Saturday, December 31, 2011

Getting ready for the New Year

Just a quick post to wish everyone a happy new year.  We've spent most of the day cleaning and organizing and putting away.  It's just nicer to start the new year with a clean house.  On top of regular cleaning, the boys rearranged their room and we put up the third bed for H. in A. and P.'s room.  (It desperately needs some organizational help and I can't really see what room is available without all the beds up.)  It feels so good to walk around the house and see clear, empty spaces.  Ahhhhh....

Another reason for the cleaning is that we host a party every year for some of our friends and their children.  If you guessed that there will probably more than a few children here, you'd be correct.  It helps for things to start out neat.  The adults play cards (Hearts, mainly) and the children either run around and play together or play their own games.  I know M. is planning some serious game playing with her group.  (She... and they... are just a little bit competitive.  Not that I would know where she get's it from....)  We toast the New Year, sing Auld Lang Syne (and wonder again what the heck we're singing about) and everyone heads home with very tired children.  I don't know about you, but each year as we sing and I look around at our good friends and our collective group of wonderful, growing children, I get a little teary and offer up a prayer that we will be able to join together the next year.

Do you need the words, so you can sing along?

Auld Lang Syne (by Robert Burns)


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

   Chorus:
   For auld lang syne, my dear,
   For auld lang syne.
   We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
   For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes
And pou'd the gowans fine.
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae sported i' the burn,
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

Chorus

And ther's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll tak' a right good willie-waught,,
For auld lang syne.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Saying good-bye to 2011

I told a friend the other day that I won't be sad to see the back end of 2011.  The obvious reason is that it will mean we are much, much closer to bringing H. home.  The other reason is that it has been a very uneventfully eventful year.  That probably doesn't make a lot of sense.  Let me explain.

On one hand, not much really happened.  We did a lot of paperwork, the children all grew and learned new things, we did have one go off to college, but we still see her quite a bit.  It was pretty much just a normal year.  Except that it wasn't.  Ever since we signed that first paper which would begin the process to bring H. home, there have been other things going on.  I have been made aware that we live in a spiritual realm like never before.  It is so difficult to explain without seeming to have gone loony.  I don't know what God has in store for us or for H., but clearly the devil does not want her to join our family.

It has mainly been myself who has been affected, but not always.  The level of oppression I have felt off and on all year long has been astonishing.  It has been a battle to complete each and every piece of adoption paperwork.  The whole FedEx lock-box example is just a small taste.  But mostly it has been an overwhelming sense of oppression which I have to battle to complete each step.  It feels different from just 'the blues'.  This is more an inaudible voice telling me over and over what I've done wrong, pointing out everything I haven't done, how I'm failing the children I have and asking how can I expect to raise yet another child, etc., etc.  I am usually a fairly positive person who has a realistic sense of my abilities and worth.  This is not my normal mode of operation and it comes in waves.  By the end of the year, I could tell the difference between a not-great day and this spiritual darkness and it became somewhat predictable.  Whenever we were reaching a turning point in the adoption process.. a new approval to be gained... it would escalate in the preceding days.  Of course, at first, I had no idea that we would be hearing good news soon, but later, the 'off' feeling was so definite that I knew we would be hearing something.  The last two approvals are a case in point.  The day before hearing that we had our LOA and before hearing about our I-800 approval were brutal.  Well out of the ordinary.  I was not surprised at all when the news of each approval came.  And the moment the approval came, the oppression was gone.  Vanished.  It was as if it was never there.

This has been my emotional life for the past year.  I wish I could say that I have learned to recognize it for what it is and have learned to do battle with it.  I don't always recognize it and am too willing to listen to the lies being whispered.  I also forget to be prepared.  The Ephesians passage about putting on the full armor of God has new meaning to me these days.  But I confess there are days that I do not think about arming myself for battle.  But a battle it is, and as a result I am more wounded than usual.  I also can't help thinking these days about the story in 2 Kings 6:15-17.  Elisha prays that his servant's eyes will be opened so that he can see the forces of God and the servant opens his eyes and sees that they are surrounded by chariots of fire.  I sometimes wish that I could see the forces fighting for me, but then think twice because then I could probably also see the forces fighting against me.  I'm sure with one you get the other.

