/> Raising Angels

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sweet Success

Today I was in the kitchen for eight hours. I started by making homemade rolls, moved on to banana nut muffins, and then finished with chicken potpie.

By the time our dinner guests arrived, the kitchen was sparking, the extra food was wrapped and in the freezer, the potpie was in the oven and the muffins were cooling on the stove.

We ate, they left, and I went back in for clean up.

As I was standing in the kitchen late this afternoon, I was taken back to my time in high school. I was a good student. I was also a hard-working, high stress student. It used to drive me crazy when people would remark how easy I had it, how everything just came to me. I fully acknowledge that my intelligence comes from God – a gift to be sure. But, I also spent countless hours and sleepless nights studying and working for the grades I earned. It may have looked easy, but I assure you, it was not.

That’s what happened tonight. When the guests walked in, I was relaxed and everything was ready right when it was supposed to be. It appeared, I’m sure, effortless to some extent. It took all day to make it look so.

It’s a lesson that I think is missing today. Success doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of a great deal of effort on the part of the person experiencing it. Look at any professional athlete. That quarterback’s perfect pass isn’t only raw talent; it’s the culmination of years of practice, conditioning, and plain old hard work. The teacher who blows you out of the water with his or her creative and engaging lesson didn’t just wing it. That little activity was the end product of years of studying and hours of planning and practicing.

In short, if you want to be successful, you have to work.

Too many times, we want everything to just come to us. We want to be able to lose weight, be fit, make money, and learn a trade simply by osmosis. We want it to just happen to us – for us. Every once in a blue moon, you find someone who just got something handed to him, but mostly you hear stories of struggle and loss before the biggest gains.

Mackenzie is attempting to learn guitar this year. So far, she’s discovered how burdensome it is to carry that thing back and forth from school, developed blisters on all of her fingers, looked up the chords she’s forgotten, and strummed the same notes…a lot. She may learn it faster than a few others because she’s already taken piano lessons for many years. But regardless of that experience, it’s still going to take a lot of work for her to learn to play the guitar well.

I hope she sticks with it, somewhat because I feel like we deserve to have a sing along or two after the hours of repetitive chords we’ve listened to, but mostly because of how proud of herself she will be when she plays that first song. She will appreciate how far she’s come and how much work it took to get there and that’s the sweetest success of all.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Making Memories...Again

Yesterday was day two of school for Felicity. I ordered the big kids to load up for the pool. It worked so nicely Wednesday that I was ready to do it again – whether they wanted to or not.

Since most of the world is back in school, we had the pool to ourselves for the first thirty minutes. The lifeguard let the boys get into the swim fins and off they went. Mackenzie grabbed a towel and headed for her favorite sunning spot. I started swimming.

When I finished, I was worn out so I joined Mackenzie. The boys were having the time of their lives discovering the world of fins. By this time, two other families had joined us and were a nice distraction as well.

I stretched out on the chair and just lay there quietly. It felt so indulgent…just sitting. After some much needed silence, I started a conversation with Mackenzie. We chatted about her upcoming birthday and her sweet sixteen next year. We discussed her new partner for Social and what she’d be doing as a Cotillion Club member. We watched a black and gold salamander crawl across the deck.

I don’t remember what, if anything, prompted it, but she asked me, “Mama, when you were my age, what stars did everyone love? Who did you think was cute?”

I was immediately transported back to middle school when I was head-over-heals in love with Kirk Cameron. Growing Pains was my favorite show, he was just about the right age for me and I was convinced that he was as nice a guy as his character, Mike Seaver.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. “This has been so fun and relaxing,” I told Mackenzie. Our time together had only been about thirty minutes, but those thirty minutes felt like hours because we had slowed down and spent some quality time together. I loved, loved, loved the fact that I had just carried on a conversation with my daughter that she could have had with one of her friends.

