Saturday, 31 March 2012

Children Teach Adults How to Simply Be

Little people love to peer closely at tiny objects. Perhaps it is because they are closer to the ground but they stop at every flower and bug, especially a bug on a flower. All their attention is riveted as they look, touch, smell, even lick each wonderful new discovery. At first it was difficult to slow down during our walks and let the toddlers  set the pace but what wonderful instruction in relaxing and becoming fully present to the moment.

At first I was only capable of enjoying whatever captured my children's notice but now I realize that they were experiencing so much more than I  initially thought. In their silent, non-verbal attention to nature, they were in deep communion with God Himself as He is present in His creation. Adults struggle for years to merely glimpse the intimacy that little children have naturally with God. They do not need to strive or work for this state of contemplation because they are without guile, prior opinions or expectations; they are open and look with trust, ready to absorb the love, joy and peace that envelopes them.

 "Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God."

A Mother of Nine, I Was An Enigma to My Obstetrician

After moving to the Ottawa  Valley with our first child, I became the patient  of a very feminist Doctor who was childless, although she did have tropical fish and a  parrot.
I was an enigma to her as she was to me. The waiting room was filled with well off, professional women needing gynaecological care and women in their late thirties or early forties pregnant with their first child. Then, I would walk through the door, at first pregnant with a toddler on my hip and by my last visit with three or four other children clustered around me.

Enshrined on this doctor's desk and encased in glass were birth control devices that glared at me every time I sat across from her.

After one visit, my obstetrician said, in a teasing tone, "Would you quit bringing your beautiful children to my office. Someone always wants a reversal (from tubal ligation) after you leave."

A similar comment about our kids came from a priest who said, "You and Michael are nice looking but you make absolutely beautiful babies!"

Pregnant with my fourth child, I came for a scheduled appointment even though labour had begun. I preferred to see her right away rather than wait for her at the hospital because I wanted to go home after visiting her office and put everything in order and arrange childcare.

Apparently babies are born faster, after a few pregnacies. I was not expecting my doctor's reaction, "This baby is coming soon. You don't have time to travel all the way home. Use the phone in the office, get a hold of your husband and get someone to meet him with the kids in the hospital parking lot and you go straight to admitting ahead of him."

I walked into the waiting room, called my brother-in-law and explained the situation, laughing at my self as I apologised to him. A contraction hit, I breathed through the pain and then gathered all the kids together and left her office for the hospital.

An hour later she bustled into the delivery room and announced, "Well you sure impressed my entire waiting room! Everyone thinks you are super woman."

Two hours later, standing with assistance and enduring long contractions that were turning my baby completely around,  I was anything but super woman. I wailed , "I thought you said this delivery was going to be fast!"

It didn't help that seven or eight student nurses, obstetrical residents and medical students stood in a half circle around me, watching a woman give birth without drugs or an epidural, to her fourth child. (I was not trying to be super mom, natural  birth was better for delivery because I could work with my body and therefore prevented tearing and stitches. I could sit cross-legged on the bed right after and feel wonderful and much lighter.)

The last baby this doctor delivered of mine was my fifth. ( I could not face her next time I was pregnant.) It was quite the production. All through my pregnancy I had asked God, "Please, not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day."

He had his own ideas, of course.  On Christmas Eve we gave the kids baths in the afternoon, a tortiere was baking in the oven almost  ready for an early dinner and I had just laid out dresses, white tights, ribbons for the girls  and outfits for the boys to wear to church when the contractions started coming hard and fast. In fact I barely could get my boots on.  Michael drove very quickly to the hospital. When I stepped into admitting, the lights were dim, Christmas lights were shining on the tree and strung along the walls and two relaxed nurses were leaning against the counter.

 "So ", one of the nurses calmly asked, "Is this your first?"
" No", I gasped, "My fifth."
"Your Fifth?", her head jerked up and her eyes popped open. "Sandra, get the elevator right now and then grab a wheelchair. I'll phone obstetrics so they can get ready for her!!!"
Michael followed the parade carrying David who refused to stay with our baffled neighbour; Dad assumed he had time to take him back home.
 The obstetrical  nurse told him, You aren't going anywhere if you want to see this baby's birth. Give him to the desk clerk and tell her to give him crackers."  By the way, David thoroughly enjoyed his adoring fans out at the nurses' station. My dress was literally yanked over my head, my tights whipped off, the doctor ran in to the delivery room and Emily was born 45 minutes later.

I loved the large ,vacant four bed  ward room I was assigned because the it was peaceful and relaxed. Christmas morning ,Michael trouped in with all the kids dressed in their holiday outfits and huge grins on their faces. He had pulled off Christmas set-up (that's a whole other story) but he sheepishly handed me the hairbrush, elastics and ribbons admitting, "Well it was difficult but they were all thrilled with everything this morning. I just couldn't handle the girl's hair." He pulled off their hats and their hair was still a tangled disaster. I laughed and laughed, the kids started giggling and then we started to introduce them to our family's  present.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Firecrackers in Mailboxes and Cowpies

We all expect playful pranks from boys in their early teens because they delight in stretching the boundaries. Firecrackers offer many exciting possibilities to a creative thirteen year old.
M son, David, along with a neighbour wondered what would happen if they lit a couple of  fire crackers  and threw them into the family's country style mailbox.  The result was even funnier than they imagined as the metal door flew up and slammed shut again with a loud clang. David and Riley doubled over with hoots of laughter.

Unfortunately for the boys, who should drive by at that exact moment?

The principal  from the local public high school. The boys  noticed a car had stopped. The boys  hopped on their bikes  in a frenzy,  rode down the long, curved, lane way to Riley's house and lunged through the front door. However, that did not curtail this conscientious educator; he backed up his station waggon, followed the boys right up to the house and rang the door bell. Riley's mum was mortified and the boys were embarrassed  by his stern lecture.

