The Dreaded 8th Grade Angst

It’s Saturday night and I’m home after a very busy day. I took my six youngest children with me to my parents house by the lake and we spent the day swimming. The kids had a great time. And the big bonus, they all got along well today. It helped that I only had the six. My four oldest, the teenagers, are all off having adventures of their own. 

My oldest is in Alaska and, as I write, she is embarking on a wilderness adventure that involves bush planes, isolated lakes, river rafting, and hiking. She will be off-grid for seven days. The people she’s adventuring with are close family friends and wilderness experts. I know she couldn’t be in better hands. But still. Moms can’t help worrying a little. 

The next three teens are on an inner-city missions trip in Buffalo, NY. This is their 4th year of going on this trip. They spend the time leading kids camps, being involved in a large food pantry, doing “intervention” where they visit low-income homes and see if they need basic furniture items like beds and then help deliver the furniture. They are moving from early in the morning till late at night. And my kids love it. Every year when we discuss the summer plans all the kids put the Buffalo Mission Trip as top priority. If I can only do one thing this summer, then I want to go to Buffalo. 

Right now I’m kind of basking in that “My teens are so awesome!” glow…Of course, it helps that they aren’t home to burst my little proud bubble. 

I’ve been thinking about my teens today and my mind drifted to the dreaded “8th grade year”. This is the year when all of my teens have lost it. It’s like they get all the way through 7th grade and then one day they wake up and think, Hey, wait a minute! I just realized I’m my own automonous person. I am not an attachment of my parents or my family at large. Maybe I should isolate myself in my bedroom while I figure this whole thing out. And  while I’m at it, maybe I should start testing my ability to be my own person. 

Of course, how that comes across to the rest of us is that our sweet family-oriented child suddenly doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of us and they have an attitude every time I ask them to participate in the chore and family times. 

Every family is different. I’ve talked to other friends of mine. Some of them have had all their children become problematic at the same age, but the age is different. Others have had each of their kids choose a different age or stage of development to become difficult. I haven’t talked to any parent yet who just skipped the whole process. If you are out there, don’t tell me. I might feel bad. Right now I take comfort in the fact that everyone seems to go through it with their teens. 

The benefit of having a large family is that you get a chance to learn from your mistakes. By the third child I had adopted the strategy of becoming very hands off. Here, I’ll slide a plate of food under the bedroom door occasionally. See you in a year when you start 9th grade. Just kidding…Kind of. 

Even my sweet, mild-mannered 4th child seems to be heading into the dreaded 8th grade angst. It’s rather shocking when your “good” kid starts to have attitude. Like someone just threw a bucket of cold water in your face. Et tu Brute? Of course, being one of those mild-mannered kids myself, I fully understand that under that sweet facade can lie deep depths of turmoil and anguish. So, I have grace even for my sweet kid to become moody. (No, I don’t have favorites, but I’m honest. Some kids are just programmed to be sweet while others aren’t!)

I don’t know what you are going through with your teen at the moment.  I just want to share with you parents who are still relatively new to the teen thing. Let you know that I too have struggled. And my kids are turning out ok despite it all. It’s not easy. It helps if you dredge up your old memories of being a teen and try to remember what it’s like. There are no magic formulas for parenting teens. Lots of grace. Lots of love. Lots of patience. Lots of prayer. And hopefully, they’re going to be ok. 

Musical Evening

This evening (Saturday night) we had a “Musical Evening” at our house. It was a lot of fun. The idea behind the evening is that I want music to be accessible to everyone. I feel like there is a pervasive attitude in our culture that music is for the professionals. Our job as average people is to sit and listen to the professionals. And that’s just not true. Music is to be enjoyed by everyone. Every age and every ability level. And when we do get the chance to hear a professional, it’s just icing on the cake.

Almost all of my kids performed something, along with almost all the adults in the room. We had some self-made compositions on the piano. We had some kids do their own rendition of the Avenger’s Theme song, complete with drums. We heard the ukelele, the guitar, the piano. We had some really fun songs that made you laugh and some songs that had me crying. Patriotic, Religious, Humorous, Classical. Considering that we really were a small group, we did pretty good.

I am hoping to do more of these throughout the year. I want music to be an important part of my children’s home culture.

When I was a kid (pre-internet, pre-cell phones) music seemed to be everywhere. I went to a little elementary school in Eastern Kentucky, back in the hollows (pronounced hollers). My fifth grade teacher was an amazing musician. He kept a guitar in the corner of the classroom and when the class would start to get rowdy, he’d pull out his guitar and we would sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. I know we sang lots of songs, but that’s the one that stands out to me. In that community everyone played the guitar or the banjo or the fiddle. My dad would take his guitar with him when we would go to community events and a group of guys would always gather around and all start playing together. Blue grass. Folk songs. Gospel.

