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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eleanor Update (With Pictures!)

So life has calmed down.  I knew that it would get to this point - after all there should be some advantage to having done this four times before - but it sure felt like it took forever to get here.  Now that waking up in the middle of the night is a distant memory it seems like a really bad dream that I'd rather not re-live any time soon.

When we got to Missouri, the first thing I did was pull out that swing and put Eleanor in it.  She cried.  I put the PRD on.  She kept crying.  And then maybe I cried a little.  After spending a day or two doing everything in my power to get her to sleep, I gave up and let her figure it out.  By the end of our vacation, she had - and she's been sleeping through the night ever since.

So a typical day for her starts around seven, when she is woken up by her adoring siblings who demand Eleanor Play Time as soon as she's done with her breakfast.  

At some point during EPT, she is declared the queen and dressed appropriately and given a throne and sometimes a crown.  Then she takes a nap.  Around eleven or so, she wakes up again and is manhandled played with again before going down for another nap.  Then we repeat that a time or two more before bedtime, around five or five thirty.  She gets another meal before I go to bed (but no play time as the girls are in bed by now) and then we start the whole thing over again at seven the next morning.

I always love my children, even when they're giving me the fits, but I sure do like them a lot more when I know what I'm in for on any given day - especially when the schedule involves a lot of napping with some smiling, cooing, and eating in between.

I'm grateful Eleanor and I have come to that understanding because next week I head down to North Carolina to spend some quality time with my family at the beach.  Usually Brandon comes with us, but this time he's got Tajik that can't be missed and so I'll be a single parent at the beach.  My parents won't be there either and so I'll really, really be a single parent at the beach.  It's a good thing Eleanor likes sleeping so much or the rest of my children would be stuck inside watching cartoon network all day.

And so life is good.  I'm not pregnant, my baby is not a newborn, I'm getting good sleep after a year of bad, and we don't have to get on another plane for three and a half months.  What else could a girl ask for?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One o'clock church, bane of my Sunday

It's Sunday night, seven-thirty, and Brandon is putting the children to bed.  Shrieks, giggles, and shouts drift through the wall as he supervises teeth-brushing, clothes-changing, hand-washing, and bathroom trips.  I can hear the irritation drive his voice higher and louder as hijinks increase in proportion to the time spent getting ready for bed.  Slowly, slowly the voices settle down and just one drifts out to me as Brandon reads to the children - tonight is The Horse and His Boy.

Toys, couch pillows, books, shoes, clothes, duplos, papers, and blankets litter every surface in our living room.  The kitchen table hosts a scattering of left-behind dishes and dirty frying pans keep each other company on the stove.  Half-washed pots crowd the sink, still waiting their turn to be finished and put away.  As I walk through the toy room to get to my own, I have to step carefully to avoid the train tracks, horses, more duplos, and markers strategically placed to stop any stealthy invader.  My covers are flung across the half-made bed, making a nest for the church clothes, baby blankets, and dirty diaper that haven't been put away yet.  Makeup and hair products clutter my bathroom counter, left where they were hastily dropped eight hours ago.

This is my house on Sunday night.

In Baku, we were spoiled.  Church started at ten and was done by noon.  We had enough time to sleep in and have a reasonable breakfast and still make it home for an afternoon nap.  Dinner was usually around four or so, leaving plenty of time to get everyone ready for bed, the house tidied up, and still have a nice quiet Sunday evening.  I would write and Brandon would read or talk to family and we had enough peace to feel at least part of our day really did have some rest.

Not so here.  When I was a teenager, nine o'clock church was the dreaded hour - always up late on Saturday night, Sunday morning was much, much too early when nine o'clock saw me dressed, waiting to start the opening hymn.  But now, I dream of nine o'clock church - finished early enough that I could call family, or take a walk, or read a book before even thinking about eating dinner.  Yes, I would have to get up early, but I would be done early too.

But instead, we spend all morning preparing for church.  We wake up late (because nobody ever has the heart to set an alarm for Sunday morning), shower, eat breakfast, bathe the children, get them ready for church, prepare as much dinner as possible, get ready ourselves, and then head to church.  After three hours of church (which turns into four hours gone from the house), we come home, fix dinner, wash the dishes, put the children in bed, smile at each other for fifteen minutes, and go to bed.  Then we wake up at five in the morning and it's Monday again.

Theoretically, three (or four) hours out of my day shouldn't make a difference - after all three hours is three hours is three hours.  But somehow church preparation always stretches to fill the time given to it.  If we have four hours, we take four hours.  If we have one, everyone may look a little less polished, but they still get there on time.

So by the time we get home, everyone has spent all morning getting ready for church and most of the afternoon at church.  Brandon has spent the last two hours of church futilely attempting to make three- and four-year olds sit through those same two hours while teaching them a lesson.  I've spent all three hours trying to keep Eleanor quiet and so we're both worn out from trying to keep everything together and dinner is an exercise in trying to see how quickly everyone can get the food eaten so we can send them to bed and just have five minutes of quiet.

