Monday, August 29, 2016

Tour #6 of the Terrible Two's ~ Where Time Out is Taken With Three Hail Marys and a Shot of Baileys {in the Coffee}

This is our sixth round of pullingourhairout drinking bribing guiding a child through through the terrible twos. You would think that at this stage of the discipline game that we would be on cruise control.  Not so my friends, not so. 
Behold the beloved:
I'm coming for you!
The only thing I know for sure about surviving this unpleasant stage of a toddler's life is: 
1. I can always blame my addiction to chocolate on their naughtiness, and 
2. It won't last forever - the terrible twos, not the chocolate addiction (that's permanent, I'm afraid).
Cheeseburger grin of innocence.

Living with a two year old is kind of like watching that one TV show that's frustrating and awesome at the same time (Downton Abbey). The one where you throw things at the screen because the plot is not going the direction that you think it should go (Matthew dies), but then something awesome happens (cue Dowager Countess every time), and suddenly it's your favorite thing ever again.
Spotty, yet accurate, iphone evidence or our typical testosterone filled breakfast.

Joseph is a 24/7 plot twister.  He lures his parents in with those enchanting blue eyes, sweet kisses and sugary giggles.  We are crazy in love with his (non-tantrum) vocals, because they are seriously adorable! At any given time he's serenading us with his with his curly little voice, calling out the names of his brothers, Cluh! (Charlie), Doh! (Andrew), Honey! (Henry) and, totally charmed, we are certain the tyranny is over. 

Not a second later he is clobbering us over the head with that shrilling scream that is something like a meat mallet on our nerves.

Just last week, as I was strapping Blaise to myself in the baby sling and throwing back the last shot of caffeinated hope for the morning, I heard a loud thunk. Strolling over to the window, sure to find the infractor facing the wrong direction in the yard with a baseball bat, I was surprised to see this instead:

#6 flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones.  Holding a tomato from my garden.  Winding up his chubby little pale-flesh limb for another chuck.

He wasn't throwing my tomatoes at anything or anyone specific, he was just randomly shot-putting them into the wind.  Because those 5 bazillion dollars I've spent on every size and kind of ball for our offspring over the years is apparently not working for him?  Maters are where it's at.

Now, if he was chucking cucumbers at the house, I'd be so chilled.  Because, seriously, I cannot. eat. another. cucumber.  But tomatoes, I've been waiting all summer long for those babies! 

From the top of the deck I stared down with my high-blood pressure face ablaze and gave the little Mr. the what for.  Oh, I'm sure you can probably guess what he gave me.

That's right.  He gave me the meat mallet.  

NOOOOOOO, MOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!

Right there.  Right then.   Pumpkin angel told me, no.

What did I do? I went back inside, poured another cup of coffee, threw in some Baileys, said three Hail Mary's, and called daddy for some moral support.

If you've been where I've been then you know just how challenging it is to be patient during this stage of your tots life.  On top of the natural pressure we place upon ourselves to handle each and every circumstance the right way, there's also so much advice out there to wade through, what to do, what not to do, what's normal, what's not normal.  Seven kids later, goodness knows I've heard or read more than my fair share of it all.

If this is your first time wading into the terrible twos waters with your tot, or if that stage is just on the horizon, here's a short list of parenting points to ponder that Steve and I have collected over the years. Most of them have stemmed from the trusted advice of great mentors and great authors*, and others have been fine-tuned through trial and error. Collectively, they are tips that have proven to be the most helpful and fruitful for us when we stick to them with love and consistency. 

1. Be Consistent 
Whatever method of discipline you choose to use, whether it's time out, early bed time, taking away privileges, etc. just be consistent and follow through.  I can't stress this enough.  We have failed at this so many times and paid the consequences.  Discipline may be difficult in the moment, but in the long run it's easier on you and on your child.

2.  Chill Out
I know this is obvious, yet challenging at the same time, but you have to be calm.  Children are so perceptive. They know instantly when a parent's fire is lit, and if your child is even slightly strong willed, parental anger just ignites in them the will to compete or defy. Discipline is not a competition. You are in charge, so just stay calm, stay the course, and expect the child to dislike and rebel against the boundaries you have set - that's normal!  You're not bending a will, your shaping an attitude, and that can take time.  

3. Love 'Em Up 
Sometimes our kids' bad behavior is really just a cry for love. I've really noticed this with Joey. Some mornings I put him in time-out a dozen times before we've even finished breakfast. Sigh. Why? Really I just need to stop what I'm doing for a moment, hold him on my lap, hug him, laugh with him or read him a story. When I take this approach, his mood and behavior instantly improves.  Love and affection is magical! Give 'em some one-on-one time and see what happens.

