When the house is quiet

kidsbacktoschoolWake up, breakfast, uniforms, shoes, hairstyles, filling water bottles, noisy car-ride, walking my precious five-year-old to a classroom she wasn’t sure she could remember how to get to, watching my new middle-schooler heading into a day of several classrooms she wasn’t sure she could remember how to get to.

First day of school.  For five of my kids.

First day of Kindergarten.  For my little Mary Lu.

First day of MIDDLE SCHOOL.  For my eldest, Anna.

And so my home was still, save for the two-year-old blondie officiating an imaginary swim meet and shouting “On your marks, get set, go!” into an empty toothpaste box.

She does a decent job filling the silences, but what she can’t fill is the empty space, missing laughter, or thundering footsteps.

I loved having my older kids home for the summer, and while I think we were all ready for a return to hurry-up mornings and brown-bag lunches, the stillness and quiet reminds me that they are not here, with me, but somewhere else.  And it hurts my heart a little bit, knowing I’m missing out on hearing their childlike thoughts and laughing at their jokes and listening to their stories.  When I run an errand during the day now we’ll take the smaller car, and I won’t even have my other blondie with me to giggle at Alice’s antics or share a slushie and popcorn at Target.

When you homeschool like we did for five whole years, you find your reasons for homeschooling, the things you say when you smile and tell people about your life, and about why exactly it is that you have all these kids with you during the day.  One of those for me was always that, simply, I love the company of my kids.  They’re a kick.  I need my space too, and could often be heard shouting “GIVE ME SOME SPACE”, but still I liked them here–learning and laughing, and just being.  It was the hardest thing to give up last year as I saw them off for the first time, and entrusted them to teachers and peers, but I suspected it was best for them.  And it was.  It still is.  I want my children to have a rich education, to study hard and learn new things and experience the wonder of the world God made, and they are able to best do this in their school.  At home they like to play and swim and watch silly shows on Netflix, but at school they do things like learn art history and run a hundred miles.  Both are important, and both are necessary, and so I send them off each day in spite of blinking back the tears when I think about how my five-year-old went into her classroom without looking back, or wonder if my eleven-year-old will make it to where she needs to be.

And though I do this ultimately for them, the driving to and from school and ironing five pairs of khakis , I also know that it is, somehow, good for me too.  The ability to sit and be for a few hours, to take a small break from answering so many big questions, and to be able to spend time meal planning and cleaning and blogging.  All to the soundtrack of Alice rummaging in drawers and singing songs, yes, but still it’s different.  I can breathe a little bit, even with a little girl sitting on my lap and trying to drink my coffee, because I know my older children are safe and sound and learning good things.  They’re growing and changing and we support this journey that they’re on, as parents, and part of the journey necessitates they leave our home for part of the day.  To do Big Things.

So on the first day of school we drop them off and cry a little bit, and get texts from girlfriends who are also crying a little bit.  We wonder where the time went as we survey an empty backyard and lifeless trampoline.  We watch the clock, counting down the moments until we can swoop back in and ask how Kindergarten was and if kids found the bathroom okay, if friends were nice and if class was fun.  It’s a balancing act, this motherhood thing, living in the tension between letting them go and meeting their needs.  It’s clumsy and messy but I like to think of those two things as never actually being at odds, but in fact all part of the same goal, which is simply to love and to nurture.  Sometimes it means hugging them tight, and other times, watching them walk into a huge school building armed with a backpack and a confident-but-slightly-anxious heart.

It’s only the beginning of the letting go, I know.  We’ve not yet had to say goodbye to a child leaving for college or even for a week of summer camp.  But it starts now, in all these silly little ways, and as I sit in my quiet house I miss them but I’m so happy for them too.  And I’m happy for me, because being a mom is pretty much ALL OF THE THINGS, and at its core, it’s a very beautiful thing.  And no matter how quiet or still my house is, I’m their mother, sniffling and rejoicing through all of their milestones and accomplishments.  And so it’s good.

 

Why sometimes it’s okay to complain in the trenches

She ate all the strawberries. The same day I bought them. The struggle is real.

She ate all the strawberries. The struggle is real.

There’s presently a blog-post making the rounds, written by a woman who attended a Bible study where the other ladies complained about their husbands and kids, and consequently made her feel bad.  I’d seen it shared several times but didn’t read it–because for some reason I tend not to read articles about motherhood unless they’re laugh-out-loud funny or a little bit off-color.  Like the one about the lady who pooped in the closet.  Probably because I have eight children myself, and so I REALLY NEED TO LAUGH.

Anyway.

The other day, though, a friend of mine mentioned the post as we sipped margaritas by the pool (true story), in the context of “Did you read that article about the lady who didn’t like the ladies at the Bible study?”, and I said no, because it didn’t look very funny.  And she said that unlike everybody else, she didn’t really like it.  She felt like the author didn’t give those ladies a chance, and judged them for needing me-time, for needing a break from the kids.

So the next day I hunted around and found the piece, which was perfect because I’d already been thinking recently about the whole moms-who-like-sending-their-kids-off-to-school versus moms-who-are-appalled-by-moms-who-like-sending-their-kids-off-to-school thing that happens every single August.  EVERY AUGUST, I tell you!

And when I dug in and read the post, I confess that in some ways?  I actually found myself relating a bit to the author’s experience.  I have also been in groups where the complaining-to-gushing ratio seemed a tad, ahem, high, or where I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable (ostracized?) because of the number of children I have, and the number of gasps I hear when people in the group find OUT the number of children I have.  I’ll say too that when you’ve miscarried (like the blogger who wrote the article or, sadly, myself), you begin to know in a much more painful yet profoundly deep way just how much of a blessing pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood are.  To then hear people talking like they’re so disenchanted with their kids can be kind of, well, disheartening.  Because we know on this other (and frankly, terrible) level that there are NO guarantees, NO promises that a precious baby will live long enough to be born and held and seen.  Or be conceived, for that matter.

And when we ARE in the trenches–which so often I feel that I am–it is discouraging to see our vocation devalued, mocked, or belittled by others.  We need to know that what we’re doing, as mundane and tiring as it is, matters in a very real way, and that our sacrifices MEAN something.  Dying to self, struggling to say yes to God, loving in a radical way, I want those things to count.  To be embraced and aspired to, even amidst the challenges.  And so to hear women acting as if their kids are just WAY too much or WAY too horrible, or like being a present mother is JUST SO MISERABLE, is discouraging.  Hardly the inspiration we crave (and need!) to keep picking up our cross day after day, year after year, and following after Christ.  And I’ve met women who do this, who disparage motherhood/marriage/all of it and act as if it’s the Very Worst Thing.

So, I get it.  It’s too bad that the group wasn’t a good fit for her, and I’ve been there/done that so I know it stinks, and I’m glad she went on to find something that better met her needs for support and community.  She raises good points, and they’re points I’ve made for years.  Embracing motherhood.  Respecting your husband.  Loving your children.  Those are good things.

But, and maybe this was just the poolside margaritas talking, I somehow also understood and agreed with what my girlfriend was saying, too.