A few weeks ago a teacher mentioned a book she had read.  You should all read it, she encouraged us, maybe pick it up for some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  I snorted to myself as I tried to remember the last time I had some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.

But, soon enough I'll be in Dushanbe when church will be whenever we want it to be (eight o'clock says Brandon), will be as long as we want it to be, and any children who can't behave can be sent to their rooms for naps.  And we won't even have to spend an hour coming and going.  I might even have some time for quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  Maybe.

Only four more months.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday night hijinks

Friday night is date night at our house.  Friday used to be pizza night and Saturday was date night.  That was back when our children were less aware of the fact that pizza is good and movies are fun to watch.  When the children started asking when they were going to get to watch a movie and eat pizza too, Friday was declared date night - sometimes it was a leave the house date and sometimes it was a stay at home and eat pizza date - and Saturday family night.  So when the children ask when they can watch a movie, we remind them that Saturday is family movie night so go to bed a leave us alone while we eat pizza, okay?

Recently date night has been much more of the stay at home and eat pizza variety.  I'm not going to leave Eleanor with a babysitter until she's reliably asleep when we leave, and that has only started happening in the past week or two.  So we've watched a lot of Redbox movies in the last two and a half months and even I'm getting a little tired of pizza.  I'm hoping to go out next week.  Fingers crossed.

Last Friday was another pizza date night, so I brought the boys in from swimming around five so I could feed and put them to bed them before Brandon and I enjoyed our own dinner in front of our movie.  Kathleen and Sophia had been sick with fevers that day, so they had been left home.  Which, I suppose, was fair as the boys had missed swimming the day before for their own sick day.

We didn't have a movie, however, so I left Brandon feeding everyone leftover borsch while I enjoyed a little evening drive to our local 7-eleven.  Every time I leave the house to get a movie or one item at the grocery store or take out, I savor the joy of being in America where I can run to Target not once, but twice a day for something I suddenly realized I needed.  And then I think ahead to Dushanbe where mail comes once a month - if you're lucky - and wonder how I'm going to survive.

Movie in hand, I walked through the door twenty minutes after I left, and told Brandon about a CIA analyst who writes spy novels - maybe some of our friends know him?  Eleanor was hungry and ready to go to bed, so I fed her and put her down before getting to work on the pizza.  I reached for the cheese grater to get to work on the mozzarella cheese.  I hate grating cheese.  Really, I hate grating anything, but especially cheese.  I always end up grating at least one knuckle, and at the end there's always that lump of smeary cheese that refuses to be grated and is too big to put on the pizza.

Brandon was busy with the children, however, so cheese grating was mine.  I looked in the refrigerator, rummaging around in the cheese drawer.  Goat cheese, parmesan, cheddar, feta (how I love America and its selection of cheeses), but no mozzarella.  Then I remembered telling myself last pizza night to not forget about buying more mozzarella.

This time I got to listen about corn prices on NPR.  Did you know that corn is down a dollar a bushel from last year?

It's a good thing Safeway is about a mile from our house.

By the time I got back home - this time with a block of mozzarella in hand - the children were almost done with dinner.  I got down - again - to dinner, sautéing mushrooms and slicing kalimata olives from their obnoxious pits.  And grating cheese.  Brandon chased the children around, issuing increasingly dire threats about getting their teeth brushed - now - while trying to slice up onions.

Sophia, still sick, was laying on the couch all ready for bed.  Suddenly she sat up.  "My stomach feels funny," she announced.  I looked up from the mushrooms; maybe she hadn't had enough to eat?  "I feel like I'm going to throw up," she continued.  Sophia and Kathleen are both paranoid about vomiting.  I think they get it from their mother.

I turned back to the mushrooms and shrugged, "Well, you'd better go to the bathroom." It's always better to be safe than sorry.

I glanced back to see Sophia rush to the bathroom, hand clutched over her mouth.  About ten seconds later her desperate wail floated back to me.  "Moooooom!  I threw up!!!"

I looked at Brandon.  He looked at me.  He sighed in disgust and headed to the bathroom.  I guiltily finished with the mushrooms.  Then I bravely checked out the damage.

Brandon likes to tell a story about one of his brothers who was sick.  After making a trip to the facilities, he came out and announced that he had thrown up in bathroom.  Brandon's mother told him to go to bed and she would get to the bathroom in a minute.  When she finally made it she realized that her son hadn't been kidding - he had thrown up in the entire bathroom, liberally coating everything within splashing distance.

I always wondered how that had happened.  Now I know.  Fluid dynamics are pretty amazing, especially in small bathrooms with lots of splashable surfaces.

