I. Have. A. TEENAGER. !!!!!!!!!

Freaking out just a little.

I cannot believe my little boy is 13 years old today. My little boy who is not quite so little anymore…his feet are as big as mine. His hands are almost as big as mine. He is only a few inches shorter than I am, and sprouting up faster every day. How the heck did this happen?? Wasn’t he just barely born?!

More tomorrow…I’m in the middle of watching Harry Potter (the PG-13 ones) with him…and man Umbridge is SO annoying…

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“The Play-doh Box Threw Up!”

Says Zachary, my 3 year-old squirt, in response to my inquiry about why there was a lot more than one color out (as he was attempting to break the ‘One color at a time’ rule).

He’s funny. He’s at this seriously hilarious stage when half the stuff he says makes no sense and the other half is naughty because he repeats what he heard from his older brothers.

And he won’t. Stop. Talking.

Except when you want him to talk.

Today, for example, I tried striking up a conversation later on, about play-doh.

“Zachary, why do you like play-doh?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t? I thought you did.”

“I don’t wike pway-doh. I wike potatoes.”

“You like…potatoes?? I don’t mean ‘like’ to eat — I mean to play with.”

“I onwy wike potatoes.”

Okay…

Try again:

“Hey Zachary. What do you like to build out of your play- doh?”

“I’m not talking to you wight now, Mama. You’re annoying.”

Then silence.

Wow.

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Lions and Tigers and Netflix, Oh My!

It was supposed to be someone’s temporary Christmas present. But…

Yeah. We forgot to cancel our subscription.

Again.

On the one hand, I think Netflix will be mine and my husband’s downfall, will lead to our family’s utter destruction, and will turn our kids into robots.

On the other hand, it is so dang nice to be able to turn on something whenever you want to, be it educational, informational, or purely for entertainment, stress relief, or fun — or even for gross-out factors (Food, Inc., anyone? Ughhh…).

We never used to watch any kind of TV. We never had cable or satellite. We only would watch a DVD once or twice a week, munch on popcorn, not get addicted, and call it good when the movie was over.

But then magical shows like Once Upon a Time appeared in the world of Netflix, or brutally horrible but intensely intriguing shows like Prison Break, or witty and mysterious shows like Bones.

After too many nights to count of lost sleep (“just one more episode…”), I think we’ve finally decided to stop watching shows. Yay us. We’ve moved on — a little.

But there are soooo many movies on there. We’ve seen some really great ones, and…some really not great ones. I don’t want to say it’s been a waste of time the whole time, because we do enjoy vegging together at the end of a long day, and usually it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing as long as we’re together — we enjoy it.

But. How much of our lives have we spent in front of a screen? What would we do if we suddenly had no power and had to figure out life without any of them? No TVs. No computers. No phones. Nothing.

Well, I’ll tell you, we had a little taste of that when we first moved out here to California. The place we kind of accidentally rented — which was supposed to be for just a few short months but ended up being for more than 8 — was up a canyon in an old, run-down ranch house that was falling into disrepair. Now, our time there is a long, challenging story and I’ll save most of the gritty details for another post — if you’re brave enough to hear it.

But. One thing that happened there that ended up being a blessing is this: because we were so far up in that little canyon, we had no reception and even iffy electricity. So…no computers. No phones. No Internet. We did set up our TV and DVD player and used it for an occasional movie…but the house situation was so yucky that we didn’t want to be in it if we didn’t have to.

So we spent a lot of time outside. We went into town to use the resources there to do our homeschool lessons. We went on walks all over those hills, exploring new things every time. We drove to the beach. We got out our board games. We made movies. We wrote letters to our family and friends.

Did you catch that?? We actually wrote letters.

We colored. We played. We listened to the only radio station that would come on up in that canyon: KLOVE, which plays positive, encouraging music and messages. That radio station really pulled me through some rough days, I’m telling ya.

We built forts. We played the piano. We played with legos and bionicles. We got covered in dirt. Every single day. We sang songs. We laughed. We cried. We clung to each other through a lot of challenges we were experiencing, and we cemented ourselves as a family who had to rely on each other and on God.

And we did it without the distraction of screens.

Now, I’d be lying if I tried to say we didn’t ever have access: of course Mike did at work, and when we went down into town I could usually get reception on my cell phone so I could text, make quick phone calls, briefly hop on Facebook, reply to emails, etc. And like I said, my kids were using the library’s computers to do their online school lessons.