David sheepishly recounted his adventure at the dinner table that night and we just shook our heads.
That incident was never repeated because David had been humiliated but firecrackers in the hands of one father led to sheer mayhem at our house a few years later.
We were barbecuing with a few other families . In the late afternoon, when the kids were getting restless and hungry, Pierre gathered the kids together, like he often did but this time he led them into the barnyard.

What did this fun loving father do to amuse the throng of children who surrounded him?
Why he lit  firecrackers that were positioned in the middle of manure plops! We all heard the squeals and roars of approval from the kids. Before we knew what was happening, Pierre was paying the kids who dared to stand the closest to the smelly, disgusting explosions.We all shook our heads this  time but smiled in spite of ourselves, wondering who was more mischievous, Pierre or the kids?

That was before we saw the kids close up. They were splattered with manure. Actually the  foul smelling gunk that covered them wasn't even manure yet, it was fresh.  The other mother's and I were desperate to bathe our kids before dinner but we simply rinsed out their hair, gave quick sponge baths and I scrambled to find clothes to fit everyone Rhonda, Pierre's wife,  fumed the loudest about stained clothing and Pierre looking sheepish, helped clean up his four small children.

 I must admit that no one has forgotten "The Day Cow Pies Exploded ".  My grown children still laugh in remembrance and I just mentally file that incident in the same category as "One Mud Bath a Year" and "One Spring Soaking a Year"(stories to follow).  I suppose that day is another example of the freedom, joy and muck that a farm makes available to all playful kids, both short and very tall.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Kids First: Love, Don't Spoil Them

One afternoon an acquaintance stopped by for a cup of tea with two pre-school children in tow. At first she was very nervous and jumping up at every disturbance she heard as the kids played. In an attempt to soothe her nerves I explained,
"Relax and let them have fun; anything that could be broken probably is and anything that is not, probably should be." 
Her mouth dropped open but then she laughed and stopped straining her ears for the smallest sound of trouble.

I am foolish but also proud to say that our house was a very, very fine house with a dog at the door, a cat or two curled up on the best chairs, gold fish swimming circles on my too small counter, sometimes a hamster,  guinea pig or rabbit in a cage on the kitchen floor, paintings and crafts displayed anywhere and everywhere and  of course way  too many plants.

Our living room was a living room with all sorts of activity centres and corners. Prized Lego structures were covered with a tablecloth for meals. After dinner, the older kids and their dad would sip tea or water and talk as they worked on the puzzle.

We lived in a house built for kids because their mental and emotional well being came first. It was so much easier to live this way. I was a fast learner as I quickly realized that tearing down a block city that would host hours of absorbing play the next morning was absolutely self-defeating. I once read, that for a child, the hour put into a block structure is similar to a business man working weeks on a project. Just as a grown man would be devastated to see weeks of work dismissed, so too is a child devastated to have his blocks swept back into the bin, right after he has finished stacking them.

Often we tend to barrel along with our self-important agendas or we strive to keep our house looking too tidy and guest presentable. I often had attacks of guilt, though,  like the afternoon when a six year old walked into our family room that was strewn with Lego,
"Why is your house sooo messy", she wondered.
Or the time a good friend , in an attempt to make me feel better said,
"Your house is very clean, Melanie, it just looks lived in, that's all.
I was not mollified at the time.

 One of my sister-in-laws intimidated me with her immaculate house. I mean the baby undershirts were folded neatly in four and stacked perfectly in the drawer! Do you know how small those undershirts are? I was lucky to get them out of the clean laundry basket and stuffed into the drawer before I needed to use them again.She did only have two kids... but still!!! Then she came over one day to help me attack a project and she leaned on a counter in the kitchen and said,
"Honestly Melanie, I don't know how you ever get out of the kitchen and laundry room!"
Tears welled up in my eyes and I sputtered,
"That is the kindest, nicest thing you could ever say to me."

 I trust that our house was built for kids not just adults.
I trust that our house was one where little people felt loved, safe and respected, no matter what their age or personality.

Penny down thwoat

David was six months old, laying on his back in this crib, while  two year old Mara sat at the other end, playing with a few pennies in a tiny change purse. I was washing the bedroom floor when suddenly David started coughing and then screamed as loudly as he could. I dropped the mop and ran over to scoop up a red faced,crying baby.
"What happened?", I asked Mara.
She kept repeating, over and over,
" Penny down thwoat, penny down thwoat."
"There is a penny down his throat?", I questioned.
Mara nodded but by this time David had stopped crying.
I peered at the three pennies in her purse and then
I drilled myself silently,
"Had I given her three or four coins?"
I couldn't remember.

It seemed impossible that this now calm baby could have a penny stuck in his throat.
Did he swallow the coin and would it get stuck in his digestive system?
 When he nursed later, he kept stopping and whimpering.
 Was his throat simply scratched?
My husband insisted that there was a penny stuck in his throat but to me that seemed physically impossible.

After five days, David was still distressed  when  he swallowed, so I sheepishly made an appointment with my doctor. He looked at the calm baby sitting contently on my lap and sighed,
"I seriously doubt there is anything in his throat but since a lab has just opened on this floor, I'll send you over. Mind you, this is just to reassure you."
Twenty minutes later, I stood in  middle of the waiting room and wailed loudly,
 "There is a penny stuck in my baby's throat!"

Of course I was hustled into an examination room, where an astonished doctor called in  his college to witness this incredible event. The doctor exclaimed,
"Do you realize that I would have sent this baby home if the lab hadn't moved into our building?"