Because being a mother is HARD.  Like really, really hard.  Sometimes we ladies need to get together and commiserate and complain and make light-hearted jokes about our husbands not knowing how to make a sandwich.  (Incidentally mine does.  He makes himself sandwiches to take to work for lunch, when there aren’t any leftovers available.  Strangely he always puts this certain type of pickles on his sandwich, which he insists on buying in a ginormous jar from Costco that takes up MY ENTIRE FRIDGE.  When I see there are only a few pickles left in the jar, I gently suggest we throw it out because, you know, it’s taking up All the Space.  He always objects.  Says no.  Because pickles.)  I don’t think airing dirty laundry for no reason or in a disrespectful way is ever appropriate, but goodness, sometimes we need to share about and laugh/cry at our assorted trials.  Just like we need to delight in our vocation, we need the freedom to wrestle with it, too. 

Years ago I was part of a women’s Bible study.  This was pre-Catholicism and pre-not-joining-things-I-already-know-I’m-going-to-quit, back in the non-denominational days when respectable women like me joined Bible studies.  Plus my husband was commuting to work, and I was pregnant, and had three littles at home–so getting out of the house and connecting with other women sounded heavenly.  In theory.  Because in reality it was a pain in the neck to find street parking for my 1989 Lincoln Towncar (actually it was my husband’s, and no I’m not kidding), and the study didn’t really resonate with me because I’m weird like that, and the childcare lady had the gall to ask if my pregnancy was an accident (???!!!).  So there’s that.  Oh and just to clarify, I LOVE the Bible.  Just not the studies where people think I’m an idiot for being pregnant.  FYI.

Well, one morning people were sharing prayer requests.  Catholics call these “intentions”, but we Protestants called them “requests.”  And a mom shared how devastated she was that her teenaged daughter was caught cheating on a test at school.  This poor woman couldn’t understand why her daughter might do such a thing, and was so anxious about it, and broke down in tears as she wondered what she must have done wrong.

Now I actually happened to know this young girl, because she was in a Sunday School class I was teaching at the time. And she was pretty, funny, and kind, and even though my own daughter was three years old at the time, even back then I knew enough to know that kids do wacky stuff you wish they wouldn’t do.

And in spite of the number of seasoned moms in the room, you could have heard a pin drop when this mother asked for prayer.  Nobody said anything!  Not one word of encouragement or “Oh, I’ve so been there”, or “My kid messes up sometimes too”, or “Aren’t kids so hard sometimes?!”  Of course it’s possible that their children were perfect, but I kind of doubt it, and so this woman just sat there, sniffling and worrying and wiping her nose.  Finally I couldn’t handle it anymore (partly because, let’s face it, I detest awkward pauses), and in spite of being young and disenchanted with the study in the first place, I burst out with “I know your daughter!  She is such a joy to have in my class on Sunday mornings!  I think sometimes kids just mess up and make mistakes, but she’s wonderful, and whatever you’re doing as a mom is really good.”

Pretty sure my voice was trembling, because I don’t usually talk a ton in groups, especially those kinds of groups.  She thanked me for my no doubt random and unexpected contribution to the conversation, everybody else remained silent, and I ended up quitting the study shortly thereafter.

The less I had to drive that beast of a Lincoln Towncar, the better.

I’ve occasionally thought about this woman ever since.  She was looking for a space that was safe enough for her to share the trials of raising children, and to open up about her concerns for her daughter whom she loved so very much, as all mothers do.  Sadly, this wasn’t that space.  People liked going over the study guide and sharing how they filled in the blanks (unlike me, they actually did the homework), but nobody really seemed like they were being themselves.  Or talking about hard stuff.  Does that make sense?  Discussing an evangelical author’s personal opinion on the meaning of a Bible passage was of a higher order than, say, confessing the grit, pain, and joy found in the daily grind of motherhood.  And I know, I know.  It was a Bible study.  As in, a place where you go and study the Bible.  But I figure you can do that alone, at home.  The purpose of coming together is hopefully to build community and encourage one another, while going through the subject matter.

It just doesn’t do anyone any good to write off mothers who admit to their struggles, who have a hard time with the demands of modern motherhood, or who are questioning whether they’re cut out for this mothering thing in the first place.  These women aren’t terrible people, they’re human!  And children aren’t fragile cherub snowflakes that disintegrate if they leave the house each August, they’re human!  WE ARE ALL HUMAN, and life gets real messy, and we need a place where we can hold that tension of motherhood-as-blessing and motherhood-as-sorrow.  Kind of like, you know, our Blessed Mother.

That’s Mary, Jesus’ mom, for the non-Catholics among us.

I kind of think we need to make sure that our group–whether it’s a casual gathering of friends or a more official study group–is big enough to include ALL OF THE THINGS.  Friendship, laughter, complaining, hope, vulnerability, and beauty.  YES being a mother is a supreme gift, but YES it’s also exhausting, and I’m sorry but YES, me-time is important and NO, it’s not inherently selfish or wrong.  We mamas must care for ourselves, so that we can care for others!  I think we need to also give fellow women the benefit of the doubt, when they share about the hard stuff, and not assume they don’t love their children or their husbands.  Just my personal opinion, but I think moms-to-many, when people are aghast at our family size, need to be both joyful AND real in how we present the realities of large-family-life.  Because THERE BE SOME REALITIES.

Don’t believe me?  I can tell you that right now, at this very moment, there are pizza crusts on our stairs, and a ginormous smashed seashell in our driveway.  And no we don’t allow food out of the kitchen or dining room, and yes we live in Colorado–WHERE THERE IS NO SEA.  I have no idea where this shell came from or why my precious snowflakes though it a good idea to smash it to smithereens, OR why uneaten crusts are believed to belong in a high foot-traffic area, but darnit kids do weird things sometimes.

And so I’m really grateful that I have my people, that handful of friends I can open up to and share the hard stuff with, the frustrations and worries and concerns about the future.  They want my best, they don’t judge me (to my face anyway), and they love my children.  They give me grace.  I’m not a big complainer (at least I don’t think so), but sometimes I do complain.  And I’m always willing to listen to a friend who needs to get something off her chest, or vent or whatever.  Life is so messy and hard, no matter what!  We don’t have to pretend that we don’t live in this beautiful and difficult tension of being so very blessed while simultaneously being so very stretched.

When somebody meets me and finds out I have eight kids, they’ll often ask “How do you do it?!”  And I’ve tried out all kinds of answers over the years, but the one I’m rolling with now is, “Honestly, I don’t know.  You just do it.  And at the end of the day, if everyone’s in one piece, you call it good!”  Then I laugh.  Profound, right?  But it’s really kind of true.  And it’s also disarming, because all of a sudden they can breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not actually a magic superhero but just a normal mom.  With weaknesses and problems, but also a good strong dose of hope.  And that’s something that’s winsome, and relatable, and a way we can show we’re approachable and REAL.

And you know, there will always be women who resent motherhood, who feel stuck and alone and who might even wish they’d not had kids in the first place.  It’s sad and it’s regrettable, but heck, it’s true.  When I encounter these ladies I truly do feel compassion for them, because the journey to self-acceptance and self-sacrifice and, ultimately, making peace with who God created you to be, really kind of takes a lifetime.  No matter who you are.  But if you’re ALSO fighting against your very dignity as a woman, believing that having children somehow makes you “less than” or prevents you from achieving all of the world’s Very Important Goals, well, that makes everything ten times harder.  It can suck the joy right out of your life and other people’s lives, too.  No bueno.

