Monday, December 10, 2018

I'm Just Sitting Here

A few Sundays ago, we went to church, just like we do every Sunday and have done every Sunday since foreverago. The morning was the usual flurry of six people sharing a bathroom, four heads of long hair to fix, four pairs of tights to be found, breakfasts, dressing, shoes, coats, all done on a short deadline.

But it happened; we all got ready: boots, coats, in the car, and on our way. We arrived on time. We found a pew near the back (habit) and sat down quietly. Anja and Greta have their own little missals that they follow along with for prayers, and Elka looks off of them and reads along. Ingrid occupies herself, or sits quietly, participating in the stand-sit-kneel parts, but not yet knowing the prayers. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was respectful. Everyone was attentive. Everyone was so.... old.

All around us were families, some with big kids, some with teens, and many with babies and toddlers.  There were all the variety of parents too, the nervous shhh-ers, the hopeful bouncers, the patient huggers. There were the up-and-down-the-aisles-to-the-bathrooms, there were the exiting-in-the-midst-of-a-tantrums, there was the inevitable runaway, and the one who seemed set on pulling the baptismal font over on herself. There were the mothers with multiple small children who were pulled in all directions. There were the fathers pacing in the back. There were the tiny little voices echoing loudly off the walls.

And then there was me.

Just sitting there. In a pew. With my four silent children. My four big, not-babyish, fully potty-trained, no-longer-napping, communicative, DID I MENTION BIG, children.

And on the inside (not the outside--I'm pretty good at stifling my feelings, which is actually probably considered an "issue," but it's a good issue to have in public when your heart is being torn out of your body and thrown into the baptismal font to look up at the tiny face peering over the edge, who is so much younger than any of your children are, reminding you of what you don't have.) I was breaking.

Now, I know I'm exaggerating a little bit--after all, Ingrid is only 4 (and eight months) and it's not a guarantee that there will NEVER be another baby in my family, even though as time creeps forward it is looking more and more likely that there won't. And my kids really are still little, and I recognize that. But even still, the stark realization is there: that there will come a Last Baby. Eventually one of these times you really do birth your youngest, who will remain your youngest for the rest of your life, and there will be no more "I'm a Big Sister!" shirts. There will be no more diapers, no more sleep regressions, no more potty training sticker charts, no more frustrations over toys all over the house, or running out of wipes at an inopportune time. There will be no more 4:00pm naps that make you want to gouge your eyeballs out, no more tantrums over bunny ears vs. loop and swoop, no more tears over cutting a sandwich the wrong direction, no more uncontrollable, joyous laughter just because you hid your face behind a blanket and then pulled it off and said "peekaboo!" There will be no more monitors, diaper genies, tinkly-song playing toys, disappearing pacifiers. No more wooden alphabet blocks. No more teeny tiny loads of laundry full of teeny tiny clothes and unbelievably tiny socks. No more bargaining for "one last bedtime story."

Okay, I'm done.

As I sat in the pew, without a baby to fuss over, without a toddler to placate, watching the other parents wrangle their own bundles of joy/energy, I thought back to how HARD it was when I was in those days. When all I wanted was for my girls to sit quietly for just ONE HOUR, and why the heck couldn't they do that? When someone always had to go to the bathroom, or was fighting, or was just being plain naughty and had to be taken to the back. Or when the baby was tired and couldn't nap with all that stimulation, or when the baby was hungry but I was too shy to nurse in church. There were so many things that made going to church--or anyplace quiet--difficult. With Ingrid I often had to take her out because she would break into song, and I didn't really want to shush her, so we would just go to the back, or outside and walk around and sing till she was done. Now she saves her songs for outside church, because she isn't 2. With Elka she would throw massive screaming rage fits and I'd have to sit in the van with her for most of the Mass. She still has those rage fits, but not nearly as often. Greta was just a wiggle worm with a super loud voice, and Anja just always sat quietly in church, because she is actually a church mouse, not a human, and Sitting Quietly is what Anja does best, no matter where she is.

Having tiny kids is a STRUGGLE. But it's a struggle that one day will be gone, almost without warning. Even though you KNOW they will grow up, it still sneaks up on you, because the hours just pass by, and you move seamlessly from diapers to little potties, to practicing your letters, to "don't forget to flush and wash your hands," to helping bake bread, to walking to the library alone, to "can you help me with my multiplication?"

And then we all know it gets worse after that, but multiplication is as far as I am right now, and I am VERY HAPPY HERE THANK YOU, I DO NOT NEED TO THINK ABOUT DATING AND DRIVING AND COLLEGE AND MARRIAGE AND LET'S JUST STOP RIGHT HERE.

If I have a point, it's this: Parents with tiny children--I love seeing your wiggle worms. I envy you, wrestling down your two year old in the pew, removing pages of the songbook from your baby's mouth, pacing your sleepy little one in the back, while you're trying to concentrate, but are legitimately distracted by important work. The bulky bucket seats, the burp cloths, the diaper bags, the toys on the floor... it's all such a fleeting gift.

Someday I'll look back on this picture of my own family and think, "Look how TINY they were! They were BABIES!!" They aren't really babies, but there will come a time when I look back at sister fights and scattered craft projects, and baking days that trash the kitchen, lost dolls, and still wanting me to snuggle them to sleep even though I have Christmas presents to sneakily work on, ALL those braids to make every Sunday, and even--EVEN--the multiplication tables, and I will wish so desperately for this time back, because this phase of young kids is a fleeting gift too. So different from the baby stage, but so special. And there are, undoubtedly, mothers older than myself in the pews around me, thinking back on all the french braids they made, and the little dresses in the closet, and the keeping track of ballet rehearsal times, and the baking they did together, and they envy me for what I have right now.

It's all just such a fleeting gift.

Postscript: One week later at church, Elka had to be removed because she was screaming that I wasn't holding her, and that I liked Ingrid better than I liked her, then Ingrid was whining "WHEN WILL CHURCH BE DOOOOOONNNNEEE" at the top of her "whisper voice," (not a whisper) and then tonight when I came out from putting them to bed I found somebody else's booger on my ear, so I guess I'm not really in the clear as much as I thought I was, but my sentiments about this topic are still very real. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sing Tradition!

Exciting news! I've re-ignited my Patreon page ( and am filling it up with videos of traditional and old folk songs. Each episode gives a brief (very brief) background of the song, then I sing it. It's very short, I think most of them are about five minutes long, and there isn't a lot of fanfare involved. Hopefully as I get it rolling I'll get some kind of credits, and work out my awkwardness to be more comfortable talking about the songs. Also, I'm hoping to have some videos of the kids singing along, but I've got to learn splicing techniques first. Technology and I have kind of a rocky relationship, so this area of my life is a little tricky right now. In fact, our relationship status would be labeled as, "It's Complicated." But, I'm doing my best! 

It's making me so happy to be doing these videos. I've been wanting to do something like this for a very long time, but was having a difficult time thinking up ways to actually make it happen. I love sharing folk songs, I love being able to sing folk songs with other people. I worry that traditional music is being altogether lost, and I really feel an obligation to do something to try and keep these songs from fading away. On top of that, my ability to play shows is only getting lower as my girls get older, which is something I hadn't anticipated. Being gone at night (when most music gigs take place) is fine and a lot of fun every so often, but it's not something I can devote a ton of time to. These videos are a perfect fit for my life right now--I can sneak them in during the day when the girls are otherwise occupied, guilt-free. 

Not just guilt-free, though. This little project is filling a space that has been empty for a long time. When I first had kids it was hard for me to be so far away from my music. As the years went by it seemed like I would never have a chance to get back to it. Even making The Bathroom Project CD was a lot more difficult than I had expected, taking up a lot of family time, costing more than I'd anticipated, and carrying a lot more frustrations than I would have liked. When I finished that disc, I was so happy to just be done with it. And don't get me wrong, I LOVE playing music with my kids. I love singing with them, I love our dance parties, I love writing songs together. But I wanted to do something just one step up. I didn't want to ditch them to go play the bars every weekend, but I felt like I needed a little corner of my life to be getting my music OUT. And this is it! Even if nobody likes these videos, I feel happy to be getting these songs out into the world. 

A little bit about Patreon: The videos I'm making are posted publicly there, for all to see. If you sign up to become a patron, you will be supporting me directly as a musician. There is NO NEED for you to do that in order to see the Sing Tradition! episodes, however, there will be other kinds of posts (outtakes, possibly goofy singalongs with the family, non-video posts related to the project or other projects) that will be on the Patrons-Only feed. 

I think Patreon is an excellent platform for artists. I feel like it's a touch of the old world in the modern age: humans supporting humans directly because they believe in them as artists. I spent some time today browsing other artists on there and it's really neat to see the variety of people and art that is represented there, and the levels at which these artists are being supported. I'd encourage you, if there is an independent artist that you really admire and want to see succeed, to look them up on Patreon and support them if they have a page. 

The videos that are posted on Patreon are also on my YouTube channel. If you go to YouTube and search "annie hatke" you will find them. Either way, I hope you enjoy them! 