Off to Emergency to endure a day long vigil in a hospital room waiting for surgery. Poor David experienced blood tests and an intravenous needle which was protruding out of his arm and attached to a pole on wheels. I  paced the room and the hall for hours while squirming David, sporting a pink and white striped nightgown, desperately  needed to nurse. David had an avid appetite. After his first bite of solids, he lunged foreward in the highchair while gripping the sides with both hands and snapped down on the spoon. I was so startled that I called Michael into the kitchen. That same baby could not eat for twelve hours!

 Surgery went well. The team presented us with a penny trophy placed in a see through container. My guilt was assuaged because a two year old had the same procedure done right after David.,only this little fellow had used a pencil to push the coin down.We discovered that both pennies were lodged sideways, allowing liquid and soft solids to squeeze past the obstruction.

The doctors and nurses were amused and nicknamed both patients The Penny Boys.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

But I Was Using My Mum Antenna!

Rachel was two years old when some sort of bug attacked her digestive system with a vengeance. My doctor ordered the BRAT  Diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) to remedy the lingering diarrhoea problem.

Poor Rachel! It seemed like she was stuck eating the 'brat diet'  forever. She looked so pitiful at meal times as she eyed her siblings plates and the turned back dejectedly to look at her bowl of rice.

Emily, Rachel's partner in work and play, understood her little sister's frustration with this imposed spartan diet; so she decided to do something about it. Quick witted as always, Emily chose to implement her plan when I was safely out of the kitchen.

My Daughter initiated "Mission Impossible" while I was in a darkened bedroom, nursing  our baby to sleep. With the bedroom door open , my  "kid radar" was turned on, alert to any sounds that my children might make. I heard disturbing noises. Up I got, slowly and carefully, not wanting to wake up Katie. I changed her position so  that I could rock her and I made my way to the door and tiptoed to the kitchen . 
My eyes widened in despair as I took in the scene and I whispered as loudly as I could,
What did I observe?
The bread box was open, the peanut butter jar lid was off and wiry and three year old Emily was squatting like a tiny elf up on top of the counter, spreading a thick layer of the stuff on wholewheat, stone ground bread. Rachel stood below on the floor,  both arms out stretched with her tiny hands opening and closing frantically. She was starving and could hardly wait to get hold of real food.  The sound of my voice startled both of them. Emily glanced up briefly and finished  her assignment  even quicker; Rachel glanced over her shoulder and then stuffed the sandwich into her mouth, hardly chewing at all before she swallowed and lunged for another big bite.

And me?
I was stuck because I did not want a cranky baby on my hands and she was not quite ready to lay down.
 Thus, with great strategy and timing, Emily and Rachel  pulled off "Mission Impossible".

I phoned my doctor's wonderful nurse, after this disaster bewailing my misfortune and this major set back in my own plan of attack on intestinal bugs. Olga  laughed,
" You, my dear, don't seem to stand a chance."

my daughter's art

Monday, 26 March 2012

remembering easter art

my fridge door

Once children burst into your life and you see events through their eyes, every celebration is infused with excitment and fun. I recreated activities from my childhood and discovered new ones with my kids.

For me Easter means colouring eggs. If I never had children, I never would have started dying eggs again, which would have been a shame. I can usually be found running around cleaning, putting loads of laundry in,and cooking but sometimes I don't just set up an activity, I actually sit down and enjoy the craft with  my kids. At first we just used the store bought kits. Slowly, as the kids grew older we experimented with crayon designs, stickers and fancier dying techniques.

One Easter, one of our children learned the art of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs and begged to teach the rest of us. Michael bought the supplies, set the kids up and played Handle's Messiah. As the music swirled around us, the kids were silent, completely absorbed in their craft. Every year since, all my kids sit around the kitchen table, dying eggs for hours.  Even though I am still running around cleaning, putting in loads of laundry,cooking, tripping over the dog and helping kids, there still is a special Easter atmoshere that fills the house.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Loving Babies

We are a family of people who are crazy about babies. Should anyone walk into our presence with a baby in their arms, we all immediately surround them, adoring smiles on all of our faces.

When the kids were little, I literally had to watch the clock to make sure everyone would get a chance to hold either our baby or a visiting one. I think the children bonded to each other because even a toddler was given the privilege of holding their newborn sibling. With excitement twinkling in their eyes, barely containing their joy long enough to sit still while I propped up one of their little arms with a pillow,  one of their little arms with a pillow,  they would look extremely proud and pleased as they too held the baby. Bedtime became something to look forward to for about the baby. Bedtime became something to look forward to for about three months after the birth of our newest addititon;  I would wrap the newborn tightly in a warm blanket and let each child cuddle up to a living and breathing 'teddy baby'. This quiet time, to be alone with their sibling allowed warm, nurturing, love to flow between both children and it eliminated jealousy; the focus was no longer just on the baby but attention focused on an older child and the baby.

As I nursed, I gave the older children my mental and emotional attention by listening, talking, reading books to them, helping with homework and even playing with play dough with one hand. I think the Holy Spirit was surrounding us. I can honestly say that no one resented all the time each newborn demanded because we were all part of caring for the baby. Little ones were proud to run for diapers, clothes or blankets and older kids would choose rocking or pushing a colicky baby in the buggy over washing dishes any day.
 I discovered that from the birth of my third child on, community developed where we shared and helped each other. It is lovely to have a toddler giggling as he picks up each toy tossed from the highchair, or a relaxed nine year old watch the four year old ,who is happy and out of trouble as she plays  in the tub for an hour. Seven year old 's proudly read the same book over and over to a three year old, freeing me to run the house. All in all, from a panic attack as I held my first born till now, God completely upended my plans for my life but He knew exactly what I needed to become free and full of joy. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Make-up and Little Girls

One visit  from Grandma Jean and Grandpa Ron  occurred when Melissa and Mara were about four and five years old.   My two little girls were fascinated as they watched  Grandma apply a touch of make-up each morning because they had never seen anything like it. I wasn't  interested  in make-up in those days and frankly  there wasn't time anyway; I was lucky if I managed to brush my teeth and throw some real clothes on by noon.

