Friday, September 18, 2015

on preschool and letting go (a tiny bit) and sending a child with food allergies into the world

We have three days of preschool and one evening of Cubbies behind us, and we are exhausted. We transitioned from one small thing last year - music class once a week - to all in this fall, and the result so far is overtired kids and lots of time trying to decide if we're making the right choices.

Preschool is only two days a week for three hours in the morning. Placing Bennett in the 3 year old class was a good decision for him - and me. I love going to pick him up. I miss his face so much I go inside to pick him up. It's more efficient than waiting in the pick up line and I get to see him come up the stairs with a big smile on his face, eyes on his teacher, following the rules. It's always nice to know he can behave well, since he often chooses not to at home!

Cubbies is part of the Awana program. It's a little hard to explain, but it's basically a two hour Sunday school class on Wednesday evening - Bible verse memorization, craft, game time ... I really wanted B to attend, but I was worried about him getting lost in the chaos. Thankfully a dear friend is a table leader and she agreed to have him in her group. It's as good as me being there with him, so I feel a lot calmer about leaving him than I thought I would. She held him when he was new, she knows he has food allergies, she knows he can be shy, and she knows I can be a little paranoid and she loves me anyway.

And both of these things - preschool and Cubbies - require snacks. Of course. After the first day I told J we'll have to increase our food budget to ensure Bennett has food that is easy to pack and eat. I'm really, really worried that he'll eat something he isn't supposed to, but I can't control what he does when he's at school so I have to trust we taught him well and that his teacher will pay attention and remember he can't eat anything unless it comes in the door with him. So far, she's been great, but I know having 15 kids to take care of is busy and hectic. On top of everyday snacks there's birthday days, and special treats, and field trips, and I've started baking and freezing treats so I always have something on hand in case I need it.

There has been some refusal to all of these new activities, but no tears, and "I loved everything" comments at every pick up, so I feel he's ready, but it's still been hard! We're also trying a community group on Thursday nights, and we are the only ones with young children who attend, so that's been a new, challenging thing as well. It's a lot of new, and a lot of change, and we're all a little introverted so there's been many quiet times and extended afternoon breaks from each other (everyone to their own rooms for an hour, mama included!).

We're managing, we're coping, we're adjusting, and I think in a couple weeks we'll be in the swing of things and life won't feel so overwhelming. I have limited advice since we've barely dipped our toe in the waters of activities outside the home, but here's a few thoughts on the matter:

Thoughts on scheduling: I have two built in quiet days right now, and I think we'll definitely keep that in our schedule if we can. Two days where we don't have anything to do, but we can make time for friends, or a library trip if we feel up to it.

Thoughts on food allergies: Educate every caregiver and teacher. Remind them your child has food allergies every. single. time. you place your child in their care. Prepare, plan, have a dedicated allergy bag with all medicine and a snack or two, and every time you walk away pray for their health and safety just like you would for any child you send out into the world.

Thoughts on anxiety: If you are a mama who has buried a child I understand how anxious you feel when you leave your child in the care of someone else. If you're like me, it's hard to walk away. I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I worry I'll never see him again. But part of growing up is gaining independence, and as I've mentioned before I don't want my fear and anxiety to hinder Bennett's or Ainsleigh's lives. I can't stop them from living a normal childhood because their sister died unexpectedly. But I can make sure I'm as comfortable as possible with where my living kids are and who they are with, so for now all of Bennett's activities away from me are at our church.

How are you managing fall activities? Do you miss your babies? Can you believe they're old enough to be in school? Do you feel like your school is a good fit for your family?

It's hard to know if we are doing the right thing, but I think approaching every school and extracurricular decision with prayer and a willingness to alter course if things aren't working is the best mindset for our family. After all, this is only the beginning of Bennett's long (and in so many ways short) journey to independence.