Also, Martin loves his new job! Yay!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

That Thing I Said About Everyone Being A Good Person

This week my husband finished working at a job he really, really loved. It's the only time he has ever been sad to leave a job, and he was very sad. He was working in mental health as a case worker and for the past year and a half and we tried to make it work, financially, because the good he was doing was worth our own struggle, but it came to the point where keeping his job was beginning to cost us money, and at that point it was time to let it go. He'll be working in town now, which is great, and doing similar work to what he was doing before, which is also great, but still, the move was not emotionally seamless.

While we were discussing this shift in jobs, I told him how I felt his two years there had really made him a better person. He had this same job ten years ago when we were newlyweds, and since then he's had different jobs and four children, and has worked with a large range of people, but something about this most recent time in this job really brought out the best in him. And I was thinking about that and I was thinking about the Transcendentalist movement (which I've been spending an awful lot of time thinking about lately, by the way) and I thought, "You know, I think all humans are really excellent people at their core. Some just need more chipping away than others to find that bright center."

Now, you might read that and think that my husband was a big jerk-face before this job, and that would NOT be true. He was a fine, nice person. But this job chipped away a little more of his roughness and really brought out the inner shine. And it made me consider that maybe we are all super shiny on the inside, if we could find something that could chip away our outer layers to let more of the shine spill out.

This has been on my mind for a few weeks as we go through this job transition, and then tonight the girls were reading bedtime stories and Greta read the Russian story of "The Snow Girl." In case you are unfamiliar, this story is the same tired tale of the two old people who love each other so very much and their only sadness is that they have no children, so then they somehow come to have a child that isn't quite.... well.... normal. Thumbelina. Tom Thumb. The Gingerbread Boy. Pinocchio (did he have a mother, or just Giupetto?) Anyway, in this case, the parents have this daughter made of snow, and they are so happy but they wish she could come inside and sit by the fire and eat the hot cabbage soup instead of her crushed ice in a wooden bowl that the mother fixes her for every meal. And the old lady cries a lot. And she's also not a very good listener, so even though the daughter tells her that she has to continue sleeping outside in the snow and keeping her distance from hot cabbage soup, the mother just can't take that, and on Christmas Eve brings her in (I'm sorry if I'm giving away this story, but let me assure you, it's an easy one to guess as you're reading it) and the girl melts away. (Duh.) But then, surprise! the snow girl has been turned into a REAL GIRL in the night and everyone is happy and the old lady cries some more.

Anyhow, the point of the story is that all the old man and woman wanted in the WHOLE WORLD was to be able to TAKE CARE OF SOMETHING. They didn't want a child as a status symbol, they didn't want a child so they could order her around. They didn't want a child just because they were tired of chopping wood and making cabbage soup every day and wanted someone else to do it for them. They wanted a child so they would have something to take care of, and their only unhappiness with the child made of snow was that they felt they weren't taking good enough care of her. And this comes back to the shiny goodness that is inside all of us.

I guess I believe that there are horrid people in the world. I do. But FOR THE MOST PART, I really think we all have an inner desire to love and care for something. Not necessarily for everyone (although, if you're looking for the recipe for world peace...)  just something. And I think this is why people have office plants, and this is why people have pets that they absolutely adore, this is why people fill up their houses with tumbling rugrats. It's easy to look at someone and think, "Okay, wow, she reeeeeaaaallly loves her house plants, what is up with that?" It's because THOSE PLANTS NEED HER. We are all searching for something whose survival depends on us. Cats, dogs, plants, children. And it isn't because we're narcissists who want to be worshipped, it's because we all have that shiny inside that's filled with love and we want to let it out in the form of caring for another creature. And those creatures, and other people and experiences that require some sacrifice and love, inevitably chip away at our hard outer shell and let a little more of our Goodness Rays out.

Doesn't that make happiness seem so attainable?!?!?

So there you go. The Secret of Life is love and shiny insides. Let's let our light spill out! Chip, chip!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Type B, Unambitious

This week as homeschoolers we learned about Julius Caesar. My favorite part about homeschooling--and my most successful method--has been the re-learning of history alongside my kids. I expect I learned about all of this when I was in school, but I likely wasn't paying attention, so a lot of it feels new and exciting to me! Instead of just rambling off tired facts, I get really excited: "You guys, he only had his pen to defend himself, and HIS FRIENDS JUST KEPT STABBING HIM TO DEATH! AAAHHH!!" While this might be a bit juvenile of me, it seems to make a bigger imprint in the girls' memory than just the monotone reading of a text. So I consider it an all-around win.

In learning about Julius Caesar, aside from being the first and most famous emperor of the Republic, we learned about how ambitious he was. When he wanted something, he went after it and expected success. Whether genuine or not, he won the support of pretty much everybody, and just walked right up the imperial ladder to the top.

Oh my gosh, this is SO not like me.

I have dreams like anybody, but I don't really care THAT much if I succeed or not. I'm not so devoted to my aspirations that I'm willing to knock down anybody else to get to where I want to be. Does this make me spineless? Maybe. I prefer to think of myself as happy to live in the moment. Like Ferdinand the Bull, I'm happy to just sit and smell the flowers. (I hope this is not just a skewed reflection of myself, justifying the fact that I am The Laziest.)

But I'm not really lazy at all (well, okay, I'm a little bit lazy).... I'm pretty high energy, most of the time. But I'm a little bit flighty and scatterbrained, and lose interest in things too easily to call any of my interests "ambitions." That's kind of a scary word, really... it implies followthrough. I'm more of an idea-haver. I have LOTS of ideas. And I talk a lot. So all of my ideas come out of my mouth, and after I've talked about them enough to feel like they are out of my system, I think, "Well, that was a good idea! NEXT!"

I read something recently about Type B Homeschooling (unfortunately, I can't remember who was touching on this, which is really unfortunate because I like to give credit where it's due, so if I find out who this was I will edit this part to add that in.) It was an encouraging word to homeschoolers like myself who do NOT thrive on lists and organization, and it made a suggestion that I've been doing since I started homeschooling (and actually I kept my housework list this way before I was homeschooling!) which is the retroactive list-keeeping method... instead of making a list of goals before you begin, you write down everything you've done AFTER you've done it! It's really brilliant, and it avoids the anxiety that comes from staring down an impossibly long list at the beginning of your day.

Another benefit of Type B homeschooling is that sometimes when I look over my retroactively written list at the end of the day, I see that we have learned A LOT. This is because we tend to start out our morning learning about one thing (usually history--we focus a lot on history) and as we learn about one topic we just follow these rabbit trails through our day of learning. We cover so many topics by hopping along from one thought to another. I know this idea probably makes a lot of my Type A friends kind of twitchy.... to start your day with NO LIST, and to just DO WHATEVER COMES TO MIND... and I can understand that feeling because that's how I feel about organization. But this style really works for us! I feel like my kids are learning so much, just because I am so scatterbrained!

One area that being Type B is not helpful is grocery shopping. Oh, gosh. The other day the girls all had doctor appointments early in the morning, and we ended up sitting in the waiting room for an hour and a half before even being seen. When we left it was a BEAUTIFUL day and they had been SUCH troopers during that long wait with everybody around us coughing (we are germaphobes)... so I thought we'd go to the grocery on the way home and get something yummy for lunch.

Except, I had no ideas about what would be a yummy thing to get for lunch. So we wandered around, got some lunch meat and rolls, some crackers, a bag of potatoes, some biscotti, and then I said, "LET'S GO SEE IF THEY HAVE HALLOWEEN MASKS!" and on the way to the seasonal section we had to stop and ogle the adorable baby clothes and pacifiers with attached plush foxes, and the Halloween section was SO MUCH FUN, and in the end we spent a full hour and too much money on a mediocre, overpriced lunch, and a collection of really fun masks.

And this is why some people shouldn't be parents.

Just kidding! Without the kids I would have no doubt spent my day in the exact same way, except the memory would be much lonelier.

I know this might not sound like encouragement, but really, I think Type B people who have no desire to rise to the top can be just as successful at life as people who thrive on organization and success! We all are living in our own little pockets of life, doing the best we can in our best way, and just because MY best way tends to give other people hives, that doesn't mean it's not it's own kind of successful.

I mean, isn't Ferdinand the Bull one of the best children's books of all time? It's like the Type B Personality Bible! But everybody loves it! So, if you have a personality like mine, one that might not not look to outsiders like it could be a homeschooling success (or a success at all,) just remember Ferdinand, and remind yourself that without people who are able to see the absolute beauty in an ordinary day and the simplest of things around you, the world would be different. I'm not sure how it would be different, since it doesn't always feel like appreciating flowers is really making an impact on... anything... but, I'm sure there's some kind of benefit to people like us hanging around.


Friday, August 31, 2018

What Are We Even Doing Around Here?

