Friday, October 26, 2012

Empty House

This morning my house is eerily still, and while I should be celebrating my 24 hours of freedom from my four oldest kids, and I can't shake the uneasy feeling that hangs over me. I've been separated from my kids for short periods of time before--an afternoon here or there. I've even stayed away for a day or two when I was in the hospital giving birth to another baby. But I've never, ever stayed in my own house overnight without my children, since Naomi was born over 8 years ago. And while my conscious, rational being understands they are perfectly fine at Grandma's house overnight, my subconscious keeps screaming over and over, "Oh no! Where are the kids?! Something's wrong! The kids! The kids!" And it's getting really annoying.

Last night, after dropping an extremely excited crew of Naomi, Hannah, Emma, and Toby at Grandma's house for a Cousin Campout in her basement, I drove Elijah home and met Matt, just returning from work. We strapped Elijah into the stroller and went for a walk in the moonlight, a rare treat for us, especially with temps in the upper 60's in late October. This morning Elijah let me sleep in a little, and I had to remind myself not to set out all the kids' juice cups and medications this morning. I felt a little better when I read my mother in law's facebook updates that said Toby had kept her up 'till 11:30pm and Naomi had woken up at 4:30am to read books by flashlight in her tent. Oh yes, Grandma's handling everything just fine...better her than me.

I have big plans to organize the kids' winter wardrobes and get some shopping done today, with only my littlest sidekick beside me, but my mind keeps wandering from the task at hand to my empty house. Whenever it happens that I get a break from the chaos I am reminded afresh that no matter how busy and stressful my life may be, I much prefer the noises of my children playing to the echo of a ticking clock, and I would rather live the same stressful but meaningful day over and over again than the same easy but empty one.

I have no funny sayings to record here today, and no cute pictures to attach to this post, because well, me in my pajamas until 10:00am is neither funny nor cute. So I'll sign off now and do my best to enjoy the unique opportunity that I have for peace and quiet today, but I'm secretly counting down until 6:00 tonight when I can be reunited with the four missing pieces of my life again.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mama's Sick Day

Matt's first words when he came home from work yesterday were, "What happened in here?!" and, "Kathy! Where are you?!"

"I'm on the couch. I can't get up. I'm sorry," I croaked back. But a small part of me was thinking, "Just in case you ever wondered what I do all I didn't do it."

The kitchen floor was covered in a mixture of Chex and Perky's Crunchy Rice cereals. The table, counters, and sink were littered with dirty dishes and open packages of tortilla chips, salsa, lunch meat, sunflower seeds, and banana chips. There was peanut butter on almost every surface imaginable. So for further clarification I added, "The kids fed themselves today. Can you tell?"

Matt was surprisingly sympathetic after picking his way through the kitchen and finding me on my deathbed, green with nausea. He poured me a glass of lemon-lime soda and asked how I was feeling.

"Not too terrible, unless I try to get up," I answered.

Emma had fallen to the 24 hour stomach flu one week earlier, probably a nice little perk of her attending preschool. After we all stayed healthy for the following five days, I breathed a premature sigh of relief. Then it began. Thursday evening I began to feel nauseous and Elijah started to have diarrhea. Friday morning I couldn't get out of bed. Every time I attempted to sit up the room spun, and I was overtaken by such nausea and lightheadedness that I was afraid I might black out.

I called the girls into my room and explained that they were going to have to be the mommies that day. I could nurse Elijah while lying in bed, and we closed the baby gate at the top of the stairs so he could crawl in between the kids' room and mine. Hannah watched Elijah while Naomi fixed the morning juices and pills for the kids. "Alright," I thought, "we can do this."

Then Elijah had a diarrhea blowout and I had no choice but to attempt to sit up and change him. It was all I could do to get him wiped up and in a fresh diaper before I collapsed back in bed. The girls had to find him clothes and get him dressed and carry the poop-covered jammies down to the bathtub, where they lay all day long.

Around noon I managed to carry Elijah down the stairs and collapse on the couch. Naomi and Hannah got him into his highchair and fed him some rice chex and pieces of lunch meat and fruit. I lay on the couch semi-conscious, with the room swirling around me, wondering what the kitchen must look like, but I never made it in to see. Matt had the pleasure of seeing it first.

"What is that awful smell in the bathroom?!" he called to me.

"Mommy! My tummy hurts!" Hannah called to me. "It hurts so, so, so bad! I just can't cry any more!" Matt got her a bowl and sent her to bed.

"Next I'm going to just blow the house up," he mused, "and put us all out of our misery."

