Humble Pie..

This pregnancy has been humbling. That’s a gentle word for it, anyway. When I got pregnant, I was in the best shape I had been in since before having kids, even though I didn’t weigh much less than before I got pregnant with Oliver. The month of January was spent working out of a daily planner in order to keep on top of meal planning, decluttering and general housework. I wasn’t working out every day but had a good routine to maintain my level of fitness. And then I got pregnant. It was not unexpected and I was very excited.

The first few months of pregnancy were exhausting. I couldn’t work out, couldn’t clean the house, stopped using my planner and only barely got meals on the table half of the time. I was so sick and the medication I was on to make me feel better made me even more tired. Finally, about halfway through, I stopped taking it and started to feel a bit better. For a few weeks. The typical second trimester energy just never kicked in for me and then suddenly I was in the third trimester. My weight gain by around halfway was over twenty pounds and as of right now – 35 weeks – I’ve gained nearly forty-five pounds. I have felt heavy and slow and tired and incapable of many things that are usually just part of normal life for me.

The latest development is a return of a pinched nerve or compression in my shoulder that sends numbness and pain down my arm every time I sleep. I’ve tried sleeping sitting up, somewhat reclined on the couch and on my back (which has only been possible for an hour or so a few nights ago). I even went so far as to bring my zero gravity lawn chair inside the house last night and slept in for a few hours but even a reclined position didn’t prevent it from happening. I went back to bed sometime after seven and cried – sobbed – about the whole thing. Big, messy crying from pain and frustration and total exhaustion. Mike prayed for me but I know he’s having a hard time with all of this, too. Kind of tough to go from having a wife who is on top of everything and keeps you and your kids fed and happy to having a wife who is in pain all the time, crying at the drop of a hat and waking you up with all her tossing and turning.

A few weeks ago, I decided the best way to get through these last weeks was to stay busy – have some sort of project for each day. Now I’m faced with produce I bought to can and a whole load of unfinished projects around the house. I watch as other women, just as pregnant as me, tend their gardens (I never had one), can their produce, take daily walks and make creative meals nearly every day. I can barely stay awake today and really have no idea how I’ll make it through another five weeks like this. I warned Jenny and Elias today that if things don’t improve, they will have to pitch in a lot more around here. Honestly, I’m tempted to hire help but then I feel that people will wonder why my husband and oldest kids aren’t doing more around the house to help me.

Needless to say, there are a lot of mind games going on here. It’s hard to stay focused on what is important and while I’m looking forward to holding this baby, it’s not easy to wait and endure the physical and mental trials that this pregnancy has brought me. I have learned my limitations and while I would love to rest when someone close to me tells me to rest, I just don’t know how to do it without everything completely going to pot around me.

Fixing Things

Two weeks ago, we had a “something’s gotta give,” moment. Wednesday is cleanup day and Thursday is computer day but it took the kids until Thursday afternoon to finish cleaning up which means they did not get their two hour turns on the computer that day. I realized (yet again) that they had a staggering amount of toys/books/clothes/etc and very little organization. So I woke up last Monday morning with what was almost an epiphany – we would do one hour a day of cleanup, using a timer, and with five weekdays and five kids who use the computer, each kid in order of age could have two hours a day to play games, watch Netflix, etc. once we got the cleanup done for the day.

There were tears from a few kids who clearly do not like change and were struggling to see how one hour a day was better than morning until evening on Wednesdays. I told them that we would try this through the summer and that I would be with them for that hour so they wouldn’t be doing it on their own. I knew this was necessary because a) they get distracted easily (um, they’re kids!) and one hour on their own would be far less productive than one hour with mama’s help, and b) being there means I get to be sneaky and throw out/donate things that they never use but would undoubtedly keep if I wasn’t there.

Last week, we put in one hour a day of cleaning – sometimes a bit more if I felt the need to add a few minutes due to total lack of cooperation –  and we finished their playroom, which is also where Elias and Erik sleep. I spent nearly $60 on under bed storage so that most of the sets of toys could be stored out of the way. It’s not perfect and I’m confident that we could get rid of a lot more, but it’s way better.

This week we’re working on the “big room” which is our large downstairs family room and is a second play area as well as where all our books are stored, where I workout (when I’m up to it), where they watch movies and play Nintendo. It needs a TON of work. We started yesterday and it looks worse than it did before but that seems to be the name of the game in big decluttering/organization projects like this.

