The mayhem and the macabre

We had a lot of drama this summer.

You wouldn’t think it, since the walls are still standing and the sunlight is slanting gently down on the goats’ pen. But we did, in our small way.

Once in our yard we found an unfortunate starling—as Dickens would say, dead as a doornail. We trust he died of old age, peacefully in his sleep, although his posture was not necessarily one to encourage hope. Regan, who hardly allows us to kill flies in this household, was quite upset. But he thought, seeing the damage had already been done, perhaps he could keep the corpse? No, no, and again no! We were firm on this.

We should have gotten our first clue that evening, when as we put the boys to bed we sensed a slight twinge of old septic in the air. Sometimes our innocence, like our hope, is not warranted. It was the next night, when the ghost of the bird cried out for revenge, that we went hunting, and found a certain Walmart bag, knotted up, in a certain son’s drawer of treasures…

I will spare you the rest. It was vile. For days.

And then [this one is not macabre] there was the time that Kelly and Regan were playing tug of war with a blanket in the upstairs hall. He let go, and she tumbled backwards down the steps. Her father was also in the hall, and made an amazing lunge that saved her halfway down. She was still bumped up quite a bit, and screaming. We comforted, soothed, and settled… then carried her the rest of the way downstairs and laid her on the couch. She went ballistic—a piercing shriek that drowned out thought—and we found we had laid her down on top of a bee.

That bee, it turns out, was the forerunner. First he was just one, and easily dealt with—and then we found another, several days later… and now on these warm sunny days our upstairs windows are swarmed by them. Two to five on a single pane. Where are they coming from? Almost I would take Jehoshaphat back instead.

Almost.

It’s been a little wild, these last six weeks. I’ve been canning and editing and writing titillating descriptions of pickles. Not joking. I’ve been weeding flowerbeds and harvesting from the garden, and celebrating the warm rekindling of an old friendship and the sparkling addiction of a brand new one. I’ve planted those poppies and hung the wall art and sewed the desperately-needed dresses for my daughter; taken a sick son to the doctor and sat in the classrooms and made the fellowship meal food and pulled off the birthday party.

I’m dreaming of a very quiet October. But you know, I really love my life. Drama and all.

Ten tips for busy moms

Confession: I forgot what it was like to be a really busy mommy. I had four kids this week instead of three—the fourth a precious boy we got to parent for a week and a half. I’m probably not allowed to say more than that, and I can’t post any pictures of him here even though he was such a darling and I would love to show him off to you…

These days, with my kids aged 9, almost 7, and 4, mothering moves in comfortable cycles, through the summer birthday parties into the back to school sales, holiday celebrations, winter doldrums, and spring delights. And around again.

I don’t have to deal with body fluids very much anymore. Everyone is potty trained and reasonably tidy. They eat with their mouths closed and help clean up the kitchen. They’re still a whole lot of work, and joy, but mothering is one of the things I play in. I almost forgot what motherhood immersion felt like.

When you can’t wash a sinkfull of dishes without leaving two or three times (five times? six times?) to care for a child.

When you have one ear open, always, and both eyes as often as you can spare them.

When the laundry hampers fill faster than you can empty them.

When small chatty voices sound to you like fingernails on chalkboard because you’re so crazy tired and don’t think you could answer another question to save your life.

When the endless afternoon stretches out before you, and it’s raining, and you honestly think you might drown in work and boredom.

I LOVED this week. It was an answer to prayer, a sign that God has not forgotten us. But I had to learn a few things in order to stay sane and here they are, just for you, if you are in the crazy stage as well…

To some of you, four children would be a piece of cake and I thank you for your grace to me as I hold forth on busy motherhood. To you and all the rest, I say–

1. Drink coffee.

My favorite pastor’s wife swears by this. Except she doesn’t actually swear, because she is the pastor’s wife and I keep her on a very tight tether. I don’t even let her eat open-toed cupcakes. She reluctantly affirmed instead: Coffee alone is the secret to her success with five children. That and regular church attendance. I drink decaf and it still works wonders: something warm in the hand and strong in the stomach.

2. Use paper plates.

I hate to joke about it, but all I know is that when I use glass plates three times a day, the environment in our home goes downhill fast. Saving mother’s sanity, one tree at a time.

3. Say yes a lot.

This prevents many battles, and even more negotiating.

“Can I do A?”

“No.”

“Well can I do B then?”

“No.”

“When can I do A? Soon? Next year? In fifteen minutes?”