Later in the day, as I was dwelling on what a wonderful morning it had been, I thought back to the summer before Mackenzie started Kindergarten. I signed the boys up for a summer Mother’s Day Out program because I felt my time with Mackenzie slipping away. I had a strong need to spend some one-on-one time with her.

It occurred to me that these few weeks that Felicity is in school before the big kids go back, is that same kind of opportunity. What an unexpected gift I’ve been given. Though I’ve been with the kids ALL summer, it’s been time that’s divided between watching Felicity, keeping up with the house and laundry, grocery shopping, running errands and the like.

I know that years from now, the kids will remember me like that – frantically getting meals on the table and kids out the door, constantly folding laundry and cleaning house. However, I hope and pray what they hold in their hearts is not that side of me, but the side Mackenzie got at the pool - the mama who is very interested in everything they have to say, very proud of all of their accomplishments (even how fast they can swim underwater and backwards with fins on), and very much in love with who they are.

Here’s to making more of those memories.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Just a Moment

Last night, as I sat through game seven of Mackenzie’s two volleyball matches, I had a horrible thought. I stood between one of the matches to stretch, chase Felicity, and relieve myself of the ever-hardening bleacher seats. I chatted with some of the other moms. It was in that moment, as I was trying to hold a conversation, while watching to see that Felicity didn’t fall to her doom off the bleachers, while doling out the last of the snacks to the boys that the thought blasted its way into my mind.

I…will….be…doing…this…for…THE NEXT EIGHTEEN YEARS!

It was deafening. It was as if someone had blown an air horn next to me with a sound so loud I could feel it in my bones. There will be no break, no hiatus, no let down of any of this craziness for a very, very, VERY long time.

Suddenly, there I was sitting (probably on one of those padded, backed, portable bleacher seats) at my umpteenth sporting event, eating my thousandth late night meal, giving a ride to the hundredth passenger. It was overwhelming.

After finding a brown bag to breath into, and bringing my heart rate down close to just below busting, I realized that the marathon of games that started three and a half hours ago had finally ended. I gathered the troops and headed home with a baby that was starving, exhausted, and filthy from her adventures under, around, and behind the bleachers as well as from the fact that she had indeed picked up some form of someone’s left behind or, GASP, already consumed food and…yes…put it IN her mouth. Seriously! The kid is oh so cute, but also a total terror.

The next EIGHTEEN years!

Fast-forward to this morning when I had to peel cleaned, scoured mouthed Felicity out of bed and get her off to her first day of school. Last night, as I was packing her lunch, I realized that I hadn’t prepared for it like I did in the beginning. There was no cute lunch box or miniature backpack for her to carry; she got what was in the closet. There was no new outfit to commemorate her first day.


She got one foot in the door, ran off to the playroom and never looked back. There were no tears. I snuck out and didn’t look back either. Okay, I looked back once. I am still a mama after all. That was it. I just walked out and got in the car and went back home. It was her first time in any place remotely like this. They’ve gotten rid of the nursery at our church (I know Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me,” but I think He meant like when they are old enough to understand to sit still and be quiet.) and I no longer work out at the Y so she’s not been to a nursery at all. I know her well enough not to worry about how she’ll handle it. I worry more about how the other kids will survive her. She can be quite the brute these days. She’s in that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine and I’m going to scream until you submit stage. Remember, she’s cute but a holy terror. No kidding.

When I got back home, I quickly scrolled through the photos. Aiden had snapped a few as I walked her into the building. I saw her, but what I focused on was how I looked. I saw a cute little redhead being led into the school by a mom old enough to have taught all of the other mothers when they were in high school. I saw legs with veins bulging from the stress of carrying five babies. I saw flabby arms out of shape from lack of time and energy to focus on them in the never-ending summer.

I forced the big kids into the car so we could go to the pool. “Aww mama, why don’t you take a nap? We can just stay home and watch TV,” was their play. I wasn’t going for it. They needed to get out of the house and I needed to too.

