Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.

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In Search of the Flexible Life

My husband and I are looking after my youngest sister’s three kids this week.  Her oldest is nine, and there are a five and three-year-old in the mix.  Then, of course, we have our own three middle-schoolers.  Add to that #Snowmagedon2015, an emerging flu-like croup among those younger than thirty in the house, and blow-up mattresses that keep leaking air, and you’ll start to get a feel for things.

Actually, in all honesty, it’s been smooth sailing–in spite of a very real potential for madness.  The fact that my husband’s school was cancelled for the entire week was a blessing because it meant that he’s been home helping out.

Also helpful is the fact that most kids like plain, ordinary days and a sense of routine, especially young kids.  We’ve been able to keep things very Netflix, Lego, and peanut butter sandwich around here, and there’s been a serious lack of chaos, all things considered.

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Something that had me (selfishly) worried, though, was the fact that I’ve made goals for myself this year, daily disciplines that require repeated, focused attention.  Any change in routine means that I could derail on them at any point.  And since it’s only February, and the disciplines are still new, I might have a painful time getting back into them whenever normal returns.  I hate pain.

In times past, I would have told myself that a week of six children and snow and sickness meant temporarily forgetting about making any progress in personal disciplines at all–  that to do otherwise would only mean setting myself up for frustration and failure.  But I’ll be 37 this Saturday, and something about being three years away from 40 has made me want to figure out how to be open to serving others while still keeping up with my own stuff.

Easier said than… I know.

However, I figured out that I could exercise on the elliptical for ten minutes while the youngest kids dump dominoes out on the floor in the same room.  I told them that if they stay near me, and share the trains with one another, they can keep on enjoying this extremely special privilege–but only when I’m on my machine.  Happily, it’s working out, and so am I.

Since I can’t wake up early without all the kids joining me in my bed, I have taken to writing in the afternoon when the youngest boy naps.  I sit in the room with him, cross-legged, silver Mac on my lap.  He tries to talk to me for the first ten minutes or so, of course, but eventually fades away to the tapping of the keys.  Unexpectedly, I discovered that I am writing as much this week as I did last week.  And the bonus is that my little nephew is thrilled to have someone with him while he rests.

Finally, I’ve switched to reading my Bible at night instead of in the morning.  I don’t prefer doing it this way, but the thing is, I’m managing to keep it up (I desperately need it) while still giving love and attention to those in my care.  In the end, this is more important than doing it at the “right time.”

What I’ve learned this week is that I can do more than I think I can if only I’ll be flexible and resist an all-or-nothing mentality.  Of course, I’m asking God to sustain me daily, and he graciously is.  One of the ways he’s helping me is by giving me the strength to go with the flow.  Another, though, is by helping me to find pockets in the day when I can practice body and soul care.

The upshot is that, so far, I’ve been able to love my people and take care of myself.  I’m calling it a win-win.

How do you keep going when things get crazy?

Grace

I yelled at my oldest son during our Bible reading today because he wasn’t paying attention–again.  It had been building, my frustration at his vacancy, and it finally bubbled over into a scalding lecture on listening and respect and responsibility.  My words multiplied, crowding each other over the sharp cliff of my anger.  Lemmings, all of them, dead on arrival.

My son’s face grew cloudy, then distant.  I was losing it during Bible time.  The irony was not lost on me.

After the fracas was over (and, so help me, I was more than a little right. He doesn’t pay attention half the time), we hugged each other.  My temper had cooled and things had gotten clearer:  He doesn’t listen and I take it personally.  I think about my life and I wonder if I’m doing a good enough job with these kids.  Are they learning what they need to learn?  Are they growing in character?  Will they like me when when they’re grown?

Will I like them?

My son threw his arm around my shoulders.  He’s already taller than I am and he likes to prove it on occasion.

“I love you, Mom,” he said, his voice high, then popping low.

“I love you, too, babe.  You’re gonna kill me, but I love you.”

And just like that things were OK again, at least until next time.

In the meantime I’m asking God to help me stop yelling at my kids when they act like middle schoolers–and I’m asking him to help my son become a better listener (I’m helping God a bit by threatening to take away the XBox if I don’t see improvement).