4. Watch Your Language
Try using specific language, or "trigger words" with them.  A couple of our favorites are This is not acceptable behavior, and You re in charge! Or, You get to choose!  When a child is being argumentative or defiant we give them two win-win options and explain that they get to be in charge of the decision they make.  

For example, I might say, Joseph, you may either sit down and eat your lunch or go to nap-time early. I will let you decide.  You get to be in charge! You have two minutes to choose, or I will choose for you.  I set the timer and wait for his response.  Either one is a win-win for me!  

5.  Praise 'Em
Words of affirmation are really important during this stage.  If my kids are tuning me out, it's usually because I'm using more disciplinary words (in a frustrated tone) and not enough affirmative ones.  Be intentional about catching your kids making good choices, and then affirm them specifically.  I like the way you shared your toys today! Or, Thank you for saying please and thank you at supper! You're such a big boy!

6.  Be Strategic
Don't attempt big outings when your kids are hungry or tired. It's a sure recipe for a fiery melt-down. Man, have I made this mistake too many times!  Little ones simply cannot understand the mental flowchart that we moms have strategically drawn up for the day. No matter how creatively we try to explain our plans to them or reason through specifics with them it's like spaghetti in their little heads. So, we must be realistic about our expectations and smart about scheduling if we want to avoid unnecessary conflict.

7.  Show Mercy
Be affectionate after punishment. After we put Joseph in time out (which he hates, because he has to be in a room by himself), we try to remember to pause, kneel down, hug him and remind him why he was punished, and then express that we love him and that he gets a chance to try again.

8.  Quit Counting
I hope I'm not offending anyone here, but the countdown method is not a good idea.  Telling a child they have five seconds to do anything means that they will max out that five seconds and risk being disciplined.  Again, we know this to be true through trial and error.  I'm not sure where I read this but offering the child a single warning and explaining the consequence they will receive if they refuse to stop their behavior seems to be much more effective. If you find yourself saying, "Stop!" over and over again, that is the same as counting.  You have to give the warning and discipline immediately if they do not adhere to your warning.

The only exception to this suggestion is if a child is hurting another child, then there's not warnings, discipline is immediate.

9. Brag Don't Bemoan 
Don't speak negatively about your child to others in front of your child.  If they constantly hear you telling others that he/she is going through the terrible twos, is so naughty, is exasperating you, they will more than likely fulfill their role as the "naughty one." But, if they hear you say positive things about them to others, especially if you praise them in front of your spouse, they will absolutely light up and they will know that you love them and believe in them - this will (hopefully) motivate them toward obedience. Again, so guilty of this here, because sometimes we moms just need to vent, am I right? We just have to be prudent about the time and place we choose to vent. 

10.  Encourage 
Be encouraging and show a little mercy to others and to yourself.  A couple of weeks ago, I was in a bookstore purchasing some materials that I needed for our homeschool year.  Joseph was in a serious funk.  I had asked an older brother to help watch Joey while I shopped, but I could still hear Joseph's pipes vocalizing his discontent with life.  I finally had to seek out the manager and apologize for my son's behavior.  To my surprise, the manager was so kind and gentle with me.  With his understanding, I instantly felt the parent perfect weight on my shoulders lighten up.  We need to extend that kind of grace and understanding to others, and to ourselves as well. 

Sometimes children are down right awful because their parents have failed to love and nurture them with proper discipline. But, most of the time, kids are just being kids.  They're trying to figure out life in this big world and how they fit in to all of it.  It's a big job to love and lead our little ones in the right direction, and I know for a fact that it's easier when we set our critical eye aside and show some mercy and support to one another instead.

Gotta run - Joey is blowing his nose.  In the curtains.

Have a great week!
*A few of our favorite trusted resources:










Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Choredom: Trust Me, It's a Good Thing

Check out Captain Long Legs:
He does not get those stilts from me. I'll spare you the photos, but if you need a visual, think tree-trunkish.

That kid is one of the top reasons why blogging has taken a serious backseat this summer.  I'm either feeding him (major budget breaker), shopping for bigger shoes and longer britches for his body that won't. stop. growing., or following him around the house like a shadow, desperate to stay as close to him as possible, for as long as possible before he packs up and moves out of mi casa (hello, heartbreak in three short years).

As much as this photo of him makes me weep a thousand tears, it also makes me smile as many smiles, because I am so thankful for who Benedict is, and how he is growing up to be such a fine young man. (Not perfect, but pretty darn great.) There are no back pats with that statement - it's 100% God's grace and goodness.  I mean it.)

Because I have such an intense awareness of the passing of time, my immediate reaction to the pain is to spoil Ben.  I know, it's ridiculous! I really don't mean spoil in the material sense, but in the let's have fun, and go do stuff, and eat lots of ice cream, and forget about work sense.

