8 things we learned taking four small(ish) children on a 30 mile backpacking trip

When my husband proposed we take our boys on a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend, I was all in. Our kids are experienced hikers and campers, and we had done a couple little backpacking trips earlier that summer. Over this last year we discovered that we have reached a magical stage in our boys’ lives where we are no longer encumbered with diapers, baby carriers, nursing, or other baby needs (for the first time in 11 years!! Woohoo!), and we are loving it. A backpacking trip? Why not?? The plan was three miles in, three miles out, a couple days in between to play.

My husband grew up backpacking, canoeing, and exploring the Wind Rivers in Wyoming with his dad, so that’s where we planned to go. Maps stretched over our table like a tablecloth, we finally decided on Shoshone Lake near Lander. A couple weeks later we packed up our car, picked up grandpa, and we were off!

We arrived at (almost) the trail head around 1am, and after a rather hurried night sleep (and patching up a flat tire) we loaded back up in the car. My husband and father-in-law had fond memories of hiking near Shoshone Lake 25 years ago and had vague memories of driving up a bumpy road, parking the car when it narrowed into a trail, and hiking the remainder to a lookout over the lake. After being thrown around the rocks for ten minutes, we realized that 25 years had done a number on what they remembered as a rather disastrous but passable road. With ten miles left to go, we parked the car, slipped into our backpacks and, with smiling, cheery faces, started our ascent into the mountains. What’s seven more miles than we had planned?

Appearently a lot to someone who has only been on this planet for four short years. Even with the essential responsibility of carrying the Snickers bars in his super-awesome, camo fanny-pack, Ty was miserable. Mis-er-a-ble! By four steep miles in he had asked to be carried no less than 143 times. Of course that would have been impossible because between the steep incline and my 40 pound pack, I also thought I might die.

At 6:00 that evening we summited our mountain, and down in the valley we could see the lake. It was incredible! In an instant all of our aches and pains seemed to melt away. Ok, that’s definitely a gross exaggeration. Everything hurt. Period. Absolutely nothing was doing any sort of melting as the temperature had suddenly plunged to what felt like thirty degrees and the wind just about swept us back down the mountain. But now that we could finally see our destination, everyone had a renewed determination. And that’s all we needed. Two more miles (finally downhill!) to go, and we would be to the lake!

The sun was just going down as we found a spot to camp. The lake was beautiful, the stars were numbering in the trillions, and after ten exhausting miles we had all made it alive!

We spent the next two days at and around the lake fishing, kayaking in an inflatable kayak grandpa had brought, exploring the rivers all around, and relaxing. By the next morning all of the kids (Ty included) had forgotten all about the arduous journey we had taken to get there.

Ten miles in, ten miles exploring over two days, then ten miles out. The trip out always proves to be quicker. Though it was no less difficult, our packs were lighter (or at least the boys’ — we ate all of Ty’s snickers in addition to the food the other boys had carried) and the prospect of getting to rest in the car carried us forward. Nine hours after we started, we finally spotted the car. Now that was a welcome sight!

For weeks after we returned home, all the boys could talk about was Shoshone Lake, the fish they caught, the treasures they found, and how THEY had hiked ten miles in, ten miles out, and ten miles in between. Now the talk is how they might be able to do 70 miles across the entire Wind Rivers next summer…what???

In our family we tease that there are three types of fun. Type 1: Disneyland. Pure pleasure. Type 2: Experiencing fun through someone else’s eyes. I.E. Watching your kids at the park. Type 3: Torture that somehow ends up being satisfying in a, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” kind of way, say a marathon. Around here we prefer the type three, torturous, “that was so fun, my legs feel like rubber!” type, and I suppose our trip to Shoshone Lake had all the elements of “fun” that we love. While it certainly was a challenge, the satisfaction of doing something difficult and getting a little fishing in while we were at it proved to make it one of our most memorable trips yet.