Parenting isn’t for cowards.  And homeschooling?  Sheesh.  So while I have lots of things to be thankful for this season, the one that stands out the most is grace.  I’m thankful for grace.  For hundreds of do-overs.  And for sons who throw their lanky arms over my shoulders and say I love you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Not With a Bang

The summer whizzed past us, compressed like never before by travel to distant continents, house hunting, and, er, fewer weeks.  [The previous winter’s shenanigans made for lots of snow days for Daddy, who’s a teacher.  If Daddy has snow days, so do we.  But snow days, as cozy as they are for three seconds, make for lots of make-up days in the spring.  This, in turn, means a shorter summer break for Daddy.  We take summer break when Daddy does. Hence, our teeny summer.]

I knew we’d be starting school before I was ready for it.  I told the kids that we were going to start up our activities a week after Daddy did because I needed to practice incrementalism in our homeschool this time around or I would surely die.  They were down with it.

Daddy went to school on a Monday.  We went to jujitsu and the library.  We read some and did chores.  The kids bickered with one another.  We went to Sonic.  So far, so good.

Tuesday offered more of the same but with loud thudding noises where the boys slammed one another into walls and hit each other with pillows.  I felt a low grade fever coming on, but, no I didn’t.  That was actually a touch of rage.

Wednesday came and I heard a ginormous crash from upstairs.  Then I heard yelling and a smidge of crying.  I called the kids downstairs and discussed with them the many ways they could practice conflict resolution if they would only try.  We laughed and cried together.

No.

We started school.  I rage-started school.

Now, I’m no fool.  I’ve been homeschooling for going on nine years.  We’ve had our share of joys and sorrows, successes and let’s-not-talk-about-that’s.  I knew better than to think that springing math on the kids instead of taking away the X-Box was going to launch the year the way I’d hoped. I didn’t exactly think it would be like this.

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I didn’t mean to start our academic year as a direct result of sibling fighting.  (“Officer, I don’t know what happened.  There was all this noise and when I opened my eyes, the kids were doing math.”)

But the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

So while the kids were dull-eyed when I first announced that our summer was stone-dead, the day unfolded much better than I expected.  So did the next day.  And the next.

I’m telling you this so that you can take heart if you A). homeschool, or B). ever mess up your own plans, and/or C). have ever turned math into a punishment when you told yourself you would never, ever do that because you have math issues yourself and wouldn’t dream of causing your kids to have them, too, because preventing those issues is one of the big reasons you chose to homeschool in the first place.

Life is messy and people are crazy (and by people I mean kids and dogs).  But God is good.  He cares about the little things.  You can trust him with your best laid plans–and their possible demise.

So if your summer ended not with a bang but a whimper, I just wanted to say:  Me too.  It’s still OK.  It’s going to be a great year anyway.

Grace (Again)

It might be the weather.  It may be our ages around here (puberty.  the end).  It could just be me (I can never rule this out).  But whatever the cause, we’re in a communication swamp at our house these days.  I find that I say the same things over and over to my kids, in the same, um, strident tone, and I get the same results–languid compliance with a dash of resentment.  I see it in my kids’ eyes.  They are tired of my reactions to their reactions.  I’m sure that they can see it in my eyes, too.  I’m tired of the push-back I receive when I ask them to do things they’ve always done.

The thing is, it feels like a full-on cycle at this point.  I say, Get such-and-such done.  Somebody whines and moves s-l-o-w-l-y to get the aforementioned thing done, all the while muttering about why the task is meaningless.  I take a deep breath, feeling my heart begin to race, muttering to my own self that this kind of flak is for the birds and I don’t deserve it.  Then I say, in a scarily-calm librarian voice, that I expect compliance because this is right, that it has always been this way in our home, that I will not put up with disrespect, that I don’t give them that much to do, that this is ridiculous, that I am going to tell their father about this, etc, etc.  When I pause, feeling my heartbeat (now in my eyeballs), I see the withdrawal, the retreat, in my kids’ faces.  I see their squinting, their down-turned mouths.  I am sad suddenly, sad and tired.  I feel tricked by my own emotions–again.

This communication quicksand has got to dry up.  We love each other, and we’ve got to find a way to move through this new phase of life/parenting/growing.  Right now we’re in a flare/remission cycle where every other conversation has the potential to cause an outbreak of hives.  There’s got to be a better way to go through middle school.  But I can’t think of exactly what to do at the moment.

What I do know is, as usual, we all need grace.  Every moment of every day.  And He gives it.