Kid Tune Torture

It’s a rainy summer day here in East Tennessee. All of my teenagers are off living their lives somewhere else today. I am home with six of my children plus three bonus children. And amazingly, everyone is getting along and playing nicely. I made all the kids work and clean up the house so we’d have a peaceful environment. It’s not immaculate, but it’s tidy and welcoming. The older boys are in a bedroom playing legos. The older girls are cleaning the girls’ bedroom and making a game out of it. The three youngest are sitting at the dining room table playing playdoh. Talking quietly and cheerfully to themselves. I have been playing my piano for the last half hour. Schubert’s Serenade, some Preludes by Chopin, a Waltz by Brahms. I’ve been skimming through my piano collections, finding the simple, peaceful, pensive pieces. My piano is right next to two large windows and the falling rain has accompanied my music. Ah. So peaceful.

I retire to my chair in the corner of the room, my own little private space. And then. Then, my brain resumes it’s torment. “I AM THE IRON MAN…toodootoodootoodoo,doo doo doo….I AM THE IRON MAN…toodootoodootoodooo.doo.doo.doo…” You might be wondering what on earth that is all about. There is some kind of spoof song about the Iron Man that my son showed me once on YouTube several years ago. That song has taken up residence in my brain and it won’t leave me alone. I only know a couple words of the song, but my brain helpfully fills in all the rest with toodoo toodoo toodoos. This song won’t leave me alone. I try to replace it with other songs. But, I have children, and there is a whole repertoire of annoying songs ready to take its place.

The other day I realized that I had been singing the Alphabet Song all day long, under my breath. With great feeling and emotion. Kind of like a sad ballad. I stopped. What are you doing??? I asked my subconscious. My subconscious refused to answer, and instead continued it’s sad wailing, “Q, R, S, T, U, V…” and then, with great feeling, “W, X, Y and Z…”

AAAAACCKK!!!

New song. I need a new song in my head. Then I hear the piano in the background. Two of the girls in my house have learned the same arrangement of a song from the Disney movie MOANA. I, of course, do not know all the words to this song, and so my head does another rendition of, “Too do dooo, to do doo, to do doo, doo, doo, DOOO, doo, And now I Know, how far it goes…too doo doo, too, doo doo, doo doo, DOOO doo, and now I know, how far it GOES!” (now the key change…) and on and on that song goes in my head. Just a short part of it, cause that’s all the girls play.

If it’s not Moana, Iron Man or the Alphabet song, it might be the little song from the tv show, Sarah and Duck, in which a narrators’ voice says, over and over and over again…”Sarah and Duck…Sarah and Duck…Sarah and Duck…Sarah and Duck…quack.” (By the way, on Youtube, somebody was nice enough to post a video where they had looped this song. You can sit for nine hours and listen to a narrator say “Sarah and Duck.” Apparently, I’m not the only one who is bothered by this song.)

It would be nice to have a Praise Song, or a Bible Memory Song, or a beautiful hymn running through my head all day. Occasionally, I’m fortunate, and I do have something like that repeating through my thoughts throughout the day. “Amazing grace, how sweet the song, that saved a wretch like me…” And then, out of nowhere…I AM THE IRON MAN!!

Good grief.

 

Happy Father’s Day!

Today is Father’s Day. I want to wish my Dad a wonderful Father’s Day. Thank you Dad for loving me. Thank you for sharing your passion for the Bible. Thank you for showing us how to love people. Thank you for playing your guitar and being the soundtrack of my childhood. Thank you for teaching us the importance of working hard and always doing your best. Thank you for teaching me how to edit papers and enjoy a good joke. Thank you for loving Mom and faithfully taking care of your family. I love you.

Happy Father’s Day to my Father-in-law! Thank you for all you did to help my husband become who he is. Your legacy is being passed down the generations.

And last, but definitely not least…Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband.