When I lived in Haiti we would sing for entertainment. Songs with different parts, harmonies twisting around each other. I remember my family learned a song that I believe was a translation of a piece by Bach. The words are, “Father in heaven, hear now your children, hear and bless us with your love, ever and ever, stronger yet and merciful, is your love for us, hallelujah amen.” It was a fairly simple two-part round song. I took such pleasure in singing it with my family.

I remember in Alaska hanging out with my friends in the summer. Some evenings we would gather around a piano and sing worship songs. Just for fun.

I remember going back to Haiti when I was 20. One of the missionary houses at a hospital compound, where I spent some time each week, had a piano. The piano was in a little nook close to the dining room where the nurses and doctors and other volunteers would eat their meals. I would bring my music and hide away in the nook,  playing to my heart’s content. I remember one dark evening, playing the entire Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I knew that people were listening in the other room, but as long as they left me alone, I could relax and feel like I was just playing for myself.

I remember when I was still 20 and now in Chile living with my brother and his wife. I didn’t have a piano to play on. I felt desperate to be connected to music in some way. My sister-in-law had a music cd by Twila Paris. (I may be remembering this wrong, but I’m almost positive it was her.) The music was worshipful and had a couple songs I recognized. When I was home alone, I would put the cd on and sing along with it, full voice, full emotion, joining in the only way I could.

You know, there are more important things to teach my children than music. Jesus. Learning how to love people. Being kind. Responsible. But, music is like adding color to a black white photo. Putting sprinkles on the cupcake. Upgrading to first class on that long flight. It’s getting a vacation in Hawaii. Eating PapaJohns Pizza instead of Little Caesars. Life is just richer with music. I’m so thankful for my musical heritage that my parents passed down to me, and so thankful for a chance to share this amazing thing called music with my children. Thank you to all our friends and family who came out joined in!

 

Morning People

Morning People. Ugh. I am not a Morning People. My husband is a Morning People. Ugh. My alarm goes off at 6:45. That gives me 15 minutes to get out of bed, get dressed and lay out breakfast for the kids. My husband is usually leaving the house about the time I get up. He walks up to me, all chirpy. His eyes are wide open, he’s grinning. He gives me a big enthusiastic hug. I passively stand there. Raising my arms feels like a bit too much work at this time of day. My eyes are barely squinted open. He laughs and makes some comment about opening my eyes up. I grunt. Barely murmur the words..Love you..and send him on his joyful way.

I used to think that I was a Morning People. When I was a young teen I would habitually wake up early to exercise or practice piano before going to school. I would read my bible and eat my breakfast and have a leisurely morning. Then college came and this thing called sleep deprivation. I remember coming home for Christmas break when I was in college. I would sleep in till noon every day. Of course it helped that we were in Alaska and the sun wasn’t getting up till after 11 am. I think that is some of the best sleep I ever got. I still remember it fondly.

Sleep deprivation has become a way of life. For the past 18 plus years, I have been pregnant or nursing a baby or had toddlers climbing into my bed. I can honestly say that I haven’t had a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep in 18 years. Of course, my husband really hasn’t either, but he still manages to be chirpy in the morning. So maybe I can’t use that as an excuse. Hmm.

Every morning I wake my kids up at 7, they get dressed, brush hair, put on shoes, come down and eat a quick breakfast and then we’re out the door at 7:15. Five kids going to school and often the baby and toddler ride along with us if they’re awake. I go to the elementary school and then the middle school. The middleschooler always rides up front. This suits me fine. The middleschooler has the same opinion of mornings that I do. We go over our Bible memory verses in the car, I pray for my kids, and the rest of the car ride is silent. Ok, my two little girls can be chirpy in the morning, but they sit further back in the van and I don’t have to hear them. My highschoolers walk to school. One time though I had to give my oldest son a ride to school. I can’t remember why, sprained ankle? Broken bone? I just remember that for a short time I had him sitting up in the front seat when we drove to school. He takes after his father. He likes to talk in the morning. Loud, enthusiastic talking. Telling me all about some show or movie that he really likes. And I’m just sitting there driving thinking…Stop, stop. Be quiet. Please stop talking. It is too early to be talking. Stop. Why???

I am fortunate that I am a stay at home mom. There is no pressure to be fully functional by 7am or 8am, or even 9am if it was a particularly rough night. I come home after dropping the kids off and sit on the couch with my two little ones. I zone out. I don’t do caffeine. I’ve never liked the thought of being addicted to any type of substance and so I’ve never developed a hot beverage habit. So, I just wait till my body finally says, Ok, we’re awake now. Let’s get on with the day.

Little kids, in general, are Morning People. Saturday morning they come bouncing into my room at 7am. What’s for breakfast Mom?? Me: hmmph? They climb up on the bed, hit me in the head with a book..Will you read this to me Mom??? Me: (barely whispering) Go away. Mom! Mom! Watch this! They do a somersault on the bed, landing on my legs. Me: AAAGHH!!! GO PLAY SOMEWHERE ELSE!! They finally run off to make noise in a different room. My husband climbs out of bed, says in a loud cheery voice, Well, I think I’m going to go work on some projects right now. Me: (thinking to myself, IT’S SATURDAY!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!) covers head with pillow and groans.