Finally, after a few mornings of watching the longing on her  granddaughters' faces, my mom asked, "Would you like me to give the two of you a make-over?"  Melissa and Mara were almost too thrilled to sit still as Grandma applied a light coat of lipstick, mascara, blush and eyeshadow. My mom was delighted with the results; the little girls looked like they could have posed  for a photo shoot. She called me over to enjoy the results and  of course, I was pleased as well . My daughters were delighted with the whole idea of wearing make-up  and glowed with the admiration we showered on them.

"Well", my mom asked with pride, "Would you like to see what you look like now?"
"No thanks, Grandma.", answered Melissa, "We know what we look like."
 Off they skipped to play outside.
My mom and I looked at each other and laughed.

Children are delightful because they are not self-conscious and they really don't worry too much about their appearance. Little people are too busy exploring the world and having fun just being themselves.
Thomas Merton once wrote that frogs and trees are holy because they simply are who they are suppose to be, without masks or false personas. I think the same can be said of little children. No wonder Christ said, "Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the  kingdom of God."

I Am An Emotion Vacuum Cleaner. Are You?

I am wired to be an emotion vacuum cleaner that sucks up all my children's pain. My children are all
compassionate vacuum cleaners as well, who attract other people's negative emotions. They are all aware that they were conditioned not only from observing Michael and I  in action but also because they have inherited this trait from both of us.

This problem, The Vacuum Cleaner Syndrome, is a difficult disease to cure. 

 As my daughter and  fellow vacuum cleaner, Katie, asked during a family discussion,
" How can one vacuum cleaner  help another vacuum cleaner?" 
Four of us around the circle smiled and laughed at the image.
Then I blurted out, "Why, show the other vacuum  cleaner how to reverse the hose and blow out the dirt, rather than suck it in and collect it."
That comment released  waves of uncontrollable laughter that actually did blast clean air through all of us.

Compassion and empathy are vital but my tendency is to try to fix my husband and kids by hoarding their pain within my own heart.
 Does my tendency to absorb my children's emotions help them?
Do my seemingly selfless reactions weigh me down?
Is anyone fixed or set free as I sacrifice my own peace and happiness to try to help my family?
Does this Vacuum Cleaner Syndrome destroy everyone's peace and joy?

The good news is that  a silly image that pictures mum as a vacuum cleaner does reverse this self- defeating, addictive pattern because it makes it easier for everyone to understand how ludicrous I have been .  The laughter that follows releases the tension used to keep emotional pain locked up inside. 
Jesus is the only vacuum cleaner who  has  the ability to literally sucked in everyone's emotional pain, sin etc. and then blow in joy, peace and new life back in to every person who allows Him do His job.

The great exchange; surrender dirt and receive the bright, clean breathe of God and then laugh at how long it took you to let it happen.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Shopping With Teenage Girls is A Tragic-Comic Drama

Ah, the wicked delight I experienced every time my oldest three daughters took their younger sisters shopping for a dress for a special occasion like a grade eight or twelve graduation. grade eight or twelve graduation. After a particular stressful shopping trip, they stumble through the door, complaining about their hard to please sibling. Typically,they roll their  eyes and sputter,
 " Do you want to know what kind of dress she wanted me to buy?!"
It was still a wonderful experience for a young adult to shop with a younger sister and in reponse  to their tirade I'd laugh,
"Oh, we understand what you just went through, sweetie. It is payback time! Now you know what your dad and I went through."

I remember scores of tragic-comic dramas as we shopped with our daughters.  One example is particularly telling. Mara was just thirteen and about to graduate from our country elementary school to high school. Since I was still surrounded by little people and laundry, Dad volunteered, quite innocently, for the shopping expedition into the city.
Four hours later, Mara barged through the kitchen door, glared at me and announced very dramatically,
"I am NEVER shopping with HIM again!"
She stomped through the kitchen and slammed the solid wood door to the hall behind her with a dramatic flourish.

A few minutes later, her father slipped through the front  door, shoulders slumped and silently communicated his exhaustion and defeat.
 "So", I queried tentatively, "How did it go?"
 Michael sighed and began to describe one scene in a dress shop. He had picked out a few pretty dresses which he felt were age appropriate. Holding up a flowered print dress with a high, round collar, he called out to his daughter,
"Mara, this one is very pretty."
Mara responded by rolling her eyes dramatically,
"Daaad...that's way too childish."
The sailor style dress that Michael thought was perfect was similarly dismissed.
Then, Mara pulled out a black, spaghetti strapped, clingy, black dress and squealed,
 "Dad, this is exactly what I am looking for!"
  Poor dad sighed but allowed her to try the dress on.
Mara emerged from the dressing room complaining,
"It makes me look FAT."
 Right then and there, my poor husband's only desire was to sink into a deep hole because the  store attendant and her customer both weighed  about 300lbs. and 350lbs. each.
 Both women chimed in and exclaimed to 115lb. Mara,
"Oh no dear, I don't think you look fat at all!"

Somehow,everything always seemed to worked out.   On this occasion, it was Melissa, Mara's older sister , to the rescue. She borrowed a cream coloured dress from a friend, embossed with swirls and a Chinese styled collar that was decent but not childish. Mara was delighted and her dad was relieved.

It is still a wonderful experience for a young adult to shop with a younger sister. Typically my older daughters returned home, rolled their  eyes and sputter,
"Do you want to know what kind of dress she wanted me to buy?!"

Oh, we know, sweetie,we know.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Teen Drama:"How Much Longer oh Lord, How Much Longer?"