Around 6:00pm I stumbled back up the stairs to lay in my bed too. Not long after that I heard splattering noises coming from the kids' bedroom and all I could do was call for Matt. Hannah had forgotten her bowl and decided instead to vomit all over her blankets, her pillows, and her stuffed animal collection. I felt truly sorry for Matt at this point, and I would have helped him if I could have, but that would have involved me staying vertical and conscious for more than 30 seconds, which was impossible. So I lay in my bed instead and was actually pretty impressed with how well he handled it all. He put Hannah in a warm bath, stripped the bedding, threw her pillow in the trash, ran two loads of laundry, and only gagged twice.

"Did you wash her blankets on gentle?" I asked later.

"No," he answered with a look that said 'Are you kidding me?' "I washed them on Ultra-Clean!"

This morning my nausea had finally subsided, but I felt very weak and dehydrated after nursing a 10 month old for 36 hours while taking in only sips of fluid. After a glass of lemon-lime soda I felt strong enough to clean up the kitchen and make an enormous pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Between 10am and 3pm I ate five bowls and felt much stronger again, which is good, because I still faced a mountain of laundry, including the diarrhea-laden pajamas that Matt had been so kind as to throw into the basement without even rinsing. I guess nobody's perfect.

Today Naomi and Toby have acquired the runs and Matt has begun running a low-grade fever, which means I'm back in command of this sinking ship. I'm guessing we won't be attending church tomorrow. Tonight I'm tucking everyone into bed with a bowl and a roll of paper towels. I need my sleep to face tomorrow.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Haunted Universe

I woke up in a haunted universe
And stood at once in awe
Of the splendor of intricate design
And the despair of its decay

And could not decide
If for the indescribable beauty
I burst with elation
Or for its wasting
I mourned

Yet under the sickening blight
The architecture was so lofty
My heart ached to know the crafter

And when I, dusting cobwebs
Glimpsed his fingerprint
On an ornate doorpost
A thrill of hope surged up my spine
He was here!
As if the evidence had not been
Overwhelmingly around me

Gazing on the structure
My eye fell on a shingle
Once loose
And a single nail, tapped into place
Holding back corruption
He is still here

If I could not ever fully explain
Why he left
Why the pain
It would not wipe that print away

And if I could not tell you why
He allows the rule of blight
It would not pull that nail from its place

I could not stand less amazed
At the artisan
Beyond my comprehension

I walk a haunted universe
Sentimental over every remnant
Of the grandeur it used to be
Grieving its demise
Cherishing each glimpse
Of his tending hand
Awaiting his return

--Katherine Eby

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hannah Ballerina and Toby Tough Guy

Hannah has a best friend now. There's a family at our church whose 5 young children are almost the same ages as mine. For the past three years our kids have made up the majority of the nursery and primary Sunday School classes at our small church. Our kids have always been friends, but recently their second-born, Abby, and my second-born, Hannah, have decided they are best-friends.

After church last Sunday while Naomi sat discussing the details of ocean life with her shark-obsessed friend (who is probably her best friend, but being a boy, will probably never be labeled a best friend), and Emma and Toby ran a muck with the other preschoolers, Hannah and Abby sat quietly together on a couch in the corner. "We were having best friend time," Hannah explained to me. "We just talked for hours and hours." From what I heard Hannah was doing most of the talking, but Abby didn't seem to mind. Abby's mom and I have often marveled at how similar those two are with their love all of all things pink, sweet, and otherwise girlie, so I'm sure they found plenty to talk about.

Recently Hannah taught Abby how to catch a butterfly. "All you have to do is call its name," she explained. "If you just say, 'Here Buddy, Buddy..." then they come to you, and you can catch them." Abby was delighted, thanked Hannah, and ran to tell her mom that Hannah had told her how to catch a butterfly. I ran to hide.

This fall when we enrolled Hannah in soccer, Abby was enrolled in ballet class. Hannah loved the idea of playing soccer, but once the practices and games began she surprised me with how timid she was. It didn't help that my girls got placed on the best team in the league with a bunch of tough and experienced players. Hannah would rather stand in one spot and daydream than push and shove her way into a mass of kicking, flailing legs just to kick a silly ball. I really enjoyed playing soccer as a kid, and Matt played all through college, so we've tried to encourage our girls to give it a chance. But a few weeks back, when Abby had "bring a friend" day at ballet class and Hannah glowed for three days afterwards, we began to think we may be pushing Hannah down the wrong path.