My goal is to make the entire house functional and easy to move out of at any point. Not that we are planning to move but I’ve lived through two moves that were totally dysfunctional – throwing things in random boxes and sometimes not even unpacking them for years. Last night I opened a sealed box to find a bunch of candles I’ll never use, knick knacks I don’t need or want anymore, empty frames that I was apparently saving to use again and various other small things. 90% went into donation boxes. This is proof that those haphazardly packed boxes are not something I want to do again.

The most daunting thing about this job is that I’m slightly more than halfway through pregnancy right now. My energy levels are better than they were six weeks ago but not as good as they have been in earlier pregnancies. This one has been tough on me. I would love to see everything done before this baby comes but I know that it’s not that likely. So we’ll keep trucking away with one hour a day and I’ll try to fit in a few hours a week decluttering my own stuff (hello, craft/laundry room) and hope to be half done by the fall. I’m trying to be optimistic that this is a reasonable expectation and that if I have a few days with extra help at home or the kids out of the house, I might get a little bit further.

It is very clear that the old system was broken. I just hope that this one will get us to a better place and make it easier for the kids to clean up their own messes in an organized fashion. And for that matter, help me clean up mine as well.

Chaos

We have moments of calm, hours of quiet at night, half an hour at a time when all the kids are occupied and at peace. But we have a lot of chaos. We also have a lot of stuff. I have been seeing the connection between the two more and more recently.

Last week, two large wildfires threatened rural areas outside of town, well enough away from us that we were not really threatened but still felt the need to be prepared. It occurred to me during that time that we have way too much stuff. When I considered what I would want to save if our house were on fire or we needed to quickly evacuate, it was only important documents, two heirloom quilts from my grandparents, our wedding photos, our backup hard drive which has photos and documents from 2006 and on and Jenny’s baby album since we didn’t have a digital camera when she was born. These things would fit in a large Rubbermaid bin and the rest could be destroyed and I wouldn’t care all that much.

When you start thinking like this, it makes you wonder why you bother keeping all of it if you don’t really care. I always have reasons – we need lots of books because I want my kids to love reading and have plenty accessible to them at all times. We need all the toys because there are so many kids and they might all want to do different things at the same time. These two are so easily refuted – the books barely get touched because they aren’t organized at all and there are so many that choosing becomes overwhelming. The abundance of toys means that six different things (or more, actually) get dumped out at once and fighting is a constant thing because sharing and cooperation don’t actually come naturally when there is so much stuff.

I know people who have downsized and simplified and found that it brought a big change to their homes and families. Most of these people had two young children or no children at the time of starting the process. The more kids I have and the older my oldest children get, the more daunting the process seems. It is also difficult to imagine doing it without Mike being 100% on board and enthusiastic. He doesn’t mind having less stuff – he welcomes it – but he’s not the type to dive in next to me throwing stuff out. I’m the sorter, the seller, the decision maker on stuff in this house. With everything we have, it feels like too heavy a burden to continue bearing.

Transparency and pain

I’ve had a teary couple of days. Triggered by some changes around me that were not totally unpredictable but still felt sudden and leave me feeling stranded and lonely. Also triggered by the strangest thing – spending an evening talking to a bunch of other homeschool moms after a meeting. I came home happy and optimistic until I took a moment to think about these people I had just been talking to. They are all slightly more than acquaintances. They are “fringe friends.” Friends on Facebook, people I would happily talk to in a grocery store when I run into them every six months, some who I have had long and meaningful conversations with that left me wanting more time, more opportunity to get to know them, to continue discovering the string of things we’ve just found we had in common.

Just writing that last run on sentence made me gasp and sob. I am so painfully lonely sometimes. But because I’m friendly and people seem to want to spend time around me at events, I probably don’t come off that way. All these fringe people have a best friend or a small clique of sorts. Someone I often see them with, who they carpool with to homeschool or church gatherings, who they potluck with as families. They like to talk to me – I won’t deny that – but they don’t have time for someone like me in their real lives. Someone who has many mouths to feed and many boys to try to keep under control.

We had friends who understood that and loved us and embraced the craziness. They had us over when we lived in our tiny house because they knew it made more sense to gather in a larger space. We still have these friends but they live across the country from us and have now for nearly two years. There is still a hole left behind.

There is also an assumption that I hear often, that we spend most of our free time with our family. That isn’t true, either. The bigger our family gets, the less we do together because we are just so overwhelming as a group. And when it is your heart conviction to leave your womb open, the future just holds less and less acceptance from those around us. Our families love our children but we don’t hang out all the time. I don’t invite people over often – family or otherwise – because the work involved in cleaning up and cooking and serving my own family plus extras is overwhelming to me. When I do have people over, I spend most of the time feeling like a terrible hostess.

