Friday, May 30, 2014

A One-in-a-Million Ad for Ice-Breakers & How We Will Be Refering to the Ta-Tas

Ever since we announced to our five sons that they would soon have another little sibling, Steve and I have both been amazed, and often times humored, by how different their individual reactions to and participation in my pregnancy have been.  One boy has become even more attentive to the needs of everyone in the house, not just mine. He prepares lunch, folds laundry and bends over for me during these latter months of discomfort without ever being prompted.  In contrast, another boy still asks me to play basketball and jump on the trampoline with him as if nothing has changed at all over the past 9 months.

And, then, there's one son in particular who has truly surprised us with his fascination over my growing belly, and that's Henry.  Of all of the boys, he's the most rough and tumble, the most temperamental, the most independent, the most "all boy" boy in the family.  And, yet, from the very moment my midsection began to show proof of a life growing inside, he has taken on a surprisingly tender side, one that is a beautiful reflection of 6 year old innocence and wonder all wrapped up in one.  
He expresses this tenderness with frequent hugs and gentle pats on my tummy, asking several times a day how the baby is doing and simply wanting to sit as close to me as possible during story time or the family rosary.

Like any curious little boy, he has had a lot of questions throughout the baby journey, questions such as:
How does your skin stretch so far?
Where do your guts go (I know, total boy verbiage) when the baby takes up all the space inside of you? (I did Google that one for them.)
How long does that baby have to stay in there? 
Are you gonna use those "nursers" to feed the baby just like you did with Charlie?? 

When Henry was a baby, George's name for the "nursers" was "gutters," although we think he meant udders, since prior to seeing me nurse, he had only seen a cow feeding her calf. We laugh hysterically over those two and their creative descriptions of my nourishing parts.

Just when I thought we'd covered every question and every quote, yesterday Henry came up with yet another proof that he's been thinking long and hard about the new person who will soon be joining our family.

Yesterday, while at the Target checkout, I noticed him anxiously trying to pull a fist-full of change out of the pockets of his red gym shorts.  After pretending to count all of his money, he stood on his tippy-toes and scanned the gum and mint display with great intensity.

Mom, how much are the Ice-Breakers? I can't see the price! Do you think they're a dollar, because I only have a dollar?!

I tried to explain to him that if the Ice Breakers were too expensive, there were other choices that he could afford to buy with his money, but he absolutely insisted on having Ice Breakers.

Thankfully, the very item he so deeply desired was only $0.69.  Looking at the grin on his face you would have thought I'd just handed him the moon.  

Proudly, he paid for his big blue box of mints and held them close to his chest as we walked out the store to the car.  Once inside, I just had to know what was fueling his fascination with the mints.
Well, mom, I was thinkin'. When you call us and tell us that we can come to the hospital when we get there you are probably going to let us hold the baby, right? Well, I don't want to have really stinky breath when that happens, so I'm going to keep these Ice-Breakers and eat some before I get there. Then, I'll be nice and fresh and won't make the baby cry.
I would have given anything to have my camera with me just to have been able to video the entire process from the the counting of the money to the emphatic insistence on buying a particular mint to the pure delight of his expression as he explained to me with great pride his deeply contemplated and completely unexpected gesture of consideration.
This morning I found him in Charlie's room counting each mint and trying to calculate whether or not he actually had enough to share with his brothers.

Every day there's something, some great goodness, that may seem to others like such small things, that my boys reveal to me. It's a goodness that I see within them, one that washes over my heart, filling in the weathered cracks of frustration and fatigue, cracks that make me feel as though any moment I'll fall apart, that I cannot bear one more weight of the struggles that come with being a mom.  And, it is these very things - the beautiful gestures, the thoughtful ideas, the warm affections -  that I realize have nothing to do with me and everything to do with God the Father. A Father, who in his infinite goodness and wisdom, has created these unique and beautiful persons as expressions of Himself just for me to love and to be loved by. Persons, who in their very being give my life such a great sense of purpose and joy.
I can't wait to see their faces the very moment when they walk through the door of our hospital room.  I'll especially be anticipating the moment we place the baby in Henry's arms, when he, with minty breath, will hold his new sibling close and oh-so-freshly say hello for the first time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Body Confidence & Baby Curves - Lessons Learned {Times 6}

Maybe this isn't the best time to be writing about the topic of body confidence since I'm 38 weeks pregnant and feeling just a tad squishy these days.  But, after reading Bonnie's 7 Quick Takes last week, and Jen's Weight Loss After Baby and the New Normal, in which both refer to the Girl With Curves post on body confidence, thoughts on the ways in which women struggle with body image have been nagging me. I'm hoping that flushing out some of those thoughts here will silence the inner nag.
Early last April, after giving a talk at a mom's retreat in Kansas City, I decided to pop into Destination Maternity to look for an Easter dress.  While at the checkout, I couldn't help but notice the big screen TV looming overhead, displaying clips of women modeling all of the lovely attire festooned about the store for all of us to shop through.

