Monday, 20 October 2014

five kids

John Paul has arrived, weighing in at 7 pounds 11 ounces, and greeted with sheer delight by all four older siblings (phew!)  He's ten days old tonight and doing great. I, on the other hand, still feel like I recently tangled with the Whomping Willow, but am confident that once I start getting more than four hours of sleep at night, that sensation will fade off.....  (so little guy, that's a gentle hint to start sleeping less during the day and more during the night, okay?)

just a few minutes old and really unhappy about being "out"

one day old, in a hat I bought for baby Joseph in New Zealand four years ago.....

two days old

one week old and fresh from our first bath

One thing that changed for me over the course of this pregnancy was my immediate gut-level reaction to the decidedly negative or awkward comments that strangers make about the size of my family. In the past, those comments offended me. At some point in my life with four children, I realized that since having four kids is sort of counter-cultural, I simply had to expect and accept that the culture would indeed counter it....  I finally connected "Accept your share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel" to these often uncomfortable experiences. It occurred to me that it was rather naive and whiny to be surprised or riled by those comments at all. Immediately they stopped bothering me. Sometimes they even began to amuse me. 

So, while pregnant with this fifth child, it did not ruffle me when a male neighbor - shocked by my newly evident pregnancy - burst forth with, "'re really going to have a whole passel breaks." (I laughed in my head while I waited for him to grope for a somewhat appropriate noun with which to finish his impulsive outburst.) 

Nor did I get upset a few months later when a tradesman working in the neighborhood asked me if I was running a daycare in my front yard. When he learned that the kids were all my own - with another sibling clearly on the way - he responded, "Well.....Just so long as you know when to stop...." (in a tone of voice that clearly implied that HE thought THAT time had been three children ago.)  

And it did not bother me this evening when I took my eldest daughter (and the baby) to an art class and the instructor, who had presumed through previous classes, I suppose, that I was pregnant with my second child, congratulated me warmly on the birth of the baby and asked my daughter if she was enjoying life as a big sister. Maria was so intent on her artwork that she did not hear or answer him, so I smiled at him and told him it was our fifth baby and that Maria was already very used to being a big sister. His face changed from warmth to utter confusion and he blurted out sincerely, "Are you some kind of glutton for punishment?" Although I wasn't offended, I admit that I didn't really know how to answer that question. He really seemed to want a direct answer. Sadly, my response was a flustered non sequitur. As we continued talking, he kept returning to the "five kids" thing and each time, in a slightly different way, he reiterated that he had three young boys who were already "too much" for him and he simply could not imagine having or wanting FIVE children. I still didn't know what to say and just kept trying to redirect the conversation to easier topics. 

Driving home I realized something. Most of the people who say these awkward things are not trying to be rude. These comments are not really about ME and my kids at all - these comments are revelations about what is going on in the heart and the home of the speaker. People who blurt these things out are basically confessing that they are struggling with parenthood so much that they can't imagine it being any harder than it already is. These are people who are not enjoying family life the way they hoped they would.  If their experience of parenting was mostly sunshine and butterflies, they would hardly be surprised that anyone would pursue more sunshine or additional butterflies. These are people who need encouragement. Badly. As do I (often!!)  I know some parents of large families like to coin ruder responses to these unintentionally "rude" comments, but really this is a huge opportunity to give to someone else and to encourage. It's hypocritical to do anything else. Why pretend to be shocked by the implication that parenting is incredibly burdensome? It is! I've got plenty of friends with lots of kids and we regularly exchange frazzled texts when we are at our wits' ends with our kids. And these aren't texts like:
               "Oh, golly - today sure is a challenging day with my dozen little blessings :) :)"
I've sent abundant texts along the lines of: 
                "Today I would sell any one of them to the lowest bidder."   

