Friday, May 1, 2015

I don't know how you do it

I hear the question often, and I've finally gotten to the point where I don't get offended.  Most people are generally curious when they see a small brood of little people dancing around my legs.  I am going to take your question most literally and attempt to answer it here.

For the well-intentioned comment, "I don't know how you do it," let's first define the "it".  My house is often very messy, jobs are unfinished by the end of the day, the family menu is pretty basic and mostly not organic, and I am usually vegging out in front of the TV with my feet up once the kids are all in bed.  So in a lot of ways, the "it" is not very spectacular.  What do you mean by "it"?  That I keep the kids alive?  Well in that case, here are some quick ways to explain how I survive the day.

1.  The kids play together.  This is primarily the way I can get things done throughout the day.  With four kids in one house, there is always a play date happening.  Someone always has an idea for soon as breakfast is over there are always activities, suggested by the kids.  Obviously little kids' attention spans are short-lived, they do squabble over toys, and often their play gets LOUD, so it's not like I get hours to myself while they play peacefully and quietly.  BUT those dishes I never loaded in the dishwasher after last night's dinner?  I usually can count on at least 15 uninterrupted minutes to clean up the kitchen while they build the latest Lego castle.

2.  Naps.  There are actually only a few times during the day when I have to direct all four children at the same time (mealtimes and bedtimes are the intense moments).  But during the remainder of the day, they are often either entertaining themselves (see point #1 above) or are sleeping.  As in, not mobile, not hungry, not whiney, not anything but conked out safely in their bed or crib.  And even if only one of the Lynch Littles needs to snooze, that afternoon nap is sacred.  I count on it for the child's and my own daily regeneration.  Of course, the other thing I count on is ironically...

3.  No Naps.  Wait, what?  Allow me to explain.  The youngest of the Lynch Littles is at an age where he really can't avoid the afternoon nap, even as much as he fights it.  Even if we are all on the go, he inevitably will fall asleep in the car, or in the stroller.  But the older ones generally have outgrown that stage.  I originally thought I would be in a state of mourning when they dropped the nap, because that afternoon time was so integral to my sanity.  But as I discovered, dropping the afternoon nap equated with an earlier bedtime.  It has also meant that once they are in bed, they stay there.  Bedtime has become so much easier since they gave up the nap.  But wait, you say, there still are kids that need my attention during that afternoon sacred time.  Which brings me to my next point:

4.  TV.  OK, I realize that I may have invited all the perfect parents out there to criticize my decision to let my kids watch TV in the afternoon.  Go ahead and write your nasty comments.  Because honestly, I have very little guilt about allowing my kids to watch age-appropriate shows from PBS for a limited amount of time.  I don't rely on the TV to babysit my kids, but I do take the time when they are watching how Daniel Tiger learns to share so I can catch up on whatever jobs have been interrupted throughout the day.  And sometimes, I even take that time for myself.  I can squeeze in a workout video from my Kindle during a couple of episodes of Wild Kratts!  I even have time to shower!

5. Preschool.  Yes, even SAHM's rely on preschool.  I believe my children benefit from the time they can spend with other children their age, and I believe they can benefit from listening to another adult telling them what to do.  And the verdict?  They love it.  So yeah, I'm perfectly OK with dropping the oldest two off for 2.5 hours, twice a week.  It gives me a chance to breathe from the constant demands of four kids.  It's not an excessively long chunk of time, but enough to be able to think of what I need to do for the rest of the day, and week.  If taking care of my kids is like a track workout, preschool is like the short rest in between intervals.  Preschool also gives me some quality time with the youngest Lynch Littles, and that is invaluable in and of itself.

6. Community.  Even though new life is always joyous, I *may* have panicked a little when I found out I was expecting baby #4.  Who would look after my kids so I could go to my prenatal check-ups?  Who would watch the kids while I was in the hospital?  How would I manage to keep up with the usual laundry and meal planning, all with a newborn?  We live pretty far from family, and the baby was due at the start of my husband's coaching season, and arguably the busiest time of year for a schoolteacher.  But you know what?  My husband's colleagues and their families all rallied.  They brought meals, they allowed me to drop off the older kids for a few hours, they gave me baby clothes and toys, they simply checked in.  The grandparents took their turns to make the 8 hour drive and visit for even a short weekend.  Packages arrived from faraway friends.  Despite all my anxieties, our little baby's birth was a true celebration of life.