Thankfully, my husband has more mature ideas than I do.  He's right there with his handy-dandy sense of reason to balance out my maternal need to suffocate our teenage son with unlimited supplies of food and hugs.

One of the hubs' ideas is to keep the chore train chugging along.

While most people are currently posting about their fabulous summer vacays (which I happen to love!), afternoons at the pool and the beach, baseball games, and outdoor theatre, my camera reel is a little lighter in the recreational department.  

C'est la farm vie!

Don't get me wrong, my boys L.O.V.E. farm life, but they don't love everything about it.  Especially roguing.  For those of you who's closest experience to farming is going to the farmer's market, roguing is just a fancy word for pulling weeds.

Last Saturday, I thought I would be Mrs. Motivated and sneak out of the house before Blaise woke up to squeeze a run in before breakfast.  My sneaking went about as far as the kitchen, where I found four tired boys sitting in sleepy silence, sliding on their work boots, waiting for dad to drag them out to the soybeans that needed to be rogued.

All my hugs and promises of pancakes upon their return couldn't wipe the pathetic look of choredom off their faces.

I hate seeing my boys unhappy.  But, you know what? Even though I hate it, I'm pretty much okay with it, and let me tell you why.

As much as we all want our kids to grow up, go to college and become instantly successful, barring some miraculous intervention, the titles of CEO or head coach are not going to be bestowed upon them post-graduation.

This means that, more than likely, they are going to have to sit as the low man on the totem pole for a while, no matter what career path they choose.  And, often with the L.M.O.T.T.P. rank, come the less than desirable tasks that no one wants to do.

Poor things. They will probably feel overqualified and underpaid while answering the call to perform such menial tasks. BUT (finger's crossed) I'm hoping they won't throw a tantrum, and will actually be able to endure the monotony...if they have any sort of interior grit whatsoever.

So, how do you get your kiddos some of that grit? Well, based on personal experience, I really believe that the best grit-builder is chores. Serious chores.  Not just clean your room chores or take out the trash chores. I'm talking about chores that take time and dedication to finish.  Mowing and trimming the lawn, cleaning out the garage - top to bottom, detailing the family car, pulling weeds, and shoveling snow.

By the way, I'm totally convinced that folding laundry and sock-matching builds better hand-eye coordination than hours sitting in front of the X-Box.  I've seen it for myself.  No video game pro can top my boys speed when it comes to a game of knuckles or snatching the last cookie from the jar.

Most nights, Steve and I don't do dishes after the evening meal.  After watching our children receive the bounty of our hard work, we retire to the living room with a glass of wine while they take their stuffed little tummies to the kitchen where they team up to return my domain to ship-shape condition before any other evening activities ensue.

Of course they moan and groan about it.  That's normal.  And then there's the towel snapping and arm wrestling which always leads to some sort of squabble, which interrupts our sipping of the grapes, which leads to one of us redirecting their focus with threats of double vegetables and no dessert for a week.

Anyway, this particular chore of KP duty is just one of the many grit-building opportunities we give to our children. They also clean bathrooms, do laundry, mow and trim the lawn, and change diapers (gasp!). I'm probably painting a work-house picture here but, honestly, chores actually make up a very small portion of our children's day, and amazingly, the time that they contribute to the economy of the home makes the time that they have to play, rest, socialize, or participate in activities even sweeter.

I know it sounds crazy, but work actually makes for happier, more confident, more grateful kids.

If you haven't already experienced choredom resistance from your kids, I assure you at some point you will.  Eventually chore charts with cute rewards will no longer be enough to entice them to keep their rooms clean.  They will pout, sulk, cry, and utter every grievance over your expectations of them....anything to wear you down and make you feel guilty for asking them to lift a precious finger to help.

If and when that happens, don't throw your hands up! Don't give up! Stay calm and stay the course. Remember, if you need a little leverage to get them to cooperate, you can always dangle the car keys, cell phone, television time, or fun with friends privileges out in front of their scowling faces. (Those are priveleges, not rights of entitlement.)

Our approach to chores isn't militaristic, it's just matter of fact.  Being a part of a family means there will always be chores, and why should mom and dad do everything? When we as parents shoulder all of the responsibilities of the home, and on top of that, shuttle our kids to every activity on the planet, we deny our children vital opportunities to gain the virtues and skills necessary to become generous individuals who are mindful of others. Virtues and skills that will also bolster their confidence so that they might assert themselves in the most challenging circumstances in order to aspire toward the dreams and goals they desire to achieve in life.