We’ve been on this parenting journey for eighteen and a half years now. It’s fun to look back…

I remember when we brought our first born home from the hospital. We were having problems with nursing and I didn’t know what to do to help this poor, crying little baby. I remember how you confidently scooped her off the bed, cuddled her to your chest and began rocking her and murmuring to her. She instantly got quiet, staring intently into your face as you talked to her. I was slightly jealous, she didn’t get quiet for me! But, mostly I was just relieved that at least one of these new parents was succeeding. You have always had a way with infants!

I remember you playing on the floor with a bunch of toddlers and small children. All of them climbing on your back, trying to ride the horsie. You would play “rough” with them and sometimes I couldn’t stop myself from yelling “CAREFUL!!” but the kids would just laugh and laugh and run back for more.

I remember you mowing the lawn. Our son, maybe three years old, following along carefully behind you as he pushed his little plastic mower. He was quite convinced that he was helping you with this important chore. And you just walked carefully, keeping an eye on him.

I remember when I headed off to my first weekend Women’s Retreat. I was leaving you with a four year old, a three year old, and a one year old who was going to be weaned while I was gone. I looked at you doubtfully. You got this? Sure. I’m going to take them camping. Cause only you would think it was easier to take three babies camping than it would be to stay home with them for a weekend alone. And of course you guys had a great time.

I remember late nights, when the baby had been weaned, I was pregnant with our next. You took over all night time problems. The toddler would start crying. You would grab your pillow and head off to lay on some bedroom floor, soothing the crying child with your presence, your deep breathing as you fell asleep next to their crib.

I remember how you would always take the newborn from me at the dinner table. Settling them on your knee as you ate with one hand, giving me a break from the nonstop baby-holding. And you would always give them tastes of your food way before I was ready to take that step.

Then the kids started getting older and while we still enjoyed holding and cuddling the infants, we also had to start dealing with teenagers. I remember your patience. Your grace. Your love for these kids who were doing everything possible to not be lovable. I remember your willingness to forgive. Your humbleness when you asked your child for forgiveness when you messed up. I remember your prayers for wisdom.

You are an awesome dad. I love your sense of humour that makes the little kids cackle and the older kids roll their eyes and groan. I love your willingness to put our two year old to bed every night. I love how our children clamour for you when you walk in the door. I love how you enter the room and the energy instantly gets revved up. Dad’s here. The Fun has Arrived.

You love your kids and you model the life of a man who walks after God. I thank God for giving me such a partner. Happy Father’s Day!

 

What is Your Complication Threshold?

My mom was talking tonight about some app she had that let her communicate with a bunch of people. I had heard of this app before and had actually had a couple people suggest I download it so they could keep in touch with me better. Yeah…about that. I don’t like downloading apps. There are a couple that are vital to me, like my kindle app, my weather channel app, and email app. And…yep. That’s it. That of course makes me sound like a boring person. But actually, it has to do with my complication threshold.

 

(Esther’s Definition of Complication Threshold: the point in any activity where the process becomes so complicated that it’s no longer worth completing the activity.)

 

My phone is cheap and retarded and difficult and any other bad adjective you can think of. Downloading apps is a pain in the butt. It’s complicated. I don’t do complicated. Even when I had a phone that worked and was relatively simple, there was still the whole learning how to use the app, figuring out all the ins and outs etc. It’s not my cup of tea. I never played video games as a child. My use for computers is word processing and internet browsing. My computer abilities are at the basic level. And I’m happy with that. If I have to do anything complicated, I have my husband or my teenage son to help me.

It’s not just technology though. I have a complication threshold for all areas of my life. I can cook. I’m not sure where I fall in the cooking scale of Good versus Bad. My mother-in-law taught me to how to make homemade jam and homemade biscuits. My mother taught me how to make a couple Indian dishes. My husband taught me how to make homemade bread and black beans and rice from scratch. And then I taught myself a bunch of other stuff. I like looking at new recipes occasionally, trying to get new ideas. But when the recipe starts talking about chilling the dough for 30 mins before rolling it out. Or sifting the flour four times before measuring it. Or taking the temperature of cooking foods…yeah. That doesn’t work for me. I usually glance through the recipe, get the general idea of what they’re trying to do and then remake the recipe so that it’s simple.

