Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I know I haven't published a blog in forever but this one has been brewing in my head for a little while and I need to take a stab at getting the words right. It's not a fun subject, but it's important. To give just a little background, when I met T.J., I was just 17 (vs. his 23) and his mom and sister were living on the east coast. He talked to them often and they were as involved in his life as they could be from 3000 miles away! When he told them we had started dating, his sister flipped out on him a little bit, and I was terrified of her. I knew how important his sister was to him and it was more than a little intimidating to think she might not like me for any reason! Luckily for me, her only "reason" was that I was underage- a problem that was solved on its own within a few short months, and we began a friendship that I will always treasure. We always laughed about how I was scared of her at first! But she accepted me as family right from the beginning, and I loved her as if she were my own sister too. Sadly, she fought a hard battle with breast cancer and we lost her at age 35. She was an incredible person and I could write a whole lot about that, but for today, this is what I need to say. Grief is a funny thing. When we lose a loved one, I believe it really does change us forever. In the beginning the pain is raw and deep and you wonder how the world can keep right on spinning. Eventually, it ebbs a bit, and as years pass, ebbs a bit more. It becomes easier to live with, but it never goes away. Sometimes you notice the kids got out the set of Colorforms she sent for a Christmas gift all those years ago, and you remember her unforgettable smile. Maybe the tears well up a little at the thought, but they don't spill over this time. Or, EVERY time you bathe a baby, you smile because you can't help remembering how much she LOVED tiny little baby butts. Every time. You can still hear her laugh in your head! But it also makes you sad to think that now there are 3 more babies she never got to meet. Some days you read a story about a cancer survivor and wonder, just for a split second, why did THAT person make it? Why is cancer so ugly and MEAN? And still other days...you look at the calendar and realize with a jolt that THIS is the day she slipped away and became whole again. And you are right back there in that moment you first got the news that she was gone, 8 years ago... crying in a hotel bathroom, trying not to wake the babies sleeping on the other side of the door but unable to make sense of it. And you remember the fresh hurt and unfairness of it all, and to be honest you don't really want to commemorate THIS day. No. Not the day that hurt so very much. It's much better to remember her birthday...anniversary...heck, any day but this one- days that represent the way she LIVED and loved while she was here with us. And yet this day comes every year, and we remember anyway. I love you, Chellee. I am glad you are dancing in heaven and without pain but damn it, I miss you, girl. All the time.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Full Circle

So my sweet little baby has somehow morphed into a toddler, and we will be celebrating his first birthday in just a few days! It's crazy to me how quickly that year went by, and I thought it was time to do a little update on his hearing.

Because hearing loss is technically considered a disability, Micah qualifies for extra services through the school district (and yes, this starts from birth!). It is optional, but when they called and offered, I really liked the program coordinator and what she had to say, and then when she and a visiting teacher came to our home and met us and we talked some more, I REALLY liked the visiting teacher. So, she has been coming about once a month, just to help me keep tabs on Micah's development. We are particularly interested in learning HOW he hears, and his speech. So far there has not been a single point of concern for either of us, and because his hearing loss is unilateral and his right ear seems to be perfect, it's not likely he's going to have any problems with speech. But, these meetings are kind of a security blanket for me, at least until he really starts talking well- and it's also nice to have access to extra resources if we want them.

At our last meeting I told her I feel like I have almost come full circle. First there was the struggle with the possibility of a permanent hearing loss (which is kind of funny terminology to me, considering he never had it to begin with!). Then there was the actual diagnosis, and all the ensuing worry about what that might mean. But as Micah continued to grow and blossom and it quickly became apparent that he doesn't know what he doesn't have and is already learning to compensate for it, his hearing loss has almost become a non-issue. That's not to say there won't BE issues- he definitely hears differently, but he does hear, and most of the time it seems he hears pretty well. As he has become more mobile, he is learning to seek out the source of sounds and is usually pretty quick to figure it out. We've noticed that he has a habit of sitting on the floor and twirling himself around in a perfect circle, which I suppose could just be fun because we have hardwood floors, but I believe it is his way of scanning his environment for sounds. He is already saying a handful of words (though he stubbornly refuses to say anything even close to Mama, and seems to think it is funny, the little stinker!). He clearly understands a lot more words, too, as he should at this age. But I get why it is said that hearing loss is an "invisible" disability- because anyone who did not know he is close to deaf in one ear would probably not notice he has any kind of problem. For his sake, I hope he learns to read lips early and well!

