Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Week, Briefly (On the Bench)

Soccer games started.

M13 is the one in white on the right.

E15 is the one with the bandana on her head--right in the middle of the action.

S12 is #3.
The girls have a winning season so far.

M13 injured her ankle 2 minutes into the second game.  Assuming it was just mildly wrenched (like the last time she hurt it--while dancing) we wrapped it, elevated it, and watched it. 

Looks like she might need a doctor.

And on her way home from watching a soccer game at the field across the street, A8 fell and broke her arm.
They let her wear the hospital gown home from urgent care.
We're waiting to hear from the orthopedic dept about when we get to take her in for a real cast and to find out how long they estimate it will be on.  She's supposed to be baptized this coming Saturday . . . so thank goodness they make waterproof casts these days!

We got the news that we're officially waiting for really big news.  We're preparing for a very-likely-but-there's-still-a-chance-it-won't-happen situation. 

More on that in the weeks to come.

We managed to read a bit together.

We read a lot independently.

I went into E15's room the other day and discovered that her wall is papered with fashion drawings.  She must be spending hours of her free time working on them (and I thought she was napping!).  She's also working hard at the piano, teaching herself by ear how to play hymns.

The older four girls were accepted into a free outdoor camp for girls this summer sponsored by our state conservation department.  Their assignment to complete mandatory hunter certification showed up in the mail.  We completed 2 chapters' worth of assignments.  Only 7 to go.

Our Explorer's Club meeting took place.  The kids listened to presentations from local charities and worked on a toy drive so that we can donate toys to the kids who are served by the charities.  It's a truly wonderful idea in practice, but as E15 pointed out, "Our meetings are starting to feel like church without religion."  She put into words exactly how I've been feeling.  Though we love our friends and we find joy in serving, we are wary of church-substitutes.  More and more I am sure this is our last season of being a part of this club.

We had dance practice.  We're going to have 2 more shows this year--in May.  The rehearsal pressures are mounting, and I'm sewing costumes.

The oldest 4 went to a party with some homeschool friends on Friday night.

M13 and S12 worked on baby gifts for one of their church teachers.  They made hair bows and a tutu skirt for the baby girl due in May.  I don't have any pictures because they worked on them at the home of another church teacher.

Wednesday marked the first day that I produced all of the milk Baby L needs.  Other than a blip on Friday when a few wasted ounces of my milk resulted in his needing a 2 oz formula supplement, my milk supply has stayed high enough to meet his needs.

He's beautiful.

I am less and less sure about how or when to introduce traditional school again.  I am not worried about any of the kids' educations except E15's because she's high school age, and I don't know how to translate such non-traditional life learning into a transcript.  I know there are those who do it, so I will study their examples and see what I can learn.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Wish . . .

Even though I know better, I am feeling the lure of beautiful curriculum packages.  I wish I could find:
photo credit
(If you follow the photo credit link above, you'll find a great post!)

I wish I our school shelves could look like this:
photo credit
And I wish our days could look like this:
photo credit
So tidy and color coded and organized!

I've been sucked into those perfect packages before.

They're never perfect.

They always cost too much money.

And no matter how pretty they are, real life is, well, real life.

Our school shelves look more like this:

photo credit
(And that's on a good day.  Often they're much less tidy.)

It's just that this has been a hard year so far, and I wish someone could take me by the hand and lead me through the decisions and work that are ahead.  It's nearly time to end our undefined break and get organized. 

I'm rather afraid of the responsibility.

Those beautiful curriculum packages out there feel like a hand holding mine.

We still need to complete the school year we began in the fall of 2014.  We still have all of our incompleted workbooks and project lists.  We still have our goals.  There is no need for anything new.

But new things come with promises and a sense of newness and shiny wrappers.

I kind of need some promises, a sense of newness, and a few shiny wrappers.

So I will turn to this promise:
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I will create a sense of new by organizing a "First Day of School (Again)" day.

Maybe I'll search out some simple school supplies . . . or snacks . . . that come in shiny wrappers.

And I will reach out to the real hands waiting to take hold of mine.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Looking Up)

I did get in to see my doctor, and I scored 20 out of 27 on the depression screening.  This shows I'm not terribly, dangerously depressed, but as any score of 15 or higher is cause for concern we discussed medical treatment.  I accepted a prescription for Zoloft which is the anti-depressant I've taken successfully in the past for my prior experiences with PPD.