The same goes for crafting projects. I was once gifted with yarn, knitting needles and a pattern to make some kind of baby thing. It looked really cute. I thought, hey, why not? I have everything here, I should just try. I read the first instruction. Cast on twenty stitches. Ok. I know how to do that. Twenty stitches coming up. Then the second instruction. Knit one line. Ok. I have vague memories from my mother’s instructions from my childhood. I can do that. The next instruction. Pearl one line. Pearl. Pearl. Ok, wait, I think I know what that means, just knit backwards, right? Check. Got this. Then the next instruction. Pearl one stitch, knit one stitch, stand up, spin around, count 14 stitches, then knit two stitches then pearl one, then sing a song…and you get the point. Way too complicated. I put the knitting project away. It surpassed my complication threshold.

Now, there are some areas where I can handle complicated without twitching an eye. Managing the schedules of twelve family members is one of those areas. I have scheduling meetings with my husband. Ok, I am going to take this child out of school in the middle of the school day to take them to their doctors appointment. I will have the two little ones in tow. If, for some reason our appointment goes late, then you will have to leave work and go pick up the kids from school. But, I should be there, it’s just if their appointment goes late. And in fact, keep your phone handy…If the appointment goes late I might still be able to go to middle school and pick up that child that has a later release time. You can possible just go to the elementary school and take them home and then get back to your job. And you can leave them at home because today is early release for high school so there will be a highschooler home to watch them. And then after I get everyone home I’ve got to run by the University and pick up the eldest who is coming home for a night. And then we have to take this other child to a special event tonight…Piece of cake.

Knowing what level of complication you can handle makes decision making easier. My teenage daughter just launched into a spiel where she was trying to sell me on getting her a different phone plan with unlimited data. Her plan of action involved me monitoring her online presence carefully and setting up certain times of the day when she could be online etc. I stopped her mid-sentence. Nope. Way too complicated. That passes my complication threshold. Right now you can text and call on your phone. And use wifi if it’s available. That is so wonderfully simple! Why would I want to change that?

The teenager was not impressed when I explained that I was actually writing about complication thresholds and her request proved my point.

We’re all different. Things I find too complicated are easy-peasy for others. So what are your complication thresholds? What is the straw that breaks the camels’ back for you?

 

 

To The Parents In the Trenches

I’ve been thinking about parenting. This week a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while asked how things were going. I gave some short, glowing reports about my children. A sense of well-being flooding me. My kids are doing so great!

Then I thought about a couple different friends of mine who are struggling with their teens. And I thought about how my glowing reports might not be taken so well by parents who are currently in the trenches with their own offspring.

When we are struggling we tend to look around us at how everyone else is doing. If our friends are doing better than us we feel condemned, less than. If our friends are doing worse than us, we feel validated, superior. If they are in the same boat as us, we feel encouraged, we’re not alone!

For those of you who are on the battlefield right now with your teen, I want you to know that you are not alone. I would guess that most parents of older children have fought those battles. We don’t talk about it much. We can’t. We can’t gossip or malign our own children. We can’t air our dirty laundry because it affects their lives too, not just ours. We can’t betray their confidences, their privacy. So, we mostly suffer alone. Privately. Perhaps sharing only with a very close friend. It is very lonely.

I want you to have hope. Not all problems with teens automatically mean that they are going to end up homeless drug addicts, wandering the streets. A big percentage of those kids conquer their problems. They move on to become productive, wonderful adults. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to cry and feel like I’ve completely failed as a parent. Bewildered at what colossal mistake I must have made to make my child act this way. Not sure if this child and I can live in the same house together much longer. Pondering how much boarding school really costs. Could I get a loan to cover that? Can I legally kick an underage kid out of my house?

Even though it is lonely in that we can’t share our troubles with the world at large, I really encourage you to seek help. Pastors, teachers, doctors, psychologists, prayer warriors…There are people that it is appropriate to share your troubles with. People who have seen it before. People who might have some wise counsel or are just willing to stand in solidarity with you. People who are willing to go that extra mile or one hundred miles and come pick up your teen and take them away for a couple days so that everyone can have a cool down period.