The young woman assisting me must have seen the distorted look on my face (assuming it wasn't gas or a slicing leg cramp), because, leaning in with a hushed voice she matter-of-fact, informed me that none of the models in the video are actually pregnant, they're all wearing a false bump.

Well, crap, I guess that blue maxi dress, the one I was too lazy to try on, the one I just paid for, isn't going to look like the one up there on the big screen after all.

I just couldn't spoil her warm "I'm comforting the lowly" joy with the cold hard facts: This is #6 and really, I wasn't dealing with the inner anguish of why 30 extra pounds on me doesn't look anything remotely close to the non-preggo model. I was actually wondering how the lady in the video managed to walk flawlessly in 6" heels, ginormous purse casually slung over the shoulder, all the while pushing her "son" on his tricycle. (I may have also been wondering if my swollen feet could handle anything more stylish than flip-flops at this point.) Cray-cray! That's what my wrinkled forehead and doubting eyes were actually "saying."

All of us expectant mothers, you know the ones with the widening hips and the blossoming bosoms, the ones who caught a glimpse of the perfect dress or cute pair of shorts up on that screen are getting a much different, a more realistic picture of ourselves in the mirror, one that might not be the way we want it to be, maybe even the way we think it should be.  I left the store wondering how many first time moms would walk through those doors, and after seeing baby-body perfection up on that screen, would question whether the sacrifice of the body for a baby is worth it. I just hoped, with fingers crossed, that the informer at the counter would tell every mom the same they're not really pregnant story that she told me.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of my experiences that strongly suggest that we are a culture obsessed with body image.  Just last week, in another check out line, the obvious topic of conversation - pregnancy - came up again.  While scanning and wrapping up my items, the girl behind the counter just had to know if its true: "So I heard you get bigger and bigger with every pregnancy, and that it's almost impossible to lose all of the weight afterwards. Is that true? I mean, I have one kid already and I'm not sure I really want to go through all that again, especially if it's going to be worse."

Oi. Oi. Oi. Oi.  Why me, Lord? Anyone else in line care to respond?? Anyone??

I guess I could have responded with some practical story about how just three months after the birth of our first son, I was back into my size four jeans, but with every successive pregnancy after that, most things in my closet become relics of fashion past or end up in the Goodwill pile. Or, perhaps a monologue filled with saint quotations on the spiritual benefits of the purification of the soul through detachment (namely from anything that fits or looks remotely stylish).  It's not that losing the baby weight is a physical impossibility, it's just that, for most of us moms, life's priorities change again and again with every child, as do the privileges of free time and opportunity for things we used to enjoy or consider important.

Honestly, I don't even remember what I said to her, but I do know that I left there thinking about the body image obsession and what it means to all women, including those of us who have much more than just ourselves to take care of.

Driving home in silence, I couldn't stop thinking about the conversation that just took place. All of the more poignant answers I could have given her, came rushing through my brain a little too late. I earnestly desired for more time to visit with that girl, to tell her that the extra pounds are such a small price to pay in light of the gift of a precious, beautiful little life.

I'd be lying if I told you that I never struggle with the thoughts and emotions regarding my shape and size over the years.  My personal mental dialog concerning body issues was actually kick-started back in the 7th grade, and while I have a pretty good handle on keeping a positive perspective when it comes to my physical well-being today, it's taken years to settle into a place of peace, a place of gentleness with myself.

I've been everywhere on the mental-emotional grid of weight gain and loss, from skipping meals and counting fat grams in high school to casting all calorie cares into the wind in college.  Seven different sizes and styles of black pants in my closet were proof that something inside of me really needed to change if I was going to be free of the mental and emotional burden of attaining a certain body image.  When I speak of freedom, I don't mean being thin, I mean making peace with the body God has given me, and doing my best to take care of it so that I can be of service to Him and to others.

That whole making peace with our bodies thing is all easier said that done, right? Who can deny the influence that the unavoidable images of airbrushed faces and sculpted figures in our daily line of sight each and every day has upon us? They're nearly impossible to avoid, especially if you're plugged into any form of social media or television of any sort, or if you buy groceries. Magazines at the check out lines are the worst!

The recent trend in which women display their before and after weight-loss scantily clad selfies or svelte post-workout figures on Facebook or Pinterest really isn't proof that diet and exercise really work as much as it is evidence that women are desperately hungry for approval, for affirmation and to feel worthy of love. Many of us are broken and broken hearted, struggling to love and appreciate ourselves even just a little bit, and it makes me sad. Our feelings are real, and they are valid, but I really do think there's something we can do about all of the negative emotion, self doubt, self-loathing, don't you??