Offering our boys opportunities that have the potential to form them to become steadfast, dedicated, resilient members of society isn't solely meant to help them temporarily survive the hum-drum duties that their future careers might require of them.  They are also meant to give them the lasting and meaningful strength to rise up to, rather than shirk, those less than desirable tasks that are a necessary part of maintaining a healthy thriving community, church, and/or family.

Who will stay a little longer to clean up the trash-strewn stadium after a ball game? Who will give up a golf game to organize the fundraiser for a friend in need? Who will sacrifice social time to stand in line and serve at the soup kitchen on a Saturday morning? Who will give up an afternoon of football to shovel snow for an elderly neighbor? Who will sacrifice sleep for night time feedings and diaper changes?

I hope that my boys will.

In fact, I hope that no matter what career path they choose, or how successful they become, that they will always have the interior conviction to recognize and confront the hard things in life, the less-than-appealing duties that need to get done, and that they will tackle those duties with humility and perseverance.

But, you know what? Hope is a great virtue, but hope doesn't stand on it's own.  It needs legs.  And legs look like opportunity, and for our kids, opportunity looks like chores. Chores really could be the tool that builds a solid foundation made of hard work and meaningful experiences.  A foundation that gives solid support to the purpose that the Lord has in mind for each of our boys to fulfill.

Time to wrap this up! The boys have moseyed in from mowing and are looking forward to an afternoon at the pool.

If you're a parent who also believes in chores, but have felt alone in that area of parenting, I hope that you feel some support today! And, if you've been hesitant or afraid that chores might turn your child's life upside down (well, they will, but your kiddos will be okay, and so will you!), I hope that you feel encouraged to give it a go!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Patience is the Fruit of Gratitude ~ Remembering Blaise's Birth

           
Several years ago, my spiritual director told me that gratitude is the gateway to patience.

Yeah.  Just let that simmer for a while.

I kind of hated it when she would say stuff like that to me.  Because what she said was true, and truth can be uncomfortable, even annoying, since sometimes I'm a toddler and I don't like to do what I know I'm supposed to do. Read: get better - grow up - get over myself.

Two weeks before Blaise was born, her words came back to me.  They were a spiritual life preserver thrown out from my memory as, sadly, I had forgotten all about them.

Her wisdom really did rescue me from drowning in the waves of worry, doubt, and despair that kept pulling me under into the depths of self pity. I just couldn't get over the fact that our seventh son had decided follow in the stubborn footsteps of brothers #2, #4 and #6, by hunkering down for a long twelve days past his due date.

Practicing real, sincere, prayerful gratitude isn't always an easy thing to offer up, especially when you've decided that you simply cannot survive being pregnant for one more single solitary day.

If you've ever been in my flip flops, you understand what I'm sayin' here. At 40+ weeks your whole body aches. You haven't seen your ankles for a good three weeks. And the only thing thing that fits is your husband's bath robe - which you've convinced yourself, with the right pair of shoes flip-flops, could pass for a classic, albeit fuzzy, wrap dress.

But, given the fact that my chocolate stash, and all my other earthly comfort-seeking strategies for distraction had failed to keep my inner tantrum sector from screaming, When in the hell am I going to have this baby??!, I gave in to the one thing that I should have been choosing all along: GRATITUDE.

(See how it says attitude right there in that word? Probably not a coincidence, huh.)

Still determined to help this baby get his birthing rear in gear, I gathered up my gratitude and, as I contemplated God's generosity, proceeded to mow the lawn, weed the garden, and walk the curbs around neighborhood until I couldn't walk any more.

Unfortunately, all that determination made me a wee bit tired. It just so happens that the only prayer I had prayed for myself over the last two months of pregnancy was that the Lord would allow me to go to the hospital feeling rested, and that circumstances surrounding the birth would be relatively uneventful (unlike the last time). Because I'm not able to handle an epidural, I need every ounce of energy and strength possible to get through the labor and delivery.

But, wouldn't you know, the night of all that curb-walking, around 11 p.m., just as everyone was sleeping soundly and it was finally my turn to crawl into bed, ba-boom.  Contractions.

At first I wasn't too worried because I had been having contractions at night for about three weeks. And, since those were all uneventful, I figured this was just a repeat situation.  But, after about three hours of activity, things really started to crank up.

Wanting to labor at home as long as I could so that Steve could sleep, I settled in to the recliner and tried to rest. Around 4 a.m. it was time to wake Daddy up.   Exhausted, yet excited, I grabbed the coffee pot and, in desperation, chugged down the cold bitter cup that was leftover from breakfast and waddled out the door into the dark.

Once we got to the hospital, my contractions began to slow down.  I wasn't about to pop into the maternity ward only to have them tell me I wasn't in "real labor." So, for nearly an hour, Steve and I walked a loop around the admissions floor until my contractions were two minutes apart.

