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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Happy Birthday to Me

This year I turned thirty-eight which is starting to sound like a lot of years.  I am the same age as my mother in law when she sent her oldest son on a mission.  This fall is my twentieth high school reunion.  When I worked at a small business while pregnant with Kathleen, the lady who owned the business was thirty-eight.  I've definitely left mid thirties behind me and entered late thirties.

This doesn't bother me; I enjoy having lived long enough to have some life experience that helps me to be a little better than I was in younger years.  I certainly don't want to go back to being young if it means I have to learn all those lessons over again.  But it is strange to know that physically I've reached the high water mark and it's pretty much a gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) decline until the end.  I'm certainly not feeling my imminent mortality, but the reality is more concrete than it used to be.  As I like to remind Brandon, everyone gets old who doesn't die first.

The celebrations this year stretched over four days, ending with my birthday itself.  We had done so much partying that by the time my birthday arrived I kept forgetting that it was the actual day.  I laughed when Brandon sent me a text halfway through the morning, "Oh..PS... Happy Birthday and stuff.  I love you."

We started Saturday by going to Amirsoy ski resort.  I thought it somewhat ironic that the cold-hater chose to go up to the mountains for some snow and sledding, but I reserve the right to be contradictory.  It's a woman's prerogative, after all.

The next day with celebrated with cake and presents.  I had plans for my actual birthday and we always have dessert on Sunday night, so turning dessert into a birthday cake seemed like as good an idea as any to me.  Brandon let me sit and read my book while he and Eleanor whipped up a delicious chocolate-raspberry cake.  He even managed to find the candles which pop in and out of existence, usually only appearing when someone doesn't have a birthday.

On Monday the embassy had a holiday, so Brandon and I abandoned the children and went out to breakfast followed by jewelry shopping.  Being able to get up, shower, feed the baby, and then leave without any other preparations was a birthday gift all by itself.

I finished the celebrations with friends on my actual birthday.  The two other women from church organized a dinner out and we invited ladies from the embassy community and turned it into a girls' night out and January birthday celebration.  I love being part of a community that supports each other and is always happy to get together and celebrate whatever is happening.

This birthday helped me to really see how blessed I have been with wonderful people in my life.  As I sat and listened to the voices of family and then friends sing to me, I realized that they had done those things because they wanted me to feel special.  As the children handed me the gifts they had made and I watched the excitement in their eyes, I could see how much they wanted to make me happy with their efforts.  I thought of how lonely my life would be without all these people to love and care for.  And I thought of how full my life is with these people to remind me, again and again, what is most important in this life.  Happy Birthday to me indeed.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Yesterday we went up to the mountains for the first time this winter.  Although I really don't like winter (the only real use of winter is to bring spring), I actually enjoy snow sports.  I skied a lot in college and also enjoyed snowmobiling with friends and would occasionally borrow my sister's snowshoes for an outing.  Brandon has tried to point out that if I like snow sports, that means I like winter because winter brings snow.  But I am happy to enjoy snow in places that I can travel to and enjoy warm weather in the places I live. 

Since I now have seven children, however, the snow sport that I get to enjoy is sledding.  None of the other sports work very well with an infant and two-year old in tow.  We weren't able to find a really good sledding hill last winter, and so when I found out about a new resort opening this winter, I was excited to see that they had a tubing hill.

We had originally planned to go on Monday for the MLK holiday, but the weather looked better for Saturday, so we switched plans at the last minute and invited some friends along.  

We eventually arrived around noon after a late start, and the weather was perfect.  It's been grey, cloudy, and smoggy in Tashkent almost non-stop since we came back in December, so it was wonderful to get up above everything and have a crystal-clear sunny day up in the mountains.  Everyone had warm enough clothing, so there was no complaining about numb feet or hands. 

Unfortunately, about half of Tashkent had the same idea we did so the resort was packed.  The only other ski and sledding options in the mountains are Soviet-era relics that don't even come close to deserving the name 'resort,' so it seems that everyone else is as excited as I was to try something new and actually functional.  

The resort itself seemed to actually be well run and felt like a smaller version of the places I skied in college (with a lot more Uzbek women in high-heeled boots).  It had equipment rentals, clean bathrooms, and several restaurants including one that served plov - because who wants to go skiing if you can't have plov for lunch?  

