do an average of six loads of laundry per day.  Sometimes two and sometimes ten.  Our record high was sixteen loads in one day.

Mindy, Jane, and the older guys do their own laundry (sometimes I move it through if I need to start some of our loads), and Laura folds her own clean laundry and puts it away.

This is eight or nine loads waiting to be folded, with Mindy’s hamper over on the left.

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Laura and Josie’s clean laundry waiting to be taken down to their room~

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Jane enjoys making the laundry detergent. We resumed this practice to alleviate my allergic skin reactions after a break of many years. Even though we make the stronger version, use two ladles-full in each load, go through a five gallon bucket in less than two weeks. and wash everything on the Heavy Duty Hot Water settings, it frees up so much money to use the homemade version.  The brand name Free and Clear variety is so expensive and doesn’t get all the stink out of our laundry.  We use white vinegar in lieu of fabric softener, and keep wool dryer balls in our dryers to help fluff the laundry.

What’s been working best for us in this season is for Joe to fold laundry last thing at night, and for me to put all but the four boys’ laundry away between 9 and 10 am before beginning our homeschooling day.

 

Shopping and other errands

Joe does all possible errands all day Saturdays, taking one of the four boys with him each time.  Ben goes along with them twice a month.  I schedule their studio birthday photos for Saturdays, so Joe has handled those himself for years now.  The only categories that are my exclusive territory are clothing and home furnishings.

There are four thrift or consignment shops within fifteen minutes of our home, but it’s still hard for me to find time to shop for clothes for the family.  I don’t try to combine appointments with other errands, as I am always eager to get back home to relieve Jane, put things back to rights, and salvage as much school time as possible out of the day.  But occasionally, I run out while all the children are settled at the table eating lunch.  I try to keep the list short, so I can run through it quickly.  Since I consign when possible, if something is waiting to be dropped off, I can grab that bag on my way out the door.  It’s nice to have a little store credit to apply to our purchases.

Obviously, we do as much shopping online as we can, and use the automatic delivery option whenever possible.

Katie’s insurance pays for her diapers (briefs and inserts), so those are delivered once a month.

We utilize the free home delivery service of an area pharmacy.  Every time I call with several prescriptions that need refills, say, “These are to be delivered,” and hear a positive response, I feel like a miracle just happened!  This has happened on a near-weekly basis over the past three years, and it still seems too good to be true!

 

Wrapping this up

Anyone who has read to the bottom of this exhausting but non-exhaustive blog post deserves a medal!  I’m tired, too, as you may be able to tell!  Instead, here’s one more photo, with my sincerest thanks!

Benjamin reading “Each Peach Pear Plum” aloud to Nathaniel~

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Life, sustained: Part 2

November 24th, 2017

She leaned across the table toward me in the little neighborhood pizza joint where we sat with five of my boys.  We had met only half an hour before, at the thrift store across the street.  She was a simple, comfortable sort of older woman who loved the Lord.  We had struck up a friendly conversation after she commented on the number of children with me.  She was visibly touched when she heard more about our family and asked if she could buy lunch for the boys and me.  As we made the arrangements, I noticed that she seemed to be distracted, vague, slightly confused, pausing often to search for words. She couldn’t tell me which highway she had taken to the thrift store.  She didn’t have a worrisome, Alzheimer’s sort of way about her at all.  In fact, her manner seemed oddly familiar to me, as if I was watching a video of myself.

Her eyes were serious as she told me of her husband’s disabling stroke years before.  She cared for him for seven years before he passed away.  For the first several years, she cared for him entirely by herself, as was her preference.

One evening, unbeknownst to her, she made a phone call and spoke irrationally with the person who answered.  But she doesn’t remember any of that.  What she remembers is waking up in the hospital, unaware of how much time had passed.

She also remembers the enforced weeks of complete bed rest.  “I could feel the pieces of my mind coming back together,” she said.

She realized that she could no longer stubbornly insist on handling all her husband’s care without help.

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Realistically, I could be a caregiver for the next thirty or forty years. We aren’t looking at a care-giving season of weeks or months. It is imperative that Joe and I craft careful strategies to address and balance everyone’s needs as the specific logistics of our family shift over time.

Even though God designed us and commanded us to work for six days and rest one day each week, in the past I disregarded that and tried to manage a grueling caregiver lifestyle without resting. I am never doing that again. It is not sustainable.  I have learned my limits. I no longer attempt to do everything or be everything that I or others might expect of me.