So if you’re in a life phase where motherhood is all warm fuzzies and Sandra Boynton books, be glad!  Live out your calling with joy and great love.  Make motherhood look good, because it IS good.  But show grace, too.  Lots and lots and lots of grace.  Because there are other women out there who are really struggling right now, facing down a grown child’s drug addiction, or post-partum depression, or the daily over-and-over tragedy of a painful marriage.  And no matter WHO you are, if you’re in a group?  Be welcoming.  Extend friendship.  Make space for authenticity.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  Rejoice with the pretty young mama with all the babies, and all the happy feels about motherhood.  If a different mama expresses doubts or frustration or worry over a child who cheated on a test, get to know her.  Give her a hug.  Tell her IT IS SO HARD, and JUST KEEP SHOWING UP, and YOU NEED TO READ THE ARTICLE ABOUT THE LADY WHO POOPED IN THE CLOSET.

And, for the sake of all that is good and right about motherhood, spend your time with other women who make you feel safe, loved, and refreshed!  Drink margaritas, while your kids splash in the pool.  Vent about Josh Duggar, your favorite reality TV show, and whiny toddlers.  Mull over how to best cultivate a strong faith in your children, and which IKEA dining room table to buy.

It’s tough out there in the trenches, mamas, and we have to stick together.

007: Raccoon update, school mommy wars, and a new pet

Summer fun.

Summer fun.

The podcast is back!

It’s been a fabulous summer, but I’m back at it with assorted life updates and meaningless blather about stuff like the raccoons in our attic, and all the arguing about whether or not it’s A VERY BAD THING to be glad the kiddies are returning to school.  If you haven’t checked out my podcast before, go here to listen to previous episodes and subscribe!

Now They Go to School

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This morning I saw two of my kids off to school for the year, in spite of the blazing outdoor temps and shimmering backyard pool gently whispering to me that no, it is still summer.

Five of my other children won’t resume reading and writing for two more blissful, summer-filled weeks, but Mekdes and Tigist begin third grade and first grade, respectively, today.

Last night there were baths and hair combing and placing colorful plastic clips into little-girl box braids, then sleep caps and bedtime and the anticipation of what the morning would bring.  Lunches packed and backpacks on, Mekdes and Tigist stood at the mailbox and waited expectantly for the big yellow bus, the one that picks them up right at our house, and when it came into view Mekdes waved excitedly–and didn’t stop until she had seen that the bus driver stopped right in front of where she stood.  When the door opened the girls stepped on, all smiles, ready for another school year.

For the first few years that my daughters lived with us, they learned at home.  It made sense back then because we moved around a couple of times, and they had just come out of an institution with a revolving door of children and caregivers, and their communication and language were so very limited that it felt right to have them here, with us.  Plus, there were heart surgeries, and medical issues to navigate.  But last year, settled into what will hopefully be our forever home, we knew it was time to let them go.  And just be school-kids, with a little bit of independence and freedom.  It was admittedly terrifying, and the transition was a little bit rocky, but oh, the friends they made, and the fun they had, and it all turned out so wonderful in the end.  Mekdes is SO close to being able to read (!), Tigist is an expert bus rider now, and they have both grown leaps and bounds in their ability to communicate and interact with peers.  By the last day of the year, they were convinced that school was pretty much the best thing ever.

Placing them in school was a hard, but rewarding, decision.

And today they go back.  One thing that sending them to school last year taught me is that my daughters crave and need to DO IT MYSELF, which I admit that I can tend to overlook in the hustle and bustle of large-family-life, when they can’t quite do everything that their siblings can, or as fast/well/efficiently as their siblings can.  Down syndrome is a funny thing sometimes because you get so caught up in the mindset of she needs help and she doesn’t understand, but the truth is that she wants to do it on her own, and she probably gets more than you think.  So today, I had the girls wait for the bus “alone”, while my husband and I stood back a little ways, next to the house.  Stand there on the rocks, don’t move forward until the bus door opens, please don’t go near the street I told them ahead of time, before letting them go, like any mother would tell any child.  And they waited so nicely, just like I told them, greeted the driver with huge smiles, and boarded the bus.  Yes I needed to meet and speak to the driver, but I waited until my daughters had already navigated all of those things for themselves.  Which they did, beautifully.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised when they’re able to do stuff like that, but I confess that sometimes I am.  I get caught up in the why are you drinking the coffee creamer and please don’t tackle your sister and I forget that, you know, Trisomy 21 is a thing, but it’s not everything. 

When we were at the lake on Saturday afternoon, my daughters went smiling and splashing into the water and entertained themselves for hours.  Occasionally I would holler a “stay close!” or “try not to drink so much of the lake water!”, but otherwise?  They were happy and content to just be kids, in the lake, not so different from my other kids.  One of whom also had to be reminded to stay close and not drink so much of the lake water.  They ate their popsicles, got sand in their bathing suits, snacked on popcorn, and had pizza for dinner.  Kind of the perfect day.

Parenting children with special needs can be challenging, for a million and one reasons.  Maybe it’s just me (and it really might be), but I tend to grow impatient, frustrated, and occasionally even discouraged.  Progress and development can feel so…slow.  While my daughters with Down syndrome are adopted, meaning that I never had to grieve a diagnosis or the loss of what I expected my child to be/do/accomplish, it can still be hard.  Day to day life in so many ways isn’t really so different than it otherwise would be, but sometimes those days feel long.  And my mind begins to wander to days ahead, stretching into an uncertain future.  I think well at least there’s a huge city bus terminal near our home and I hope the girls will be chosen to work/volunteer somewhere, and maybe they can live in the downstairs portion of our house to have some independence, because they love to be independent.  Then my mind jumps back a little bit in time and I wonder how puberty is going to go, and how they’ll be treated by classmates when they reach middle school and high school–kids can be so mean–and THEN I have to stop, take a deep breath, and remember that today is, merely, today.

And today, my daughters put on their backpacks and boarded the bus all by themselves.

Today their little blonde-haired, blue-eyed sister saw them off in just her diaper and a pair of ridiculous too-big shoes, waving and yelling BYE! until the bus drove out of sight.

Today their older brother knocked and then waved goodbye from a window, worried he wouldn’t get outside in time to say it.

Today they went to school.

Today they saw old friends, made new friends, and met new teachers.

Today they’ll come home, exhausted, to a houseful of kids (and a mom!) anxious to hear how their day went.

Today there will have been challenges, no doubt.  They face those challenges every day.  But little by little they are navigating the world, learning how to manage cool stuff like catching the bus and putting on your own shirt.  Most of all though?  They love life, love their family, and love their friends.  And school.  They really, really love school.  Basically, they love.  And parenting them, meeting their needs and guiding them through decisions and relationships and obstacles, is a gift and an honor.  Even if it doesn’t always feel that way in a particular moment of toilet training or future dwelling.  Nobody would wish for their child to be born with a chromosomal disorder or syndrome, but it’s funny, because when it comes to Mekdes and Tigist?  I never knew them any differently.  They were small children in desperate need of a family.  They’d been living for years in an orphanage in an East African country.

They were born with Down syndrome.  And now they are my daughters.  And, now they go to school.  

