Monday, 30 May 2016

Therapy Time

It was fall and our daughter had turned 4 years old. We were still no closer to answers, and we had no real help. We had moved again to a different county, and I knew I needed to simply start looking for practical help instead of causes.  I didn't know how to help her, and she needed it now, not in a few years.

There was an early intervention speech language program offered through a small hospital in a nearby town. The town was about 20 minutes away from where we were living, but I contacted them anyway. I set up an appointment, and arranged with my husband to drive us and watch my older and next youngest daughter.  I took the reports I had, packed up my newborn and my non-verbal child and went to the clinic.

The first appointment was fairly long. I sat there, nursing my baby girl, while my older daughter was playing on the floor. I told the therapist everything that I had done so far -- the doctors, the reports, the assessments, everything. I also explained how I didn't drive at the time, and with a baby and toddler at home, it was challenging to fit in weekly appointments. I asked her to teach me what do to do with my daughter, so that I could work with her every day.

The therapist was a busy lady, kind but straight-forward and to the point. She did her own assessment of my daughter, which took about half an hour. Afterwards, she told me that my little girl had no physical issues with speech but a definite language delay. She was communicating at the time, on par with a 2 year old. And maybe understood about the same.

The first thing the SLP told me to do was to label everything. Like you do with young children, I was to take books, point out things of interest while we did things, and try to create a foundational vocabulary of concrete words for my daughter. Also, she advised that we speak slower, carefully enunciating words for her, and giving her time to process what we said.

So we went home and tried that. Soon she was repeating everything we said, as she always had, but slowly, slowly, I saw that she was associating the words with the things. She would hold up a toy and tell me the label. She never really pointed at anything, but she would sometimes tell me car or truck or baby as we passed them.

At the next appointment, about a month later, the therapist told me she saw progress, and instructed me to add description to the labels. Instead of saying just truck, label it "blue truck" or "fast truck" or "big truck".  We could expand her language by building it step by step, slowly and carefully. So we went home and tried. It was hard for me to remember to speak slower, but when I slowed down, and let her process, I found that she could actually understand me. And more and more, she was letting me know what her needs were, without screaming.

At the third appointment, after Christmas, we added in action words -- the "ing" words. We told what the labels we had created were doing. The blue truck was driving. The big boy was jumping. That soft cat was purring.  It was slow, but steady work. Pointing was still an issue, as she didn't respond to gestures very well, but when I could get her attention, I could work with her, and I could get her to understand me.  But due to the busy nature of our life, a lot of the time I just let her play.

It was spring before I figured out how to get an Occupational Therapist involved. It was a bit tricky and convoluted, but we eventually managed to get an OT coming to our home to work on the fine motor and sensory issues we were seeing. She was awesome, and incredibly patient with both me and my daughter. Since the monthly visit was working well with speech, where the therapist would show me new techniques to work on with my daughter, I asked the same of the OT.  She agreed.

So we worked on hand position and coloring, with lots of hand over hand stuff. She showed me how to teach a young child to use scissors (which was super helpful, even with my younger children!) She talked about using everyday household items to create a sensory environment for my daughter -- turns out every toddler's dream of banging on the pots and pans is great for a stimulation seeker like my daughter.  She even supported us in homeschooling, and gave me a recommendation for handwriting and fine motor skills -- Handwriting without Tears programs.

Now I was balancing baby well-visits, speech therapy, OT, a toddler, homeschooling a 4th grader, and still trying to keep a home and family.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I did all of it, and I'm sure I didn't manage that well. But it was definitely a busy season.

That summer, we moved into a new house, just down the street. I was able to connect with a support service for families with children with special needs. That was a God-send! We were able to get a new pediatrician through that service, and I was able to get assistance in applying for a disability credit for my daughter.

It was time to start really looking for a long-term plan. It was obvious that she was never going to "catch up", but how delayed -- how much would the delays -- affect her future? There were still lots of unanswered questions, and I was headed to the pediatrician with lots of questions and requests.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Developmental Pediatrician

She was almost 5 years old when we finally landed in a pediatrican's office that seemed to actually take us seriously. I spent a good 30 minutes describing her history and what we'd tried so far, giving him copies of the reports that I had -- the assessments, the letters, the tests -- and he listened. He asked pertinent questions. 

He referred us to genetic testing and a developmental pediatrician. It took months to get the appointment to the specialist, coincidentally at the same centre that had done the autism screening. 

In the mean time, our lives were turned upside down. My marriage ended, and my ex-husband moved out. Our daughters were 5, 4, almost 2 and 3 months old, and my oldest was 10.  It was a hectic time, extremely stressful, but the girls and I pulled closer together.  

The first appointment with the specialist was in February 2014. I arranged child care, and packed up my baby and my daughter for the hour long trip to the children's centre and the developmental pediatrician.  I was on pins and needles. Would she listen? Would she see what I was dealing with? And would she have suggestions?

