Q: With all you do, how much sleep do you get nightly? I can’t imagine it’s more than a handful of hours. If so, how do you replenish your energy?
A: In order to free up more time, we recently decided to cut my pumping time from four sessions per day back to three, and moved my rising time back by another half an hour. This way, only one of the pumping sessions directly impacts the rest of the family.
With the actual current needs of our household, I don’t need to be up much past 11 pm, or to rise earlier than 6 am. But with my added responsibility of answering emails and blogging, especially when I fall behind, I am often at my writing late into the quiet hours of the night.
Replenishing my energy? Physically, it helps me to catch up on sleep once a week. Emotionally, truly the joy of the LORD is my strength. If I allow discouragement or a complaining spirit to creep in, that saps way more energy than a week of late nights.
Anyway, I want to be like the P31 woman. “She riseth also while it is yet night, and…her candle goeth not out by night.” See? Biblical back-up. *polite cough*
Q: How on EARTH do you manage all of your children’s needs logistically without losing your patience or your mind?
A: This is by far the most common question I have been fielding for years!
Before I go on, it must be stated that beyond all our logical limitations and failures as parents, God is continually proving Himself palpably merciful to our family. We see Him multiplying our efforts and filling in the gaps, providing wisdom and grace when we need it, working in our children’s lives far beyond the ability of any human parent. Ultimately, we are pinning our hopes on Him, not on our own ability to get it right!
Other thoughts, none of them comprehensive~
If we had started out in our marriage with eleven children, two with special needs, now that would have been challenging! But we didn’t. God also hasn’t given us eleven toddlers all at once! We have willingly adjusted our lives for each child as God sent him or her.
For years, God has been steadily raising the intensity for us, one notch at a time. We see each assignment training us for the next, from losing an unborn baby, to months of bedrest, to infant twins with feeding difficulties, to the issues surrounding Verity’s Down syndrome. He has especially been training me to release my death-grip on my own ideas of How Things Should Be, and find joy in knowing that He is choosing for me.
The lessons learned during all these years, through successes and failures, couldn’t have been more perfectly designed to prepare us to receive Katie, although of course we can only see that in retrospect. At the end of October, 2010, shortly after telling our oldest sons that God had given us a desire to adopt a little one with Down syndrome from Eastern Europe, one of them responded, “Yes. That fits. It makes sense.”
I have often explained to inquirers that for us, rearing ten children is not like rearing two children times five. We’re not attempting to duplicate the lives of the stereotypical modern US family with two kids, nor do we have any desire to do that. Based on the reactions we have received, we wonder if others may sometimes take their life and multiply it in their minds to come up with their idea of ours. But our mindset, approach, dynamics, and end goal are completely different.
This work of rearing and educating a large family is a team effort at our house. Joe sees himself as the one who carries the final responsibility before God for the success or failure of our children’s education. Since ideas have consequences, this view has a profound effect, a good one, on many levels of our family’s life.
Even in my childhood, I envisioned myself as the future mom of many. I was the fourth of my parents’ nine children, and they educated me at home. We were reared by our father not only to think outside the box, but to challenge the thinking inside the box. But not on our own authority or out of our own store of wisdom. From the time I was a small child, my father has also provided steady encouragement to me in the areas where God has gifted me.
My mom was an exceptional woman–godly, gracious, educated, intelligent, wise, thoughtful, relational, compassionate, positive, practical, hard-working, resourceful, feminine, skilled in rearing young children, and thoroughly and unapologetically maternal. If God had not intervened in her life, she would have been a hard and even bitter woman. Instead, she demonstrated to me the desirability and sweetness of giving up my own strong-willed way to a loving heavenly Father. She modeled for me how to preach the truth to myself and encourage my heart in the Lord. I can still hear her voice encouraging younger moms in their high calling.