Paying for the tubing was somewhat frustrating because we didn't have a clear idea of how the system worked and the cashier couldn't understand that we really, actually wanted to purchase eighty rides for eight different people.  We ended up buying six cards with ten rides loaded on them, and then headed out to the tubing runs.  

There turned out to be two separate areas, one for younger children and the other for older children and adults.  For a country that doesn't believe in seatbelts or carseats, I've found Uzbekistan has strangely restrictive policies for rides - it's not like small children will be harmed by going down a big hill versus a small hill.  We've also run into this at the water parks and amusement parks.  When we went to the NC state fair, Eleanor and Joseph rode rides that Kathleen wouldn't be able to ride in Tashkent.  

The younger children were disappointed at being relegated to the 'baby' hill, but soon realized they had the better deal when we saw the line to the big hill.  After watching Eleanor take two or three rides, I walked over to the older kids and found that they had only moved about ten feet since they had gotten in line.  It wasn't helped by the elbow-throwing locals who pushed past in line until everyone joined up and blocked them from any more encroaching.

Thankfully we found a clearing next to the sledding hill where the children were able to play in the snow or the day might have been disappointing.  Driving over an hour and a half to take ten slides and throwing elbows in a ten-minute line for every ride (at ninety cents a ride) doesn't sound like a very good deal to me.

Happily, lunch turned out well - it was good, fast, and cost around four dollars a person.  And as a bonus, there was a TV showing cartoons to keep the children (all at their own table) quiet while eating their food.  It's wonderful to enjoy tasty lunch with friends while (most of) our children mind themselves.  

The day ended up being pleasant enough and everyone had a good time, but I'm not sure if I would go back to go sledding.  It was more that I'd like to spend on sledding (fifty dollars) when we own sleds and it's free if you can find a place to sled.  I also didn't care for the crowds and lines.  However, it was nice to have a hot lunch and a clean bathroom.  If I had the chance to go back and ski (without the children), I'd go because the skiing looked to be fairly decent, if limited.

But, it was nice to get out of town and have a beautiful day in the mountains.  I certainly won't complain about that!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Return to Our Regular Schedule

This week I got up every single (weekday) morning and exercised.  We had full school every day.  Our Russian tutor spent nine hours at our house, dredging up our lost Russian skills from the dusty corners of our brains.  I cooked dinner each night.  And my naps have shortened from two-hour marathons to a much more reasonable forty-five minutes.

We are back to fully functioning life and it is beautiful.

The older I get, the more I love a schedule.  It's soothing to my soul to know when I'm going to get up, when I'm going to eat my meals, go to bed, and what will happen in between.  I can slot all the event in my life into the schedule and know that all the important things (like my nap) are getting done.

And so the last four or five months have been a little hard on my psyche.  Actually, it's been hard ever since I got pregnant.  I'm no longer the young, energetic mother that I was a decade or more ago, and this last pregnancy wore me out.  Instead of getting things done and feeling awesome, all I wanted to do was sleep, rest, and then sleep some more.  So the last ten months have been in survival mode.

It's been hard to get any sort of schedule set up for those last ten months.  After we finished school, the whole summer was spent preparing for our departure for the States.  After getting to the US, we had a semi-schedule established that quickly got demolished as soon as Elizabeth showed up, and we've been running ever since.

But now we are back in Tashkent, I'm not pregnant, and I've been sleeping all night for almost a month.  It's amazing.  I love checking off a long list at the end of the day and high-fiving myself for being so awesome and getting all those things done that have been bothering me for the last ten months.  Even more, I love not feeling destroyed after that day of doing useful things.

Brandon is especially happy that we're not going anywhere until July.  And even more than that, we're both happy that we aren't moving for another year and a half.  I realized recently that 2020 is the very first year since we each moved away from home at eighteen (so two decades for me) that we haven't moved, just moved, gotten ready to move, had a baby, or been pregnant.  I guess I can hardly complain about having a boring life.

I'm sure by the time late summer rolls around and we're ready to get out of the country, I'll be happy to have a break in our schedule and have some variety.  But for now, I'm just glad to back in the groove without any interruptions in sight.

In Defense of Ritalin

My family has a history of ADD.  Brandon's family does too, so it isn't surprising that two of our children suffer from it also.  When I was a child, ADD was a made-up diagnosis, something that was used as an excuse for children whose parents didn't teach them how to sit still and be quiet.  I didn't really believe that it was an actual mental difficulty.