 

 

Last-minute Thoughts on Kids and School

Tigist's Kindergarten graduation.

Tigist’s Kindergarten graduation.

As the summer is winding down (cue ALL THE FEELS because sleeping in and swimming and drinking Costco peach margaritas on the deck), people are transitioning into thinking about the upcoming school year.  Most of us probably already know what we’re doing since summer is (sigh) almost over, but sometimes you find yourself in a position where you need to make some last minute changes and adjustments.

That was, more or less, me last fall.

We’d been a homeschooling family for five whole years, and a classical school was opening up four minutes from my front door (which by the way nobody can ever find because our house is in a wild forest of pine and cottonwood trees, and we have an ambiguous entrance, which drives me absolutely NUTS), and frankly?  I didn’t want to homeschool my kids anymore.  You’re not really supposed to say that when you’re a homeschooler, because when you do people seem to come back with “well you’re not supposed to like it”, but it was true.  There were things I appreciated about the homeschooling lifestyle but overall, I was done.  Cooked.  My kids needed more, and I wanted more for them.

So we enrolled four of them in the classical school, and my daughters with Down syndrome would be attending a neighborhood public school.  (Gasp!  The horror!)

And I had all these misgivings at the eleventh hour, because that’s a big deal after having homeschooled for the past five years.  I was never one that hated the public school system (yet another reason why I probably didn’t quite fit in with the homeschooling movement at large, which is at least partially fueled by a general disdain of Public Education), so that really wasn’t a hurdle for me, but it was still scary.  And I went back and forth a million times, even after the year began.

Because even parents who utilize schools that receive government funding Really, Really Care about the well-being of their children!  We want to make good choices and we want our kids to have good things.  We want our families to be holy and we want our children to flourish–mind, body and spirit.  We aren’t lazy and we aren’t cavalier when it comes to stuff like peer pressure, or exposure to values that are opposed to our own.  So, yeah.  Terrifying.

But it all ended up working out.  I don’t even know how, but it did.  My kids all loved their schools and grew leaps and bounds, academically, and we still managed to maintain close family relationships and our Catholic faith and all of that.  Also?  I had time in my home with just my two youngest, time to do my laundry, and write various articles destined for rejection by various publications, and start a podcast, and take sunny walks with my babies to visit the alpacas and horses that live on my street.  There were the afternoon homecomings, the flurries of activity and “We did this today!” and “I won best story in my class!”  There were also the “You won’t BELIEVE what so-and-so did”, which always made for good discussion, too.  I hated the homework, but you can’t have it all, I guess.  Darn.

So I love to tell people that if you’re agonizing over a decision about school, it’s okay, and it’s totally fine to try something new.  Even right before the school year starts.  Even at the last minute.

Just in case you’re still agonizing over what to do this fall, I wanted to share three guiding principles that have helped me think through the options, and take heart when I was afraid.  Maybe they’ll help you, too.  (OR maybe you’re a champion non-worrier that is 100% confident all of the time, which is awesome, and I’m a little bit jealous.)

1.)  Nothing has to be forever

Sometimes I forget that, you know, I’m not signing my name in blood to enrollment paperwork or promising to give away my left kidney if I change my mind again.  You can try something on for size and if it doesn’t work, do something else!  Really, the school isn’t going to sue you for pulling your kid out, or for wanting to put him or her back in.  I promise.  We, as parents, are not guaranteeing that we will always do this or that thing, we’re seeking out the most ideal educational option for our child!  And that can change year to year, or end up being something you never expected.  The whole idea of “Finish a book if you start it” is good as far as it goes, but personally?  I think that the ability to double back when you need to, to discern what is working and what isn’t, and to seek out better solutions is INVALUABLE.  Especially as a parent.  If something is a waste of your time or, worse yet, destroying your life?  Make a change!  It doesn’t make you flaky or flighty, it makes you wise.  There’s nothing wrong with being attuned to the emotional climate in your home.  There’s nothing inconsistent about making adjustments that suit your family during a particular life phase or season.

2.)  Kids are tough

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t always give my children enough credit.  And maybe it’s just my kids, but it turns out that they are tough little cookies.  When I placed them in school for the first time last fall, they set off happy and excited for a new adventure.  Lots of adjustment all the way around, but they handled it.  They navigated the ups and downs of the school-year amazingly well, better than I ever would have expected, and are excited to go back in a few weeks.  Certainly every child is different, but my experience has been that if we load them up with love, confidence, and the assurance that we are there for them no matter what, they can proceed with courage.  Sans fear.  When they go to school they learn cool things like how to deal with difficult people, and how to manage having a little freedom away from home–and if you’re bringing them home, they learn all kinds of good stuff there, too, like how to treat others (which for some reason is hardest to do with your own family members!) and assorted useful life-skills.  And if things aren’t working out or start going badly, circle the wagons and refer back to number one, above.  And throw back a peach margarita.  (Seriously, get thee to a Costco and buy the big bottle. Twelve bucks.  You’ll thank me later.)

3.)  God is in control

I know, I know.  Another blogger stating the obvious.  It’s kind of what we do.  But seriously, there is SO MUCH FEAR when it comes to these decisions!  Errybody is all “LITTLE JOHNNY IS GOING TO BECOME A RAGING PSYCHOPATH” if he does something different this year, or out of our comfort zone.  AmIright?  If we’re putting our kids in school we just KNOW they’re going to start listening to death metal and chain smoking cigarettes, or if we’re bringing them home we are VERY CONCERNED that they will be the socially-stunted, Weird Al-loving and fanny-pack-wearing people we mocked mercilessly in high school.  (Okay, I confess that I love Weird Al.  I also owned an acid-washed denim fanny-pack when I was eight.  I bought it at the since-bankrupted Mervyn’s.  Memories.)  But here’s the thing, guys.  No matter what?  God loves us.  God loves our kids.  God has entrusted them to us, yes, but He doesn’t want us to panic or dwell in a perpetual state of fear.  When it comes to the education of our children, Christians must pray, keep the lines of communication with our kids and spouse open, pray, make the best decisions we can with what we know, pray, and trust God.  Period.  None of us can know the future, but we do know that Jesus is Lord and that He will sustain us and our children.  Love, joy, and peace are all things that we should seek to manifest in our lives, and it’s nearly impossible to do that afraid.

If you liked this article, share it.  If you haven’t already, go like my Facebook page.  Click here to learn more about our family’s education journey.  Glad to have you reading along!

Back to Blogging

Celebrating our thirteenth anniversary in June.

Celebrating our thirteenth (!)anniversary in June.

My blog has been so, so quiet this summer.  Like, embarrassingly quiet.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I have been so beyond unmotivated to write.  And the great thing about a personal blog like this is that you can just walk away for weeks on end, and not really give it a second thought!

Except that I DO give it thought, and it kind of nags at me when I walk by the laptop or somebody tells me “Hey, I really liked that post you wrote two weeks ago!”, and for the life of me I can’t remember what the thing was even about.  I’ve considered closing up shop here more than a few times, because hey I’m only human and hello that would be so freeing, but then I figure I’ve been blogging for ten straight years, so why stop now?