Confidence is a hard thing to come by these days, especially when it comes to self-image, but who or what is dictating how we feel about ourselves or how we think about ourselves?? Whatever it is, maybe a shift in perspective, in the power we give to external influences on our mental and emotional state of being is well overdue.

If you've taken a moment to read Girl With Curves post on body confidence, more than likely she's given you more than a few things to think about.  I especially appreciated tips #2 and #4, but I would like to share with you a few tips of my own, ones that are specifically meant to reach moms, particularly those of us who are still bearing the burden of weight gained from past or present pregnancies.

See your beauty as a gift.
When I stopped looking at my external self as something that must meet an imaginary standard or the approval of the mass public, (because if they say I'm okay, then I'm okay, if they like me, then I can like me) and started seeing it as a gift from God that really, truly is a gift for my husband, my focus on diet, exercise and overall acceptance of post-pregnancy curves was a welcome and very pleasant shift for me interiorly.

Thankfully, my husband has always been very affectionate and complimentary of me no matter what size I've been.  He makes me feel special and loved in every way, and I am incredibly grateful for his adoration and unwavering devotion!  That being said, he's should never be made to feel shallow for being physically attracted to me, or for really lighting up when he sees me fashionably dressed, my hair curled (he loves the curls) and lipstick on. That's not a disordered part of his nature. (Yes, it can become disordered, but come on!! We don't exactly want our husbands to fault us for being emotional creatures, do we??)

Although most of us can confidently chant, "he loves me just the way I am" about our husbands, our own personal attitudes and behaviors with this mindset are passive.  It's easy to make the vice of vanity a falsely pious excuse for putting little or no effort into our external appearance, thinking perhaps that it's the strictly the matters of the heart and soul that should be of utmost worth in the eyes of our spouse.  But, that pseudo-Gnostic thinking contradicts God's design for humanity. He declared everything He created as good, including our bodies. Therefore, our bodies are a gift to us from God. Every shape, size and color is an expression of His love and goodness.
Our husbands weren't immediately attracted to our interior when they first met us, they were drawn to it through our physical presence. The way that we captured their attention wasn't a mistake, and it wasn't meant to be temporary.  Need the toilet fixed or the car washed? Try putting on some lipstick.

When I remember that placing a higher value on taking good care of myself out of love for my spouse rather than for personal self-interest or worldly approval or gain, I am truly more joyful and motivated in my every effort to eat better, to exercise or to shower more often than say once a week! These are not shallow forms of love! To leave behind the yoga pants for something a little less comfy, but much more cute, to let down the pony tail and plug in the curling iron is real sacrificial love! And, chances are, those little efforts that we make to beautify ourselves more than likely make us feel better about ourselves as well.
Remember that your children will survive (for a while) without you.
When it comes to women taking care of themselves, I often see two extreme opposite sides of the motherhood path with very little middle-ground being explored. One side says there is no time to take care of myself, because my children demand every second of the daily clock.  The other side will go to any and every measure to ensure that they do not have to sacrifice "me time" (I hate that phrase!) at the gym, the salon or lunch with friends for the sake of their children.

Trust me, there is a place in between. It's one that acknowledges that if my child doesn't do a 13 step craft from Pinterest under my hovering loving guidance or have the entire bag of library books read to him so that I can go for a walk or take a shower, they will not be intellectually stunted or emotionally scarred. That middle ground also has room for those who may need to abandon the weekly pedicure and daily spinning class for a trip to the library or quality cuddle time with the kids. Those individuals who struggle with this form of detachment simply have to trust that the exchange of their time and attention from self to others will be all the more rewarding in the end. Balance. It's all about balance. (More thoughts on that here.)

Figure Out What Beauty Really Feels Like.
It dawned on me, as I was reading the post from Girl With Curves, that somehow as a society we've been brainwashed into believing that skinny people are the happiest people.  How unfair to them.  To say that a thin person doesn't have any problems or that full-figured individuals are unhappy are gross misrepresentations of both of people.

If really pressed with the question, "What makes you feel beautiful?" I would venture to say that many of us would give an answer that has little to do with dress size or scale numbers.

What makes me feel beautiful??
I feel beautiful when my children are happy, when they hug me, when we're all laughing over something silly.  I feel beautiful (and healthy and strong) after a long run. And, I feel beautiful when my husband looks at me with tenderness in his eyes.

If you feel beautiful in your favorite pair of shoes or brightest shade of lipstick, then go for it! If volunteering, writing, painting, teaching, playing sports or singing makes you feel beautiful, then do just that! But, whatever it is, learn to value those things far and above particular images of what you think happy is, especially when it comes to numbers on scale or the size of the clothes in your closet.