Now, of course, I know differently.  Life - and especially parenthood - has a way of taking childish notions and proving them entirely wrong.  We started the older child on Ritalin while living with my parents during an OB medevac.  This child was not hyperactive at all and wasn't one one would think of the 'classic' ADD case.  My parents were a little skeptical that this child needed medication - after all they weren't disruptive and were capable of doing their school work.  But after the first day of watching this child on Ritalin, both were amazed at the difference.

Recently we started our second ADD child on Ritalin.  We waited to start the first one, a girl, until third grade.  But with this child, a boy, it became apparent that third grade was going to be waiting too long and so we started him earlier.

The day he started it was immediately apparent when the Ritalin kicked in.  Writing a sentence that took half an hour the day before took five minutes.  His balkiness when working with his sister disappeared.  Even his handwriting improved.  He usually made it through the school day with a liberal sprinkling of breaks but when I asked him if he wanted a break that day, he cheerly replied, "Nope! I just want to go ahead and get my school work done!" And he did.

These days I feel like that general approval of Ritalin was waned.  There are accusations of doctors handing it out like candy, and lots of hand-writing statistics about how many children use the medication.  Impassioned articles beg parents to decline brain-altering medications in favor of moving at a pace that the child can handle, usually with lots of breaks.

There are also lots of theories as to why the diagnoses of ADD have soared over the last few decades, from nutrition to old age to increased school demands.  I imagine that eventually that puzzle will be worked out, but the hows and whys don't really matter when you have a child that is struggling with a real problem.

And after watching my two ADD children, I know that it is a real problem.  Having seven children has allowed me to observe a lot of childhood behavior and sort out what is normal age-appropriate behavior and what is not.  After we had one ADD child, it made it even easier to spot the second one pretty young.  They weren't simply inattentive or lazy, they were different.  It wasn't just an issue of not having a desire to do their work or remembering to concentrate, it was a fundamental inability to do it when things got too hard.

And so I did the responsible thing - I got help for my children.  And help in this case was medication.  It certainly wasn't only medication, but medication was a crucial part of that help.

I imagine that if I only had one child, perhaps we could have forgone medication.  Perhaps.  My day would have been taken up by timers, reminders, and watching my child like a hawk.  And over time, they would have slowly, painfully developed that ability to manage those systems by themselves.  But it would have been a lot of work and probably been bad for our relationship.  One can only remind someone to do something nicely so many times before the gentle reminders turn into stern requests and eventually irritated demands.  Nobody likes to be bothered like that, and I know that I am driven crazy when I do the bothering.

I have a friend who was not diagnosed with ADD until adulthood.  When I mentioned that we had put one of our children on Ritalin, this friend thanked me for recognizing that this child needed help and then helping her with medication.  My friend said that they had spent most of their school years wondering why they were never able to manage things like everyone else seemed to be able to.  They felt like they must just be stupid or incompetent and went through episodes of depression because of it.  When the diagnosis - and subsequent medication - finally happened, this friend's life became functional in a way it had never been.  They were so happy to hear that our child wasn't going to have to go through the same struggles.

There are times for medication and there are times for other methods.  And often those things need to be used together - it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition.  My ADD children's days begin with medication, but it certainly doesn't mean that I get to check out and stop parenting.  Instead, it just means that I get to parent them more like my other children.  We still use timers and lists and check-ins, but they not longer are accompanied by increasing frustration and anger on both sides.  They get more autonomy and choices in how they get their work done instead of having rigid schedules to keep everything functioning properly.  There are definitely still times when both get seriously distracted, but it's not every ten minutes like in the pre-medication days.

I'm grateful for the tools that I have to help my children, and grateful that one of those tools I have is medication.  I'm glad that my ADD children don't have to try and brute-force their way through a problem that is not of their own making.  I'm happy that we can have a good relationship because we're both not driving each other crazy.  And I'm thankful for a supportive pediatrician that has helped us get our children the medication they need.

Now it's time for my public service announcement: If you or someone you love is struggling with ADD or ADHD, don't dismiss medication as a viable tool to help with that struggle.  Medication isn't the only thing that will help, but it's definitely something to consider.  We all need help, and sometimes that help comes in the form of a little white pill. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Seven Children: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some days I have a hard time believing that I have seven children.  Seven children sounds like a lot of children.  It's a number that is reserved for crazy people or families that sing together while climbing the Austrian alps.  Nobody thinks seven children is anything but a circus.