Also, I kind of like blogging.  Most people write because they have a message they want to share with the interwebz, and though that’s not why I started blogging, it’s probably part of why I keep going.  Even though I’m not even sure what my message is anymore!  I’d like to think I’m a little older and wiser than the me of 2005, documenting my sons’ adoption process on a free BlogSpot platform while my 15-month-old daughter played and destroyed our home office at my feet, but then again I’m pretty much the same person, even if the message has shifted a little.

Early on I guess I wanted people to know that millions of vulnerable children are living without their parents, and that regular people like you and me can and should ask ourselves if we might be able to stand in that gap.  (I still want people to know this.  Kids need families.)  Then, when I had four kids ages three and under, I wanted people to know that motherhood can actually be really beautiful and fulfilling even amidst all the crazy and the diapers.  (I also still want people to know this.  Because it’s super hard and SUPER CRAZY and there are LOTS OF DIAPERS.)  And THEN, in a really unprecedented move–even for us–my husband and I went and became Catholic, trading in those monthly crackers and grape juice, it’s-only-a-symbol reminders for incense and bells and baby baptisms.  I timidly brought our faith out of the bloggy closet after our conversion, after this whole existential crisis of whether or not to go into it here on the blog.  Where a sizable number of my readers were not only NOT Catholic, but no doubt of the standard-issue evangelical opinion that Catholics don’t know, love, or receive any grace from Jesus because we’re all trying to work our way to Heaven or something, like that terrible old Mother Theresa.  In the end though I knew my only choices were to either shut down the blog altogether or come clean about our journey to Rome, because what kind of a blogger keeps something like that a secret?  SO, I came to embrace the idea of spreading the message that there is hope, beauty, and truth in the Catholic faith, the church Jesus founded.  It’s also something I still really want people to know.

But nowadays?  In the age of the dying essay and the over-saturated blogosphere?  I think my main message is just that, you know, I’m here.  My kid that used to rip up DVD covers while I sat writing about the African AIDS crisis is eleven-and-a-half now, and she giggles and eats funnel cake with her girlfriends at the amusement park.  Our three beautiful trips to Ethiopia to complete our adoptions, the long flights and crowded orphanage and oh yes, that time we got lost in Addis Ababa and only found our way thanks to the Vatican Embassy, seem a lifetime ago.  And it’s hard to imagine there was a time when we didn’t receive Jesus in the Eucharist or pray the Rosary.  A lot has changed over the years, I suppose, although the funny thing is that I’m still me.  Not really so different.  I’m still here.  I see an old friend on Facebook, and remember a funny thing we said or did together in high school, and I laugh out loud.  At least a few times a week, something happens that makes me think of a Seinfeld reference.  And when we sing old praise songs from college during our nightly prayer time, the ones my husband used to play for our evangelical church’s college group, I love them just as much as I did back then, even though we don’t sing that stuff on Sunday mornings any longer.  And if you’re fumbling through life like I am, then SOLIDARITY.

My blog used to be called “Just Showing Up.”  I dropped that a couple of years ago in hopes of cultivating better name recognition, but I still think it was aptly titled.  I’ve always felt like hey, I’m not doing anything all that fabulous or interesting, but I’m trying to show up, be present, do my best, and really live and love my life.  And when you have a blog, you invite other people to see and engage in that process.  Hopefully every once in awhile you write something somebody likes, or hates-but-makes-them-think.

So anyway, yeah, I haven’t been writing consistently.  I’m going to try to get back into it.  This summer was pretty much devoted to swim team and swim lessons, and just all around enjoying my kids.  Four mornings a week found us at our neighborhood pool, even though we have a pool in our backyard, which was a decent commitment for normally-homebody-ish us.  For the first time in pretty much forever (or ever?), we were participating in our community.  Getting to know other local families in a non-religious setting.  And I prefer writing in the morning, so by the time everyone was done at the pool and we were settled back in at home, I wasn’t really in the mood to blog.  I know, I know, it’s a discipline and all of that, but whatever.  It’s summertime!

And so this was, by far, the most “different” summer we’ve had.  Branching out.  Letting the kids try.  Instead of lazing around the house every morning, we were out in the ‘hood.  Showing up.  My kids made some good buddies in between pulls and flip-turns, some of whom we’re hanging out with tomorrow afternoon.  We still had a TON of time at home, but we also expanded our horizons a little bit.

And honestly?  It felt good!  I have all kinds of things I’m wanting to write about in the coming days and weeks, stuff I’ve been thinking about, but for now I wanted to check in and say hello, that I’m still here and I’m not giving up on blogging anytime soon.  I also wanted to let you know that I’m desperately and pathetically still trying to build my following on social media, so if you’re not already, please like and share my Facebook page, follow my instagram account, and check me out on Twitter.  Tell your friends to follow me too, so they can see VERY EXCITING various random updates about various random things I need to do this week.  Like planning a tea for our Sacristan group, preparing a talk I’m giving Thursday night, and getting ready to send two of my kids off to school next Monday.  Eek!

Also, laundry.  Always, always laundry.  And bathrooms.  Etc.

Anyhow, I hope your summer is going well, and that you’re getting outside and soaking up the sunshine.  I also hope you don’t have multiple ginormous cottonwood trees on your property that you’re having to pay an arm and a leg to have pruned, so they don’t damage your house or your babies in a storm.  Not that I know anything about that.  Sigh.  My hope is to get back into blogging more regularly, with my general message of Hey, I’m here!  And I don’t really know what I’m doing, and we recently had raccoons living and pooping in our attic, but let’s be friends, because I have eight kids and a few squatter raccoons and I neeeeeeeeeeed people to laugh and talk through life with.

I think it’ll be good to be blogging again.

NFP, Planned Parenthood, and The Space Not to Know

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Maybe it’s my imagination, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen no fewer than one million posts about Natural Family Planning cross my Facebook feed over the past several days.

It’s “NFP Awareness Week”, and it’s funny because the truth is that I have this weird aversion to awareness weeks in general.  Every single year there’s adoption awareness this or Down syndrome awareness that, and I have this vague feeling like I’m supposed to be doing something (because hello, I’m an adoptive mom to kids with Down syndrome), but really I’m sitting there thinking the whole thing seems too gimmicky or kitschy or something, so I don’t do anything.  I figure most people are “aware” of both adoption and Down syndrome, anyhow.  Also, I like to dabble in being a contrarian.

For those who don’t know, Natural Family Planning is somehow simultaneously the Catholic woman’s Achilles Heel and Holy Graille, the thing Catholic women loathe but also kind of have to love.  We believe God is opposed to the use of artificial contraception (hormonal, barrier, sterilization, all of the above), so Catholic marriage preparation classes encourage couples to chart and track and communicate, in order to either delay or achieve pregnancy.  They call this NFP.  It’s even become a bit of a cottage industry, with apps and programs and stickers you put on a page.

Side-note but honestly, some of it sounds like a lot of work to me!  I understand my cycle, and loosely keep track of stuff, but I don’t use anything fancy and I don’t dwell too much on it.  (Though if I ever have a medical condition or issue where I need to, I will.  THANK GOODNESS for the advances in NaPro technology, all the Creighton stuff, and for physicians and instructors who truly are dedicated to women’s health!)