For how excited and ready I felt as we stepped into our school year a few weeks ago, it sure didn't go at all the way I'd planned. I thought that since I was relatively on top of things (for once in my life) that we would transition with ease into learning and that the whole year would run smoothly. If you've been reading my blog for awhile you already know that I'm delusional, and this is actually just another example of that. Our school year started out horribly. The first day was a nightmare, the second day started out okay but within a few hours the nightmare from the day before was repeating itself. I realized how terribly far behind both girls are in math, despite hiring a tutor last year. They worked on multiplication ALL YEAR last year and still neither of them knows their times tables. Like, at all. If their brains are little compartments of knowledge, like little rooms lined with bookshelves that are all filled up with the things they've learned per subject, most of their rooms have pretty full shelves. Their English/Grammar/Literature shelves are quite full, their art/music shelves are packed and the whole room is bursting at the seams, Nature Room is filled up, Science is looking a little sparse, but THE MATH ROOM IS EMPTY. TOTALLY DEVOID OF LEARNED THINGS. THEY REMEMBER NOTHING. 

This was disheartening. For all of us. So many tears as they began their new math books only to discover that--how shocking!--we are moving BEYOND multiplication now! They can't handle it and there are many breakdowns. 

So, my solution has been to just not do math these past few weeks. I found them some really fun workbooks in a series called "Math Adventures" and I got a book for each girl, but Anja's hasn't arrived yet so we're waiting to begin until we can all start at the same time. I'm hoping that the cuteness and fun activities in these books will offset the fact that they're doing what they despise the most. (Except Elka. Elka LOVES math and is really good at it, and has refused to wait for the rest of us as she just plows ahead through her math book. I'm beginning to think she's not actually my daughter... even though the other two sob daily over their times tables and I get really frustrated, at least I can understand since I did the exact same thing when I was their ages. 

So, anyway, no math yet. We've been focusing on other things. 

Nature is a big one because this is the BEST time of year to get outside and observe! Our garden has exploded with monarch and swallowtail butterflies, caterpillars, and pupae. It has been so fun to find and track the caterpillars, and at one point we had four that we were monitoring--three chrysalises and a "j" shaped caterpillar. Well, the J-shape died and fell off his spot, probably to get eaten by ants. The chrysalis on the house was okay for awhile but has since turned black and has that string on it that is bad news, as did the other one we found in the garden--which then broke open and oozed out brown stuff and I was eating a croissant when I saw it and I had to run into the house screaming and spit out my croissant and throw the rest of the way and sit down and recover. It was rough. It wasn't just the gross factor, it was the heartbreak that I had been watching "Big Hungry" the caterpillar for so long and I was so excited for his metamorphosis. So to see him be eaten by a parasite inside his capsule and then ooze out was a little heartbreaking. But we still have one healthy monarch chrysalis we're watching hopefully! And we have a swallowtail on the side of the house that has been extremely interesting to watch, and I really hope we get to see it emerge. The girls decided not to bring anything inside, but to just take our chances at catching the moment where it happens naturally. I feel so emotionally invested in these little larvae, I'm having a hard time with that level of risk, but whatever. 

We've been reading aloud A LOT. This has been what's getting us through the transitional days! 

And we've been copy working and Word of the Week-ing as well as adding in weekly essays on a topic I choose. Anja and Greta have all week to think about, write, and re-write their essay and at the end of the week, I read and correct any spelling or grammar, and help them work on writing form through that. I think it will be a good little activity once we find our groove with it. 

I'd really like to start a book club for kids their ages. Looking back on the idea of "book reports," I remember a lot of the joy of reading AND letting the book soak into my mind was robbed by the forced report I had to write afterward. Sometimes I feel like the best way to process your comprehension of a book is not to just write a bland regurgitation of it, but to discuss it with other people, hear what the people got out of it, how other people related to characters, share how YOU related to characters, or how the story touched you. Also, I've noticed that with homeschooling the art of good discussion is easily ignored. I want my girls to know how to discuss things--how to state their views clearly and patiently/enthusiastically/compassionately hear the views of others. I think this is so important! And I feel like a middle school aged book club would be a good place for that. 

We haven't gotten into science yet, but when we do, we'll be doing what we ended last year doing, which is studying scientists and what they are best known for. I like the idea of having a person to go with a concept, and my girls learn well under this style. Also I'm going to veeeeeeeerrrrryyyyyyyy casually introduce them to the periodic table of elements, just so they know what it is. I'm thinking of hanging a poster of it in the bathroom so that they can passively experience it on the daily. It would be a good thing to stare at while waiting for the turtle's bathtub to fill up. (A boring job, but one from which, once the water is on, YOU CANNOT WALK AWAY.) 

Elka is doing a lot of writing and drawing on her own this year, and I'm she is invited to participate in everything the big girls do, but is not pressured. She likes to do school with them, but some of the stuff is just too old for her. She's really enjoying reading chapter books (very slowly) so that's how she spends a lot of her school time. Naturing is her favorite, and she still is the tender of the gardens. Mostly with her we are working on behavior still. Controlling her temper. Calming down tactics. Today I tried something that worked really well for her! She'd been kicking her cousin and so she had a little time out. Her time-outs and usually on the bench by the bathroom because she can see me and talk to me while I'm cooking, but she is removed from the other kids so she can't hurt them. Today she was having a super hard time with that (and with everything) so I told her that she could work off her time by helping me--I needed to get some sage from the garden but couldn't leave the stove. She joyfully helped me, and it was exactly the reset she needed! She ended up taking so much time to help me, then quietly went back to the bench, and I told her she didn't need to, she was free to go back to the kids and play. Up until that idea, she had just been sitting there screaming, unable to control herself. She is so unlike my other kids that I have a super difficult time finding things that work with her--but working off her time is a definite winner. Yay! 

Oh, the other fun thing we're doing this year is learning German as a family! Anja has been working on it independently since last year, and we had all learned a little bit with her (Martin and I took German in high school, so this is the best language for us to be able to teach them... I remember less than Martin does, but I can manage pronunciations and can read it pretty well) and had learned some German songs, but this year a homeschooling friend passed on to us an audio Learn German for Kids pack, and everyone is enjoying it so much!

One treasure I got for our History this year (in American History we are pre-civil war/women's suffrage/gold rush, but will be moving into the Civil War, where we'll really concentrate for much of the year) was from the free cart at the library--it's a 1913 book of the military history of the US. It has timelines and maps that explain the explorers, territories, which country owned what at which time, it's AMAZING. It's basically what I've been searching for on Amazon for YEARS, found in a beautiful edition from 1913 FOR FREE on a "please take this off our hands" cart outside the library. I did a major happy dance that day!

For Ancient History we are finishing up Rome, then moving on to China. I know very little about Ancient China, so this will be me learning alongside the girls. I'm excited! Sometimes I think the girls learn best when I'm learning with them because I tend to get REALLY EXCITED when I learn new, cool things. So I expect when they're in college talking about things they should be familiar with, they might think, "Oh, I remember learning about that snippet of history--Mama got really loud and started dancing around the room! How could I ever forget?!"

Is that all? That's all the formal bookwork, I suppose. We do a lot of learning "organically," as they say, when the kids ask questions and we zoom on from there. Also memorable. Also often results in me being loud and making many excited hand gestures.

This is homeschool for us in a nutshell. What are you up to around your tables and in your yards?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Holding On Tight

I had an alarming thought today.

I was observing people in church during the offertory song and I was noticing a lot of women whom I've known most of my life who have reached middle age or beyond. I was thinking about how beautiful they are. I was thinking of how motherly they are, and how different they probably feel now as they finish out their 40s than they did when they were young 20-somethings, freshly engaged, married, beginning their families. Their faces are aged, but they also have a beautiful, shiny wisdom about them that made me think, "the 40s look like a lovely age to be."

And then I thought about my daughters and about my upcoming birthday, when I will be turning 35, and how I've been so much enjoying my 30s. That's when the alarming thought struck me: when I'm 45 (not old,) Anja will be 20. 2-0! TWENTY!!! That is only ten years away!!! THAT'S PRACTICALLY TOMORROW!!!

I broke out in a sweat. I looked around me at all my girls, behaving like angels, no longer in diapers, no longer napping, all speaking rational (or at least semi-rational) thoughts, and I thought, THIS IS IT. THE BABY YEARS ARE OVER.

Talk about a panic.

Now, two things I should mention: One thing is that even with it's unique challenges, I have been seriously enjoying this phase of parenting. Even though I complain about it, that's mostly because I want to remember it all. Also, if I blog about the less-than-perfection moments, I'm not doomed to look back at my blog in ten years (TEN YEARS. BECAUSE THAT'S ALL I HAVE UNTIL ADULTHOOD FOR MY CHILDREN. TOMORROW.) and sob my brains out over missing the perfection of the small people who once surrounded me and now are free adults no longer caught in my clutches. Another thing to mention is that we aren't quite to the age where we can actually declare we're done having children. I mean, I'm turning 35, not 55. Nothing is for certain. So the door is not closed, but at the same time, looking at our life (which sometimes resembles a dumpster fire, specifically one filled with dollar bills) it's at times hard to imagine having more.

