Saturday School

Today we unpacked nothing.

Today we restarted homeschool, to be sure we are organized and set up before Monday comes.  We made sure everyone has the right books, tests are ready, supplies are where we think they are, and new star charts are hanging up.  Mostly everyone was excited about new school boxes!

But before we could even do that, we sent Nathan off with a tornado cleanup kind of breakfast!


We have had two really good days in a row, and that feels good after five hard years, right?

Tonight I am working at the hospital and Nathan is at the tiny blue house, picking up bits and pieces left behind (like the coat closet, oops), before the children get their weekly movie night with popcorn.  He worked so hard this week!  The opera is sent off, the new musical has draft notes sent to the composer, and tonight he finished the staging notes for Broadcast, which is being produced in Philadelphia next month!  We are so excited, and I am so proud of him!

Homing

We are really getting back to normal, even though there is so much work still to do!

Tonight the children sat at their new desks for journaling, and I think we all knew it meant we were settled in again.


Nathan and I even got to work on our room some tonight, though it’s still a mess we are trying to keep Kyrie out, but we are getting comfortable!


It’s my weekend to work, so I will only have tomorrow morning while Nathan is helping with tornado cleanup, but we have done loads of work since the last Sabbath.  We certainly earned our rest this week! The children will do school tomorrow as a warm-up so that when Monday comes we really are ready.

You know Papa is a theater man when homeschool gets a dress rehearsal before going live in the new house!

Work Desks

We still have more unpacking to do, but we are starting to fall under the functional category!


Kirk’s desk is ready in the garage, and Nathan’s parents have Barrett’s.

They had the original desks and wanted to keep them, so we ordered four more for everyone else ages ago but today finally got to put them together.


They wanted to decorate them just like at school, so that was super fun:




We are all so relieved to be gettin some normal back in our days, even if there is a lot more work to do!

Soul Books

We love books.  A lot.  When we left Bartlesville, we cut our library in half, trying to let go of what is now available online or on our phones and not necessary to make other people help us cart around move after move.  Even then, these are all boxes of books that we still have:

The children loved opening each box to see which books were inside, and whether they were “grownup” books (we told them there is no such thing) or “kid books” (and if so, if it contained their own personal books).  They had a blast and were so excited!  They were less thrilled, however, to realize all the books had to be sorted and put back up on the shelves:

Alex said, “all these books are like papers of our hugs.”  He’s hilarious.  This resulted in a round of hugs for everyone, so we all felt loved up enough to finish the job.

Kyrie helped mostly by pulling every single book out of the stack in which we had placed it and moving it to a different stack where it did not belong.  It was making me crazy!  But instead of fussing at her, I managed one parenting win so far this year, at least, by using an old drawer-box to make a “baby bed box”.  This managed to distract her the rest of the time, long enough for us to get books up on the shelves!  I was grateful, even though I am glad she already knows to love books.

Nothing tells the new neighbors what classy people we are like a front porch full of trash.

But we made progress that first day!  We got the children’s books up first, because that’s the most important, even if it means half of our favorite books usually reserved for those spaces find other homes and other shelves for now.  Oh, the sacrifices of parenting!

We had to stop that night because the bunk beds were coming, which was just as exciting as books.  We will share that story in another post, but we tackled books again first thing this morning!

The living room is still a disaster, and there is a ton more unpacking to do, and I threw all the instruments up on top for now so they are safe until all that’s done, but we got books up where they go, almost!  This is half of our library, and it feels so good to be able to see and smell and feel these friends again!  It is such a great comfort to me.  Maybe it is silly, or too nerdy to be interesting, but reading and study are my favorite forms of self-care and one of the few things that can get me to sit still very long.  Very few of these books are novels or anything like that, most of them are study books in some form or another, though we inherited a few – like the entire Harry Potter set – from my mother, which the children are very excited about getting old enough to try.  I love that they love reading!  Having had a librarian for a mother makes it extra special that they have received this gift and soak in books the way Nathan and I love to enjoy them.

We are settling in slowly, but consistently.  We finished getting the bunk beds back up today, and everyone is back in real beds tonight.  They would rather stay on their camping cots and enjoy the adventure, but I know they are glad to feel cozy again and have all their blankets and stuffies.

We are all adjusting pretty well.  The tiny blue house was such a gift for us to be close to Mary’s school and Kyrie’s hospital and my residency, so that we could endure those things as a family, but it is good to be home again.  I don’t know what will unfold with the group homes or what that means about where we will live, but we have been promised a respite here, anyway, and we gratefully accept it.  Mostly this week we are all overwhelmed and overstimulated as we unpack and get things put away.