When I first discovered the historic Christian perspective on marriage (or rather, when it discovered me), what drew me in was the beauty of marriage, and how sexuality and children were designed to fit in with it.  It made really good sense to me, all of it, and over time I came to accept that this strange group of Mary-loving, Mass-attending people held the long-sought answers about marriage and family.  Of course I was attending a Presbyterian church at the time, which made it all kind of weird, but whatever.  There was no denying the things Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, and there was no skirting around the fact that the entire Christian world was united in this view on marriage and children until some Anglicans in 1930 up and changed their minds.

The rest of Protestantism, and society at large, would follow suit in the years to come.  But not those stubborn Catholics.  Maybe they’re contrarians too.

What drew me into the teachings of old, and ultimately captivated my heart, was not the NFP methodology or the discovery of a replacement for the birth control I used to use.  I was driven to find answers because it seemed a most heavy and important thing, how my husband and I approached our marriage and our fertility, and nobody agreed on any of it and it just seemed like God, who created us and our bodies, ought to have intended something.  Plus, all of the artificial birth control options just seemed un-ideal for any number of reasons, but so did the held-by-some-Protestants idea of “you must have as many children as possible even if you’re on the brink of collapse”.  The Catholic Church’s beliefs however navigate that tension.  They tie sexuality to the possibility of procreation.  They reflect the wholeness of marriage and tie sexuality to what is happening in the marriage.

But there was a time when I didn’t know all that.  I was a young, Christian, pro-life bride, but I used the birth control pill.  I figured we’d have our kids when we wanted to have them and have the number we wanted to have.  We would control All of the Things.  None of this was opposed, in my mind, to trusting the Lord or having a good Christian marriage.  I even heard someone on a Focus on the Family broadcast say that the pill was okay to use, which I believed to be true because Focus on the Family was about as conservative as Protestants got.  So every day I ingested a carcinogen.  I put up with the headaches, nausea, and mood swings, because I thought young married women who wanted to finish college were supposed to.  Until everything got so awful and I made the decision to stop taking it, at the pleading of my poor husband who was tired of seeing me so sick.  Then began the process of discovering all the yucky stuff about the pill, like its potential for being an abortifacient.

I was horrified.  I’d had no idea.

Any time I write about this, I have both secular feminists and Catholic women tell me, accusingly, that I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN!!!!!!!!  I should have read the pill insert and connected the dots, I should have been warned by my doctor about the potential side-effects (incidentally I wasn’t, maybe because she was so busy being incredulous that I was still a virgin within weeks of my upcoming wedding day), I should have known that birth control is a no-no because of something or other in the Bible.  It always strikes me as amusing that, to some, my ignorance is completely unfathomable in this area.  So I just shrug and smile and say, “Well, fine, I’m an idiot.  I own that.  I didn’t know.  Now I do.”

The thing is that it usually takes some sort of turning point to get us to question a held assumption.  Why would I launch an investigation into birth control when all the respectable, married Christian people I knew were using it, when a trusted religious source claimed it was morally permissible, and when it met my perceived needs?  Why would I assume there were other, older, historically and spiritually plausible Christian views on marriage besides the anemic and fad-driven ones competing in the books at my local Christian bookstore?  No, it took watching my quality of life slowly slip away to get me to rethink my approach to marriage and fertility. 

Most of us live in a vacuum.  I take responsibility for my actions past and present, but at the end of the day, there is plenty I was ignorant about when it came to faith and life.  Probably stuff I remain ignorant about, just in general.  I’d had no idea up until recently, for example, that Planned Parenthood sold specimens obtained through abortion to medical research companies and universities.  I’m not SURPRISED, but this was new information to me.  It seems to have been new for a lot of people.  And what a beautiful thing to see men and women–who don’t typically align themselves with the pro-life movement–beginning to question the motives and practices of Planned Parenthood.  How incredible to see Holly Grigg-Spall, Ricki Lake, and Abby Epstein involved in making a documentary about the problems with the pill.  After years of shaming anyone who DARED question the use of hormonal birth control, women.are.waking.up.

And I could not be more thrilled.

And maybe, if you always knew all that stuff, you can’t imagine someone NOT knowing.  Maybe you look around and think people are ridiculous for being ignorant of Planned Parenthood’s business practices (as I was), or for thinking ingesting hormones was a good idea (as I did).  If that’s you, I’m honestly really glad.  You educated yourself, you probably educated other people, and you surely avoided walking around looking pregnant when really you were just bloated (and emotionally unstable) beyond recognition.  This is good.

But here, on my blog, there will always, always be space for people to not know things.  For people who feel like they have no other options but to use the pill, or for people who aren’t sure Planned Parenthood is the devil.  (Incidentally it IS.  Also, the pill is really bad for you.  You should explore some alternatives, specifically NFP, because your health and your marriage are worth it.  Now you all know.)  See each one of us is the product of a culture that oppresses women, that tells us being open to children in an otherwise loving and healthy marriage will destroy it, and that motherhood is for the weak.  We live in a place where going against the cultural norms set before us is met with scoffs, defensiveness, and occasionally rebuke.  Where recently a man seeing me walking my kids into our neighborhood rec center made a very audible sound of disgust, and tauntingly told me I have my hands full.  Misogynistic much?

So.  I’m not much for awareness weeks, or for keeping complicated cervical mucus charts if I don’t absolutely have to (I’m lazy), but I like to share what I’ve learned on my journey, just in case it helps somebody else.  I like to chat with women across the ideological spectrum, and I like to humbly offer alternatives to what I see as a very strained relationship between women, marriage, and fertility.  It’s about so much more than family planning methodology (though it may include that) and it’s about so much more than being some kind of pro-life activist (though it may include that.)  I like honest conversations, I like to listen, and as far as I’m concerned there is absolutely, always and forever, space to learn new things.  No matter where you’re at.

Without shame. 

Said the Catholic lady with eight kids, a raccoon trap, and a secret and abiding love for reality TV.

So, welcome.

If you like this article, please share it.  And if you’re not already, come follow along with my family’s adventures on my Facebook page!

Why We Don’t Need Planned Parenthood

20150117_151035So, Planned Parenthood.

We need to talk about this.

Can I just first say though that even their name bothers me?

Because I’m perfectly capable of planning my OWN parenthood, thankyouverymuch.  I don’t need hormones that hurt my body and I don’t need people telling me how many kids to have, or when to have them, or that something is somehow fundamentally wrong with me because I’m capable of procreating.

And even more than that, I don’t need people looking to profit off of the simple fact that I am a woman, with a healthy, functioning reproductive system and a healthy, functioning married sex life.  Granted not all women are in my position, but they shouldn’t be exploited for their fertility either.

End rant.

The big news right now, and the thing I’m ultimately wanting to talk about, is that Planned Parenthood has come under fire.  It’s been demonstrated that they’re selling fetal body parts, obtained through abortions, for research.

Now I realize that those undercover videos floating around are uber controversial, and I know that a lot of pro-choice folks are dismissing them out of hand.  People are, I think, uncomfortable questioning the whole “Planned Parenthood is Very Pro Woman” narrative–because up until this point, it was only the crazy pro-lifers who did that.  Of course I’ve always been pro-life, so I’m very much at ease saying, “Go home Planned Parenthood, you’re drunk”, but I understand why some are more reticent to admit that this government-funded organization has, um, some problems.  People don’t want to be associated with the Religious Right or the Catholic Church or the protestors holding up signs with gruesome images at abortion clinics.  People don’t want to give up on women’s rights or feminism, or on the idea of gender equality.