Here’s the thing…one day, you notice things aren’t as bad as before. And then a while later, you realize, things are actually getting better. And then one day, you look at your teen, and you swell up with pride because they have actually become someone you like.

Yes, there are many stories of parent/teens who don’t make it. It ends ugly. But, maybe, even for those horror stories we hear, maybe, down the road many months, years, possibly decades, peace happens. Reconciliation. Where there is life, there is hope.

I’ve only been in this parenting game for eighteen and half years. During that time I’ve had some pretty amazing highs and some heart-wrenching lows. I have a two year old. I am nowhere close to being finished. As I look at my large brood, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some rough years ahead for some of them. It seems to just be part of growing up for some kids.

I hope you know that when I brag on how great my kids are doing, I’m just telling you the highlights. We have to stay positive after all. I’m not free to share all the crazy episodes I’ve had, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that I’ve had them, and that you’re not alone. Here’s praying for all you parents in the trenches. May God give you peace and wisdom and hope. You are not alone.

 

 

Just Another Fun Day at the Park

This past Friday night I took my four youngest kids to the park. We had to take my teenage daughter to work for her evening shift, so we dropped her off and then picked up some McDonalds and went over to Fountain City Park.

We hadn’t been to this park in quite a while as it’s in a different part of town and I rarely venture that way. As we walked into the park and I was looking for a table where we could eat, there didn’t seem to be too many people around. We walked down a little path and suddenly there were people. Two couples and a guy by himself, they were all standing within fifteen feet of each other. Just standing there, every single one of them staring at their smart phones intently and pressing the screens frantically as if they were playing some exciting action game. It kind of took me by surprise. Like, am I interrupting some kind of group therapy where everyone stands around and texts each other? None of them seemed to have any children with them (which is my primary reason for visiting parks). They had just come to the park (For exercise? Fresh air? A change of scenery?) so they could stand in the great outdoors and stare intently at their phone.

Ok. That’s weird.

I edged around the group of phone zombies and we settled at a picnic table right next to a little man-made wading creek. The kids were torn by two opposing treats. Eating McDonalds or playing in the creek. The creek finally won out and they left half their meal behind as they ran for the water. Everything was good. Cute kids frolicking in the water. Then, about two minutes later, the six year old runs up to me. I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM!

Let me just tell you, this park has public restrooms, but they are on the opposite side of the park. It is too far away to leave children alone playing while you accompany someone to the bathroom, and they are too far away to just let a child go there by themselves.

Uh..No.. We can’t go to the bathroom. It’s too far away. (I cringed as I said this, I’m pretty sure it breaks some international treaty laws to deny a child access to the bathroom). She looked at me, thought about it for a minute, and then said, Ok, I can hold it for a while.

Alrighty then.

Five minutes later, the four year old ran up to me. I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM! Ok. Fine. I give up. I grabbed my purse, yelled for all my kids to come cause we were going to the bathroom. I pointed in the direction we were heading and the eight and six year old took off at a full run. The four year old was about 20 feet behind them and then came me and about twenty feet behind me was the two year old. He had decided that he wanted to climb over a rock, a stump, say hi to a butterfly, inspect the grass, and all the other things two year olds do when you are in a hurry. I was stuck in the middle, yelling for the girls to not get too far ahead, trying to encourage the two year old to hurry up.