Backpacking as a family definitely has it’s challenges. Because this was our first experience backpacking more than a few miles with our entire family of six, plus Grandpa, we learned quite a bit along the way. Here are a few tricks we learned:

  1. Have a cool destination you’re working for. I’m convinced if it weren’t for the awesome lake at the end of our hike, my kids would have turned back miles before. That hike was pretty darn hard, but because we had shown them pictures from my husband and father-in-law’s previous trip and talked it up, they were motivated to keep moving forward.
  2. Let them carry the food, and drink their water first. If the kids carry the food, their pack can only get lighter. And, as long as you don’t mind sharing the germs, drinking their water first helps a ton too!
  3. Have some travel games in mind to play as you hike. We played 20 questions the last two miles of our hike, and I have to admit, (even though by the 59th time guessing a giraffe I might have been going a little crazy!) it made the last little push go so much faster even for me.
  4. Bring good snacks. We don’t typically chow down on Snickers, gummy bears, Sweedish Fish, or M&M’s around the house, but having something yummy to snack on as you hike up a steep incline for three miles really helps when you’re nine. Or seven. or four. or 36. We also love the Mountain House freeze-dried dinners and would simply supplement them with naan or mashed potatoes or stuffing. You just add boiling water. So easy, and best yet: hardly any clean-up!!
  5. Just let the kids play. We spent almost the entire day after we got to the lake just…playing. It was totally up to the kids. The youngest two and I played hide the bungee cord they found and built a rock fort for hours. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and it was so nice to not feel uptight that we weren’t doing something we’d planned, getting somewhere, or accomplishing some feat.
  6. Kids are way tougher than you think. Have you ever read Hank the Cowdog? Sometimes we call Ty “Drover” because any time doing something unpleasant comes up, he’s automatically grabbing at his leg and claiming his leg hurts, just like Hank’s sidekick. So for him to hike 30 miles without being carried? Completely shocking, and totally inspiring. I never would have known he had it in him if we hadn’t tried! Best of all, I could see his confidence bursting at the seams when he told everyone about the hike when we got home.
  7. Kids will probably remember the good stuff, not the miserable parts. One of my worries was that our kids would never want to touch a sleeping bag again by the time we finally reached the car. Not two minutes after we loaded up and got on the road, the kids were dreaming of the next time they would go backpacking.
  8. And finally, Splurge a little when you’re all done! We have a tradition that after a backpacking trip we stop on the way home at a restaurant to eat. After days of tuna fish in pita bread, bagels, and trail mix, a big, warm meal is a welcome sight!

What tricks do you have up your sleeve when you take your little ones on adventures? I’d love to hear!

Hello Again!

Hello, old friends!

I haven’t even logged on to my blog in over three years. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but mostly it just sort of…fizzled. I never thought I’d be back, but here I am!

Sometimes when you’re deep in the trenches of parenting it’s easy to loose yourself. Between diaper changes and trips to the park, naps and rushing to pediatrician appointments, matching lost socks and cleaning up spilled cheerios, somehow you forget who you are. Of course, you will never be the same person you once were after having children, and that’s without question a beautiful thing. But recently I had to introduce myself to a group of strangers and I realized I didn’t even know what to say! Beyond being a mom to four boys, I drew a blank. My identity had been so wrapped up in these kids I love so much for over eleven years that I no longer had something to identify with outside of them. A question I keep getting asked lately is, “What are you going to do when Ty (my youngest) goes to school in the next year or two?” With no definite answer to give them, I’ve found myself doing lots of soul searching.

I came across a box the other day full of little children’s books I’d written years ago while blogging. As I read though them, I was reminded of Catching Crawfish and all time and passion I put into the hundreds of posts. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really do love to write. I’ve missed it! I’ve missed connecting with old friends, making new ones, taking a quick break from the dishes to jot down an idea for a post or a picture book. So here I am. Honestly, It’s a bit terrifying to be back, (what if people don’t like me? What if I don’t fit in??) but kind of exciting all at the same time!

I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided I want to take a somewhat different direction with Catching Crawfish. Instead of always writing about life lessons I hope my boys will learn, I’m going to focus on living and raising a family in the county, about helping kids to love the outdoors, and anything else that seems to fit. When we moved 20 minutes from town almost seven years ago it was our intent to inspire our boys to love the outdoors and for them to experience all that comes with country life. The longer we live here, the more passionate I feel about getting kids to experience fresh air and the thrill of being outside.

I still have plenty of life lessons I hope my boys will learn. I feel like my time to help them experience all they need to is slipping through my fingers (I have a middle schooler this year, how did that happen??). But I also feel that as they grow older those strories are no longer mine to share to anyone who happens to come across my blog. It’s time for a change to Catching Crawfish, and I’m excited for this new adventure!