This is by far the best lesson I've learned over the past 13 years. For days on end after having a baby, along the {long} road of trying to shed 9 months of the chocolate chip cookie and taco consumption, I really have to focus on being patient with myself and accept my limitations when it comes to losing weight. But, focusing on those very things things, the times, places, and opportunities (cute shoes and combed hair included) that make me feel beautiful eases the urgency to lose the weight and truly helps me feel good about myself along the journey to getting back into some sort of shape.

Be the Voice of the Velvet Hammer.
One of my friends often refers to a priest, whom we both know, as the velvet hammer - he is a master at speaking the truth with love.  Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable to hear. It may require us to change our lives, our attitudes or our beliefs in a way that isn't easy. However, when truth is offered with love as it's foundation, change then becomes easier to bear and more fruitful and lasting in the end.

If you've mastered making excuses for the late night disappearance of a pan of brownies (or in my case, beer and chips!), maybe it's time to swing the internal hammer of truth a bit.  If you wouldn't touch a brownie with a ten foot pole, perhaps a little velvet padding on that hammer would do your heart some good.  My point is, we can be our own best friend or worst enemy when it comes to the way to think about ourselves as well as the way we speak to ourselves.  If you don't take charge of that inner voice, someone or something else will.

Like most things in life, whether it be a career, a hobby or a sport, self image, too, can become a source of pride and vanity.  Both ends of the spectrum - not caring about anything to being overly obsessed with everything is unhealthy.  When virtue (love, generosity, prudence, courage) is at the heart of our inner dialog, more than likely we will find that place of peace, of freedom that seeks only to be, as Matthew Kelly says, the best version of yourself.

One last thought: I think we as women underestimate the value of the witness we can be to other young women, who are considering family life, when we present ourselves in an orderly and dignified fashion while out in public with our children. We should be proud of the life we have chosen to stay home and take care of our families!  When we're able to take a moment to look our best (I know it's hard!) before stepping out to run errands, attend a soccer match or meet for a play date, we have a great opportunity to show others just how beautiful, joyful and rewarding the life of a mother can be, even in a post-baby body with curves!

What makes you feel beautiful?
What are your tips for maintaining self-confidence in a post-baby body?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Sunday Routine That (for once) Wasn't Routine: WIWS

Happy Sunday! I am proud to announce that this is the first Sunday in 13 years that the getting ready for Mass routine was {pretty} smooth sailing. And, by that, I mean the following:

1. No one yelled from the rafters, "Mom, I can't find my ________________ (insert lost item).
2. No one bled on their freshly washed and pressed Sunday duds (because Sunday has somehow become scab removal day or "let's wrestle near sharp pointed objects" day).
3. All accessories remained in tact in the dressy duds application process. (Belts are designated weapons until securely buckled around the waist and, therefore, we break at least one each week. I so wish suspenders were in!)
4.  All shirt sleeves remained clean and snot-less (we are a high allergy household still in training mode when it comes to the fine art of using a Kleenex).  Training boys in the area of good hygiene requires strong constitution and a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Just sayin'.

(There's actually 17 items on my list, but since it's Sunday, I'll just leave you with the Cliff's Notes version of the chaos, because really, you should be napping, or golfing or reading something more exciting than this!)
(Charlie struts into my room every single Sunday and asks, "Am I handsome, Mom?" Then, it's "Would you like to comb my hair, please?" I absolutely love the stage he's in!)

Every Sunday, our routine is pretty much the same.  I get up an hour before everyone else, prep and lay out the boys' clothes and enjoy a few moments of quiet before the morning storm comes rollin' in. The moment the troops come thundering up the stairs, there's no turning back, it's Craziville all the way up to the church doors.

It wasn't until we arrived at Mass that I realized we actually managed to assemble ourselves today without the usual disasters (see item's #1 - #4).  And, AND to top it off, Steve always makes the coffee on Sunday mornings and it's my favorite cup of the week, because he delivers it to me with a kiss while I'm trying my best to look lovely for him! If I knew how to type those cute little heart symbols, I would cover this page with lots of them just so you would know how much I love him. I'm a lousy hashtagger too. So, I love him, a lot, and that's that.

With a baby soon to make his/her appearance any day now, I know that this flawless routine we managed to pull off this morning will more than likely go down in a flamin' blaze of glory. But, until then, I'm going to relish every ounce of parental success I'm feeling today, which just so happens to make all of the swelling and sciatic pain much more manageable!

A few weeks have passed since I've flashed ya'll a photo of le womb. I know you all want to see how outie my outie actually is don't ya?

A lady at Target actually asked I'm bothered by the (obvious) fact that my belly button is so noticeable sticking out through my shirt. To which I replied, "Well, with all of the young ladies who can't seem to find anything better to wear than shorts with an inseam that can only be measured in millimeters, I doubt anyone is too concerned with the (offensive?) state of my bellybutton." I know I'm always leaping up on my modesty soapbox and, honestly, now that my sons are growing up, I'm even more passionate about the topic.