Friday, September 4, 2015

on quiet days and best friends

This morning I made muffins for Bennett and Ainsleigh. When they finished baking, at 8 am because we'd been up since just before 6 am, the kids were desperate for a bite so I split open two steaming muffins for us to share. The kids hovered near me in their helper tower, which is always in the middle of the kitchen waiting to be used - or abused - now that we have room for it, while I waited for the muffins to cool down a bit. Then I fed all of us from the same fork, bite by bite, until both muffins were gone. After we finished we meandered to the living room, Ainsleigh in my arms, because even closing in on 2 that's her best place, her happiest spot. Ainsleigh nestled in close, head under my chin, face pressed into my neck, while Bennett raced ahead to find a book for me to read.

It rained on and off throughout the day. We meandered a lot, from room to room, from book to book. I read all of Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist in between demands and wishes from Bennett and Ainsleigh. I read the four books on army tanks Bennett picked out at the library three times. Big nonfiction books with concepts that are probably beyond him - and me to be honest - like war and conflict, but he is interested, and asks questions when he gets confused.

The kids had a bubble bath at 10:30, (so I could read a few chapters) followed by a big snack, and then Ainsleigh fell asleep for two hours. We run earlier than a lot of families I know, but this is our current season, and I'm embracing being the ones waiting in the parking lot for Trader Joe's to open at 8 am. 2-4 in the afternoon can be long and rough for us, because quiet time and naps are done and everyone is restless, but as the weather cools and the sky occasionally spits rain I've made that our time to get out and walk the dog around the block, or up the hill, or to the playground at the nearby school.

I needed a day to wander through the house, connect with my tiny ones, and feel sad. I am so very sad right now. So very sad, and so very glad, because a dear friend of mine is moving. Sad to see her go, glad for her family to have this opportunity. Weeks ago when she said, "There's a job offer in Minnesota," my heart sank. I just knew her husband would take the offer and she would go.

There's three of us. Three mamas with twelve babies between us if you count the ones in heaven as well as the ones we rock in our Earthly homes. I wouldn't be the mother I am today if I didn't have those two in my life. I've never had that experience before, the one of truly, authentically belonging in a friendship. Houses can be messy, hair can be frightening, kids can misbehave, tears can fall, no one judges if you laugh until you pee your pants (with that many kids between us how can you not?), and they are the ones I would call in the middle of the night, or at 2 in the afternoon, anytime anything good or bad happened.

Three weeks ago we spent two very hot nights helping our friend pack, paint and stage her home. On the second night we sat on the front lawn for twenty minutes with cold drinks in our sweaty hands, and we talked, and talked, and talked. We might have been out there for forty minutes, or two hours, but I'm sure it was closer to twenty. We can pack a lot of conversation into a few minutes. We're used to talking over screaming, fighting, crying, and generally loud kids having a great time together.

I know my friend isn't leaving my life. I know that. I get it. But I loved having her a few minutes away, and having her way out there in Minnesota is going to be a big adjustment. But as I was reading in Bittersweet this afternoon, when you have those kinds of friends you make time to visit them, you figure out a way to get yourself across the country, because those friendships are rare.

I've had bursts of sadness and joy over these last few weeks as we've prepared for her to go. On Monday her kids ran around with mine for a few hours. I cry every time I think about our girls born a few hours apart who won't grow up together, so I try to focus on how much they fight when they are together because they both are so strong, and determined. On Wednesday night we had our last pedicure and movie night for a while.

I'll never forget how she called me soon after Charlotte died and invited me out, even though she didn't really know me. And how she listened to my story over ice cream without saying anything but, "I'm sorry." I poured so much grief, hurt, and pain out in Cold Stone that night, and she just let me do it even though it was only our second time spending time together. The she introduced me to the third member of our group, and we all clicked, and it all made sense, and it's been the three of us for five years now. And it will still be the three of us, our friendship is just going to have a different shape, and I'm trying to adjust to that idea.

I'm standing in the middle of a lot of change right now, and it's hard for me to stay focused on God and the fact that even as everything around me shifts He is still good, He is constant and He is in control of our lives! Last Thanksgiving I asked my aunt how she was doing as her children married and moved away from her. She responded, "It's sad as they have children, but at the same time it isn't because they're not just leaving me. They are following God's calling for their lives."