But much of what we had grown accustomed to taking for granted in our lives was no longer readily available, and although it was hard to adjust to that, in the end, I think it saved us. We were forced to focus on each other, to be creative, to rely on our own ideas and methods for entertainment, to go back to ‘snail mail’ for a lot of our communicating.

It seemed crazy at the time. It felt like because of this change, plus with the living conditions we were in out there by ourselves, that we were living in some other country. I had nightmares, regularly. I had thought I was tough, but living there made me tougher — and I’m not just talking about being cut off cold-turkey from keeping in touch with the outside world, with my family and friends, from where we had had our life before coming here. We all got tougher. We all turned to each other, and to God.

If someone had a problem, they couldn’t just escape to an online world; they had to face the problem. If someone was bored, they couldn’t just turn on the TV; they had to find something else to do. When we felt sad or lonely or anything else — we had to deal with it, the real way. Not in some virtual way.

And we made it. And for as much complaining as I did during those long months, I said just as many thank-you prayers that we were safe, we were there together, and that we were being given this opportunity to focus on what was most important.

Yeah. I’ll admit that now, I’m once again somewhat addicted to technology, to the ease of everything Google and beyond. We just watched Red Dawn on Netflix…way too gory for my taste and neither of us liked it much. Once it was over, Mike finished playing a game on his phone and I checked a few things on the school computer that was still on before shutting it down. Heck — I’m using my smart iPhone to speech text this blog that I’ll link to Facebook after uploading a picture I just edited. I mean Wow.

Technology can be used for some really good things, too. You know what they are — I don’t have to start making that list. I think the thing is — we can get addicted and/or so distracted so very, very easily and quickly, and pulled away from what’s most important. What’s Good? What’s Better? And what’s Best? We just have to be so stinkin’ careful that we try to balance out how and why and when we are using technology, screens, etc. and make sure that we aren’t doing it too much or for the wrong reasons –and that it isn’t taking precedence over the more important things, and people, in our lives.

I still occasionally have nightmares about that falling-apart ‘cabin’ we lived in, and I wake up thinking I’m hearing animals in the walls or the ceiling, or that the police will show up with the mugshot of some criminal who escaped and they think is hiding out up where we live, and asking my kids if they’ve seen him. I still turn on the running water here and say a thank-you prayer that it IS running, that it’s not murky on an off-chance day, that we always have a way to heat it, and that we can drink clean water. I could seriously go on and on…but another time.

My point is: for all the hardships we experienced during that time, I do miss one thing:

The simple life.

The life free from the distractions and noise of the world coming at us and into our home and family through every portal possible. The reason to have to find something else to do because, sorry, there’s no computer. The fact that no one could fight over who got to use which electronic device because, sorry again, none of them work so we might as well not even turn them on. The quiet. The family time. The REAL, here and now time focusing on what matters.

Will I remember a week from now what in the world “Red Dawn” was about?

Heck no.

And yes, I got to spend two hours snuggling next to my hubby on the couch, but we could’ve totally been smarter about our movie selection and picked something a little more worthwhile if we were going to give in to the Netflix temptation.

Maybe we really will cancel it. Maybe not. But I’m determined to make wiser choices. After all, we really are only on this earth for like a split second. You know?

When I get to the end, will I be proud of how many hours I spent looking at a screen — any screen? Or will I be more proud of the hours I spent looking at my family, and sunsets?

This life really is a split second. So much matters…and so much doesn’t.

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Stop and Play with Legos (But Proceed with Caution)

A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, right? Well…unless you risk your life by stepping on a lego while you’re having a contest with your 6 year-old to see who can build ‘the coolest, most epic ship’ in 10 minutes.

Yeah. That hurts. Ever stepped on a tack? It pretty much feels like that. But worse. Because every little killer bump on that piece digs into your tender foot. At least with a tack, it’s just one puncture.

Anyway.

Once I get over the fact that my foot is now (I mean again…I really should be used to this by now) wounded, I sit down to take part in this friendly competition.

Or so I think.

This is Levi we’re talking about.

This is the firecracker-of-a-kid who says things like: “When I get tickled is the only time I get a six pack. So if I go into the army I’ll have to be tickled the WHOLE time I’m there so I can be strong and have a six pack.”

This is the kid who, upon seeing someone smoking a cigarette, will point and loudly exclaim, “Doesn’t he know that’s gonna make him DIE?!”

And who goes around singing songs all day about how much he loves his toots while doing a little dance (I know. Trust me. I know…).

And who jumps into the middle of the clean clothes pile and instead of gathering clean clothes and going to his room to change, will start whisking everything off while yelling out to everyone, “If you don’t want to see my undies, look away right now!”