{Sigh.} Dads, please help your daughters to see and believe their worth, their dignity. Please take them shopping, and tell them with all sincerity that modesty is beautiful. Please do it for them and for all of the sons out there who need to see a girl's heart and mind first, not her skin.  

Anyhoo - here we are, 38 weeks, belly button bump and all!
Okay, the pants are a little baggy, but at this stage of the game, style plays second fiddle to comfort. 
And, nothing fits. At all. Except pajamas, which, well, aren't proper public attire, even at Wal-Mart.
Wide Leg Linen Trousers: Marshalls
Tee: Old Navy
Scarf: The Feathered Nest
Wedge Sandals: Old Navy
Earrings/Bracelet: Francescas

Friday, May 23, 2014

Main Street, Movies and More: 7 Quick Takes Friday

Yay for Friday!! Do you all have fantastic plans for the weekend? While Memorial Day means a holiday weekend for most, for those of us in the world of agriculture, it's just another date on the calendar.  Which means with Steve traveling back and forth from the farm, I'll be finding something else that needs to be cleaned or organized in la casa or bouncing on my birthing ball with the hopes of speeding up this baby's arrival. Good times! To all the non-farmers out there, I'll be checking your Facebook updates for BBQ and beach pics!

In the mean time, how about a little 7 Quick Takes??...

1. Kick Ball With a Kicker
The neighbors have all informed us that we are so lucky because we have such a big back yard. We nod and smile between gritted teeth, trying not to reveal how much we hate fences, longing deeply to wake up in an abode perched on the wide open spaces of the country. I know I should be thankful for our yard, and really, after loving life on the farm, the boys are doing a great job of making the best of their contained space.  They rotate from basketball to trampolining to kick-ball, which is their current fave.
With the temps rising near 100 this week, the poor things *ahem* were wilting under the sun. After running in and out of the house a thousand times, begging for lemonade and flailing their pathetic bodies over the air conditioner vents in agony, I preached the "toughen up" speech to them (which may have included a few lines about them never having to be pregnant) and kicked them out into the great inferno for the last time.
Their "manly" solution to the situation was filling an old Rubbermaid container up with water so they could dunk their heads in it after rounding home plate.  Watching them enjoy their refreshing ritual, Steve and I were in stitches, completely entertained by the dramatic testosterone fest unfolding in the back yard.
Heat warriors they were, proclaiming victory over the sun with fine displays of grunting, fist pumps and chest bumps, their torso's completely soaked with grit and glory. I love being a boy mom, I really do!!

2. Library, Liquor Store, Local Cafe
Some people might shirk small town living, but I say don't knock it 'till you've lived it.  Although our town my appear a tad tiny, it's big on the important things: family, faith, friendship and fight (our boys are loving playing sports here!). Our main street boasts the most important necessities: a post office, two salons, one cafe, a liquor store and a library.  
I love the library.  The library loves us, because we multiply the literary population exponentially whenever we visit, and we keep their coffers clanging with the payment of over-due fees and fines for "accidental" losses.  Charlie is especially happy when we stop in, he never wants to leave.  I love the way he slides his finger across the pages while mouthing made up words pretending to read.

Yesterday, after the librarian asked, "You want to check out all of these???" I considered borrowing a dolly from the guy next door who was unloading the Bud Light truck at the sanity store, but opted to tote our good reads home in the stroller while Charlie rode on Andrew's shoulders. That's what big strong brothers are for!

3. God's Not Dead
I've been craving some one-on-one time with the boys before becoming a permanent nursing fixture on the couch for the next 6 months.  Ben and Andrew had been asking to see the movie God's Not Dead, so we went together, then spent some time discussing the flick over delicious barrels of Orange Leaf frozen yogurt.

I really do love all of the variety of ages we have dwelling at home right now.  But, I must say, I'm especially enjoying the insightful conversations Steve and I get to engage in with the older boys. They teach us so much! This stage of parenting is really beautiful.
We ended our "date" night with a visit to our Lord at the adoration chapel.  It was a truly special evening, one I will treasure for years to come.

4. Unbroken
If you haven't read Laura Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken, you must get yourself a copy.  It's on my top 10 list of favorite books.  This week I also discovered that it's being made into a movie which is scheduled to be released around Christmas. Yippeee!!  

5. Bets on the Birth Date
Anyone want to chime in on when you think our little one will arrive?? Personally, I'm feeling June 5th.  Not sure why that's the day that's stuck in my mind, but I'm goin' with it.  Earlier this week at my pre-natal check, my doc surprised me by asking me how I felt about waiting two weeks instead of one before the next appointment. I about fell off the table.  