But every so often, I do succeed a little better in the battle.  When I can muster up the strength, reading Scripture and listening to praise music do help.  There is also one other thing that I have found helpful in the battle:  caring for my family and home.  Our God is a God of order.  He does not want us to live in chaos, but wants us to live in peace.  Disorder in the home does not bring peace.  It was one of the biggest lies I would hear, that I can't keep my home orderly, so sometimes I would give up.  I can guarantee that not doing anything will bring chaos.  If I just started doing something to bring order, I found myself stronger and more peaceful.  No doubt helped by the fact that some of the chaos was kept at bay.  Reading stories to my children helped me to remember that I do take care of them.  I had to remind myself of the truth by doing it.

And so ends what is probably one of the odder posts I have written.  I don't really understand everything that goes on, but give thanks to God for protecting our family through it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nothing coherant

I don't know what we've been doing this week that J. is off work, but we've been filling our time.  Today we took everyone except G. and L. to the Tintin movie.  (It was a Christmas gift.)  We have been huge fans of the Tintin comics for years, with B. loving it the most, so we couldn't miss the movie.  I give the movie a thumbs up, especially if you know and love the comics.  (If you don't know them, I would strongly suggest reading a few first before you go.  You'll appreciate the movie more.)  They really captured the essence of the comic books and the characters.  It was just a lot of fun.

It turns out my sewing machine was not broken. That is wonderful, but, it also means I wasted a completely decent breakdown on something I could have solved myself by rethreading the top thread.  I had rethreaded the bobbin, but didn't think to do the top thread.  I should know better.  Learn from my mistake.

I love the Kindle which J. surprised me with for Christmas.  (He counted it as a 'travel expense', saying it would be silly to get me one after the really long plane rides.)  I have had a lot of fun looking at all the free e-books.  Since many of them are older and in the public domain, there are some titles that I've never heard of.  Right now I'm enjoying a very early spy novel by Agatha Christie called, The Young Adventurers.  It really reminds me of GK Chesterton's book, The Man Who was Thursday.  After a little research we discovered that it was written before the one I am reading and could very well have influenced her.  My plan is to never have to twiddle my thumbs in a waiting room again.

And I have saved the best for last.  Today, waiting for us in our mailbox upon our return from the movie was our I-800 provisional approval!  One more step down.  Next up is waiting for the National Visa Center to cable all of our information to the US Consulate.  The Consulate than gives the official approval and prepares the appropriate paperwork (article 5).  The paperwork is then picked-up by an agency representative and walked over the the CCCWA (that is the adoption bureau in Ch*na).  After the CCCWA has Article 5, they will then issue us our travel approval.  Each of these steps is averaging about 2-3 weeks, so I think we are still looking at March.  But it is one more step forward!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Homemade gifts

Now I can show you what I have been working on all month.  You probably noticed the picture of L. wearing her wings in the last post.  I made a set of bird wings for each little girl, though L. has deemed them butterfly wings, and I have a feeling that is what they will be.  (I shamelessly copied all my gifts this year from other bloggers.  To give credit where credit is due, I'll link back to each original set of instructions.)  Here is a picture of one.  I changed the original instructions a bit on these.  I made the feathers out of felt and sewed them on instead of gluing.  I also wasn't so thrilled with the idea of tying them on around the child's neck, so I changed that a bit and made it so that they tied around the upper arms.


Here you can see the underside.  I kind of liked the the rows of sewn feathers ended up looking a bit like wonky quilting on the underside.  You can also see how the ribbons are attached and the little loop of elastic for a finger to go through.