It was an incredible appointment. It was by far the longest appointment I had had to date with anyone involved with my daughter. The doctor went over, in detail, her entire history, from my pregnancy with her, on.  She tested my daughter on motor skills, language skills, play and social interaction. She examined her physically, measuring head and height and weight and testing reflexes. It was thorough and took two full hours to complete.

 At the end, she confirmed that there were significant issues going on. I was both relieved .. and very saddened. Part of me was hoping that it was just normal childhood issues, though I knew that it was far from normal, given that you don't go to a specialist in childhood development for merely slow development. But there's something about hearing it from a doctor, seeing it in black and white, that gives it a bit more oomph. 

She asked me for specialist hearing tests, vision tests, bloodwork and put in a referral to a child psychologist. She said that what we really needed was a complete psychometric assessment, to determine where and why and how much the delays were impacting her life.. and her future. 

We completed the bloodwork, and the vision testing -- turns out she did need a mild prescription, but the sensory issues were causing that, not any real issue with her eyes. My daughter needed tinted lenses to protect her eyes from the extreme light sensitivity that was causing strain and squinting. She also needed vision therapy to help with tracking issues, which were sorted out quickly.   

6 months later, we were back for a follow up. My daughter had her 6th birthday, and it was becoming apparent that the gaps were becoming larger and larger. She still wasn't nighttime toilet trained, couldn't bathe herself independently, brush her teeth, and was still working on learning her letters and numbers. It was discouraging.  

The doctor asked me for an OT assessment, and checked in on the difficulties finding support. As my daughter was getting older, early intervention services were less and less available. And her anxiety issues were making it less and less likely that traditional school would be beneficial to her, though I was willing to consider it. 

We moved that Christmas, and changed counties again. At the next appointment in January 2015, we went over the bloodwork that had been done, and I detailed the social communication issues we were having. The need for that psych assessment was becoming more and more apparent. 

August 2015 was the next appointment, my daughter was now 7, and it was frustrating for both the doctor and I. Support services were hard to find, as without a diagnosis or a label, few agencies were able to help us.  That fall, I was able to pay for the OT assessment, and it showed improvement in her fine and gross motor skills. But the sensory issues were significant. I was able to get some ideas for tools I could use at home to help with the sensory input my daughter was craving -- things like weights, fidgety-toys, even using a small, indoor exercise trampoline. 

Our next appointment was scheduled for February 2016, but in January, I got a call requesting that we go back to the centre for a full speech-language assessment. It was eye-opening. I had known that her language issues were significant, but I hadn't realized just how far behind she was. They warned me too that what she tested at and what she functioned at were usually different by about 6 months -- that in testing, in the controlled environment, children test 6 months higher than where they usually function. And in testing, she was understanding language at around a typical 4 year old, and using language at around a typical 5 year old.  It was really hard to wrap my mind around. 

We attended the appointment in February, and met with the developmental pediatrician and the speech-language pathologist together. I also gave the report from the occupational therapist. That psychometric assessment was becoming urgent! The pediatrician sent more paperwork for genetic testing and a child development inventory, which I completed and sent back in.  A few weeks later, I got the report from that, and it was also very uncomfortable. The inventory, which was only supposed to test children up to age 6 (and my daughter was now 7.5 years old), showed that overall her development was only around a typical 4 year old -- her language skills were closer to that of a 3 year old, and her social skills were that of a typical 2.5 year old! 

Thankfully, we are now in the process of that psychometic assessment. The referral to the psychologist came in May 2016 (as of this writing, we've completed day 1). Here's hoping for answers, direction, and help. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Threadbare and Tired

I came across this phrase this morning in my devotional: threadbare.
Normally it refers to clothes.. the worn places on jeans, socks and towels, where the individual threads show. But in this case, threadbare is the term for my soul. I am weary. I am worn out. I am tired.. I am threadbare.

It has been a long, stressful journey. I am finding it hard to focus on the positives -- like giving birth to 5 beautiful amazing children. I look back over the course of my adult life, and I see.. trauma. Poor choices. Stress. Survival mode. Crisis.  I can't see the bigger picture anymore. I feel lost in the details.

Threadbare. I'm so worn that the individual threads of my life, of my being are showing.  I'm afraid that any more stress and they will snap.  There are some physical issues going on that aren't helping, but sleep doesn't cure soul-exhaustion.


I ask that You would weave new life into every area that feels threadbare and worn thin. 

New life. This is what I need: new life.  I need someone to take the worn places, the threadbare spots, and not just patch, not just darn it, but reweave it. T

o take the individual strings and bring them back into wholeness. 

Thank God for Jesus. 

I'm struggling to find the hope. I have started over so many times, that starting over again, even though it's in a very nice place, with more support and more friends than I've ever had in my life, starting over just seems .. impossible.  How do you rebuild, when every time you try it just gets washed away, torn down, burnt up and destroyed? I'm so scared of even attempting to put down roots, because I wonder what the next few months will hold. I know how quickly things can change. A life can be utterly changed in the second it takes to pee on a stick or sign your name to paper or say a few irrevocable words. 