Nathan is working on three projects right now.  He has a musical about to be produced in Philadelphia, and a musical about to be produced at the Erie Canal of all places, and another composer is paying him to help write an Opera.  On top of that he is still taking on freelancing writing projects because Kyrie needs a new oxygen concentrator and I can’t work any more jobs than I am already doing.  He’s doing so much and working so hard!

I braided Mary’s hair this morning, and she walked around the house like a Queen.  She is a mystery to me sometimes, such a mix of stateliness and the most bizarre thought process that is either hilarious or creepy, and sometimes we can’t decide!  She is such a delight, and is in a new phase of trying to say and do the things I do when she interacts with the kids.  I am in awe of how far she has come and the attachment we have and the way she has blossomed now that she has language and some stability (despite our best efforts moving way more than what these children needed).  She already has a new friend at church, and I am relieved.  She’s the only extrovert in our family, and friendships are really important to her.

Alex has been a mess, as we expected.  It’s always harder than you think it will be, though, even when you try to prepare yourself.  We did as much predicting and as much organizing and as much participating in every way we could, but this level of chaos is just pretty much the worst thing for autism.  He has been very dramatic, with crying and naughty behaviors he hasn’t had in ages.  When one of these incidents resulted in me getting hurt, I screamed so loud!  Not screaming at him in anger, but screaming in pain… but as the sound came out of me, so did relief, and so it just kept coming!  Then I just sat down on the floor and started bawling.  He felt terrible, as he hadn’t intended to hurt me but just was being careless and not following directions and the natural consequences of that all weekend had been one person getting hurt after another because of him.  When I was calmer and able to catch my breath, I called him back to me and sat with him and we talked about it all very seriously.  We talked about safety, and our job as protectors of him and the other children, and his need to find ways to express what he wants and needs without hurting other people.  We talked about ways to set limits, to take breaks for his own self-care, and how he could help more effectively one on one rather than in sibling groups while it was so chaotic.  We made a safety plan, and talked again about autism and what that looks like and feels like in Alex world, and curled up together for a little while, and things have been better since then.

Kirk is doing really great.  We are being careful with him because he gets so fatigued, but emotionally I think he has liked the fresh start.  He seems to be thriving.  He is the only one who has carried the routine through to the new house and is following directions consistently.  I know that sounds like a miracle child and we could brag on him, but it’s actually a red flag for Kirk.  He holds everything in and shoves it deep down inside until it explodes in ugliness later, so we also pulled him aside for some one on one time that was rest and play and not just work no matter how badly he says he wants to be a helper.  We want him to feel confident and productive and participatory, and we know that he’s eager to do everything despite cerebral palsy.  But it’s not his job to unpack the house, and all the work of moving is not his responsibility, and he is not the parent in our family.  It’s okay to be a child.

Barrett has also made remarkable progress in the last few weeks.  Turning five has been good for him, and I am relieved!  We are not seeing meltdowns!  He does have some pouting when he is angry, but who doesn’t?  He is able to calm himself down, practice self-soothing, and regulate even when he gets upset.  This is so huge for him!  So huge!  I am really proud of him, and love that he is becoming an actual person.

Anber has unexpectedly regressed this move, as if she doesn’t remember the house itself because she was too little, but she somehow remembers her state of being from then.   You know how in foster care, when children get visits with their biological parents they always regress to whatever age they were when they were taken into custody?  It’s been like that.  All the sudden Anber is Kyrie’s age, mimicking her behaviors and interactions and the old Anber tantrums that left us wrestling in the dirt.  We are countering this with lots of positive attention, emphasizing she still gets her one on ones, and celebrating any kind of independence at all.  We are adding new “big kid” activities that we haven’t let Anber and Barrett join in before “but now you can because you are five (and almost five)”.  This seems to be helping ground her and reorient her, and she’s doing really well.  Getting her bed back seemed to be a huge difference from her, so I am glad she likes her bed and feels comfortable in her room.

Kyrie also just needed her bed back, and continues to take inventory to be sure we have left nothing behind.   We have actually, and have a few more trips back to the other house to pick up some final loads of little things and pictures on the walls, plus the final house cleaning.  But we mostly have everything, and I think she is just enjoying the stimulation of a new place and new adventures in every box.  It’s wearing her out, though, so I have been super strict about naptime and bedtime!  That keeps her happier!

I’m just glad to be home.  My body aches and I am exhausted, but I am getting over my cold and my cough is slowly going away.  I lay in bed at night in awe at the reality I once only saw in visions and dreams, receiving these very experiences promised in blessings so long ago.  Home, here, with my family, for a time of rest and comfort.  I tell Him, when I pray those final breaths before my eyes close at night, that I am so grateful He is my Father and my God.

Barrett said at breakfast this morning, Mama?  Did you ever notice our house feels like the temple?

I sigh and smile, because I’m glad he feels that and I am glad to know he knows that’s important.

