- up at 4:45, locate contacts
- 4:49 shower
- 5:07 get dressed; rescue hair and face
- 5:25 review seminary lesson
- 5:45 wake up 3 big kids, tell them to get ready
- 5:50 wake up the kids who fell back to sleep and tell them to get ready again
- 6:00 tidy house
- 6:10 family devotional and scripture study
- 6:30- teach seminary
- 7:20 scramble to finish hair, sign school forms, find coats, wake up little boys and get them ready
- 7:35 start the school drop offs
- 7:50 sit in the car for 20 minutes until I can drop last kid off
- 8:25 get boys home, feed them
- all before 9 am, people.
You should see the rest of the day. This is why the blogging is a bit slow.
Actually, things are going very well. The first few weeks of having five children I was forgetting to eat and sat down maybe three times total in a week. I’m sitting a lot more now and eating more than enough. We are out of survival mode and into the new normal.
We’ve adjusted well. The kids are acting like siblings: playing, fighting, watching each other’s backs one minute and ratting each other out the next. It is much less a contest for attention and more of an understood groove. People know where they stand and what is expected. The honeymoon is over, and real personalities are emerging.
I’ve known Dr. Jekyll for two months; he’s a lovely individual. In the past few weeks I’ve also gotten to know Mr. Hyde on a much more intimate level. And Mr. Hyde is one manipulative, crafty, angry, nasty little poop. He is fierce, but nothing I can’t handle. After all, my own children have been pretty challenging, so I have a few insights and a few tricks from experience. I am nowhere as naive as I was with my first born, and that helps. However, my biological children are very different from my foster children.
My children are without guile; they can’t manipulate their way out of a box. My children do not find smug satisfaction in other people’s trials and consequences. They do not have it in themselves to be truly devious, and genuinely prefer it when everyone wins. They are terrible liars, and they have a healthy sense of guilt. They are beautifully, wonderfully attached to their parents and to each other. Yes, they have intense emotions and they get mad and yell and hit and try on all sorts of naughtiness as they grow and mature. They are far from perfect, which makes them very typical. I see every day how living in this world is slowly teaching them less attractive traits. Most of those unpleasant qualities are, after all, necessary survival skills. To quote the movie White Christmas, “Surely you knew everybody’s got a little larceny operating in them? Everybody’s got an angle.”
The difference is that most people gradually accumulate that cynicism and sense of self preservation. The people who gain these skills when they are still, quite literally, babies do so because they have to. Aside from the good looks, charm and brilliant minds, these children are nothing like my own.
They are more like me.
It has been an interesting period of introspection.
I had many challenges in my childhood- challenges that without a good mother would have very easily landed me in the foster care system. The situations I dealt with demanded a set of skills not generally required for children. My life was survival of the fittest, and it was a good thing that I was an expert manipulator-it meant many of my needs were met, and in the process of learning to manipulate, I learned how to recognize others who sought to manipulate me for their own gain. It was a good thing that I was a convincing liar-it got me out of very dangerous situations and saved people I loved from getting hurt. It was prudence and wisdom to be controlling- I would have been more hurt than I was if I hadn’t taken that control on the occasions when I could. That control equaled protection. If I hadn’t known how to look out for number one at all costs, it is possible that I wouldn’t even be here today.
So when I look into the sweet faces of these children and I see sparks of malevolence and cold calculation, when I stand just outside a door and observe artful cunning and a cynicism far beyond their years, I get it. Yes, it is disturbing, but I’m not afraid of it. I understand where it is coming from and why. And I can shove that learned nastiness aside and see the person behind it, and see how frightened and how angry and how desperate that little person really is.
I turned out alright because I had very good parents. I had a mother who loved me unconditionally and a dad who made it a point to make sure that I learned that I needed to choose healthier ways to deal with life, and who had very little tolerance for the ugly behaviors I relied on. That wasn’t easy either. I was in trouble a lot, and mad about it. I understand it much more clearly now that I am parenting someone a lot more like me. I am this daughter’s personal brick wall. I am the knife that slices through her web of manipulation and makes sure it doesn’t work. I am the demanding maestro who is always a few measures ahead, because I practically wrote this song, and I know where she’s going to lose her rhythm and hit the wrong notes. She has to re-learn some life skills, just as I had to, and people don’t generally change and refine their behavior unless their current behaviors aren’t getting them what they want.
I try to balance the discipline with hugs and positive moments, but sometimes I still feel mean. However, it would be neglect to be anything but this persistent. Sometimes it is a little overwhelming. At the same time, I feel uniquely equipped to take on this role. I can see the hand of God in their placement in our home. I see through these kids, because when it comes to those unfriendly qualities, I am a master.
I am sure some of you who know me on a more personal level don’t recognize these attributes in me (at least I hope not!). I try to use my powers for good, as they say, because how we utilize the skills we’ve gained is, ultimately, a choice. These children have never had anyone present the other option. You can’t choose what isn’t offered, so they really can’t choose wrong or right, good vs evil, better or worse- they can only choose what they know. My parents made sure that I saw my options and the consequences related to those options. Choices and accountability for those choices was probably the most defining lesson of my childhood, repeated over and over at each new age and stage. I was a child who was desperate for control- and these new choices didn’t bind me, they offered alternatives that ultimately freed me.
