A Switch

I’d waited fourteen months to share that last post, never quite feeling ready to go there. (You know how it is…right in the middle of the hard time is the time you can’t really handle talking about it.)

But it has been so healing to entrust you all with the struggle and to hear from several of you that, while all of our issues are different, you get it!

Thank you for being awesome.

Someone recently asked me if I had a peace about where I find myself and I hesitated, not quite sure. But I don’t think about it all the time any more. I’m not avoiding the tears if they want to come, and they aren’t coming now—at least for now.

WordPress tells me, appropriately, that I celebrated my five-year anniversary of orangerie yesterday. Perfect timing to tell you that since my free storage here has been filled, I’m switching over to write at  http://www.orangerieinpencil.wordpress.com

Same drivel, new address. A fresh start. :) See you there.

Grief

When you know, absolutely know, that this baby is your last, every joy and every blessing can be two-edged, a mix of grief and pain and guilt and love so strongly felt that it’s painful.

It has been a hard, hard year. The initial euphoria of holding my miracle baby gave way to the reality that I would never again experience all of the terrible and wonderful stages of life-giving: the morning sickness, the growing belly, the kicks, the hiccups, the kid-at-Christmastime anticipation of knowing that tomorrow is the day that you’ll meet your baby, the moment when you first see him or her, the nursing, the…the everything.

It is so beautiful.

It is a transcendent gift, this life-giving.

And it is so much more fragile and uncertain than I ever realized.

Acceding to my doctors’ recommendations that I have a tubal ligation done during my cesarean was, as I had prayed, an abundantly clear decision given the state of my uterus and abdominal cavity.

But even so, I have been mired in a morass of grief and guilt and uncertainty and the feeling that I was too young to have this stage of my mothering over with and the feeling that I couldn’t bear it if I were to never again hold my own baby in my arms.

On Toni’s first birthday, I cried all alone in the van, thinking over and over again to myself, I’ll never have another baby under a year old!, and, when I weaned her a little over a week ago, reluctantly but because I needed to to be able to begin to support my sagging emotions and mental state, I burst into tears on a date with Jarret and at home and so many other times, finally giving myself over to mourn the fact that the one mothering thing I did well, this nursing thing, was done and never coming back.

I’m feeling better now; I think I hadn’t let myself mourn the loss of my fertility that entire first year, choosing instead to drown those negative feelings in ice cream and mind-numbing entertainment and obsessive house projects, but now that I have tried to clean up my eating and removed ice cream as an option, I’ve had no choice but to feel the feelings and I cried more about ending nursing in a week than I did the entire first year of Toni’s life. And that’s been a good thing.

I will never know if I could have had more beautiful babies like Honoria and Antonia, babies healthfully brought almost to term despite the concern of my doctors. Maybe I should have had more faith. Maybe I robbed myself and my family by giving into fear. Maybe I would have died in my next pregnancy, robbing my husband and five currently existing children of a wife and mother.

But, even in the worst-case scenario, even if I have made a mistake, God is with me. Regardless of the might-have-beens, He is good. And if it weren’t a mistake, but simply one of the hard things in this life, He is with me. And one thing I am waking up to after fourteen months of fog and grief is that I have six beautiful people in front of me—a wonderful husband, five amazing children. And they need me back and normal and healthy and happy and ready to nurture and serve them and to be grateful to God that I have been given so much more than most in this world.

There’s always grief in the feminine experience of fertility in the life of a woman, whether she is single and her biological clock is ticking or married and struggling with infertility or miscarriage or the loss of an older child or having her last child, whether it be first or eleventh. And there is, alternatively, hardship in the blessing of fertility as an overwhelmed mother learns she is to be blessed with a sixth child when she’s hardly started healing from the nutritional and emotional tolls of her five previous sweethearts or the woman who deals with postpartum depression or hormonal imbalance after each pregnancy, as I have. Or the mother with a child estranged or addicted.

It’s never easy, this life, is it? I’m thankful for the few to whom I’ve entrusted my story this year, like when I cried talking to Cheryl in Panda Express and across the lunch table at Holly’s house and when I should have cried in the nursery with Carrie, but, you know, I was at church and it would never do to emerge with red eyes looking like a weirdo. I hope that from now on, I can be as real in person as I wish to be on here, showing my weakness and allowing others to do the same. Because it is the only way forward.

Sciency Skeletons and Such

We’ve been persisting in keeping to a five-day school week with a skeleton skedjule on Thursdays because of needing to get our the door for our every-other-week co-op, and it’s been working pretty well.