I knew I wasn't okay, but I didn't realize how much of a fog I was living in until I began coming out of it.  It's only been 4 days, and the meds have not had time to reach their full effect, but already I feel less anxious and weepy.  I can think more clearly.  I have more energy.  And S12 keeps looking at me warily and saying, "You're in a really good mood, aren't you, Mom?"

I am still very easily overwhelmed, and I have to fight off panic/tears every evening, but I am able to fight them off. 

That's real progress.

I'm essentially making all of the milk that Baby L needs, but because of the occasional wasted 1/2 ounce at the bottom of bottles, we are still making 2-4 ounces of formula for him each day.  He's begun to nurse a little bit--and I mean a very little bit--perhaps 1/2 an ounce at a time (if that).  However, I feel a sense of progress.  The time I spend pumping and the damage that I feel it doing to my body has me wondering whether I will continue to do this for much longer, but until I am certain that nursing cannot be successful I will try to keep making milk.

As for our educational efforts:

The older girls and I read chapters 3 and 4 in Standing for Something.
The littles and I read some world geography from What Your Kindergartener Needs To Know and some stories from What Your Preschooler Needs To Know.
We watched some documentaries--
More episodes of Life in Cold Blood
The Address
Drive Thru History: Greece
Bizarre Foods: America

We tried to watch one of the Great Courses video lectures on art, but no one liked it except for me.

The oldest 3 girls wrote stories for their church youth activity--each girl started a story then passed the papers around the circle so that the next girl could write the next portion.  They passed them around until every girl had helped write every story.  They said the results were hilarious!

J11's church activity was about budgeting. She spent the rest of the week in her bedroom reading Percy Jackson books.

A8 has been drawing maps.

H5 has been trying to read everything she can get her hands on.  She is still in the sounding out phase, but she's surely dedicated at working on it.

I3 has been getting into as much trouble as he can.  He's feeling the effects of being replaced as the baby of the family.  I'm working on feeding his spirit with love and positive redirection.  The highlight of his week--perhaps the highlight for the whole family--was when he peed in the potty!  It was a moment of unbridled joy as he came out of the bathroom calling his accomplishment to the family.  We all came running for hugs, high fives, fist bumps, pats on the back, applause, and lots of happy exclamations. 

"I did it!  I did it!  I did it!" he yelled over and over again.

I'm not sure I've ever seen such triumphant joy in my life.

Baby L has been smiling, cooing, and yes, even laughing this week.  I couldn't believe it when I first heard it, but he did laugh several times over, and I drank in every gurgly, beautiful note.

We didn't have dance rehearsal, but there were some soccer practices (one with the team, some with Dad in the field by our house).

Otherwise I banished the kids outside every afternoon to find something to do in the late winter sunshine.  Spring seems to have come early this year, and I figured it was time for them to reacquaint themselves with our back yard.

The kids took a few photos:

J11 is becoming quite the baby-whisperer.

They washed the dog--and themselves.

Fancy hair by M13

S12 got really into nature.

Cute baby close ups by M13

Dad found a shirt at the thrift store that matched one that I3 has.  They wore their matching shirts when they worked on putting together the new dining room furniture we bought. 

More gorgeous hair by M13

We bought a roll of paper just for fun, and the kids have been drawing oversized pictures daily.

And this is my new very-most-favorite-picture-in-the-whole-world.  There's just something about seeing my husband and my baby completely engrossed in each other that makes my heart sing.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Will We Ever Get Back to "Normal?")

After one conversation with my husband, another with my mother, and too many days of tears and self-recrimination I am admitting that I need to be screened for post-partum depression.

(There, that will make me accountable for actually making an appointment to see my doctor in the week ahead.)

As for the past week . . .

*I read chapter 2 (Honesty) of Standing for Something with the older girls.
*We continue to have morning devotionals.  For the little ones we sing a primary song and read a Book of Mormon story.  For the older ones we read and discuss a General Conference talk from the October 2014 conference.
*We watched a few documentaries:
    Life in Cold Blood
    The Bear Family and Me (This one was really, really good--even if it was a little bit hard on hunters).
    How Things Are Made (this was a re-watch as some of the kids missed it the first time)
*Soccer practice continued.
*Dance rehearsals went on.
*We attended a science club meeting about reducing consumption and waste.
*Church youth activities consisted of a book club meeting, a classical music concert (informal--by one of the older youth), and Uno
*The little girls and I finished reading Ramona the Brave
*I3 and H5 read together with me from What Your Preschooler Needs to Know 3 or 4 times this week.
*I helped H5 do 10 or so pages of math from her Comprehensive Curriculum book.
*E14 spent a lot of time at the piano--she picks out melodies to church songs and creates her own accompaniment because she plays by ear.
*M13 spent a lot of time at the piano--she reads music, so she practiced from a simplified hymn book.
*Everyone spent a lot of time reading independently.