I want to clarify that I am not entirely over all of this. I’m not sure if that is possible. I still struggle at times and want to revert back to these very basic survival skills, especially the control freak behavior. I am pleased to say that most of the other stuff is buried under much more positive coping skills. I hope I can pass at least a little of this healing on while these kids are with me. They won’t be here forever, and I hope they will be blessed with the same resiliency God gave me, and that wherever the next step leads they will continue to find those better options.
For anyone shopping in the Rapid City Petco today who may have seen someone who looked like the world’s worst mother with three small children- 1 little girl in pink and two littler boys in striped sweaters- I would just like to clear something up.
I’m sure you couldn’t help but notice when the older boy, aged three and a half, ran excitedly up to the aquariums shouting, “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch! Mommy! Mommy! Bitch!!!!!!” And I’m sure that your horror at this massive breech of social decorum turned to all out disbelief when the mother in question, rather than looking properly abashed and chastising her child, began to laugh, hysterically, while the child continued to spout profanities.
Said three year old has a severe speech delay. And said mother has a mildly irreverent sense of humor and, when it’s all said and done, would rather laugh than cry.
Bitch in Gabriel-ese is actually fish.
We have three aquariums at home.
I hear that word ALL. DAY. LONG.
At least he’s not mispronouncing the word truck.
Stress, The Parable of the Talents, And You Bet Your Boots This Is One Of Those Posts Written For My Own Edification
Shortly before the Air Force moved us to South Dakota, I had an evening where the stress of the move and the impending unknown brought me to my knees in tears. I am pretty sure that every military wife has some version of this moment before moving. I was happy about moving, for the most part. The other part of me, the part that sparked the emotional meltdown, was made up entirely of fear. It usually is.
I ended up in my bedroom with the door shut, on my knees, trying to put into words the near panic attack that was going on in my brain. There were the usual concerns of stuff breaking and housing being impossible to set up, and then the “what ifs” set in and the rest of the prayer went something like this. “What if no one likes me? What if I end up hating it there? What if I’m unhappy? What if everyone I meet thinks I’m an incompetent loser and WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT!!!?” It was with this very mature and self assured thought that I opened my eyes, not even formally closing my prayer, eyes bugging out, staring blindly at my bedspread while contemplating this new horror I hadn’t even allowed myself to verbalize during all of my mental rants.
It was at that moment, while I was dangling on the precipice of a self loathing induced nervous breakdown that I heard a very quiet, gentle voice inside my mind say, “Leah. Don’t worry. I’ll put you to work.”
And then I smiled. My Savior knows me, and because of that, as it says in scripture, He knows precisely how to succor me in my time of need. Only someone who knew me very, very intimately would give this perfect answer that I wasn’t expecting. I have such a defining need to be useful, and have learned the lesson that work is a blessing many times over. I do not cope well with idleness. I also know that the very best way to end a pity party is to get up and go be of service to someone else. That is the recipe for true happiness, and that is why so much of Christ’s teachings focus on the importance of giving service. He wants us to be happy.
I used to think that the commandment to give service was for the benefit of others and society. Caring for the sick, the poor and the lonely is just good sense if you want a functioning community. But I understand that the Savior didn’t give any commandments that weren’t for our direct benefit. The gift of being able to work and serve others is a gift given for our own edification- and ultimately our sanctification. If the point of being here on this earth is to become more like Jesus Christ, then giving loving service could probably be considered Christianity 101.
That’s all fine and dandy, isn’t it? Well, what about when you hit that other wall where the work God has blessed you with seems like more than you can actually manage? What if no matter how hard you try, and how faithful and diligent you’ve been you still fall short and never quite get to where you meant to be? What if you’ve got so many things on your plate that your head is actually starting to spin and you think you might crack sooner rather than later?
That’s where I was last night. Actually, that’s where I’ve been for several days. God has most definitely kept His promise to “put me to work,” and vastly exceeded my expectations of what that was going to entail. And that’s great! It’s just hard, and frequently I don’t know what I’m doing. I have been assuring myself for several weeks now that His grace would be sufficient in all things I am trying to do right now, because I know that the things I am using my life up on are what God would have me do. And that is true. Knowing you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and knowing that He will make up the difference because you are doing your best is a huge comfort.
But even then, because I have some really unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies, I can still become completely overwhelmed. And then God blesses me. I was reading in Matthew 25 last night while prepping a seminary lesson I need to teach this week when I ended up going over the parable of the talents. Initially, I glanced at it, thought I already understood it, and started to move on- and then something told me to stop and go back. I read that parable with completely new eyes last night. (Go figure- I’m doing service by teaching seminary, and it’s blessing me. Case in point.)
To sum up (although I recommend you just go read verses 14-30 via the Matthew link above): The lord gave three of his servants each some talents (a unit of money). One got five, one got two and one got one. The first two were industrious and made the most of what they had, ultimately doubling what they started with. The servant’s master was pleased, called them good and faithful, and made them rulers over many things. The last guy took his talent, buried it in the earth and failed to benefit himself or anyone else with it, and had nothing more to present to his lord. The lord said this servant was wicked and slothful, took back the one talent, and cast the servant out.