I realize that all the blog rules say be positive. But I'm going to be real. This is my journey, and this is my life. The struggle is real. I'm a real woman, raising a family alone, dealing with all the challenges of divorce, domestic violence, and disability. My real life is not easy-peasy, smooth-sailing, got-it-all-figured-out superwoman. It's more like roller-coaster, up-and-down, make-it-up-as-I-go super mess.  

I'm threadbare. I'm tired. But my story isn't over yet. And just as all those life changes happened so quickly, I know that this too will change. I may struggle to find the hope, but I have never once lost my faith. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep rising each day to the tasks, meals, laundry and toys, books and papers that mark my hours, and keep trying to lay down to rest my body, if not my mind and heart. I will do what I can to learn and laugh and just .. live

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The 5 second pickup

How often during the day do I do a 5 second chore? Put the torn scrap on the floor next to the garbage in the can. Wipe the spots off the counter. Put the milk in the fridge. Close the door. Turn off the light. You know.. those 2-5 seconds that straighten, clean and generally try to create orderliness out of the chaos left by forgetful careless children.

Kittisak @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I have always struggled with time awareness. It's been my biggest issue surrounding housework. I overestimate how much time smaller chores will take ... and underestimate the time I need for projects. I turn the small things into huge endeavors and thus procrastinate. I jump into the projects, and get sucked in until all of a sudden hours have disappeared and it's time to make dinner and I have to leave the job half-finished, and a bigger mess than I started with.


vegadsl @
FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It wasn't until I started my list of chores and had to put realistic times on them.  (See here for details on my organization a-ha moment.) Then I realized that some of those things that I had put off and put off and avoided and dreaded and mentally made a huge fuss over -- they really weren't that big a deal. It wasn't until I timed myself that I figured out it takes less than 5 minutes to clean a toilet.. and only 2 minutes to wipe down the sink. I could wash the dishes from an entire day in about 20 min. It was a moment of shock to realize that the dreaded daily chores necessary for a basically functional home didn't take more than an hour.

All of a sudden, I was able to do some of those chores that I'd never paid attention to before. The ones that turn a basically functional home into a restful, clean space you want to stay in -- like dusting, vacuuming furniture,  washing windows and wiping away smears on the walls -- now became not only possible but on my radar. I'd ignored them before, thinking I was drowning in just the minimum maintenance.

khunaspix @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I'm sure it helped that I was no longer pregnant or breastfeeding,  and I had children finally old enough to at least play without me in the same room, if not old enough to help. I do recognize that where I may have been ignorant over time it takes to do things, I was also up to my ears in babies, diapers, feeding and cleaning up poop. And sleeping whenever I got the time.

To those of you blessed with the genes and/or childhood training of daily chores and automatic neatness, you may find my revelation a "duh" moment. But I am not an automatically neat person. I have had to train my eyes to notice the clutter and to actually do something about it. I swear it is a genetic thing --my oldest daughter doesn't notice her room disorder until we clean it out together. So this epiphany was like a turning the light on. Housework seriously doesn't take that long, even when you have lots of littles!

Since then, I have been slowly teaching myself to first notice the issues. I now see the smudges by the light switch in the bathroom. I look for the finger- and nose - prints on my patio door. I am becoming aware of the dust bunnies in the corners and under the furniture. And now, slowly,  I'm training myself to do something about it.



Paul @
FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It's the 5 second rule with a twist. If I can do something that will make my home look nicer, smell nicer, feel nicer, without going out of my way to do it, and without really stopping, I do it. It's straightening the picture on the wall in the hallway on my way to use the bathroom. It's putting the ketchup in its spot in the door while I'm looking for cheese in the fridge. It's picking up the toys that didn't quite make it into their box on my way past the toyshelf to my office. I'm not deliberately setting out to organize,  declutter or pick up. I'm in the middle of something else, but on my way from one to the next, I can smooth out the books, tuck the cushion in, or pick up the paper. 5 seconds. And instantly my home looks and feels better.





The side benefit has been that my children are noticing more too. They see me pick up and put away without pausing long, and suddenly they take the extra step to put the trash in the can, the toy in its box, or the bowl in the sink. It's becoming a ripple effect.  Who knew 5 seconds could make such a difference? 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Love is... a choice

imagerymajestic @
 FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I was newly engaged, somewhere I came across the concept that love was a choice. It stuck with me through the years, through the easy and the hard times. It resonated with me deeply. I could hear it ring in my head, sometimes condemning when I was very hurt and confused and angry and didn't want to act loving, and sometimes in celebration when it was easy and fun and seemed so natural.  I could choose to love.


I believe strongly in the power of choice. For me, it's a foundational truth. We were given free will. Whatever happens is the result of a choice.. maybe not mine, maybe not anyone living, and maybe that particular happening is the result of the broken world... but the broken world we live in is still the result of a choice made however many generations ago.

A choice is mentally assenting, judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one (or more) of them. It is a function of the will, not the hand. The physical, emotional, even the spiritual actions we take are from this will, this choice.