So at this point, we've gone from "how could this be and what will we do?" to "no big deal". I am very conscious to cater to the good ear and help cue him visually as much as possible, and it has just become habit. We will continue to see the Audiologist to have his hearing tested about every 6 months for the foreseeable future, just to make sure that he's still hearing well with the good ear. Sometimes there's still a little sadness about it, like at his big brothers' basketball game today. I had a little pang when I realized that it would probably be difficult for him to play in that same environment, where two games are going on simultaneously in the same gym, because even I was having some trouble figuring out which ref was blowing his whistle. Also the crowd noise was a bit bothersome for him because it was very loud and confusing. My guess is, though, that if I don't lead him towards feeling sorry for himself, his hearing loss will always be more of a problem for me than it will be for him!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Comparison Is For Shopping

So as you may know, we are a homeschooling family. I ended up in that pigeonhole totally by accident- though I do believe that God put certain key people in my path at the right times, which led me to where we are in that journey today. I always figured we'd put our kids in school like "everyone else" when the time came; the problem is, we were blessed with a November baby for our firstborn, and in California, that means he could've started Kindergarten at age 4/turning 5, or a year later. We decided to try preschool part-time when he was 3/turning 4, and it was okay, but not great, and I decided that I'd rather he be one of the older kids in his peer group. As such, we did not rush to register for kindergarten after that experience. But, he was so motivated to learn to read that we pretty much covered kindergarten at home in that year following the Preschool Experiment. Truth be told, once I had visited the classroom at the school we were considering, I saw how much time the poor teacher had to spend just trying to manage a roomful of K/1st graders, and I couldn't bear the thought of sending my baby away to school every day when we were doing so well on our own. So we just kept right on going from there!

Fast forward a few years and I'd say now the same firstborn child is working at roughly 4th-5th grade level or above in most subjects. He's a voracious reader, which makes my job so much easier; just don't ask him to write a book report! Writing is definitely high on our list for things to tackle this year. I think we're a bit "behind" in math, but he knows the basic operations and how to solve problems. Math in general comes pretty easily to him, so I haven't been concerned. However, I thought it would be nice to jump ahead a bit from where we are, and so I printed off a placement test for the Singapore Math curriculum we've been using to see if he might be ready to skip a book or two. He was excited at this prospect at first, (Ooh! A math test! No, really, he wanted to take it! Silly kid) but quickly became discouraged as he started going through the test.

He kept asking me questions and clearly needed me to sit with him, or at least nearby, to be available for questions- mostly terminology that we haven't covered yet, like "write 4972 in expanded form". (Heck, *I* had to look that one up...) Unfortunately, it was lunchtime in the middle of a busy day at this point and so I hollered from the kitchen to just put it aside if he couldn't do it and we'd either go ahead and order the next book, or go back and figure it out together another time. I walked back into the room where he was sitting a few minutes later and my poor, sweet boy was fighting back some mighty big tears. Surprised, I asked him what was wrong and he blurted out, "If I can't pass this test I will be BEHIND and I won't be in 5th grade!!" Oh dear. How did that thought get in his little noggin? Furthermore, WHY does it matter?

Well, so much for lunch. I dropped everything, sat right down in the chair across the table from him, and we had a talk. I reiterated to him one of my biggest goals, which is for my kids to KNOW HOW to learn, and, hopefully, love it- not learn how to memorize facts long enough to pass a test. He has heard me say this a million times, he knows this, and he gets it. I want my kids to have time to explore and play, and to experiment with things in order to find their strengths and passions. I am also a big fan of life lessons, and perhaps my number one rule of homeschooling is this: "homeschool" does NOT look like "school at home". My kids do not need to be sitting at a desk, looking attentively at me, in order to be learning. They are learning all the time; I couldn't stop them if I tried! So their "grade" doesn't mean squat in our world- simply tells them which kids to sit with in Sunday School, to be perfectly honest. But lately, he has been preoccupied with what he "should" know and what grade he would be in if he went to a traditional school, and I'm really not sure why.

I reminded him that at 9 years old he has accomplished a lot: there are few books he would be unable to pick up and read on his own (this is the kid who has already read the entire Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series cover to cover, at least twice each). He has an advanced belt in karate. He is gifted with music. He is GOOD at math, no matter what "level" his next book is. I said, "even if you weren't in fifth grade, why would that matter?" He couldn't really give me an answer but it broke my heart that he was so upset about it. And I think the poor kid has started to wrestle with the same lesson I find myself having to re-learn every year: Comparing ourselves to others is a bad idea, and rarely can lead to anything good when it comes to homeschooling. What works for one family may not work for another; heck, in my experience what works with one CHILD may not work for the others! But nevertheless, every fall I start to feel the pressure of what I "should" be doing, worrying about what I may have forgotten, and it makes me feel like I will never measure up.

