Youngest son and oldest son~
Question: How are you feeling and when are you due?
Answer: In the mercy of God, this has been one of the more boring pregnancies I’ve experienced, and in my midwife’s opinion, when it comes to pregnancy, boring is good!
We’re just now seeing my pregnant state slow me down a little, but I can still run up the stairs, so I’m not an elderly matron yet, right?
Baby boy is due right near the end of April or beginning of May. Yesterday was the halfway mark–twenty weeks.
The best part of pregnancy is always the nudges and thumps of new life inside me. From the first moment I knew I was a mother, I’ve loved everything about being pregnant and giving birth, but I am taking it less for granted and am more awed by this privilege now than I was in my thirties, or in my twenties.
Question: What are your best tips for managing your home and raising your noisy, messy kids in a smaller-than-average house?
Answer: Did you say noisy, messy kids? Hey, you must have visited us on a typical day!
Here are a few random thoughts, not intended to be an exhaustive list…
~First off, I am not supermom and do not possess anything approaching supermom skills, although I have wished for them at times. I’m confident that you would not be impressed by any superwoman feats of strength, efficiency or organization if you came and observed us in person. You would see a very real family made up of lots of very real people, each with their individual strengths and weaknesses. You’d see parents who are still learning as they go along.
If you weren’t used to hanging around big families, at times you might feel like you were caught inside the constant motion of a kaleidoscope. Often you might be surprised by how quiet our house can be with this many people in it. You’d undoubtedly see us doing things differently than you do them as well as noticing areas that could be improved.
~Managing the home in a smaller house? I love it. The most challenging side to this is not the size of the house, it’s the fact that it wasn’t laid out to be efficient for the needs of a large family. So we have exercised creativity where possible and contentment where necessary.
For instance, for years, none of our children over the age of babyhood have worn pajamas at night except after baths on Saturday night before putting on good clothes on Sunday morning. Instead, they change into the next day’s clean clothes each night before going to bed, showering if necessary.
~Part of my job is to continually evaluate whether the items we have are worth the space and trouble they take, and whether we need other items that will work harder and longer for us in less space.
An example of this is that we use heavy cotton sleeping bags as covers for our boys’ beds rather than purchasing separate lighter covers and blankets and then storing sleeping bags for most of the year without using them. We take the sleeping bags to the laundromat about twice a year. This plan has worked well for us for a good long time.
~I am continually sorting and tidying as I walk through the house. I don’t think I ever walk up or down the stairs without carrying a pile of items that need to be put away on the next floor. This is such a part of life I don’t need to think about it; it’s automatic.
~Good or bad, I don’t function efficiently in untidy surroundings. It’s preferable to have the house ready for the next day when we go to bed at night, but when this is impossible, we take the necessary time in the morning to put things in order before commencing with school work. A small house requires us to keep chores done and rooms tidy in order to have usable living space.
~As you might guess, most things have to be written on a list or calendar in order to be remembered. [Sending out a sincere blanket apology here if I have forgotten to write you a thank you note or send you a recipe or answer a question! I know I let the ball drop sometimes and it is not intentional! Please always feel free to bug me about it!]
~We now have two washers and two gas dryers, and recently installed a dishwasher. This is enabling the household to run more like it did when we had half the family members we do now. Two additional benefits to the dishwasher are a little added counter surface and much less water output. Never fear, there is still plenty of work to go all around.
~Four little boys growing up together are a peer group and need to be kept supervised. We try to avoid giving them freedom that they aren’t yet ready to handle wisely and to be directive about where they are and what they’re doing.
~We strictly limit the number and type of toys that we have. We favor high-quality toys that foster creativity, especially select building sets, and other activities that use simple everyday materials. We have lots of excellent books. We always have art and craft materials available. We also try to involve the younger ones in what we older ones are doing whenever possible.
~This small house on three mostly wooded acres with a barn is ideal for us. A small house is more quickly tidied and cleaned, it’s easier to keep track of where everyone is and what they’re doing than it would be in a much larger house, and the outdoors offers plenty of space for being active.
~We do not subscribe to a rigid, clock-driven schedule. We do have a predictable pattern to our days and weeks. I say that, but understand that no two days are alike. With this many people and variables, there is always something to lend uniqueness to each day, like the thirteen birthdays we celebrate each year.
~We spend most Sundays with our church fellowship. We have a date night, a reading night, and a family night each week, with some flexibility, especially as our older children have more outside plans. On reading night, Joe and the children make a simple supper and I have the night “off” for planning, writing, and catching up with friends. We’re adding a project night to each week, which leaves one free evening each week for other activities, such as having someone here for supper, or a recent Christmas tea Joseph and Daniel served and the older girls and I attended.