Yes, I am organized and hard-working, and I realize that I come across to others as being on top of all my responsibilities all the time, but I’m not made out of something different than others. I’m a normal human being with my own normal human limitations that must be observed and my own normal human needs that must be met in order to remain a healthy person while living an unusually demanding lifestyle.

I can remember living normal life in years past, before Verity was born. This is not like that. This is like living through the daunting type of season you might ask your close friends to pray you through…but then it never stops.  This kind of life cannot be handled accidentally. We must stay aware and purposeful to address the essential needs of everyone in our household, and that includes the mom.  I can’t go on indefinitely with all the oxygen sucked out of my life.

We Christians have too often unhelpfully spiritualized this side of a ministry life.  “Food?  Rest?  Very kind of you, I’m sure, but those won’t be necessary.  All I need is whiffs of the Spirit!” spoken in saccharine tones.

That’s absurdity, and it comes uncomfortably close to Manichean heresy.  And if it begins to sound plausible, let alone laudable, could we please step outside for a moment and take a deep breath of fresh air to clear our befuddled heads?  We must approach this with common sense based on the truth of how God designed human beings to function best, physically, mentally, and emotionally, as well as spiritually.

I thought of a simple idea this past spring that was helpful for me; maybe you would like to try it. I’d been thinking through the things we’ve discovered to be necessary for my overall well-being, either by being restorative or energizing, that I struggle to implement.  I made a list of the ten top items, rated each one on how well I was doing in that area on a scale of one to ten, then added up the ten sums to find the total.

The ten essentials for me, without which I suffer, are the following (in alphabetical order):

Adequate food and water
Authentic connection with people I love and trust
Brisk walking outdoors
Creating meaningful beauty, especially singing, homemaking, writing, and drawing
Drinking in beauty, especially music, nature, and art
Reading that stretches me and makes me think
Silence and solitude
Sleep and rest
Sufficient time with God
Teaching history to my children

My total this past spring (before Laura began working, I began rising at five each school morning, and we went from zero to ten regular monthly appointments) was 55 out of a possible 100. Right now, it’s at 34.  When Tommy was in our family, my total would have been under 10.  That’s insanity.  This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, friends!  I’m not helping anyone around me if I splatter myself into the wall.  The goal must be a healthy and sustainable balance, making this life actually livable for the long run.

Notice I didn’t include helping others, tidying, planning, or organizing, although they are certainly essential to the life God’s called me to live.  I left them off my list because they’re my natural default and are demanded of me nearly all my waking hours.  They’re so very demanding that if we didn’t take deliberate steps, they would swallow all of life, yea, even the eating and drinking.

I’m doing badly in the Brisk Walking Outdoors area; in fact, it’s essentially been a big, fat zero for a long time.  I can see at age forty-five that I will have to address this lack at some point, so it’s coming, just not here yet.  I hate “artificial” types of exercise and I love walking, so I know that to be sustainable, exercise for me will have to be walking outdoors.

This list will vary somewhat from person to person, of course, and some items on the list outweigh others.  For a good number of my caregiver mom friends, exercise is their restorative agent of choice.  For some, it’s gardening.

I’m an intensely relational person. And I’m intensely attuned to beauty.  Those two things haven’t changed just because God called us to live our life on the far side of crazy!  But how can this possibly work amidst the demands of my life?  Despite the difficulties and the necessary sacrifices, Joe and I reject the idea that I’m a helpless martyr to my circumstances, and we are committed to making opportunities in each season to address my needs.

