Happy mother of children: Q & A

January 10th, 2012

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!



Share it!

39 Responses to “Happy mother of children: Q & A”

  1. Ginger says:

    What a thorough and well written post.  It’s alwasy enlightening to read about other families.  I always find a little something that encourages me or instructs me in an area that I needed.  (The part about pateinece and expecting our children to know better – that is where I struggle the most – nice to be reminded my frustration has to do with me not them).

  2. Trish says:

    I’ve been quiet of late, but always reading! My girls will be 1 in three weeks and they are keeping me busy (read, constantly trying to eat everything they can find and pulling to stand just to fall down again… and always in opposite directions!) 
    Anyway, loved this line: Peaceful as in “drama-free,” you understand, not peaceful as in “nothing-to-do.”  After a long year, we’re moving towards “peaceful” and it was a great reminder for me to know that being in our groove is a type of peace! Even when it can be exhausting!
    And Katie is looking chubby!! Can’t wait for more pics!

  3. Beth in Atlanta says:

    Hallelujah!  Katie has a buddha belly!  Would you include an update on her stats in a future post?

  4. Hollie says:

    Katie looks so plump! Very happy tears at the sight of that. Thank you for posting that. She looks so, so, so good.
    And, I thank you for answering my question about patience. He gives me such hope and encouragement in you, Susanna. I have learned, like you, thanks to the wonderful gift He gave me of putting autism in my life, that my expectations and choice not to follow Him at all moments is/are my biggest shortcomings. How much more patience I do have when I let Him drive and when I talk with Him about what He wants for me and my children, not what I want or need. The grumpiness or impatience creeps in when I lose sight of that.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. Hollie says:

    Oh, and one more thing…I think you hit the nail on the head with the “how do you do it all?” questions that you get from folks. I get them, too, as a mother of *only* 4, and I often have to chuckle. Here’s how I do it. I let go and let Him. We try to do a lot less with a lot more meaning and intentionality, that’s all. Less lessons and extracirriculars and MORE hugs and games and laughing and helping others.

  6. Heather Dawn says:

    I just love your updates, especially Q & As … thankyou for sharing.  You are passing on such blessings this way.  Since you asked about quiet, educational activities for children ages three to six, using commonly-available materials and a small amount of space thought I would share a few websites we have used:

  7. Anne Ross says:

    Wow!!!! Katie looks amazing!!!!!!!!!! Happy tears!!!

  8. Lillian says:

    Yes, thank you for the “know better” reminder! I was getting frustrated with my kids today for not remembering to clean up every time they finished playing with toys. This is a time for training, not for “know better”-induced frusteration. So true – do I “know better”?

    I’ve been following Katie’s story since Lorena posted about it on her blog. I pray that God will see fit to have us adopt a special needs child someday. I guess I will never feel qualified, but I am encouraged to know that this doesn’t need to hinder us. More importantly, this does not hinder God.

  9. Holly says:

    Not much time to respond!  Loved seeing more of your children!  (Thanks Laura!)  Each of them are cute, beautiful, or handsome…depending on the age and gender…lol.  AND THE BUDDHA BELLIES!!!!  LOVE IT!!!  And if mistakes are being made on the piano during filming, I certainly couldn’t hear it. 

  10. M says:

    The change in Katie is astonishing.  I am so happy to see so much “meat” on her bones.

  11. Shari says:

    Ohh how I love to see those chubby legs on Katie! My goodness, she looks absolutely fabulous!!!!! Can’t wait to see more and her updated stats too – she is obviously thriving at home where she belongs!

  12. Samantha says:

    Oh my goodness, Katie is getting pleasingly plump!  :)  How absolutely wonderful to see!  I hardly recognized her legs!  They went from fragile little bird legs to healthy chubby legs!   It makes me so excited to see how much progress she will continue to make!  Also makes me impatient to see all the other Orphange #11 babies get home and see them blossom in a forever family!  I can’t wait to see the latest Katie-stats!  Thank you again for sharing your very personal story with all of us!  It gives me such joy to see this miracle continue to unfold and I know God has such a great plan for Katie and all the other orphans of #11 (and all over the world!)  God bless!