I definitely feel like canceling school on Fridays and using it for extracurricular activities and field trips, but since we have five days per week worth of curriculum to get through during the school year, I figure we’ll give it our best and see what happens. Usually life happens, and a little extra oomph now will help that not be so stressful later.

Science (and History, which I will talk about later) is slated for twice a week at Happy Hour, but, for various reasons, I find it hard to fit in. I guess the running to the gym and co-op and stuff several times a week would explain that! But when we do it, it’s pretty awesome. I’m already obsessed with health and nutrition right now but have next to no training, so an elementary guide to the human body is just what I need. Today we studied the skeletal system, and after reading the textbook and taking notes and drawing a cross-section of a bone, I grabbed an awesome skeleton model from some stuff Amy gave me and we assembled it together.

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The boys, after about an hour of listening to me read and then assembling this thing were getting pretty silly at the end of it.

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As you can no doubt perceive.

They’re cute and now they’ve been released from academic torture for the day back to their room and their legos.

As far as History goes—well, I was going to read from MOH 2 (Middle Ages, just awesome stuff), and supplement with audio Story of the World cds, but the same difficulty with finding the afternoon time to sit down with the boys and read aloud applies.

Not to mention the fact that Abel begged to be able to listen to the Story of the World cds in his room and then kept coming out to tell me things about Mary Queen of Scots or, once walking through the Promised Land—er, Ikea— about that one thing in Shakespeare about the woods coming toward the castle and then they did, because they were men disguised as trees, you know the one (yeah, apparently I’ll have to listen to them myself again to clarify some stuff) and I thought to myself: “Self, you can drag out that textbook and read to slightly disinterested boys or you can sell the textbook, buy it on audio cd, and have both SOTW and MOH Ancient Times and Middle Ages to listen to and they’ll learn better than they ever would from you! And with no effort! This is a no-brainer. You can use that time to peruse Houzz looking at beautiful kitchens.”

And that was that.

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Honoria is very motivated to pull out her special pink binder with her special pink pencil pouch and to complete her Little People worksheet for the day. She’s just so stinking cute and earnest and actually good at school, even when I wasn’t really planning on having her do it for real! (But don’t tell her that.) I think I may buy her the preschool/kindergarten workbooks from my favorite company (can’t remember right now) when she’s finished with these dollar store ones.

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We just can’t help it; Dining Room School has devolved into Living Room School and we love it. Even the tired Toniabegonia.

Who is pulling herself up and standing! I’m so used to wishing she’s stay babyish that I’m perpetually amazed when she seems inclined to grow and develop like her (much advanced) peers. Wayyyy too cute.

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Speaking of Ikea, I bought this gorgeous bamboo tablet holder so I can chop veggies and watch cooking videos to motivate me. Weirdo that I am, I need these kinds of things to make kitchen work fun.

I actually think that some day I could say “I love to cook”, which would be a serious miracle. But I just keep on coming back to the fact that it’s kind of my main job! I mean, it comes around like seven times a day or something ridiculous. And if I want my family to be healthy, it’s kinda all on me.

So Ikea, here I come for more of your exciting kitchen organizational stuff. I just LOVE you.

[I used to have a picture of me hugging an Ikea sink, which would have been appropriate to insert here, but I felt it was disloyal to my current kitchen sink so I deleted it. It was, of course, incredibly lovely.]

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Sort of like how I used to love fire extinguishers in my youth. (??)

Anyway, I’m feeling similarly loopy as my boys, apparently. Time to go put that chicken in the oven and make myself a blood-sugar regulating snack.

Thursday

Because I know that my psyche is a little more fragile at this moment (you know, the messed-up hormones), I’ve done a little withdrawing from Facebook and blogging and just kind of been doing my own thing. (Still checking it a few times for a minute or two to make sure I know if someone has had to communicated with me on there.) For someone who usually loves the interaction and attention (letsbehonest), it has been nice.

Maybe even more than the social media aspect (because I have awesome friends), it’s the fact that I don’t go down too many shared-article rabbit trails right now. I just can’t handle them! They touch on every fear-about-the-future nerve I have and I collapse into a my-kids-will-be-living-in-modern-day-Rome-but-worse ice-cream depression. So it’s better that right now, while I have zero coping skills for that sort of thing, that I stick my head back into my home sand and pretend that my job is to live a quiet and peaceable life taking care of my kids.