These were probably L.'s favorite gift and she wore them a lot.  At one point in the day, I was calling her upstairs for a diaper change.  I called her name and I heard her yelling something back at me.  Someone finally translated.   She was yelling, "Not L.!  Butterfly!"  So I called the butterfly up and she came quickly and happily, flapping all the way.

For TM and D., I made fort kits.  Each boy had a large double sheet which had ties sewn-on.  Here you can see TM's set-up on his bed.  (J. used an old tent pole to help support the top.)


Along with the sheet, I also included lengths of rope and some strong clips.


TM has loved this and has his fort organized.  This is how he slept last night.


I also included other items... scoops, magnifying glasses, anything I could find at the dollar store which looked as though it could be imagined into different things.  I also made a bag to store it all in.


M. fell in love with a stuffed whale and so I made it for her.  I am probably most proud of how this turned out since I had to draw the pattern free hand and the instructions were in Finnish.


P. received an A-frame tent.  This was probably the easiest gift since all I had to do was hem the fabric; J. cut and drilled the wood.  It was a good thing that it was an easy thing to sew since I was working on it at  11pm on Christmas Eve.


For a girl who likes to find little hidey-holes to curl up in, it is a perfect gift.


There were a couple of gifts I had wanted to make, but realized that I wouldn't have time to finish.  Those I will file away in my brain and create at some other gift giving time.

One of the best things about these gifts is their overall low cost.  The wings were completely made with supplies I had on hand.  (I went through a phase of buying wool clothes at the thrift store and felting them for unusual colors of felt and that made it a much easier project to make.)  The fort kits required only thrifted sheets (bought at the thrift store on half-price day), items from the dollar store, and material on hand.  Not a high cost venture.  The whale was made with denim which I had bought for a dollar at the thrift store a while back.   P.'s tent required new wood, but it wasn't a large amount so was reasonable.  The fabric I already had on hand.

Really, what it boils down to is that I really, really like thrift stores, I guess.  And my sewing machine.  Which is broken now and I need to take it in and be fixed.  Which I hope isn't going to be too expensive.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

We've had a lovely holiday.... here are a few pictures.  I'll start with Christmas Eve.  Here are G. and L. in their new dresses waiting for the Christmas pageant to begin.

L. (on left) and G. (on right)


Everyone was involved in the pageant in some fashion except for the little girls and myself.  J. was one of the directors, M. was working a spotlight, B. was running sound, A. was stage crew, P. was a shepherd, TM was singing in the choir, D. was an actor in the opening story portion, and K. was a billy goat.

The pageant always begins with a short play.  This year it was adapted from a short story by Tolstoy about a poor shoemaker who has a vision in the night that the Christ Child was going to visit him the next day.  The small family finds what gifts they can to give to Him and they wait.  As the day progresses, they are visited by several people, all needy, to whom they give the gifts set aside for the Christ Child.  At the end of the day, after no anticipated visit, and all their gifts given, they go to bed disappointed.  In the night, they have another vision.  The shoemaker asks why they were not visited, and are told that the Christ Child did come... in the form of the needy people whom the family helped.

Here is D. playing the part of the old soldier who is given a new pair of boots. (Like the beard?)


After the story portion, the traditional nativity begins.  That fuzzy shape there in front is K. as a billy goat.  He is supposed to be acting afraid because of the angels.  Fear and hyperactivity are evidently one and the same in his mind.  (As an aside, he has been so cute about it this week.  Every time K. heard the Christmas story or heard a carol about shepherds and angels, he would shout, "That's me!  That's my part!")


After the pageant, it was home for big family dinner #1.  Here's the whole crew in their Christmas Eve duds.


And then... Christmas morning.  In our home, all the children stay upstairs until J. and I have things ready to go downstairs.  Then, as a holdover tradition from J.'s childhood, they come downstairs in age order.  Finally, they were told they could come down:


A brief pause, to get a picture.  (G. didn't want to walk and was carried by B. instead.)

We go straight into the dining room to light the Christ candle and say a prayer.