So, I don't always think automatically of Ingrid as my "last" baby, because who knows. I do, however, soak her up as if she is my last because... well, who knows. And with her being four and Anja being ten, I feel like I'm in this storybook land of bliss where I have all little kids, everyone is at home every night, they still like me to read aloud to them, we still do art together, we eat our meals together, they still pretend play and dress up, and [except when they're trying to kill each other] it's all so beautiful and perfect.

You can see why I was so terrified this morning when I realized that in only ten years, when I still feel like I'll be in a "prime of my life" age, my oldest daughter and possibly the second-oldest will likely be MOVED OUT OF MY HOUSE FOREVER. I just don't know how to handle this realization. It's so frightening. It's so different. It's so SOON.

Martin has started back at his second job, which takes him away on weekend nights. This is good for everyone--it's a job where he has a lot of free time to get his grad school work done, and the rest of us have a couple evenings of girls' nights together. And since I don't have a baby who needs to be paced through the house in the evenings, and since all the girls go to bed in the same room at the same time, and since we all can sit and listen to a read-aloud (even chapters upon chapters in a row because we just don't want to stop reading!) these evenings together have been pretty enjoyable.

Despite the challenges (and each of these ages definitely has it's challenges, whoo-boy!) this is a pretty good time and I need to remember that because as wonderful as it is, it's just as fleeting. And I know people say this all the time, but then sometimes you're just sitting there humming along to the offertory song and looking lovingly and admiringly at the people around you and you realize--GASP!--nothing is forever!

You'll never get this moment back--LIVE IT UP!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Struggle Puggle

I always am appreciative when other people share snippets of their struggles on social media. Not because I wish struggling on people, but because it reminds me that the perfect lives as seen through Instagram squares are actually real lives involving real people, and like it or not, all real people have struggles.

Sometimes I get tired of the sugar-coating of struggles. I know, keep on the sunny side. I know, it could be worse. I know, be grateful for all you do have. All good reminders. But sometimes I have to wonder, don't you people ever just want to throw in the towel? Don't you ever pass under a dark cloud that really DOESN'T have a silver lining? Even if it's just a twenty-minute pity party spent in your bathroom before mustering up your courage to plaster on a smile and continue making the best of it?

So, here's my little pity party.

I'm feeling lately like I just cannot get ahead. I'm wondering if I should enroll the kids in regular school. I'm unable to fathom how other moms, through the magic of spreadsheets and coupons (both foreign languages to me... especially the spreadsheets *shudder*) are able to keep to a $12/month grocery budget and never experience hunger pains. I don't know how other people afford school supplies lists. I don't know how other people successfully homeschool dozens of children into adulthood, when I can't even figure out how to manage four little kids. House cleaning, money management, multiple extracurricular activities.... how are other moms not lying on the sidewalks all over town crying and giving up?! And some of them even have their own jobs! HOW DO THEY HANDLE LIFE. I NEED TO KNOW ALL THE SECRETS.

Here are some things I'm good at:

-Watching caterpillars
-Admiring flowers
-Walking fast
-Talking a lot

Here are some things I'm not so good at:

-Everything that actually matters

That's the truth! I'm not even good at separating my laundry loads. I'm constantly getting stainy stuff in the wrong piles, and my whites are always grey. I literally have no understanding of time or money (ask my husband!) and every week when Anja makes it to the door of her ballet school, I consider it a small miracle. And if we get back home from dropping her off and have remembered to shut the door to keep the dog from running away, that's a big miracle.

I am an incapable adult.

Usually I'm okay with this. I mean, I have been living with myself for enough years that I've pretty much accepted who I am. But sometimes when I open my eyes and see that the rest of the world is running differently, I view the traits that make me who I am as nothing but a list of failures and shortcomings.

And then I have a pity party, but after the party I have to DO something, you know?

So, if this happens to you, what do you do about it? Do you surround yourself with capable people and take note, then try to change yourself? Do you constantly try to better yourself?  Or do you just shrug and continue on with your self-acceptance with a live and let live attitude? Do you drive out the gloomies with a little splurge of retail therapy or self-care? Do you take a little vacation? Do you search Zillow for cave real estate in Kentucky or Spain and check your bank account for affordability, and then sink lower into your depression because you'll never be able to afford to buy a cave in Spain, even though you already knew that because that's the way you handled things last time you were feeling glum?

Today is Friday. I'm going to begin by wearing a favorite outfit and trying to have a really good homeschool day (will include watching caterpillars.) And then for the weekend perhaps I will sew. Something for myself and something for each girl. That would be a loving thing that takes some responsibility and commitment, right? I think that is what I will do.

But of course I'm open to all suggestions, and I'm DEFINITELY open to any affordable cave real estate anyone knows of in Kentucky or Spain. If nothing else, I hope my little pity party here has been an uplifting read for someone else who might be thinking that all the social media lives look perfect and sunshiney.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Plant for Pollinators!

On Instagram the other day I posted a video of Anja, Greta, Ingrid and I singing a song we wrote last summer that we call "Plant for Pollinators." We love pollinators! Anja really got us to be pollinator advocates a number of years ago when she read about endangered bees and insects, and learned about the devastation that would come of losing our beloved pollinators. She had a "Save the Bees" booth at a local festival, and hung a sign on our front gate that said, "Don't Spray! Save the Bees!" Now we have one beehive in our yard (thanks to her) and we and our next door neighbors have filled our yards with pollinator friendly flowers and plants. It's a beautiful little urban ecosystem! 

Anyway, it's a catchy tune and little kids seem to like it, so I thought I'd print the words here for anyone who wants to sing it! Spread the pollinator love! 

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Hummingbird, big bee,
Little bee, Bat

Ladybug, Butterfly Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Ironweed, Milkweed, 
Columbine, Sage

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Goldenrod, Hyssop, 
Pincushion flower

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Bee balm, yarrow,
Borage, Catnip

Ladybug, Butterfly, Bee
Ladybug, Butterfly, Flower
Moth and Bumblebee,
Plant for pollinators! 

And here's a link to the Best-We-Can-Do video on Youtube, haha! 

Keep singing, friends! 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Double the Fun

If you are active on any parenting themed Facebook groups or online forums, you probably recognize that a lot of the dialogue is based around the same handful of snoozy questions being asked by new members over... and over... and over...
"Not wanting to start an argument, but--what are your opinions on vaccines?"
"Needing fast, healthy meals to feed a family on a budget! GO!"
"Does this look like Hand Foot & Mouth to you?"
"Best breast pumps?"
"How many c-sections have you had?"
"I'm a mom of eight expecting number nine and I still have absolutely no idea what I'm doing PLEASE HELP."

One question that plays on repeat that always stands out to me is the "Those of you who have children close together: would you recommend it?" I find this question both puzzling and comical. For one thing, I DO have children close together, and if Greta hadn't been a "happy accident," there is absolutely NO WAY she would have come into being. I mean, when Anja (crankiest baby in the universe) was five months old, I had sworn off of anymore children EVER. Literally, Martin and I had decided that we weren't going to have any more children because Anja was SUCH a difficult baby and we had no idea what we were doing and life was just awful. When she was seven months old she'd turned a corner and was becoming a super fun toddler and had stopped crying all the time, and we were realizing why people thought having babies was a good thing. Still, we'd not changed our minds about having more.

Luckily, we are not in charge.

Anja and Greta are sixteen months apart, which at the time was both exciting and difficult. Anja really was the MOST FUN toddler after she grew out of her nightmarish babyhood, so by the time Great was born, I was happy to have closely spaced sisters. Being pregnant and having a baby was a little embarrassing, what with all the comments from strangers and stuff, but more than that I kind of wondered if I was destined to be the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe with her uncountable number of feral children. That thought was a little frightening.

After a rough figuring-things-out first few months, we fell into being a fine family of four. It was excellent having two small children at once. It helped that Anja was not a difficult toddler or child--no tantrums, fits, whininess... she was SO EASY. Greta was not what I would categorize as an especially "easy" human to deal with, but she was definitely entertaining. She wasn't a dangerous kind of crazy--she didn't put small objects in her mouth, or try to stick forks in the electrical outlets. She was energetic but not insane, and her fits were often over things so ludicrous that it was hard to not just laugh about it. And as the months and years went by the two of them became more and more of best friends. Inseparable. A Delightful Duo. The only big difficulties we encountered were when Anja had to start going to speech therapy and Greta was left behind. (She was not a fan.) Other than that, the did everything together.

I know that not all closely spaced siblings have this sort of relationship, and I feel so lucky that mine have.

But I'm not done.

So, one of the really great things about having two kids close together is that I get kind of a double dose of each age. After one really tremendous year passes for Anja, I think, "I don't need to be sad to say goodbye to this age, I have a whole year more of it with Greta!" Two was a big one. I LOVE TWO YEAR OLDS. All of these beautiful preschool and early childhood years chugged along, two at a time, and I was so happy to be able to really get my fill of each year before leaving it behind (until Elka caught up, three years later.)

Until Nine.

