Coming Alive Again

The last few weeks have been rough. Like, dragged through the mud, thought I was going to die, rough. Not just the kids giving me a hard time or being a bit tired. I’ll explain. This will be long winded but it has been necessary to process this properly and that takes time (and words).

On Monday morning, January 15th, I woke up with a small, slightly sore and red spot on my right breast, telling me that I had not fed Simon enough from that side overnight and I was starting to get mastitis. So, like the dozens (literally, dozens) of times before, I nursed from the right side throughout the day, hoping to head it off before it got any worse. By the end of the day, the spot was still there but the pain was gone and I had never developed flu symptoms so I figured I was done with it. I made supper and around 6:30 I was sitting with Mike and brushed my hand against the side of my left breast when I moved my arm. It was sore, which was odd because it was the opposite side. Then I realized that while I was feeding from the right side first all day, I had likely missed at least one feeding from the left, if Simon had nursed from it at all. I tend to have oversupply right until I wean and when I don’t empty enough, I get mastitis.

After folding some laundry around 7:00, I told Mike I was in rapid decline and by the kids’ bedtime, I was feeling like I had the flu. I got chills so badly I couldn’t hold still and decided a bath was a good idea. The bath was nice but I knew I wasn’t getting better yet. At 10:30 we decided I should probably go to the emergency room but after the bath, I was looking a bit better to Mike (no shaking after the bath) so he wasn’t certain. It took us until 11:30 to make a decision because on the one hand, I didn’t want to wait so long that things got worse but I didn’t want to make a fear based decision, either. A pretty conservative, wait and see friend, said she thought I should go in and we finally made it to the ER at 11:45. I didn’t have to wait long for triage and as soon as my blood pressure and temperature were taken, I puked. I have never had nausea with mastitis before so this was new. I got into a room and they immediately got me an IV with fluids. I threw up again at some point – the timeline is very fuzzy – and eventually the doctor came and ordered IV antibiotics.

Mike left the hospital around three in the morning after a few hours of sitting by me while I dozed, made woozy and fuzzy headed by the Gravol they gave me for the nausea. I slept off and on, waking up once an hour or so to have my vitals taken and in the morning, I was given another dose of IV antibiotics. After that, they gave me a prescription and Mike came to pick me up. I had an appetite and felt ten times better than I had the night before so I assumed this would be the end.

Mike took the day off on Tuesday and Wednesday through Thursday were spent resting as much as possible and feeling like I was operating at thirty percent of normal energy. I wasn’t sleeping well, was still in a lot of pain and the entire left side of my left breast was red and splotchy. At the end of the day Thursday, I knew things were not going well as I had still been running a fever off and on and the pain wasn’t getting any better, even though I’d had 48 hours of oral antibiotics.

Back to the emergency room I went, this time having Mike drop me off so he could go home and put the kids to bed. I waited two hours to be seen by the triage nurse and then another fifteen minutes to be given a bed. It was probably ten minutes after that when the doctor came in – the same doctor who I had seen on Monday night – and he quickly agreed that things were not improving fast enough so I started another dose of IV antibiotics.

I spent another night in the ER, this time having a terrible time falling asleep. I got two doses of antibiotics while I was there and noticed a huge difference in how I felt by the time I had to leave the next morning. Mike took another day off but I was amazed at how much better I felt. I took a shower just after I got home and while I was standing there waiting for my towel (my sweet husband put it in the dryer while I was showering), I felt the water on my skin and just felt alive. This was significant because I realized that I had not felt alive like this in a long time.

Most of Friday was spent really thinking about how I have not been taking care of myself very well. I have re-committed a few times this last year to loving myself, proving to myself and others that I am worth the time and effort it takes to renew my mind, body and spirit. But I have failed myself over and over and this was more proof of that. I get distracted by my phone, Facebook, time wasters, and don’t pay enough attention to what is going on each day. Missing a few feedings because I have a busy baby is one thing, but in this case, I was so preoccupied on Monday with what I saw as my failings (I even blogged about it) that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that God has a plan for me. That there is something He wants me to do. And as I thought about all of this that Friday, I realized that it’s going to start with putting a little bit of time, effort and maybe money into myself. Over the following weekend, we heard a speaker who talked about how two things in a Scripture that seem opposite can be true at the same time. It occurred to me that putting myself first and putting myself last can be true at the same time. I don’t need to see it as an all or nothing situation. Women who do this often pour themselves out into their families and neglect themselves or do the opposite and pour themselves into their own pursuits and neglect their families. I need to find the balance of the two. I’m going to start with the tangible things. Blogging more, because writing is and has always been important to me. Allowing myself to be creative again. Getting a pedicure or a massage now and then. Maybe getting a gym membership, just to have it in case I want to use it. Paying someone to come in and help me clean once a month or so. I told Mike all of this and he didn’t hesitate to agree that I’m worth it, even if I have to borrow from our savings account to do it. Why is it so hard for me to do these things for myself?