Or who has the inhuman ability to produce this ear-piercing scream at the drop of a hat — and to pinch harder than should be possible for the hand of a little kid…if someone tries to take control of the make-believe game he is playing, he screams or pinches. If someone hurts him, he screams AND pinches. For no reason at all sometimes, he screams. And/Or pinches. He calls it his ‘defense’ and says he needs it to protect himself because everyone else is bigger than him.

And the amazingly hilarious bursts of laughter that come from this squirt that resemble a pack of chipmunks is…well…amazingly hilarious. And the best of those laughs comes when he is either A) Doing something mischievous and gets caught, or B) Is able to run away faster than you can spank him back after he lands a hard one on you.

This is also the kid who told me pretty much every day that I was pregnant with his baby sister last year that there’s no way I could ‘just be pregnant with one baby,’ because it looked like I was growing another one in my big bum.

Yep.

This cutie came to earth with an Exclamation Point attached to him. Pretty much everything he says or does has one that just comes along with it, with who he is. NEVER A DULL MOMENT, let me tell you.

Anyway.

I should have known what I was getting myself into when I agreed to this build-the-best-ship competition with his Legos. I should have gotten a pep talk from Mike first, to boost my self-esteem. Levi IS really good at building legos, after all…and I’m out of practice.

Hence, this is what ensued…for the whole…ten…minutes:

“I am SO much better at this than you!”

~ chipmunk laughter ~

“MAMA. Are you EVEN trying??”

~ chipmunk laughter ~

“Oh I am SO gonna win this contest!”

~ chipmunk laughter ~

“If I am your kid and you are my mom, then where did I get my epic-ly awesome lego building skills?? ‘Cause I sure didn’t get them from you!”

~ chipmunk laughter ~

“I thought this was gonna be a contest, mama…”

~ chipmunk laughter ~

~ chipmunk laughter ~

~ chipmunk laughter ~

And when we finally finished, I thought DANG. I actually did a pretty good job! I seriously fully expected Levi to have something nice to say. Maybe Congratulations! Or Good job! Or Dude, maybe you ARE kind of cool, or That turned out to be a close contest!

Instead, I get this (accompanied by chipmunk laughter):

“Ohhhh man, mama — you are SO horrible at this!!”

~ more chipmunk laughter ~

I get over myself, swallow my pride, remind myself that he has no filter yet, and half-sarcastically say, “Thank you,” with a big smile.

What does he say? (Also with a big smile and a look of great satisfaction.)

“You’re welcome!”

…I think I preferred stepping on the lego. It hurt less than my ego.

Just One Minute of Peace…Please??

“It’s MIIIIIIIIIIIINE!”

“He punched me and called me Dumb!”

“I had it first!”

“Woof woof woof – woof woof – howl – woof” — “The dogs need to be walked.”

“He’s not playing the game right!”

(I’m a cute squirt, mama, but I’m just screaming and crying because it’s loud and I know you can’t stand it and it drives everyone else crazy and and and I’m just going to keep screaming and crying just because)

“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

“Where are my keys?” “My phone?” “My wallet?” “My glasses?”

“Can so-and-so come over to play even though I’m not done with my chores?”

“I’m SOooooo hungry and I need food right now or I’m gonna die!”

“Meow-meow-meow-meow” — “The cats are clawing the curtains again!”

Honk honk honk “We’re running late!”

“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

Ring, ring, ring –

“I need a bandaid here and here and here!”

“I can’t STAAAAAAAAND doing my schoolwork!”

“Oh NO I just broke something and you’re gonna KILL me, mama…”

~ The loudest, spitting-est, most animated and excited sound effects you can imagine, accompanied by the biggest array of weapons you could think up — used against each other in battle, usually ‘to the death’ (even though I always remind them they are supposed to only knock the opponent out or put them in jail rather than kill them, they always end up dead) ~

“Play with me, mama! Be my airplane!”

“I had an accident and need a bath.”

“Let’s blast ‘Tonight, Tonight’ while we jump on the couch and into the air and land on the bean bag unless we land on each other first!”

“I just tracked mud in again…”

“it isn’t fairrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

“No one likes me! Everybody hates me!” (And my first thought to this one is to want to sing, ‘Guess I’ll go eat worms…’ Remember that song?)
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Aye-aye-aye woe is me and oh my goodness!!!!!!!!!