And we took a few pictures (by "we" I mean the kids):


Mommy and Baby L have good conversations.

The boys.

S12 is the best at getting Baby L to smile and talk.

He weighed 10 lbs as of Monday . . . and he's going bald. :)

The little guys did some painting.

The older girls play games most days.

M13 and S12 got to attend the Daddy/Daughter dance at church.
 It was 50s themed, so they dressed up. 

They had a blast.  S12 won at musical chairs.
 E14 had a youth dance at church, too, but she said her dance wasn't as fun as it could have been because there were more girls than boys, and the playlist wasn't any good.  :)

And I began keeping a gratitude journal . . . I may feel lost and confused, but there is so much to celebrate each day.  I live a blessed life.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Following Good Advice)

I spoke to a treasured old friend about how to cope with pumping 'round the clock--she's been-there-done-that.  She had several good suggestions, one of which was, "Watch documentaries with your kids."

That is what we're doing.

Textbooks, workbooks, pencils, pens, and notebooks are put away because I simply cannot keep up with them.  The computer monitor (we don't have a TV) is out on display, and we're watching DVDs borrowed from the library.

This week we learned about:
Lions and Cheetahs
The Statue of Liberty
American Founding Fathers
Cultural differences in how babies are raised and how people live around the world (The movie Babies is so outstanding!  I cannot recommend it highly enough!)
Komodo Dragons
Polar Bears
How Things are Made (roller skates, ice cream sandwiches, strobe lights, etc.)

Our dinner table conversations are more interesting than they've ever been as I ask leading questions and the kids (at least the younger ones) fall over themselves to be the first to tell Dad about what they learned during the day.

It may not be the best way to learn as a habit, but it is the best way for us at the moment.  I'm guessing this "moment" will last a month . . . or even two. :)

The older kids are listening as I read aloud to them from Standing for Something.  We made it through the (lengthy) introduction and the first chapter this week.  At first the little ones headed off to play in another room as I read, but by the end of the week they were voluntarily bringing their drawings and coloring books into the living room to listen along with the big kids. 

On Friday I had an exceptionally warm, fuzzy moment when I looked up from the pages from which I was reading and really looked at the blessing of having my children gathered around me while we read and talked about high ideals.

Each day of the week we also did a Walk at Home video.  I wrapped Baby L securely to my chest while the rest of us "walked" in the living room.  It gets a little crowded, so I moved halfway out into the hall, but we all got some exercise before sitting down to watch movies.  On Thursday Dad even joined us before showering and heading to bed after work.  My favorite is when the little guys run down to the basement to grab canned fruits and veggies to use as weights when they exercise.  I3 used little tuna cans one day!

We had our usual run of outings--youth activities at church (for which E14 made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies), dance rehearsals, soccer practice.  The older girls also got to spend half a day with some friends.  They came home chattering gaily about their adventures--one of which was jumping on the trampoline in below-zero weather.  The mom who hosted them warmed them up with hot chocolate when they came shivering back into the house. 

We also participated in the homeschool talent show.  E14 and M13 joined two friends in a clogging routine to "Grand Old Flag."  They did a good job, and I'd post the video of them except that it is terribly blurry and such a huge file that I don't know how to manage it. 

All of the kids in our family (except Baby L) performed a song and dance routine to the song "Sisters" from White Christmas.  We knew the girls would all do their parts well, but none of us was sure about whether I3 would cooperate on stage when the big moment came.  Our worries were pointless!  He ran on to the stage and jumped into his sisters' arms just the way we practiced all week.  Other than the fact that we forgot to pick up and put on the feather boas that are the one prop the girls use, the routine was perfect.  Even without the boas, they were darling.  Again a fuzzy, overlarge file means we'll just enjoy the video ourselves at home.

