Finding Joy

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It’s very easy for me to get wrapped up and overwhelmed and pulled down by grief and sadness in this world. It’s always a fine balance for me to let myself feel sadness, but not to take on everyone’s misery. Daily I make a conscious effort to listen and and stay informed, but to also allow myself joy.

I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal where I list five things each day that I am “hanging my hope on” for the day. It’s been a really good, conscious way to look for the joy that is in my life each day.

It’s also not a secret that I struggle with being home with my kids. Cortney worked the budget so that all three kids can go to daycare twice a week, which has helped immensely. I feel like I can run all our errands without the anxiety of taking all the children, I can do household cleaning without anyone getting in my way or messing up what I just cleaned, and–best of all–I can read and write in a quiet house (or blare inappropriate music and have a dance party all by myself…whatever).

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Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my days home with the kids and because I get Tuesday and Thursdays “off”, I find that I am a much better mom to them. My patience has a chance to renew on the “off days” and I find that it’s easier to find the wondrous in the every day happenings of our lives.

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Eddie’s love of Legos.

Alice’s love of books…all books–board books, my books, picture books.

Charlie’s ability to make up stories. Very wild crazy stories that almost always involve his stuffed kitty.

Eddie’s endless patience for his little sister AND how much he loves to play with her.

Alice’s tiny pig tail.

Charlie’s hilarious facial expressions.

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Eddie’s willingness to “ride around the block” with his little brother, even though Charlie rarely stays with him like he is supposed to.

Alice’s willingness to give hugs and kisses and tickles.

Charlie’s desire to be a “good helper boy”.

Eddie’s thoughtful questions.

Alice’s babble talk.

Charlie’s thoughtful silence.

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Eddie’s quickness to read his sister and brother books.

Alice’s way of cuddling her blankie to her face when she is sleepy.

Charlie’s drawings of water towers.

Eddie’s sense of humor that is so much like my own.

Alice’s way of shadowing every single thing I do.

Charlie’s imagination and ability to play happily by himself.

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Eddie’s interest in reading nonfiction.

Alice’s way with dolls.

Charlie’s bond with Alice.

Eddie’s detailed drawings of Star Wars.

Alice’s cheeks.

Charlie’s big blue eyes.

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Eddie’s willingness to try anything once.

Alice’s dancing and booty-shaking.

Charlie’s chuckle.

Eddie’s love of all people.

Alice’s giggle.

Charlie’s engineer-like brain.

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These are only just a handful of things I have written down.

Each of these little goobers is so crazy different from each other. Lately my monthly therapy appointments are more focused on me talking about how to parent each kid to their own personalities than talking about myself.

Eddie is a zero or a hundred type of kid. If he’s not 100% successful, happy, winning, etc, he uses failure talk. He uses extreme talk like “everything is horrible” or “nobody loves him”. It’s all about absolutes with that kid. He is so much like me in this way. He needs lots of encouragement and lessons about how 80% is still really good. Just because he’s not best, does not mean he’s worst. He is my rule-follower, yet he questions why people would break rules or want to do mean things. He is so kind and has such a loving heart.

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Charlie is explosive. He has big feelings he doesn’t know what to do with. He is quiet and thoughtful and loving and then BAM! Throwing things, hitting people (usually Eddie), and screaming hateful words. He needs positive reinforcement more than punishments. He cannot process once his brain floods with frustration. We need to teach him it’s Ok to walk away, cool down, and come back. He wants to be helpful and loving. He wants hugs and snuggles. He doesn’t care much about rules, but he wants to be of service to those he loves.

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Alice is my little shadow. She is proof that sometimes nature does trump nurture. She was born into a house of trucks and blocks and action figures and she gravitated to the stuffed animals and one baby doll in the house. In a room full of “boy toys” she picks the pink tea pot. Not only is she shaping up to be a rule follower, but she is observant. She knows where her dirty laundry and diapers go. She already wants to do things herself. She follows directions and can find things when we ask, “where is your….?” She is starting to test our consistency and boundaries by throwing things and hitting, but responds when we say, “no”.  She is loved on by all of us, and it’s evident that her brothers and her parents have more patience when it comes to her than we have for each other.