Ultimately baby #4 finally taught me to rely on all this help.  When my older kids were first born, I tended to bristle when someone went ahead and folded the laundry, when someone set a plate of food in front of me while I was nursing.  I am strong and self-sufficient, I shouted in my own head!  Stop stepping on my confidence!  It only took the fourth kid for me to realize that my self-perceived independence was really just an outward sign of my own self-righteousness and pride.  With the fourth baby, I had no other choice BUT to lean on others.  I let go of my false sense of control, and it was beautifully liberating.

So that's it.  There is no magic formula or secret system I implement.  And despite all that I've written above, most days are still tiresome.  Joyful, but exhausting.  This parenting gig is hard, no matter how much help you have.

I suppose the greatest answer I have to "how do you do it all" is basically, I don't.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Five Minute Friday

Inspired by Abbey's always-artistic style of writing, I decided to emerge from my winter blogging hibernation and participate in a new link-up.   So this is me putting myself out there, my very first appearance at Kate's site...which is ironic because the theme for today's Five-Minute-Friday is...


Hiding in the Loud

The other night I was lamenting to my husband at how I can never seem to have anything complete: there is always unfolded laundry, the kitchen is still somehow dirty (even though I felt like I was stuck there all day cleaning), I haven’t gotten a chance to exercise, and there are toys everywhere (even though I barked at the kids to help clean up).  And then he gave me a little gem of wisdom:
“It is not about managing four little kids, it’s about creating a home.”

For a minute I started to get it.

And here I am feeling completely lost again, trying to figure this formula out.  The kids are literally running back and forth in our playroom area.  One is dressed, another is half-dressed (pants are optional), and one is still in her pajama’s.  I would like to have lunch.  Do I go into drill instructor mode, ordering them to get dressed and get downstairs?  Do I let them continue to run wild, allowing them to play and be happy, and setting my agenda aside for a little longer?

As Bambi announces to his mom, “Winter sure is long, isn’t it, Mother.” 

Please help me to navigate this impossible ebb and flow of quotidian life, this managing vs. creating.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Worth Revisit Wednesday

Trying something new: I'm adding an oldey-but-goodey post to Worth Revisit Wednesday Link-up over at Allison Gingras' blog Reconciled to You.  The post I chose is actually from my other blog,  Catholic Working Mama, but it definitely fits the bill for La Joie Inattendue.  So sweet to re-read these memories from when my twins were barely two!  (And perhaps a good reminder to re-locate those saint baseball cards and introduce them to the younger brothers.  Ahem.)

Read more WRW posts at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb!

Giants Meet St. Michael
(originally posted on May 29, 2013)

I never fully appreciated the gift of sacred images and icons until I had kids.  The purpose of oral tradition and visual depictions of sacred history was certainly downplayed in the Evangelical tradition of my own childhood.  In many fundamentalist, "Bible-believing" churches, including the one I attended, a Christian's knowledge of God and faith life come directly from the Bible.  The Bible is the authority.  Unfortunately, this limits the profundity of the Christian faith ultimately to only the literate and so-called educated.  Certainly children of Evangelical parents become introduced to Christianity through the re-telling of Bible stories and pictures they see in Sunday School, but the centuries of thought, philosophy, and Church history are lost when one solely relies on simply reading the Bible; Christian tradition is then grossly incomplete.  That being said, I do not mean to say that the Bible is incomplete, for it is the most complete and sacred Book ever written.  Nevertheless, simple Bible-stories only tell of the faithful heroes who lived in the small window of history recorded and canonized.  What about the scores of saints who lived and died in the faith, and who continue to intercede for us?

I have aimed to tell my twin girls about Jesus and God as early as they could understand.  Whatever interest they show when we are in Mass, my husband and I try to explain.  Most of what they ask is about what they see: stain-glass windows, the images of fish and loaves embroidered on the altar cloth, the statues of Mary and Joseph, and even the Crucifix.  M can recite (as best as a 2-year-old can) the Lord's Prayer, and E can say the Hail Mary.  They understand that Jesus can help them with the challenges of being 2 (sharing, learning to use the potty, and listening to Mom are some of their big prayer requests).  They also know that Jesus heals our boo-boos.  Oral tradition at its best!