She went home to heaven seventeen years ago after a fight with cancer, before we had much opportunity to get to know one another as adults. Joe and I had been married for less than two years, and our oldest son was eleven months old. Before she died, she wrote in her last letter to me, “You were ready for adulthood when the time came, and that was always our goal for you.”
God truly crafted the faithful, Scripture-centric teaching and training and example of my parents, as well as my childhood experience of the dynamics of a large family, to prepare me for the particulars of this life He has laid out for me. My mom was not without flaws, but I received more of true value from her in twenty-two years than many women will receive from their moms in a long lifetime. I miss her and can hardly wait to see her in heaven and give her a proper thank you.
…for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required…
Q: Do you have moments where you lose your patience? Not your faith or trust, of course, but your humanly patience? What does that look like, and how do you handle it in the moment?
A: When I lose patience with people, it is invariably with someone I think should know better. I have endless patience for little ones, because you see, they are still in the intensive training stage, that’s my job, I matter-of-factly expect it to last for years, and my mom modeled for me how to do it wisely and lovingly.
But as they turn into tall teenagers who tower over me both in stature and skill, I have equally tall expectations of them, but am more unsure of what my role is toward them when they, uh, demonstrate their character flaws for me. With teenagers, Joe and I very often feel like we’re making it up, I mean learning as we go along!
When I realized that my impatience centers around my expectations that someone should know better by now, I was rebuked. Do I know better, and do I still sin? Sin is not a failure of the understanding, but a failure of the will to bend itself to God’s law. Simply educating the mind is not enough to solve the problem of sin.
That feeling of frustration that rises up within me is more telling about what is inside of me than about what is inside my son or daughter. So yes, I regularly need to apologize to my kids. In our family, that means, “I was wrong for [sin stated in Biblical terms]; will you please forgive me?”
Q: Now that you are home, what are your top ten priorities/goals/to-dos in regard to Katie, your family and future directions?
A: Before I answer this question, I must explain that we are organic in our approach to family life. It’s rarely laid out in neat rows with all the corners coming out square.
That doesn’t mean that chaos rules!
Have you ever seen the human heart in action? There it is in all its lop-sided, messy, efficient glory, in constant motion, tissues flapping rhythmically. Flubflub, flubflub, flubflub. To the casual glance, it is notably unimpressive! It doesn’t look like something that would work at all, let alone maintain life and enable it to thrive. But when it’s healthy, it does, and better than any human invention that attempts to replace it. We have discovered it’s very similar to the living organism called the Musser family.
For Katie, we are excited to watch her continue to progress, and can’t wait to see what this year holds for her! Her remaining health issues aren’t urgent, so we are taking those in a paced manner, as per Dr. Strauss’s recommendation. Her physical and emotional healing require what we are already giving her, and I’m addressing more of those specifics in the next blog post.
For the family as a whole, we are able to do more now than we were a year ago in many areas such as extra-curriculars and showing hospitality. From all that we can currently see happening with Katie, we expect this expansion to continue, also in a paced manner, throughout the coming months.
I have been gradually re-organizing some areas of the household that were used hard but not replenished over the past months. With the help of a new friend, our Table Time supplies were freshly ready when school started back up after the New Year. Thank you, K!
We’d love to have more ideas for quiet, educational activities for children ages three to six, using commonly-available materials and a small amount of space. Any good websites or other resources to recommend to us?
Q: How is everyone adjusting??
A: From five-year-old James, “I’m glad Katie is home! Now she is safe!”
The other night at the supper table, fourteen-year-old Joshua asked,”Do you think we’ll adopt any more children after this?” Dad: “God provided this time, and He could do it again.” Mom: “As long as there are those kinds of places, we hope God lets us adopt again!” Joshua: “Even if there aren’t any terrible orphanages left by then, there would still be children who shouldn’t be in orphanages.”
Eighteen-year-old man-on-a-mission Joseph rarely walks past Katie without stopping in his tracks and bending down to spend time talking with her.