Here's the cool part of this dilemma: Every time I feel this way, I end up reaching out to someone who has walked the path a lot longer than me, and they always, without fail, pick me up, dust me off, and set me straight again. God sent me the person I needed to hear from just this weekend, and I am so thankful!

It's been a few weeks since The Math Test incident. We've decided we won't skip ahead, we'll just order the book that comes next, and likely will be able to skip parts of it and move on from there that much sooner. And while I realize there are still some things I need to change, and I've got to somehow get more organized- it turns out I have just been measuring myself with the wrong yardstick.

"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?" -Anne of Green Gables

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Rambling Monologue About Blessings...

Lately, there have been a lot of challenges in my life- the kind of challenges that I would prefer to stick my head in the sand and ignore because they seem insurmountable, sometimes. I have ridden the rollercoaster all the way through "pack up the family and move out of state" to "put the kids in public school to get more hours to work" and back to "stay the course, do your best, and trust in God." And all along the way, it has taken my breath away more than once to see and experience just how much people love us and want to help in a million different ways, whether we like it or not.

I was talking our situation over with a trusted friend the other day, and she prayed for me right there over the phone. That, of course, made me cry. And when she was done, in my emotional state I felt a temporary moment of complete imbalance and blurted out something about how I just love my family, so, so much...and yet when we find ourselves in difficult situations it is hard not to feel judgement about having a larger than "normal" family, whether the judgement is actually there or not.

Wait, what?! Where did that come from? My own words kind of surprised me. Of course I want to be independently wealthy, and never need help of any kind, and give a lot more materially than we are currently able to give- but don't most people feel that way at one time or another, regardless of the size of their family? It made me realize that in this (stereotypically) 2-child/2-income world in which I find myself living, we really are a bit of an anomaly; but no matter how many strangers incredulously ask me "are ALL those kids yours?", the question never feels judgmental to me. I actually had a store clerk high-five me on a recent shopping trip when he asked and I said yes, they're all mine- he thought it was the most awesome thing he'd seen all day, and his reaction made my day too! I'm sure we are quite a sight to behold, and I think most people who ask that question are just surprised that yes, I DO have 5 kids under 10, and hey- they know how to behave relatively well in public, too!

I have definitely gotten the sense that some people think I'm a tad crazy, overwhelmed, etc., especially when they find out that we homeschool all those kids (which is a whole different blog, for another day). But I have also had just as many people look at my brood and tell me how great my kids are or even that they wished they'd had maybe just one more child. (No one has ever said "gosh, I wish we hadn't had that last kid...") Then there are the grandmotherly types who light up while they tell me about their 4 or 5 now-grown children, like the lady who approached me at a Boston Market one day. I had taken my then-hugely pregnant self and 4 kids to lunch in the midst of a busy day, and they all sat there together and ate well and behaved like perfect angels. It had obviously made her happy to have been able to sit across the restaurant and just watch my sweet babies for a little while, and she felt compelled to say so and then tell me about her own 4 kids. Sometimes I get affirming comments or stories from women who've had "Irish twins", or several rambunctious boys; or proud grandmas who want to brag about their grandbabies a little bit. I love being a part of that sisterhood, and I always stop and listen! It helps me remember I am definitely not alone in my hopeless addiction to babies. Each of my children was a gift from God and as such it shocked me, even as the words were coming out of my mouth during that phone conversation, that I could ever fall victim to that kind of worldly thinking- that people must think I "shouldn't" have so many kids if I cannot always and without fail provide for all their needs and wants. Lord knows that has never been MY belief, but my natural tendency is to want to have it all together and be beyond reproach in everything, 100% of the time. Talk about setting myself up for failure, I know. Goodness, who can ensure that? Look at all the natural disasters we've seen around the world in the last year or so. Whole towns wiped out by tornados. The Tsunami in Japan, the destruction from which I still cannot even fathom. Fires. Floods. Even as I type this there's a huge hurricane headed for the east coast. My own hardworking husband has been laid off more times than I care to count, through no fault of his own. You name it- things happen, and they are going to happen regardless of whether I have 3 kids or 13! So I am not going to allow what others MIGHT think about large families dictate any of the details of my life.