But all our explanations about Jesus and His love for us were too difficult for them to apply to their first encounter with a new emotion: fear.  As quickly as their little imaginations had started to develop and invent fun games of pretend princess tea parties, the nighttime imaginations also emerged.  This created an epic bedtime battle (Ironically, it was a Bible story that started it all....I would not recommend reading about David and Goliath before bedtime). I was at my wit's end trying ways to comfort my girls without dragging out a lengthy bedtime routine.  We tried monster spray, a nightlight, we checked under the beds and in the closets.  Unfortunately, despite my theatrics and pleas, a little girl always seemed to end up in our bed at night.  To my disappointment, no matter how much I explained to them that Jesus was watching over them, it didn't sink in.  It was too abstract.

Then an unexpected break.  Another mom from church passed on to us a packet of some pro-life literature.  She also included for the girls a small envelope with 4 saint "baseball cards": each card had an image of a saint on the front and a simple history written on the back.  The images resembled cartoons more than sacred historic icons, but it was exactly their juvenile quality that caught the girls' attention.  The four saints were St. Michael, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Gianna Molla, and of course, St. Mary.  They listened intently to their stories, but grew especially attached to St. Michael, perhaps because I explained to them that St. Michael chases away the "bad angels".  That night I stuck all four cards on their dresser, exchanged our good-night kisses....and enjoyed an entire night in my bed sans enfant.  The next morning M went directly to St. Michael's card and joyfully announced,  "Mama, St. Michael watching over me!"

Learning about prayer to the saints was one of the prickly points of my conversion.  I was skeptical that prayer to a saint would distract me from my personal relationship with God, or even become an idol in itself.  In my research and discussions with other Catholics, however, I began to understand that prayer to the saints is simply asking them to pray for us, just as I would ask that mother from church to pray that the girls would sleep through the night.  To any skeptical Protestant reading this, let me affirm that God is above all the saints.  Nevertheless, knowing that the saints watch over us and pray for us has increased my understanding of the love God has for His people: not that we would be blessed by only the small number of people who live in the small moment of time as we, but that we would have a team, a cloud of witnesses, so large that it would span generations and cultures.  Saints were ordinary people who struggled with the same sufferings as we do, who overcame, and who speak with Jesus now in Heaven.  How much love does God have for us, that He would give us a family not limited to the living?

The baseball card saints serve as a reminder to the girls that they are not alone at night.  To a two-year-old, Goliath is no match to the image of St. Michael holding his sword high and smiling a goofy, cartoonish grin.  To anyone cognitively limited and/or illiterate (and that pretty much means anyone younger than age 5), icons, artwork, and stories are the window of understanding of God's immense love.  Catholics and Protestants can agree that Christianity is not meant for only those who have the ability to read a Bible.  Stories and images give children and the mentally handicapped access to a holy life.  My girls are learning about how God protects them from all the monsters at night through the images that watch over them.  The images themselves do not protect the girls, but serve as a comforting reminder that they are never alone in the dark.  And that's pretty comforting for the literate Mommy's and Daddy's too.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Milestones

So I wrote a little something. Then the hubby stumbled upon it on Google+, shared it on Facebook, and BOOM. I check my stats and see over 400 views. I know that is small compared to the many blogs I follow, but it was really a big deal for me. I’m super excited, and maybe blushing just a little from the sudden cyber-attention. So thanks for the love. It is really humbling to know so many people read what otherwise would have remained just a rambling monologue in my own nutty brain.

A friend of mine suggested that this video would make a nice complement to my post:

Yep.  Pretty much.

And then this blog post showed up in my inbox. So much truth! What I loved most was reading that according to some people, four kids isn’t a big family at all….

….which made me wonder, why are larger families less and less of the norm? This post from Mama Needs Coffee provokes a lot of thought.  Has the game of debt truly created so much fear of the future?  Jenny makes a valid argument.  It's all about freedom.

In other news, the baby’s crawling. Which means there will be CD and DVD cases pouring out of our TV cabinet, books pulled from the shelves, blocks dumped on the floor….