After checking in, I was happy to hear from the experts that not only was I really in labor (insert eye-roll), but also dilated to a SIX (insert rock star jump).

Like the six births before this one, the details of the labor and delivery quickly faded as the miracle of life passed from my womb to my arms.

But there are two very poignant moments during the labor that I don't think I'll ever forget....

About an hour before Blaise was born, I had really hit a wall. It took every last bit of energy I could muster to keep my emotions and bay and to stay focused.  As I stood hunched over the bed, leaning on the rail for support, I looked up at Steve seeking his encouragement.  In our silence, the exchange of glances spoke a thousand words.  His eyes told me that he knew just how fragile I felt.

Leaving my side for just a moment, he went in search of my journal, the one that I had recorded a little over one hundred prayer requests from my readers, friends, and family. Returning to my side, he opened the book and laid it between my hands. As I hung my head over the scripted pages, one by one I read, again, the needs that had been entrusted to me weeks ago. As I prayed, every weakness and every pain I was feeling was completely taken up into those intentions.

As I prayed I remember seeing very clearly in my mind the image of the crucified Christ. Up until that time, I had only considered that it was our sins alone that Jesus bore upon the cross. But, it was there that He also took ahold of our every pain and suffering as well. He knew, with deep love and tender compassion, every ounce of pain I would endure to bring a new life into His world, just as He knew every measure of suffering being borne by the hearts of each and every name I had written on the pages of my journal.

In that space in time there was a beautiful unity between us all - Christ, myself, and those whom I was praying for.  I cannot describe the peace and joy that flooded my soul at that moment.
On May 27th at 10:02 a.m., Blaise Maximilian Kolbe was born.

I was once asked, since we have had multiples, if the experience of giving birth ever ceases to be amazing . The answer is a resounding, no. It's a truly humbling, yet thrilling experience each and every time. Steve and I are always a total mess at the moment of the birth.  We hug and kiss and bawl over our new child, completely unaware of anyone else in the room.

It's a glorious time!
We decided not to tell the boys the gender of their new sibling until they arrived at the hospital. When they walked into the room, a curious silence came over them.  As soon as they heard they had a new brother, the room turned into a gymnasium - woo-hoo's, high fives, chest bumps and all!

One by one they held him...(Not pictured, Ninja Joey, who was only allowed to admire from afar.)
George, the first to request the honor of holding his new brother.
 Andrew, Mr. Tender.
 Henry, so proud to finally be big enough to hold a baby on his own.
 Ben, the oldest holding the youngest.  I can't even type that without getting teary-eyed.
Charlie, 100% in love. 

For weeks we volleyed back and forth over three names for our new little guy, and thought we would choose the one we felt suited him best once he was born.  My top pick was Ambrose John Vianney. Steve's was Louis John Vianney, but we also had Blaise Maximilian Kolbe on the roster.

In the end, it was the boys who chose Blaise.  They campaigned hard for his name, and came out victorious - we just couldn't say no.
 Blaise has no idea just how incredible the father who holds him truly is.
 Blaise is my parents' seventeenth grandchild.  
My dad always tells his children that he has more love than grandkids.  He's right.
Oh, my darling Blaise! 
Thank you for reminding me that patience is the fruit of gratitude.
Your sweet face will forever be a reminder of that truth!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

First Glimpses of Blaise

Tomorrow our sweet baby, Blaise, will be three weeks old. The first few weeks at home with a newborn are always a bit of a blur for me, especially during this particular season, since our family is quite busy with athletic camps, church activities, baseball games, and some seriously looooonnnngggg hours of farm work.

As I find myself marching through these crazy days in a mental haze, struggling minute-by-minute to overcome the deep, deep aching desire for sleep, for quiet, for peace, my one comfort is knowing that I am right where I am needed, whether it means nursing Blaise for the hundredth time, delivering meals to the field, shuttling someone to a camp, or cheering on one of the boys at a baseball game.


While the difficulties of the present moment probably seem less than ideal to anyone on the outside looking in, I assure you, there is no absence of beautiful delights. For every tear and every sigh of exasperation, there are twice as many blessings in the way of laughter, joy, wonder, and surprise - especially in the expressions of affection and love from six big boys toward the tiny, fragile boy whom they have welcomed into their brotherhood.

Such is the mystery of love...that there can be such indescribable goodness in the midst of suffering, and how one gives the other greater purpose, greater merit.