I wrote a few months ago about reinventing myself – this overwhelming desire to make myself new, different. Someone was talking about words for the year around New Years and the word renewal came back to me. Renewal is not reinvention. It is taking what is here and making it new, rather than trying to erase what is and make something else from scratch. God created me to be who I am, I just need to find who that is, buried somewhere underneath all these years of being a mama. I don’t want to be the mom who wrapped herself up so fully in her kids that she’s totally lost when they fly off on their own. I want to build into myself in positive ways now so that I have something left of that when I’m no longer spending every day in motherhood.

I am very aware that this will take effort on my part. It may require me to step outside of my comfort zone in the area of scheduling and routine, but I am also very aware that it will be worth it in the end.

Stop shoulding on people!

I am probably the one-millionth blogger to write a post on this subject. This is not an original thought. The title line is often a plea to “stop shoulding on yourself,” by saying no to things you are constantly feeling you “should do” when they aren’t right for you. Or something like that. You understand.

Scrolling YouTube in search of an entertaining BuzzFeed food video (there are so many!), I noticed the thumbnail for a “clean your house in thirty minutes,” video and it reminded me of tips I’ve gotten from friends or online about keeping my house clean. My mind wandered and I thought about cooking and how apparently if I was a serious cook, I “should” totally have my own garden. I could hear friends or acquaintances saying it in memory – “Oh, you should totally have a garden! Your kids would learn so much responsibility!” And then everything else. I “should” do the _______ diet plan because it works so well and it’s not even that hard to follow. I “should” do something different with my savings because what I’m doing now isn’t good enough. I “should” get a certain curriculum for my kids because it’s just so amazing. On and on and on.

I will admit that sometimes these well-meaning friends and acquaintances “should” me because I have mentioned that we’ve hit a roadblock with learning and need to figure things out, I’m having a hard time losing my baby weight or I would love to garden but just don’t feel like I have the time. I know mentioning these things sounds like an opening for advice but sometimes it’s better not to go there. I try not to complain because I know it’s an open door for opinions but I also attempt to be honest about where I’m at and admit that my life isn’t perfect.

I’m getting better at owning my decisions. I’ve been married for thirteen years, and I’ve been a mother for twelve. I’ve decided that a garden is just not something I can invest in right now. I have seven kids and going to the gym (or doing a DVD workout) and being on a diet of any kind, let alone one that requires me to prepare my own separate meals, is just not something I can do without sacrificing my sanity. My house is NOT going to be perfectly clean – ever. A little bit of clutter is at least a semi-permanent fixture in my home.

I have a suggestion (not a “should”). If you feel tempted to tell a friend that they “should” do anything other than have a wonderful day, try using a question instead.

“Have you considered having a small garden and letting the kids do all the work?”

“Have you thought about the _____ plan to lose some weight? It worked really well for me.”

“Have you heard of the _____ method of decluttering? Maybe that would help.”


It is a much gentler method and even if the answer is, “No,” down the road if she’s struggling with the issue again, she’ll remember a gentle response from you instead of a “should” that might make her question her decision or her abilities.

I believe that we can all help each other out by sharing ideas and experience, but we don’t always know what the other person is going through and how our “shoulds” might come across.


Combating “never enough” and getting unstuck

On Saturday night, I explained to Mike that I feel stuck in everything right now. I know I need to make changes in so many areas, but I lack motivation to get started. I know how to make changes but I can’t seem to take the first step. I’m stuck.

So when our pastor preached yesterday on declaring our connection to God by speaking out Acts 17:28, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” it struck a chord. He said that by declaring this connection, we can combat “fix it myself,” mode. And really, that’s what I’ve been in and why I’ve become so thoroughly stuck. You can only struggle to fix it yourself for so long before you burn out. And when you’re trying to fix every aspect of your life because all of it feels so screwed up, you will have a hard time succeeding on your own.

When we declare the connection we have to the Father, we begin to slow down – we stop rushing to and fro trying to get it all done and figure it all out. We have a choice in front of us again instead of being driven to fix everything. We turn ourselves back to face Him when we make this declaration.

Our pastor also talked about interrupting our “natural thinking” – something I would take a step further and often call, “thoughts planted by the enemy” – with God’s Word. When I gained freedom six years ago, it was because I learned how important it was to take my thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and started to practice that. It’s something I have not been great at for awhile now, though.