As a wife and mother (and everything else in between that comes along with the territory), it is really difficult to find even a few moments of peace, quiet, meditation, or relaxation — just a moment in time when you don’t have a bunch of people using you as a jungle gym or screaming at the top of their lungs or needing something that only you seem to be able to give them or breaking up fights or making sack lunches or cleaning up messes or OR OR OR OR OR!

~Sigh~

I just want to be able to breathe. That’s all I want. To breathe and feel the stress and tension release out of my rock-hard shoulders. To think. Or to NOT think.

Don’t get me wrong, please. I absolutely love being a wife and a mother. I love having dogs and cats. I love having a house to take care of and maintain. I love having some land to try to work with. I love teaching my kids, learning more myself every day, and having opportunities all the time to practice patience, kindness, and love. I couldn’t be more amazed by my best friend and husband and all he does in his life for us and with us. I love to have chances to serve — and yes, even when that means scrubbing the toilets.

But I do get lost quite often in the noise, chaos, and neediness of my world around me. And it is really hard to step outside of that and make a moment happen where I can just be. I long for some peace and quiet. For a chance to just let go, and not have to worry about anything.

But will that ever happen? Will my life ever be such that I could do that? I don’t know. Probably not. But I suspect that even if it ever did happen, I would be sad in some ways. I would probably miss this absolute craziness.

So. How to make some sanity happen right now? I would love suggestions and ideas from anyone who has made it happen. In the meantime, what I sometimes try to do is:

Count to 10 (or 20…).

Try to listen more and react less.

Spend a longer time in the bathroom.

Get up a little earlier and make a few minutes of time for myself before everyone else is awake (this rarely happens, unfortunately).

Try to make sure I go outside at least once every day in the sunshine or cool, crisp wind or soft rain or stillness or stars. And breathe.

Call a friend.

Of course I have to admit to things like Pinterest, Facebook, random Google searches, allrecipes.com, etc.

Exercise.

Once in a while I get to go on a date with Mike.

Once in a while I get to go on a date with just one of my squirts.

Take pictures.

Write in my journal (like…once every two months).

Talk to a sibling.

On the rare occasion, I take a little nap.

Sometimes I watch part of a movie or documentary.

I read.

These are all things that I have done and sometimes currently do in order to not spontaneously combust when all of the craziness of raising four rowdy boys, a baby girl, four pets, and of course I have to add in my husband — get to me. And earlier I did not even mention things like extended family responsibilities and needs, things that need to happen with church jobs, with service, all the homeschooling things we do, community participation, emergencies that come up, helping Mike with his job sometimes, & & & &…

Sometimes I wonder how I/we have survived this far.

And then I remember.

I remember that I know that I am a special, beloved daughter of God. I remember that I get to go to church every Sunday morning, and there I get to partake of the sweetness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember that the Scriptures tell me that I will not be given more than I can handle as long as I don’t try to do it alone. As long as I do it with the Lord’s help. And that I can have the Lord’s Spirit with me to guide me, comfort me, and help me feel His love.

I remember that millions have gone before me, and have succeeded. I remember that even on the very hardest days, it could always be worse. I remember that I am so very, very blessed with so many good things in my life to be grateful for. I remember that no matter how discouraged I might get, or how much I might feel like I am failing in one or two or five or eight or 20 of my responsibilities, that I am stronger than I think I am, and can make it.

I remember that I can always and should always pray, every day, several times a day, for strength and energy and understanding and focus and patience and love. I remember that I am here for a very specific purpose, that there is a plan for myself and my family, and that I am never alone.

I remember that we were not put on this earth to merely survive, but to thrive. So I try to focus on good things. I try to look for brightness and sunshine in every situation I can. I try to have fun. I make silly faces. I sing silly songs. I try to care less about what other people think of me.

Sometimes all of this works, and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as I would like it to. But I will never stop trying at it, even the seemingly mundane, everyday stuff that makes up my life right now. I believe that I chose this life before I came to earth. That even when a really big challenge comes, that I knew at least about some of it before hand, and that I was prepared to take it on, work through it, learn from it, and come out on top.

So, in a way, I already know that I can do it. And not only that I can do it, but that it is possible to do it well. And to not go crazy in the process. I just need to make a few minutes for myself every day, and never lose sight of who I am.

And that this is all worth it.

Now…BREATHE.

Ahhh. 🙂

The PrinceS and the Bri

Babies ARE royalty.

Not only do we dress them, feed them, even carry them around to where they want to go, but we also listen to, tolerate, and obey their every waking (and even sleeping) squawk.