I think I've mentioned here before that my sister had warned me about Age Nine. "Nine Year Olds are weird," She said. She didn't really expand on that statement, but it was a subtle warning. And then, sure enough, shortly after Anja turned nine, I felt the jolt. Nine has by far been the most difficult age with Anja. (Shortly after she turned 10, she became her delightful old self again--it was truly ONE year of difficulty!) She cried ALL THE TIME. She was sassy. She was all the bad things you hear about teenagers, with the terrible attitude, the eye-rolling, the thinking her parents are stupid, the constant tears and emotional turmoil. It was terrible. And the whole time I was thinking, "I know this will end.... but I also know I might have another year of it."

And sure enough, I did.

Now Greta is nine. And I know it will end because Anja has already come out the other end of the tunnel and is wonderful again, but GOSH, nine is a hard age! We fluctuate between sadness, irrational anger, and sassiness all day long. There are SO MANY TEARS. Oh my gosh. The emotions. Oh my goodness. And then the just being a jerk, which is so hard for all of us. Oh my. Nine.

The good part of having two close together used to be that I got a doubler of every year. Now the good part of having two close together is that I can see the light at the end of the Tunnel of Nine. It's still just a speck in the distance right now... but I know it's there.....

So, if you're on the fence about having two children close together, my advice is, DO IT! Or, DON'T DO IT! It's wonderful and terrible all mixed together, just like every day of every life of every person in the world.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Progress, Regress, Rinse, Repeat.

I have four daughters, as most of you know: Anja, Greta, Elka and Ingrid. 

Anja and Greta are only sixteen months apart in age, so most of their early first two years are just a blur in my memory, when I was sure I was doing everything exactly wrong, when I felt I'd lost all of who I was to motherhood, and couldn't imagine there would ever BE a light at the end of the tunnel, I was so far away from it. But about the time Greta turned two, we all seemed to turn a corner together and realize that, hey! This was GREAT! The summer that Anja and Greta were a 3 and a 2 year old still lives as one of my absolute favorites. We just had so much fun. I dressed them in matching outfits every chance I got, we sang together, we drew together, we gardened together, and for the most part, they got along beautifully. It was so good, in fact, that I warned Martin that if we didn't have another baby soon, it might not happen, because I was beginning to not be able to imagine life any other way.

Three months after Greta turned 3, Elka was born. She was an answer to many prayers and that summer was another one of absolute perfection. She was an ideal baby that whole first year, my little June Treasure who could do no wrong. She slept well, she ate well, she was hilarious, and even during her 9 month sleep regression I remember being up in the night thinking how wonderful it was to have that one-on-one time with her.

Then Elka turned one. And she was very active and got bored easily and if I didn't give her something to DO, she was making mischief or screaming. She wanted to walk everywhere and climb everything. She was suddenly very difficult! She hit all her gross motor and language milestones super early, and it was as if after having Anja and Greta, who were pretty late bloomers in terms of milestones (especially Anja,) I just didn't know what to do.

That started a pattern with Elka, which is clearly continuing into her sixth year. The pattern is to grow out of her comfort zone, not know how to handle that growth, and be kind of a beast until she figures it out. This is so unlike how Anja and Greta have gone along that it still throws me for a loop ALL THE TIME. Now we're getting into school agedness with her, and I think, "You are clearly old enough to act better than this!" in a lot of situations where she just seems to be throwing fits like a two year old. I guess it's a combination of having big emotions and a very short fuse, along with thriving on responsibility, which can't always be given. I have watched her blossom in situations like being in the dentist chair alone, being the oldest child in a group, being a part of a group of children led by a non-parent adult, even when the activity was insanely long and boring. She has the ABILITY to be a perfect angel, and she will go spans of time exercising that ability with grace, during which time I rejoice and soak it all up. And then something as simple as her *thinking* someone had eaten all of her pretzels will send her into a full-blown, on the ground, kicking screaming fit. And I accept it and try to work through it and I even see progress in that fit, because she's not reacting with violence toward anything else, and that is a step in the right direction!

Of course when progressions are upon us, it's vividly clear and I can see, "oh! That's why she was so frustrated before!" A good example is reading. She went through a terrible behavioral regression right as she was on the verge of reading. Then, once she got it, she was a saint. She could distract herself with a book before she let her emotions get the best of her. And I realized, aha! She had been frustrated in her inability to read. She learned to read very much by herself and very much in private, as a late five year old. She knew she could do it, she devoted herself, and she conquered, but not without making the rest of us suffer.

Today was another good example. She woke up in a great mood, she got ready for church like a champ, and was awesome on the walk there. But once we got there, she was NOT on her best behavior. I was getting frustrated with her because she's gone through a long time of being EXCELLENTLY behaved at church, week after week. But suddenly these past weeks she's being so difficult again! I'm trying to recognize that she must be on the verge of a progressive leap of some sort, even though I don't know what is going on, and even though she's really testing my patience. From Mass, we walked home a new way and found a hidden Sharing Garden (which we'd been told about but hadn't been able to find until today.) We stopped and pulled weeds for awhile, and Elka was absolutely in her element. She pulled weeds and observed all the vegetables, and was a really good little worker the whole time we were there, then she cut two red zinnias for herself. In a garden with work to do, she feels like she has a purpose. Growing and tending are her passions and she blossoms (haha, punny, punny!) when she is put into a situation where she knows what to do and can do it with confidence. She likes to be brave. She likes to be responsible. And as a little sister, I think she struggles with finding opportunities like that.

Today has been mostly a progression day of behavior and attitude for Elka, as she's been awesome the whole rest of the day since stumbling onto that Share Garden. Some days just aren't like that. The good news is that every regression is a little less severe than the last and the progressions do keep happening. I'm predicting that once we start our school year she will have another bump in maturity--she does really well with being given a task to complete. She LOVES workbooks, and even though she writes "I Don't Like Copywork" on all her copy work sheets, I can tell she really does like it. She's also a great reader now, so that will help her keep up with her sisters in a lot of areas, AND she's learned to knit! Another activity she can do alongside her sisters with minimal frustration!

I know we'll hit another bump in a road. We will backtrack and have to deliberately work on keeping tempers in check. We'll have meltdowns over being unable to do something, or unable to do something "perfectly" (because she's a hot-tempered perfectionist, which is about the worst combination I can imagine!) and we'll have boredom-induced fits of nutty, aggressive behavior. But we'll just have to work through it, one regression at a time, and keep our eye on the inevitable progressions that will (please, please, please) follow.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The School Year is Looming

Well, whaddaya know.. it's August again.

If we're speaking in averages, August is "on average" my second least favorite month of the year. (The first is a tie between February and March, depending on weather.) August 1st rolls around and suddenly everybody's all about Autumn. I don't understand it! In my heart August is still within the absolute best part of summer--everything is ripe! It's ALWAYS warm! (Except a few years back when we had "Auguary," where it rained and was only in the 50s for like two weeks and we had to wear sweaters and jackets every day and it was absolutely horrible.) We can spend all our time outside! And a big reason Summer is the best: nobody judges you for being lazy in the summer! Because, "Oh, I understand, it's so hot." In the wintertime, if you're feeling unable to function because it's so cold, you're just a wimp, but in the summertime, weather is a totally acceptable excuse for not getting anything done. And the best part of August: We're still on summer break!


I think the reason people equate August with Autumn is because--well, except for their very similar spellings--August is when school starts back up. Summer vacation is over. Officially. It's back to early bedtimes, packed lunches, homework, after-school sports, signing permission slips, losing your lunch money, forgetting to bring something for show-and-tell, having to endure the humiliation of being called up to the blackboard to solve a math problem that you have no idea how to even begin.... And it's somewhere among that black hole of school memories that I realize--



We do start school in August, because after all the school systems have started back it feels kind of boring to not be doing school, but I feel so fortunate to be able to put it off until the end of the month rather than jumping into full-blown Fall when the tomatoes have just begun to get ripe. It doesn't feel natural!

This brings me to the actual point of this post, if I ever have a point, which sometimes I do, but it usually gets lost in all the tangents along the way. The point of this post is to say that FINALLY after however many years of homeschooling, I feel really confident in my chosen course. Homeschooling is getting really popular in my area, which has given me the opportunity to talk to a number of different families this summer about what their homeschool paths look like. It has been really neat to hear all the different mixtures of curriculums, methods, philosophies, and schedules that different families have found. There are SO many options! In years past when I heard of different methods of home education I either felt overwhelmed, or inadequate. But this year for the first time, I feel one hundred percent confident in the structure of our upcoming year. I'm even a little bit looking forward to it! Okay, that last part is kind of a lie.... I wish it could be summer forever. Especially since this one started out being so terrible but has since turned around and goodness, we have just been having the nicest days! But, the calendar rolls on, so I have been planning and preparing. We've ordered some books and maps, and each girl got a brand new eraser, which they were really kind of oddly excited about. I still need a few more things, but for the most part we're ready to roll. It's so freeing to hear about other people's plans and see with great clarity that their method would not work for us. I love the feeling of being able to encourage someone along their chosen path while saying frankly, "that is really not something I would be good at, but I'm so glad it works for you!" Because I AM glad it works for them. Because if we all did homeschool the exact same way that wouldn't be very homeschooly. Well, I mean, it would be SCHOOLing at HOME, but without the whole idea of freedom and doing your own thing, you understand.