Back in the spring, Joe and I attended a Sunday evening concert of the Lancaster Chorale, in which they sang Vivaldi’s Gloria and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in their entirety, among other pieces.  Aching tears for the utter truth and beauty were wrung from my soul, and the passionate desire to sing again awoke within me.  I had sung such pieces beginning in my early teen years, but singing had lain forgotten inside me for over twenty years.  Thanks to the support of a few family members, my desire became a reality this fall as I rehearsed and sang the fall concert with the Chorale.  My voice isn’t great, but I can read music and sing on key, and there are no auditions required.  Joe was able to come and sing when he was free and willingly stayed home to care for the children when the others weren’t available.  It’s perfect.  Someone else organizes logistics; we just show up willing to learn how to sing the music.  I love spending time with older women and hearing their stories.  At the same time, it allows me to be comfortably lost in a large group and enjoy a complete break from the negative feedback and other stressful interactions that are part of my daily life.  I sing all throughout the day anyway, this just gives direction to my singing.  We get to dress up for the concert, which just adds to the fun for this stay-at-home mom.  And singing of this caliber allows me to fully be the intensely passionate, hard-working and purist person God created me to be without scaring or annoying any innocent bystanders.  Singing beautiful music has gone down into the cracked and dried places in my soul and filled them to overflowing.  See what a good gift this has been!  And it wouldn’t happen without commitment and teamwork within our family.  I was so touched that after coming to the concert, all the older kids expressed that I should sing again in the spring.  And Joe and I plan to dig out our Handel’s Messiah scores and make a date night out of a community singalong next month.


I think I was practicing a chorale number here, slightly altered to distract Josie from her stretching…”Lift your leg (I mean LIGHT), lift it high, high in the darkness…”

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How about connecting with the people I love and trust?  So many delightful people enrich my life with their friendship!  Five times a year, my wonderful adoptive moms’ group meets at a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon at 2 pm usually until about 9 pm or so.  This group has been meeting for five years now and is such a source of mutual encouragement, it’s like a mini retreat!  I have a weekly night off while Joe reads to the children; typically that is set aside to write, but I sometimes have a friend here for tea or meet a friend elsewhere.  About once a month during the school year, Hero Dad takes seven boys on a field trip for an entire day!  In the past, I’ve used this time to catch up on sizable organizational tasks, but more recently, I invited a friend for tea.  This may sound like a lot of socializing; out of the forty-seven weeks so far this year, I’ve had a friend for tea four times and met one elsewhere six times, if you count the one on the calendar for next week!  None would have happened without creativity, flexibility, and persistence.  Then of course, there’s texting!  Texting must have been designed for caregiver moms.  Within a few minutes’ time, one more real connection can strengthen the loving bond between a friend and me.

So much more could be said; some thoughts will wait for a future post!

But for now, here it is in a nutshell, folks, the reason we are thriving in spite of that unusually demanding lifestyle…

 

The more impossible it is to get rest and restoration, the more important it is to prioritize rest and restoration.

 

Some of you may remember that I was able to be part of the first planning retreat for the new initiative, A Mother’s Rest, back in the spring.  I long to see support spring up around every overburdened, overstretched, overwhelmed primary caregiver for those with extra needs, as long and as often as needed to bring them to a sustainably healthy place, just as we in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania see the Amish community surround every member of its own community who’s facing tough times.  Not one Amish person is left to struggle alone.  Until we get there, I am so grateful for the vision, know-how, energy, and commitment my friend Andrea Roberts is bringing to her new endeavor, A Mother’s Rest!  Andrea knows the need from personal experience, as the mom of Reece, her teenage son with the dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, and she’s also connected with hundreds of families who have adopted children with extra needs through Reece’s Rainbow.

Are you a full time family caregiver?  Please join the official A Mother’s Rest facebook group!  Consider saving and planning to be able to attend one of these respite weekends!  It will be worth it!  If a respite weekend needs to be a longer-term plan, please ask yourself what changes you can make now toward a more balanced and healthy life.

Do you know a full time family caregiver?  Please consider how you could help lighten their load, from checking in with encouragement to taking them a meal to offering to take a few kids for the day.  Look through the A Mother’s Rest website to see what they’re all about and hope to become, and watch the video at the link below.  Please feel free to share these links through social media.

Are you unsure why this is so needed?  Watch the brand new video on the link below and consider becoming part of a new vision of caring for the caregivers among us.  I’m especially pleased at the possibility of a respite inn owned by A Mother’s Rest to be used year-round as needed by caregivers who may find it difficult to coordinate their schedules with group respite events.  The ones who need respite most by definition will find it most difficult to obtain respite. You can help in many ways, from naming A Mother’s Rest as your Amazon Smile charity to purchasing a respite weekend for a caregiver parent or couple you know to donating funds directly to A Mother’s Rest.

Click on the following link to watch the new A Mother’s Rest video:

A Mother’s Rest Charitable Respite Foundation Crowdrise Campaign

 

Coming up next, Life on the far side of crazy…hahahahaha...