Spoiled little Miss Bria — ‘Bri-Bri’ as Mike calls her — is learning very fast to be demanding of her subjects — even though I consider them royalty, too. I guess if they’re princes, that makes her the queen.

Lately she has mastered the point, grunt, and then very-strong-and-urgent-shriek-if-she-doesn’t-get-it-right-away tactic. She’s brilliant at it. And when a loyal and obedient person bends to her desire, we don’t get a baby version of ‘thank you’ such as a smile or a nice little cuddle.

We get: a fake courtesy laugh.

Seriously. She’s 8 months old. She can’t crawl yet, but she can courtesy laugh.

Sometimes the boys deserve to be treated with casual indifference, though. Like when they are inappropriate. Take the Ball Rule: I can’t stand when basketballs, soccer balls, you name it are bounced into the kitchen (almost always on purpose), because of obvious reasons. Even more things in this house will break. There’s almost always some kind of food prep going on. There’s a ceiling fan and drop lights that will get knocked. Etc etc etc.

So when someone brings one in, my automatic response is to say, “No balls in the kitchen!” And without fail, every time I say this, one of my ‘princes’ retorts, “Everybody but mama and Bria leave!” Get it?

Oh goll.

Then there’re times when you’d think the boys were the queens — the drama queens.

Take dishes, for example. We rotate chores week by week, and they absolutely loathe being on the dreaded dishes chore. I must admit, having a dishwasher would be nice, but it is also kind of fun to wash by hand and spend good quality time having a conversation with the one you are helping, slowing down a bit, etc.

But to my boys, they may as well be living in the Temple of Doom that week (and that’s what they’ve referred to it as). Boys, come on. It isn’t a new concept. We have been without a dishwasher for a couple of years now. But oh my goodness, you’d think they were dying — several times a day. The complains. The screams. The tears. The threats. The attempts at bargaining. And I have to admit that sometimes I do give in and make deals. (But don’t tell them that I usually get the better end of the deal, like them cleaning out the litter box and me doing a load of dishes for them.)

But sometimes, they are very, very sweet, attentive, gentle, and downright adorable with their little royal sister.

And the melting begins.

When Benjamin carries her around on his shoulders, jumping and laughing and chasing the other brothers, making her squeal like a little baby pig because she is so happy and having so much fun. Or when he single-handedly babysits her and his other three brothers so stinkin’ well so that we can go on a much-needed date. When he doesn’t complain about changing her diapers, even the really nasty ones. When he picks out cute outfits for her to wear. When he feeds her, when he shows by everything he does how much he adores her, and how much she adores him back. You can see in her eyes how much she loves and trusts her biggest brother/prince.

When I walk in the room to see Owen holding her on his lap, quietly stroking her cheek, and humming her a soft song. When he sits her down and reads her a book, complete with lively, animated voices and sound effects. When, even though it drives his sensory issues absolutely crazy, he doesn’t totally freak out anymore while she is crying or doing that high-pitched girly scream that would scare dogs away — but instead tries as hard as he can to figure out what she needs and how to help her. This is so hard for him and he has come such a long way with it. And when he always remembers her in his prayers. Always.

When Levi shares his cat with her, even though he knows this may mean sacrificing his relationship with Pumpkin due to baby sister’s grabby hands which try to shove every piece of cat in her mouth that she can. Ew. Cat fur doesn’t taste very good…but she seems not to care. Or when he can make her laugh harder than anyone else (real laugh, not courtesy) by just being himself with all his ‘firecracker’ attributes. His silliness, his faces, his loudness, his goofball attitude and show-off-for-your-entertainment ways. She absolutely gets a kick out of him no matter what he is doing, even if it is in the next room. As long as she can hear him, she thinks it is all for her, and she starts busting up.

And then Zachary. This gentle giant who will grow up to be her biggest protector and defender. I think I do the most melting when I catch him sitting quietly by her, playing with her and her toys. Or sneaking a little kiss on the top of her soft head. Or trying to remember how to do ‘Dis Wittow Piggy’ on her toes for her. Or insisting on one last snuggle or hug before bed. All the tons and tons of times he runs as fast as his legs can carry him for a diaper, a wet wipe, or a pacifier. Actually letting her use his basketball once in a while.

Little Miss Bria Kate is actually the luckiest, most blessed princess or queen or dutchess or whatever in the whole world: she has these four crazy but amazing big brothers who would do anything for her — even if it sometimes means beating each other up, which definitely happens.

She will always have them. They will always love and take care of her. And I couldn’t be more amazed by and more grateful for my five royals. I love you all.

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