You've got this, kid. His exact words.  Nothing makes a near-forty woman feel fabulous faster than being called a kid. For insurance purposes, I did schedule an appointment for two weeks down the road, but I'm hoping that it's one I don't have to keep!

6.  Who Are You???
I hate to admit it, but this quote is all too true for us.  We're still debating names.  Steve's #1 just isn't going to happen.  Ever. And, I'll leave it at that. But, he's not giving in to my #1 name either due to an unresolved misfortune from the frat-house days.  So the name saga continues. We've never gone to the hospital without baby names.  The very second the baby is born, I have to be able to call him/her by name. It's a must.  But, at this point, I'm considering a game of pin the diaper on the name or the ever trusty coin flip. 

7.  Blog Post Read o' the Week:
Ladies, read this. 

Over and out!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Letters to the Baby From the Big Brothers

It's all baby talk around here, folks, I hope you don't mind! I can't seem to think about anything else, as life is fully focused around preparations for his/her arrival.  Just yesterday, as the boys and I were sitting around the table at lunch time, the baby chat began again with the #1 question I get every day: how much longer do we have to wait before the baby is born??

One question led to another and another (including per usual the how will it come out? from Henry which is always a fun one to explain to a 6 year old) and somehow we tripped into a conversation regarding our family life as we now know it, and how much of our lives the baby will have no understanding of. All of the adventures we've shared, memories we've made, traditions we enjoy like birthday breakfast and meaningful holiday delights, sporting accomplishments, family vacations - the list goes on - are all familiar life to us, a life that will need to be remembered and shared in detail with this baby as it grows.

Benedict even mentioned that by the time the baby is old enough to truly get to know him, he'll be leaving home for college.

This very thought was a stunner for me.

Allowing my mind to travel into the future means that my heart always tags along, and I don't like to go there. I prefer to stay here, right here in the present.  I'm always wrestling with the swiftness of the passage of time anyway, trying to slow the getaway train down, but this, this age gap between our children hit me hard. I deeply desire for all of them to have as much time together as possible, to make memories, to build lasting friendships, to lock arms and never let go.
Our lunch chat sparked a little idea in me.  I waddled into the office, grabbed some paper and pencils and asked the boys to write a letter to the baby.  The purpose of the letter is to tell the new sibling about yourself, perhaps about the family he/she is joining, about how you felt the day we told you a new life would soon be joining our family....

We decided we would put the letters in an envelope and share them with the baby when he/she is old enough to read them.  My expectation for long, thoughtful letters full of drawings and coloring and glitter was non-existent. I've got boys here! My only hope was for some glimpse of their hearts to be woven into their non-detailed script of practicals.
To my surprise, they actually responded to the idea enthusiastically! Their letters were quite charming, some only a few lines, a couple of them, nearly a full page long!  I won't share everything they wrote, but here's just a few little snippets of what each child wrote (except for Charlie who was interviewed by mommy):

Charlie (3) - The Entertainer:
Are you excited to meet the baby?
Yes, yes, I am! I will sing to the baby!
What will you sing?
(In his very best melodic voice) Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, chubby little tummy all stuffed with huu-neeeee, Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, willy-nilly-silly ol' beeeear!

Henry (6) - The Smotherer:
Dear Baby - I love you! I bet I have already hugged you at least 100 times.  Are you a boy or a girl?  When you are born I will hug you some more.  I hope you are a boy.  I knew you were alive and real when I felt you kick in mommy's tummy.

George (9) - The Librarian:
Dear Baby - I cannot wait to read you stories, because when Charlie was born I read him so many books.  Then, when we heard we were having you, I wanted to read you so many stories too.  It doesn't matter if you are a boy or a girl, you are still very special to me!

Andrew (11) - The Coach:
Dear Buba - This is your brother, Andrew.  At first I didn't know what to say when I heard we were having a new sibling in our family.  I've already lived 11 years of my life, so I am a lot older than you.  In 2014 I took 2nd place in the state wrestling tournament.  That is the year you were born!  Henry, Charlie, George and Ben are our brothers and are all good at sports.  Before I go, I want to let you know that it is going to be great having you in our family!

Benedict (13) - The Leader of the Pack:
Dear Baby - Hello, I am your oldest brother, Ben.  When mom told us that we were having a baby, I was already 12 years old and very overjoyed, and also a hint of sad because I knew it would be another 5,000 dirty diapers to change.  Oh, well, I guess it's not that bad.  From day 1, we have been waiting impatiently for the new baby to come into the Husband family.  By the time you are my age, I will be out of college and married.  Don't worry, though, I will try to come home from college as often as I can to see you.