One of my sons , in his early teens, had just announced that he could not stand living under our roof another minute,
 "I'm out of here!", he bellowed, "and don't expect me to come back!"
The door slammed and he tore off on his ten speed bike.  Of course my father was visiting and witnessed the whole episode. After a few minutes, Dad turned to my husband and wondered,
" Aren't you going to go after him?" Michael calmly kept reading, then looked up and explained,
"Oh, I'm not worried. The only place near enough to bike to is one of his buddy's and they don't feed kids over there. He'll be back when he is hungry enough."
Sure enough, hunger brought my son home late that night. Nothing needed to be said. No ultimatums were pronounced because he had been humbled enough by the recognition that he still needed to live at home and attempt to get along with our rules and his family.

To balance out any humiliation, teenagers relish the opportunity to catch us in the wrong.
Michael's usual response to swearing, disrespect or a poor attitude was,
"Leave that sort of stuff at school!" One evening at the dinner table on a Sunday, Michael yelled in anger at the dog. David had just filled his plate and was coming back to the table.  He leaned over , looked at his dad and wi a twinkle in his eye and a huge grin on his face said ,
"Leave that sort of stuff at church, eh Dad!" Michael snapped out of his bad mood and had to smile. The kid was right. David's humour diffused the whole situation and Michael was the one who had to apologise this time.

Teenagers  also love to rile their parents, to flaunt rules and standards in a blind desire to figure out who they are in and of themselves. If I remember this fact, I don't overreact to obnoxious behaviour. I like to compare teenagers to two year olds because the very same dynamic is unfolding, only this time it is a stressful transition from childhood to adulthood that requires many years to complete. I read somewhere that 25 is the age that young adults finally get an adult brain! In our family, we actually celebrate that birthday and welcome our offspring into full adulthood.

Sometimes teenagers, boys especially like to demonstrate their new found strength. David loved to come behind me  in the kitchen and with a huge grin on his face pick me up and swing me around or even turn me upside down!
" Oh well", I'd think to myself, "This too will pass, this too will pass."

Mothering Newborns: Life Stripped Down To The Basics

One afternoon before Easter, I was ironing cotton dresses and shirts for church the next day.
 Six year old Mara watched for a while and then pointed to the iron and asked,
 "What is that mummy?"
I laughed because I realized that this little girl had never seen me iron; I usually used the clothes dryer as my wrinkle smoother when I wasn't looking for perfection but rather efficiency. Actually it was not just the iron that seldom received attention as I mothered a large family, something that I considered essential was eliminated from my life with the birth of every child.

Painting portraits went with Matthew. Other births gave the boot to crafts, dusting, bread making, interesting meals and laundry folding ( each child dressed out of their own personal laundry basket).  As every mother knows,  a newborn takes at least eight hours a day to nurse, burp, rock and comfort, bath, change clothes and diapers( at least ten times a day), and to wash diapers, clothes, receiving blankets, sheets and baby blankets as well as your clothes which tend to get covered in vomit, and other nasty surprises.

The lack of sleep leads to a rather narrow existence where the best days are when you can sneak in a nap or shower and dress before noon. Oh, those were the days when life was reduced to the basics.

Guess what?
Those basics were actually miraculous when I  relaxed and allowed myself to live in the moment, enjoying my newborn rather than bemoaning  all the "important" activities that I couldn't seem to even start. The very fact that everything that my little one required  to grow and thrive was  inexpensive and near at hand was amazing. My baby didn't need a lot of money spent on him, he simply needed arms to hold him, mother's milk to drink and warm clothes and blankets.

 A friend  who had five children, couldn't quite grasp my peaceful demeanour as I sat nursing a newborn with family life whirling about me. She finally surmised that I was content to enjoy the  present experience  of mothering a tiny, dependant newborn.
I think that I was given the gift of understanding that although I strove to do my best, ultimately I trusted that my failings would be covered and hidden by Love.

Hence my motto;  "All shall be well, yes all shall be well....For there is a force of Love moving through the universe that  holds us fast and will never let us go."(Julian of Norwich).

This quote is true, even if the iron remains a mysterious object to your children.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Don"t Try so Hard

People say that children are like sponges; they absorb values, attitudes, culture and spirituality simply through osmosis.  It is not simply a question of  parent's actions speaking louder than  their words; it goes much deeper than that . Both my husband and I were often unaware of the deep spirituality that flowed from our children  to us as well as from us as parents to our offspring.

 For example, I was rocking newborn Mara, one afternoon, while eighteen month -old Melissa sat on her Dad's knee, slowly waking up from a long nap. The topic of discussion for the last hour had been, ''How on earth can we manage to get to church as a family with three little ones, all on different schedules?"  Every choice of service or church had  some complication or difficulty that seemed insurmountable. It seemed an impossible situation and I resigned myself to simply staying at home on Sundays for the time being.

Suddenly, we were both startled as a flushed and distraught  three year old Matthew came running into the kitchen.

He was still groggy from his nap but was able to yell in very loud voice, "Jesus says come, Jesus says come!!!

We were both stunned into silence. The deep discussion was over.

This episode really seems to be a mystery at first glance but perhaps but this was a simple demonstration of the power of God living in us as we lived, moved, breathed and had our very being in Him.  He took charge of our dilemma by using the most open, articulate member of our family, a three year old. Most of the time, though, God works on our behalf without any awareness on our part because we are oblivious to spiritual reality. It is probably better that way because  we tend to get in His way.

 One day at mass I distinctly heard  the inner voice of God speaking to me. I thought the words were for the church in general; it took years for me to realize that they were aimed directly at ME.

" You think that you are building my church with all your business, but you are hindering my Spirit and my plans. All I need, all I want, is for you to stand before the Cross and allow the fire of my Son's love to pierce your heart, mind, soul and spirit. Then, He can transform you and the fire of His love will pour out from your entire being , transforming the world. around you."