I'm hoping to find a moment or two over the weekend to compose Blaise's birth story, but until I can get back on my blogging feet again, here is a peek at just a few of the photos I've been able to capture of our little prince!
Every day for the first week after we came home from the hospital, we took Blaise to the doctor to have his blood tested, since he had a moderate case of jaundice.  He's a little yellow, you can see! Thankfully, with every visit his bilirubin levels came down, and he is how perfectly rosy!
While snapping these pics, in my brief absence, Joey ate a half a pan of brownies. Then, on a chocolate high, he proceeded to finger paint the refrigerator...and the pantry door....and himself.

Terrible two's + sleepless newborn nights = best reason to keep the wine fridge stocked!
Baby Blaise is a curious wonder to the boys, especially Charlie.  He can sit for the longest time inspecting every inch of his brother, from head to toe.  There is some sweetness underneath all their rowdiness!
My dad's sister, Elaine, has crocheted a blanket for every single one of our boys. Each one is a unique treasure. 
Last week Steve was working around the clock to get our hay baled and stacked, but he called one day, out of the blue, to say he was going to take a break and come HOME for supper.  (Yay!! Oh Dear... ) I had only a short amount of time to get a meal on the table before he arrived, and needed some help with Blaise, who was very fussy at the time.  

With Ben and Andrew away on a mission trip, the younger boys had to step in.  Henry was the first to volunteer. He scooped baby Blaise right up and rocked him tenderly by the radio.  We soon discovered a little George Strait and some cuddling works like a charm on Mr. Fussypants!
This.
This one I will frame.
Posted to my Facebook page last week:
Blessed is the mom whose son rises at 5:30 a.m. to get to football camp, then puts in an 8 hour day helping dad turn wrenches on a swather, only to come home and pass up a hot supper for the chance to hold his baby brother. Man, I wasn't ready for the tears that sight would bring - babies make us all a little better don't they?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Response to An Accusation of Selfishness ~ My Thoughts On the Benefits of Raising Teens Alongside Babies

Last week my dear husband exercised his masterful negotiation skills to secure a sweet deal on some new furniture for our living room. Ever since our mold remediation project last winter, we've been furniture-free and, given my current condition, the floor has becoming less and less hospitable to my limited grace and flexibility.

So every afternoon from  2p.m. - 4 p.m., my heart sings the Hallelujah Chorus because I get the recliner all to myself, and it's heavenly!  I pop in my earplugs (if you don't own a pair, you don't know what you're missing!), prop my ten ELEVEN days overdue swollen self up and rexaaaaax while the boys run willy nilly around me.

Yesterday, while reclining, I gazed in amusement at our little Joseph, who stood silently at the front door, his nose pressed to the foggy glass, humid breaths clouding his view of the driveway. He waited patiently for the brother he most adores, but soon the wait was over.  His eyes brightened, ears perked, and a chubby finger rose up to point out the tall figure that sauntered up the sidewalk. Under his breath I could hear him chant, "Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben...."

JOEY!!! 

To the floor fell the big brother's backpack, and with the weight of the day released, his arms were now free to scoop up some love.

I never, ever tire of watching their after school reunions.  It's a marvelous gift, their relationship - tender, feisty, earnest.

A little footage from a recent track meet:
Ooooo yay! Dandelions! 
 Hold still, Ben, while I blow these fluffy white things in yo face.
I'm gonna watch you PR in triple jump just as soon as I get done bwowin' deese  fwuffies off a here.

Sibling relationships truly are a treasure, but they are also something that I think can be so easily overlooked and undervalued in our world today...

I remember it was sometime last fall when a message from a fellow blogging friend appeared in my inbox.  She was confronting comments that had been made to her concerning family size, specifically about how couples, who continue to welcome babies into the family while raising teenagers at the same time, are behaving selfishly, and she wanted my opinion on the matter.

I nearly fell out of my chair.  Having a baby....when you have a teenager in the home....is selfish???

*Please note, before I continue, that the remainder of this post is meant to address the following comments toward raising teenagers alongside of babies.  It is not meant, in any way, to suggest that meaningful relationships and a virtuous life cannot be obtained outside of the home or outside of a large family unit.  Again, I am simply offering a positive perspective on the less-obvious merits of parenting teens and little ones at the same time.

Reading on, the comments she shared with me were this:

  • It's not fair to expect teens to give up their personal time and freedom to help take care of little siblings.
  • Having a newborn in the home compromises the amount of time and focused attention a parent can give their teens, time and attention that is critical to their own development and maturation.
  • Teenagers shouldn't have to give up precious opportunities academically or athletically because parents can't facilitate or afford to support their teens personal growth and interests. 

After my locked jaw and gritted teeth finally relaxed, I decided to postpone my reactive response and instead seek out the perspective of a trusted teen source - my oldest son.

I simply opened our dialogue with this question:

Ben, do you ever feel like you are missing out on certain life experiences or opportunities because you have younger siblings in the home that require our time and attention? Younger siblings that you also are often asked to help take care of?