Usually when the phrase 'seven children' comes up in conversation, people inevitably ask me how I handle taking care of so many people.  I generally shrug and admit that paying a housekeeper is an essential part of making life work.  I've got a system and adding one more doesn't make that much of a difference.

I can't say that I'm any more stressed than I was when I had three children, and in some ways I'm a lot less stressed than I was a decade ago.  But there are definitely some things that just get worse the more children you have.  

So, for those of you out there who are considering having a large family (or just like reading about having a large family), here's my take on what is hard and what isn't hard about joining the all-star ranks of big families.  

I've found that the stress of actual childcare hasn't really gotten much worse as we've pushed past four children.  As we've added more small children, the formerly small children have gotten older.  Older children are a lot easier to take care of than smaller children, and when they get even older they can help take care of the smaller children in truly helpful ways.  

My household tasks have actually gotten less as I've gotten more children.  I used to tidy up the house every morning (it started out as a self-defense mechanism to keep the housekeeper from hiding my stuff from me), which would take at least half an hour.  My house is still tidied every morning, but I'm only responsible for my own room as the children are each assigned part of the house.  I only fold my and Brandon's laundry, and the same goes with packing suitcases.  I haven't bathed children in years.  When I am taking all the children somewhere, I usually get to the car and find everyone dressed, buckled in, and waiting for me.  After Sunday lunch, Brandon and I go and take a nap while the children clean the kitchen.  I'm much more managerial than hands-on these days.

Homeschooling hasn't gotten much harder, as Kathleen and Sophia are almost entirely self-directed in their schooling (aided by a couple of online classes each) and Kathleen helps out with Joseph's school.  My teaching time is taken up by the children in elementary school, which is only every three children at a time.  And three children isn't that bad, especially when you're on the fifth time teaching some subjects.

Sleeping arrangements aren't tight either, even though our house only has four bedrooms (despite the house being 6,000 square feet).  All three boys share a bedroom, and there is one bedroom for the big girls and another for the young ones.  Even when we were on medevac and the bedrooms were fairly small, it wasn't difficult to fit everyone in.  In a pinch we could fit in three bedrooms, although the big girls would protest most loudly.

However, there definitely are some things that are harder with more children.

One of the more obnoxious things is the fighting.  Each child has six other children to fight with (okay, potential fights since Elizabeth isn't stealing clothes yet) which means that there are forty-two potential one-on-one fights and even more if there are three or four involved in the fight.  We certainly don't have non-stop fighting, but there are probably at least two or three major fights and ten or more minor squabbles a day.  Fighting is a normal part of sibling relationships, but I do really get tired of breaking them up.

With the fighting comes the noise.  Brandon and I heartily sympathize with the Grinch as he complains about the noise noise noise noise noise noise.  There isn't a day that goes past without someone screaming bloody murder about something.  When the children met the neighbor kids, one of the commented, "Oh you live in that house?  That house is loud." Six children trying to talk over each other at dinner can sometimes drive one crazy.  Even worse than six children talking is four children talking, one child crying, and another child making continual noises.  I'm pretty sure the only time our entire house is quiet is when we are all sleeping.  And only mostly quiet because Joseph talks in his sleep a lot.

I've also found that more children equals more messes and more broken things.  This is compounded by homeschooling, as the children are home all day to make messes and break things.  Our house can go from spotless to trashed in under an hour.  All it takes for everyone to drop five things on the floor to have forty-five pencils, shoes, jackets, toys, books, candy wrappers, and LEGOs clutter the floor.  We clean up the house every morning, my housekeeper cleans it up throughout the day, and most evenings the house still looks destroyed.  It's almost like magic.  But not the good kind.

And, of course, there is the expense.  The last time we saw a movie in the US was for Kathleen's ninth birthday, and that was $95 for a matinee showing.  Going to the eye doctor is fun when six family members wear glasses - and the three that don't are five and under.  I sat down a few months ago and added up how much we could potentially spend on college and felt sick for days.  

But all of these calculations become insignificant when I stop to look at my children and think how each one has filled my life in their own special way.  In this area of the world, parents who have many children are called 'rich mothers' and 'rich fathers.'  When all is peaceful and I get to sit and watch and enjoy my children, I do indeed feel rich.  Being rich in other things matters not at all when I consider all that I have in my children.  There are days that are long, noisy, dirty, and difficult.  But those days are, in the end, short and will be over relatively quickly.  But I will always have the joy of being the mother of my children.  All seven of them.