Of course, twenty years later and years of inner work and healing I am just beginning  to allow His love to sink in deeply. I always feel that I am just a beginner.

.For example after the birth of Lucy, my ninth child, I was growing weary of  church people's praise and awe. They'd gush, "Oh, you must have so much grace!"

 I was aware of my egocentric position and I wanted to shout, "No, it's just tea and me!" Meaning that ,in my opinion, it was caffeine and self drive that kept me going.

Out of the blue, as I was rocking my newborn I heard crystal clear,"You don't have a clue how much grace you have."

I used to try so hard  to be a good  Christian parent but as I give up my earnest striving, let go of control and allowed God  to save me through His presence in  in my children, I experience His mercy and JOY.

My three or four oldest children bore the brunt of my earnest mission to raise my children in the faith. I over explained everything. For example, as Matthew was preparing for first communion, I outlined the different kinds of prayer to him- petition, thanksgiving, adoration, praise... In frustration this seven year old sighed, slumped his shoulders and stated, "Mum, I do all that; I just don't use all those words."

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Battle To Get HIM Dressed

When my eighth child was born, every one was thirteen and under. The mornings could be chaotic and six year old David was the main contributor to the mayhem. He was full of energy and good humour but would express it by running up and down the kitchen in between eating, brushing his teeth, gathering  reading books, exercise sheets and his lunch. Somehow with all this activity he never seemed to be able to get dressed.

While holding newborn Anthony over my shoulder and awkwardly putting lunches together with a helper, I'd repeat over and over, as calmly as I could, "David, please put your clothes on."

Finally I came to my senses; there had to be an easier way to handle the morning Battle To Get HIM Dressed.

Then inspiration hit. David's pyjamas were not all that different than the sweatsuits he wore to school. Why on earth did I not dress him in one of his school sweatsuits right after his nightly bath? It was ingenious, I thought.

After the first  day though, I realised  that I had overlooked one vital article of clothing the night before. As usual, David was running up and down the kitchen but this time I was yelling, "David, please put your socks on."

first day of spring:new life

Monday, 19 March 2012

Our Dog is Brilliant Enough to Act Stupid

Labs are often trained as guide dogs because they understand complex commands and have the ability to remember up to one hundred and fifty of them.
I could complain  for this entire post about my still not trained chocolate lab who is brilliant enough to act stupid when it suits him. However I will limit myself to two antidotes and then I will astound you with his gardening skills.

We adopted Duke (Marmaduke) when he was nine months and he stubbornly clung to several bad habits  that were just too much fun for him but a pain in the neck for us. For example,  he constantly leaps up literally in my face, to engage in some sort of mock fighting. Since he is only 14 pounds lighter than I am but all muscle, he is the definite victor in these contests of strength.  After one frustrating encounter, I harshly commanded Duke to stay "down" and to "sit"  about ten times. I finally threw up my hands and said,
"Oh, why don't you just go get a toy instead of attacking me?"
Duke suddenly stopped in his tracks, his ears perked up , he looked at me with wide opened eyes and then quickly put his nose to the ground and began to search for his hidden toys! All of us were shocked, especially since it now works every time.

Another secret weapon that halts mock fighting is an invitation .
"Come on up and cuddle instead of attacking me."
These words instantly transform Duke into a passive lap dog. After a couple of hours, of sharing a crowded couch with a monstousity of a dog,, one of my daughters pushed Duke off the chesterfield when he refused to move. The intelligent dog's reprisal? He purposfully stuck his tongue in her coffee while maintaining eye to eye contact,  slurped and then turned right around and stalked out of the room.
Way too smart for a beast!
No wonder labs are trained to be finely tuned, obedient guide dogs.

For all his faults, Duke is an excellent gardener. I know that this seems to be an absurd statement but trust me. I speak the truth!

This last fall I was pulling out old grape vines around our property. Duke pushed me out of the way as I struggled to dig up roots and he proceeded to dig furiously with his front paws. Very impressive.

 As I pruned  over head branches, often I only managed to cut half way through the branch. I'd tug and pull but it was Duke's who deserves all the credit for finishing the pruning. He'd leap incredibly high, grasp the errant branch with his teeth and then hang his whole ninety pounds on the branch. that dog saved me hours of work.
Now if we could only become smarter than our dog, all would be well.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Family Dynamics

Divergent Personalities Learning to Live Under the same Roof.

The Experiments Of A RUN-ABOUT Baby

The terrible twos.
Do those words send shivers down your spine like they do mine? Those two little words evoke many awful and amusing scenarios but the most dramatic usually involve  my fourth child, David. As a baby he was a delight with sparkling blue eyes and a warm, loving personality. Physically he was plump and passive. He'd sit quietly, his head whipping from side to side, completely entertained by the activities of his older siblings. 

Anyway, who needs to bother learning to walk when you have three adoring servants to fetch toys for you?
In fact, David was fifteen months before he bothered to walk but when he actually started to move, he didn't stop.

Suddenly this "good" baby mutated into a travelling disaster. There was no malicious intent behind David's activities, just sheer joy in discovery. However, this baby's discoveries were most often messy. In fact,
this run-about-baby's exploits are simply legendary.

One morning, while nursing David's younger sister in the  livingroom,  I realised that David was no longer in the room with me. I strained  my ears to hear what he was up to but the house was oddly quiet, too quiet. The older kids were right outside, near the house but surely David hadn't opened the door to join them all by himself?  Since David was rarely quiet, I quickly put Emily up on my shoulder to burp her and started to try to discover where he was ans what he was up to.

 I found him in the kitchen and I stopped in shock. My fridge  was now covered in a thick layer of peanut butter. Every inch that David could reach was covered, -door handle, hinges, rubber seal... simply everything.