PS I should add that I’m still making changes to the blog to fit it’s new purpose, so if you click on something and there’s nothing there, please know it’s still a work in progress!

One-kin-stine

I have never met a one-year-old that I didn’t find completely and utterly adorable. Their pudgy sausage fingers, their squeals of delight, their hilarious interpretations of new words that will, for better or worse, follow them the remainder of their lives (raga-lo-li-lo-li will forever be on our menu for busy Tuesday nights!) One-year-olds are, without a doubt, the best.

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Unless…

Unless, of course, you happen to take a one-year-old to the grocery store. Hell hath no fury like a toddler who has had enough of the canned tomato isle. King Soopers is a dark and lonely place for a mother who dares to venture to get food with a toddler in tow.

Today happened to be such an occasion for my four boys and me. Despite my inner conscience screaming, “Nooo! Don’t do it. Have you forgotten last time?  Is there no other way??” I loaded them up and off we went. As expected, not two isles in my one-year-old went Dr. Jekyll on me. By the yoghurt section I was carrying him potato-sack style with his hands flailing to reach the string cheese on the other side. By the time we miraculously reached the checkout, I’d been the gracious receiver of no less than seven “Wow, you sure have your hands full!” Five “FOUR boys!? Oh, you poor thing.” Two “Bet if you tried for a girl you’d just get another boy.” and one “Oh, Mama, go buy yourself some flowers. You deserve it.” Not to mention numerous eyebrow-furled stares.

Minutes later as I wrestled my toddler into his car seat and the other boys unloaded the bags out of the cart, I thought about how those grocery shoppers had just witnessed my sweet, little one-kin-stine  at his very worst. No doubt about it, he was a monster for those 45 miserable minutes.

But in those two-second exchanges, they missed so much. They missed ten adorable, pudgy fingers. Fingers that learned to snap when he was just nine months old. They missed how he loves dogs, how he won’t even say his brothers’ names, but can say Howard (our English Shepard) almost perfectly. How he thinks his big brothers are hilarious and loves to steal their toys; how he loves to jump on the trampoline and would spend every waking moment outside given the opportunity. How he climbs on everything and loves to ride in the laundry basket when Mom does the laundry. They missed his big, toothy grin he gets when his dad gives him piggy-back rides and how his brothers always fight over who gets to sit by him every single time we get in the car. He refuses to wear shoes and he’s ticklish on the bottoms of his feet. They missed that too.

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Essentially, they missed that he really isn’t a monster. Not at all.

But I didn’t. I didn’t miss for a minute that these four crazy boys make me one incredibly lucky mom. That when I look at them I feel blessed far beyond what I deserve. And I never ever want those boys to think I forgot. So next time a fellow grocery shopper acknowledges me and my wild brood, I’ll smile and, in all sincerity say,

“Yes. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

 

Glimmer of Hope

I’ve always loved a good old “good triumphs over evil” story. Where the unlikely hero wins, the good guy gets the girl, the dragon is defeated, the treasure is returned to the deserving and rightful heirs. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

When our first son was born seven years ago, I struggled. Having a new baby in our home was so exciting and new, and I was completely enamored with that tiny infant. But after years of going to school, working, and all sorts of being incredibly busy, I suddenly felt like life had screeched to a stop. Overnight my life became driven by naps and nursing. My contributions to society seemed minuscule, if they existed at all. Those long days were just that: So incredibly long.

In order to break up the day, I decided to read The Hobbit out loud to our new baby while he nursed. When we finished The Hobbit, I decided to tackle The Lord of The Rings. By the time my son was 6 months old I had brainwashed him into being as nerdy as his parents (and I have high hopes that I was successful in my efforts).

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Those long afternoons with my newborn seems like a lifetime ago. Back then as we read, in my mind the evil was contained inside those pages, or at least merely lurking in the shadows. Whether it’s because I’m more aware, or whether it’s because the world is a scarier place than it was back then, I’m not sure. But unlike those days seven years ago cuddled on our couch devouring page after page of adventures in Middle-earth, the evil seems much more tangible. It no longer lurks in the shadows, but openly recruits, displays it’s intent, and waltzes through the streets demanding attention. And unlike back then, I can’t skip ahead to the last few pages just to be sure that Bilbo makes it back to the Shire or that Frodo does in fact destroy the ring.