I swam a mile in almost complete silence. I was counting laps in my head so there was no room for self-defeating thoughts. There were only the muffled sounds of the kids playing in the pool and the bubbles blowing past my ears. When I finished, I sat on the side of the pool and carried on the longest conversation I’ve had there all summer. And after two short hours, it was time to head back to pick up Felicity.

This time my head was clear, and I was relaxed and accomplished. I met that darling girl at the door walking towards me with her belly peeking out of the too small shirt I chose, a lollipop dangling from her sweetheart lips. She acted like she owned the place and trotted out as if she had been doing it her whole life.

In the car, we quizzed her about her day. “Did you have fun?” She nodded yes. “Did you eat your lunch?” She shook her head no. “Did you play outside?” Again no. “Did you color?” No. “Did you miss us?” No. “Do you want to go back to school again?” Yes!

She was so worn out that by the time I got her home, she wasn’t even interested in a story before her nap. She pointed to her bed, I laid her down, and she grabbed her elephant, rolled over and went to sleep.

I walked out of the room and looked at those pictures again. That’s when I had a better thought - a thought that blossomed from a cleared mind. I looked at those pictures and didn’t see myself. I saw that sweet girl grasping the lunchbox that was almost half her size. I gazed at the flouncy pink skirt mid swish, the tiny white shirt, that red pony tail, and those oh so squeezable, chubby arms. I stared at that puffy, dimpled hand holding mine. Then I thought it.

I…GET…to…do this for the next eighteen years!

My heart skipped and beat as it jumped into my throat. I saw Felicity in that picture, but was immediately taken back to Mackenzie at that same age, looking almost identical. I remembered watching her walk down the sidewalk towards Kindergarten while realizing that in a few short weeks, she will be able to get her learner’s permit.

There I was in that juxtaposition of the sweetness of what was and what’s yet to come. The realization of the gift it is to have the opportunity to do this so many times, each with a little more experience and wisdom to accompany it. The realization that as badly as I want to move through this season at times, I also want to savor each moment.

That’s the lesson here. It’s survival lesson 101. To make it through life, you have to stay in the moment. Sure we have to plan for the future – everything from who needs a ride where tomorrow, to how are we going to celebrate our soon to be fifteen year old, to how are we going to put five kids through college.

We can plan for the future, but we can’t live there.

We don’t have the grace. Grace only comes in the moment it’s needed. And the moment? That’s the place we need to dwell. What do I need to do now? How do I need to respond in this moment? If we can focus on that, there’s not much room for worry, only action. I may not live to see eighteen years from now. I hope and pray I do. I’d love to live long enough to enjoy a few fruits of all this labor, but none of us know how long we’ll be here.

What is certain is the here and now and that’s where we…I…should live.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's Getting Hot in Here

Some time around the first of this month, one of our air conditioning units went out – the one that cools all of the bedrooms. When you live where we do, and it’s summertime, having no air conditioning is a big deal. The upstairs bedrooms were hovering in the 90s.

It’s not the best thing that could happen, but it’s far from the worst. After this rather tumultuous season, we just rolled with it. We let the kids bring a couple of their mattresses downstairs. This made them felt as if the room was now one giant trampoline and spent a large portion of their days teaching Felicity how to jump off of the couch onto the mattresses. Heaven help us when we put the house back together again.

We continued to sleep in our room since it was on the bottom floor and slightly cooler than the rooms upstairs.  We kept the fans on high and the doors open. Felicity’s room is also downstairs, but since she needs the door closed to sleep in the midst of the noise of the acrobatics, she got sweaty and didn’t sleep quite as well.

It’s all been reminiscent of the January after Felicity was born and our water heater froze and broke. Consequently, our bedroom, closet, bathroom and hallway were flooded with several inches of water before we found out what was happening. In the midst of the crew drying out everything, one man tripped and broke our bed. An hour later, another guy stepped through the ceiling bringing down loads of insulation with him…while the industrial fans were blowing the carpets out. It was lovely.