He heard my loud gasp of shock, turned around, peanut butter jar in one hand, with the other hand dipping in the jar for another large scoop and he cheerfully greeted me,
"Hi, Mummy!"

 Try to picture me scooping, scrapping, wiping and  the same time smearing peanut butter with paper towels.
  I then attacked it with very hot, very sudsy water. I  even required  an old toothbrush to reach all those joints and creases. The next week the entire artistic endeavour was executed with margarine! Soon after an entire wall was covered with a crayon mural of scribbles. Now that art job took a week of scrubbing when ever I passed by!

One of Michael's sisters once said to me,
"I am surprised that David turned out so well. I think it was because you didn't come down on him too hard."

 Somehow, I think I was too exhausted to react. I walked around in a daze some days and just let disasters roll off me. My dog eared  child development book  also helped me  roll with the punches because  I realised that I couldn't demand behaviour  that my child was not equipped  yet to mentally or emotionally produce unless it was out of sheer fear.

 I guess I knew David wasn't bad, just a very messy experimenter.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

My Children's Dancing Says It All

Thank goodness my children can dance with joy and abandon because I still cannot.

 Often they dance like they will tonight in a circle, facing each other, laughing and relating to each other.  They enjoy each other but are also inclusive and it seems that others get caught up in their exuberance.

To their father and I, they radiate  freedom, joy and light. Thank God that our ceiling is our childrens' floor.  I could weep with relief because they are not starting their lives back at the same point as we did.

Basically we said, " The buck stops here, with us. Do not touch our kids."It was a way of letting go of  negative inherited traits and relaxing into the Light, we opened the flow of blessings for our kids.

People ask Michael and I what our secret is to raising great kids and we must honestly admit that it was  letting go of control, while still  in the darkness,  and trusting in the Light.
All our best efforts, struggles, sufferings simply threw us head long into a stone wall.
Giving up was the best thing that we ever did.

Just look at our adult (and soon to be adult ) offspring dance.

Their dancing says it all.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Delight in the Little Things

One of my daughters and  her husband of three weeks , are celebrating their marriage with a huge wedding reception for two hundred people tomorrow. Mara has planned every detail from the match covers to the large buffet. Most of all, she has poured her creative spirit into making all the decorations by hand with sisters and friends. From green wheat grass in planters, tissue paper flowers in greens and plum to spray painted hydrangeas in purple, sliver, black and lime green. She is creative and can make the most from the least. Everything is gorgeous and perfect in every tiny detail.
Children are born with a sense of wonder and the ability to enjoy little things like a tiny ant carrying a big leaf, a beautiful flower, the feel of waves on their ankles or the warble of a bird. Mara retains an appreciation for detail and she remembers the little things.
Her godmother, Martha, once asked her, when she was about six what she liked most about Christmas. Mara replied immediately, "The Pineapple."
Martha was astounded. My adult children were remembering their childhood and Mara said, 
" I always remember the fresh smell of clean sheets every week."
Such a small thing, yet a child, with a heart full of gratitude, takes great pleasure from it.
Another time Mara was recounting how pleased she was with a plant in her garden. Realizing that she was enjoying such a small thing she laughed,
"Oh my god, I am sounding just like Mum

The ability to take delight in the plethora of tiny details all around me was encouraged by years of  living with tiny children. I am the type of person who notices and remembers details. These stories for example pour effortlessly from my heart and mind. Repeating a conversation, verbatim, just comes naturally because the details remain vivid in my memory.
 Also the things that raise my spirits are usually small and most people would not consider them significant. For example, one Christmas I was very tired and only one gift sparked joy, real euphoria. It was hand crotched dish clothes from my friend Cathy. clothes, beautifully made, colourful, something I used a hundred times a day.
Perhaps this is one of the blessings of a large family; the ability to retain the child's sense of awe and to delight in and to remember the little things.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Sly Fox And The Traumatized Chicken

The sly fox.
No words  better describe our intelligent, resident fox. Red consistently fooled our dumb guard dog by laying his  foxy scent in pointless circles. He KNEW that Shadow, our dog, would mindlessly follow his nose, not his eyes. However, Red was even more adept at nabbing chickens.

About five years ago, Michael was by the house when suddenly a streak of red caught his eye. He was surprised to realize that this was our fox, out in broad daylight. Michael lost sight of him but he yelled for our dog a moment later when he saw a large, white feathered chicken in the foxes' mouth. Red looked over at the dog , who had leaped excitedly over a garden bed, dropped the chicken, ran into some bushes between the chicken coop and the barn, squirmed out and ran into the cornfield. The dog was left in his wake, sniffing  in circles among the bushes around the barn. Of course Shadow didn't catch on to the fact that the fox was  long gone.

Meanwhile Michael rushed over to the traumatized chicken. That chicken had not moved one feather since she was dropped, nor had she uttered a sound! Chickens always cluck, especially when they are frightened or startled. The clucking then rises in pitch and speed and transforms into nerve rattling squawking. Not this stunned bird. Michael noticed that there wasn't a scratch on her because the fox only bite down with his soft mouth. His teeth did not pierce the chicken's skin at all, not one drop of blood. Michael  gently placed the chicken back into the outdoor run and still she sat, silently like a statute!

We all marvelled at the fox's audacity because this episode occurred in broad daylight. Red did not even wait for the cover of darkness, nor did he care that his enemy,our 'guard dog' was around. What he had been doing during daylight hours, for almost  two weeks  was sneaking through the long grass just beyond the chicken wire fence then slipping right into the chicken run and snatching  birds. The whole process had been a silent one. It seems the chickens were as shocked as we were and no chicken alarm was raised. We were oblivious to the fox's tricks till the day when Red became a little too bold. We  quickly fixed the fence , thereby cutting off his easy pickings.