Because maybe it still is, and maybe we fragile humans don’t need to carry all the weight of the world on our shoulders just because the world is suddenly small and we know everything that’s happening in it.

Anyway, we nurturers of young souls, we need to protect ourselves so that we’re not a mess trying to raise up sweet people! I don’t think I need to solve the world’s problems right now, but I sure as heck need to take care of the kid with the headache and the kid needing help with long division right in front of my eyes. You know?

So. Here’s how I’m taking care of myself:

  1. Limiting online stuff, although I have been researching the Paleo diet, nutrition, and watching cooking videos with my kids somewhat obsessively.
  2. Exercising three times a week, two times Zumba and once on my own, which always means I wuss out and don’t really do anything. I need groups!
  3. Drinking a ton of water with lemon.
  4. Drinking a ton of tea and no more coffee.
  5. Taking my supplements.
  6. Turning down the lights at least a half hour before bed, using the twilight app on my phone to turn the color to reddish rather than daylight-like blueish and going to bed as soon as Toni does, turning off my phone immediately to avoid the temptation to use it in bed. (My phone use has significantly decreased. I now usually only use it for podcasts and the quickest checking of Facebook! Amazing!)
  7. Waking up early with Jarret to get his breakfast and tea and lunch made to send him off for a more healthful day.
  8. Forcing myself to get right to the school table when my first student appears sleepily from the hall and needs breakfast and an education.
  9. And now, working on my eating. Again. Sigh. I’m so bad at the eating thing. Serious praying needed.

Stuff

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I love it when we get back from a store/park/library trip and half of the kids are so engrossed in their books that they don’t even get out of the van and the other half find somewhere outdoors to spread out and read and I get the world’s greatest Quiet Time ever. And when Toni keeps on napping peacefully in her car seat and someone is willing to stay with her so she doesn’t end up waking up to this slightly scary but totally cute situation:

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Abel said (after he went out to check on her for me) that she was absentmindedly petting them and perfectly content. Lol.

And you’re welcome for the gorgeously unedited complete mess that is my van. Although usually worse than this.

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Love it when Jarret and the boys are busy doing manly things, this time loading up for a post and beam framing job for GKH because framers are in such high demand that the GKH office guys decided to wade in and flex their muscles. What did I do while he was working his Saturday away? Oh, just get a pedicure with a friend and go to Ikea. What could be better? Basically nothing.

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We’ve been thoroughly wringing the awesome out of this weather at various and sundry parks. Can you see Toni?

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Especially our own Yvillian park.

And doing school, although life has been a little crazy so I’m determined to keep any outings to after noon. We can’t go out in the mornings or the whole day is weird and someone inevitably misses their spelling or writing or second laundry chose and we can’t have that!

I’m getting determined enough to get my health in line that I quit coffee on Friday and it’s been better and less bett than I thought it would be… Always weird muscle pains and such. But it’ll be worth it. I’m already sleeping so much more deeply! And I’m trying to rein in my eating and stop the ice cream and it has been two days so aren’t you proud of me? I feel like a rock star. Carrots and guacamole and berries and dark chocolate and great eggs with bacon….why can’t I ever remember how good eating quality food is?!?

I’ve been researching nutrition like crazy and am going to get back into my old traditional style of eating ways as soon and we get our paycheck and I can buy some Bubbies sauerkraut and a whole chicken for stock and such. I’m seriously fired up!

I’ve been binge-listening to these incredible podcasts (Balanced Bites) and am so obsessed with whole foods right now. And digestion. I wish everyone would talk with me about number two and its health implications but people get all weird about it. But come on! We get that’s eating is important and we talk about that but we never talk about how to tell if it’s actually working properly! Anyway. Lol. I’m not actually going to ask you anything of the sort, don’t fear.

Finally got my hormone results back and (shocker) I have sky-high testosterone and incREDibly low progesterone. Now to supplement them back into balance and let’s pray all the mood swings and irritability and cyclical depression and lack of motivation evens out to the actual me I remember being! Thank God for the ability to realize that there’s something going on nutritionally or hormonally and for the ability to change it. My family needs me back to normal! I totally recommend that ladies of childbearing stage (well, probably any age) get themselves tested if they’re feeling sub-optimal.

I just LOVE this type of weather! Sunny but window-openable! The best ever.

Schaos

That is one awesome-looking word. From now on, this is the term for school chaos, which encapsulates a typical morning at the Helmeschool perfectly.

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I sit down at the head of the table, kicking Abel out of the comfortable chair, and pull my school cart closer so that I can be supremely lazy and not have to budge to grab anything for some time.