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This summer, while I still find myself yelling too much and wishing the hours away sometimes, I have been enjoying my children in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I’ve been allowing myself to pause and watch them and talk to them and play with them and ask them questions. I’ve given more of an effort to learning their personalities and letting them know I see them.

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Don’t get me wrong. There have been meltdowns by ALL four of us. There have been booties that have been swatted. There has been more screen time than should probably be allowed.

This summer has been far FAR from a perfect picture. However I am doing a much, much better job recognizing the privilege of being home with them while also getting enough “off time” to do work. I am only too aware that we will never have 7, 4, and 1 ever again. This summer will be the only one like it, and our last with a baby-toddler.

So I am choosing, even on the hard days, to find five things to hang my hope on. To focus my joy on.

What have you found joy in today?

Confession: I’m Not Convinced

Yesterday my mom and I went shopping for Black Friday. We don’t get up super early or go on Thanksgiving or anything. No, we get up when we feel like it and are usually at the mall around 10am, give or take a few minutes depending on how slowly I am moving.

Anyway, we were in the infant/toddler section at Younkers’ yesterday looking at tiny clothes for tiny people. My mom wanted to buy Alice a little something for Christmas. I have wanted to try to pick out a jammy for her too–something that can be her coming home from the hospital jammy.

Something has held me back, though.

My mom had no problem digging through all the pink and purple searching for a cute little something for her second granddaughter. I looked, but I also looked through the boy things thinking about how I will miss the tiny man clothes. My mom told me to get over it.

But really? I think I am just not convinced I’m having a girl. Or I am skeptical. Or I just can’t wrap my mind around it. Or I have a mom “feeling”. Or I am paranoid.

I am something all right.

Both boys had unmistakable ultrasounds. There were most definitely boy bits on the black and white screen.

Alice was different. She didn’t cooperate at first and when she did, there wasn’t anything there, but I kept thinking maybe we just missed them? Is that possible?

I love looking at little girl stuff. It’s a whole new world to me to be fascinated by.

Yet I’m not convinced it’s my new world. I can’t imagine being handed a girl baby. I can’t imagine having another female in the house. I can’t imagine girl diaper changes and hair “pretties” (OMG the hair pretties).

Maybe I am just scared.

Last night I told Cortney I wasn’t 100% on board the girl train like I was with the boys. He said, “well we better talk about a boy name then, just in case.”

I love that guy.

He didn’t tell me to quit worrying or to accept that it’s a girl.

Nope. He said, “well, let’s be ready either way.”

And that is what we will be: ready either way. Because like we said before, it truly does not matter whether this is a boy or a girl, we are so SO excited to meet this new baby and complete our family.

Cinnamon Bread & Prayers

We got some devastating news this week.  After spending Thursday trying to process what this news means to our family, I began to wring my hands worrying what I could do to reach out and help.

Saturday I called my mom and told her that because I didn’t know what to do, I was going to bake our family members some bread and could I please have her cinnamon bread recipe.

“Of course that is what you’re going to do! You’re Dutch!” she laughed as she rummaged through her recipe box. “Here it is. Oh this is a good one to make. It is so yummy.”

cinnamonbread

Saturday afternoon, I combined ingredients, I mixed them, and I prayed.

In no time, our home was filled with the scent of cinnamon and sugar and prayers hanging thick in the sunshine-filled kitchen and living space.

Cinnamon Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use canola oil)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup soured milk (You can use buttermilk or I use milk with some white vinegar mixed with it.)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon cinnamon

Directions

Step 1
Mix egg, 1 cup sugar, oil, flour, salt, soda, and milk together well.
Step 2
pour half of the batter into a well-greased loaf pan
Step 3
whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon
Step 4
shake half of the cinnamon/sugar mixture on poured batter and swirl it around on the top of the batter.
Step 5
pour second half of batter into pan
Step 6
shake remaining cinnamon/sugar mixture on top and swirl a bit (I like to leave some not swirled in to be a little loose on top of the bread)
Step 7
bake at 350 degrees for just under an hour.