Last Sunday Abby's mom, who had participated in ballet into young adulthood, was concerned that Abby wasn't enjoying ballet as much as she might if she has a friend with her. I laughed thinking just how much fun Hannah and Abby would have at ballet together, but never really entertained the idea because the cost of tuition was far above our means. On Monday morning Abby's mom called me and said that she and her husband would like to help us with the ballet tuition if Hannah would like to join Abby's ballet class. I talked it over with Matt and was surprised at how readily he agreed. Hannah didn't take much convincing either.

"Oh! Do you mean it, Mama?" she asked with gaping mouth and saucer eyes. "I can actually go to ballet every week with Abby?! I never thought you'd actually let me do that! Oh! I love ballet!"

"Do you love it more than soccer?" I asked, tongue in cheek.

"Soccer is boring!" she retorted. "Soccer is for boys!"

All the rest of Monday and Tuesday Hannah told everyone she met that she was going to be in ballet: the doctor at Toby and Elijah's appointment, the registration lady at the hospital, and each of her sisters at least twenty times until I had to tell her to tone it down a little. Yesterday as I got Hannah dressed in her ballet uniform (a spare on loan from Abby's mom), her excitement kept bubbling up in giddy giggles.

"You look really beautiful, sweetie," I smiled as I fixed the bun in her hair.

"Cute," she corrected me, "I don't look beautiful, I look cute 'cause I'm still little."

We arrived early to class to fill out papers and get her fitted for slippers. Then Hannah and Abby sat together on the dancers' bench and walked into class holding hands. "We held hands going in," Hannah later told me, "and we were beside each other the whole class. We were lucky too, because the teacher even picked us to be partners."

I wish I could have seen the class, but the parents aren't allowed to watch. I sat in the waiting room with my other four kids (Matt was working late again), talked with Abby's mom, and listened to the Disney music drifting in from the studio on the other side of the wall. When class was over Hannah was all smiles. "It was lots of fun, Mama!" she chattered on her way to the van. "We even did one dance with magic wands and tiaras. Mine was purple and pink. And we did one dance where we got to hold our partner's hand and twirl around. And we did lots of plie, straighten up, plie, straighten up."

"So do you think you'd like to go back again?" I teased.

"Oh! Only ten-thousand times more!" she gasped, fainting into her car seat.

Her continuous ballet babble leaked into every gap in the bedtime routine last night. It was still oozing from my ears as I filled Toby's cup of milk. The contrast with Toby's bed-time boasting made me laugh. Toby zipped-up his "Bob-the-builder" dress-up vest and announced, "I put on my cement clothes! I'm a man! It's cold outside and I don't care about cold. I just wear my cement coat outside!"

He wasn't feeling quite so brave at 5:00am though, when I heard the most ear-splitting scream followed by running and crashing noises, and more screaming. I lept out of bed more from the terror of Elijah waking than fear for Toby's well-being. Toby clung to me and shook and screamed for a long half-minute before settling down.

"It's OK, it's OK, Toby," I soothed him, "Did something scare you?"

"Yeah," he whimpered, "That shadow!" He pointed to the shadows of the tree branches waving across his window, and we had a little laugh and tucked him back in.  This morning he is brave and strong again, and we are settled down for a more normal day of the homeschool routine. Elijah is threatening to disrupt the peace with his new stair-climbing abilities, and Hannah is back to gurgling on about ballet class.

"I wish ballet was more than just one time a week, " she began this morning. Still blinking her eyes in the kitchen light, she looked at the calendar and sighed, "In six more days I'll go to ballet again."

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Floodgates

Tuesday was a rough day for me. I was more tired and grumpy than usual. Hannah had begun to have severe stomach aches whenever she ate any amount of corn, and the idea of having to remove corn from a diet that is already gluten, dairy, and dye-free seemed so overwhelming to me. Corn is possibly the only ingredient in the American diet that is more pervasive than wheat. In my cupboard I found "cornstarch" or "corn-syrup" on the labels of most of my favorite gf foods.
My wrists have been burning lately (probably carpel-tunnel syndrome) from toting a heavy Elijah around on my hip and from spending hours chopping potatoes, carrots, celery, onions and other veggies for meal after meal. I took a break from the chopping Tuesday evening, sat down at my computer, and typed the following facebook post:
Dear Santa (and his affiliates),

For Christmas I want a great big rice cooker, a great big food processor, a huge crock-pot, and a food dehydrator. Maybe then I will be able to feed my kids without spending 10 hours a day in the kitchen--might even be able to lower it to 8 hours a day.