My coffee and my hardly-drunk water glass are just beyond my perpetually half-filled-out homeschool planner, just within the reach of  kid binders which are shoved and pivoted at unexpected times just so that near-spills can occur often and gasp-inducingly.

Toni begins her morning pilgrimage from the living room, crawling toward me through the detritus on the kitchen floor crying piteously and assailing my fragile eardrums, which have already been under attack for some time by four other children who are simultaneously asking me to read them the instructions on their Little People workbook, correct their paragraph on Desert Tarantulas, explain why 4,569 x 5, to their reckoning, equals 5,678,978,875 and why would that be because they did it all right! and whether they can skip cleaning their (filthy) room today, just for once.

Oh, the eardrums. They’re actually physically quivering under this auditory assault.

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We are loving our writing class. wpid-wp-1442526028254.jpg

My kindergarten scholar loves her new workbooks and her pencil case.

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I feel lucky to be drawing a model of a cell with two actually interested kids.(We love the Golgi bodies especially. Their ridiculous name and curved pancake appearance makes them easy to appreciate.)

My house looks like a picture from Worse Homes and Gardens; the fridge is a masterpiece of randomly placed greasy handprints, my faux leather couches are wearing at an exponential rate, every horizontal and vertical surface in this place is covered with germs, grease, crumbs, and spiders caught guiltily wrapping up their latest kill.

Somewhat tidy but always filthy and beginning to show its age and its many inhabitants.wpid-wp-1442519706315.jpg

The dishes and the laundry are never done. I tidy the homeschool room and kitchen after all of school and breakfast and lunch are done and the next snacky kid undoes the whole thing in an effort of admirable catastrophic efficiency.

Yesterday I was discouraged enough to moan all date long about this to Jarret; today I feel positively positive, as the sunshine warms my arm through the open patio door and the sound of kids playing somewhere outside wafts in with a bit of coolness, a fly, and a grasshopper or two.

I’m in the middle of For the Love, by Jen Hatmaker, and it’s having a nice, gracious effect on my soul right now. Our houses and kids and ourselves don’t have to be perfect! Duh! How much of my life is frequently ruined by forgetting this pivotal truth? Seriously. None of this is that huge of a deal.

Routine Ramble

Once in a while, while organizing a drawer or something, I’ll come across a crumpled piece of notebook paper, covered with some sort of philosophical role-determining (in one, I saw that a year or so ago I had I determined that I am responsible for a) health, in all aspects, which means I cook and provide healthy food and encourage exercise and hobbies and skill-building and supplement-taking and relaxation and hymn-singing and Bible-reading for all of my family and, among other things, b) chronicling the life and times of the family, which includes blogging and photo taking but which really should also include doing something with the thousands of pictures, and a bunch of other things toward which I am or am not naturally inclined but which I do truly believe are my role as wife and mother) or party-planning lists (ugh, I’m no Carrie Q.), or school-routine-figuring out.

I just found the list I’d scribbled a few weeks ago when school snuck up on me and I was feeling that panic rise like bile in the back of my throat and I was feeling like, how am I ever going to fit in all the new subjects for my poor boys? How are we going to do it all?!

So I’d sat down and wrote the names of my kids at the top of the list and then the subjects I wanted to cover and made up a few more of my time-chunk names (y’all are long familiar with Morning Routine and Quiet Time and Tablet Time, but meet Happy Hour and Power Hour [lol]) in which to do them.

So. My day goes as follows: (Provided, of course, that I don’t have to go into the dentist in the middle of the morning for the third repair of a broken filling, like yesterday. I hereby announce my intentions to treat my mornings as an actual job and not plan anything before one o’clock. I’m sticking to this! It’s too difficult to accomplish all of the school and the chores and the food and the dishes any time before that.)

6:15 Toni comes into bed with me for a quick snuggle before she goes back to sleep, hopefully for an hour or two, if I’m lucky!

6:30 I get up and start making coffee, pop pre-made eggs into the toaster oven to heat up, and assemble Jarret’s lunch from leftovers, any veggies I can find, a week’s worth of jars of Muffin in a Mug mix, and make sure he has his supplements ready. At some point he comes in and pitches in, creaming our coffee and grabbing plates and forks for breakfast. We don’t talk much, but there’s an unconscionable amount of flirting despite the fact that I look a wreck.

