Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Sleepy Sorts of Days...

Harper to the far left, just his little legs under the white blanket. Oskar in the green blanket, Jonah on the top right and of course Little Lolabird at the bottom. I stood on my bed to take this photo from above. This is my sweet little life. This is love.

I glanced around my sleepy bedroom just now. The clock is pointing out the fact that it's 3:30 in the afternoon and that means naptime, so here I sit on my bed surrounded by 4 of my 7 children. A Disney movie about some princess who gets stuck in the real world is on the tv and yet, my teenage son (who is home sick from school) is watching still even after the 3 others have fallen asleep. Even with the sounds of the movie in the background I can still hear the gentle snoring sounds of the 2 babies who will sleep just as long as they have some part of their body touching my own.

This is the kind of life I live. These are the days I have when I randomly post silly things on Twitter or Facebook, or when I'm texting friends. I don't know what people imagine my life is like, but this is it. It's simple. It's spent enjoying the fact that my children are all growing up with each other in their daily lives. These kind little moments where at teenage boy, even in his fevered sleepy relaxation, can reach over to gently pat a baby as he sleeps. Not because the baby needs it, but because they both do.

We fight daily for this life. We pray morning and night that they can stay together because this is good for them. This is what's best for these kids. Supporting them, cleaning and cooking for them, doing laundry until 2 am (like Mike did last night) these are the things we do and have done because we love these kids fiercely.

My most favorite kinds of days aren't the ones where our house is spotless and everything's organized and immaculate. My most favorite kinds of days are the ones like we had yesterday. Where we sleep in, where we lay in our master bedroom, ALL OF US, and watch silly shows or YouTube videos. Or when we talk about the most awesome substitute teacher Jonah's ever had and how bizarre it was to hear this guy talk to the kids in his strange accent. Or when Kenzie comes home from school every single night to tell us the latest drama between the girls in the class that infuriates and also entertains her. She's loving this new "college" life. Yet, she still wants to live at home as long as she can. And Jonah, he says he only feels comfortable with the family he's had surrounding him for as long as he can remember, day in and day out.

Casey's in a very social time in his life. He is involved heavily in musical theater and was just yesterday cast in The Music Man. He's nervous because his part has to sing alone, but we sit with him and remind him that wasn't he just one of the Von Trapp children last year in a community production? He's got friends around him who love him, and he's not afraid to share them with us. We love those kids like they're our own. Our family accepts everyone.

Harper's growing into such a little man. It kills me. He is the most sensitive child. If he feels like he's hurt your feelings, it crushes him into tiny little heart shaped pebbles and I have to gather them up and put him back together with the glue only a mother can provide.

The babies. They're babies. But they're kids, too. They're growing up and it's way too fast and it's way too cute and it's way too fun but I know from experience that I need to let them explore and become independent. They need to pick up their toys, and put their clothes in the hamper and against Lola's will, they need to have their hair washed and brushed more than once every couple of days.

These years will be gone before I know it. They're already half over. Soon, grandchildren will fill our home. We are blessed and we can't wait for the future.

Now if I could just get these last 2 to potty train...

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Love You Get Is Equal To The Love You Give

A lot of attention has been called to the way Michael and I parent our children lately. One in particular has questioned our parenting skills but merely for selfish reasons, and while it seems absurd to give the comments merit, it does have a tendency to cause much self reflection.

Michael and I were raised both very differently and very similarly. Both of our homes were 2 parent homes, both filled with opportunity, with encouragement and support. Both of our childhood homes were safe and comfortable, and we were both raised with the understanding that education was of the utmost importance.

I'm not going to discuss the ways in which our homes were different, as they are both important yet not so important to what I'm going to write about today. Today, I'm going to express a few things that have been on my mind lately.

When I was growing up, we were always expected to take care of our own basic needs. Yes, we were fed dinner, and we had a loving parent or two at all times at home. Yes we were supported and taken care of but for the most part, we were taught at a very early age to clean up after ourselves (although I didn't really do as much as my sister Eliza did. I'm a mess to the core, but that's also something I've learned over the years is extremely normal with my personality) to take care of the younger children when our parents were busy, to shower and bathe ourselves and to do basic chores around the house. I always enjoyed cooking, so it was my job very early on (at my own request) to make simple dishes. Spaghetti and the likes were simplest and I reveled in my duties as a family chef. I can recall once making a simple bundt cake pan full of raspberry jello, carefully measuring the hot water, adding the cold and stirring seemed so important. At dinner my dad took his first bite and closed his eyes and said something like "mmmmmm, oh Alli, this is the best!  You're such a good cook!" I can still picture where I sat at our little round table tucked into the breakfast nook in our kitchen. It meant so much to me to hear him compliment me on a skill that was so important to me.