The look on his face said it all.  But do you want to know what his response was?

Mom, if you're asking if I would rather have golf lessons or that our family could take more trips, or I could have my own four wheeler (which I know he desperately wants), instead of another little brother then the answer is, NO. I could never want any of those things more than Joseph or Charlie or any of my brothers.

While my heart was soothed by his answer, I wanted to press him even further....

Yes, but, you know that you have more responsibilities here at home, since Dad and I often need your help.  Not many kids your age have to change diapers, give baths, or read picture books at night to toddlers, so that I can keep the laundry going and dad can help with homework. And, I want you to know it's okay to tell me exactly how you feel about it all.

He looked me in the eye, and short and sweet said this:

Mom, honestly, I don't mind.  In fact, I think I'm going to miss it when I'm gone.

After my conversation with Ben, I wasn't sure exactly how to respond to my friend's e-mail.  I really believe that the person confronting her was not trying to be offensive in sharing her opinions - in fact, I think most people who agree with her or follow her train of thought really do believe that their points are valid and worth discussing.

So, I don't fault her, whoever she is. However, if she is going to press those of us - all of us - who have babies and teens in the same house, with such opinions, then she must certainly be ready for an honest response, and this is mine:

In a nutshell - we are undoubtedly living in a time and culture where self-centeredness is encouraged and facilitated to such a great degree, that we no longer recognize the value of sacrificing for the greater good of the other above our own self-interests. Social media offers a plethora of evidence to to this truth.

Naturally, any sort of family structure that fosters opportunities for sacrificial acts of selflessness would seem countercultural, and certainly counterproductive by todays child-rearing standards. Because many parents today do not recognize the home as a place where their children might discover themselves through a sincere gift of self (St. John Paul II) to their family (primarily through sacrificial acts of generosity), opportunities for self-discovery and affirmation are typically sought in popularly social venues outside of the home, such as sports, music, and even academic fields.

While these opportunities have their own merit and value in a child's life (our children certainly enjoy participating in all of those things), I don't believe that they were ever meant to become an arena in which parents lives constantly revolve around the potential success and admiration of their children by others, nor were they meant to replace the vital relationships that can only be built through children serving within the family.

"You have been created for the glory of God and for your own eternal salvation; 
this is your end, this is the object of your soul and the treasure of your heart." 
- St. Robert Bellermine

As Christians we believe that our ultimate goal in life, our ultimate end is heaven.  The road to heaven is paved with love, and we recognize this truth most clearly through the example of Christ, whose love was and is infinite and immeasurable, sacrificial and not self-seeking.

The beautiful thing about family life is that God, in his wisdom, has fashioned it to be, in itself, a culture that offers tremendous opportunities to obtain virtues such as compassion, charity, justice and prudence simply through the offering of oneself in the ordinary duties and responsibilities of caring for the home and for one another.

Of course, the challenge of embracing such opportunities is that not only does it require sacrifice on the part of the parents and children, but it also requires some bit of resiliency toward the influences of modern society - influences which promote finding life's purpose through an inward gaze rather than an outward one.

By today's standards, popularity and success, whether it be in sports or music or academics is held in much higher esteem than being virtuous, and therefore the popularity and recognition is what most kids (and adults) strive for every day.  Daily persistence in such goals naturally tend toward the fostering of a self-centered focus, rather than an other-centered focus.

The weight of society's influence doesn't just affect teens, it affects all of us to some degree.  Social media contains strong evidence that we live in a culture that seeks affirmation and approval for everything and places an unreasonably high value upon that affirmation. Nothing we do and no part of who we are should go unnoticed, unrecognized, or heaven forbid "unliked."

So what does that mean for a teenager growing up in a family where some of their time and energy, by necessity, must be offered for the care of the home and for the little ones who reside there? I can't imagine any teen Snapchatting photos of themselves changing a diaper or cheerfully picking up toys when without being asked. What glory is there in reading a picture book for the thousandth time to a fussy toddler, or delivering a cup of water to a thirsty sibling.  Who of their friends would possibly ever admire such a grand lifestyle?

Ask my sons - there is no glory, no admiration, no public affirmation for such contributions.  And yet, the works of mercy that they participate in every day, the great acts of love and charity that they are asked to offer at present, are the very things that root out selfishness and anchor in their place the everlasting Christ-like virtues that will serve them far beyond any self-absorbed lifestyle which offers only temporary and fleeting comforts and a false sense of satisfaction.

Though such acts of sacrificial familial love often remain hidden, their greatness is not diminished by a lack of recognition or admiration. 