Yesterday afternoon after a few “aha!” moments in church, I watched the movie “Embrace” – a documentary about body image. There is a lot I could say about it but the message I took away was that we waste so much time thinking and worrying about how our bodies look. This has been more important to me than how my body feels, which really doesn’t make sense. I want my body to feel good and that probably means making some changes to my diet and how often I exercise. But the main goal should always be health, not looking “good” by the standards of western society.

This morning, I got my first email from No Sidebar, a minimalism ecourse. And instead of giving me a challenge on the first day to go through a closet or pare down my collection of kitchen appliances, it pointed me to three posts about being enough and challenged me to simply say “I am enough,” to myself ten times throughout the day. I have written and deleted more than one blog post on the subject of not feeling like I’m ever enough. Not enough in the areas of parenting, marriage, housekeeping, physical health, etc. And the point here is not that I should stop changing because I am enough, but that who I am is enough. I can change my habits and improve but it’s not about changing the core of who I am, but what I do. And I know deep down that I cannot do it all at once, no matter how much I wish I could.

I always imagine that making new rules to follow will change everything. Buying a new journal to write in every day, tracking everything I do (or eat), using my planner religiously. But in reality, nothing ever really changes because my motivation is all wrong.

I cannot deny the power of all of these things coming up in the last two days, particularly since I had that initial conversation with Mike on Saturday. It all works together and motivates me to think about change in a different way. To realize that it won’t happen all at once, that it’s going to take hard work but most of all, peace as I walk through it, not drivenness. And knowing that I’m not making change to be enough, but that I am already enough, so I have what it takes to make these changes successfully.

Table Time

For lack of a better term, borrowing from what friends call theirs, we have started having a bit of time at the table together every day. I want to keep it up because so far, it’s actually a positive change for us. My boys have been just a little bit more interested in learning lately and I’m trying to run with that while giving Jenny time to do a few more things that might be requested by her teacher. Yesterday everyone did their own thing – Jenny working on various things, Ben reading a book (the only book he says he can read), Erik and Elias working on printing, Sam tracing in an Usborne wipe-clean book and Oliver moving back and forth from one activity to the next. Today we did an animal facts game. I read the facts on half a card and the kids had to guess which animal it was. Ben got five right and each of the three oldest got ten. It was fun and low stress and didn’t feel overly structured.

The fact is, we have structure but very little of it has been devoted to learning. Kids get up, have breakfast, the kid of the day has their two hour computer turn and usually a few others watch or help them. After that, they clean up the designated room in the basement, have lunch and start their one and a half hour turns on the tablets and/or Xbox. This means most days, they only have an hour and a half of personal screen time and some days they have two hours more. A movie is watched occasionally by one or all but generally they spend any other free time they have making up games, playing cards, Lego and every so often reading. With the recent push to get Erik and Ben reading and the start of my Usborne selling (and therefore buying), there has been an increased interest in books. But really, by the end of every day, I found myself wondering if they really would catch up. Or even start pursuing learning more as they got older. Or would it be like this every day? So two nights ago I had a sudden inspiration to ask them what they thought of a daily time at the table doing “schooly” things. It was a mixed response but we tried it out anyway. I have no desire to start traditionally homeschooling but I have toyed with the idea of enrolling Sam next year which would mean reporting to a teacher (and increased funding for him). A little bit of routine in this area would make it a lot easier to do that without stress.

Sometimes change is necessary and good. Sometimes it’s also hard. This change is likely going to be harder for me than my kids, though.

Whole Life Learning

We are unschoolers.

That title gets us a lot of strange looks and questions that are sometimes hard to answer, at least without getting people upset, offended or just weirded out.

A friend of mine said that she prefers the term “whole life learning” over unschooling. I think I agree, although it might be difficult to change (yet again) what we call ourselves. At the beginning of the “school year” I was just determined to stop saying, “home schooling” and start saying “home educating.” And then I learned a bit more about unschooling and realized how well it works for us, at least at this part of our journey.

But really, what we are doing is learning from our whole life, not just a set number of hours set aside for education each day.

We park hopped on Friday, starting the day off with a big group of home educated friends in a park in town. The kids played in the playground but spend a lot of time in the woods, too. And these are the moments that fuel me when it comes to childhood, education and life. My kids, playing with each other and loads of other kids, just being kids. Image

Now, I can’t tell you exactly what subjects were covered on Friday. I can’t tell you that they learned about some specific bug and therefore covered their science requirements (we have no requirements anyway). I will tell you that they had a really good day and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We were able to hang out as long as we wanted and then move on to something else. They ran their wiggles out, got terribly dirty, fed some friendships and laughed. This is just a little piece of what whole life learning looks like to me.