Sixteen-year-old Daniel, “It didn’t take long for us to get used to Katie being here. Now it would seem strange for her not to be here.”
And that about sums it up. We never would have guessed how rapidly our life would settle back into a familiar and peaceful pattern. Peaceful as in “drama-free,” you understand, not peaceful as in “nothing-to-do.”
Even the most intense transitional time was a calm and stable time for most of the family, since the older children are competent to keep the familiar routines going for the younger children. The affectionate sibling relationships among the children also provided them with a sense of continuity and security, like strands woven together to form a nest.
Looking back, the upheaval was minimal and short-lived. And I enjoyed making up for lost time with the children!
Now that the weather is cold, gray, and damp, but without the lure of snow, we are getting full use out of our secret playgarden room during the afternoons.
January and February can be comparatively slow for the carpentry business, so this is also the season for field trips and other fun outings. Joe has been taking the children while I remain at home…
…with Katie, and usually Verity as well, since she still takes a fairly long afternoon nap. The family is looking forward to watching the flag racing tomorrow at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. We skipped that annual tradition last year.
Most of the time, the camera remains in the van, forgotten, but the following photos are courtesy of Laura. Thank you, daughter, you did an excellent job!
Next post will be a Katie-update, and it’s all good!
Hint of what is to come…
…but saving the best pictures for later…
Q: Who has taught your children to play piano like that? Do you have them all in lessons?
A: The piano music you hear in the background of many videos we’ve posted is being played by our oldest son, eighteen-year-old Joseph. He started out in 2004 with a teacher who was the answer to our prayers for an excellent piano teacher who 1) has high musical standards, 2) has a belief that we are responsible to develop our talents as far as we possibly can, in order to serve others and bring glory to God, 3) is affordable, and 4) is willing to give the lessons in our home, and every other week rather than every week. After more than five years of lessons, this teacher saw that Joseph was ready for the guidance of a teacher for very advanced students. He “happened” to overhear Dr. Maria Thompson Corley practicing at the community college where he takes classes. Joseph has been studying and progressing under Dr. Corley since the spring of 2010.
[I found a link to a Youtube video of one of her concerts that some of the older children and I attended last year. The videographer sat right in front of us from about the ten-minute mark onward.]
Daniel and Laura both began taking piano lessons from Joseph’s former piano teacher after Joseph moved on to Dr. Corley. Joseph practices at least two hours, Daniel one, and Laura half an hour most days.
Q: In the videos you posted, the music playing in the first one-what is it? It’s beautiful!!!
A: Keyboard Sonata, K. 517, by Domenico Scarlatti, originally written for harpsichord. Joseph came across a recording of it on Youtube while looking up a different piece, and Dr. Corley assigned it to him. He’s made a lot of progress on the piece during the last month since our home video of Katie was taken. He was in the very beginning stages of learning it then.
This would be a good time to publicly thank Joseph for allowing me to post videos with his practicing in the background, knowing that his mistakes are going out into all the world, so to speak. Thank you, Joseph. I appreciate this! And I’m thankful that your playing is an integral part of our family’s culture.
Question: You wrote that you didn’t put Verity in a walker, saucer, or bouncy seat during her first year. What is the reason behind that?
Answer: Primarily because it would not have been challenging enough for her particular needs. It has become second nature to all of us to keep engaging her attention. She does this for herself more readily now than she did back then.
In addition, a walker or exersaucer would not have strengthened the muscles where she was weakest (core strength and arm strength) or encouraged her to move her body in the ways her body needed to move. She needed lots of tummy time when she wasn’t being held.
Comment: You are again my hero now that I know that you live in a small house!
Response: No heroism involved! Truly, there are so many benefits to living in a small house that I would not now choose to live in a large one. Besides, it is all comparative. When our family visited Daniel Boone’s homestead, we were impressed by how small a space they managed to live in while rearing their eleven children.
Okay, just one more!