And then everyone gets to open their stockings.  Over the years, more and more children have begun adding small things to the stockings along with what J. and I put in.  I'm sometimes just as surprised as anyone to see what they hold.


L. with her orange and chocolate Santa

Then a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and grapefruit and on to the presents:

G. and L. playing with their Duplo Pooh set.

Crowding around B. to see what he opened.

L. wearing her new butterfly wings.

D. in a quiet moment.

After all the gift opening we start on lunch which is really a second breakfast.  This time waffles, sausage, and bacon.  After some time to relax and/or nap, we headed up to J.'s sister's home for big family dinner #2.

It was a lovely day.  And I'm also thrilled to say, it was a holiday without drama.  You know, sometimes holidays or anything out of the usual can cause those who are sensitive to such things to have a more difficult time.  I can't tell you how thankful I am at the healing that has been going on around here and the fact that the holiday didn't trigger anything out of the usual.  Hallelujah!

(I'll post about some of my December projects that were Christmas gifts tomorrow.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Making room in the inn

Well, our house isn't exactly an inn, nor is it terribly difficult to find extra room in it, but think of the title as figurative.  In the flurry of last minute preparations that I need to take care of today, I have a little more shopping to add to my list.  A member of our church found out about a group of African exchange students who attend her daughter's college.  This group of students are currently spending their winter break in the lounge of one of the dorms on campus because the rest of the dorms are closed.  (I actually find it more amazing that even one dorm on campus is open than the fact they are living in a lounge.)  They are all Christians and had no one to celebrate the holiday with, so the church member decided to do something about it and find them homes to go to for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We agreed to take one of the students.

I can't even imagine hosting an 18 year old student and not having some things for him to open on Christmas Day (especially when everyone else is opening gifts), so it's off to the store I go.  The trick is buying gifts for an unknown and unseen college student.  I'm afraid they will, of necessity, be rather generic.

But back to my main point... making room.  It is not always convenient to show Christ's love to others; to make room for them.  It can cost us in time, money, and comfort.  I will admit to being a little nervous about inviting an unknown entity into our family celebrations.  It would certainly have been easier to say that we just couldn't do it.  No one would have questioned our decision and everyone would have understood.  But I also worry about letting our family life become too insular.  It is very easy to become too comfortable, too concerned with cocooning within our small family group.  I don't want this.  I don't want our children to grow up thinking that our family is a closed entity; that there is never room for someone else.  In order to teach our children this, it means that the adults need to stretch a bit as well.

This Christmas season, I ask you, is there room in your house, in your family, in your heart, for someone else?  God sets the lonely in families.  But in order for this to happen, the families need to both hear and actually welcome the lonely.  It's not as though the lonely are difficult to find.  Look around and see who you could welcome and make a part of your family.  And if you're willing to broaden the idea of what your family looks like in a more permanent way, I have a wonderful 12 year old boy who would like nothing better than to have a forever family to celebrate the rest of his Christmases with.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We have won a major award!

It is not 'frah - gee - lay' and it was not delivered in a huge crate, but we won it all the same.  Here is our award... it was sitting on our front porch waiting for us to return from the orthodontist:


Yes, we won a 12-oz can crusher.  It's from our fair city and the note attached informs us that our city sanitation employees were monitoring everyone's recycling and refuse and they thought that we set a good example of exemplary recycling based on the quantity and quality of material in our recycling bins.  They even placed a sticker on our recycling bin to let our neighbors know of our achievement.  We're so proud.  (And so happy to see our tax dollars at work.)

In other news, with M. home, the boys have been entertained.  K. requested a house today that he could play with, so M. whipped this up:


That girl loves hot glue and cardboard.  TM was inspired and created this.  (M. helped only with the actual hot glueing.)  TM also requested that I tell everyone that he is still working on it and it's not finished yet.


My kitchen is filled with glue and cardboard scraps, but the children are fairly content and occupied.  Not a bad compromise for December 22.
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If you're interested, I was interviewed for Mommy Page.  Here's the direct link for the 'Mommy of the Moment'.  (I just need to say that this is their term, not mine!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas preparations... or baby Jesus found!