So when it comes out that Planned Parenthood is kind of a shady place, selling (in spite of all their semantics and loopholes, THIS IS WHAT THEY’RE DOING) fetal body parts for research without proper consent from the mothers, it’s a natural reaction to downplay or ignore this information, or discredit the source.  Nobody wants to admit that our beloved national harbinger of feminine liberation is making boatloads of money off a sketch practice, or that these supernaturally courageous abortionists sit around lunching and chatting about the crushing of skulls.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s challenging.  It brings into the light things that are otherwise concealed in the shadows, and which allow the bloody work of abortion to be viewed as a humane and empowering sort of choice for women–by otherwise sane, rational, and good human beings.

Ultimately I really just hope that folks, even skeptical folks, will take the time to think about what is happening to women in our country right now, and why.  Think about how much money is changing hands here, and think about what women are being told about themselves when abortion is pitched as a good and easy solution to their problems.  You’re too poor/young/uneducated/uninformed to have a baby.  Your fertility is a problem.  Your body is a problem.  We’d rather take your child from your womb than find practical, personal, and holistic ways to be a support.

I was married but still in college when I got pregnant with my oldest.  When I had the pregnancy confirmed at the university health center after my early morning statistics class, and when the nurse came in with the results, the pity and attempt at patronizing sympathy were palpable.  “Is this a good thing?”, she’d asked in a quiet, sad voice while gently tapping me on the knee.  To her I was just another college student who’d gotten knocked up–little did she know that my precious little baby wouldn’t have been there, period, had I not triumphantly trashed my birth control pill prescription, issued from that very health clinic, several months earlier.  Because frankly it was ruining my life.  To her, my body working as it should have surely MUST have been an inconvenience, a mistake, a potentially VERY TERRIBLE THING.

I assured her it was not.  And my feet didn’t touch the ground as I left the clinic and walked to my car, called my husband, and drove straight to the store for a book of baby names we’d spend the next nine months poring over.

But still the university wasn’t done with me.  The clinic called a few days later, asking if I still wanted to “keep the pregnancy.”  I told them yes, and dug back into my Taco Bell nachos, which I eat in copious amounts when I am growing a baby in my body.  All of my babies have been adorable, so I figure there’s something to it.

It didn’t matter to the university, obviously, that this baby was the miraculous and mysterious result of married love between spouses, and it didn’t matter that I was over the moon excited about it.  It didn’t matter that my husband was already a successful engineer just one year out of college, or that we’d just bought our first beautiful house.  No, the establishment had made up their mind about me and about my body, and wanted to send me off to Planned Parenthood to have my womb assaulted.

See even though I was married and financially stable, I was 21 years old.  I was young.  Not finished with college.  A girl like me, they apparently reasoned, didn’t have what it takes to be a mother.  They wouldn’t have dared suggest I not have sex with my husband, but they would have gladly done whatever it took to ensure that any resulting consequences were erased.  And really, why?  Simply so I could move on with “my life”, as if getting through a few extra months of school, and being unencumbered enough to eat out and go to the movies, would somehow make an abortion worth it.

I wasn’t strong enough, they reasoned, to welcome change into my life.  They didn’t think I was strong enough to sacrifice future plans for my daughter.  They didn’t think I was strong enough to embrace the word mother before most of my friends had even finished college, much less married.  They didn’t think I was strong enough to own my fertility and my womanhood.

But do you want to know something?

I was strong enough.

Women are strong, in general.

Really, really strong.

Women are strong when they make choices, and women are strong when they face change.  Women are strong when they make a mistake, pick themselves back up, and turn things the heck around.  Women are strong when they suffer.  But people have convinced women that their bodies are fundamentally flawed, that they have to say yes to any guy who comes along wanting sex, and that they’ll fall to pieces if they dare face motherhood outside of a culturally-predetermined context.

Friends, that’s bull#$*&.

We’re not shrinking violets, and we’re not stupid.  Our bodies, our choices, and our empowerment speak to the beauty and dignity of womanhood!  Of being created in the image of a good and loving God just the way we’re supposed to be–ovaries, uterus, and all.  We can make choices, and we can make the best out of tough situations.  We can make still other choices if we made some bad choices earlier.

We don’t need Planned Parenthood.

So even if you’re naturally inclined to just dismiss all the latest stuff in the news as weirdo propaganda, please just stop and give it a fair hearing.  Educate yourself on Planned Parenthood’s financials.  Think about what womanhood means, and what kind of message we’re sending to women when we essentially tell them that not only do they not have what it takes to be a mother, but that their body is a problem.  Consider that you can be a wonderful feminist and believe that abortion, and all the horrors that come with it, is just plain bad for women.

And if you identify as pro-life like I do, keep up the good fight for women’s rights and babies’ rights and fathers’ rights, too.  If that makes people uncomfortable, so be it.  It is uncomfortable when people (in this case, women and children) are being enslaved and oppressed by the culture.  And by men.  I have little use for politics, but care deeply about human rights and social justice.  And I’m a Christian, so mercy and love and virtue are kind of a big deal too.  Therefore I talk about this stuff from time to time, even though it’s probably not polite, because I get really upset on behalf of these dear mothers and their babies lining the pockets of Lamborghini-driving abortionists.

And I’m a blogger, so for better or worse I’m generally inclined to talk about this stuff.  But how about you?  Are you discussing Planned Parenthood’s indiscretions with your friends and family?  More importantly, how do we change the narrative and truly empower women (our daughters, neighbors, and friends) when it comes to reproductive health?

If you like what you read, please share this article via social media.  And if you’re not already, come follow me on Facebook!

 

 

Letting them try: why I’m changing my mind about youth sports

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Four of my kids are on a local swim team this summer.

Which means most of our mornings are spent poolside, me chasing after my littles while the bigs swim laps and practice breathing and attempt to learn the elusive butterfly.  I guess I’m playing the role of “swim mom”, where I spent the better part of an entire day last week running all over town trying to find two pairs of jammers, I still need to get to the store for some bulletin boards worthy of displaying the hard-earned ribbons that have started piling up, and I now find myself stockpiling snacks and things to pack in a cooler for our long mornings at meets, with eight kids.  Which includes an Alice, who loves snacks.

This is admittedly all pretty new for us, and I don’t just mean the sport of swimming itself.

Historically we’ve been pretty chill when it comes to kids’ activities, in general.  Who needs organized sports in your life when you’ve got a bike, a bajillion siblings, and over an acre of  land to explore and destroy?  Back when we were homeschooling (as if that was really all that long ago), I was pretty well convinced that life could just happen here, organically, at home.  I’m really kind of a homebody by nature and hello, I have a lot of kids.  I wanted to be able to have time with each of them–real, quality time–and I wanted them to have time with one another, to be besties and all of that.  Which really, they are.  And so homeschooling was, for awhile, a pretty good fit for our family in a lot of ways, and we didn’t do tons outside of the home either, beyond church and stuff with friends and family.  Now there was the summer we attempted tball, but it was kind of an epic waste of time, and there was the fall some of my kids played in a neighborhood soccer club, but that was in the midst of when my adopted daughters joined our family and we were pretty overextended.  So mostly we just didn’t put the kids in activities, and called it good because really my kids are good, and they are super creative about finding things to do.

