The Chicken Party

Even if you marry the exact perfect husband, there will be some things that are important to you that maybe you never even knew about before meeting him.

For me, that was Miracle Mike.  I had never heard of Miracle Mike before meeting Nathan.  It turns out that Miracle Mike is a real thing, and that he really existed.  He was a chicken, or more specifically, a rooster, and his farmer went out one Sunday to chop his head off with a hatchet for Sunday dinner.

Except the farmer missed the brain stem, and Miracle Mike became known as The Headless Chicken, touring for 18 months on the vaudeville circuit before choking to death in his hotel room one night like all famous rockstars.

I wish I were kidding.  I’m not.  Google it.

Some wives have fancy homes and decorate for fancy holidays.

But me?  At the start of every summer, I decorate with chickens.

Headless chickens.

Nathan takes this very seriously.  He is very introverted, but he plans this party every year with different games and activities, and he even makes prizes for participants.  This was his 15th year to throw this party.

The party has several traditions, like starting out with a reading of the sonnet – yes, an actual sonnet – that Nathan wrote in Miracle Mike’s honor.  He reads it while the guests hum America the Beautiful.

 Another tradition is that guests bring chicken themed foods:

 

And this year, Nathan made Chicken-N-Waffles flavored ice cream.   No, really.  That was his contribution:

 

Then there are the games, like this Doughnut game, where he tied the treats to string and hung them from poles so that children had to use only their mouths to peck at the doughnuts to get bites.  Why?  Because Miracle Mike was fed with an eye dropper for those 18 long months.

There are other games, like Rubber Chicken Bowling:

 

And the team competition of drawing Miracle Mike while sharing wings:

 

And Peck Like Mike, the paper bag game:

 

Other years have other games, like the time people had to make chicken costumes out of nothing, or the times we played “Angry Peeps” using a homemade catapult system to fling those marshmellow peeps across my living room.

And there is always the chicken dance:

 All mockery aside, it is hilarious and crazy and silly and an opportunity to bond with friends and relax with our children and just play together as a community.  Life can be so hard, and we are all surviving so much, and there are times we feel pretty isolated from others while drowning in parenting and trying to keep Kyrie out of the hospital.

But the chicken party?  That’s a touch of normal we get once a year, laughing with friends while our children play together.    

Well, it’s “normal” with Nathan in charge of event planning.

Those are the natural consequences you get when marrying a husband in musical theater.

And that’s why I picked him, this guy who could endure alongside me on this very intense journey of mortality.

Even if he brought his (headless) chickens with him.

Restoration

When the sun started to come up this morning, I knew it was time.

I wanted to stay there, where my covers are cozy and my pillow soft, there where I don’t have to wear bionic ears and the silence wraps me like a homemade quilt, there where Nathan’s feet are warm and tangled with mine.

But this is mortality, and I am called to the trenches.

I knew that I must go out there and like the morning sun, wage a ware against darkness – without engaging in battle with the children themselves.

Half of them will be worse today, because they are the ones who feel safe by limits being enforced.

The other half will be grossly overly compliant and declare their love in words and pictures and little gifts, because that’s how the domestic violence works in the families from which they came.

That’s what I was guessing as I awoke this morning, but what I knew was that all of them needed to feel that everything is okay.

All of them needed to know that no matter what they chose yesterday, or what consequences continue from choices they cannot undo, today is still a new day.

The kind of day we had yesterday called for the highest priorities of interventions: snuggle time individually for everybody, no matter how many children there are running around out there.

That’s the only way to be on the offensive, to be proactive about protecting the children on emotionally difficult days after hard behavior kinds of days.

As the day began with the chaos of six sets of routines for exercises and tooth brushing and showers and getting dressed and scripture studies and individual prayers and assigning homework pages, Nathan stole one child away at a time.  He brought them into our room, away from the chaos, for morning cuddles that turn into tickles and planning your day chats that turn into modeling healthy emotional expression, mirroring, and reflective listening.  I did the same thing after breakfast and morning chores and music lessons, pulling them into a big chair to snuggle with me and tickle and whisper and laugh and chat, one at a time.  Then we did it again, after lunch, letting everything else go and curling up together with blankets and bean bags as I read the first four chapters of The Mouse and the Motorcycle to them out loud.