A mom whose feet are tired of standing by the stove, whose wrists can't take chopping any more potatoes by hand, and whose children might be fooled into believing that dehydrated fruits and veggies are actually a new snack

It was a lighthearted post, meant mainly as a way for me to vent my frustration. I used larger-than-life language because it seemed to fit how much the situation felt out of my hands. I felt inadequate to feed my family all of the from-scratch meals they would need without an industrial-sized kitchen at my fingertips, something that was obviously far beyond my reach. The post was my way of saying, "I don't think I can do this."

Three days later I am still overwhelmed by the completely unexpected response I received. My friends opened their cupboards and their pocketbooks and generously poured out their aid and encouragement on me. In the last three days my kitchen has been donated: a great big rice cooker, a great big food processor, two huge crock-pots, a food dehydrator, a food steamer, and a pressure cooker.

What is more overwhelming to me than the generosity of my friends, is the tender-hearted care of my father in heaven that is evident in this small miracle. He saw my need and he provided, even though I felt more like venting about my inadequacies than praying for his provision.

Over these past three days I have heard in my mind the words of familiar bible verses, reminding me of truths I am always tempted to forget. And though each of these passages is clearly set in a very different context than my own, the truths they convey remain wholly applicable to my life: God sees his childrens' needs, has unlimited resources to meet them, and delights in providing abundantly to those who trust him, sometimes even to those who choose to complain instead of trusting. I am reminded again that complaining is the same as accusing God of being inadequate to meet my needs. Tonight I am humbled, my faith is renewed, and my spirit refreshed--a priceless gift from God though Christ's body to me.

I have no need of a bull from your stall
   or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Psalm 50:9-12

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
Malachi 3:9-11

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14

I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 4:18-20

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Loose Tooth Talk

"Mommy!" Hannah whined as she ran into my office yesterday afternoon. "I bit this really hard piece of rice that was in my rice pudding and now my tooth really hurts!"

I pried open her reluctant mouth and spied a tiny trickle of blood around one of her bottom, front teeth. It wiggled easily. "Congratulations, Hannah," I announced, "you have a loose tooth!"

She quickly reached her finger up and wiggled. "It really is loose!" she concluded happily.

Last night, when Matt came home, the first thing he had to hear about was Hannah's loose tooth. And it was the first thing on her mind this morning. She snuck into my room just after Elijah had stood up in his crib and announced, "Nah Nuh!" (which I think means, "All done.")

"Good morning, Hannah," I said, sitting up and holding out my arms for a hug.

She gave a shy smile, slipped into my lap, and informed me, "My tooth's still loose."

At breakfast she could talk about nothing else, so I kept a little log of her conversation while I poured cups of juice and bowls of Rice Chex. The following is an actual transcript of our breakfast conversation.

Hannah: "Daddy said my tooth is so loose it might just fall out any time while I'm eating."

Me: "I think it might take a few weeks still, darling."

Hannah: "Oh don't say that, Mommy!  I've been waiting sooo long already! I've been waiting 14 years for my tooth to fall out!"

Me: "Honey, you've only been alive for six and a half years."

Hannah: "Well, I've been waiting six and a half years, then, and that's still a long time."

Emma: "I don't understand."

Me: "Hannah's pretending she's been waiting for her teeth to fall out since the day she was first born. Do you think she's really been waiting that long?"

Emma, giggling now: "Nope."

Hannah: "Well I've really been waiting since I was three, which is when I first found out you could lose teeth, and that's the truth! When I was three I was like, 'When I grow up, I'm going to lose all my teeth all at once,' like, 'Cccccrrrrrraaaahhh' and they all just fall out! And then the tooth fairy would have to give me 20 things because I have 20 teeth. I know I do because I counted them in the mirror. I think everyone has 20 , except for people with health problems. I can't chew with my loose tooth, Emma, because it hurts...Mama! I just got a big crunch on my loose tooth and now it hurts really bad! And now I have another loose tooth and I don't want another loose tooth! I only want one!"

Me: "I thought you wanted to lose all your teeth at once."

Hannah at Emma's preschool b-day party last month
Hannah: "That was when I was three! ... I'm glad I have a loose tooth. Make sure you give me enough money to buy a stuffed animal, Tooth Fairy Mama."

Me: "I'll be sure to tell the tooth fairy that's what you want."

Hannah: "You are the tooth fairy, Mama! And since I stay up all night I can catch you! I'll just pretend I'm fast asleep, and I'll put my thumb in my mouth too, so you won't know I'm awake!"

Me: "Well you can try to catch her, but I hear she's pretty sneaky. Now it's time to get dressed and start your schoolwork."

Hannah is sitting at the table now, absentmindedly wiggling her tooth while she works math problems. Actually, let's be honest, she's probably absentmindedly working math problems while she wiggles her tooth.