Likewise, I can see the pictures of my friends' children setting off on their first day of buildingschool and I can be really happy for them! In fact, I may even get a little misty-eyed. Because I don't think buildingschool is terrible! I think it would not be the best choice for my children at this time.

My plan is to start our kitchen table schooling on August 27th, and I will NOT enjoy a pumpkin spice latte on that day because it will NOT be Fall yet, even though we'll be back at the books. And I intend to enjoy and savor this year, because I really think it's going to be a good one. And even if it's not, it'll be the only school year I get with a Pre-K, 1st, 4th, and 5th grader so I'd better live it up!

I wish all of you the best of luck in the new school year, no matter what your school looks like!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Rainy Day Fun Times

We've had a span of cool, rainy days here and while it's been kind of nice, in July I'd rather have the hot summery weather. Salads and pools and creek days, and getting by with as few clothes as is appropriate. That's what I love.

Still, yesterday--the third straight day of rain--was the last day for this little scavenger hunt one of our bookstores hosted this month. So we woke up and the girls were ready to hit the town looking for Waldo. It's a Waldo celebration, and I guess it's going on nationwide, but Waldo is hidden in all these little small shops downtown and we had to find him in each store and have the store clerk sign our little paper, which let me tell you, by the end of yesterday morning that paper was looking pretty sad and soggy.

We got our sweaters, we got our umbrellas, and off we went. We started with the best smelling bakery, and ended the morning at the coffee shop where Martin was able to meet us. Being the end of the month, our bank account was empty, which was A VERY GOOD THING, because otherwise I would have spent all our fortunes on baked goods, coffee, books, and antiques throughout the day. As it was, I got by only spending a few dollars on a truffle for each of us at a chocolate shop and a cup of coffee for Martin and me. Lucky me! We were quite wet when we came back home for lunch, but that didn't stop us! We went back out after lunch! We were determined to get all the stamps we needed to be entered into the drawing at the WALDO PARTY that was being held that night at the bookstore. We really wanted a chance at winning the deluxe set of Waldo books!

(There were a few kind of frightening experiences... the Waldo to be found was about three inches tall. Some places had him near the front counter, but some places were quite large--like the ANTIQUE STORE--and the smiling lady was just like, "good luck!" Aaaahhh!!!! I think we spent more than half an hour looking for him there. It was very fun, but a little stressful, haha! Thankfully, having something to look for kept curious hands off the shelves upon shelves of Extremely Breakable and in some cases Very Valuable items. Whew!)

We finished just after 5:00 when everything was closed for the day and we had *just* the exact number required to enter the drawing. The party was scheduled for 6:00 so we zipped home for a quick dinner, then walked back down to the bookstore, which was...


They are never open on Tuesdays, but at ten after six the store was still locked and dark. There was another family waiting outside, just as disappointed and confused as we were. We all were checking on social media for an explanation, but could find none. The mother of the other family sent a message to the shop owners, we looked for a mail slot to drop in our stamp sheets for the drawing, but there was none. We waited around for half an hour.

During that half hour, we talked to this family, and I can never believe what a small world it is! Inevitably, the "where do you go to school" question came up. I always feel so self-conscious about homeschooling, even though I believe in it so firmly, and am so confident that it is the right path for us at this time. I still don't like the feeling of being labeled as weirdos by the rest of society. But guess what! This family is also a homeschooling family! Not only that, but they had just joined one of the homeschooling groups that a number of my friends are members of! And NOT ONLY THAT, but it turned out the husband of this family works at the same company as Martin! All these similarities were just unbelievable! Phone numbers were exchanged, and we went our separate ways at the intersection.

It's funny, but nobody in our family really cared that much about party not happening. I was disappointed for the kids' sake, but they didn't really seem too bothered. We had had a GREAT day, and yes, the end goal was the party, but even though it didn't happen, we still had a super fun day. I'm so glad my girls pushed me to get out the door and wander around in a downpour. I'm so glad they are so easily excitable. I'm thankful for big fun on small funds. I'm thankful for our community and all it's little corners--the small business corner, the homeschooling corner, the bookworm corner (we went into a bookstore we'd never visited before and it was hard to drag Anja away!) All the people working at these stores were SO kind and welcoming. The men at the game store, the women at the chocolate shop, the familiar and the unfamiliar faces, they all were just so nice and enthusiastic. Many of the participating businesses are ones we frequent, but some of them I had never visited before, or had not visited in years. The goal of the hunt was to get people into shops that were outside their habits, and I think that goal was achieved. I've got a lot of places in my mind for Christmas shopping now that are not!

Later that night I got a nice text from the mother of the family we'd met--she'd heard back from the bookstore saying they had rescheduled the party for Friday. I'm happy it's going to happen anyway! And I have a feeling it will be even a better time for us, since the kids won't be totally wiped out from walking all over town all day in the rain!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hobbley Flobbley, My Lymph Node

Here's a long, ridiculous story. Every part of it is ridiculous and it just keeps getting more ridiculous as time goes on. It starts more than a year ago. (Let me just say before you read further, because it might sound alarming, EVERYTHING IS FINE.)

Sometime in the early spring of 2017 I noticed that I had a swollen lymph node in my neck. I was only moderately concerned, so I did what I would do in almost every circumstance: nothing. I just waited for it to go away. It didn't go away, and I found another one under my chin shortly after, so Martin convinced me to see a doctor. The doctor was unconcerned, saying they felt okay, and they are likely being caused my my teeth, which have always had issues. I let it go for some months until one morning last July I woke up to find lots of my lymph nodes were puffed up and I thought, "Oh great. This is bad." I zipped off to my favorite urgent care with my favorite doctor and he showed legitimate concern and did a full blood panel, and when he came in and said my blood work looked PERFECT, my nerves celebrated. After awhile all those puffed nodes went down except for the original ones in my neck and under my chin, as well as the ones in my leg, which is really called "groin" which is a seriously creepy word, so I'm just going to say LEG.

Over the next six months I monitored them, asked my doctor about them, and eventually in December saw a surgeon to talk about removal. He also was largely unconcerned, saying they *could* be lymphoma, but probably weren't, however, if I wanted to have one taken out and checked it was a NoBigDeal surgery. I was glad to hear he thought they were nothing and told him I'd think about it, and left. I didn't call him, but I did think about it, all through Christmas, all through spring, and into the summer. Eventually I realized that the not-knowing factor was eating me alive. I finally decided that even though it was probably nothing, it was definitely not worth the anxiety of keeping it. So in June I went back to see the surgeon. (Super nice guy!) He again gave me peace of mind, but understood if I wanted it looked at just to be certain, and I did, so a few days later on a Friday I went in and he and his nurse, Mary (WONDERFUL MARY) just cut that little bean right out of my leg and sent it off to pathology. The procedure was nothing--no worse than having a cavity filled, except better because instead of having my mouth propped open, I got to chat about gardens and children while they worked on me. I can be a chatty patient.

This is where it gets obnoxious. The weekend was fine, my leg hardly hurt at all. It was just a scratchy-bruisey feeling. I went on with my life, and it seemed to be healing up nicely until about the middle of last week when it seemed to have turned down Not So Fine Road. It was super swollen, rock-hard, and it was hurting a lot--the pain was spreading all down my leg. I called Mary and told her about it on Friday, exactly a week after the surgery--she said keep an eye on it for the weekend and if it still hurt on Monday to call her back. Well, it did still hurt on Monday but I didn't call, because I'm one of those idiots who thinks, "maybe it will be better tomorrow..." (which is never is.) By Monday night I could see that my healing had veered onto Infection Avenue and on Tuesday I called Mary again. She was very apologetic about the doctor not being in until Thursday and agreed that it wasn't right to be still hurting this much after a week and a half, so she made me an appointment for Thursday afternoon, which was the earliest she could do. Meanwhile, I'm having a hard time walking and I can't invite my kids to sit on my lap, the pain is radiating everywhere. Still I was telling myself that it would probably be better the next day, but then before bed on Tuesday, a week and a half after having the lymph node removed, I got a little fever and the incision spot was super red and hot. I have no medical training but I've been alive in the world for long enough to know that fever + pain + red + hot = infection. I weighed my options and even though it was 9:00, which is bedtime, and the kids were getting ready for bed, I thought I could zip to the E.R. and get an antibiotic and be on the Healing Highway. I thought I'd be gone just an hour or two and it would be simple, and I'd be going before the crazies showed up at the ER.

Well, I was definitely right about the getting there before the crazies--when I arrived I was about the only person there, and during my three hours there the crazies definitely started showing up. I was wrong, however, about the people in the ER doing anything worthwhile or helping me in any way at all. Or even being nice people! They were super invasive and borderline rude and when I acted friendly toward the doctor she looked at me like I had three heads. They stuck a giant IV in my arm, drew a bunch of blood and did a freaking sonogram on my incision. I tried to converse with them and they were not having it. (Except the sonogram technician who was very sweet.) Martin was sending me texts that the girls were not going to sleep, not cooperating, and/or melting down. Greeeeaaat. I just wanted an antibiotic prescription and to be sent on my merry way, but that wasn't happening.