So love is a choice. What are the options then? Choose to love, to hate.. and to be indifferent. To merely not love.  There's a vast difference between active hate and apathetic indifference. And of the two, apathy is far more dangerous.

 Stuart Miles@ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Love and hate both have a target. Love looks for the best and hate looks for the worst. Love helps and hate hurts. Indifference doesn't have a target. Indifference doesn't even see. Indifference doesn't care. Hatred and love are both emotional, indifference has no feelings attached. Things done indifferently are far more violent than things done in the name of love or hate.  Hate and love are two sides of the same coin --- polar opposites. You can't hate without having loved first. Indifference means dropping the coin altogether. Most of us live our lives indifferent to everyone else we share the air with.

Love is a choice. In order to choose to love, first we need to see. In order to love, you need to have a beloved. We need to train our eyes to truly see those around us, see them as human beings, bearing the image of God, and worth loving, if only because of that God-reflection.

The Bible says that what comes out of our mouths is a reflection and result of what is in our hearts. That would logically suggest that the first step to loving is to make sure your heart is right. How do you do this?

During the first separation from my ex, I attended a workshop seminar. There were lots of concepts that have shaped how I think and choose and react. One phrase that stuck out was "to think is to create". The idea was that our intentions don't really matter, if our core values, inner beliefs .. if our hearts .. weren't lined up with our intentions. What you create, what your life is like, is a direct result of what you truly believe, even if you don't know or acknowledge those beliefs, and say otherwise.

A second concept that has impacted me was that our core beliefs are changed only through repeated action. Actions enforce and change heart attitudes. By the way, actions here include what you say to yourself or others.  Actions, repeated regularly and frequently, create habits, and habits then impact what we believe.  Human beings are creatures of habit. We want what we've always wanted. We want what we've always had. That's what makes change so hard.

How do you change a habit? Especially a habit that is tied up in a heart belief? The Bible says to renew your mind. Become transformed by the power of the Word of God. Habits are a product of the mind, so we can change our habits when we change our minds. When you speak the Word of God, when you speak truth, when you make choices based on what's right and wrong, what's loving and not, you will change your mind.
atibodyphoto @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It's a cycle. Actions come out of heart beliefs, but actions change heart beliefs. As you renew your mind, your actions change, and your heart changes, making it easier to change your habits, and it all becomes easier.   Basing habits on a renewed mind and changed heart, reinforced by actions, and transformation happens.

Recently my children were looking through my old photo albums. My oldest was born just before cell phone cameras were everywhere, so I had lots of printed pictures of her, and some of my next two. I used to buy the disposable cameras monthly, take the pictures, get them developed and buy the next cameras. But I have hardly any printed pictures of my youngest two, because they are all digital. And it dawned on me that I have actually taken few pictures of my children as they have gotten older. I just take less pictures in general.

I wanted to take more pictures. So I got on instagram. (Follow me here). And I make it a conscious choice to look for the opportunity for a picture. Apparently it's working, as I've taken so many in the last month or so now, that my phone memory is all used up! But it started with a choice. I had to start looking for the picture, in order to see it. I had to do something to make the change -- like signing up on Instagram. My actions, my choices, have led to a change in my lifestyle, where pictures are more included.

It all starts with a choice. Choose, actively, passionately, to love, not hate, not remain indifferent. It requires that we do something.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Why I (personally) homeschool

My 2nd and 4th daughter's playing at the playground
The other day I met a mom at the playground. She was a public school french teacher, on maternity leave, with her not-quite one-year old. We stood side-by-side, pushing our children in the swing, her with her baby, and me with my three-year-old preschooler. She noticed, since she really couldn't help it, that my other children were of obvious school age, and asked if I homeschool, to which the answer was an obvious yes.



Then she asked me why I chose to homeschool my children.


I paused, unsure of how to answer. I thought of the many statistics I know that show homeschooled children do better academically, socially and emotionally than public-schooled children. I thought of the numerous studies I've read that show homeschooled children make better college students, better community participants and are better prepared for adult life in general. But that, while great reasons to homeschool, wasn't why I decided to homeschool.

I thought of the deeply held values and convictions I have. I could say I chose this path for religious reasons, because I felt God had called me to be a homeschool parent. I could say that I believe homeschooling is the most biblically sound form of education of our children. But, again while I do believe these things and my faith is a definite part of our homeschool, I didn't choose it because of religious reasons.

I thought of the parenting philosophy I have, and the style and way I raise my children. I thought of the fact that I get to see all the firsts, that I can develop the close relationship with my children, that I am still their first and best friend. I thought of the subtle ways that I get to influence and shape their worldview, because I am their mother and their teacher. But not why I chose to homeschool.

Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I chose to homeschool, honestly, because it was easier. It was sheer laziness. I chose to homeschool because when my oldest was 3.5 yrs, and it came time to register her, I just couldn't face the thought of spending the next twenty years getting up early, making lunches, walking or driving her to school, and then picking her up again a few hours later, dealing with homework and tired kids.. it was just too much! Mostly.. it was the thought of having to get up early every day. I was 23! I'd just finished high school myself a couple of years before, and I hated getting up every day for school. I didn't want to do it again.