  13. Michele says:

    Oh, I just cannot get over the “bellies” pic of the sisters together. Katie is just THRIVING. Its so palpable physically in that image, all roundness and gentle curves. She’s a twin dark haired beauty bookend to her sister and it’s how God had intended her to grow in her early years… It’s as though she were in “suspended animation” those nine years, just waiting to be saved. And it makes a greater anger rise up in me for her prior treatment. Look at what nutrition could have done for her body long ago… I can imagine what a joy it must be to rub sweet coconut oil into those arms and legs now!

  14. Love reading these posts!!! 

  15. Katie says:

    Oh, I have so much to write to you, yet I have to run off to babysitting-land ;)  But for now, just thank you for another wonderful post – it immediately makes my day to see that you’ve updated – and especially those pictures!  Look at that precious CHUB on your little girls!  No more skin-and-bones existence for Katie!  How heartening, to see what love and proper care can do… and of course what God can do, because I truly believe and I imagine you agree, that you’d have never been able to get her home safely without Him.  And look at those little girls in precious purple tutus!  Now that is the way little girls should live and be treated – like the precious jewels they are – not barely existing in some orphanage.  How happy my heart is to see what God has done through you.

    Oh, and please tell Joseph that his playing is beautiful, and despite having taken music lessons, including piano, for 7 years, I didn’t notice a single mistake, so if he’s making them, it’s not obvious to the untrained ear!  

  16. Angiedawn says:

    WOW!!!!! LOOK AT THAT CHUB! I had to call all of the children over to the computer and they allllllllllll oooohed and ahhhhed over Katie’s chubbiness! AMAZING!!

    I loved the pictures!

  17. Christie says:

    We use those exact words when asking forgiveness. :)  And you are soooo right!

  18. Another fabulous post.  God is indeed Glorified by your life.  Thanks for sharing so freely!  It is very encouraging to see your faith lived out!  Love the chunky babies, so sweet.  I do have a blog recommendation for craft ideas.  You may already be familiar with Kelle Hampton’s blog but here it is http://www.kellehampton.com/ .  Kelle is very creative and crafts can always be modified to use with the items we have at home.

    God bless you Musser family! 

  19. Milena says:

    I’m so happy to see Katie looking so healthy! And thank you so much for the whole beautiful post. It gave me such insight and peace and calm happiness – as your posts almost always do. There’s one other blogger who gives me the same feeling. I think you may have something in common!

  20. Caroline says:

    Lovely to see Katie thriving – and what looks like a blossoming relationship between her and Verity.  I’m looking forward to seeing more – and excited that one photo shows what looks very much like Katie reaching for a spoonful of food!

  21. allison (christianmomoflots) says:

    We love buddha bellies at our house. So funny you mentioned that! My Dh’s nickname in highschool was buddha! So we call the babies little buddhas lol. 

  22. Becky K! says:

    I love these Q&A post, lets us learn just a little more about how your family functions and thrives!  I can’t believe how big little Katie is getting!!! I love that picture of her and Verity laying on their backs in their diapers! They are almost the same exact size it looks!  Can’t wait to Katie’s update!

  23. Natalia says:

    I loved the photo of the preschool activities.  What it said to me was that although you are in a smaller home, preschool activities still have a high enough priority for you to give it a whole shelf size wall area of space.  It’s really encouraging.

    Just today I saw on Homeschool Freebies this link for preschool activities!  It’s a download e-book that only free for a little while, so please check it out quickly!  http://www.homeschool-how-to.com/preschool-ideas.html  The free download is just under the pay download so if it’s not there, it must be over.  (It was there as of the afternoon of the 10th when I write this, but originally was going to just be available for last weekend.)  Hope it helps.


  24. Kristina and Family of 4! says:

    Susanna, you are a true super-MOM!!!
    God bless

  25. Jane says:

    Susanna, thank you for another post where you share your life and I am left to reflect on my own with growth and humility in mind.  I loved the teasing hints about the next update, to which I will look forward.  As my husband and I contemplate moving our family in the coming year or so, we think a lot about space and our goals.  You left me with good things to think on.  Prayers continue your way!

  26. Ruth says:

    Thanks for allowing me the privilege of meeting you and katie. She is simply precious.
    starfalls.com is a good website if you can let the kids on the computer.
    A big tub of corn kernels or beans will entertain little ones for HOURS!
    spraying a wall with blackboard paint  n giving them chalk will keep them busy.