And sometimes, like the sad news this week in Europe, it feels like evil is winning.

On countless occasions as a mom I have wondered what life will be like for my kids. With technology so incredibly accessible, facts and information merely a search away, morals and lifestyles changing, and a world much different than the one I was raised in, I occasionally wonder if I’m even cut out for the job of teaching these boys. Evil seems to be penetrating so many facets of their lives, and I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to teach them.

But truth is, evil isn’t winning. It didn’t win yesterday, it won’t win tomorrow. We might not be able to thumb through to the end and take a peak just to be sure, but we can take a look around and see the good. The unlikely heroes, the small acts of kindness, the love. In the desperation and sadness, there’s always glimmers of hope.

Moms, as mundane and sometimes small our job seems to be, as little as we feel our contributions are, we are not merely maids and nannies. We are mothers. We are raising the next generation, a responsibility more incredible and noble than we realize. Our influence much more far reaching than we could ever imagine.

And we are equipped with the strongest weapon of all: love.

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We, in our little acts every day, are giving rays of hope. What we give to society is faith in a bright future, the assurance that evil will NEVER win. So today as you fold the laundry and change diapers and make dinner and read those bedtime stories, as you build the blanket forts or rock a sleeping baby, take courage. Know that what you are doing does make a difference. As you zip those little coats and tie those tiny shoes, you are dispelling a thick and menacing darkness. You are giving hope. It may not seem like it at times, but we are on the front lines.

And, best of all, we can take heart in knowing that because of that first Easter Sunday so very long ago, good will triumph over evil. It did then, it will today, it will forever. I believe when we carry out our role as mothers, when we teach and love and care for our children the very best we know how, we are fighting on His side.

It’s a scary world out there, but evil won’t win. This too will have a happy ending. Keep fighting, because I have absolutely no doubt we are on the winning side.

Ours for the Leaving

A balmy 75 degrees. Finally a beautiful day. After being cooped up inside for what seemed like an eternity, this change from the frigged, windy winter weather was more than welcomed. I buckled our oldest son, seven months at the time, into the stroller, tucked a blanket around his body, and off we headed on an adventure. He smiled and squealed at everyone we passed, and I was sure that a little walk around this beautiful, sunny, warm world was just what we both needed to lift our spirits.

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Not long after our walk began, we came across two women who took interest in my blue-eyed boy, although not with the same exchange of pleasantries and adorations I had become accustomed to over the last seven months.

“What on earth are you doing out here with JUST a blanket? That poor boy is going to catch cold! He needs a coat. Are you his mother?”

As they walked away obviously disgusted with my happy, smiling son’s lack of winter clothes on that (75 degree, warm and beautiful) day, I was completely crushed. What I had thought would be a fun bonding experience with my son turned into a glimpse of one of the harsh realities in the world of parenting.

Seven years and four kids later, I have learned that everyone has an opinion about how you should raise your children. And occasionally, despite your very best efforts to do things the right way, one of those “everyones” decides that you need to know exactly what you are doing wrong.

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After seven years and four kids, I’ve also learned another truth: I’m really, really lousy at accepting criticism.

Being a parent, I am completely convinced, is one of the most humbling experiences a person can ever have.

Let your child cry it out. Get your child the minute he cries. Co-sleeping is a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Don’t you dare co-sleep, studies show that’s a bad idea. Feed them rice cereal at 4 months. Wait, feed them avocados at 6 months. Heck, babies don’t need anything but milk until they’re one. Time outs or spankings or counting to three. Breast or bottle, public or private, cloth or disposable. Epidural or natural. It even begins before the baby arrives!

Out of the 7.125 billion people on Earth, not a single one of us are the same. Not a single one of us thinks exactly the same way, has the same idiosyncrasies, concerns, priorities, or personalities, and, that being the fantastic and wonderful case that it is, not a single one of us will parent exactly the same. Nor should we.

Sometimes those comments, right or wrong, can really sting. As moms, the way we parent becomes a part of us. We love our children, we want them to grow into good, kind, loving, normal human beings, and we feel like we are trying our hardest to do what’s best for them. Sometimes those comments are meant to be malicious, to be offensive, and sometimes they just aren’t. But always, always it is our decision how we will take them.

“Certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.” — David A. Bednar

That sting of my first encounter with the realities of opposing opinions in parenting is gone. Looking back, it seems almost silly that I took offense at the opinion of those two women. But sometimes other opinions do sting, and sometimes I have to remind myself that offense is mine for the leaving…If I choose.

Dear mothers, let’s remember that we are all doing our best. Let’s help each other, love each other, and above all encourage each other. And, when something must be said, let’s do our very best to be tactful and kind.

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And dear mothers, when someone tells you something that stings, try not to take offense. Remember all that you do right, and, if needed make some changes. Because, chances are, you really and truly are doing wonderfully.

“May I say to mothers collectively, you are magnificent.” Jeffery R. Holland

In a world where taking offense is so often our first line of defense, I hope that we can instead choose to learn from each encounter and move forward. Oh my, what an incredibly difficult thing to learn! But today, today I’m going to try.

Mom Days

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5:02. Baby cries.
5:04. Get baby. Feed baby. Really, really hope (but highly doubt) he will fall back asleep.
5:30. Diaper explodes. Everywhere. Change diaper, baby clothes, mommy clothes and sheets.
5:45. Relish in the fact that kids are still sleeping. Think of all that can be accomplished in the next hour alone with the baby!
5:46. Kids are awake.
6:00. Eight boxes of cereal on the kitchen table. Three hungry boys. Get three more boxes out because “none of these sound good, Mom!”
6:15. Orange juice spill.
6:16. Clean up sticky mess.
6:18. Cereal spill.
6:19. Clean up crumby mess.
6:30. Try to cram eleven boxes of cereal into the pantry.
8:15. Lunches made, teeth brushed, homework done. “Go get your socks on! The bus will be here any second!”
8:18. “Ahh! No time for Legos right now! Get your socks!”
8:20. “Seriously, you are going to miss the bus!!”
8:21. Two-year-old on the toilet. Leave two-year-old to take older kids to the bus. Instruct two-year-old to “just stay right there. I will be back in two seconds.”
8:22. Bus rounds corner. Hugs and kisses. Bus starts to stop.
8:22:25. Hear two-year-old screaming at top of driveway. Turn and see a completely naked boy racing down driveway swinging footie pjs above his head.
8:23. Smile because neighbors must think we are completely crazy by now.
8:30. Diaper explosion #2. Change diaper, baby clothes and mommy clothes. Again.
8:35. Search for missing two-year-old, find him in bathroom with camera. Check camera and find incriminating evidence (see below).

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8:36. Have a nice little chat about climbing on bathroom counters.
9:35. Grocery store. “I buckle myself, Mom! Don’t help me!”
9:45. Finally convince two-year-old to take some assistance in buckling.
10:22. Dairy isle (furthest section from bathrooms). “I neeeedd to use the baaaathroooommm!”
10:24. Hold stall door shut for singing two-year-old. Smile at other bathroom goer.
10:25. “Mom! I makin’ poopers! Yay, Mom! I made a pooper! Let’s have a party! Oh boy. (Grunt) It’s a big one!”
10:26. Give a slightly embarrassed smile at other bathroom goer going to wash hands who will no long make eye contact (she must not have kids).
12:00. Pick kindergartener up. Baby and two-year-old asleep. Awkwardly carry car seat and sleeping two-year-old across front lawn, up the stairs and to the kindergarten hall. Feel like arms are most certainly going to fall off because together they must weigh 347 pounds.
12:30. Lunch.
12:35. Spit up everywhere. Change baby clothes, mommy clothes, and clean carpet.
12:40. Fold clothes and listen to the kids playing in the living room. Smile and feel very blessed because kids are playing so nicely.
12:45. Comfort two-year-old because brother poured a cup of soapy water on his head.
3:00. Sister calls to confirm weekend plans to get together (four kids plus two equals six. Wonder if we are gluttons for punishment, but put that thought out of our minds because getting together with cousins is the best thing in the world. Bring on the chaos!).
3:10. Hear toilet flush. Five times in a row, really fast. “Mom, water’s comin’ outta the toilet!” Say goodby to sister.
3:11. Find an inch of water covering bathroom floor and an empty toilet paper roll. Clean up water. Start another load of laundry for wet towels.
4:00. 2nd grader home. Sit at top of stairs and wonder if they will ever grow out of tussling.
4:20. Break up the tussling because two-year-old doesn’t appreciate wedgies. Wonder if it’s bedtime yet.
5:00. Start dinner.
5:08. Baby wakes up from nap, needs to eat. Feed baby.
5:15. Send kids out to run around the house 10 times.
5:20. Send kids out to run around the house 10 more times.
6:00. Give up on attempt at a fancy dinner. Make waffles.
6:30. DAD’S HOME!
6:32. Make feeble attempt at some adult conversation.
6:33. After seven times of being interrupted, give up all attempts at adult conversation. Talk about Star Wars instead.
6:50. Wash dishes while dad tussles with the kids. Smile because, no, they will probably never grow out of tussling.
7:30. Bed time. Tooth paste explosion all over counter and walls. Clean up blue sparkly paste. Brush teeth, pjs, books.
8:00. Lights off. Drink of water, 32 stuffed animals, songs and tucked in. Stand in doorway and look at the four beautiful boys that make life so crazy. Wonder I will ever make it through an entire day in the same clothes I put on that morning, wonder if the neighbors will remember my son streaking down our driveway on their drive to work this morning, wonder if we have enough leftover waffles for breakfast in the morning, wonder if I will ever have time to actually make what I plan for dinner. Wonder what we ever did before kids.