So I kept her home. She turned 4 that December, and had figured out reading. And I thought, hey.. this is pretty easy. Plus, I had gotten engaged that fall, and was expecting another baby, plus managing college myself, so I was pretty busy. I figured to do it one more year, then maybe register her.

And the next year, I had a new baby on the way, a toddler and I was newly separated after a horrible marital breakdown. There were so many changes, the idea of putting my oldest in school seemed to be a huge stress. By then, I was kind of getting into the swing of educating her myself, seeing the results and researching and planning curriculum. I was enjoying the work, and meeting others who liked this homeschooling thing too.

The next year, there was a toddler, and a new baby on the way, and my 2nd child's special needs were just beginning to be discovered, and homeschooling stayed the default choice. The effort into putting my daughter in public school was just too much.

The year after that, well.. it was more of the same. Only with a special needs child, public school didn't seem to have the answers to help her. Every report I heard scared me away from even considering putting my 2nd daughter in public school, and with more babies, it was just so much work. I was sleep deprived, and pregnant and.... I lived in Canada. The idea of wrapping up three small children twice a day to face Canadian winters, just to meet a bus was so unappealing. Homeschooling it was. By now, I was into middle school, and grammar, long division and ancient history wasn't as scary as babies and snowsuits.

Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When my 5th baby came, I was in the middle of marriage breakdown and moving and a whole host of other issues. Homeschooling became the only stability my children had in the middle of their lives turning upside down. We clung to the normal-ness of our homeschool day. I was doing kindergarten and preschool with my middle children, around babies and toddlers, and my oldest was largely independent with her work, so it seemed to be working just fine. It was a relief not to disrupt our lives just to put them into public school.

Now.. we love this life. We can sleep later, we can enjoy the good weather outside, we can learn together and share our discoveries. I love how close my children are to each other. I love that I can give them hot meals every day. I love how much outside activities we can enjoy, because I don't have to manage school pick up schedules and parent-teacher conferences and IEPs and special education. I can tailor education plans to exactly where my children are skill-wise and developmentally. The freedom we have is incredible.

But ultimately, I chose to homeschooling because it was just plain easier. I honestly don't know how mothers do this traditional school thing. The costs, the time, the hassle, the school-shopping and lunch-making, the social skills (or lack of them) -- the cliques and bullies, the homework and the testing.. I shudder at the thought of them. I realize that homeschooling isn't free, and there's still lunches to be made and we'll still encounter bullies (heck -- sibling rivalry anyone?!?) but ultimately, keeping my children home and teaching them myself was and still is just easier on me.

Stickers on my youngest daughters' room wall
Why do I homeschool my children? Because I'm lazy, because I don't want to get up early, because the thought of lunches and homework and parent-teacher interviews scare me, because I can't give up my babies for that long, because I'd miss my kids too much..... Because they are my children, and it's my job to raise and teach them.  I homeschool... out of sheer selfishness.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Love is... a verb!

SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of my favorite subjects to teach is grammar. I love the parts of speech, the way the words work together, and the way everything fits together neatly. It's (mostly) logical and generally easy to figure out the patterns and rules, with only a few exceptions. Like arithmetic, there's a right and wrong answer.

A verb is the part of speech that describes the action or activity of the subject. It also describes the state of being. Verbs tell us what things or creatures do or how they feel. Every sentence needs a verb to be a complete sentence.

Love is one of those verbs that is both an action and a state of being. That makes it one of those exceptions. It doesn't fit neatly into a box. It's a paradox.

Maybe that's why love is so hard to understand. How can something be both active -- a doing, an aggressive tangible behaviour -- and a state of being, passive, abstract, and inanimate? Love is both, at the same time.  That's what makes it so powerful.

Thousands of books, poems and songs have been written about love. Humans struggle to describe the impulses, actions, reactions and responses to love. We perform great deeds in the name of love. We humiliate ourselves, we do foolish things in public, we get others to help us all in the hopes of impressing and demonstrating just how much we love someone else. We buy expensive jewelry, create pictures, write cards and stories, grow or buy flowers to give to the objects of our love. In English, at least, we have at least 50 different words to convey this impossible-to-describe concept.

Love is both giving (active) and receiving (being). We give to those we love, we give as an act of love. This seems natural and easily understood. It's an almost instinctive response to the feeling of love towards another. Love inspires generosity.

But being loving is also graciously receiving the gifts that others would give us. For some, like me, this is harder to understand, but sometimes the most loving thing you can do is allow and receive the blessing from another. Receiving a gift gratefully is a gift in itself back to the giver. This passive state of being can be the most passionate of experiences.

Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Love is both serving (active) and leading (being). The famous Five Love Languages book (Gary Smalley) says that one of the languages of love is acts of service. When you do something to help someone, to make their life easier or better in some way, it is love. Serving another is an active way to love even those you don't know that well. In church, we often describe the life of love towards other believers as "serving".