“Ummm….”

“Can I do A if I use the little brushes and clean up after myself?”

Much is simplified if you just say YES, the first time, unless it’s a moral issue or dangerous to the wellbeing of siblings, pets, and houseplants. Hey, they found something they want to do! Just say yes; and then deal with the fallout.

4. Do laundry often.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t deal with a Mt. Fuji of soiled socks and sweaty jeans. One day at a time, sweet Jesus…

5. Get out of your mind.

A quiet life of the mind, like time with your spouse, is divided roughly in half with the addition of each subsequent kid. I promise it’s true. So stop trying to think it all through, give up for a while on the memories and the quiet meditations and the inscrutable depths, and just get those hotdogs in the skillet. You won’t be allowed the luxury of silence; come out of your meditations and into what’s now. Laugh. Sing. Talk to your kids.

6. Ask for help.

You weren’t made to do it alone. After three or four or five, you can’t do it alone. Let your mom buy groceries for you. Let your husband ride herd while you take a ten-minute bathroom break. Swap services with another busy mom. Whatever it takes. There are a whole lot of people cheering you on, even though in the wee hours of the night you may wonder where they got to.

7. Make a tight schedule and follow it loosely.*

*This is not my phrase. I cannot remember the name of the lady who said it… one of the Funk sisters.

A schedule is your friend. If you know that snack is at 10:00 and lunch is at 12:00, it makes it so much easier to know when everyone’s blood sugar is at a low ebb and whether or not starvation is as imminent as they claim. Knowing that you’ll sweep that floor on Friday makes it okay to wink at the dirt on Wednesday and Thursday.

But then—take a chill pill. A schedule is just something to shoot for. If you marry yourself to it, you’ll go crazy.

8. Know when your next break is.

It may sound silly and selfish, but knowing you can run errands ALONE for one hour on Saturday, or sip a quiet cup of coffee after they’re tucked in bed tonight, makes all the difference. You can hang in there till then, right?

9. Stop listening to how everyone else does it.

The day you really bomb as a mother (drill sergeant/crackdown/getyourbuttsinhereNOW and lookatmewhenI’mtalkintoyou) will be the day that every blog and facebook post you read will be a mommy-mommy one about how sweet kids are and how fast they’ll grow up and how you should let everything else go and just love them. You’ll have only one thought: I blew it all.

You didn’t blow it all, honey. You’re a very human mother who had a terrible day.

You will make it through. You can learn from anyone, but the ones you need to listen to are Jesus and the people He placed close to you. Enough with facebook already.

10. Give grace to others. It opens your heart to receive it too.

Keep your eyes open for the mothers with babies climbing all over them. Every one of them could say these words to you: “Please notice me. Please give me grace. Please see beyond my wrinkled outfit, my fussy child, my frazzled face. I know my house is a mess; it’s only clean on Fridays. I know what my hair looks like; it’s only nice on Sundays. My waist disappeared in 2002 and I still can’t find it. I’m lost in here. Be nice to me.”

Let me tell you something about Jesus: following Him doesn’t make life easy. But He is always there. Wipe the tears and snot on His shoulder and let Him rock you a while. He’s soooo good with crying children.

*****

I’m sorry this got long. It’s a good thing I wrote it before our fourth kiddo left because afterwards I didn’t feel like laughing anymore. I miss him too much.

What have you learned in mothering? I’d love to hear your tips, your pieces of the story.

A brief emotive lexicon

Bewildered: (adj.) The feeling I get when listening to this conversation.

“Hey Kelly, can you see my head?”

“No.”

“Can you see my finguhs?”

“No.”

“Can you see my feet?”

“No. Now let me ask you some questions. Can you see my arms?”

“No.”

“Can you see my face?”

“No.”

“Can you see my toes?”

“No.”

hiding

Ohhhhhhhhhh.

Nonjealous: (n.) The feeling I have for Matt Walsh today.

Aghast: (adj.) The feeling of dropping a bit of eggshell into the breakfast casserole I’m cooking for my mother-in-law.*

Atonement: (n.) The feeling of holding a crying child against my chest until the ouchie enters my heart and the healing, his.

Bizzy: (adj.) The feeling that this blog post is long enough. If I do not publish quickly it will be swallowed up in the green beans and laundry stacks, the evening plans and the clamoring kids, the headache and the task list. Adios, friends.

*****

*This one comes from a couple of weeks ago. The memory lingers.

Your turn! What feelings capture pieces of your day? I’d love to hear…