Three hours later, the doctor came back and told me there was nothing wrong with me and to take some Tylenol. WHAT?!? I said, are you sure?! I have a fever and this looks pretty infected?! She gave me a death glare and repeated what she'd said.

I. Was. Livid.

One of the grumpy, jaded young nurses came back and took my end of visit vitals and had the nerve to ask if my heart rate was always so high. I explained to her that I was pretty upset. She didn't care. I think she gave a weak "hmmm.... sooooorrryyyyyy..." under her breath.

So I struggled through the 4th of July, which was superbly boring, I binged on potato salad and green beans, and just simmered until today when I could go to my previously scheduled appointment with my surgeon, where I relayed (much more kindly) the Emergency Room experience and he was very surprised. He took one look at my incision and couldn't believe they'd told me to just take Tylenol. He called in a prescription for an antibiotic and drained the seroma that had formed. And while he said it's true that it hadn't become a terrible infection yet, it needed to be done because it wasn't going to get better the way things were going. Above all, he was SO KIND. He kept apologizing for this happening and told me I was handling it better than he would. He asked me if I was wishing for my lymph node back, and I told him honestly that I still am not--the stress of that little node was too much!

I could never be a surgeon or a nurse. Talk about nasty! They literally cut me open and drained old blood and fluid out of my *LEG* (if you've forgotten where this incident takes place, check the second paragraph.) So now I have a gaping wound that I HAVE TO PACK TWICE A DAY I AM SO GROSSED OUT, and I'm still furious about my emergency room visit, mostly because they just were so not nice to me. And also because I'm going to get a bill for millions of dollars that I don't have, for being told that nothing was wrong and that I should just take Tylenol. UGH! So mad! RAWR!

In the end, though, I'm still celebrating the glorious fact that the lymph node was totally normal (actually it was labeled "reactive" and nobody seems to know or care what's making it that way...) and my blood tests are all totally normal, because that news is totally worth the absolutely revolting wound packing that is going to be happening for the next few days.

So, if you've happened to have seen me hobbling around over the past week or so, now you know why! I kept it quiet to keep anyone from worrying, but now that I've had an *ANNOYING* experience, I needed to shout it out. SHOUT!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Beloved Summer Pastime of Eradicating Pantry Moths

I don't think I ever blogged about our pantry moths.

Actually, I know I didn't. Because I remember starting a post about them and then thinking, "this is just too embarrassing!" and I never posted it.

So, here I am, posting about it now. Because it's been a year and we're still dealing with them, and I don't care how gross it is, I NEED HELP.

When I advertise that we live in an urban cottage, it's pretty much true. By square footage it's bigger than a cottage, but it has a very cottagy feel with it's low ceilings, it's non-minimalist decor, and it's shabbiness. It also has a lot of flaws, and a lot of bugs. We live in a very damp area of the river valley and so we have a constant ant problem (when an area entomologist was consulted it was basically a "too bad for you, you're never getting rid of them" scenario) among other crawly things. We just have a lot of bugs, and since they aren't snakes (further up the hill in both directions there are tons of snakes!) or bats (I love bats, but not in my house,) I consider myself lucky.

Last summer I came out one night from putting the girls to bed to find Martin watching something on the wall above our little freestanding pantry in kitchen. He said, "Look at this little inchworm. It started out way down here, and now it's all the way up here!" He was really impressed by the progress of this little yellow "inchworm."

I took a look. Oh, gag. "Um, that's not an inchworm. O-M-G. Martin, that's a maggot." I was horrified. I almost threw up. I'm can take a lot of grossness, but maggots making their way up my kitchen wall is about at the limit of what I can handle. And then it got worse. We looked around the corner and saw a whole collection of them crawling along the hallway ceiling. I was ready to light a match and burn the house down right then and there.

At first I was too disgusted to even think, but after the maggots had all been flushed, I considered the problem and where it could be coming from. We didn't have flies, or any other critters that I would necessarily consider maggoty. The only thing we really had a lot of were ants and moths.


Then I realized that part of our glorious summer (last summer was really a great one) had been spent admiring the moths in the pantry. Every time I'd open the pantry door a little host of moths would flutter out. Sometimes we'd catch them and release them outside the kitchen door, but mostly we just let them be because the girls and I thought they were sweet and beautiful, and what harm could a moth do, anyway?


You guys, I didn't know about pantry moths. I didn't know they were a thing, so when I was living in harmony with the moths in my pantry, I had no idea that they were eating and pooping and birthing in my dry goods. I HAD NO IDEA. I don't even remember what clued me into the idea of pantry moths, but Google can solve all the problems of the world and it was discovered that that was our problem. We stayed up half the night clearing out the pantry and finding little collections of webs and *more maggots* on every shelf. (Even just writing this is making my skin crawl and it was almost a year ago. You can see why I was embarrassed to talk about it!) Then we were absolute crazy people about keeping moths out of the pantry and out of our life.

Except, it's not an easy fix. The good news is, they've remained confined to what we call "the bird room," which is the bedroom next to the kitchen where we keep our parakeets. I'm pretty sure that the Bird Room is where these nasty things emerged from in the first place, in some batch of long-ago purchased birdseed. And since we don't keep any of our people food in that room, it's better that the problem be there than in our kitchen, but STILL. I would rather the problem be GONE. Almost every day I go into that room and kill between fifteen and fifty pantry moths. I kill all that I can see. And then the next day THEY'RE BACK. I have no idea where they're coming from and no idea how to stop them. Are we getting more with each new bag of birdseed we buy? Will they not be eradicated until the parakeets are all dead? And don't parakeets live for practically ever?!?

This morning when we were cheerfully getting ready for our day, Ingrid and I spied a moth outside the bird room. Then there were more--there were about six moths fluttering around in the hallway and we went into full attack mode. She had her strip of toilet paper and I had my tennis-racquet bug zapper thingy and we tackled the problem without mercy. They just kept appearing. They are worse than they've ever been and I'm losing my mind over it. While it's pretty cute to see Ingrid excitedly leaping around in her undies trying to nab moths with her tiny bit of toilet paper and her poor coordination, I really wouldn't miss giving up this summertime activity.


I will be forever grateful.

P.S. You may remember last summer that I did post about our bout with lice. One of the reasons I was embarrassed to post about our moth problem was that the moths and the lice were happening at the same time. Imagine finding maggots on your ceiling and bugs living in your daughters' hair within days of each other. If my self confidence as a clean human had been low before, you can imagine how far down in the dungeon it was dwelling during those weeks of infestation. Yeesh!

Monday, June 11, 2018

What do you do with a Regression?

As we approached the end of our homeschool year I was filled with plans for the summer. Everything was going SO WELL. Our mornings were spent schooling, but in the afternoons the girls would be occupied for hours playing outside, climbing the tree, sidewalk chalking, playing on the swingset... there were not enough hours in the day for us to get in all our play, and the play that happened was a picture of harmony. It was beautiful.

For about three weeks.

When we ended school for the year, I had a list of books I wanted to read, I vowed to keep an immaculate house, and I even decided that this would be the summer that I really wrote something substantial. I felt like it was the perfect time, seeing as my children got along so well and were so independent. Three of them are solid readers, Ingrid's potty issues seemed to have resolved themselves, and even the annoying quirk of Elka not wanting to go into separate rooms of the house alone was apparently an outgrown habit. Anja and Greta had begun making their own breakfasts and both could reach the kitchen tap, which meant two less people asking me for water throughout the day. I felt like a free person. This was my time. This would be three months of focusing on my own creative outlets for the first time in years, and I was pumped.

I don't understand how they knew. I don't know what prompted them to regress to utter savagery as soon as I announced that we were done with our school year.  I don't know what kind of super-powered brainwave readers they've got hidden in their bedroom laboratory, but it was only the second or third day of our summer break before I thought. WHAT. THE HECK. HAPPENED. My big plans for lazy days at the patio table reading and sipping sun tea were smashed. All the short stories swimming around in my head that I was finally going to write? Ha! Not a word. I have been working so hard just to keep up with the constant needs of these girls, I haven't had time to do much of anything for myself. (Although I did read a very zippy biography on Hans Christian Andersen that was written for children, but that's for another blog post.) Friday night was stormy so I got out the paints for all of us to paint at the table together. It ended with Ingrid painting the kitchen floor using her body as a paintbrush. It was not an especially productive or meditative painting session for me.

The fault really is mine, though. I was delusional, as usual. Just like I don't leave for my obligations until the actual time they start because I don't understand physics--or life really--I somehow thought that having my children UNOCCUPIED for THE ENTIRETY OF THE DAY was going to make less work for me. What?! WHAT?! Why on earth did I think that?! It's because I don't understand life, that's why.

Also, one of my best talents is forgetting. So, I guess I just forgot. I forgot about wet swimsuits seven times a day. I forgot about the mud play. I forgot about the scattering of dirt across every floor, the bits of nature left on every surface, the need to change clothes every few hours, the constant hunger, and the boredom that comes from days upon days of undevoted time. I forgot about the drippy nature of summertime snacks and the necessary cleanup that follows. (And, depending on the mood, the tears.)