Everything had to be moved out of those spaces so for nearly two months my underwear and other clothing drawers were stacked up in the family room, Felicity and I bunked with Mackenzie, Nelson slept in Aiden’s room, and the three boys slept together (this was during Felicity’s reflux stage when she spent a large amount of time screaming – Mackenzie could sleep through it and Nelson couldn’t).

The difference was that for the most part, we were able to live our lives. It made me kind of crazy to stack and unstack my dresser drawers to find my clothes in the middle of my family room, but I learned to cope. Well, I had to cope with that because I was struggling to cope with Felicity and that took every ounce of energy I had.

This time there’s no school or activities to get the kids out for a while. They are sleeping and living in our main living areas, which means we’re all together…all the time.

I’ve learned one thing from this new adventure – I need my own space sometimes.

It’s too long of a story to tell you why the A/C still hadn’t been fixed when we left for vacation last week. The short part is that the unit is still under warranty and because the part has gone bad so many times, we have the option to replace the whole unit at a fraction of the cost of a new one. As we left for vacation and we were talking about when it might be fixed, I asked Nelson if we should just replace the other one while we’re at it. Even though he agreed that would be good, he said the deal doesn’t work unless the unit fails. It was a passing conversation at the beginning of a vacation week, so that was the end of that. I was hopeful that by some miracle, it would be replaced while we were gone and we’d come home to life as usual.

I didn’t think about it again until we were driving home Saturday night. We were about an hour away from home when Nelson looked at his phone (I was driving) and said, “Oh no.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Looks like our other unit is out now too,” he said.

“So, the good news is that we’re already packed and ready to head to my folks,” I offered. “And, now I guess we can replace both units.” Not exactly what we wanted to be doing right now, but much better than it happening six months from now when the warranty runs out.

We pulled into my folks’ driveway with the car still fully loaded. We brought in the suitcases and pillows we needed and hit the sack grateful that we had a cool place to sleep. Temps here have been in the 100s, so toughing it out at home was not an option.

I did great the first two days. I told myself this is an adventure. I convinced myself to think of it as an extension of our vacation. My parents are getting ready to move out of the house they’ve been in for thirty years so I figured it was a great excuse to spend some quality time there before they move. I’m typing this from the bedroom that was mine from the time I was a freshman in high school until I got married.

If I gained anything from this journey, it’s the ability to cope.

Today, however, something came over me that put coping out the window. It’s now day three here at my folks. They are wonderful and I’m so grateful, but it’s not my home anymore. I felt like I was in limbo. My mind was racing with all the things I could be doing if I were at home, and about mid-afternoon, as I was putting dinner together, and changing over laundry, a funk came over me. Suddenly, I went from this totally secure person in control of this out of control situation, to an insecure weakling. My mind swirled with thoughts like, “I’m useless”, and, “My life consists of cleaning clothes and feeding people.” Those thoughts and others like them threw me into a kind of self-pity tailspin that was dizzying.

I fought it, but not totally successfully. Thankfully, I had an errand to run so I escaped in this weakened state. I got in the car and turned the radio to the Christian station hoping for some help. “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” came on just at that moment. It’s been kind of like my personal anthem during the journey and I tried to sing through the tears that were coming.

It’s tough to be in a place you know you shouldn’t be.

I have everything to be grateful and nothing to complain about. I should not feel this way, but sometimes I do - even when I know better.

I had to sit in my car to wait for a prescription to be filled. I turned the radio off and sat in silence begging the Lord to help me. “Whatever it is You’re trying to teach me,” I begged Him, “please help me learn it quickly. Use this time to make me stronger, more faithful, more grateful, but please, please, let me be a quick study.”

It wasn’t much of a prayer, but it was sincere. I prayed it and sat there in my hot car waiting for Him to respond.

I am enough.

I’ve learned to say, “It’s just money, you can’t take it with you.” I’ve acknowledged that I can’t do it all on my own. I’ve learned lots of little lessons along the way, but I’ve missed the big one.