But we encourage each other. We empathize, encourage and pray for each other. We recommend good parenting and marriage books. We share the graces we're being given and help each other to grow. We brainstorm together about our most frustrating challenges. We keep each other committed to growing into patient, kind, gentle, joyful, wise mothers instead of just settling into resentful mediocrity. We laugh (sometimes through tears) about our colossal screw-ups - but we also hold each other accountable for trying better next time. Some parents maybe don't have that kind of support. Some parents reach that inevitable point in parenting where you realize that you stink at being a parent and they just give up. They lose the joy of it all - the sense of gift. The bulk of their parenting consists of feeling frustrated, angry, exhausted or overwhelmed. They lose hope that they can grow as a parent and change the dynamic in the home. Instead, they decide that kids are overrated or that they've got uniquely difficult kids or too many kids or they decide that they just don't personally enjoy parenting - or that they had their kids too close together - or they were too young when they started having kids - or too old - or that family life is not what they imagined it would be........... and they decide it's too late to change themselves and it's too late to change their kids and to just hope instead that "childhood" passes as quickly as possible and that the kids grow up fast - meanwhile they will look for fulfillment and pleasure in career or hobbies or anywhere other than the little terrors who they simultaneously love and endure. The art man must have said three different times tonight that he just can't wait for his kids to get older so that he can be done with these challenging years. That always makes me sad to hear. I cling to these years. But I'd feel quite differently if I didn't have the support and encouragement that I do have. 

So - I wish I had just heard this guy's heart tonight. I was so busy in my head thinking about what I should SAY (other people were listening! I felt like a freak!) - and mostly what I said was just a bunch of meaningless cliches and bland pleasantries and pathetic attempts to "normalize" the conversation. Instead, I wish I'd just heard him out about what was so hard with his three boys. I have no idea why I didn't just ask him about his life instead of trying to force the conversation into vaguer and more superficial waters. I wish I hadn't fled from the topic. I wish I'd asked good questions and really listened to his answers. I probably would have had no words of wisdom, nor perhaps would it have been appropriate to have offered any, but I definitely could have empathized sincerely with how hard parenting can be. He clearly wanted to talk about it - he was the one who kept steering the conversation back to the inconceivability of five children and the overwhelming and draining experience of life with three sons. If nothing else, I could have prayed for him. Well, I still can do that. But next time, I hope I do the other things too.  I think now that I understand it better, I just may be able to do so. And..... perhaps.....perhaps it would be best to start planning ahead NOW for even bigger and wilder reactions to a hypothetical sixth child......
(sound of Richard fainting)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Resurrection Pegs

While I wait to produce the newest child, I've been keeping busy producing this Resurrection play set for the four kids I've already got. 

The "full cast" - minus Simon of Cyrene and the Apostle John, neither of whom have been painted yet.

Apostles Peter and Judas

Veronica, center -
plus 2 women who will double as women Jesus encountered on the Way of the Cross
and women who discovered His empty tomb on Easter. 


I'm not sure I am really "keeping a blog" fact, I rather think I am not. 
However, I didn't want it to end on the rather bleak note of the last post. This pregnancy was better psychologically than most past ones, perhaps due to a combination of intercession, community and acupuncture. And it ends in 4 days, if not sooner, as I have an induction scheduled for the end of this week. So - perhaps the last post ought to be some newborn photos, instead of pictures of some paint and wood :)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

NOT a pathetic wuss?!?! (maybe just less so than previously thought)

Wow, time flies when you're taking care of four little people...while pregnant! Despite (or because of) all of my mediocre attempts at holy resignation about not having that fifth child any time soon....there is, indeed, a fifth child currently on backorder and due to be delivered this autumn. And despite (or because of) my intense longing for this child, it has been a dark, dark, first trimester. A few weeks ago I failed my prenatal depression screening (with flying colors) but managed to talk the OB staff into giving me two weeks to pull it together before starting medication.

Prenatal depression is something I never heard of before I heard I had it. Postpartum Depression (which I am blessed never to have experienced) gets all the attention. While pregnant (and miserable) with Maria, Bernadette and Joseph, I blamed myself for being such a wuss - I was disgusted with myself for allowing a little physical discomfort to send me into such emotional darkness. I thought it was just immense self-pity. I thought it was an inability to suffer well through nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sleeplessness, hyperactive bladder, painful veins, physical awkwardness (and the 24/7 discomfort of late pregnancy). I thought I was REALLY pathetic. I was ashamed of myself and envious/skeptical of women who seemed to breeze through pregnancy with such chipper spirits.