Project night will be used to work together to implement plans I’ve been making for repairing, streamlining, re-organizing, beautifying, or creating more space in preparation for adding two new children to our family. Plans like installing extra shelves in closets or cabinets to take advantage of usable space or painting a bookshelf or the living room.
Aha! An empty wall better used for storage space!
Above the place where that little cart is and where the bassinet will sit, Joe’s planning to build and mount shallow wall shelving that goes up nearly to the stenciling, to be used with more lined baskets for baby’s things. In a smaller space, I prefer the clean lines of closed storage solutions to open ones.
~Joe spends the bulk of every Saturday grocery shopping and running all the other errands it’s possible to put into a Saturday. The six children from Laura down to Stephen take turns spending this entire day with Joe. When he gets home, he plans out the children’s school schedules for the week and prints out their assignment sheets, which double as their school logs. In order to save time, he reuses the same templates with minor changes for page numbers, etc.
~I try to spend Saturdays preparing all I can for the next week, working with the children on food preparation and extra chores and projects that cannot be delegated to the household help. The goal is for very little food prep to happen during the school week. We’re getting closer to this goal, but we’re not there yet!
~We usually have nine therapy sessions in our home each month. I typically schedule two or three therapies on a given day to free up more afternoons.
Question: With so many kids how do you find the time to spend so much of it with Katie, especially being her only caretaker?
Answer: I’m not the only one who cares for Katie now. That transitional stage of adoption is temporary; for us it lasted several months. She is integrated into our entire family now. I am not the only one in our immediate family to hold her, kiss and hug her, bathe and dress her, talk with her, feed her, play with her, instruct her, encourage her to crawl up one more step, praise her for some accomplishment, or carry her to her highchair or to the van and fasten her into her seat. With the exception of time spent on therapy goals, much of which fits naturally into daily life routines, caring for Katie is like caring for a very sweet nine or ten month old who weighs thirty-four pounds and uses a toilet.
Also, I used to wonder what people meant when they said that their child with special needs helped them to see what was most important in life. Now I understand what that means, for our family, anyway.
It’s impossible for us to do everything we used to do, or do what we see many others doing. So we are forced to choose, and in our deliberate choosing, we desire to choose what is truly lasting and valuable–God and His Word, other people. If it doesn’t serve the end of loving God with all our hearts and loving other people as ourselves, is it worth spending time on?
So there are many things I don’t do in order to live the life God has called me to, and there is so much satisfaction in living this way that I don’t miss them. I can’t describe the swell of joy within me just watching Verity’s antics or seeing Katie make kisses when Daddy comes walking in the door at night.
Question: What will happen to all Katie’s one on one time with you when Tommy comes home?
Answer: We continue to make necessary one-on-one time for all our other children when a new child enters the family. It requires more planning than it used to, but it is certainly not impossible and it is very worth it!
Our life is a busy one, but except for the two members who work outside the home full time, we are nearly always together. I am here in the heart of the family, accessible to my children, nearly all the time. I would find it heart-wrenchingly difficult to either be gone from the home myself or to send the children elsewhere for a majority of the time.
We connect more easily with our younger children during the day and with our older children after the younger children are in bed for the night.
Comment: I just wanted to thank you for writing out your explanation about pottying Katie. It blessed me so much. Here’s why:
As much as you have written about your own struggles with being Christlike and the journey that you’re on to be more like Him, I have held you up to myself as some kind of “close to perfection” mother. I’ve imagined that most undesirable things wouldn’t bother you, at least not much. When I read the word “hard” and the word “loathsome” about some pottying issues, it was such a comfort to me.
Anyway, your testimony blessed me. Just knowing that someone I really look up to still sees that task as hard made me feel better. I guess somehow I must’ve thought that if I were more godly or closer to the Lord, I wouldn’t abhor it anymore.
I hope you haven’t gotten any bad comments for sharing that part. And I thought you wrote about it as tastefully as anyone could.
Reply: Nope! No bad comments! I truly have the best blog readers ever, and rarely get ugly comments.
Up until recently, the hardest part of our journey has been the heavy responsibility of writing and advocating that God has added to my wifely and motherly duties. If I didn’t have that constant weight on my shoulders, and if we were comfortably anonymous as we used to be, we wouldn’t consider life with Katie to be difficult, with the understanding we had beforehand of what this life involves, with the support He has sent us as we have needed it, and with the certain and satisfying knowledge that this is our calling from Him. He sends me encouragement to hang in there with the blogging when I am either so busy or so discouraged that I feel like I just cannot keep it up.