I have become a fairly accomplished homebody. I can stay busy with things at home and not think about the loneliness. I get some amount of connection on Facebook – a place that I will acknowledge is not “real” but gets me by. I talk to moms in the nursery at church. Most are women just starting out with their first babies. In their eyes, I am “crazy”, “brave” or a “super mom” for having so many kids. I’m old, seasoned and established and I am darn good at keeping a smile on my face. I have no desire to be vulnerable with fringe people because I know it just looks like self-pity. And it probably is. I have no desire to be vulnerable with my family because they will call me out on it and skim over the very real pain I am in. Even writing this is only possible because I know there are only one or two people who read what I write (hi, Carol). If I thought those who I see on a weekly basis were reading it, I wouldn’t allow myself to be so transparent.

I’d love to chalk this up to hormones. I’ve just entered my second trimester, I’m still sick and tired but not quite as sick and tired as I was a month ago. I have gained too much weight and feel clunky and unattractive. I am constantly behind on everything around my house because I just don’t have the energy for it all. All of that is reason enough to shed a few tears and I know I’m not the only pregnant woman to do it. But this hurt just came bubbling up yesterday. A hole left much longer than I anticipated after the departure of my dearest friend and a realization of the distance I put between myself and other people in an attempt to hide all of this from them. I know the looks I’d get, the comments people would make if they knew. And I just don’t feel safe so I keep hiding it and burying it under being a “crazy” pregnant mother of six children.

The significance of Seven

Mike and the kids call it “Simy” – a combination of the names Simon and Amy, but I have just been thinking of it as “Seven.” The last two months have been challenging, tiring, exciting and surprising. I realized now that my last blog post was made more than a week after I knew I was pregnant again but obviously was still keeping it quiet. And those first few weeks weren’t very different than normal for me. I was still decluttering, working out, eating somewhat decently. And then it all hit at once and keeping it a secret wasn’t an option and continuing along as I had been wasn’t either. I traded workout clothes for pajamas and decluttering for puking and sleeping.

I have told myself that this is a season. This will pass in time – hopefully relatively soon. I have felt a bit better in the last week but I have already gained an astonishing amount of weight because I feel hungry all the time and way worse if I let myself stay hungry. I also had a scare this week and so I’ve been resting even more than normal, just when I was getting to the point where I thought I might be able to start doing small workouts again.

This pregnancy feels particularly significant – there was a long time in our marriage where our plan was, “At least four; no more than six.” Our hearts and minds were changed along the way and so when I found out about this one, there was a different kind of excitement for us. The kids were all predictably thrilled (I’ll post our announcement video at the bottom) and while no one else was really surprised, I have really only had positive encouragement from friends and family.

This last Monday, I got to see this little person on a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was okay after I had some cramping and bleeding. It jumped and waved its arms and legs and seemed to even do a somersault. Reassuring and beautiful. I wish I had video of it but in the moment, I was just transfixed watching that screen. I’ve never had an ultrasound this early (it was at eleven weeks) so it was a new experience, knowing that that tiny little thing – so clearly a baby already – was only the size of a Brussels sprout but so active.

I already feel like I’ve been pregnant for a long time – in another week, it will have been two months since I found out. I’ll be glad to get into the second trimester and hopefully have a lot more energy and a lot less morning (all-day) sickness.

Here’s the video of how we told the kids. I especially love that it was Elias that figured it out after we kept giving them clues.🙂

Pressing on

As I pressed the “compose” button to write this, I had a thought. I know one or two people still read my blog but otherwise, why do it anymore? Why continue when there isn’t much of an audience? I suppose just because I need the outlet way more than I need the audience. An audience is nice. It’s great knowing someone is reading (like the person who has liked my posts frequently this month – thank you!) but it’s not a necessity. The truth is that I like the idea of journaling on a regular basis but I hate writing by hand. I can handle a page or two now and then but it’s just not my favourite thing to do. Anyway, that’s why I do it. This is a reminder for myself just as much as it is a statement to whatever readers I might have. Thank you for reading but if I ever get annoying and you need to stop, no sweat. I don’t even care about stats anymore – I just need to write.