It is so very, very easy to take this parable, turn monetary talents into the talents we have been blessed with and say: Use ‘em or lose ‘em, and while you’re using them, do so in a way that benefits God, and makes you worthy of being called good and faithful. End of story. (See? I can be succinct when I want to.)
So what was new last night? It all started when this very overwhelmed woman read the verse that states:
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
All I could think was that I absolutely did not want to be made ruler or given any more responsibility than I already had. What kind of reward was that? This is pretty childish, but understandable. When you’ve just spent a half an hour in prayer, bemoaning your pathetic capacity to handle the many things that are stressing you out, the answer you want is not, “I’m going to bless you with even more of that!”
Then I read further on, and saw what the underachieving third servant had to say to justify how he had manged things:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
I was afraid. Did that ever jump out at me. I was afraid, too. Afraid of having any more on my plate. So afraid of failing at what I had been given (not just talents, but time, energy, and the very breath in my body- everything the Lord gave me) that I was actually ready to turn down the opportunity to make more of myself. No thanks, Lord, you can keep all that extra stuff and I’ll just try to return the basic gift of myself to you intact, no worse for wear- but no better. Don’t you just hate it when you read the scriptures and realize that you’re the equivalent of the third servant?
Before I had time to feel too badly about this, I looked over the parable again and saw the beauty behind verse nineteen.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
After a long time . Perfection, or even being wildly profitable isn’t required now. While there certainly will be a reckoning of how I spent my time and energy and what I made of myself- that’s not today. The story isn’t over. I have time. Not time to be lazy and slothful and a big chicken, but time to work on things and get better. Time to have faith.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliverdest unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
I have gained. It also struck me that both of the good and faithful servants simply reported their work as having gained. It didn’t matter that one had ten and one had four, they had both gained. There was no perfect number of talents, no lofty goal to hit before you could be considered good and faithful. Good and faithful servants gain. They grow. They do a little better each day. The point is not perfection- it’s progression. I can look at myself and honestly report that I, too, have gained. Do I have it all together? No. But I have it more together than I did before. Maybe I’m not quite so third servant, after all. Let’s look at that verse that had me scared earlier.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
1: Since I’m here trying to learn to be more like Jesus, it is valuable to note that this exercise in “gaining” is really just practice helping me to be more like Him. Everything the Savior puts His hand to is made more. Loaves and fishes, a repentant heart, fishermen into apostles. Christ magnifies everything, including me. In a very small way, that is what He is teaching me to do.
2: It’s not about the level of responsibility. It isn’t about how much or how worthwhile what I do amounts to. It doesn’t matter how fast I do what I’m supposed to do. It matters that what I do is done joyfully. It all goes back to that original blessing of happiness. God lets me serve because He wants me to be happy, so rather than asking to do things better or faster or smarter, I would be wise to ask Him to help me live my life with more joy. Joy is the end goal of life, as well as the sustaining force that can carry us through.
And I knew this before. I just needed reminding.
We had planned a family vacation to Fargo awhile back, and then the Air Force canceled it, as they are wont to do. So when my husband came home from work about two weeks ago and said he was taking leave, and then asked me if I wanted to go to Fargo, I said yes. . .but I wanted to go by myself!
I have never just taken off and left my husband home with the kids. And certainly, I’ve never left him home with FIVE kids. The closest I’ve come is having babies or surgery and spending a night away at the hospital, which is completely different than a full week of an experience I like to call “Welcome to Motherhood!”
He was very supportive of me taking a vacation (we both knew I needed it), and we decided that I would take just Maggie and have a girl road trip.
IT WAS AWESOME!
It was so nice to sit down, and stay sitting down for as long as I wanted. It was great to hear quiet and not automatically assume that someone was shredding curtains or setting the carpet on fire. I ate meals without popping up and down ten times trying to take care of everyone else while my food got cold. Maggie is easy, entertains herself for the most part and completely enjoyed her break from reality as well. I loved shopping with people who were patient, walked at the pace of normal human beings, and never screamed hysterically for a treat. Heck, I loved shopping in general, simply because Fargo has pretty decent options when it comes to clothes shopping and I had all my favorite stores at my fingertips! It was beautiful.
I visited a few friends, but mostly just hung out with my parents and did nothing, which is just what the doctor ordered. We did have one grand adventure when we drove out to Bluebird Gardens, a really cool Farm co-op my parents participate in. We harvested pumpkins, lugged them out of the field ourselves and loaded up my car with A LOT to take home.
Confession: I love pumpkins. And not a little. Very little in nature makes me happy like Autumn and Pumpkins- and boy did Fargo deliver a gorgeous fall!
Now I am home, and getting back into the swing of things. Gabe has barely moved from my side since I walked in the door. All is well at home, and Chris did an amazing job making sure everyone was happy and fed. Astonishingly, the house wasn’t completely destroyed when I got home. I wonder if he’ll let me do this every year?