Now, I'm not a publicly affectionate person.  It's my goal never to write any Facebook posts about how my husband is the best husband in the the entire world.  I know he is, so there's no need to try and prove it to anyone else.  But I have to set aside my own principles this one time.

Brandon really is the most amazing husband.  While I finished dinner and got the children ready for bed, Brandon cleaned up the entire bathroom, scooping up Sophia's lunch and dinner off the floor, scrubbing it off the wall, wiping it off the bottom of the toilet, rinsing it off the bathmat, washing it off the door and bathtub, and cleaning it off the diaper pail.  He spent over half an hour doing something a abhor simply because he knows I hate vomit.  When I offered to do it - he waved me off.  "I'm your husband," he told, "and it's my job to do the hard things so that you don't have to."  Flowers on Valentine's Day are nice, but I think cleaning up vomit may be even better.

After putting everyone down to bed - Sophia with a bowl - Brandon showered while I finally finished the pizza.  Then we watched our movie.  And ate our pizza.  And there was no more vomit.

Next week, we're going out to eat.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boy, that is a LOT of people

While we were at the family reunion, we had the Zieglers, husband and wife photography team come to take pictures.  In the last family photo that included all of Brandon's family, I was pregnant with Kathleen.  It's been awhile.

To keep you from going cross-eyed while counting, that's thirty-eight people.  All because of two people and, as someone there put it, some irresponsible family planning.  I'm glad to be part of the fight against declining birth rates.

There are twenty-one of those munchkins.  All under fifteen.  We went through a lot of ice cream that week.

I look happy.  Brandon looks... something.  I promise that he really is happy to be married to me.

The girls had a great time with their cousins.  Six little girls shared one room.  Every night around eight, we would tell the girls to go get into bed and they'd vanish.  One night I actually checked see if everyone was okay and everyone was dead asleep, surrounded by the detritus of Barbie-doll playing.

It's starting to look like we're not a starter family anymore.  One day Edwin's going to regret that face.

This is my turtle-baby, Eleanor.  She doesn't understand the concept of 'smile for the camera' yet.

I can imagine putting this picture in a wedding-reception slideshow in about fifteen years.  I'm so happy for the miracle of digital photography that will let this picture live in perpetuity.

My very favorite part of the week was after the picture session.  We had spent the Fourth of July at a local amusement park (shockingly, it was mostly enjoyable even with the children) so we saved the fireworks for Saturday night.  Brandon's mother had made homemade ice cream, so everyone stayed outside talking waiting for the twilight to deepen into the moon-tinged darkness perfect for fireworks.  The children, happy to be freed from endless smiling for the camera, cavorted across the lawn in the mindless games they spontaneously generate.  The sun sank below the horizon, leaving its perfect light to fade softly into night.  As the fireflies winked into being, Kathleen brought one over to me, amazed at their phosphorescent glow.  I don't know if she's ever caught them before.

As darkness settled in, everyone lined up on the lawn with bowls of creamy-fresh blackberry ice cream.  One of my nephews settled into my lap as the first of the roman candles went off.  The cicadas buzzed in appreciation, filling the summer night with their droning background music.  Green fire shot into the night, followed by red and then blue and gold.  While we waited for the next, I snuggled my friend closer, listening to the endless prattle of a four year-old on an endless summer night.  Then the sky lit up again and I could have stayed there forever.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A sigh of relief

Wednesday morning I exercised.  I did it again on Thursday, and despite the protests from my sore muscles, I finished off the week with a three-mile run on Friday.  I'd been physically able to exercise for two weeks, but Eleanor hadn't been very co-operative.  Five o'clock is early enough without throwing in a two a.m. feeding just for fun.  But on all three days she didn't wake up until just before five, giving me enough time to feed her before exercising.  Of course Saturday morning she woke up at three and six (which is the worst time possible to be woken up on the weekend; too early to actually get up and too late to get some good sleep afterwards).

Saturday afternoon we went to the park with my aunt and uncle and their dogs.  The children had a wonderful time feeding the two lovely huskies all of their strawberry hulls, dropped fruit, and dirty cheese while I tried to convince Eleanor that sleeping really was a good idea.  But after we came home and I fed her, she slept (in her swing of course) from four-thirty until I woke her up at nine-thirty to feed her.  And then she went right back to sleep until four Sunday morning.

I've made twelve loaves of bread in the last week and a half, made dinner every night, eaten it hot, and had hour-long naps almost every day.  Wednesday I had two naps.

Life is finally returning to normal.

Now, of course, at the end of the tunnel, two months doesn't feel like it was that long.  In the middle of two months it felt endless and I was grateful for the perspective granted by having four other children that allowed me to remember that the craziness would end and all children eventually grow up and that it would be a distant, fuzzy memory that was only confirmed by Brandon and my journal.  One of the best things about difficult experiences is that you never have to live the exact same one ever again.  Once it's over you never have to go back there.