So, “pressing on” isn’t even about all of that. This is back to my current gargantuan task of decluttering my entire home. I have so far finished my kitchen and have essentially finished my bedroom although there are some boxes of things that need to be relocated once I’ve organized other parts of the house a bit more. But this week I have been tired and it has been tempting to take a nice long break from the work. The fact that I’ve only been at it for a few weeks is reason enough to not allow myself a break just yet. We have had a busy week (hence the tiredness…someone please remind me not to book three morning appointments in the same week) and I do need to give myself slightly less to do when there is a lot going on outside of the house. I am also being reminded to show myself grace. If something isn’t done at the end of the day, it will just have to be moved to another day. I get a bit stuck in past perfectionism not seeing a task checked off at the end of the day so I am trying to be more intentional about giving myself a break when I don’t get it all done.

Delegating is also something I hadn’t even considered, aside from the responsibilities that the kids already have here. I had two big bags of baby girls’ clothes that I was hoping to pass on to a few people but one wanted the small things and the other wanted the bigger things. The sizes were completely mixed together so I had planned to sit down and sort them according to size. Then it occurred to me that the friend who wanted the larger sizes had only one child and does not work outside of her home. So I sent her message, asked if she wouldn’t mind sorting through them and passing what she didn’t want to the mutual friend who wanted the smaller sizes. And it worked! She didn’t mind at all and came to pick them up within hours of my original message. More proof that sometimes I just need to ask for help instead of assuming that no one will want or be able to help me.

This is not my most brilliant writing but again, it’s good for me to put it all out there to process what is happening right now. I will keep at this job and hopefully be done in six months or less at the rate I’m going now (I think four months is actually a possibility). Now to avoid burnout, show myself grace, allow myself rest throughout the week when I need it, and delegate when necessary.🙂

Explaining the two book goal

I haven’t mentioned it here but one of my micro-goals for 2016 is to read one non-fiction book per month and one fiction. I have a lot of back reading to catch up on in the non-fiction area so if I feel like finishing two a month, I’ll let myself. But I’m determined to hold to the one novel a month rule.

On Sunday, I mentioned this to the church librarian, a woman in her fifties with grown kids and a work from home job. “Two books a month?! I could read that many in a day!”

“So could I,” I answered.

This isn’t about me not being much of a reader and forcing myself to read two books a month. This is because if I allow myself to read fiction, I use it as a form of escapism and disappear into it until it’s finished. And if there is a sequel, look out, because I’ll do the same thing with that as well. When I came back from Georgia in 2011, I decided to limit my reading to Christian fiction or classics as the amount of gratuitous sex in most modern secular fiction was totally unpredictable and seemed to show up in even unexpected places. My brain and heart don’t need that so I made the commitment to avoid it. But I also avoided fiction in general for two years or so. I went from reading stacks of books a month to nothing, mostly because I recognized my tendency to escape into fiction and how my real life suffered from it.

In December, possibly when we were sick, I read a Francine Rivers book that I had gotten for free on Kindle quite some time ago. It felt good to read for a day or two but I knew then how easy it would be to get back into old habits and watch my home and family suffer for it. But I don’t feel that reading fiction is wrong – don’t read this the wrong way, please – I just think it should be limited. Personally, I know that I can work on a non-fiction throughout the month and gain from it (non-fiction has never been a form of escapism for me..it’s just not the same) and use novels as a means of rest once a month. I’m not very good at stretching a novel out very long so it does mean that a day or two each month, I’ll be immersed in something and then not read any fiction the rest of the month.

In January, I read the sequel to December’s book and in February, I plan to read a friend’s second novel which I have already bought for my Kindle. I am using my planner/organizer daily and with Sundays being set aside for rest, I can imagine starting a book on Saturday night and finishing it on Sunday. Other Sundays I can nap, use my colouring book, play the Sims (guilty pleasure, I admit) or just hang out with my family.

I have a lot of friends that have very lofty reading goals for the year. Good for them! If they can continue to live in the real world effectively and read that many books, I’m in awe. I just know that personally, my real life is just too full and real to allow myself to escape more than once a month into a fictional world.

Reflections on work and rest

Eventually I’m sure this whole planning thing will become old news and I’ll move on to other topics but it has become a normal – if somewhat novel – part of my life so it’s on my mind a lot. As I was writing out my tasks for this week, I came to Sunday and left it blank. In the past, Sunday has often been a day when I would catch up on laundry or some other job around the house, just because Mike was home and I felt bad sitting around. I have often intended to use it for rest but when the week prior to it is full of mostly laziness and procrastination, it’s hard to feel okay about resting on Sunday.

Yesterday I had completed most of my list for the day and sat down to check Facebook. It occurred to me that I felt just fine about taking a break. I was struck by the feeling that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my time. I know many people think I must be busy all the time, that my “hands are full” with all my kids but in reality, they do their own thing most of the day and I do mine. I make meals, sure, and I generally have been able to keep on top of laundry and dishes and workout on a regular basis but beyond that, I feel as though I had fallen into a very lazy lifestyle.