In fact, it is the hidden nature of generosity within family life is actually what makes it so beautiful, so transforming.  When we are called to serve, and respond in obedience to that call, our prideful nature (the part of us that desires to be recognized) is less likely to get in the way, making room for humility to blossom.

How can serving others and pride possibly be spoken about in the same sentence? Let me explain...

I find that it is easy to be generous and giving of my time and attention to others when it is convenient, or when I think that it might demonstrate to others that  I really am a caring and generous person, who loves others and longs to be helpful. How about a soup kitchen selfie, y'all? (I can see my grandparents rolling their eyes as I type.)

Darn that desire to be validated and appreciated.  It's a tough one, isn't it? 

As a mom, if I myself am not immune to the temptation toward recognition, it's important that I do not underestimate the possibility that this "doing good when it feels good to do good" might also be a challenge for my teens.

Our two oldest sons will be going on a mission trip to New Mexico in a couple of weeks.  And, while I believe whole-heartily that their journey will be blessed in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend, I can only pray that their service will be rooted in true humility and not pride.

My oldest children most likely cannot yet comprehend the value in the opportunities that their upbringing offers them to become virtuous.  In fact, they may not even agree with or like those servant oriented opportunities (what teen would?). But, as their parents, it is up to Steve and I to place a higher trust in the Lord's plan for each and every person in our family, and to trust it far above our own plans for them - especially when our personal desires for our children can be so easily influenced by a culture whose loud and pertinent voice often drowns out the whisper of reason within us.

Today Benedict will have completed his freshman year of high school.  Many of my friends, who have raised teens, have told me how quickly time flies once our children reach the teen years.  Sadly, I recognize real truth in their sentiments, as it feels as though I will blink and tomorrow Ben will be gone.

I remember when he was born, how I thought I was ready for motherhood and everything that becoming a mother would mean.  I thought I was generous, but I wasn't.  I though I knew what it meant to sacrifice for another, but I didn't. My children and my husband have stretched me, grace has stretched me toward generosity, charity and greater depths of love.

Flannery O'Connor put it well when she said,

"All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."  

Change is painful.  But, what if we could raise our children to live their lives in such a way that when they reach their vocation, be it married life, religious life, or mission life, that there be less of a need for interior change, and therefore less pain?

I believe that family life, in it's very sacrificial nature, offers children just that - a wonderful opportunity to gain the virtues that will guide them to live the vocation they are called to with greater freedom and with fewer interior struggles.

The pain of change doesn't just reside in the hardships and struggles that are thrown our way, but rather it emanates from the very process of detachment from our selfish ways, habits, desires and attitudes.

I know this because I have lived it - I continue to live it! Detachment hurts! But, it is necessary for us to become less of ourselves and more like Christ if we are to walk the hard road of love toward heaven.

I didn't realize when Steve and I were first married, and when we began a family, just how many amputations the Lord would have to perform on my infected soul, but He did so, and continues to do so, out of love for me.

He will do the same for our children.

It is my great hope that our sons, who are called today to sacrificially serve one another within our family, will experience a lesser degree of frustration and pain when it comes to interior conversion, because they will have already experienced and embraced the fruits of virtue borne of the sacrifices they have offered to love and care for their family while at home.

If you are interested, these are the highlights of the response I gave to my friend via e-mail...

Is it selfish for me to expect our sons to give up their "personal time and freedom" to help care for a younger sibling or to do chores?
First and foremost, if the Lord is calling Steve and I to have more children, we must trust Him above any confidence we have in ourselves, to provide what is necessary for all of us to thrive and to find joy within the life that He wills for us. It would be more selfish for us to deny our teens the opportunity to make personal sacrifices for their siblings than to offer them every earthly opportunity and comfort, because the long term benefits of doing so by far outweigh the temporary comforts of a duty-free lifestyle. Parents today are masters at serving our children, but are we teaching our children to serve?

Are Steve and I being selfish by welcoming another baby into our hearts and home, because it compromises the time and attention we can give our oldest children?

I think it would be selfish for us to deny our sons the opportunity to mature in independence and confidence by cradling them in a false net of continuous comfort, individual time and attention, only to throw them out into the real world where their professors, employers, friends and spouses will not support the overly attentive self-focused affirmative lifestyle they've been conditioned to feel that they deserve. 

Finally, while I whole-heartily agree that opportunities for our children outside of the home, whether they be academically, athletically, musically, or in other avenues of interest are fantastic ways in which our children can grow and mature in self-knowledge and virtue, they are not the be-all, end-all of their purpose and existence. And, as much as we wish this were true, those experiences will never trump the everlasting rewards that those opportunities, which require our children to sacrifice for the greater good of another, may obtain for us when it comes to reaching our heavenly reward.