When someone you love is hurting, what do you do?

Forty

I told my students this week that my parents are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend.  Most of them were blown away.  A few commented on how awesome that is and how it’s so rare these days.

It is rare.

And it’s extremely awesome.

Forty Years.

They were married in 1973 just three months before my mom turned 20, and just days before my dad turned 23.  So young!  Such babies!

When I was 20, I remember thinking, “my mom was married by this age and I am just in my sophomore year of college with no serious boyfriend.”

I mean, when I was 20? I was ridiculous.  There was no way I could do what my mom did.

She said, “I do” to my dad at an age where I was getting large M’s marked on my hands at concerts and bars and not getting up for a class that was earlier than 10:50am.

She took on budgeting and keeping house at an age when I was still bringing my laundry home for her to do for me.

She was meal-planning and comparing meat prices at an age when I was deciding between buying Ramen noodles or that pint of Popov Vodka.

You get the point.  I can’t even begin to imagine giving up college, getting hitched, and becoming a housewife at age 20.  It is just not for me at all.

But my mom did it.

I don’t know much about what their first few years married was like.  I imagine it wasn’t that much different than mine and Cort’s first few years.  So excited to buy that first house and move in together.  Overcome with giddy silliness each time they realize that this is it.  The real deal.  No one has to go home at the end of the evening.  Concerned about the tightness of money and how to pay the bills and save.  Dreamy about what the future would be like.

I wonder at times…did they sit and dream like Cort and I do?

In those five years before they had kids, did my parents wonder about their future kids?  Think of names?  Talk about all the places they would love to travel to?  Did they sit outside with a glass of wine and talk about their dream house or dream jobs?

And once I arrived, did they stare at me in wonder like we did with Eddie?  Did they shake their head in amazement that they were actually someone’s parents? Did they worry about my future and if they were messing me up?

Once their family was complete, how did they know?  Did they settle in to raising their kids up?  What did they talk about after we kids were tucked away to bed each night?  Did they share a laugh over something one of us did that we took very seriously?  Did they discuss how they would handle the “sex talk” and puberty and boyfriends/girlfriends and getting a driver’s license and college choices and and and…

Did they ever foresee the not-so-awesome choices that we would make?  Did they cry over us?

I know they prayed over and about us.

What I do know is that in the 35 years that I have been part of that marriage, I have never seen them scream-fight at each other.

I have never heard either say anything hurtful or ugly about the other.

I have never heard them disagree about money.

I have never seen them physically hurt each other.

I have never witnessed them cut the other just to do it and watch the other person hurt.

I have many times heard my dad tell my mom what an excellent cook she is.

I have had my mom tell me to ask my dad because he knows a lot about that specific topic and could be a great help.

I have many time seen my dad hug and kiss my mom…especially after dinner…much to our kid-disgust (ewww!!!!)

I have seen them stand by each other in the face of a screaming teenager.

I have had my mom comfort me when my dad just didn’t understand my teenage girl crazy.  But she never put him down.

I have had my dad comfort me when my mom and I clashed due to my teenage girl crazy.  But he never said she was wrong.

They play up each other’s strengths and they cover each other’s weaknesses.

My mom encourages my dad to be the leader that he can be.

My dad encourages my mom to be the nurturer that she can be.

My mom reels my dad in.

My dad throws out my mom’s line a bit.

My mom is what I think of when I read about the Virgin Mary in the Bible.  I believe she loved being a mother.  She cherished all the things about her son in her heart and she honored her husband.  My mom is the same way.

My dad is what I think of when I read about the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Instead of dwelling on our mistakes, he rejoices in our victories.  He is giving and loving with his family.

My parents are not perfect.

They do argue.  They do disagree.  They make mistakes.

But they get through it.

For 40 years.