I realized quite a long while ago that I am probably never going to be one of those people who can confidently say, "Oh, no, I am DONE having kids! No more for me, thanks!". And I have been blessed with a wonderful husband who, bless his heart, indulges me and loves me anyway! Now don't get me wrong, 5 young kids is a lot to juggle and maybe I AM done. But the bottom line, for me, is that if God has more kids to give me, I will always happily take them, whatever that may look like. And this is only cemented more in my heart every time I sit back and watch my big kids delighting in their newest sibling. My kids truly love each other, and every time a new one shows up, it just grows. It is an awesome thing to behold.

So getting back to the challenges... one thing I have learned as we've traveled this bumpy road is that a whole lot of people love my family more than I ever realized before. We have been blessed by friends and family time and time again, with everything from childcare to prayer to business referrals to unexpected cash when we really needed it. And as uncomfortable and difficult as it is for me to ever ask for help of any kind, I believe that part of this journey has served to teach me that while it is definitely good to be the giver, sometimes simply opening the door and allowing others to help blesses them even more than me. I've had a chorus line from that song...I think it's called "Changed"... running through my head a lot lately: "we have been blessed, now we're going to be a blessing". I really do want to feel more like I'm being the blessing, but I also believe we reap what we sow; hard times are temporary and it'll all come out in the wash. And in the meantime, I am going to take comfort in the grace and love that continue to rain down on me and my family, and hope that until I can pay forward even a tenth of it, we ARE blessing others, even when it doesn't always feel like it.

We have been blessed– now we’re going to be a blessing

We have been loved– now we’re going to bring love

We’ve been invited– we’re going to share the invitation

We have been changed– to bring change, to bring change

We have been changed– to bring change, to bring change

-Aaron Niequist

Monday, June 6, 2011

Coming to terms

For part 1 of this story, click HERE.

Well. It would seem that my sweet, perfect baby does, indeed have a permanent hearing loss in his left ear. We haven't yet met with the ENT so I suppose there is the outside chance that the initial testing is wrong, but it is evident in his behavior that he truly cannot hear on the left side. It has taken me quite a while to digest this information, but I think I have just about come to terms with it. Today I had to take him back to the audiologist for a THIRD time, because they wanted to re-check his right ear to be sure that he's hearing well on that side. Of course there was no way he was going to go to sleep at the office, which I suspected would be the case, so the audiologist we saw today decided to try a different kind of test that is usually reserved for older babies/kids. He responded pretty well to it and as a result, she was confident that his hearing is normal or at least darn close to normal in his right ear. His left ear, however, shows probable nerve damage, which is permanent. She told me that he can likely hear very loud sounds in that ear, but definitely not softer sounds like normal speech, etc. The good news is, because of the one good ear, his speech/language development should be just fine. The bad news is, he cannot localize sounds, and will probably have a hard time filtering out background noise- turns out you need two ears to do that, so he's going to have to rely more on visual cues than those of us with "normal" hearing.

Maybe it was just that I've had some time to process, but hearing that today didn't come as such a punch in the gut this time. The ultimate truth, for me, is that God has blessed us with an absolutely JOYFUL little baby, and he is perfect just the way he is. And as tends to happen in these situations, God puts people in our lives who allow us to see Him in just the way we need, at just the right time. One of my favorite people happened to be soliciting prayer requests on her Facebook page recently, so I gave her mine, and this is what she said: Sue...oh sweet Sue. I will pray. I will pray for your heart and for your sweet Micah. I think, as believers, the "Ahhhh" is in knowing that none of this surprises God. He formed Micah in His image ...divine design. He already has a purpose and plan for him and every bit of this now...all if it weaves into shaping Micah and preparing him to fulfill the destiny God has already prepared before him. So rest easy, Momma...love him, protect him and watch God do mighty things with him. :)

And so I read those heartfelt words and I cried. And after that my heart felt better, because I knew she was right; and not only that, I learned in that moment to separate the clinical diagnosis of "hearing loss" from MICAH. He is awesome-so awesome that I've threatened on more than one occasion to change his middle name from Alexander to Awesome! He does not know that he can't hear the same as everyone else, nor does he care. He has his Daddy's smile and personality and he's just HAPPY. I don't know why things worked out this way for him, but I do know that as I drove to Children's Hospital for our appointment this morning, I was very, very thankful that it wasn't an appointment for something much worse, even life-threatening. So as my grandmother used to say- this is one of those times when I need to just keep both oars in the water. We'll figure this thing out together, one step at a time. I have been blessed with an amazing husband and family, the very best friends, and a double batch of awesome kids! Can't ask for more than that.