Leading, however, is also love. Providing that guidance, that sense of direction can be more loving than providing the service. In a way, it's a service in itself. When you let someone know, gently, lovingly, honestly and respectfully how they can serve you, you lead in love and in return serve their desire to love you. Paradoxically, the less active state of being loving in leadership is the more devoted love.

When we think of love, we often use words like "sacrificial" and "giving" and "serving" to describe how to love someone else. We assume that to love someone requires the sacrifice on our part. But sometimes the best way to love someone else is to take advantage of their loving gestures, their desire to actively love us. It is, in my experience, the harder way to love someone. Taking advantage feels somehow less loving. When in actuality, allowing and receiving and giving direction and leading can be the more adoring state.

pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The verb to love is a paradox of actions and responses. While we naturally gravitate to the doing side of love -- giving a gift, serving another -- we don't always realize that our more passive receiving of the same is also a part of love, and often the more passionate side.

Another active part of love is admiration. We love to shower our loved ones with compliments and praise. It's often accompanied by gifts or acts of service. Telling someone how much you like their appearance, or praising their accomplishments, or complimenting their behaviour is concrete way to show just how much we love them.

The counterpart of this active love is the more passive vanity. Did you know that too often, we end up rejecting our lover's admiration out of a desire to not appear vain or proud? Yet it can be a loving thing to do to accept the admiration, not just because you want to please your beloved, but because you agree with them. After all, they love you as well. And there must be something about you that they love. Recognizing that, being in the state of agreement with their admiration, is a way to love them in return.

Actively loving others often leads us to appreciate their efforts to love us. It becomes a cycle of activity. They give and we reciprocate with gifts in appreciation. We serve them and they serve us in return. They admire our efforts to please them and we show our appreciation with more compliments. We always want to actively show our appreciation for our beloved.

The more abstract love is hold your beloved to certain expectations and to communicate those. It's not a really tangible thing you can do, but that expectation you have for your loved one -- the standard of care -- is simply part of being loving. It's almost an unconscious thing we do in love, but it can be a dangerous thing to have. These often unspoken expectations can ruin the loving relationship we have, because they are unspoken, and maybe even unrealistic. But having expectations for your beloved is part of being loving, as long as you communicate them.

lekkyjustdoit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This paradoxical verb is a conundrum. So often we speak of loving someone as requiring action, needing a great deed to prove. But we forget that sometimes the more passionate love, the harder love is to sit back and let ourselves be loved. To accept the compliments and gifts, and to let someone else serve us -- and not just to allow but to direct, to ask for and expect these things -- this requires that we truly understand what it means to love and to be loving.

Love is a verb. Both the action and the state of being .. love is a contradictory verb.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

A day in the life of...

I'm not sure where to start generally. My days never really "start" or "end" .. they all kind of blur together.

Generally speaking, unless I've been up during the night, I'm awake between 6:30 and 7 am. That doesn't mean I'm up. I am NOT a morning person. My lack of morning skills are legendary in my family. My mother, if she were to read this, would probably be shocked to hear that I'm regularly awake this early, but yes. I am.

I spend the first hour of my day reading. This is probably no surprise to anyone who knows me, of course. I generally am reading some of the non-fiction books I have stacked on my nighttable. I limit myself to one chapter, mostly because I don't want to get distracted and get behind schedule. I also will write in my journal, and then check on my messages and my planner, making notes as to what I need to do that day. This helps me check in on my time, and on what I need to wear (and my children's clothes) for the day. If we're going to a friend's house, or shopping, or on a nature walk or to any of the extracurriculars that we regularly do, we need to dress appropriately.

By 8 am, my children are awake and dressing. They may awaken before, but I've trained them that they are not to be out of bed before 8 am. This ensures that those who need a little more sleep have the opportunity to get it, and that I get my needed time to wake up slowly.

My oldest daughter is usually awake and dressed by then, and will check in with me on breakfast or if I need her to help with a younger sibling. She often makes breakfast for her sisters, while I am doing hair (5 girls!! lots of pony tails and braids and barrettes and hairbands) and starting some chores. As the girls get older, it's becoming easier and easier to delegate chores in the mornings, and I'm really liking this! But I still do some things myself, if only because small children can often miss things that really do need to be done.

By 9 am, the children are eating, and I'll often shower and dress and take some time for myself -- for little things like putting on lotion or make up. Even if I don't have plans to go out, I find I feel better about myself if I at least have my skin lotioned and eyeliner on, and my hair pulled back into a barrette or elastic. The girls and I will divy up the morning chores, and (with probably too much noise), we get things done. I use The Motivated Moms housework planner to keep us on track. You can find that here. I prefer the paper version, and I generally write down in my PlannerPad the chores specific to me and my house, when I do my seasonal planning.