  27. Michelle says:

    Lots of good ideas for LO’s w/ common materials: http://www.thecraftycrow.net/

  28. Joleigh says:

    Those neatly labeled see-through shoe boxes made my heart skip a happy beat.  If you’re not already familiar with pinterest.com, you may want to check it out.  It requires an invitation, so let me know if you’d like one!  It’s basically a clearinghouse for ideas that one can save neatly on a variety of neatly labeled cork board like spaces.  I have gotten most of my down-to-earth, educational, non-glitzy toy and play ideas for Clara.  I have a ton of stuff for two year olds if you want links.  But I think it might be worth a glance from you.  It has a search box so you can skip past what everyone else is looking at and go right to what interests you.  Oh, the fun I have had with felt since I discovered it.  I’m currently making re-usable snack and sandwich bags from fabric I had lying around the house and, of all things, flimsy plastic shopping bags ironed together to form a thicker plastic sheet.  It’s a magical place.  :)

  29. Jamie Garcia says:

    Lucy loves those dryer balls too :)
    Thank you for taking the time to write, you are always an encouragement for me. God bless you guys :)

  30. Robin says:

    I love your blog so much…very encouraging and honest, thank you!!

  31. Valerie says:

    Can’t stop smiling!  Pictures are sooooo wonderful.  I liked getting some insight to your busy daily life.  You do encourage us all so much.  Thank you!

  32. Susan says:

    How nice to see pictures of your boys, along with the always-welcome pictures of Verity and Katie! The trip to the museum looks like lots of fun – love those dino. feet. They remind me of the “Tom Walker” stilts of my childhood, made from coffee cans and stout strings. Run the strings through punched holes in the sides of the cans near the top, tie into long loops, step onto the cans (solid end up), hold the strings in your hands, and clop around! My mother and her brothers and sisters enjoyed them during their Arkansas childhood (Mother was born in 1907) and they were a big hit with the children at a church picnic just a few years ago, so they’ve stood the test of time!

    For lots of wonderful and varied activity ideas, many book-related, see children’s author and illustrator Jan Brett’s site at http://janbrett.com  Jan Brett is probably best known for her version of the Ukrainian folk tale, “The Mitten”, but she’s written and illustrated many other books, and her website is a treasure-trove. 
    Katie’s weight gain is miraculous – what cutie-pies she and Verity are! They are going to have so much fun together before too long.

    Susan in Ky
    Cousin to 2 from EE  

  33. Milena says:

    I just have to add that the fact that you and your family live in a small house is especially inspiring to me. Our house is smaller (but then we have less children too) and I never really thought it would be possible to avoid moving – but you give me hope! Thank you!

  34. Susanna says:

    Thank you so much to every one of you who shared a link with us!  These look great and should keep us well supplied with ideas!  I had originally set up the activity boxes when we had ONE 2 1/2 year old and TWO 1 1/2 year olds, and was in my last trimester (during an unforgettably hot and humid summer with no A/C!), so now that the four little boys are 6, 5, 5, and 3, many of the activities are not challenging enough for them.  So we’re saving those for V. and K. and expanding our options for the boys. :)

  35. Susan W says:

    As always you bless and challenge me at the same time :) Your comments about your dear mother brought back many memories of her. She was and still is my mentor on raising children. Blessings to you for all you are doing with this blog.

  36. Paula says:

    I saw a story on our local news and thought of your precious girls.  Here is the link http://noahsdad.com/    I thought they had some great ideas for inexpensive therapy tools that might help with Verity and Katie.
    Bless you all,

  37. Kacie says:

    Totally off topic, but I was supposed to go to the PA Farm Show today. I am SO bummed. I would’ve cried tears of joy to be able to meet some of your amazing family. I’d probably be speechless. You are the person who has shown me a piece of God’s plan for me.

  38. Jen Johnson says:

    Hi Susanna,

    I love the reminder of patience and that it is not about the children.  :)

    I just redid our toddler school activities.  Something I found, that even my “big” kids are enjoying are Safar LTD Toobs.  They are smallish play figures.  We have the Wild West, Airships and Space sets.  I made felt play mats and the kids love them.  I have a picture of two of the sets on my blog if you want to peak at them.  They cost about 7-8 dollars on Amazon. 

    Do you have a button box?  I have a box of buttons that were mine to play with at my paps house.  They have been played with, strung and restrung for hours and hours. 

    It is funny, because I just searched your blog for your shelf that is pictured in this post to see if I could get any additional ideas.


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