Learning Blessings

I had two really bad weeks of bone pain, with one overlapping week of lymphedema almost as bad the one that required surgery last year.  I am still sore, and still waiting for my lymph node swelling to go down, but it is better.  I am relieved.

It was really bad this time, bad like I-can’t-get-out-of-bed bad, like I-might-have-to-quit-my-job bad, like why-did-I-bring-six-kids-to-Arkansas-by-myself bad.

Bad enough that they have put me on a cane, to support my leg and hip where the pain is, in hopes to maintain function through this exciting journey.

This is me, like a mean old lady.

That’s me, mind you, taking my kids for a walk on Pathfinder, with my cane.

They were letting me know insurance wasn’t going to cover one until after surgery when I remembered my mother kept my grandmother’s cane.  So I got that one, they adjusted it, and other than being a little worn and crooked – and my pride a little bruised – it is working just fine.

Except then my home teacher came, and he and Nathan gave me a blessing, and I have had my two best days in a long time!

Not only did I get caught up with paperwork at work, and get through my work and the kids’ schooling without collapse, but I also got our house clean!  I mean, cleaner than it has been since before cancer.  I mean, not just straightened up, but disinfected and the fans cleaned and corners and baseboards and that kind of clean.  Don’t get too excited, because it won’t stay straightened up with the kids playing all over, but the layers underneath are clean.  I even got all the bedding washed, and now will start on all those stuffed animals left back there anyway.

It’s a ride, this journey, when you don’t know if tomorrow will be a good day or an impossible day.

It’s the impossible days that get me all fired up, though, because any day is worth fighting for when we can.

Even the baby is fighting, having grown long enough that I can see her little face over the high chair tray, long enough to touch the floor when she is in her jumper, and long enough to finally move from newborn pants to 0-3 month pants.

She is eight months old now.

Know why she grew longer all the sudden?  Because she was back on oxygen some, while she had her fevers.  That’s always when it happens.  Because that’s how hard she is trying to breathe.

Pant, pant.

She lays there, panting, not crawling or rolling over, and soon to cry, because she doesn’t have the energy to do anything because she doesn’t have air.

We called Cincinnati again today, and emailed them, and still haven’t heard back.  It’s so frustrating, fighting so hard to get help for such a little one.  I can’t imagine how babies do it without parents who advocate, or without parents who have friends who are experts in advocating.  I am often overwhelmed and at a loss, just trying to get her through the night or through a bottle (cup).

That’s her, in new big girl 0-3 month pajamas instead of newborn pajamas.  We’ve had them since summer, waiting for her, surprised we didn’t need them last spring.  She still has big circles under her eyes, and she still has the red streak from her nose up her forehead, and she is still too pale in her face – sometimes with the white around her nose and mouth that means she is having a central event and we have to call the pulmonologist again.  But at least the fever is broken, and she is improving, with one more miracle under her belt.

Speaking of miracles, guess who is potty trained?

This guy has stayed dry – sometimes even during naps – and is consistently pooping in the potty, doing so well for two whole weeks that he has finally moved into underwear!  He is very proud of himself, and tells me every morning all about his potty-poop.  Nathan and I are relieved, not just because that’s one more out of diapers, but because this little boy has skin so sensitive that he is just raw all the time if he can’t keep dry.  So he is just feeling better in general, and we are so glad for him.  He still wears a pull-up at night, but we wake him and Anber up before we go to bed, and when we get up with the baby for her early morning feeding, and so sometimes they are dry overnight.

Maybe with all the money we will save on getting two toddlers out of pull-ups and into preschool underwear we could actually buy stocking stuffers this year.  Or Christmas dinner.  Or a school bus.

Anber is glad to be at home all the time, but not glad to share the attention all the time.  She is becoming more aware of her mean streak and that the other kids are not impressed when she isn’t nice, and getting old enough we can take away toys or privileges or activities instead of having to wrestle her when she screams.  She doesn’t scream like when she first came, but still has enough toddler in her that her baby fits come when she is tired or there is a change in routine or she thinks she is missing out.  She is so cuddly, though, and has so much love, and is so very smart, and really means well.  Tonight she was asking very direct questions about jails, and so I finally googled some pictures to show her because she wanted to know and was asking very specific things.  It turned in to quite the discussion, as so many of them have had one or both parents go to jail or prison, and some of them there now, and the children so confused about why their parents would choose that but also always identifying with them because they will always be their parents.  We don’t talk about anything they don’t ask, but we are honest with them when they ask something specifically, to the degree that we know anything, and Anber knows her mother has criminal court and Baby Girl court two weeks from today (both on the same day).  She wanted to know what the jail bed is like, and where they go potty, and if they stink from not taking a shower.  It’s a mixed bag, being open with such little ones about their stories and trying to maintain some form of contact, but their memories are so vivid and they already tell their stories and they struggle with attachment so much that it’s really important if there is anything positive at all for them to hang on to, and to work out some of the harder questions as they grow instead of saving it all up inside.