After chores, we have a variety of activities, depending on the season and the day. This spring, we are spending a lot of time outdoors! Once a week, if the weather is nice enough, we participate in a storytime and nature walk put on by the local community centre. Another day every week we have a playdate, either with a local homeschool group, or another family.  The other mornings we either are playing inside (on rainy days) or the girls go out to the backyard to play. I will get myself breakfast around 10:30 am while they play, and get some work done on one of my various projects, and then afterwards, I'm either working on a house project (such as organizing my basement storage room, planning for homeschool, switching clothes over seasonally, organizing closets, planning birthday parties or presents, decorating or any other house-type or school-type thing), or if we're outside, I go out and do yardwork. I love to garden, and this year I get to have a large vegetable garden and flower beds again!!

We break for lunch, and while the girls clean up, change clothes if necessary, I'll make lunch. I love this part of homeschooling -- we get to make home-cooked hot food for lunch often! We'll sit and eat as a family, and my girls giggle and ask questions about their activities for the day. After lunch I'll put those who are napping to bed while the rest clean up from lunch. Then it's time for school.

This is a relatively new routine for us, and personally, I'm loving it. We go downstairs (those napping are upstairs), and my girls all have their "spots" for school. My oldest has her desk, and she often will start school work in the morning before breakfast. Her bedroom is downstairs, and she likes to take advantage of the quiet in the morning, before her sisters wake up. She'll check with me on her work, and I'll give her instructions. My younger two, sometimes three, will work with me. I have a good mix of independent work and work that needs more help, so I work with each in turn, balancing it out. It works out most of the time, tho sometimes someone will have to wait their turn.

In between the girls working on their school work, I will work as well. Between my business, blogging and emails, I'm kept pretty busy! It's a good thing I know how to multitask!!

By about 4 o'clock, my princesses are mostly done their school for the day and the nappers are awake. One by one, they will be sent off to play. Most of their toys are in the room next to my office/school room, so I can keep an eye on the chaos. Occasionally I'll send one or two upstairs to play with a specific set of toys I have upstairs or to read books instead, to keep down the noise and distraction. I'll finish up with the last ones to do school and with my own work until about 5 pm.

Then I release my kids to free play, while I go upstairs and start supper. I have a weekly menu plan, and I shop weekly or monthly for groceries. I keep a running shopping list on my fridge and add to it as needed. I also keep blank menus on the fridge for ideas as they come to me (or if we skip a planned meal for whatever reason, I'll add it to another week's schedule). This solves the "what's for dinner?" confusion for me, because it's just there on the menu.  I plan a mix of "easy" and slightly more complicated, so if I'm feeling more tired than usual, or if a last minute change of plans happens, I can easily switch it up, and make sure I still have what I need on hand to feed my family.

About 15 minutes before I'm done making supper, I give the kids their 15 minute warning. That means they have 15 minutes to tidy up everything. All the toys, books, papers, blankets, stuffies, clothes, hats, boots, or anything else that may be out of place needs to be picked up and put away before supper. Even my youngest can help, and with only a little bit of squabbling it gets done. Then we have supper. I don't often have anyone set the table, because I will serve directly to plates from the stove and put that on the table. With so many little ones, it's just easier.

After supper, my oldest four clean up the kitchen. My oldest will do the dishes and put away the food, and the other three will clear the table, wipe it and the chairs down, and sweep the floor. They also take out recycling and compost, and put away anything that may have gotten missed in the 15 Minute Clean Up. I will take my youngest and start baths. One by one, everyone takes a bath or shower, brushes their teeth, puts on pjs, and picks out their clothes for the morning. Then we gather in the living room for cuddling and maybe a movie or a game. Sometimes we'll take a walk in the evening, depending on how nice it is outside.

 By 8 pm, it's time for bed. I head to my room, and get settled on my bed, while the girls pick out their stories. My youngest is first, and she comes in with her book. We cuddle and read a story and I'll sing her a song (usually a hymn), and then send her off to bed, to get settled and wait for me there. The others are supposed to be waiting their turn with their books on the couch in the living room, saying goodnight to each other and cleaning up from games and movies, but it often isn't all that quiet! One by one, again, we follow the routine of story and song, and then to bed. This is their last chance for drinks and to use the bathroom too.

My oldest will wait for me while I tuck in and kiss goodnight all my younger children. After I shut off the light and close the door, there is no more getting up or calling me back. Then I go out to our living room, and my oldest and I check the doors and lock everything up. We turn off the lights and turn on some lamps, and then we read a chapter book together. Or rather, I'm reading it to her, one chapter at a time.

Then she goes downstairs to use the bathroom and get settled, while I gather anything I need from upstairs for working later, and gather up a load of laundry to take with me. I tuck her in, and sometimes we talk a bit in her room. Then I shut off the light and close the door.

My day isn't over, obviously. I will do a load of laundry, and take the dry stuff that was sitting in my dryer from last night into my office. Then I will listen to podcasts (or my Blue Jays game -- Go Jays Go!!), catch up on my social media and blog stuff, and work while I'm folding laundry, marking school and checking my plan for the next day and week. I will work till about 10:30 pm. Then I take my folded laundry upstairs to my room.