We're getting closer to being ready for Christmas.  Our tree is up:


And baby Jesus has been found.  (Hooray!  Thank you, TM.  Now I can show you pictures.)  These are the nativity dolls I made years ago which live under our tree during December.  Early on we decided that we would not put presents out early.  It was a too-great temptation for toddlers, plus by having wrapped gifts to stare at for weeks, it would shift our children's focus from celebrating the birth of Jesus to "What am I going to get?!?"



No, I know there are no shepherds, sheep or angels.  I even have the patterns for a couple of them, but over the years have never got around to make them.  What I should do is get it all out in the middle of July and do them then.

We also have a more traditional creche.  It is carved stone and was made in Vietnam.


And some other decorations.  What's the point of having a staircase like this if you don't do something with it?


But really, what I have been doing the past couple of days is sewing, sewing, sewing.  Mostly gifts, which I can't show you yet, but also some clothes which I can.  Here are G. and L.'s Christmas Eve dresses.  They are from taffeta (the fabric was a gift from a friend) and stretch velvet.  The pattern is the Twirly Dress from Sew Baby.  I really love this pattern.  It goes together easily and makes a cute and comfortable dress.  (It is the same pattern I used to make these twirly dresses.)  My only complaint is that it only goes up to a size 6.  I have a feeling that H. would like this style of dress, but she is heading into size 10.  Why is it so hard to find cute dresses in larger sizes?


I also made a skirt for P. out of the same taffeta.  Can I brag a moment and say that I made this without a pattern?  It's only a simple gathered skirt with a waist band, but I'm still a little proud of it.


Now to the less glamorous shots.  When you spend all your time sewing, it leaves your bedroom looking like this:


We've been living with the pen taking up most of the room because it was the only way I could sew and stop the little girls from creating chaos.  It makes it tricky if J. or I have to get up in the middle of the night.

And then there is the table littered with wrapping stuff.  It will probably look like this until we clean it up on the morning of Christmas Eve.


All of this preparing leaves children with not enough to do and maybe a little crabby.  The little girls have dressed themselves in costumes and have succeeded in strewing the contents of the third floor around the first and second.

L. wearing her superman costume (backwards) with an empty wrapping paper tube.

G. as a fireman, complete with sparkly shoes (which you can't see) and 3D glasses left over from the older children having a big Tin Tin movie screening party last night.  (Yes, they did see it at midnight.)

Now that I have nearly done with all the projects that needed to be made, I suppose it's time to put the house back in order and see what else needs to be done.  At least I can cross 'find baby Jesus' off my list.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bill paying as a spiritual discipline

So, no pretty pictures of our Christmas decorations today, either.  We are still searching for baby Jesus.  He is a part of the soft doll nativity set that I made years ago when M. and B. were little.  Well, not surprisingly, G. and L. immediately loved them, with G. loving baby Jesus best of all.  For the first couple of days she would go nowhere without 'her' baby.  She would hold him and talk to him and make sure he was tucked into bed with her at night.  It was quite sweet and probably a great concrete representation of how we should think about Jesus.

But, also not surprisingly, the baby Jesus doll has gone missing.  We have searched high and low and he is no where to be found.  This morning when I asked the girls about it again, G. informed me that L. had put it in her pocket.  This could be possible.  He is small and could fit in a pocket and I am a little behind in the laundry so it's quite possible the item of clothing which may or may not contain baby Jesus could still be in the pile.  It's my next place to look.

All this to say, I would like to take a picture of our nativity dolls, but with baby Jesus.

Instead, what I have been doing today is paying bills.  This is not my favorite job.  Consequently, I put it off until I can put it off no longer and as a result, the mountain of bills grows in my imagination to sizes that I know our bank account cannot cover.  When this happens I want to sit down to pay them even less.  I'm also sorry to admit that I am not the world's most patient and kind mother while I am doing this.  My older children, through years of conditioning give me a wide berth.  My younger ones... well, they haven't quite caught on yet.