God is enough.

If God is enough, I don’t have to worry about where I’m staying or how much money we have. If God is enough, I don’t need to be concerned about what I’m doing with my life, only that I’m doing what He’s called me to do. If God is enough, nothing can bother me.

Sitting in my hot car in the middle of that parking lot, I knew that I’m nowhere close (even though I often pretend I am) to total trust in God.

By the time I started up the car, I found a peace in knowing which direction I was headed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vacation's All I Ever Wanted

Today I remembered a lesson I learned on a vacation many years ago.

A vacation with babies or toddlers is not really a vacation. In fact, when you have babies and toddlers, vacation is like real life…only harder. You’re in a strange place that isn’t baby proofed, following a schedule that is nothing like home, and to top it off, you’re doing it in front of family members you don’t see very often.

Vacations won’t always be like this, but for a season (more like two or three years), they will be. For the past two years, every one in my family looks forward to the beach but me. They see no chores, hours of play and free time, and precious time with cousins and family. I see struggling to get the baby used to a new sleeping environment; chasing her around at the pool, on the beach, in the park, and in the house; and dealing with the seven of us sharing one bedroom (even when their bodies are on couches, their stuff is everywhere).

I’m ashamed to say that all too often my time is spent dwelling on this. Perhaps this is a result of having the last four or so “pre-Felicity” vacations being absolutely wonderful. I could sit by the side of the pool while all the kids swam or get in the pool and play with them. I could ride the waves in the ocean by their sides or sit in a chair and read. The evenings were filled with family games and long conversations. I dare say, it was actually relaxing.

Today as we trudged to the trolley stop to go to the beach in the stifling heat, I found myself carrying a 26-½ pound baby in one arm and a beach bag that weighed almost as much in the other. As I sat on the bench waiting, fighting with Felicity to stay with me in the shade, I looked at my sister-in-law and said, “I think next year will be the year it gets a little easier. I thought it would be this year, but I was wrong…very, very wrong.”

That’s when I remembered that the summer Dawson was almost three, something changed. It was the first family vacation I didn’t have to be in the pool holding one of the kids. I remember that moment because I was fighting the nausea of pregnancy and wondering why in the world I had talked Nelson into baby number four. I don’t say that to mean that I didn’t want Max (I really, really did!), but to draw attention to the fact that as much as I wanted this baby, I still realized how hard life had been up to that point and how much it had suddenly changed.

There are still plenty of great things about vacation. I only have to cook one night the whole week. There are other people to help clean up. I have the best brother-in-law in the world – one who takes all four of my big kids to do things while I’m with the napping baby. And of course, I see the value of building precious memories with family members. My kids have something I never had.

There is also one small thing about this vacation that is absolutely glorious. Our condo has a pool…in the backyard. That means that while Felicity is napping, instead of being tied to the house, like I am at home, I simply turn on the monitor and head to the pool. She is absolutely worn out from the day’s activities and sleeps for a good two and a half to three hours. That allows me time to swim laps (exercise is my Prozac), swim races and play with the kids, and even read a few pages in a book. Those few hours are indulgent.

That’s when it occurred to me that I’ve gained a bit of wisdom through the years. I was swimming laps, thinking about nothing much other than what number lap I was on, watching the bubbles of people swimming past and under me, and being amazed at how much I love swimming, when I thought, “Thank you Lord for this opportunity.” In that moment a sincere and tremendous sense of gratitude came over me. Here I was, doing what I loved, in the middle of the day. Felicity could have decided not to nap. The thunderstorms could have rolled in early. The pool could have been too crowded. Instead, God cleared a path and gave me a gift. The difference, where the wisdom comes in, is that I saw it.

Tonight I chased my busy toddler around while everyone else enjoyed the outdoor concert. I didn’t love that, but I didn’t hate it either. It’s where I am. It’s a season and next summer will be better; but tomorrow, I just might get the chance to swim laps again.