I leave the basket in my room to put away in the morning (part of morning chores) and then check all doors and shut off all the lights. I brush my own teeth and take off my makeup, and I have a few little habits I like to do to pamper myself, like special lotions, music and my collection of comfy sleep shirts. I try to do something for myself every evening, and not feel guilty about it. Sometimes it's read a book, sometimes it's to sit and play video games on my phone, but I'll do something just for me for about 30 minutes, usually in my bed with just my lamp on. Then I'll turn off the lamp and put on my white noise to sleep.

And that's it. I fit in phone calls and appointments and diaper changes and discipline and interruptions all the other things of life around this basic routine. But honestly, if it isn't on my planner schedule, it usually doesn't get done. I rely so heavily on my planner (you can find what I use here) I call it my brain on paper. Between that and the alarms on my phone to remind me of the time, I can get most things done that need to be done every day. Plus maybe a bit extra. Of course, this is assuming I and everyone else stays healthy. Heaven help us if someone gets sick!! But we all take regular vitamins and since we aren't in school, we avoid most of the germs, thankfully.

Some days I don't even know how I manage to get everything done, to be honest. I just do it. If I think about it, or try to look ahead too much, I will get overwhelmed and then I can't do anything. So beyond the scheduled times for planning (weekly, seasonally, yearly), I don't think about what comes next too much. I have my plan. I work my plan. I add in when needed, and I drop things when I have to, but for the most part... we get it all done. Somehow.. by the grace of God!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Gratitude and grace

Every morning, this year, I have been reading a chapter in a selected book, some Scripture, and journalling. I'm intentionally taking the time to do this before I get up, regardless of who's screaming, who's slamming a door, and any other noise that might be outside my bedroom door. (It helps that I now have a lock on my door!!)  

Besides the miracle that it is that I can now take some quiet time, which trust me, is an absolute blessed miracle, I have been impacted by the reading and journalling. I started the journalling in hopes that writing out my thoughts and prayers would help with the anxiety that keeps me up at night. While that hasn't happened as yet, I have been changed, in most unexpected ways. 

My current book that I'm reading through is One Thousand Gifts (affiliate link) by Ann Voskamp. I have been loving her blog, and every time her blog email drops into my phone, I drop everything to read it. And grab my tissue, because I know that every post will bring tears to my eyes.  Ann has a very poetic way of writing, and yet she grabs at the exact question I'm having, the precise point that God has been speaking to me, and every time I read, I'm moved. 

 This book is about the value gratitude has and should play in our lives, and how it's a tool to help us see and experience and grow in our intimacy with God. She points out that if we were to truly see all the gifts that God gives us .. grace upon grace.. we couldn't help but feel His love abounding towards us. And it's not just the "big" gifts that we can be thankful for, or the obvious ones -- the miracles of good news, jobs and money coming in, good health or even good weather, but the mundane: the way soap bubbles reflect and refract sunlight, the wisps of hair on a baby's head, or the chirps of the bird outside the window. She lists some of the gifts she notices in her poetic way, and she shows how even the most trivial of things can be the most beautiful. 

I don't agree with everything she writes, though, but it's gentle enough that I can't take offense. Frankly, I don't mind a challenging viewpoint, because it helps me clarify what exactly I do believe and value.  Ann describes how she's discovered gratitude even in the worst of circumstances.  And one phrase, where she talks about a friend who buries a child after a tragic accident made me cry because it's not true.  She says that even the seemingly senseless death of children may be a grace, because we don't know their future, and we should be grateful for the death. I will utterly, unrepentantly disagree! We can be grateful for grace in the circumstances, but we should be angry at the broken world that robs children of life and health, because that is not of God. 

The mercy of God is that He did not leave us to our fate. His grace is that He has offered a way out of this brokenness, that He gives healing and hope and victory in this life, not just the one to come. And it is in this grace, in this mercy that we can have joy. 

This is the part that gets me every time. I wanted to somehow, someway explore finding and choosing joy this year. 2016 is my year of Joy. And Ann's book describes the joy that I want, that I had found a long time ago in the midst of babies and housework in a sunny yellow 2nd floor apartment kitchen, before my life was shaken and turned upside down again, and the joy ripped from my life with violence and rage and difficult desperate choices..  I want that deep, full-body absolute satisfaction and contentment that I once had. Joy. The joy that gives supernatural strength, provides peace that cannot be understood, and allows for love for even the most difficult of people -- and children can be the most difficult of people!   -- it's that joy that I long for. 

According to Ann, gratitude and thanksgiving are the keys to unlocking joy. Because it's when we are grateful for the details, when we choose to see with thankful eyes instead of despairing hearts, that we actually see the love of God. Who cannot have joy when you know that the God of the Universe has lavished on us the endless gifts of grace? She uses a term -- divine choice -- that struck me to the core. Jesus .. chose me. He found me. He died for me. He chose me for His beloved. And gives me grace upon grace, ever-renewing mercies, everlasting love.

The best grace of all..

Gratitude for grace, looking for the love, choosing joy.  I will choose joy!