Too late, the three kids ahead of me disappeared into an opening that lead to the bathrooms. WAIT! Don’t go so far ahead!…They were obviously out of ear shot. I urged the two year old on and started walking faster. The two year old and I finally got to the doorway where they had disappeared. There was a Men’s Restroom Door propped open and I heard child voices inside. Oh no. Did my girls accidentally go into the Men’s Room?? I stood at the doorway, not wanting to cross that sacred threshold unless I absolutely had to. I scanned the room. No men in sight. Good. ARE YOU GUYS IN HERE?? My little boy piped up from the one stall in the bathroom, the stall door swinging wide open. Yeah, I’m here! Ok. My son is in the Mens’ Restroom. Not the girls. All is well, though I would have preferred he had gone to the Women’s Room as he is still little. I stood at the doorway waiting for him to finish, then his little voice piped up. Where’s the toilet paper? …There isn’t any toilet paper! I yanked open my purse and started looking for tissues. Wait! I’ve got some, I’ll bring it to you. Just a minute! I finally found the tissue and headed into the bathroom. Again, too late. Sound of flushing. He had skipped the toilet paper part of the routine. I peaked into the stall. Yep. I now had a mess to clean up.

Fortunately Mom is always prepared (except when she isn’t, and then it’s bad). Out came the wipes from the bottomless handbag. Clean up the mess. Wash hands. Quickly exit the Mens’ Room and go hunt down my girls. I could hear them before I even entered the Women’s Room. They were chattering away to each other as they washed their hands. The entire building is made of concrete block. That, combined with a vaulted ceiling and a concrete floor, made the whole room an echo chamber. My two little boys followed me into the restroom and instantly noticed the noise level was about one hundred percent MORE in this room. They started shrieking just so they could hear the sound bounce off the walls a million times. I told them to be quiet and stand by the wall while I used the bathroom. More shrieking. BE QUIET! Lots of muffled sounds, then more shrieking. Almost like yodelling. Of course, I usually ignore this kind of behavior. Making noise at the park isn’t going to hurt anything. But, a glimpse under the stalls showed that some other poor woman was having to share this restroom with my noisy brood. QUIET!! The older girls decided to be helpful and started shushing their brothers. Then they discovered that the shushing sound also echoed off the walls, and if they shushed to a rhymic beat it also had a fun feel to it. The two year old decided to practice his hooting skills. I was rendered helpless, stuck in a toilet stall, unable to back up my hissed commands of BE QUIET with any action.

Fortunately, I saw the shoes of the unknown woman leave her stall, and shortly after, heard the outer door close. We were alone. I came out. Glared at my children who were still making their own version of music. I washed my hands and then shooed them back towards the playground and the creek. Several minutes later we were all settled in, me at the picnic table, the kids splashing in the water again. The eight year old walks up to me. Uh Mom, when we were in the bathroom, I didn’t have to go, so I didn’t go. But, Now I gotta go to the bathroom.

Right.

Taking kids to the park is so relaxing.

 

Boredom is a Wonderful Thing

I read somewhere that boredom is essential to fostering children’s imaginations. It’s only when they are bored that they are then forced to come up with their own entertainment. They are forced to start using their imaginations. This past Friday I turned off the wifi at our house. I had several reasons, but one of them was to help my children foster their imagination. No more instant entertainment from a screen. Use your imagination.

So, obviously, I have set myself up for some trouble. Have you ever had a houseful of children all using their imaginations? It’s a dangerous thing. Using your imagination means taking your helium balloon (leftover from the graduation party) and letting it loose into the ceiling fan. (I just wanted to see what would happen!). It means taking a crayon and writing out a Yes/No quiz on the wall by the toilet. (I suppose so that people who are using the bathroom will have something to do?) Today one child took a bunch of our socks and gloves and made sock animals for all his siblings. (Who needs socks, after all, it’s summer.) It also means taking the hose and spraying it all over a pile of dirt so you can have a good mud hole to play in.  And while we’re at it, lets take these old bricks and stack them on the porch in a rectangle-box shape, and then try and fill it up with water, our very own swimming pool!

Of course, my kids have been doing these things all along, with or without wifi, it just seems that they now have even more time to devote their energies to these great ideas, instead of it being a once-in-a-while activity. And it makes me happy. Yeah, we’re going through a bit of an adjustment phase while we work out a new schedule. There’s been some whining because we’re not turning on some shows…but, I’m already seeing good fruit. Like the whole herd of children all running outside in the evening to catch fireflies. My teens gathering around a laptop to watch an old dvd together. (Still a screen, but at least they are doing it in community!) Little children are coming up to me with books they want me to read them. My older kids are delving into new book series. Boredom is a wonderful thing.