And for the rest of their lives.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad.  You are truly the best example of marriage that I have been blessed to witness. Your love, devotion, and faithfulness have influenced me more than you know.  Thank you.

They're cute, right?

They’re cute, right?

because of them

Oh November, you bring with you such a mixed bag of emotions and moods and thoughts for me.

I love fall.  I do. I love crisp leaves and pumpkin spice lattes and leggings with boots and scarves.

But you make it so hard to really love those things with all the other stuff you bring with them.

With daylight savings time, you make my world darker, making me consider a SAD lamp every year. But I am cheap and delusional that I can get away without any SAD this year.

You also bring the end of the first marking period at work with it’s fluster of GET ALL THE THINGS DONE NOW week, so you know, stress and anxiety kicks in.

You also have the election.  Even when it’s a non-presidential election year, there is still something that we are supposed to vote for and people get jazzed up and political commercials take over the TV where there should be commercials for erectile disorder and tampons.  You know, light topics. And try as I might to ignore it, know my own beliefs and not get sucked into the opposing view, I do anyway.

And then there is that other thing about November.

That thing that was supposed to happen five years ago, but didn’t.  And then again four years ago, but didn’t.

I never know how to talk about my miscarriages.

I think I am in the minority of miscarriage survivors when I say that I don’t think of them as people that weren’t.  At least not most of the time.

I think about how our life would have been different if, five years ago, we started our family.  And I like to think that the spirits that were possibly in those small balls of cells…if there were souls in them…are in heaven with Cort’s dad.

But I don’t think of them as ever being full-fledged babies.

I don’t think of them looking like anything.

I don’t think of them and wonder about their futures…because they weren’t meant to have one.  That was not the plan.

That sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  It sounds cruel and insensitive.

I don’t think that about other people’s miscarriage.  Especially those who have suffered so many and have never had the blessing of a full term baby.

I read in my devotions not that long ago that everyone has a purpose in this world.  The ones who die young fulfilled their purpose quickly…even if we don’t know that purpose.  If the purpose is never revealed to us, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.

I try not to play the “why” game.

I gave up on that game when Cort’s dad died.  There just wasn’t an answer that I was allowed to know.

I mean, I can conjecture from what I see has become of our life and how certain things wouldn’t be as they are without those tragedies, but I can’t say that was for sure the purpose of losing two pregnancies.

As I told my therapist last week, I never even thought of them as babies.

I’ve tried to.  I’ve called them babies, but after having Eddie and Charlie, that just didn’t feel right to me.

The first never progressed past a couple cell divisions before it quit.  It was my body that didn’t get that message.  My bodythought it was pregnant.  Had my body not mixed up that message, it would have passed without me ever knowing it was a miscarriage.

The second was a small dot on a screen.  But we never saw a heartbeat.

However, if I am being honest here, even seeing Eddie’s heartbeat for the first time didn’t convince me he was a real baby.  I know now that was probably a defense mechanism on my part.  And I am in no way saying anything about when I believe life starts (goodness knows I don’t want to start THAT debate here…this is about me and my experience only), I just don’t really grieve those lives that never were anymore.

I have a small box next to my bed with two hearts in it that represent those two pregnancies.

They were hugely important in my life.

The first convinced me I did, in fact, want to be a mother.

The second showed me my own strength and that I could get through physical pain that was greater than anything I ever thought I could endure.

Both pregnancies opened my eyes to who I am…a person I didn’t know I was.  A woman who was stronger and braver than I knew.

Both pregnancies are a puzzle piece to how our family was shaped.  How our attitudes toward loving each other fiercely and not holding grudges was fashioned.  How our persistent to be open in communication and our love for one another was created.

I know that those losses created an urgency of love and appreciation and living in the moment with those we love.

I know I am different because of them.  I know Cort is too.

I know Eddie and Charlie are seen through different eyes and loved with different hearts than they would had their not been loss before them.

But I don’t spend my November thinking about babies who weren’t born in this month.

And now, with the addition of my sweet new niece, Maria last weekend and the other niece, Lilly due in a couple weeks, I have two babies births to celebrate this month.