But then I look down, and twist my spoon in my oatmeal, because really I am thinking, Maybe it’s because you stopped screaming, you little punk.

Except maybe I am talking more to me than to him.

Morning Play

When I wake in the morning, most every morning, my OCD boys have made their beds and are playing cars together nicely:


In contrast, almost every morning my homeless girls have dumped out ALL of their toys and flipped their cots (which we are using until the bunk beds arrive tomorrow) to make tents and are bickering over everything and anything – mostly who is the boss.


Kyrie then takes whatever they are fighting over, and brings it to me.

We do this until they get hungry, which gives them motivation to clean up and do their scripture studies and prayers so we can eat and start our day.

Today we start putting away books!

Motherhood Bubbles

I didn’t bring babies home with me, when we moved back to our yellow house this weekend.

I brought children, all grown up children, or so they think.  I brought children almost tweenagers, children who are independent and fiesty.  I brought home siblings, as true a family as any, with all the protective bickering that comes with it.  I brought home individuals with preferences and opinions and ideas.

They all get up on their own now, taking turns “in the kids’ bathroom”, using their little hygiene baskets to brush their own teeth and dress themselves and brush their hair and put on deodorant (for those whom it applies).  They take their showers on their own, too, now, and don’t even need us to rinse their hair out.  They hang up their towels when they are finished, and they put their clothes in the hamper, and they do their laundry on their laundry day.

It’s not the same as when I left here with nine children, half of them preschoolers, and none of them could do anything for themselves.

We have come a long way.

But they are normal, too.  There are sword fights with the toothbrushes when they think I am not looking, and a mystery as to who squirted the giant blob of toothpaste onto Mary’s basket, and the issue of how combs and brushes got switched around if everyone was really staying in their beds last night.

But we are trying.

Even Kyrie does her own toothbrush and tooth paste now – and chapstick, which is her favorite – and brushes her hair and gets herself dressed.

But not as often as she gets herself undressed.

Modest is hottest, baby!

My Mother’s Day present this year is coming home, is two armfuls of little ones big enough to care more and more for themselves but still young enough to take turns cuddling.

Nathan and his father moved our storage unit home today, with some help from our friends the Beans.  No one else was able to come, and I worried for those guys.  Every time I tried to help, I started hacking and couldn’t breathe.  I am no longer contagious, but my cough is nasty and painful.  I should be over it soon, as the rest of the family got over it in about five days.  I spent the day, then, chasing Kyrie to get her clothes back on, or directing where things should go as they were brought into the house, or putting away this or that as I was able.   We got it as Sabbath ready as we could, now with the children’s rooms unpacked and kitchen unpacked.

Monday will be books.  So many books.  Our shelves are up and ready, but tomorrow is the Sabbath and we are grateful for the rest.  Nothing will be unpacked or moved around tomorrow.  We will make do, and we will rest, and we will play together without the work left waiting for us on Monday morning.

I only have one brief dead-mom crybaby meltdown, and it was quick and private and didn’t drown me.  That feels good.  It’s not so different than the experience of Alex and Anber, who lived here before but barely remember it, and now come back with the other children who have never lived here at all but visited twice between renters, and now all of us separated from our families but being one together, here, in this home that is ours – all of us adopted and sealed and starting out fresh.

Except for the ghosts, like my mom.

Or their moms.

How do you say Happy Mother’s Day to a mom who lost custody of her children?  To a mom whose young son just passed away?  To a grown daughter whose mom was lost in a blur on a day just like today?   How do you say it to yourself, when you babies were lost in the pains of blood, and someone else’s child smiles before you, except that child is as yours as any other?

What is this miracle, motherhood, and how do I soak in every moment so as not to miss a minute of it?

It’s dirty hands and faces as much as fancy dresses.  It’s picnic plates dropped upside down in the grass as much as it is china table settings.  It’s boxes left waiting to be unpacked because a game of Ring-Around-the-Rosie was more important.  It’s pushing aside the feeding tube equipment because your toddler finally asks for applesauce, and the high five when your autistic son gets it right, and the rare hug from your boy who really misses his other mom – every single day.  It’s the gut-wrenching sucker punch when your daughter remembers things you did for her as things she imagines her other mom did for her, or the heart-talking with a daughter who doesn’t remember her other mom at all and so assumes she never has to deal with that ever.

But they do.  We do.  It’s their story, this tale woven from the threads of foster care into a tapestry of adoption.  It’s their story, and our story, and also their parents’ story.    It was the story of the other parents, the “others” who really were first, but then it became our story, and will be their story again someday.

Except it’s not their story or our story: it’s the children’s story.

It’s complicated, that Mother’s Day experience.  Complicated for all of us.