As each of us grew, there were 4 of us, we naturally fell into our habits and hobbies and they did their best to offer us opportunities to better them. We took piano and violin, cello and dance. Sports and whatever else we asked for were offered and when we tired of them, they let us drop them for whatever we felt we wanted to try. Sure I had friends who started soccer at age 3 and kept playing until late into their adult lives, but we wanted to try many things, at least I did, and we were allowed to try them with the basic understanding that we had to at least give it a chance before we decided if we wanted to quit or not.

I dabbled in so many things. I loved writing (still do) and they purchased padded white embellished journals for me to write my stories in. (I still have the one I'm describing, and my kids still to this day laugh til they cry at my angsty 11 year old drama filled entries) When I took an interest in drama, I was allowed to participate at school, often getting parts in them or being offered positions in directing One Act Plays even up into high school. I give much credit to my parents for the fact that I'm one of those people who will see something I want to try, and without fear, I jump head first into it until I've either perfected it or gained enough knowledge out of it as to where I feel like it's a skill I can call my own.

Mike was raised the exact same way. He can tell you stories of playing the clarinet, of taking karate classes, running track and even playing football for years and years all the way through college. He took many classes in photography in college, studied art at an amazing liberal arts college, wrestled and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment one can gain from trying something, doing it and then calling it a part of who they are.

My children are no different. Each one is so unique. Even though all 7 of them look like they're cut from the same cloth (even the ones who don't share a biological father) they are all so absolutely and stunningly different.

When one expresses to us that he doesn't have the "urgency" or "desire" to continue with a certain sport, we ask them if they feel like they've really given it a chance, and if they can honestly say they have, we let them stop playing that sport. As nature directs, they smoothly transition into whatever else they want to try. This is how we were raised, to explore, to "try", to CHOOSE.

Giving your children a choice in their lives, in certain and most capacities, teaches them how to be good husbands, wives, people. You don't walk out of a home where your mother did everything for you and expect to get married and that the marriage will be successful. You walk into that marriage expecting that everything will be done for you, for your children. You walk into life blaming everyone else for the bad things in your life because you've never had to be accountable. You are an adult who criticizes everyone and everything in your life because of a sick sense of entitlement. This creates a dangerous dynamic.

Men and women who have not been taught to be responsible for themselves (and I don't mean paying your own bills, that's just common sense, people) seem to also be the people who are really good at getting people to love them, but not staying in love with them. They grow up thinking that they should be charming, to be the under dog, to be the one who needs support from lies they tell people around them. These people are the most dangerous type of people I have ever encountered. They hurt people and turn around and say "well you deserved it because you weren't doing this and this and this for me" or "you are wrong because, well, I'm always right. My mommy told me so because she never even allowed me to be woken up in the morning for school with an alarm clock".  This is sick and neglectful. This is disgusting to me.

Our children do not need to be coddled. The more they have people coddle them, the more dependent they become on others. Not that depending on your spouse is wrong, depending on someone because you've decided together that each will provide an equal part of a life you've created, this is the exception. Also, there is a difference between coddling and nurturing. Nurturing, this is imperative. Coddling, not so much. I think of it as a form of abuse, if I'm going to be honest here.

Children who are taught like ours are, to wake themselves for school, to do their own laundry (come on people, you're old enough to shoot nazi zombies on tv, you can surely put your whites in the washer, add a scoop of soap and push "start") and to pick up after themselves. I've been judged harshly because I don't do everything for my children. One of my older adult children was told that "It's your mom's job to make sure your house is spotless" and while I agree, it is my job to coordinate things in the home, because Michael and I have together decided on this, the kids are allowed to make that choice. If they don't do it, they get to live in a bedroom that has clothes and books on the floor and that weekend when they ask to go to the movies or to a friends house, I say no. Not because I'm mean, but because I am TEACHING THEM SOMETHING. You make a choice, you're responsible for that choice, you live with the consequence, whether it be good or bad.

My kids are smart people. Most kids are smart people. The most successful people I've known in my life are those people who worked hard on their own to become who they are. Likewise, the least successful people (not money, but in life) are the ones who were taught that everyone in the world is at their disposal. These people are the same ones who made commitments and then broke them. Who came home from missions. Who are divorced multiple times. Who can't seem to understand why people aren't just falling at their feet when push comes to shove.