I don’t forget what I lost, but I don’t mourn it anymore either.

Instead I say a prayer of gratitude for all I have been blessed with despite the losses we have endured.

And we just are.

 

hands

Once a upon a time, a boy held a girl’s hand.

There are many places I could begin Cort and my story, but that is one of my favorite beginnings.

His holding my hand when I needed him.

With no romantic attachments.  No expectations.  No ulterior motives.

He held my hand because he knew in that moment that I needed my hand held.

His thumb gently rubbing the top of my hand. Softly and slowly.  Reassuringly.

This would be the way he held my hand from then on.  He may not remember, but I do.  When he proposed, he took my hand and his thumb started moving as he asked me that all-important question.  On our wedding day, when the pastor instructed us to hold hands, his thumbs moved deftly over my the backs of my hands.  Every night as we fall asleep, our hands entwined, I know he is drifting off when his thumb becomes still.

*************

When Eddie was born, I looked forward to his little hands.  I would dream of holding my son’s hands as he learned to stand, and walk, and as we crossed the street.

His hands were big for a newborn.  You know how large dog breeds will have puppies with HUGE paws and you know the dog is going to be HUGE by they size of the paws?  The whole, “well crap!  just think when he grows into those!” idea?  That is what everyone said when they caught a glimpse of Eddie’s hands.

In fact, Cort’s Grandpa Sluiter made the comment that Great Grandpa Edward (who Eddie is named after) had huge, powerful hands.  He was a farmer and he made things with his hands.  This made me smile.

I longed for my baby to grasp my finger in those “big” hands.

I had visited many friends after they had babies, and my favorite thing was to slip a finger in the palm of the infant and feel the reactionary squeeze.

This was not Eddie’s thing.

I would sneak my finger to Eddie’s palm and he would recoil his hand like he had touched something unpleasant. I thought it was just a phase, but it only got more noticeable the older he became.

He was…and is…fiercely independent even when he was just a few months old.  When he discovered he had hands, I joyfully watched him concentrate on bringing them together in front of his face.  I watched with pride as he slowly grabbed for the toys hanging from his activity mat.  But when I would put my hands or fingers out for him to grab, he would ignore them and fuss until I gave him a toy to hold and explore.

As a toddler he had to be carried through parking lots and into stores.  He simply would not hold our hands.

Even now, when he gets up from nap and joins me in our chair for some wake up cuddles, if I try to hold or stroke his hand he involuntarily pulls it in to himself.  I can rub his leg or his arm or run my fingers through his hair, but the hands are off limits.

If his hand dares to rest on mine, it is short-lived and usually done unconsciously.

*************

For three days and three nights Charlie and I melted into each other while I waited to be released from the hospital after his birth.

The first thing I did was put him right up to my face so I could absorb his new baby smell.  Then I put my finger in his palm.

He grasped it.  Tightly.

At feedings I would tuck my pinky into his hand while I held his bottle to his lips.  His tight squeeze remained for the duration of the bottle, only letting go when I wiggled it out so I could pick him up to burp him.

He found his hands in the same way Eddie did:  one day lying on his back, BOOM he realized he had hands.

It is one of my most favorite milestones because you can actually SEE the concentration and a-ha moment happen.

From that moment on, his favorite things to grasp are his own hands or one of our hands/fingers.

Oh, he will be entertained with a toy for a while…and a blanket or lovey for a bit longer.  But what he wants is contact with us. When he gets tired, he wants to cling to something.  That something is a hand.

The past few naps/nights I have scooped him up when he is getting fussy out of need to sleep and whisked him to his dim-lit room.  I have turned the humidifier on to block out house noises, snapped his nightlight on, and cuddled into the chair.

He quickly calms.

His tired eyes stare widely into mine and both hands take hold of my hand on his chest.

I start to hum and rock as he struggles with wanting to stay awake and needing to surrender to sleep.

Slowly I take my hand out of his clutch and watch as his hands find each other.

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