image8:10. Thank God that I get to do it all over again in the morning.

Unfinished

M came down the stairs this morning in pants that would have been fantastic for some clam digging on the beach. I could have swore that just yesterday I had to roll up those same pants to keep them from dragging on the ground. I used to cringe when sweet ladies at the grocery store would stop me and whisper the old cliché, “Oh, they just grow up so fast!” I’d wonder, does she not realize she is the sixth person to tell me that in this visit to the store??

IMG_20150905_151926_298Then suddenly I blinked and there stood a five-year-old in his clam diggers and over-sized backpack ready for the bus.

In my closet I have boxes and boxes of fabric, each carefully labeled, “Black dress,” “R’s quilt,” “Quiet book,”Giraffe growth chart.” Fabric all cut and waiting, some pieces even sewed together. In the garage sits wood sanded and queued to be built into a shelf, a bench, a frame, a spice rack. Ideas penned in notebooks lay scattered all around the house for a picture book, another blog post, a letter to a friend. Bookmarks keep spots in dozens of started and unfinished books. Clothes fill my closet waiting to fit again, for when I will set aside the time to run and get rid of this lingering baby fat.

Recipes I want to try.
Songs tucked away to be learned on our neglected piano.
A guitar untouched for years.
Pictures waiting to go in scrapbooks.
A list of friends I would love to call and hear their voices again.

Unfinished projects. Sometimes I feel like my life is made up of dozens and dozens of unfinished projects. Skills I would love to learn, chores only halfway accomplished, hobbies and ideas and dreams started and set aside. All waiting. For tomorrow. For the weekend. For when the baby stops fussing, the kids are fed, the spilled cereal is swept, the tickle war is over, the scrape is doctored, the kids are in bed.

IMG_20150909_152418_320And there stands my not-so-little-anymore boy in clam diggers that I’m almost positive fit him just yesterday.

There will come a time when I no longer have the interruptions of spilled cereal to clean. These little ones will eventually brush their teeth without help, and they will no longer beg for the momster to set aside yard work and chase them around the trampoline. Slap Jack will eventually loose its appeal, and scrapes will no longer need mom’s kiss. And when that day comes, when I suddenly have the time for all the projects I’ve started and set aside, I hope I never look back and feel like they, these sweet boys, were yet another unfinished project because I was too busy trying to finish all the others.

IMG_20150921_143823_871They grow up so fast. Their pants seems to shrink from one day to the next. But projects can wait. Someday, moms, the time will be ours. The nights will be longer, the little chatter that fills our homes will come much less often than we wish. And all those unfinished projects will fill our time. But now, now is theirs. Now is about slap jack and monsters and spilled milk. Now is the greatest project, the most amazing adventure we will ever embark on. And I’m sure we will never regret making sure that this one isn’t set aside, put on the back-burner, forgotten and left unfinished. Because, moms, in everything that can wait, this one can’t. Let’s give our today to them.