It wasn't until I was pregnant with James that I even started to wonder if it could be "real" depression. I'd heard so much about Postpartum Depression - I finally began to wonder if it had a cousin who attacked before birth and departed in the Labor and Delivery Suite. I certainly had never heard anything about it before - but I did begin to suspect it might exist.  It wasn't until my midwife diagnosed me with prenatal depression a month or two prior to James' due date that someone else confirmed that suspicion. But still....I wasn't sure I "really" had it.  I still wondered if I was just a wuss. A big, selfish, immature, pathetic wuss.

I also wondered if perhaps it was because I was always pregnant alone. Rich and I have moved so many times (seven times during our eight married years) that, despite an amazing network of call-on-the-phone girlfriends, I have always been bereft of physical, in-the-flesh community during the magnificently uncomfortable third trimester of every single pregnancy. While "third trimester pregnant" with Maria and James, I literally had not a single friend in town yet - that's how newly moved we were. When entering my infamously sad third trimesters with Bernadette and Joseph, I did have wonderful women around me, but I had known them so briefly - just a few months - that it was too hard to be so real about how I was coping (or failing to cope).

But this time was going to be different. There are so many great women around me this time, women I have known well for over a year and with whom I can be very real. Plus, I was going to brace myself to suffer heroically. I knew it would come, so I was reading the outstanding Diary of Elisabeth Leseur for inspiration and tips on how to suffer physical discomfort with valor. I was praying in advance. I was letting my friends know that I might need a little extra company over the next few months. I was totally prepared to fight my pathetic-ness and win. And then....I had a little nausea, a teeny bit of fatigue - just enough to reassure me that I was really pregnant but not enough to even inconvenience me - and I crashed harder than ever before. With no physical suffering at all.  And only then did I realize I was blaming myself for something totally out of my control.

As the first trimester now draws to an end, I feel much more like my old self. I had assured the kind women at the OB office that I was usually f-i-n-e during the second trimester and they agreed to give me a few weeks to prove it. They also did some blood work and found some vitamin deficiencies - which means that supplements might possibly get me to the point that I can handle whatever the third trimester throws at me.  Maybe.  If at all possible, I want to avoid medication because of the possible adverse effects on this unborn child. However, there will be definite adverse effects on all four "born" children under this roof - and, more abundantly, upon their wonderful father - if this third trimester is anything like some of the dark trimesters of the past. I take both considerations seriously.

I wanted to write this post because I never knew about prenatal depression until recently - and it would have made my husband and children MUCH happier if I had known about it years ago. Maybe now someone else who needed to know about it knows too.....  Her husband and children can thank me by praying for me :)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

parables in real life

My kids have been playing a super-fun game of "pass the bug" for, oh about two weeks now. They're playing Advanced Level, so there are multiple bugs in play. We've hauled the whole gang to the pediatrician twice, carted dehydrated and listless victims off to the ER both weekends and we've chatted with pediatric nurses almost daily. Some of the bugs have been named by various physicians: ear infections, bronchitis, croup, viral gastroenteritis, norovirus, rotavirus, upper respiratory viruses.... We've had Standard Daily Fevers in the 103 range and our fridge looks like a pharmacy. To those whose phone calls and texts and emails I have not returned - this is why and I am sorry.

We're wiped out.

Today a pediatric nurse (on the phone) was concerned that Bernadette might be showing symptoms of meningitis.  Just for a change of scenery, I decided to bring her in to a different hospital than the one we've been frequenting. There was nothing "wrong" at the original hospital, per se. Well, ok, the floors were filthy, the nurses hit-or-miss and one PA gave my 2 year old son a drug that our pediatrician later said ought never to be used in children due to possible psychiatric side effects. So rather than buzz two miles down the road to our neighborhood ER, I drove over to the next town to give their hospital a go. I'm so glad I did.

We walked in to cleanliness, friendliness and competence. There was an air of order and peace in the Department, our room was immaculate, the staff were remarkably kind, and Bernadette did not have meningitis. All very good things! And the last two are almost on par with one another.