7:00 He’s out the door with his large red and white lunchbox, laptop bag, water bottle, and a huge grin. I eke out a little time in my recliner with my coffee and my breakfast but I try to force myself out of my chair the minute a kid comes around (except for Tabi, who is currently reading quietly on the couch beside me) and wants to start doing school. Have you noticed I’ve barely been on Facebook lately? This is so good for me and my kids (I’ve been massively convicted at my terrible example of technoreliance, so I’m really trying to work on this and school has been admirably keeping me busy enough that I don’t really miss it.)

7:30 There’s usually somebody in the dining room pulling out a binder or two, so I bring my water and my coffee into the dining room and settle in to answer any questions. First, I fill four glasses with a little magnesium drink and set a probiotic and a skate liver oil pill next to the kids’ places at the table. These supplements, which we’d neglected for a few months, took our kids from constantly fighting in the back of the van to a more normal amount of sibling scrappiness and, I think, help my boys think well. Thank God I remembered them for my own issues right before school started! The more behavioral leg-ups we can get, the better!

I also write the date on the whiteboard, along with a “fun fact” ;) Lol. Anything to make school special in my new fun-mom persona.

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7:30ish-11:00ish We all hang out at the dining room table, everybody working their way down the list inserted in the front of their binder and marking each item off with an eraseable whiteboard marker when it is complete: Grammar, Spelling, Cursive, Math (Abel’s Math is on the living room computer, so he disappears for a while and I hear the voice of the teacher and, even though Math is my favorite subject to teach, it gives me a good feeling that there’s a secondary approach that may fill in his gaps), Bible, and Writing. (Ah, Writing. I will talk about you in a future post.)

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At some point, Abel is done and he puts his binder onto the School Cabinet to indicate that I need to check it over to give him permission to go have his Tablet Time. I flip through to each subject and quickly correct it, then scan the list and verbally ask him if he’s done the various chores and school subjects on it, then set him loose for his hour of Tablet Time.

This frees me up to have only three people inquiring one thousand things and I can give Lachlan and Tabi and Noria any one-on-one time they may require. For Noria, I just write something cute in her notebook (“Honoria”, with a heart over the i, which causes her to take in a sharp and very pleased gasp when she sees its beauty and then she copies it rather well and proudly) or have her read something out of 100 Easy Lessons. I’m also dealing with Toni at this point (although Noria’s new chore is to play with her in the living room, which works for maybe forty minutes, so it’s not nothing) and trying to do some dishes and maybe pop something into the crock pot and keep the laundry rolling, because certain individuals need reminding on their chores about a thousand times and may have somehow gotten inexorably drawn into the living room and are now watching over their brother’s shoulder when they should be working, so I have to call them back and subtract time. It’s pretty chaotic but also fulfilling.

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So then at some point it’s lunch time and then after we finish and clean up (I mostly clean up, it’s not in their chore expectations), it’s Quiet Time from, say, 12:30 to 2:30, and I need to make sure I’m rather stern about that because my brain is definitely needing some downtime, some no-decisions-time, some no-thinking, or, rather, thinking-without-distraction, before we launch into Happy Hour, which was my genius way to add in Science and History and IEW without overloading the boys who’d been used to a school load only as large as the Morning Routine I already described. By splitting it up, I figured, we would all be excited to come back together for some more learning. Plus, I figured, this would be at the time of day where the light fades and I feel slightly depressed, so a little tea, some books, a fire, and some cozy living room hanging out would be nice.

I was right.

So, Happy Hour is an hour or two after Quiet Time, and we do History on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Science on the T’s. I am deliberately choosing to do typical textbook Science and History with them this year but never felt that these electives were necessary before my boys had gained the reading and writing proficiency they finally have. The three R skills before all the rest! So I’m feeling happy to see that the last two years have gotten them up to where they need to be and I can add in the fun stuff carefully and Noria and Tabi aren’t expected to have anything like this many subjects.

We will have a homeschool coop starting up in a while, which would provide a fun outing on alternating Thursday afternoons, so Thursday’s Happy Hour may be at lunch time.

Then Free Time, then Dinner, then Dinner Chores, then more Free Time, then bed.

Actually, two of the nights I have Zumba, so we eat and leave and meet Jarret at the gym for an hour’s workout and then get home in time for dessert and a nice early bedtime.

It’s working out well, provided I don’t plan too many (read: any) morning outings!

Oh, and Power Hour is supposed to be some sort of exercise time. Hasn’t really happened yet but I feel like the name is sufficiently geeky enough to fit in with the rest. ;)