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Sibling Love

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Having a new baby in the house is always such an exciting, wonderful time. Exciting, wonderful, magical, surreal, exhausting, frustrating, confusing…and adding three older siblings into the mix, well, amplifies ALL of these emotions by about 1,324,067%. I can’t tell you the happiness that surges through me when I see my two-year-old quietly singing a sweet lullaby to the baby and gently rubbing his newborn hair. Or when our seven- and five-year-old tell the baby stories and make him smile. Thank goodness for those moments, because the other extremes sometimes exhaust my patience. Having a new baby I’m convinced has had strange effects on my dear boys’ listening skills. In fact, sometimes I’m pretty sure they must hear something entirely different than the words coming out of my mouth. Let me demonstrate. Maybe all you mamas and papas can relate…

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M as a baby and R as a toddler…

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Baby T with M.

When I say…
“Please don’t wake the baby.”
They must hear…
“Go sit by the baby and pat his head and rub his feet and wiggle his ears and wipe his nose. That will help him sleep better for sure.”

When I say…
“Let’s play a quiet game, the baby is sleeping.”
They must hear…
“I know the perfect game to play. Run through the house like a maniac and scream as loud as possible. That sounds super fun now that the baby’s finally asleep!”

When I say…
“Please don’t even touch the sleeping baby.”
They must hear…
“Would you please put your peanutbuttery cheeks as close to his as humanly possible so that you wake him up with your peanutbuttery breath?”

When I say…
“Could you please run upstairs and grab a diaper from the bathroom? We’re all out down here. And try to be quick, he kind of exploded.”
They must hear…
“Could you run upstairs and grab a diaper? Wait. Scratch that. Can you make him a space ship out of Legos instead? That’ll really save the day with this mess all the way up his back.”

When I say…
“Do you want to pick an outfit out for the baby this morning? We have that church activity, so try to find a cute one.”
They must hear…
“Hey, can you go find that one outfit that will serve as perfect blackmail material when he’s 16? Since we’re going somewhere nice we want to really make an impression.”

When I say…
“I’m going to nurse the baby. Bring over some books and we can read!”
They must hear…
“I’m going to nurse the baby. Now would be a perfect time to pretend mom is a human jungle gym.”

When I say…

“Uh oh. Cover your cough so the baby doesn’t catch your cold.”
They must hear…
“Oh, no! Instead of coughing right into the baby’s face why don’t you suck on your finger then stick it in the baby’s mouth. That’ll do the job of spreading germs much faster and more effectively.”

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The good thing is that the baby will forgive and forget. And besides that pesky stuffy nose his brother so generously shared with him, he’s no worse for the ware. In fact, I would venture to even go so far as to say that he might possibly be the luckiest little boy in the world because he has three brothers that incessantly want to give him love. As crazy as it can get around here with three older brothers, there really is no better playmate, no better friend than a sibling.

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The Woman Standing at the Doors of the Clinic: Maybe if She Knew

I’d never pulled an all-niter in my entire life. Not even during dorm life in college. As much as I tried, I knew as I pushed the sheets off my legs and stared at the ceiling that sleep was not going to come that night.

4am, the city still fast asleep. A 25-minute drive that seemed to last an eternity. “Please, let’s just make it to the hospital,” I pleaded. I did NOT want to give birth to our new baby boy in our car, and during those agonizing 25 minutes that felt like a real possibility.

At 7:02am we had our first glimpse of our fourth little boy. I counted his fingers. I counted his toes. I took in all that sweet eight pound newness. Those gray eyes, that matted down reddish hair, the button nose and that wrinkly skin. All so amazing, all so new. All nothing short of a miracle.

photo courtesy of katiejanephotos.blogspot.com
photo courtesy of katiejanephotos.blogspot.com

Four babies later, the incredibleness of bringing a little human being into this world has not diminished. Each time I have been completely enamored at each little detail of that tiny body. The mind-boggling complexity of it all, the beauty. Everything. It is amazing.

My emotions this week have been raw. As I hold this tiny little boy in my arms, I read about other little ones who will never have a chance to live. Who sadly will never get a glimpse of this world. Whose life was so abruptly and horrifically ended before it began. I couldn’t even finish the news articles. I honestly felt sick. I held my little baby in my arms and felt his warmth, wishing those questioning expectant mothers standing at the clinic doors could just feel it too.

If maybe they could just hold their baby, feel the warmth, count those toes. Maybe instead of seeing a burden they would see a most amazing blessing…If not a blessing meant for them, then maybe for someone else.