But the little guy is so excited he can do new tricks.

(Proud big sis taught him how to pull himself up to stand.) 

Of course, the day when Baby decided to start making his way across the living room floor was also the third day of a brutal cold snap. That particular day the temp never got about 10 degrees. Stuck inside for the third day, wind howling and heat blasting, and wheee! All 4 kids are mobile! But fear not (that's my theme for 2015). Abbey has a great list of indoor activities for the super cold days over at Surviving our Blessings. The Lynch Littles are particularly fond of blanket forts.
A blanket over a crib makes a snuggly little hideout. Good thing the little guy is so willing to share his space. 

Finally, I just wanted to give a big shout-out to the Blessed is She group of writers. The devotionals have been truly inspirational for the daily routine, and I've discovered so much good writing and so many uplifting blogs to follow. Especially during the bleak and bitterly cold days of January, it has been such an encouragement to virtually connect with so many talented and faithful women. You HAVE to check it out. Really.

Thanks to Kelly for hosting 7QT's!  Hop on over and read a few!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Don't feel sorry for me...

I see you looking at me as I herd my handful of kids into the supermarket.  I know that reaction well.  It usually goes like this: the eyebrows raise, then the eyes look down, and then either a silent whistle or a chuckle to oneself.  The body-language reflects the other all-too-common and maddening comments:

“Better you than me.”

“You got your hands full.”

 “You’re a busy woman.”

All of them are wrought with sarcasm, and I never understand how a passer-by would find these things helpful to say.  Are they trying to evoke some sympathy?

Listen.  I don’t want your sympathy.  I don’t say this out of anger or defensiveness, waiting to pounce on the slightest good intention and label it as misguided.  I REALLY don’t want or even need your sympathy.  And you know why?

Because I am actually happy.

It was completely unexpected for me too.

It may surprise you, but I never envisioned having a large family.  I don’t consider myself someone who is particularly good with little kids.  I used to be completely ambivalent about motherhood.  Sure, I wanted to be a mom.  I guess.  Someday.  But here I am, four children in tow, and you may be feeling sorry for the plight of my overburdened, frazzled, lost sense-of-self life.

Even though I may look less than graceful as I guide my darling little strong-willed versions of myself through the aisles, I am ultimately happy with my lot in life.  The scene at the supermarket may be intensely chaotic, but I have some other more peaceful moments in my day.  Don’t feel sorry for me.  Really.  It turns out I am actually quite happy.

But do you know what I feel sorry for?

I feel sorry that motherhood is considered merely a side show of a woman’s talent and education. 

I feel sorry that our children have become the next measure in the keeping up with the Jones’.  No longer is merely a big home and fast car the signs of success.  Now our kids’ academic load and athletic promise are lumped into the high stake game of comparing ourselves to others.

I feel sorry that any woman with more than two children spaced 2.5 years apart must be either a religious freak, uneducated, or both.  I am sorry that for the sake of choice we have left women feeling so pressured to plan the perfect family, creating yet another measure of success to be compared.

I feel sorry that the high costs of a college education, owning a home, and day care have all bore an overwhelming fear in young couples looking to get married and have kids.   

I feel sorry that there is a mentality that pervades our society, namely the equation that children = burden. 

I feel sorry that I believed all these things for so long and completely overlooked the potential for joy in my life. 

Because for all the responsibilities, worries, and frustrations that come with having kids, I have also experienced a whole new dimension to life’s purpose, and that happiness and love ultimately override the fears.   

So please don’t feel sorry for me.  I should not be the focus of your sympathy.  And even if I may not exactly be smiling right at this moment, please know that I am truly happy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Link Up!

Hey, I just linked up with the NEW Catholic Bloggers Network!  Check it out!

Friday, January 9, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Back from Christmas "Break"

(because do parents ever really get a break?)

Welp, it’s back to Ordinary Time….which means back to school, which means back to work for the hubby, which means back to mom vs. four again.  Sigh.  Here’s to some necessary reminiscing of the Christmastide.