Do not feel sorry for the sly fox. He had a supply of ten chickens to last him a long time.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Our Baby eats DOG FOOD?!

Life was especially chaotic after the birth of our eighth and ninth children because everyone was still fourteen and under.  It was difficult to keep a sharp eye out for my new bundle of energy, Anthony.

As our second youngest, Anthony's basic character has always been pleasant and easy going. His eyes are usually twinkling and a slight smile graces his face.  Most troubles seem to just roll off his back and his small smile often changes into a mischievous grin as he sits back on the fringes of our family stage and observes the emotional drama of his six sisters enfold.

One year, a high school religion teacher noticed Anthony's deep grasp of the feminine mind. During class discussions, after a few male students stumbled out vague answers to her enquiries, the teacher would turn to the class authority on girls, "Anthony", she'd call out," You had six sisters; what do you say?" Invariably, as my son started giving his opinion, all the girls would slowly nod their heads in agreement.

However this agreeable, laid back young man, was quite a character as a baby and little kid.  With his eyebrows lifted up in surprise, his eyes wide open, making sure he didn't miss anything and  with his wiry body, squirming with energy, he was definitely alive. As Anthony peered over my shoulder one afternoon, staring at a friend of Michael's, the 'stranger' said,
 "Boy,  is that baby ever AWAKE! "
Thar short statement basically sums up baby Anthony's personality.

Once he learnt to crawl, Anthony was into everything and made sure that he reached his destination with great speed.  Sometimes, after running to grab  and scoop up this little bundle of happy energy, before he could dive into trouble,  I would realize that Anthony's hands and feet would be still moving, as if he was trying to crawl in the air.

The pivotal point, where Anthony's crawling speed accelerated dramatically, was when he discovered the bowl of dog food. If the dog, Leisha, didn't come to eat right away or left  food in his dish,  Anthony was immediately crawling over  to it as fast as his hands and knees would move. He'd grab a chunk of dried food in his hand and start gnawing on it.
Was he using  it to teeth on?
 Did I not feed that baby enough?
Did little Anthony actually like the gritty,hard, dry dog food?
 I don't know.

All  I do know is that when we moved the dog dish and huge bag of food to the back entrance,  in an attempt to hide it from the baby, he found  the dog food.  When he reached the dog dish, he dove into it , chomping with gusto. That  spot became Anthony's destination every morning while I was trying to get six kids feed, dressed decently, with notes signed, homework done, lunches made and packed and hair brushed and braided.

 Fianally, I reached my limit; we decided to move the dog dish and food  right out of the house to the wood shed, even if it meant that feeding the dog became more complicated.

Did that stop the crawling baby cruiser?
Not after he was out one day and saw the kids feeding Leisha.
The kids had barely turned away from the shed, when the speedy crawler made a beeline to the dog dish.
From that moment on, I'd yell from the kitchen,as the kids headed for the front door,
"Don't let the dog in and don't let Anthony out!!"

Some mornings, as  older children struggled to keep happy, eager Leisha from following them down the lane,  Anthony would crawl as fast as he could, duck through everyones' legs and  try to squirm out the door. The kids would call out,
"Anthony's headed for the dog food again!"

Raccoons Blew the Transformer, The Calf Broke Through The Fence, The Dog Ate The Turkey....

Every single time  my husband Michael attends a conference or leaves for a fishing or hunting weekend, something  major goes wrong on our hobby farm. This is not  simply the delusions of a paranoid woman, all my kids are well aware of this pattern. Just four months ago,  for example, Michael was gone for two weeks and a total of ten accidents and catastrophes occurred. Part of the disaster list from his last absence is as follows:

1. The fuel tank was red tagged which meant the heating company cancelled oil deliveries until we replaced the tank and this was January. We turned the heat to a very low setting and heated the house with  the woodstove alone.
2.The dog figured out how to open the fridge and devoured the entire meat and cheese drawer. The door was damaged; we resorted to pushing a chair up against the fridge door.
3.The palm sander died . I was refinishing the old pine floors with it the slow way.
4. A friend accidentally damaged the 100 + year old stained glass in the front door pushing the door with his shoulder.It took Michael three days to restore it.
5. 20 cm. of snow fell and my husband is the only one who can drive the tractor which plows our long lane and our neighbours'.
6.A chair that needed to be glued, fell apart as a visitor sat on it.

 As I complained dramatically to a friend, one afternoon, disbelief flashed across her face. Katie, Rachel and Lucy all chimed in, "No ,really; it is true." We all jumped in to the conversation ,adding evidence from over the years. This is a shortened version of our catastropy list which we attribute to Michael's twice yearly departures from out property.
A.Wolf,  a dog we  were dog sitting, ate one of our turkeys, appalling  the subburb kids who were tenting at our place.
B. The calf escaped to the far field; the kids and I ran through knee high drifts  of snow for over an hour using a bucket of grain as bait.
C.The squirrels moved in and ate all the bird seed.
D.The horse broke out, crossed the road and had all of us running or pedalling bikes as we tried to corner him in a huge field.It tok a looong time to get a rope attached to his bridle.
E. The basement flooded.
F. Three baby racoons were chased up a hydro pole by our wonderful guard dog and one blew the transformer  as he attempted to climb down; he  died as a result. The electrical crew , who had arrived in a huge cherry picker truck, argued whether they really wanted to go up there and rescue the wild racoons.
" Do you want to go up there George?"
"Who me? No way. Why don't you do it Harry?"
"No way"
They turned to me and stated,
"Tell you what . We'll turn your power on and just come back tomorrow after they blow the transformer again."
David decided to simply open his upstairs window, point a gun out it and take the racoons out of their misery. The power stayed on.

This pattern has been repeated countless times and is a source of great amusement as we look back. However each time it actually took place,we were all lamenting Dad's absence and praying for his return before anything else could go wrong.