I'm raising my people to be free with love, to give generously of their time to others. I don't look at the family room that hasn't been mopped in 3 days and think "oh I'd better get on that or I'm a bad mother!" I look at it and say "I asked so-and-so to do that 3 days ago. It's not done. Now that birthday party this weekend isn't going to be attended."

Judge us how you will. But before you do, I ask only one thing. Look at who we are. Look at who these kids are. Could they have become the well mannered, loving, kind and generous people they are without some guidance from loving parents?  If you can still say no, then I argue that you may not have it in your heart to accept anything that doesn't give you recognition in some form.

It isn't about you here, it's about the kids. It's about who has been there day in and day out, who teaches them to be incredible adults. When all of my kids have successful lives and marriages, we will give ourselves a pat on the back but only because we have guided them (not forced them) to become the good people that everyone is born with the capacity to be.

We will continue to teach them how to love. How to clean up after themselves. How to say they're sorry and love freely. We will continue to teach them how to be good people, how to pick up after themselves, how to do their own laundry, how to make themselves food because when they're all adults, they won't be the ones who have been divorced several times who still expect their mother to buy them cars. They'll be the ones taking us to lunch and bringing their kids over to see Grandma and Grandpa Easley because they'll know. They see it now. They'll see it then.  And I love that this is how the universe works. In the end, you get back the love that you give. And that's all that should really matter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Even When Those Words Are Screamed in Your Face

Today has been crazy, it has been hard. For some reason, Mike woke up this morning and knew he needed work from home and the reason he needed to be here was evident about an hour ago. Today was nuts. Today was crazy. You know what today taught us?  Today taught us that some people just aren't living in reality. Mike and I have been here every single day for these kids we are raising for the last 8 years, and I've been there since their birth. I have an adult daughter who went through some hard times, but she's married, happy, working, in college classes and she has an amazing relationship with all of us in this house. We talk to her EVERY DAY. The next daughter graduated with above a 3.0, and she's in college, has had the same sweet boyfriend for 3+ years and she comes home every night and talks to my husband and I for an hour before bed, all while going to school full time and then she also keeps a job at night. 

Our next son is the most tender hearted kid. He struggles with school, like SO MANY DO, but he always has since Kindergarten. He is a good brother, athletic, smart and honest. We are so proud of him. If a few grades are the only thing he's struggling with, so be it. I see kids every day with piercings everywhere all over their face, doing drugs, running away, abusing people, fighting, drinking, stealing and guess what. Grades?  We can and are working with that. The next son is seriously the most generous, loving kid I could ask for. He's smart, a good friend, talented, musical and such a good brother. He's more mature than half of the adults I know, and he's probably one of the coolest people I've ever met. Plus, he's had good grades all of his life and he always asks for help with schoolwork when he needs it. 

Seriously, my kids are going through some awful stuff. We've been criticized, Mike and I, for not being "parents" here, but here's the kicker, we're being accused of that by someone who's been all but a ghost for the last 7 years. We do our best EVERY DAY. We have kids who love us, who don't do drugs, who come home every night, who can confide in us, who know that we can have discussions about important things and they're not going to be yelled at. Our kids KNOW we love them because we've been there every day. Actions SCREAM louder than words. I'm so glad they're all almost adults, they see, are seeing, have seen...and they're making their own choices. We're behind them 100%, just like we've been every single day. Day in, day out. 

We aren't perfect, but we do our damn best. They see this, and we know they do because they're making hard choices that we told them they need to be the ones to make. We have always believed in teaching our kids how to be functional, independent adults when they leave our home, and that means letting them have choices and then making them be accountable either good or bad. They know this, and we know they do because they are old enough to see that the proof is in the pudding. They know who's been here and who hasn't. And yes, it hurts them to realize this but the world isn't always a pretty place. We've put in the work, and they know it, they've lived it.

We love these kids. It's not fun watching them struggle. They're such good kids. I wish they heard it from everyone in their lives, but they don't. In the mean time, we ARE parents, there IS parenting going on in this house and you can see it in the fact that for the last 8 years, we've done it alone and look. 2 successful adult children, 2 teenage boys who come home, who are awesome, who don't do drugs or drink, who love us and their siblings, and really, isn't that all you could really want in this life?  We love you guys so much, Tiffany Webb, Kenzie, Jonah and Casey. You mean everything to us.  Hang in there, and know that no matter what, we'll ALWAYS love you and be here for you. We will always choose you first.

Love, Mama and Daddy M