5 Letters, signed sealed and waiting to be delivered!

Monday, May 19, 2014

When Home Calls - The Little "Before Baby" Getaway

The 9 month journey through pregnancy is filled with a great variety of emotions.  Some feelings spark unexpectedly within us only to fade away as quickly as they are felt.  Others, rise up then settle in down deep, stirring steady like an undercurrent, and those are the feelings that must be attended to.

I can't explain this desire I have had for the past couple of months to go away.  Not on a big vacation (although I love to travel and can't wait to take the family on an adventure soon) just a little jaunt somewhere easy, familiar, uplifting.

Home.  That's where I wanted to go.  Home.

"No traveling after this week. I want you to stick around, okay?"

Those were the doctor's orders last week during my routine pre-natal appointment. Right away, I knew that this would be my last chance to go anywhere within reasonable distance before the birth.  Leaving the clinic, I called Steve and asked if we could head north for the weekend to visit my family.

I am so happy he said yes.
{Peyton Jean, the girl who's not afraid to keep up with the boys!}

Going home is all about family.  It's the familiar things that I look forward to the most: good food and good conversations, easy evenings of story telling over glasses of wine, cousins camping out in the basement or running wild over every inch of acreage, and little jaunts back and forth from the place we call the farm, the homestead where my dad grew up, the place where my brother, Scott, and his family now live.
{My younger brother, Scott, his wife, Stephanie, and their daughter, Phebe.}
On Sunday evening, Scott's wife, Stephanie, fixed a feast for all of us to enjoy out at their pond. 
While the adults sat and savored BBQ sandwiches and ranch potatoes, our boys, along with their two sweet cousins, Peyton and Phebe, found more exciting adventures in the water.
Henry and Peyton became the mud runners.  They ran endless laps around the little lake, laughing as they leaped along through the cool, squishy mud - mud that climbed across their little toes, past the ankles and up to the knees.  Is there anything better than the heart of a child, delighting in the outdoors, innocent and free??
Beside the pond lie an old flat bottom boat.  A boat without oars.  It was only a matter of time before someone decided that boat belonged in the water.  It's in the nature of a boy to not only seek out adventure, but to recognize a challenge and to do everything in his power to conquer it.

Without hesitation the older boys shoved off into the shallow waters, trying with all their might to steer the rig across the pond against the current, using planks of wood they found in the wild brush.
To their great disappointment, all of their energy advanced them only a few feet beyond the starting point.  Unwilling to give up, Ben and Andrew muscled the boat around the perimeter of the pond up to a spot where the current would help carry them back down to our camp.  
Uncle Scott, such the boy scout, jumped on the four wheeler, lending a little steam to the situation.  They were quite the sight, gliding along the green banks behind the hum of help!
George discovered three sections of pvc pipe in a stock tank by the windmill - brand new oars for everyone.
Veni, vidi, vici! We came, we saw, we conquered!!

Then, there was Charlie and Phebe.  The two gentle spirits became quite the duo over the weekend...
Contentedly perched in their lawn chairs, we kept referring to them as the geriatrics.
So, ya wanna go cool our bunions in the lake?
Can't you just imagine them one day, old but sassy, sitting on the porch, sipping iced tea, strolling down memory lane together? I'm still smiling just thinking about the sweet pair!
With the sun tucked down beneath the trees, we said our good-byes and, pulling away from the farm, I grabbed Steve's hand, happy, content, thankful, peaceful.

*Sigh* Okay, honey, I'm ready to have the baby now.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Feeling Loved All Year Long - The Best Mother's Day Gift

Do you remember your very first Mother's Day? I sure do! I'll never forget feeling as though I had become a member of a club, a part of a grand group of people who were being celebrated for an entire day, a day filled with honor and recognition. Special doesn't even begin to describe how I felt!  For the past 13 years, Steve and the boys have showered me with cards and little gifts to show their appreciation for me, and I genuinely look forward to their sweet gestures with each approaching Mother's Day.
{The photographer snapped 9 posed pics, but true to form, we could not manage one with all eyes open!  Oh, well, they're cute with eyes closed, anyway, aren't they??}

Over the past few years, however, my personal perspective on Mother's Day has shifted significantly.  It is no longer a celebration that is about me, but rather one that is an opportunity for me to examine more deeply the gifts and graces of being called into the vocation of motherhood, and through that examination to be ever more grateful to God for the gift of my children.

As I was visiting with Steve's mom about our plans for Mother's Day, I simply told her that we had no plans at all.  We had been so busy working on the garage sale, school projects, cleaning up the yard and closets and carpets in preparation for baby, the topic of Mother's Day never entered into our conversations.  

"You know," I said, "If we don't do anything at all, I really am okay with that, because, the truth is, I feel loved all year long."

Really, that feeling loved statement isn't rooted at all in what the boys do for me or what they give to me in the way of material goods, it's simply a personal awareness that I have of their daily presence in my life.  