I am not proud of this endless cycle.  I know at the root of it all is worry.  Worry that this will be the pay period that the bills exceed the income.  Worry that I have been too spendthrift.  Just worry.  This despite years and years of God proving Himself faithful.  We never have too much, but we always have enough to pay for our necessities and enough to share.  Sometimes His provision for us has had a bit of the miraculous about it.

Just one example... I realized a couple of days ago that we have yet another set of US immigration papers which we have to fill out and return which are sent to the consulate.  Along with this paperwork we have to send a check.  It is not one of the larger amounts which we have had to write, but it was certainly more than I had available in the checking account.  (If the the US government would finally decide that yes, indeed we adopted two children and give us our 2010 refund, this wouldn't have been a problem.  But, I won't go there right now.)  Anyway, I was pondering different creative book keeping ideas to see if I could come up with a way to pay for it when J. comes home from work yesterday with an envelope.  A gift from a friend.  A gift in the amount which will cover the consulate fee, the necessary overnighting fees and the fees we incurred from overnighting our signed LOA forms.  I didn't need it before and it wasn't more than I needed.

I have seen this happen over and over and still I fret each time I sit down to pay the bills.  A part of me always thinks that life would be just dandy if I could sit down and know that there is enough in the checkbook, but then I wouldn't know who is really paying my bills, would I?  I might start to think I had something to do with it.  And since I am quite certain at this point, I have nothing to do with it, I suppose this is the healthier place to be.  I try to not let worry overtake me in the days leading up to bill paying, but I have a feeling this is something I still need a lot of practice with.

But it's done for another two weeks, and I guess I'll go sort through the laundry in search of baby Jesus.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best intentions

My plan all day was to take some pictures of our house decorated for Christmas and share them with you.  Obviously I never got around to it.  It's kind of how this whole month has gone... me having great plans and then never having them materialize.  I'm taking deep breaths and reevaluating what actually needs to get done and what is optional.  It probably won't surprise you that more and more is becoming optional.  It's not dire, just a case of biting off more than I could chew.  My free time with these small girls is not as extensive as I imagine it to be sometimes.

I've also come to a great revelation.  (Maybe everyone else has already figured this out, but it's new to me.)  I don't have to do everything in the month of December!  Now, I already know I don't have to do everything, but some activities I have so tied to the month of December that it really didn't occur to me that we could do them at other times.  Take gingerbread houses for example.  We have made them every so often and everyone loves to make them.  (Plus, I have a really good recipe for gingerbread that makes excellent houses because it becomes very, um, sturdy, when cool.)  Why do we have to make them in December?  What about them makes them a specifically Christmas activity?  They're not exactly relevant to Jesus' birth after all.  So I have decided to postpone gingerbread to the month of January.  I don't know about you, but January could use some special activity in it.  Or how about February.  It is also not a great month if you live in the northern US.  I may postpone cookie decorating until then.  That way we can make winter themed cookies, but add in valentine cookies as well.  It also has the added benefit of separating things that are fun, but might distract from celebrating Christ's birth to another time of year.

So that's my plan and already the anxiety and vague guilt about not doing these activities with my children has abated.  I still mean to get to my original plan tomorrow.  If I can just find baby Jesus, so I can take a picture...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Homeschooling and the holidays

I haven't written much about homeschooling lately, mainly because there isn't much to write.  Up until this past week we were following our normal schedule.  And since it's just what we do, it hardly seems worth writing about.  Last week was the end of my scheduled lesson plans.  I knew that I would be entering the 'frantic sewing phase' of the season and it was no use fighting it.  As a compromise, I scheduled end of semester projects for everyone to work on.  That way our schedule would be more relaxed, it would be a change of pace, and we could still call it school.  (Well, I call just about everything school, but you know what I mean.  I think.)  I have never done this before because I had never planned in so much detail before.  I'm glad I did.  By planning over the summer it allowed me to think about what would work for summarizing what we've learned.