And can I be painfully honest here?  Part of my aversion to youth sports is really pretty selfish.  The fact of the matter is that I detest sports.  I was never good at them as a kid, I never played on any sort of team, and my only forays into the world of youth sports ended in abysmal failure: first, when I tried out for the cheerleading squad in high school AND DIDN’T MAKE IT (yes it is questionable if cheerleading even IS a sport), and then when I had the bright idea that I should play on the high school tennis team–but wound up getting horrible migraine headaches after nearly every practice in the ninety-degree heat.  Also, I was terrible.  So it should come as no surprise that you’ll never find me watching any sort of sporting event beyond the summer Olympics, and I never felt too strongly about my kids participating, either.

Oh and lest you think I was a TOTAL loser just sitting around at home, I spent my high school years competing in debate and speech competitions.  I have a ton of ribbons and even some plaques to show for it.  On second thought, this admission might make me even MORE of a loser.  Hmmm.

And yet in spite of all of that, I found that my thinking slowly started to change last summer.  We bought a home a year and a half ago that had, of all things, a gorgeous in-ground swimming pool in the backyard.  We 110% bought this home for its location (on an acre-plus, tucked away in a little neighborhood with horses and alpacas that nobody even knows is here, and yet super close to stores and friends and church), but the pool felt like a fun bonus.  Hauling eight kids of varying ages and swimming abilities to a community pool is quite an endeavor, and so this felt like the perfect thing for our family.

Except it turned out that a couple of my older kids were afraid to swim across the pool.  As in really, truly terrified.  I’d honestly had no idea, since any prior swimming they’d done was purely for fun, and they’d either stayed in the shallow end or hung onto the side.  (Come to think of it we did do swim lessons a few years ago, but they were worthless, and a waste of money.)  For years their fears had gone undetected.  Now though I could see that they were scared.  And they wouldn’t really budge.  No matter how much I tried to coax or bribe them, they lacked the confidence to do the thing I knew they physically COULD do, but wouldn’t.

So I declared that, in spite of owning our own pool and in spite of my aversion to shuttling kids to activities, they needed to enroll in actual swim lessons, and I set out to find an affordable place on our side of town.  Which is how I stumbled upon a rec center less than ten minutes from our home, which it turns out has historically had an excellent swimming program.  And as I would sit there corralling my littles each morning and wondering if it was silly to be paying for swimming lessons when, you know, you have a pool at home, I witnessed something truly incredible: my frightened kids were happily swimming with their teachers.  They were diving, doing the backstroke, swimming freestyle ACROSS THE POOL.  By the end of the summer?  They were doing cannon balls and spending hours upon hours swimming in our backyard pool, like they’d been swimming forever.

It was the first time I fully realized that children are sometimes best inspired and motivated by people outside of our little home.

I would go on to witness this same phenomenon again and again throughout our first year of having kids enrolled in school.  After years of exclusively homeschooling, it was so scary to put them in, to drop them off and be a family-that-sends-their-kids-to-school.  But.  Children who’d struggled and struggled were now striving to master skills, and making progress.  Little hearts that had previously been perpetually discouraged were now volunteering to read aloud in front of the classroom, and everyone was gaining confidence in every way imaginable.  Plus, they were HAPPY.

And so I’ve been considering all of this, ever since last summer, and wondering if a large family like mine could maybe manage a few scheduled athletic activities that build up healthy self-esteem and positive body image.  When this summer rolled around, I found myself signing up four of my kids for the swim team, and one of my kids for swim lessons.  I knew I was signing away our lazy summer mornings, the option of sleeping in, and eight consecutive Saturdays, but I hoped we’d gain something even better.  I signed them up, but I did it a little bit afraid.  Because I wasn’t sure if my kids could even keep up with the team, as they hadn’t done any swimming during the year (it’s Colorado) and none of them were really experts on the strokes.  Three of the four would be having to swim a minimum of 50 meters in their events, and one of them 25 meters, but still that’s a long way for inexperienced kids.  But they wanted to do it, even though they were a little afraid, and so I let them try.

And I have not regretted this decision, not even once.  My oldest daughter, not particularly athletic or competitive about much of anything, LOVES swim team.  Gets up early without protest and is bummed when rainy weather keeps them out of the pool.  Tries to pick up extra events at the meets when one of hers gets scratched.  My sons?  Good grief, they’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, and yet one of them is a freestyle maniac and the other is pretty great at breaststroke.  My other daughter is LOVING it so very much, has a great dive, and is willing to give pretty much anything a try.  These kids are getting so much exercise and time outdoors this summer, and swim team is a highlight.

Last weekend we competed against a team in another part of the city, at an Olympic-sized swimming pool, 50 meters across.  (The pool my kids practice in is 25 meters across, like most pools.)  Meaning that not only are there no 25’s, but you don’t get a break in your 50’s.  Straight across, 50 meters.  I was warned by some other swim team moms that it might be too hard, and maybe we should consider skipping the meet, especially for my eight-year-old daughter who’s only ever done 25’s.  I appreciated their input but kind of blew it off, because I didn’t want my kids to miss out on swimming in the meet, plus I figured it’d be good practice for them.  But then as the meet drew closer, I felt a little bit panicky.  I told my kids if they got too tired to GRAB ONTO THE LANE ROPE AND DON’T LET YOURSELF SINK.

Then the morning of the meet, when we showed up for warm-ups at 6:50 am (I told you we don’t get to sleep in!) and I saw the pool in person, I may or may not have completely freaked out inside.  I pretended to be calm and asked my kids if they thought they could do this.  They smiled and said they were nervous, but that they wanted to try.

So, I let them.

I let my eight-year-old daughter, who just last summer was too afraid to let go of the side of our pool, dive off the wall at the sound of the whistle and swim a whole 50 meters against other kids, kids who’ve been doing this competitive swim thing for years.  And she made it.  Swam her heart out and didn’t grab the lane rope once.  I let my oldest butterfly her way across the pool, no stops, even though she would never say she feels  proficient in that stroke, and then later–right out of the blue–she said in a serious voice, “I’m so proud of how I did in the butterfly today, Mom.”  As for my sons, one of them placed and the other one made up ground in a relay doing the breaststroke for goodness’ sakes.  I let them try.  In front of a ton of people.  And the smiles I saw as each of my babies came up breathless out of the water after touching the wall told me I did the right thing.

Hard to believe I’m saying this, but there’s no way I could quantify all that my children are gaining this summer through our small venture into youth sports.  It’s allowed for me to spend more time, not less, with them, because we are away from the house and all of the distractions looming there.  They get to see me cheering them on, and delighting in their achievements.  It’s been eye-opening, in the same way sending them to school was eye-opening, and I’m loving it And I never saw myself loving ANYTHING about sports, but I guess it’s different when it’s your kids.  Who knew?  My kids tell me they want to start swimming during the year, too, so now I’m looking into year-round swim teams.  Three of my kids will be playing rec soccer in the fall.  Granted they’re admittedly coming into all of this a little older than a lot of their peers, which is probably intimidating, but they’re having a blast.  Gaining new skills.  Building confidence.

So, I’m letting them try.