We could pretend it’s just about us right now, and maybe even get away with it, but we know the story is bigger than that, bigger than us, bigger than now.

So we record handprints of love in finger paints, and we arrange structured visits for hugs, and we all take pictures of our smiles like every other family does during the stressful time of any holiday.

Because we are human, together, and trying, together, most all of us.

We are better than we were yesterday, and tomorrow will be better yet.

But we are mothers, all of us, whether because of biological children, or adopted children, or baby dolls we carry in our arms.

It’s a lot to ponder, in the eternal perspective of it all, but not to be lost in the sacred mundane… one more dishwasher to empty, one more diaper to change, one more bath to give.

Because that’s where the mothering happens: in the tender moments, in the smiles across the room, in the bubbles around little faces, moments where I feel myself acting out tender memories of my own mother as it plays out with my own children, knitting us together through time.

Motherhood, that’s what that is.

Home.

Nathan and his dad and our ward in Tulsa worked so hard loading us up in Tulsa, and we are so grateful.

I coughed and wrestled a toddler.

What a funny thing to come home again, with good help from friends here.

It is good to be home.

We are setting some things up differently intentionally, because this is not my before-children house, or my dead-mom house, or my cancer-is-coming house, or my miscarriage house.

This is our house, as a family of eight.

Some of it is the same, some of it is rearranged, and other things are new like our brand new (secondhand steal) table:


Nathan has gone to trade the truck for our car, until Saturday when we pick up some storage unit things this truck was too big to reach, and I have cleaned up and plugged in the record player and started the vinyls playing to make it our home again.

It’s lovely, and we are grateful.

Our bed is put together, and the kids are camping out on cots until Tuesday, when the swing set and bunk beds come.

They think it’s a fabulous game.

Less fabulous was being stuck on the back patio for safety during the unloading of the truck because the yard was too muddy from the storms.  Kyrie, especially, is was not impressed.  It looked especially sad with the big gates on each side up and closed, installed when DHS made us lock up the patio when we started fostering, since we had a pool.  It was like a giant playpen, or jail, those poor babies.  

By the time the last thing came in, the children were too tired to even argue about bedtime, and I was too sore from coughing to be very cheery about it.  But I found everyone’s blankets and pillows and stuffies, which is quite the feat on moving night, let me assure you.

But we have made it, and all are tucked in, and Nathan and I will soon collapse before tackling tomorrow.

Thank you.  Thank you so much.

Sage Burning

I woke at 5am this morning, excited for my yellow house.

This is the home I got to design and build for a family I didn’t even have yet, but that I knew from temple visions… and now bring home.

The biggest thing for our children is knowing they belong.  

They know Alex and Anber lived here, that this is where Anber was left on our porch in an EMSA blanket while the caseworker ran back to the car for paperwork, that this is where Alex met her that first morning when he leaned over the pack-n-play and whispered:

Where did you get that little brown baby? At the gift shop?

They know I dreamed of them living here before I met them, and they have even visited here a few times between renters.

We even came already to assess my garden space, which canned up fed us through three years of medical crises.

They know we will have to start the garden over, and they know we called it the Jubilee years, where my bit of Earth got to rest so it will be fresh and replenished and ready for us again.

But yesterday we packed backwards, pulling out three days of outfits, and then loading up the rest and bringing it here so their closets are ready.

This is more than convenience.

For our kids working so hard on attachment, this is safety.

The last thing these children need are more changes and more uprooting, but we are coming out of Kyrie’s two years of hospitals and doing the best we can.

It’s good to be coming home, even if only for a respite as promised.

You will have a time of rest, and of celebration, even peace.

So even though we are all excited, there is underlying anxiety and we want the children to transition as smoothly as possible.

One thing we are emphasizing is how much they are growing up, and the individuality and independence that comes with such maturity.

For this, we made them each their own hygiene basket!

Kyrie’s is the most simple, of course, with just her toothbrush and toothpaste and some pretend chapstick, and with Mary’s already being the most complicated with her preteen supplies and satin hair net for sleeping with braids and all those things that are changing her from child to tween when she isn’t even 9 yet (but any day now, as she reminds us frequently).

We are super excited to bring the children later this morning and show them their claim on the house, and of course we are making a music video to help process like we do everything else.

I started bringing instruments this morning: my cello and hammer dulcimer, and Nathan’s violin, and the children’s violin.  

Shower curtains are up and new bathroom floor mats are down. 

Utilities are transferred and internet is on its way, a necessity for us because of our work, though we still choose not to have cable or satellite or television.

We are ready to start functioning here in the chaos, with furniture coming Thursday night (which is super annoying to everyone but became necessary because of scheduling conflict with the stake’s father-son campout).  We load up at 430 and unload at 730, if anyone wants to help!

Even the ducks are excited to see us home!