Sometimes God calls us away from the people we love, and it really hurts, but as Shauna Niequist writes in Bittersweet change brings growth. In two, or four, or six years we may look back and see, oh, that's why ... oh, that's how God brought this about .... Something I learned when Charlotte died is that I may never gain understanding, but with time comes perspective. Right now I don't have any perspective, but it will come, probably when I least expect it.

"When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate.
And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow." - Shauna Niequist 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

let's get ready for the end of the world

There is something so satisfying about coming home from a store with bulk bins and filling all of my jars and containers with flours, quinoa, granola, oatmeal, flaxseed and beans. If I was really dedicated I would take my containers to the store, like so many people do, but I just can't seem to manage it. It's like reusable bags: I can remember both kids, or one kid and the bags. It's probably better to leave the bags behind.

On Saturday J and I went to Bob's Red Mill store near Portland to stock up on flour and buy a few things for our end of the world food bins. There's a LOT of unrest happening in our world right now. There's droughts, weather catastrophes, a heartbreaking refugee crisis, wars, and human trafficking happening right this very minute, and that's a short example taken from a very long list.

We take for granted our ability to go to the grocery store and buy the food we need when we need it. Or want it. J knows alllllll about ice cream runs at odd hours. We decided to make emergency food barrels just in case the world goes sideways and we have periods of time where resources are scarce. Costco has huge emergency food buckets, and you can buy them online of course, but B can't eat a lot of the food in the buckets. Even the gluten free ones don't work for us (where's the gluten, egg, peanut, corn, soy, dairy free buckets, people?! Come on, it can't be that hard to figure out what to put inside!)

All that to say we bought a lot of food on Saturday. At Bob's Red Mill I found as quiet of a corner as I could, list in hand, while J traveled from me into the bulk aisles to find what we needed. Now, if you've never been to a store with a large bulk section it. is. an. experience. While I was waiting for J to come back from fetching gluten free flour, one woman just wandered into the middle of an aisle and yelled out, "Where's the nutritional yeast???" That's how confusing those narrow aisles with bins upon bins get: people just start shouting in the hopes someone will shout back so they can Marco-Polo themselves to the bin they want without reading every. single. label.

As I mentioned before, if you are really dedicated to bulk buying you bring your containers. One guy waded into the fray with a reusable bag which he dropped on the floor and began pulling containers out of. He was lean, but muscly, he obviously worked out, and I was delighted to see that his containers matched him: they used to be full of protein powder. Perfect.

Using containers that had a prior purpose means you are really dedicated to bulk buying. You go once a week. You often get the same things. You know how much you'll need for a week, and you don't even have to measure. Before you fill your recycled containers with mung beans and pea protein you have to weigh them at the front counter so you don't get charged for the weight of the container.

If I were to bring in all of my containers I would be up there weighing them for a week. My cupboard is heavy on mason jar storage solutions. Perhaps forgetting the one or two I usually mean to bring is more courteous than dismissive of our fair Earth. Maybe?

The truly dedicated make reusing containers into an art form. They heave it on the scale, watch as the number is written down, and then casually say, This jar originally held my childhood dog's ashes. When he became one with the spirit world I hiked for days to his favorite meadow where I sprinkled his ashes under a full moon while drinking beer I made myself. And then I washed it out and brought it here so that nothing would be wasted.

I feel a little guilty when I forget my containers and reusable bags. Like all the dedicated people are staring at me when I ask for a bag at checkout. Can you tell?

After buying FIFTY pounds of gluten free oats, and a whole host of other things, we loaded up the Subaru, and headed home. We need to buy a few more things, and then we will make emergency food buckets. In 6-8 years we might be eating oats for a year. I'll let you know how it goes. Also: I think we're thisclose to buying a grain mill. Because grinding your own flour kind-of makes up for the whole failure to remember your bags and containers, right?


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