When I slow down during the day and notice the boy who:
- enthusiastically calls my name because he can't wait to show me what he's made
- climbs on my lap because it's the best place in the world to perch, even if only for a moment
- fills his cheeks with a warm bite of baking, because he's been waiting all afternoon to be nourished
- hugs me goodnight, every single night, because he thinks of me before heading to bed
- wants to sit on my hip while I cruise around the kitchen, because watching me cook is better than playing with his toys
- rescues me, pregnant round, struggling to wipe up messes from the floor by gently taking taking the cloth from my hand
- changes a diaper, washes the muddy feet of a younger brother, or reads quietly so that I can rest, I FEEL LOVED.

It's up to me to see our children loving me through who they are every day, to feel God loving me as well in the the ordinary days of being a mom  It's up to me to see the extraordinary in it all, to savor it and to let it be the very sustenance that fuels me through the more difficult times, the times when I'm tempted to believe that life is a little too hard, the times when I feel outnumbered in a household full of boys, when I long to have a little girl with whom I can relate to, enjoy girlie projects and adventures with, or when I wonder in my bouts of loneliness why in the world God chose me to be the mother of boys.

Last Saturday, after packing up the remnants from the garage sale, Steve and the boys came over to help load up the donations. When we finally came home, I was really tired, but had mentally prepared myself for the reality that after a crazy week, I had left the house that morning in a state of utter disaster. While nothing sounded more delightful than a quiet nap, I knew it just wasn't possible and that it was time to answer the call to clean.

The moment I walked in the door, I knew instantly that something was different.  The stale smell of dirty dishes and sticky floors had disappeared.  The carpets were no longer covered with toys and games, with shoes carelessly scattered about, and the bits of laundry that failed to get folded, hanging all week long off of furniture here and there, had disappeared.  Everything, I mean ev-e-ry-thing was neat and tidy.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head with wonder!

For a split second, there was complete silence.  All eyes were on me, waiting anxiously to see if I would notice their gift - a Saturday morning spent, not golfing or watching cartoons but scrubbing down a house that needed so badly to be bathed. And, they did it for me, just for me! Oh, how they know my heart! I wish I had a picture of their sweet faces the very second they saw me burst into tears of joy.  Filled with sheer delight, I couldn't stop proclaiming over and over, "Thank you, oh, thank you, it's just so beautiful!!" Their smiles were HUGE!! Through their happy little eyes, I could see straight into their souls - they knew they had done something truly wonderful for me, and they were proud of themselves.

I have been working so hard over the past year on teaching the boys the value of the gift of generosity.  Of course, they are boys and because they are also children, they struggle to exercise the virtue of generosity with one another.  "That's not mine, so I'm not going to pick it up." or "I had it first, so it's mine." I hear those words all day long. Many of you moms know, as I do, that generosity is giving without counting the cost, and that daily call to give never ends when you're a mother. But, at the same time, there's a special joy that can be experienced in the practice of generosity, especially the sacrificial kind. It truly can be so deeply rewarding.  I want the boys to experience that joy, and I think they may have tasted it for themselves in shining up the house for me last weekend.

On Sunday,  I was ordered to put my feet up while the chefs prepared brunch.  It was just lovely! Wanting to keep everything a surprise, I was sent to my room, so as not to know exactly what was going on in the kitchen.  I got so tickled, though, at how each boy (including dad) took turns knocking on the door, needing to ask me a questions about how long to cook the bacon, or what kind of flour to use in the pancakes. 
Henry, who has recently learned how to make an egg in the microwave, thoughtfully prepared this scrumptious appetizer for me:
He was so proud of himself! He loves to circle the block on his bike each day, picking blooming weeds along the way to bring home just for me.  From his vast travels, he must have known exactly where to go to find the purple one in the picture!  Complete sweetness!! Those were the best eggs I'd ever eaten!
 "Mom, it's ready!!" they sang out over the clanging in the kitchen.  I came out to find each one of them standing around a table they had so proudly set, complete with linens, flowers and fresh coffee.
The cards on my plate were such a gift.  They know how much I love written notes.  I've saved every single sweet thing they've ever composed for me.  Steve must have taken the boys card shopping earlier in the week.  Each of their selections had glitter, ribbons or jewels on them, which was just so precious.
Because they are boys and are so very young, I don't expect them to write very much.  The little one-liners are just perfect.  But, this year, I was really touched by Ben's card.  His thoughtfulness meant the world to me! Inside the card read:
Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
Thank you for being the best mother in the world. 
Thank you for being gentle and sweet and helping me with homework, doing the laundry, and cooking those spectacular meals for us boys.
I hope you have a blessed Mother's Day!
Love, Ben

Do you have a special Mother's Day memory you would like to share??
I would love to hear it! 
Please feel free to write about in the comments!