My favorite part of the talent show is the slide show of pictures of talents that cannot be performed on a stage.  I submitted various pictures of things our crew has done--from art projects to baked goods to beautiful hairstyles to sewing projects.  

On Friday Baby L was supposed to have a well-baby check up, but I had a flat tire on the way to the doctor's office, so that's been rescheduled to next week.  In preparation for the appointment, I kept a feeding log one day and found that he's drinking over 30 oz of milk, and I'm making just over 20 oz for him.  While I'm frustrated to not be able to give him all of what he needs, I'm so grateful that my milk supply is slowly but surely increasing; that means that the 16 herbal pills (multiple doses of 3 herbs--fenugreek, blessed thistle, and marshmallow root) I'm taking each day are worth the effort.  I also added several cups of Mother's Milk Tea to my daily routine.   I have some brewer's yeast that a friend gave me, but I'm not sure yet how to use it--time for some research.

I never picked up the camera even once this week, but the little guys took a few pictures of each other:

We had a whole weekend of snow, so hopefully the kids will go make the most of it before it melts away in the week ahead!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Keeping Baby Close

I am learning, learning every day in this life I am living with a baby who doesn't nurse easily.  I have no previous experience with what works and what doesn't.  I am relying constantly on snippets of advice I am receiving from women who have been in this situation, but I am also having to learn from experience--and sometimes a bad experience is of incredible value.

I had to run some errands on Friday.  I needed to visit at least 2, probably 3, different stores.  In the past taking Baby with me was a no-brainer--Baby came with Mom.  This time, though I hesitated, wondering what was best for us all.

*It was only 18 degrees outside . . . but it was warm in the house.
*Baby would have to spend a lot of time in a car seat . . . or at home he could be cuddled by a big sister.
*I could pack all of the necessary baby gear, wrestling the diaper bag and baby into and out of the car and stores . . . or I could just dash in and out of stores quickly.
*Baby would be exposed to winter germs in public places . . . or he could stay at home where the germs are familiar.

In the end, Dad said, "If you're going to have to deal with the hassles of bottle-feeding, you might as well enjoy the benefits.  Leave [Baby L] at home.  It will be easier on both of you."

So that's what I did.

The errands were easy to run.
I pumped before I left, and by the time I got home it was time for another pumping session.
Baby L was in competent, loving hands the whole time.

It seemed to be a perfect situation.

But then the experience turned sour. 

After 3 hours away, I was aching to hold my little one in my arms.  I wanted to touch him, smell him, feed him, and love him.  But I couldn't.  In order to keep my milk supply from dwindling any further, I had to pump.  It could not be put off.  Instead of taking my baby in my arms, I assembled the plastic pumping tools, hooked myself up to a machine, and watched as Baby L was kissed and cuddled by his sisters.

It was only a 20 minute delay. 

It shouldn't really have mattered.

But somehow it did.

It mattered on some deep, visceral level that refused to acknowledge logic or rational thinking.

I fought tears the whole time the pump ran.  I raced to put the milk in a bottle and take my baby in my arms.  

I fought tears while I held him--tears that I could not explain.  I was happy to be holding him, but sorrow kept crawling out of some secret place within me, and I could not shove it away.

I fought tears for 2 more days--tears that I still could not explain.  I would weep at odd moments . . . while emptying the dishwasher, combing my hair, moving  a load of laundry . . . I just couldn't stop the tears from coming.

Baby blues?
Lack of sleep?

I considered various reasons for why I was so weepy.  Each one seemed reasonable at first glance, but none held up under serious scrutiny. 

It was in a quiet moment two days after the event that inspiration came:  I need my baby. 

I am his mother, and I need to be near him.

There may not be logical reasons for me to keep him near me at all times.  There may even be times that it makes more sense for him to be separate from me--like when I ran errands on Friday morning.  But there is a need that supercedes rational thought, and that need is for mother and baby to be together. 

It's always been easy for me to honor that need in the past.  I was the only source of food for most of my other babies; they had to stay with me.  I've bottle-fed 3 of my babies because they were adopted or fostered, but those babies stayed near me at all times because there were no teen family members able to be babysitters. 

I always kept my babies near me because they needed me.  Having never been in a situation where the babies didn't seem to need my particular presence, I never knew how much I needed them.

Oh, I knew I was happiest being near them, but I didn't realize how deeply I need them.

I need my babies!