We traveled to New England for Christmas, spending a few days with my folks and then a few days with the in-law’s.  Our kids thoroughly enjoy seeing the grandparents, and there were beaucoup de presents to be had.  But man, it is a rough trip.  No offense to anyone reading this that may be from Connecticut, but there is ALWAYS TRAFFIC IN CONNECTICUT.  It normally takes eight hours to make the drive, but we have learned to add on two extra hours to our itinerary, because well, four littles, and no matter which route we take, we always seem to end up in a jam somewhere in Connecticut.  At least we can pass the time with the minivan’s DVD player.  Now before you pass judgment, I usually abide by clear screen time limits, but the screen time quota was definitely blown on this trip.  Hey, anything to get us through Connecticut.

To further complement the too-much-TV-dilemma, the weather was absolutely crummy.  Certainly not a magical white Christmas this year.  It was too warm for snow, but too drizzly and raw to play outside.  My husband came up with a perfect outing: Bowling.  We found a place that was actually the same alley when my husband was a kid….and judging from the outside, I don’t think they have ever done any renovations since.  But it was so, so fun to introduce our brood to the sport.  And the best part was when the man at the shoe check-in looked at us, four little ones milling around our legs, and gruffly asked (but smiling all the same), “Ahr all these youhrs?  Wha-did-you-do, have ‘em all at once?”  Nothing says old school Boston with a sassy comment and snicker, complete with the notorious accent.  It was awesome.
We returned home a couple days before New Year’s, which gave us some relaxing time to unpack and unwind from all the driving.  And miracles of miracles, everyone slept in on January 1st (anything past 7AM counts as sleeping in chez nous).  Despite missing the morning Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, we calmly figured we would just go to an evening Mass.  However, as our minivan approached the church that night we were overcome by a sinking feeling: the parking lot was empty.  We actually drove to two other parishes and there was no evening Mass at either one.  It felt like déjà vu in Connecticut again….driving but not really getting to our destination.  In any case, even though it was not intentional, Happy New Year’s Whoops to us.  At least I got to meet two other lovely ladies at Confession a few days later. 

I’ve been reading so many thoughtful blogs regarding the New Year and fresh inspirations, and many writers have chosen a word for 2015.  I have not really been able to decide on one word for the year, but some phrases keep coming up in prayer: Peace amidst the chaos.  Fear not.  What words inspire you for 2015?

Looking at little Joseph sitting on the floor playing with a rattle, I can’t help but reflect upon Christmas time last year.  I was barely into the third trimester, but already uncomfortably big and quite self-conscious.  I was also so mentally scattered and anxious.  I endured the obvious-but-never-helpful comments about how large I was getting, the raised eyebrows and I-feel-sorry-for-her looks in the supermarket, and I grumbled incessantly about the pains of pregnancy all the way up until I went into labor.   And here he is this year, spending his first Christmas with his three crazy siblings.  

Of all my kids, he is the best imitator of faces.  I scrunch up my nose at him and he returns the goofy look.  Then he raises his eyebrows and turns his mouth into an “O”.  It is the Cutest. Face. Ever….as if to say, “Just laugh, everything is fine, Mom.”  Oh sure, he has caused me the expected sleep deprivation, he has added to an ever more chaotic experience at meal time, and his cries have rattled me on more than one occasion, but his smiley face and bubbling laugh also remind me that all is well, simply because he is here.  Peace amidst the chaos.  Fear not.  How I wish that was my mantra a year ago, but by God, by His grace, has helped me to sort through my anxieties.

Because we didn’t have Christmas in our house this year (we were at my parents’ house), we decided to make our own very special Epiphany celebration with presents.  It was a bit of a spontaneous plan, but it worked out beautifully.  We surprised the kids with a few presents under the tree because  1) we wanted to remind everyone of the story of the Magi bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus, and 2) it was so sweet to see our own kids experience the magic of Christmas in their own home, even if it wasn’t exactly December 25th.  That Christmas morning joy is an intimate moment for families, and I am really glad we decided to preserve it despite all our travels.
Elisabeth: Mom can you help me with my PJ’s?  The zipper is in traffic. 
Me: Oh, um, OK.  What does “traffic” mean?
 Elisabeth: “Traffic” means it is stuck and can only move slowly. 

And I half expected her to say her zipper was stuck in Connecticut.

Read more 7QT’s at This Ain't the Lyceum !