Alex is doing very well right now.  He’s very good at Math, and enjoys it, unless he knows anyone else has beat him to playing outside.  He is my helper, and often unloads or loads the dishwasher for me.  I think back to those years when I had six or seven or nine fosters who didn’t do anything for themselves at all, and how hard it was, and how heavy the burden was, and how far we have come to these growing up so much and wanting to do so much on their own.  Alex and Kirk and Mary love setting the table, usually clear the dishes, love helping cook, and the boys think their favorite game is taking out the trash.  I know that won’t last forever, but it’s been perfect timing for me to take a little respite while they play!  He is struggling with violin because of his occupational therapy issues with his fingers, so we may move him only to piano.  He wants to play drums, which is fine with me, but I still want him to learn to read music first.  They all three are taking music theory as one of their courses, and have piano lessons besides anything else they choose.

Kirk finds his own way.  He wants his piano lessons, and he gives a valiant effort in his typing lessons on the computer.  He never gives up, and is keeping pace with the other kids even though he is typing with just one hand.  He has to learn.  He cries sometimes when he is overwhelmed, but I tell him that I cry when I am overwhelmed, too, and that crying is okay.  We talk about taking breaks or trying again tomorrow, but he always keeps going, and he always gets it – sometimes with higher scores than the other two who can be more careless or distracted.  In his other school work, he works at a slower but more consistent pace, so he is never far behind them.  His smile lights up the whole world, and he narrates everything so we always know what he is processing in his little head.

Mary is all girl, my goodness.  She is our best reader, at a third grade level already, and I almost can’t keep up with her in the school work.  If I make it too easy for her, she just daydreams and gets lazy, but when I make sure she has enough and it is challenging, then she is very focused and works very hard.  It reminds me of me, and I wonder at that, how our lives begin to intertwine after so long living together.  She has figured out today that her hair is long enough she can put her cochlear implant magnet under her hair instead of over it, which helps it stay on better and means for the first time it can be hidden away under her hair instead of so obvious.  She thinks she is gorgeous, of course, and I don’t challenge her on it.  She is so funny, though still sad about her grandpa passing, always drawing something, and forever tearing up paper to make it into something else.

These are my little children, my babies who are not babies anymore, my little chicks gathered into this nest that is our home now.  We are settling in as a family, settling down in our routine, and very slowly getting better at it.  They brought up sugar today, how Nathan and I do not eat sugar because we love them so much, and it made me smile.  They know it was a sacrifice we made in a covenant, to give up sugar as a “fast” as we prayed for help to learn to be parents, and to learn to be better parents.  They know we get treats on their birthday or a holiday or some special date, but that we don’t eat candy ever, and that we don’t have sugar because learning to love them well is more important.

We have learned, then, that we cannot have our own lives as they were and still be good parents.

We cannot do what we think is on the agenda, and still be attentive parents.

We cannot have our own free time any time we want, and still be intentional parents.

We cannot work, not even boring paperwork, while we are parenting.

We take turns, we tag team, we stay up late and get up early, so that when we are parenting, we can only be parenting.

Maybe other people can do two things at once, but we are terrible at it.

We are much better when we are only parenting, even when that means essays are left unwritten and books are left unread and bodies are left with little sleep because there is so much still to do in adult world even after little ones go to bed.

People tell us it is hard for us because we jumped in with so many so fast, which is true.  Going from newlyweds to six or seven or nine children at a time was rough.  It was awful, actually.   It was exhausting.  It was painful.  It hurt tangibly, in a very physical way, as if we could feel ourselves on the potter’s wheel being turned and shaped into something else, someone else.

It wasn’t always someone better.

I mean, ultimately, that’s the idea, but we cannot grow in light without first seeing the shadows, right?

Shining light always casts a shadow.

But if it were not for the children, we never would have even known those shadows.

87 kids in three years was rough, though, that’s all I have to say about that.