This week everyone is working on creative writing.  As this involves computers, everyone is happy.  They are each writing a story about a fictional child who lives in a fictional lighthouse, using all the information about lighthouses they have learned over the past few months.  I'm pleased with what I've seen so far.  The only glitch is that at least one of my children still doesn't quite get the 'save' function on the computer (despite multiple explanations and urgings NOT TO CLICK ANYTHING), and has had to do a bit of recreating.  It's a learning process.  I also have some small wooden lighthouses which they will be painting next week.

So, we're still learning even if I don't write about it.  I'm also beginning to think I'm not so much a homeschooling blogger as a blogger who homeschools.  Until that feeling changes, I will probably only mention the whole homeschooling-thing tangentially   I'm happy to answer specific questions, though.  I'm always happy to answer specific questions, it saves me from having to come up with a topic on my own!

Alright, time to get back to the sewing machine...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December outing... or doing some large family myth-bashing

Yesterday we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens to see the Wonderland Express exhibit along with our good friends the P family and H-S family.  I've written about these two families extensively before, but if you are new, the extra initials in the alphabet soup I'm usually serving up may be confusing.  So, a thumbnail sketch.... the P family has 8 children (we watched some of them while their parents were in Ethiopia adopting numbers 7 and 8) and the H-S family has 7 (they watched our children the last time we were in Vietnam and will do so when we travel to China).  These are very, very good friends and our children have known each other nearly all their lives.  If you were counting, that gives us 24 children between the three of us, though some of them are grown and either on their own or in college.  Consequently, we all have heard comments about the unworkableness of large families.  Since each of our families works quite well, we wonder where these beliefs come from.  We have decided that it must be because large families are somewhat rare these days and the people making the comments have never met a real life large family.  So in the spirit of public education, I present a snapshot of what it's like to be a part of a large family.

By December in Chicago standards, yesterday was a beautiful day.  It was dry and in the 40's which was a good thing since when we arrived at the gardens we discovered that the free tickets to the Wonderland Express were for timed entries and the next time we could get such a large number of tickets was for an hour later.  We had an hour to walk around.

One of the nice things the Botanic Gardens offers is a large card with things to find in the garden and stickers to mark what you found.  It is a great thing for keeping littles interested in looking at plants.  So we gathered up a stack of these and headed out the door.

There are a couple of reasons people offer for why others shouldn't, or they can't, have a large family.  One of them is that it is not fair for the children to have parental attention diluted by the presence of other children.  (I'm actually quite sure that the majority of my children are relieved that they don't have my full attention all the time, but that's not the direction I'm going today.)  What these people don't seem to understand is that the relationships between siblings is valuable and a joy to behold.

Here is TM with P4 (the P family all have the same initial, so I solve that problem by tacking their age onto their letter).  TM is pointing out something on P4's card so that he can mark it with a sticker.  All the mothers are there, of course, but children all paired up and helped each other with their cards.  If a child grew tired of a sibling's help, he (or she) would find his mother and hang out for a while until he felt ready to return to the others.  At other times, a mother (because we are actually keeping on eye on our children) would decided based on a child's behavior that he (or she) needed to come spend some time close to Mom and keep that child close until self-regulation was happening again.


There is also the claim that younger children just get lost in the shuffle.  Well, someone needs to tell G. and L. that this should be their experience, because that is the only way they would discover it.  These two little girls were fought over the entire trip.  The number of children wanting to help them out with their cards far exceeded the two little girls who needed help.

G.

L.

Here is our current set of older girls.  Notice how tired and care worn they look from having to raise their siblings.  (Oops!  Did I write that out loud?  A little too snarky, perhaps?  I'll touch more on this subject in minute.)

P15, P13, H H-S, and A.