Having children ages 0-15 makes me quite aware that babies become children who become young adults  . . . and their need to be near me, along with my need to be near them, changes over time.  I am happy to see my children develop independence.  I take great joy in watching them become their own selves.

But right now Baby L is barely a month old.  He is not ready to be independent, and neither am I.  I will learn from my experience and keep him close . . . even if someone else is perfectly capable of giving him his bottle.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Week, Briefly (Waking Up?)

Baby L continues to be the focus of our family time and energy.  The good news is that he grew 1.5 lbs in one week once we began bottle feeding him.  The bad news is that in spite of every effort on our part to help him nurse he continues to be incapable of nursing adequately.  In fact, after over 30 minutes of what looked like a productive nursing session at the breastfeeding support clinic, he only ingested 4 ml of milk--that's less than a teaspoon.

E14 thought he looked particularly cute in this pensive moment.
I am learning to be at peace with the fact that our boy is happy when he's offered a bottle, and he's frustrated, tense and angry when he's at the breast.  My emotions seem to mirror his exactly, so bottle-feeding it is . . .

Unless some well-meaning friend or family member calls me with yet another tip for how to get baby back to the breast.  Then I am filled with doubt and worry. 

I am learning how to cope with 'round-the-clock pumping sessions.  As I learn, I am becoming more capable of noticing and caring for other family members.  This week I read a few stories to I3 and H5 while I was hooked to the breast pump.  For me, this is a triumph.  I hope to be able to learn how to be ever more productive and attentive in these otherwise draining times of the day.

"Look at me!  I'm a goat!"
The other 7 kids have continued to have and use copious amounts of free time to the best of their ability . . .

which can be very interesting sometimes.
 The oldest ones read novels day in and day out.

H5 got out the camera again and again which means we have pictures of . . .

random lego creations . . .

sibling body parts . . .

extreme close ups . . .
and window screens (in an effort to photograph the snow outside).

One day this week, all of the kitchen stools received identities.

And Baby L was loved and played with constantly.

H5 and I managed to sneak in a reading practice session one quiet afternoon.  The time spent together fed both of our souls.

We're also trying to get some exercise in spite of the really low temperatures, snow, and ice that have been the norm this week.

Wednesday was our Explorer's Club field trip.  Dad took the kids to the meeting at an urban nature center.

Birds were the focus of the day, and A7 fell particularly in love with the raptors.  She brought home a free pamphlet and carefully took it apart so she could hang up the photos on her bedroom wall.  She was cunning enough to hang them in such a way that the articles were still readable, and now every time I tuck her in or check on her she shares a new fact she's learned.  H5 does what A7 does, so she's learning, too.

Dance rehearsals were cancelled due to illness, but that night Dad took the oldest 4 girls to the opera.  Our local opera house offers $5 tickets to educational groups on the night of their dress rehearsal.  The road conditions were of the white-knuckle variety, but Dad and the girls made it there and back safely and were able to enjoy the production of Silent Night.

I had a good long talk with an old friend who has also dealt with a baby who couldn't nurse; she gave me advice about how to get my milk supply back up (I'm only making about a third of what he needs) and how to cope with homeschooling for now.  I'm following her advice which means we're watching lots of documentaries as a family.  I reserved at the library about 75 documentaries on all sorts of subjects, and every day we're watching one or two together--old favorites like Planet Earth and Blue Planet and new-to-us favorites like Spellbound and Knut.  A couple of Great Courses DVD sets are waiting for us to try (one on opera, one on European art).  The girls and I are also enjoying more Jane Austen movies--Emma and Sense and Sensibility so far.

The Daddy/daughter dance at church was postponed, so we had a quiet night together on Friday night, but today is filled with activity--soccer practice, a dinner with cousins (provided the roads are safe), and a date with the sketch artist who is drawing a family portrait for us:

This is the preliminary rough draft he sent for our approval.  Today's session will help him finalize details, colors, and help him make any needed changes. 
I really like it!!!!!!

Lastly, inspired by another blogger, I've offered prizes for kids who work independently on schoolwork.  I've promised to be available each day for questions and to check their work, but I have not been able to figure out how to pick back up with a working school schedule of the variety we're used to.  I'm going to make a checklist for myself of things that I really want/need to get done and a tentative schedule that works around my pumping schedule. 

Dad goes back to work next week, so it's time for me to square my shoulders and press forward with faith.