I have never had to face the pain of not being able to conceive a child. I have never lost one before he or she was born. But I do know others who have struggled and who have mourned such loss. I have watched as friends and family wish, hope, dream, plead, pray, and cry for that child that never comes, or that comes but has to go far too soon.

If those standing at the clinic doors could see that longing in these mothers’ eyes, maybe they could understand the power that they hold to change an unfavorable situation into something incredible. Though that child might not be a possibility for them at the time, that child could bring infinite joy to another family. A family that has longed for that baby to come. They could give a gift so incredible. An act so selfless. Is that not more desirable than the alternative?

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Back in college for a summer I worked at an activity and skills center for children with special needs. The children ranged in age from 8-21, and their disabilities ranged from moderate to very severe. It was by far the hardest job I have ever had, but it was also one of the most rewarding. The mothers and fathers of those participants were the most compassionate and amazing people I have ever met. If you were to ask them about raising a child with disabilities, they would tell you in a heartbeat that it was worth every second. They would tell you about love deeper than anything you have ever felt. I’m sure if you asked, they would tell you about how terrified they were when they found out their child would never lead a normal life. They would tell you the sadness they felt, the worry, the anxiety for their child’s future. Not to mention their own. But they would tell you they would never go back. Not for a second. When they chose to bring that life into the world, despite the difficulty they would face, they were brave. They were selfless. And they learned about love in ways others may never know. Maybe if those standing at the doors facing similar situations could see, could know. They could make such a difference. Those parents to those special spirits are heroes in my eyes.

I don’t judge these women. I feel so much sadness for them and the questions they find themselves asking. I have no idea what those women face. I don’t know their reasons for standing at those clinic doors. But I do know that there are others out there that would help them, love them, and support them. I see no love and compassion from a company willing to crush the little life that mother is growing inside and sell the parts as if that baby were a wreck from an auto salvage.

As I count these tiny fingers and toes again and again and hear that little cry, I wish more than anything those women standing at the clinic doors could hold their precious babies in their arms and do the same before they make a decision. I can’t help but wonder if their decision would be left unchanged.

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Practice Makes Perfect

Some days I feel like my kids have two volumes: loud and super LOUD. Most days I feel like they have two speeds: fast and out of control. And occasionally I just feel like I can’t keep up.

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I honestly can’t remember at what point I lost it. It might have been after the explosion of chokecherry syrup all over the floor. It could have been between the “Mom, can I hold the baby?” “But I asked first!” and the “But Mo-om, I didn’t get to yet!” fight that never seems to take a break. Or maybe it was when I walked in their room to find the freshly folded laundry piles I’d hoped they would put away scattered hither and yon. It really could have been when I glanced down into the family room to witness our two-year-old Evil Keneviling it from the top of our futon to the couch 6 feet away. Or during the pillow fight that ended abruptly with bonked heads and two boys in tears. But no matter when it happened. Fact is, it did. I lost it.

IMG_1690Countless times since becoming a mom I have found myself praying for more patience. Begging that I won’t go crazy, and asking for forgiveness for those all-too-often times I do. Some days after negotiating with a non-negotiable two-year-old and pleading for a truce between two brothers that know exactly which buttons to push on each other leaves me completely exhausted. I pray for patience. For what to say, what to do, how to put out this fire or that.

I pray wanting a solution, a quick fix. But Heavenly Father must know that practice makes perfect because my answer often comes in that form: a chance to try again. And again, and again, and again, and again.

He answers me with that quiet prompting, “pick yourself back up. Keep on trying, you can do it. Practice makes perfect! You’ll get it one of these days.” And I step back in the ring.

Motherhood is a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.” –Donna Ball

It’s so easy to feel like we do everything wrong. Over and over again. It’s so hard to forgive ourselves, to pick ourselves back up and practice that patience we so desperately want and need. But someday, if we just keep trying, I think we can get it right. And it’s my prayer every day that my kids won’t be too much worse for the wear because I had to practice so much.

In those moments that I just can’t keep up, I am always grateful for the chance to try again. I’m so thankful that children are forgiving. Most of all, I’m thankful that I have been given this great opportunity to practice patience on four amazing little boys. Boys that have two volumes and two speeds. Sometimes I feel like they give me more than my fair share of opportunities to give it another go. But then I get that quiet nudge, “practice makes perfect! Pick yourself back up. Keep trying,” and I remember I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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