Every person employed in the department was strikingly attentive, gentle and loving. Really, there is no other word I can use to describe the way they treated the two of us. Two receptionists, the triage nurse, the follow-up nurse and the doctor - all, stunningly, loving. The grand finale, though, awaited us when we "checked out". A sweet, gentle grandmotherly woman double checked all our insurance and billing information. Then she said, "Your insurance copay for today is $150, but we realize that not everybody has pots of money laying around, so you can just pay whatever you feel able to, or nothing at all."

I thought I had misunderstood her.

"Oh, so whatever I don't pay right now, you'll just send me a bill in the mail?"

No. That was not what she meant. What she meant was that I would pay what I felt able to pay and there would be no further responsibility towards my copayment.

I'm still not really sure that I am properly understanding her meaning. I have no idea if this policy is a reflection of the hospital's mission statement to treat patients in a way "rooted in our understanding of all people as created in the image of God." Maybe it has something to do with Obamacare. Maybe it's some kind of battle that hospitals and insurance companies wage between themselves. Or perhaps I'm just "not getting it" and missing something really obvious here. I do that. Often. But the minute I understood that she was apparently freeing me from any obligation to pay for the outstanding care my sick child had just received, I wanted to pay every blessed cent. 

I could have satisfied my conscience with paying far less. I had neither cash nor check on me. I did have my debit card, but I knew that there was only $25 in our checking account, with no more funds imminently available. So I dug my one credit card out of the depths of my wallet and handed it over. She looked at it for a moment and then handed it back, asking gently, "Am I reading this small print right? Does it say this card expired in August?"

It did say that. Alas. I was humiliated. I admitted as much and explained that I hadn't used it or even looked at since long before it expired. In the softest, most motherly tone possible, she sweetly said that she was glad I never used credit cards and she was doubly glad this event had not occurred when I was trying to pay for a cart full of groceries. Oh my gosh. So was I!

As the direct result of her efforts to smooth over my mortification and brush it all away as unimportant, I suddenly found myself now wanting to pay double. I felt so grateful to this tender old soul, to all the other staff we had seen during our visit, and to the hospital philosophy that had so clearly imparted this priceless charity into the attitudes of its employees. I wanted to make that gratitude abundantly clear. I wanted to repay it. I told her to send me the bill. I almost begged her to.

And then a truth I have long held came rushing into my heart once more:
That which is demanded can never be freely given.

I know that the hospital has a right to demand money for its services. This is about something bigger and deeper than the hospital. This is about the human heart being free to respond to goodness with goodness - this is about the soul's natural (if sometimes slow) desire to repay generosity with generosity. So often it does not get the chance. So often repayment is demanded. Immediately. Before the natural impulse can arise, take shape and act.

The demand kills the natural instinct.  Do it enough in a relationship and it can kill the gratitude instinct altogether.

I do this with my kids - hand them something good and then, before their little minds can even compose any kind of sincere expression of thanks, I demand, "What do you say?" 

I do this with my husband - perform some little service or sacrifice for him, and then, before he really has time to process the love that prompted the favor, I demand acknowledgment.  Did you notice that I put the trash out tonight?  Did you see that I bought you a case of your favorite beer? I may say this very lightly - casually - even lovingly - but the demand is hidden there. Say thank you. Feel grateful. Repay me. 

That which is demanded can never be freely given.

Isn't that the key to the mystery of our free will?

What is demanded cannot be freely given.

And that which is freely given is so much sweeter than that which is extracted by demand.
It's sweeter for the giver and for the recipient.
The payment of an extracted demand satisfies the cashier at the store, but not the person in relationship.

I'll pay the hospital bills for Joseph because the hospital will demand that I do so. The law of the land and my own private sense of justice will ensure that I do so. But it will not be sweet. For either side.

I'll pay the hospital bills for Bernadette because the hospital lavished love upon us and made no demand in return. Some profound, beautiful natural law will prompt me to do so. And I will write a heartfelt note to the hospital. It will be so sweet to me to be able to do so. I hope and believe it will be so sweet for the recipients as well.

I hope that I will more consistently live the moral so eloquently proclaimed to me this evening in the Parable of the Two Hospitals. I hope that with my family, my friends, my acquaintances and with strangers, I will be governed by the truth that that which is demanded can never be freely given. I hope I can let go of my petty demands and enjoy the sweetness of unprompted gratitude. And I hope that I can grow in my ability to express gratitude - abundantly and sincerely - towards those who demand, towards those who rarely demand, and towards the One who never demands.