I'm grateful that we don't have to move in the next few weeks (or last week) and I still have five more months of normality before we pick up and move again.  Because it feels really, really great to not be pregnant and not have a tiny newborn.  I've felt some degree of cruddy since September; it's nice to be done with that.  I've been dreading the Dark Ages since before Eleanor was conceived and I'm happy to be done with that too.

Friday Eleanor smiled at me for the first time.  She's been quite taciturn, exhibiting the normal newborn range of expressions - puzzled, worried, angry, hungry, cross-eyed - all of which are humorous but not exactly enchanting.  Joseph took some time to smile, so when Eleanor's six-week mark came and went without any hint of a smile, I wasn't too worried.  But still.  It would be nice.

Friday she was enjoying a moment of quiet attentiveness and I caught her eye.  "Eleanor, baby," I cooed at her, stroking her cheeks and smiling so hard my cheeks ached.  "Hi," I enthused, "beautiful baby!"  Her eyes stayed locked on mine.  I kept stroking her downy soft, chubby baby cheeks, while staring into those dark blue endless eyes.  She peered back, fixated on my smiling face hanging over hers.

And then first one corner and then the other corner of her mouth quirked upwards.  Briefly a look of confusion flashed across her face before her eyes caught up with her mouth as her whole face lit up in a beautiful, ecstatic smile.  Her fists waved wildly as her back arched and her legs kicked up and down, her whole body smiling along with her face.

I smiled back even harder, my cheeks aching even more, as tears crept into the edge of my eyes.  There you are, my beautiful baby.  It's good to see your smiling face.  Finally.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Party Time

When I mention (casually, if that's actually possible) to new acquaintances that I homeschool my children they usually ask whether I give everyone a summer break.  I remember in elementary when year-round schooling was first introduced as the newest greatest thing in education and being positively horrified.  Who in their right mind would want to school non-stop?!?  After all, summer break is the best part of the year, time to have a long, lazy, hot stretch of empty days seeming to last forever.  How could you enjoy summer if you were stuck in a classroom while everyone else in the world was at the pool?  For a time it looked like year-round was going to change the world for the worse, but thankfully the trend passed and only children whose parents hated them got sent to the few schools that changed their calendar.

But, as we all know, a parent's agenda is not always the same as a child's agenda.  And so we school all year round.  This year we have enough breaks that we really can't afford to take the whole summer off and so I have a ready excuse.  But really, I school through the summer because there's not much else to do.  Maybe if I hadn't just had a baby in May we could spend all morning and all afternoon at the pool, but Eleanor is not happy outside her swing for more than forty-five minutes and so we're home-bound until Brandon comes to spell me in the afternoon.  And as long as we're stuck in the apartment, we might as well school because it takes some of the combatants out of the fights and keeps everything calmer.

So I suppose I am one of those parents that hate my children (sadly, that's probably true on occasion).

However, as much as I like routine (and I love routine), it gets a little old after a few months.  Eleanor's been around for eight weeks and we've been back in school for seven and it's about time for a break.  Interestingly, I don't think the children care that about a break, but I certainly wouldn't mind one.

Lucky for me, it's time for Brandon's family reunion!  Brandon is the second of nine children which makes getting together a little difficult, especially when various brothers leave for two-year missions, move overseas, and people keep having more and more children.  The last time we got together, I was pregnant with Kathleen.  There were only five grandchildren and four married children so we were able to squeeze (very tightly) into his parents' house.

This time, however, there will be twenty grandchildren, one more in-law and another almost-in-law so we're all staying at a big (big) rental near Branson, MO.  Emails have been flying back and forth about meals, planned outings, room assignments, rules (leave your strong opinions at home), and timetables.  Brandon's mom declared that 2014 was going to be The Year back in 2011 or 2012 and so everyone will be there - thirty-six people in all.  It's going to be fun.

The children can't decide if they're more excited about the onsite pool, all of the cookies Grammy is making, having a sleepover with their cousins, going to the amusement park, or the plane ride.  I'm looking forward to spending a week away from my three-bedroom apartment, away from school, and with some of my very favorite people.  I'm sure Brandon's looking forward to something, but he hasn't told me what it is yet.

I was originally going to fly there and back by myself, as Brandon couldn't take any leave, with all five children and booked our tickets accordingly back in September (thank you United rewards and State).  Last week, Brandon sent me an email from FSI announcing that he could take the Fourth of July week off and so I checked to see if I could change his ticket.  While checking I realized that I had booked his departing ticket for the wrong day anyway, so I changed his to the same six am flight I'm taking with the kids.  I'm still doing a solo return, but at least it's only one day with Screaming Baby and four other children and not two.

So, the ducks are all lined up, the suitcases are almost packed, and we're all ready for some fun!