It built muscles, though, muscles we use now, to structure our day and manage our routines and function with so many, even though other families may have more kids and be better at it, we are still just newlyweds with little ones who have invaded our home.

Except these are our children.

Most days end with a long list of things we did wrong, or ways we failed, or a better understanding of our own parents and why they did what they did.

I have learned a lot, though, like how to keep up with laundry for eight people, and how to make meals from food storage, and how to leave enough time in the morning to tie six pairs of shoes.

I am also learning, though, not to focus so much on my mistakes.  It’s a lesson I have been working on for six years, since I got baptized, but it’s one worth learning.  My mistakes were serious enough I needed to face them, and I think I wanted to be sure I had faced them fully.  But that’s the whole reason we have the atonement, and I am not my stains.

I am not my stains.

That’s my story.

God doesn’t judge us by a stop watch, Nathan says, He judges us by a compass.

It doesn’t matter how far along we are, if we are not turned toward God.  That’s what Ezekiel said.  But it also doesn’t matter how much further we still have to go, as long as we are turned toward God.

My home teacher said it, too, when he came this weekend.  He said that Brigham Young taught that as long as we are on the path toward God, we can be perfected in the eternities.  I need that.  And I am glad I don’t have to be finished yet.  Because I’m not.  But that’s not the same as already condemned before I’m finished trying.

That is why it’s the plan of happiness, I think, because it isn’t over yet.

I am not just talking about the grace of God, or the mercy offered us, or what the atonement has done for me – which is so much, which is everything.

I mean that because it is everything, then the effect of it is me, new and improved.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

There are a lot of things I don’t know yet about mothering, or nurturing, but this whole family idea is becoming less new to me, less to new to all of us, as we settle in with each other ever so slowly, ever so carefully, as we become a family.

Maybe the biggest thing I have learned is that instead of worrying about all the things I ought not be doing, I generally do much better to simply continue the conversation of prayer in every moment in order to ask what I should be doing, and do that.  This keeps me out of trouble.  This keeps me working hard.  This keeps me on my toes in knowing how to love my children well, what to do for them, and how to discern what happens next when suddenly there’s a classroom at the dining table.

It’s also how we get so much done, and I keep telling people that when they ask, and I think they don’t always believe me.  But it’s true.  I learned it from President Eyring:

When we put God’s purposes first, He will give us miracles. If we pray to know what He would have us do next, He will multiply the effects of what we do in such a way that time seems to be expanded…  I can promise you that if you will go to Him in prayer and ask what He would have you do next, promising that you will put His kingdom first, He will answer your prayer and He will keep His promise to add upon your head blessings, enough and to spare. Those apparent prison walls of “not enough time” will begin to recede, even as you are called to do more.

There’s no way we could do all we do, without that promise.

Having the children home has been a change for all of us, but a delightful one.

Well, it’s been delightful as long as I am focusing on how delightful it is, and not focused on how much work it is.

The kids do use a curriculum that I used when I was in a private school for a time, and it is working for us right now.  We supplement it with other things as we need, like the typing and music theory and lessons, and they all still get all their therapies and counseling.  I also pull a lot of extra things off the internet as they come up, like specific handwriting or math practice sheets.  I want them to think, though, and pull it all together, and ask questions and learn by using their minds rather than rote exercises.  When we read a story about a little lamb, we talked about where lambs come from, which made them ask how lambs are born, so we watched THIS VIDEO.  Then they wanted to know what wool was, so we watched THIS VIDEO about how to shear a sheep.  Then they wanted to know what wool is for, so we watched THIS VIDEO about how wool is made into yarn for clothing.  We also watched THIS VIDEO about Jesus calling us to “feed His sheep” and talked about what that meant.  We sang the “Mary had a little lamb” nursery rhyme, which was a fun way to include the little ones even more, and even Mary was very excited since it was a song with her name in it.  We visited some sheep and felt their wool, and we went to the store and counted kinds of yarn we found, and looked at colors of yarn, and then we used wool yarn in an art project.  It was amazing!

This week’s questions have unfolded into a very Nathan kind of project, and I can’t wait to share it when it’s all finished!  We are having such fun!  The kids are doing their pages they need to do as well, but our group activities keep everyone motivated and having a blast.  I don’t know how long we will need to be at home because of the baby, but for now it has been an unexpected blessing, despite our work schedules and our overlapping routines.

That’s what’s good about not knowing everything: there is still so much to learn.


About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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