I've also heard that children in larger families just don't get the same opportunities to do things that children in smaller families do.  And that might just actually be true... at least not in the same amount.  But I'm actually a happier person not driving my children hither and thither everyday while I try to occupy their time.  We do participate in classes, lessons, and activities, but because we are dealing with limited funds and time, we are very careful about what we agree to do.  I think it makes our children a little more appreciative of what we do  participate in.  And we keep an eye out for deals which makes some activities doable.  Such as the one we are at the gardens for.  The Wonderland Express is a model railroad.  But it's not just any model railroad, this one is in a beautiful garden setting with all the major buildings in Chicago created out of plant material.  (It's very difficult to explain, so go to the link I provided and watch the short video.)  Tuesdays are free, so that's when we went.  Everyone loved it.

ZG H-S, ZT H-S, and D.

But probably the single biggest reason that people give for why large families shouldn't exist (other than the environmental one... I'm not going to touch that one here, either, but we did carpool), is that the older children end up raising the younger ones and it's not fair to them.  Perhaps in some families this is true, but then there are smaller families who are dysfunctional and no one points to them to say two children families shouldn't exist.  Yes, my older children help out.  Yes, they have all changed diapers.  No, they have not enjoyed it, but I don't either, really.  But they do not raise my younger children.  That is J.'s and my job and it is one we perform.  What we see instead are children who adore their younger brothers and sisters and want to spend time with them and play with them.  I actually think that children who are in their teens who do not have babies to dote on are missing out.  Especially the boys.  The older boys from larger families whom I know adore babies and little children.  They love to spend time with them.  They love to care for them.  It teaches them how to be fathers and what life with children is really like.  These boys are not going to be the men who are surprised at how much work a baby takes and pout when they are displaced as the child in the family.  Caring for children helps boys become men and girls become women.

P17 and B.  They were not asked to push the strollers... but they fought off the girls for the privilege.  Eventually the girls won them back.

Finally, there is the idea that moms of many never have a moment's peace.  I think this is sometimes true of any mother... it goes with the territory.  But my experience is that I have plenty of time to myself.  In fact even at the gardens, with 20 children in tow, the three moms were able to visit and enjoy talking together.  It is a pretty safe place to let children run around and we visited while we kept an eye on things.  If the group got too far ahead, they would wait until we caught up.  This is the scene we saw upon turning a corner:


Everyone loved the chance to roam around and explore.  We would take head counts every so often to be sure we had everyone.


Here's the whole crew, minus the four who are off on their own.  (The Japanese gardens, which are on islands, are in the background.)


I'm sorry if I come across as a little strident or tetchy.  Large families work.  They are great places to grow up.  The mothers of large families I know do their job in raising their children.  All of them.  And every time I hear someone say that they would never have more than two children because it wouldn't be fair to the ones they already had, I wonder a little bit at what they think of me.  I try not to take things the wrong way or make it too personal, but sometimes the pressure builds and I have to let off steam.

The non-snarky blogger will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

College work

M. came home briefly last night so that she could see the one acts which B. was in.  (B., by the way, did an excellent job.  I am always amazed when I watch my children on stage at their comfort at being there and their ability to transform into someone else.  Blaine will be in You Can't Take it With You the last weekend of March.  Block it out now... but I"m sure I'll send more than a couple reminders.)  M. also dropped off one of her completed (and graded) projects which she did for her theater production class.  I thought it was so cool that I asked her permission to share it with you.

The assignment was to create a stage set for a fable.  Her fable required a small bedroom and a garden.  When you look at the pictures, you need to know that this is tiny.  The scale is 1/4 inch to a foot.  She also had to create the stage itself.

First the bedroom:




Then the bedroom is removed and behind it is a beautiful garden:



(Sorry, M., I took out one figure, but didn't notice the second until I was doing these pictures.  At least he's face down.)

Pretty amazing, huh?  It's even more impressive when you can visualize just how small it is.  Here is the theater from the top:


And here it is with a standard size trade hardcover standing next to it for comparison:


I think all the running around we did the day before Thanksgiving looking for craft supplies paid off.
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