I read a quote at the beginning of the year, encouraging moms to “do hard things,” this year. I have avoided this big job of decluttering or even giving myself set daily tasks because they seemed hard. I’ve long admitted to being a hater of housework and while my work ethic in a job outside the home is great, for some reason, I have a pretty crappy work ethic here. I’ve wallowed in self-pity around the mess my home has become and seldom make any effort to get rid of the self-pity or the mess.

I know this isn’t a new thought but it genuinely is one to me. I’ve watched my husband work a long day and then come home and rest without feeling the need to do a bunch at home. He helps if I need him to but he doesn’t feel guilty about sitting down and putting his feet up. And here I’ve been, barely doing anything but feeling guilty about sitting around because most of my time has been spent doing nothing! I am excited to see what this year will look like; what a year of balanced work and rest will do for our family and our home. And I look forward to Sundays – naps and eating out and putting my feet up.

Planning update

This is not an exciting post but I felt that my commitment to more frequent blogging and my last post required an update of sorts. I’ve used my planner faithfully since I bought it just over a week ago. I realize that this is not very long but it feels like ages when you don’t consider yourself a planner to begin with. My pages are full of notes, appointments, goals, etc. I have found that other than pre-planned activities (appointments, homeschool events, etc), it is best for me to only plan two days ahead for daily at-home activities. This month, I’m working on de-cluttering my kitchen so each day I’ve been planning out which areas I want to work on. It has also helped with meal planning. Every day, I decide what we’ll have for lunch and supper and if I forget to plan it ahead, I’ll write it down after we’ve eaten so I can remember how many days in a row we’ve had sandwiches, whether we’ve eaten a specific supper recently and so on.

Another function I’ve found is not built into the organizer (I keep saying planner but it is actually called a “family organizer”) but I’ve added it for my own sake. A friend came to visit last week and so I wrote it in to remind myself of when we had company. I don’t write in a daily journal so this will help me remember things that my brain wants to forget. When we went on our short trip last week (we took Oliver with us to Seattle for a wedding and left the other kids home with Grandma and Grandpa), I kept track of what we did each day using the book. I wasn’t sure before we left who we would be seeing or where we would be each day aside from the wedding itself and the travel days so the spaces were empty anyway.

So the big question is whether this seems to be making any difference. I’m only nine days in but so far, I have definitely been more productive and less forgetful. As long as I start the day by looking over the page for the week and adding things that I have decided I want to do, I am able to stay on track. It does require me to look back over the plan for the day a few times but that has been less work than I would have expected.

The biggest downside has been that my mind seems to be in planning mode all the time. I know some people like that but I feel like it could make living in the present difficult. I will have to find a balance between accomplishing what I’ve planned and taking time for rest or fun throughout the day, as well as spontaneity where the kids are concerned.

On buying a planner

I have friends who love planners. They talk in this secret language with brand names and features and favourite page formats and it all sounds like Greek to me. I have shaken my head on more than one occasion – I would never use a planner. Not me!

I think sometimes that my brain is a bit of a hippie – a fly by the seat of its pants, spontaneous, fun-loving thing. But as I get older and have more children, my brain is a little more like a real-life Woodstock sort of hippie, forgetful and confused, wandering around without its pants.

So, last year I did something new and put up a dry erase calendar in my hallway. I wrote all our appointments and important dates on it at the beginning of each month and erased it all and started over at the end. It helped, gave me an easy place to keep track of everything and probably kept us from forgetting a few things throughout the year.

On January 1st, I sat down with my journal and wrote two pages of micro-goals for this  year. Many of them had the word “plan” in them. This seemed to be a sign. When a friend suggested that she was thinking about getting a planner, to sit down with in the morning and plan out her days, I realized that maybe – just maybe – it would help me as well. So I went shopping today, picked one that seemed to fit my needs and even got it for 50% off. Will I become a planner-nerd (no offense, planning friends)? I doubt it. Will it help me to feel more organized and less like a chicken with its head cut off? I certainly hope so.

I tried not to make my goals lofty this year but there are a lot of them. I know that spacing them out (the concrete ones at least) will help to get them done. And writing them down in an orderly fashion seems to be the smart thing to do.

One goal that I did not write down in my journal is to blog more in 2016. Here’s hoping I can accomplish it! In 2015, I had nine entries here. Years ago, I was an almost daily blogger. I know I can’t go back to that but weekly would be a great improvement.