Coins, Coins, Coins!

So here's a "frugal living" themed post. Have you ever used one of those coin-counting machines you see in the front of most grocery stores these days? I've done it just a couple of times before, most recently when I was on a late-night ice cream run in my hubby's car and decided to dump his cup of loose change in to see how much was in it. It paid for the ice cream and then some, by the way- almost $9 in loose change just sitting in his center console, and I left him a bunch of quarters, dimes & nickels for parking meters!

In the past I usually would just walk right on by those machines, because of course they charge a fee for counting all those coins, and I have kids who can do that! Coinstar charges 9.8 cents on the dollar for coins counted in their machines-ouch. HOWEVER, this time, I noticed a FREE option. That's right- you can now dump your change jar into a Coinstar machine and trade for a gift card or eCertificate to quite a variety of places. (Amazon, iTunes, Old Navy, Starbucks- just to name a few of my favorites!) Maybe this has been going on for awhile, but it was news to me! There's more specific info on the Coinstar website if you're curious to find out more. But you can bet I am now itching to take my big bucket of coins to trade in for an Amazon gift card!

Speaking of Amazon...I have also gotten hooked on using SwagBucks as my search engine of choice, because I can earn points that get me Amazon.com gift cards! There are lots of other options, those have just been my prize of choice. I have "earned" about $30 in gift cards just by searching the internet via the SwagBucks toolbar. If you'd like to check it out and get started for yourself, would you do me a favor and use my referral link below? That way I get credit for you, too!

Search & Win

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not the "Birthday Party Mom"

You know, before we had kids, I used to really love to entertain. I think I still do- I am always stressed but then glad, after the fact, whenever we have friends come over. I was reminded of this recently when old friends came to town and dropped by with their kids for an impromptu pizza night. They didn't mind our mess, the kids played together, and we had a lovely time catching up! But living in a perpetual state of chaos with 5 kids underfoot makes me feel like I'm always behind and disorganized (probably because I AM). I'd love to be a good housekeeper and have it all together, and maybe someday you'll be able to visit me and sit on the couch without having to move a pile of laundry first. But in the meantime, I need a wall hanging that says "God Bless This Mess!" My favorite comment of all time came from a friend who once said, on her way out: "I love this house. People LIVE here!" Indeed, we do.

So, speaking of the kids...I have been wishing lately that I could be that "Birthday Party Mom". You know the one, she plans her kids' parties weeks or months in advance, makes up little goodie bags for all the guests, gets the cake just right, has fun party games planned, etc., and pulls it all off with a smile. Yeah, well- I am NOT her. I have had every intention of letting my kids have "friend" birthday parties, since now they've been invited to so many they know the drill and want to do that, too. But it would appear that I do not have the birthday party gene! I am sad to say that my poor Olivia's birthday came and went 2 months ago, and she is STILL waiting on her party. I finally gave up and offered her a plan B: she could invite her best friend for a girls' afternoon out instead, and I would take them to Build A Bear Workshop and then to a fancy cupcake shop for a treat afterward. I was relieved when she jumped at the chance! So now I just have to plan the day and work it out with the friend's mom, who offered to take my boys in exchange. Thankfully she does not seem to care about celebrating so far PAST her birthday! And at this point Kiera's birthday has now come and gone, too, so I think we'll just make it a double celebration. Thankfully Kiera, being 3, had a much simpler idea of what her birthday should be. All she wanted was presents and cake and lasagna for dinner, bless her heart! She didn't even have any gift suggestions or really care what kind of cake. The "little" birthdays are the best!

I don't know why I worry about it so much. I guess I just want my kids' birthdays to be special for them- I don't care so much about my own birthday, but I do love their birthdays. Each and every one of them is such a treasure, and I love the opportunity to celebrate them! We have our own traditions, though, that hopefully will be the things they remember as adults, not the lack of Chuck E Cheese birthday parties. The birthday kid always gets a candle in his or her breakfast, for example. They can choose whatever they want, which usually ends up being donuts, and then they can open gifts in the morning after breakfast so they have all day to enjoy the birthday loot. Of course they also get to choose their birthday dinner, and sometimes lunch, depending on how the day goes! Sometimes I sneak in the night before and decorate their bed or doorway while they're sleeping...just little things that fit their love language and hopefully make them feel special. And in the end, isn't that really what it's all about?