I am hopeful that one day my children will all sleep through the night and then maybe I’ll start sleeping through the night, and then maybe, I’ll just wake up early because I’m well-rested. And I’ll be cheerful and have lots of energy. We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.

Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

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After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

Passing On the Family Heritage

Camping is in my blood.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean that I’m obsessed with camping and just want to go all the time. No, what I mean is that from my earliest memories, my parents dragged me along on camping trips until it became embedded in who I was.

My earliest memories of camping are when I was somewhere around 4 years old. We lived in the North of Haiti and I remember my parents loading my brother and I along with a ton of luggage, into our old, unreliable Peugot station wagon. We traveled about 12 hours down to the South of Haiti, up into the mountains. I remember heat, dust, throwing up from car-sickness, my mom singing songs from the Sound of Music to entertain us, chewing on minty gum that we bought from a street vendor. I also remember that we got to our destination late at night, that it rained, the tent leaked, all our belongings got wet, it was a lot colder in the mountains than my parents were anticipating so we were freezing, and my brother and I ended up sleeping in the car because it was the only dry, warmish place. That was just the first night of camping. I think it improved after that. Not sure. Maybe. I also remember picking blackberries, exploring a large fog-filled meadow, and fighting with my brother over who got to be in the hammock that my dad had strung up. Every year that we lived in Haiti my parents would insist on going camping in the Southern Mountains. It was their vacation and they were/are adventurous people. They also loved that part of Haiti and dreamed of working there.

The five years that we lived in Kentucky my mother was in school and life was busy. I don’t think we did any camping during that time, but we spent lots of time at the lake or visiting the nearby Carter Caves or the Natural Bridge. We also squeezed in a trip to Niagara Falls and a trip out West and saw the Grand Canyon. Not camping, but definitely forays into nature.

When we moved to Alaska, when I was 15, camping became a regular way of life during the summer. We would load up into our boat, head up the Kuskokwim River and go for hours until we found a likely spot on the river bank and then we’d stop, spend more hours setting up camp, and then sit around the fire, roasting sausages and marshmallows, drinking tea. My dad would go fishing and we would eat whatever he caught. It was a time of rest and relaxation. And mosquitoes. (Pictures of Alaska are beautiful, but that’s just because they photo-shopped out all the giant mosquitoes making black dots on the picture.)

Later, when my husband and I were living in Chile with our first two babies, my parents came and visited, and what did we do? We went camping in the Andes. My dad and my husband went off to hike Mt Picazo (Same name as my maiden name, my dad felt a connection, wanted to hike it). My mom and I and my two babies stayed in a campground. (We didn’t feel the same connection and were quite content to stay behind with the babies). The two main memories that stand out to me was first, our tent site was on a side of hill which meant that by morning, we had all rolled to the bottom of the tent and were effectively squishing each other, and second, the very friendly owner of the campground explained to me the secret to cooking good pasta: get a really big pot with lots of water so that the pasta has room to cook and doesn’t stick to each other. (I have always remembered this, but I never seem to have a big enough pot handy, so I still deal with clumpy pasta.)

Nowadays,  I would tell you that my idea of getting out in nature is to rent a cabin in the mountains and sit on the deck and enjoy the view.  Alas, I married a boy scout. My husband’s idea of getting out in nature is to get a pack and go off and do a section of the Appalachian Trail. He knows all about wilderness survival and gets out camping/hiking/canoeing any chance he can get. We went camping on our honeymoon. Any time we travel long distances we camp. If we are going to do something fun as a family, it’s probably going to be camping. Still not my favorite thing to do. But it’s in my blood. I feel duty bound to pass this on to my children, it’s part of their heritage. And so I go camping. And if my kids complain, I take on the role of cheerful optimist who thinks that hanging out in a tent with 7 children because it’s raining outside is FUN! Going to the bathroom in the bushes is CHARACTER-BUILDING! Fighting your way through swarms of mosquitoes….well, even I can’t think of a positive statement for that.

Here’s the funny thing though. We went camping this past weekend. Primitive, out in the middle of nowhere camping. We got there by canoe. Took 7 children with us. You know what? I actually had a lot of fun. I loved being outside. I loved seeing the beautiful lake and mountains and streams and forests. I loved cooking over the campfire. Ok, I still just endured using the bathroom in the bushes, but does anyone love that? It was a wonderful experience. I especially loved watching my kids have fun, watching my husband teach them how to cook a simple campfire meal, watching him teach them about “Leave no Trace”. I loved seeing my 7 yr old daughter get her tent and pitch it all by herself. I loved watching my oldest daughter as she paddled our canoe diligently with me across the lake. I loved watching my sons get excited about all the different animal tracks they found. I loved watching my two youngest just run around the camp, so excited to be outdoors for such a long period of time. This camping thing is a bit of a crazy heritage, doesn’t exactly fit my personality, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  And I’m learning the joy of passing it on to the next generation.

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