I myself have been experiencing boredom a bit more. It’s led me to start reading my Bible in the morning again, play the piano more, start thinking about some cleaning projects I need to tackle, pray more, listen to my kids a bit better. Boredom seems to have a roundabout way of making life feel sharper, more in focus. And yes, we do have plenty of fun things planned for this summer, there’s just going to also be lots of downtime.

So, my summer blessing…May we plenty of time to be bored and may that boredom lead us to great feats of creativity!

 

Fine, I Won’t Give Up

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I saw this meme on my friend’s FB today, and I was like, YES!! My thoughts exactly!! We’ve had a rough week. The Rotavirus and Adenovirus both came to visit. I have been nursing sick kids for seven days now and been sick for several of those days myself. We’ve been reduced to survival levels. Today, feeling a bit better myself, I determined it was time to catch up with some housework. We had managed to keep the downstairs livable, but the upstairs had completely fallen apart. I set the healthy children to work, thinking they would work on their chore list while I worked on mine. Right. In fact what happened was that I ended up supervising them in their chores, taking over where they completely failed at the job, and generally just stomping around in a bad mood, surrounded by kids who were in an equally bad mood. Lovely.

Of course, not choosing the moral high ground and instead letting myself completely vent my bad attitude, did not make me feel better. It just made me feel guilty. What kind of mom am I anyway? What kind of Christian am I when I am my children’s only exposure to swear words? And then, feeling guilty leads to anger. It’s not my fault! I’m doing my best here and nobody appreciates it! I finally had the common sense to turn on the tv for the kids, go in my room, shut the door and take a nap. I’m still feeling sick and I was kidding myself thinking I had enough energy to tackle a big house-cleaning day.

Post-nap, my emotions have settled down. Time to get another perspective.

Another friend posted on her blog page The Chosen Broken this quote:

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“You have been chosen…” That sounds so Noble. Dignified. Worthy. Purposeful. I have been Chosen. Chosen to be the matriarch of my clan. Chosen to be partner to my husband. Chosen to serve the people in my sphere. It’s a calling.

”…you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” When you see the name J.R.R. Tolkien, you immediately think of epic adventures full of danger, excitement, great challenge. In this epic adventure called life I need everything I’ve got to keep pressing on, keep moving, tackle the next mountain, ford the next raging river. I think about all the gifts and talents that God has given me. Stubbornness. Who knew how valuable that characteristic could be? Kid, you might be stubborn, but I can out-stubborn you any day, you will do what I ask you to do if it takes us all day and night to make it happen. Responsibility. This is a heavy one, but it gets things done. I’m laying in bed sick, it’s suppertime, kids are hungry. I get out of bed and make supper. They’re my kids, my responsibility to make sure they get fed. Sense of humor. I couldn’t survive without this one. If you can’t laugh at yourself and your circumstances, seems like life would be rather miserable.

There’s a bible passage in Ephesians 6: 10-20 that talks about the armor of God. Not only does God equip us with natural gifts and talents that help us with our challenges, he also gives us supernatural armor to protect us. I need that today. The helmet of salvation. I need to remember that my sins are forgiven, my future entails eternity with Jesus. I need the belt of truth, God’s word is alive and well and powerful.

I hate this day. Ok, but the Bible says in Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” 

Life stinks. Ok, but the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

You get the idea.

Step by step, I read through the armor of God, think about what it means, apply it to my situation.

I have been chosen. This life is a quest and right now we’re going through some rough waters. But I’ve also been equipped with everything I need to battle on through, and one day, I will be victorious. As the old hymn says,

What a day that will be,

When my Jesus I shall see,

And I look upon His face,

The One who saved me by His grace;

When He takes me by the hand,

And leads me through the Promised Land,

What a day, glorious day that will be.

 

Till then, we battle on, using what strength, heart, and wits that we have.