It seems like the more open we become to Him, the more responsibilities He gives us, and the more impossible it is for us to manage without Him.
My parents prepared me for a grown-up life that was made out of hard work. They reared me to expect grown-up Christian life to be a life of sacrifice. They reared me to feel uncomfortable if life gets too comfortable. So I don’t consider that something is wrong and needs to be fixed if my life involves hard work, sacrifice, or discomfort. Hard is not the same thing as bad.
Question: How do you stay so positive? Sometimes I get overwhelmed and discouraged with all my responsibilities.
Answer: I do go through low times, like many people do. It’s just rare for me to write about it until after it’s all been processed through the truth mill. Recently I went through a dark time for many reasons that converged all at once.
So I guess my answer would be that I need regular, heavy doses of the straight truth of the Word in order to have joy in the midst of the struggles and failures of life.
A commenter above described kids as messy; I’d describe real life lived in relationship with real people as messy. Realness in relationships will involve inconvenience, stretching, even pain. It is never easy. Never obvious. Never simple.
I remember as if it happened yesterday when it first hit me that the job God gave me to do is actually impossible. We had five young children at the time. I don’t mean logistically impossible to manage the outer details of life with perfection, I mean impossible for me to do that while excellently teaching my children and keeping my own mistakes from affecting their lives. That realization, that God gave me an impossible task and He would accomplish it through me as I trusted and obeyed Him, has continued to be tremendously freeing for me.
Before we had children, my idealistic vision was that we would figure out the rules or formula to know how to guide each child in the way God designed them to go. I looked for authors who seemed to have been successful in rearing children who were walking with the Lord, so I could maybe put the same coins into the soda machine and get the same results they did. I didn’t realize that was my perspective, but I can see it now.
The older I get, the more aware I am of just how man-centered that thinking is, and how little ultimate control we have over who our children are and become. The best efforts we make for our children are shot through with flaws. Our ultimate hope must not be in ourselves and in how much perfection we can muster up, but in Christ and Christ alone.
The older we get, the more amazed we are when we see the good that God works in our children’s hearts, and the more grateful we are for His mercy.
Bonus miscellany: For years, I’ve thought that the beginning of May would be the absolute optimal time to have a baby. Why? The pregnancy would completely skip the hot weather. The baby would be born just as we finish school for the year. No snowsuits and other wraps necessary. Ahhhh. But it just never happened that way. So God’s irony in the timing of this baby was not lost on me. “You’ve always said you wanted a baby at the beginning of May. How about 2013?”
I also find it humorous that I will never know if the gray hairs I find nowadays are from being forty years old, from adopting while pregnant, or from my challenging pre-teens and teenagers!
We found out that this baby was on the way the same day we officially began the home study process. We didn’t know until later that I was already a little past nine weeks along.
During the time I was pregnant and didn’t know it, I went on record as making the following statements, “This adoption seems to be coming together too easily so far contrasted with Katie’s adoption. It seems like something has to come up,” and “No, I’m not pregnant. I don’t think I’m even fertile right now.” *blush*
The very best reaction I received to the news that I’m pregnant was from one of our household helpers. I told her early on, because she got the task of ironing my maternity clothes. As soon as she heard the word, “pregnant,” her whole face just lit up! I laughed and told her I was unsure of what her reaction would be, since she knows we’re also adding Tommy to the family, and she observes us during the most jam-packed time of our day, when a lot has to happen all at once. Her response? “Oh, you’ll manage. You’re managing just fine now, and you’ll figure out how to make it work.” Priceless words!
I’m learning to work hard on the outside while resting in God on the inside.
“A little Child, thou art our Guest,
That weary ones in thee may rest;
Forlorn and lonely is thy birth,
That we may rise to heav’n from earth.”
It’s late on Sunday afternoon, close to suppertime, and the group is breaking up to head over to the home of one of the church families. We’ve spent the whole day together.
One of my friends [Becky, of Tommy candle fame!] mentions that several of the women are going for coffee, and would I like to come along?
Like to?! I would love to!!
I turn to ask Joe what he thinks. On Sundays, we do all we can to give our older children a complete break. If I accepted Becky’s invitation, I’d get a break and they would share in the work of feeding and caring for the two little girls instead of doing something fun with their friends.
Laura is standing right there. She says with immediate enthusiasm, “I can take care of Verity!”
Joe heads out the door to ask Daniel for his opinion, and is back in again almost immediately. “Yes!”
“Daniel said yes?” I hesitate, still unsure, and in that moment, Daniel himself strides into the room.
“Daniel, are you sure? It will cramp your style.”
Breezily, without missing a beat…
“It is my style!”
Dan the man~