And they must have inherited my talent for forgetting because it seems they've forgotten a lot as well.  Like how their legs work. Since I'm not so clearly busy instructing anymore, they seem to view me as just their errand runner. "Can you please bring me my marker box?" "Will you bring me my coloring book?" "Oops, I dropped that bit of string next to my chair. MAMA I CAN'T POSSIBLY LEAN OVER TO PICK UP MY STRING MAMA PICK UP MY STRING FOR ME WAAAAAHHHH"and so on.

Also forgotten: How to flush.

And the biggest thing I myself forgot, of course, was that the whole idea with homeschooling is training your children to go through life in an always-learning mental state. This means questions about everything. Talking about everything. So, if I'm not reading to them, if I'm not actively teaching them, they are observing in everything they do--(WHICH IS A REALLY GOOD THING)--and they are asking questions about absolutely...... everything. Every bug. Every plant. Every thought. Every moment of wondering. Some of these questions turn into excellent conversations that make me glad we're continuing along our Path of Passive Learning during the summer months. But sometimes the questions are more... bizarre. Like last night, when Ingrid was falling asleep (At ELEVEN O'CLOCK because our sleep schedule was wacky this weekend!) and she got really excited with this idea about magic fingers that could talk, and you could talk to your fingers and ask them to pick up something and they would, and I thought...... isn't that just, like, the nervous system? But she was so excited about her idea that I played along and told her how amazingly cool that would be. This is a good example of the conversations that happen with Ingrid around here. They generally range from "kinda weird" to "super weird."

In the end, I'm glad it's going this way. I could do without the sister squabbles, but I know even those have their place. (Although the screaming and hitting is getting old.) Endless empty hours to fill are part of summertime and I'm glad they're getting a break from the more rigid school year. Next year Anja and Greta will be in 5th and 4th grades, which means a more regimented school year learning heavier topics, so I'm not sorry to see them idling away these carefree days. And maybe with heavier bookwork for them I'll end up getting my own creative time. Until then, I'll just try to be content with wiggling in times for myself where I can, knowing that our summers of this style are going to end before I know it. I saw a meme the other day that said "You only get 18 summers with your child." Waterworks! Eighteen is not a very big number and I'm halfway done with two of my children! I've never jumped aboard the "Word for the Year" movement, but I like to think about words that could fit my life, and one would definitely be Savor. I'm pretty good at savoring the moments, but I could always be better, especially when I start itching to ship the kids far away so I can just have some time to do my own thing. I'm going to work hard at reminding myself, when I feel that way, that I've only got eighteen short summers of finding unflushed toilets, so I'd better savor it while I can!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

That Time My Daughter Folded All the Laundry

Out of my four daughters, only Greta is exceptionally clean. She really appreciates cleanliness and hygiene; she showers every other day and very thoroughly. She's an obsessive hand-washer. She keeps her drawer organized the Kon-Mari way, picks up toys without being asked (not always, but frequently,) and has been known to wash the dishes for me. But her really big thing is laundry. She likes to have all her clothes clean and in her drawers, at all times. (Impossible. Sorry, G.) She isn't tall enough to reach the knobs for the washer (we have an apartment size stack unit,) or the detergent, but she IS able to climb up and get the clothes out of the dryer, then put the wet clothes in to dry. And sometimes she helps me fold clothes, especially if she's feeling upset about something, it's always been kind of her way to hang out with me and talk things out.

Laundry is only halfway my favorite part of housework. I really enjoy the DOING of the laundry--the sorting, the washing, the switching, the drying, and so on--but when it comes to folding and putting away... I suck. And while I may have the World's Tiniest Washing Machine, I make up for that by having the World's Most Enormous Laundry Basket! And it's usually OVERFLOWING.

So, a few days ago--who knows what I was doing all day--it was the first day of our official summer break from homeschool. It was a little funny because the girls didn't know quite what to do with themselves without our morning school routine, but I guess I had plenty to do, because I did not experience the same level of boredom. Toward the end of the day it somehow comes out that all day long Greta had been folding clothes... THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE LAUNDRY BASKET. Matched socks, undies put away, each person with her own pile, then tucked nicely into each assigned drawer. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. It was a total gift, and I gave her all the tremendous thanks she very much deserved, but on the inside, I was weeping. I felt like the laziest slug of all. How could a NINE YEAR OLD finish the chore that had been hanging over me SINCE CHRISTMAS?!? How could I have gone so long without accomplishing that simple piece of work? It took Greta a big part of the day, but SHE DID IT. Why couldn't I do it? It wasn't just that I was lazy... Every day I woke up staring at that overflowing laundry basket and every day I vowed to tackle it, and to conquer it once and for all. And every night I'd got to my bed, and there that laundry basket would be. Just sitting there. Still full. Laughing at me. WHY WAS IT SO HARD TO JUST GET THE LAUNDRY FOLDED?!?!?

I did mention my regret over this aloud in front of the girls. I couldn't keep it in, I felt SO BAD. And do you know what I was met with? Greta told me it was just her way of helping out because she didn't know what to do all day without having any school work to do, and Elka chimed in saying that I don't have time to fold the laundry because I'm busy doing so much other work during the day.

It really was a comfort to hear that, but at the same time, I was doubtful. I mean, truly, WHAT am I getting accomplished in my days? I have four children who are almost entirely independent. I have no diapers, no nap times, I can let them play outside by themselves, they can even get their own cups of water when they're thirsty. SO WHAT AM I DOING!??

After a few days of thinking it over and really observing my days, I've figured it out: I do nothing. So much of my day is filled with mundane nothing tasks. The little girls still like me to stay in the bathroom with them, so I end up spending SO MUCH TIME just standing in my bathroom, usually listening to weird stories or dreams from the night before. I spend a lot of time trying in vain to fix Unfixable Objects--broken toys, broken sticks, broken bananas. More listening to dreams. I make food... Oh my gosh, SO MUCH FOOD. Then I clean up the food. And while the food is still being consumed, Elka always drops her fork at least three times. I sort drawings into "keep" or "toss" piles. I watch. So much watching. I watch people stand on one leg and hop. I watch people make funny faces in the mirror. I watch people ride their bikes with their legs sticking out. I also read freshly written stories and am privileged to view new dollhouses made of empty butter boxes. I vacuum a million times a day because #NEWFOUNDLANDLIFE.

All that food prep and clearing creates dishes to be washed. Martin usually calls in the afternoon to talk, during his break between work clients.  Elka and Ingrid still love finding pictures in their food, so I spend an absolutely ridiculous amount of my days observing (and taking pictures of!) bits of food that look (to only them) like funny objects.

(Pictured: A "cave" in a.... I don't even want to know what that piece of utterly unrecognizable food is. Ew.)

I admit that I do a lot of daily yard work. Our yard is a wild beast that needs tamed and it's very hard to keep up with. Slowly I've been taming it--basically turning the whole thing into garden beds. I do this while the girls play outside, and from the yard I can't see my laundry basket.

Ingrid, being only freshly four, is still very enthusiastic about things like swimsuits and fancy dress-up dresses, but she needs some assistance with the straps and clasps and zippers and whatnot. And of course, with arms through leg holes and heads through arm holes, comes lots of crying. And comforting.

Then, a lot of the days, I actually take them places.

(At Happy Hollow Park)
Or help them navigate domestic experiments.

(Elka and Anja made their own sourdough starters from scratch... Elka's is doing REALLY well.)

And there's still the set up and light monitoring that comes with our normal, every day activities. 
(Painting. Always.)

And really, when I think about it, my house is a lot cleaner than it was when I was holding babies all day every day.

So, gosh, what DO I do all day? So little. So much. There are many days when I think I could probably slip away and these girls could run the house themselves perfectly smoothly. The only thing that would be really lacking (besides nutritious food, because let's face it, my girls' favorite thing to cook is chocolate cake and if I were out of the picture they'd be eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is the watching and the affirmation. And even still, sometimes once they're tucked into bed at the end of the day, I feel like I didn't watch them enough. I didn't pay close enough attention to that newly learned somersault, or I didn't really listen so carefully to that exceedingly drawn out story of something funny that had just happened. I'm here listening and watching all day long, and still it doesn't always feel like enough. I often wish I could find the time in a day to write down every cute thing they do all day long because tomorrow they won't be doing it anymore. I'm so busy soaking up their childhoods spent with me that I guess I don't care about the laundry as much as it should. That's what it comes down to.

I am SO appreciative of the work Greta put in to help give me a restart on my laundry debacle. I've vowed to keep up with it and quickly fold each tiny load as it comes out of the dryer instead of saving  it for later until it builds up to be an insurmountable task. And Greta learned about giving and helping and gifts of service and love, so that's hard to regret. But in thinking it over, I see that my days are full of very important tasks of listening and loving, and if that means Mount Laundry gets a little scary, well, so be it. I have plenty of years ahead of me to sit and fold laundry quietly without missing out on anything else. For now, I might just let it grow right alongside these funny girls.