Friday, 17 January 2014


Kelly - 

October 2013: ANOTHER !?!?!?!!

November 2013:  another....?

December 2013:  another......

January 2014:  another.  another.  another.  another..... 

Rich - 

October 2013: ANOTHER !?!?!?!?!!

November 2013:  ANOTHER !?!?!?!?!!

December 2013:  ANOTHER !?!?!?!?!!

January 2014:  ANOTHER !?!?!?!?!!

Exhibit A

James turned one early in November. He's old enough to have worn a tie to Christmas Eve Mass (see Exhibit A). So....I should be almost three months pregnant right now, had we followed the Standard Sealy Family Plan For Family Expansion. But I'm not three months pregnant right now. I'm not one month pregnant. I'm not even one day pregnant. And oh how I begin to wish I was. But, as the handy chart above shows, Rich and I are still in the negotiations process - and we are not swiftly moving in the same direction.

a head wound that already made him look like The Boy Who Lived
just begged to be finished off with a marker

I've been in this place before - a place where my prayers cannot help but start with that one wistful word: another. But for the very first time, my prayers are not ending on the same expansive note. Because.... I'm not sure that they are likely to be answered as per my exact wishes any time soon, and I'm trying hard to accept that. Though I would be tremendously glad for the gift of another baby, my husband would reeeeeeeally not - so..... I'm trying very hard to remind myself that I already have a baby. He doesn't even have hair yet. Well, ok, he has some completely ridiculously cute curls on the back of his head, but he's still practically bald up top. He's in diapers. And a high chair. He's nursing. And spoon-fed. He barely talks, except to say Hi-dah! (Hi Cat!) and Cook-Cook (As in "cookie". As in "I saw you eat that cookie and if you don't give ME a cookie in the next 13 seconds I am going to make the next half hour absolutely miserable for"). He also says Genk-oo (Thank You. For the Cookie.) and when Rich gets home from work, he RUNS trippingly and unsteadily to the door with outstretched arms and lovingly, joyfully, exuberantly calls to his beloved father,
  MaMa !!!

(We're working on that. Hard. Well, Rich is - I think it is hi-larious).

He's only two months past his first birthday. He's a baby. I HAVE a baby.

But every time I find myself in a moment of silence and solitude - every time I turn my gaze on God - my heart whispers it  -  "another". I can't help it. There are PLENTY of moments of noise and chaos and near-disaster (and actual disaster) each day when another seems like a perfectly foolhardy design, but in the quieter moments, the desire is anything but foolhardy.

(10 AM.  disaster.   idea seems foolhardy.   extremely.)

1 PM.   idea appears far less foolhardy
( or at least slightly more sensible than napping with a toothbrush in hand)

Last night I was unable to sleep, sitting up in bed in the dark and staring out my window. Snow was falling heavily and my eyes were mesmerized by the sight of it streaming past a streetlight. I was mentally going over all sorts of things and then....    Another.    Jesus,    another.    

I caught myself (almost in time) and surrendered the desire (again). Suddenly, for the first time in my whole life, I wondered if Mary ever had to surrender that be pregnant again, to labor again, to hold a brand-new infant again, to see a gummy first smile again, to fill up the home further, to add another little face around the dinner table, to hear one more layer of laughter around the house and enjoy one additional source of silly faces and earnest expressions and tight hugs. Did she ever find her heart whispering another? 

But how could there ever be Another for her?

Another virgin birth? Another star-drenched angelic host? Another magi? Another child divine?

Another was impossible.

Mothers aren't supposed to have favorites, but how could it be helped if the First Child was God and the others were just.....ordinary.  No. Mary had to be satisfied with Just One. More than satisfied, she had to be humbled and grateful and overjoyed beyond telling. She had to submit to her vocation as He had shaped it, trusting that His designs were best for her, best for her Child, best for her family, best for the world. She had to pour herself completely into what had been given her without broodingly longing for anything other or additional. She had to live in the moment, surrender completely and accept whatever unfolded in the life of her Family with total trust in the goodness of God's (often surprising and always challenging) plan.

As do I.

As do I.