That’s one of my favorite things about homeschool, that even though I work the evening shift and often miss their bedtime, I get to snuggle with them every afternoon and still read them bedtime stories.

Then usually before I go to work, we sort out into different projects and chores, but today was not the kind of day to pile on demands or enforce expectations.

So I got out the play dough, and all the toys, and played the vinyl record of Music Man while they cut and squashed and rolled and created and shaped one thing after another, each of them together with the others but also in their own world, an illusion of space, a promise of safety, and the experience of playing well together.

Today was the kind of day for healing, and resting, and recovering, just as we would on a rainy day, or just as we would after a sick day.  It was a hard week, a really hard week.  But we pulled through, and we regrouped, and everyone just needed to be successful today.  They needed confidence and bonding, the experience of enduring through something hard but being strengthened by it on the other side.  They needed comfort.  They needed a win.

That’s what we did today.

We made sure breakfast was huge, lunch was early, and dinner was a favorite.

They just needed to have a good day, each of them, and together remember that they could.

Maybe we needed that, too, as parents, to remember that we are doing our best and that’s enough.

Because hard days are hard, and rough seasons are rough, and all of it is exhausting – even on the good days.

Maybe especially on the good days.

It’s a lot easier to just give up, to just be punitive, to just not even try, than it is to work that hard at doing it well.  It means thinking about them instead of yourself, and it means thinking about each of them individually rather than treating them like cattle as a group, and it means sacrificing your own down time and interests and very-important-work so as to be present and available enough that they legitimately feel you being attentive enough to actually be nurturing.

Nathan’s last minute edits for this weekend’s opera in New York may have been a whole day late, and I may have three books in production just waiting for approval for distribution, and maybe it took me all this time to follow-up on our appeal about Kyrie’s oxygen and my cochlear implant upgrade, but by golly, the children went to bed happy as can be, after a beautiful day of excellent behavior and positive interactions all around.

You know, just this once.

So I had to document it.  Because it might not happen again.

But today?  Good job, Christensens.  We made it one more day.

Bliss-Less

Some days don’t feel like our life together began with adorable wedding invitations designed to look like books and entitled Marital Bliss.

Some days parenting skills are almost irrelevant because the children have their own agency and make choices for themselves no matter how much I pray and plead and hope.

Today Mary stole toys that weren’t hers again, and hid all her laundry in her drawers, and “lost” her homework (twice) so she wouldn’t have to do it.

Alex threw such a big baby fit, like a real toddler tantrum, that he even threw his mattress off the top bunk onto the floor below.

Kirk ran his little mouth, arguing and back talking about everything in a most uncharacteristic kind of way. 

Barrett punched Alex in the face, which made most of us want to cheer, except that’s not okay.

Anber pinched Kirk, told three big lies in a row, and pointed out (again) to all the other children that Grandma only wants to buy her presents and not them and only wants to sit with her and not anyone else.  She can be so mean!

Nathan and I wanted to lose it.  We were so angry!  And frustrated! And disappointed!

At one point, I just left the battlefield and crawled back under the covers.  I set the timer on my phone for three minutes, had a good cry, then washed my hands and face and went back out there.  No matter how much easier it would have been, I couldn’t just leave them all out there by themselves to duke it out via Hunger Games.

Except I can, because they have their own lives to manage.

I’m the mom, so it’s my job to pass out ice packs and give hugs when  the dust settles, but it is not my job to regulate for them or rescue them from consequences.

Oh, yes, it is time for dinner, except you are hanging up clothes from two days ago.  We will save a plate for you!

Oh, I do see your mattress on the floor.  That’s gonna be a rough night of sleeping, buddy.  It will be just like camping out!  Enjoy!

No, I don’t think I feel like taking a break to have a Dr. Who date with you, because unkind words don’t make for very warm company.

I am sure you would like to go out and play on the swing set since it arrived tonight, except you are on a safety plan that means playing by yourself for now.  You will get a turn tomorrow, while the others are doing a group activity.

Hey, I heard you were good at pinching, so how about taking this bowl of beads for me and clasping them all closed?  Fancy hair braids are for ladies, not bullies.

It’s been a long time since we had an fancy braids at our house!

And it’s true, that natural consequences or those they have chosen for themselves are best.

But we can’t just end there, in a hot mess of trouble and drowning in consequences.

That would be too easy, for us all to just go pout while boiling over with emotions.

Except that’s a spirit that tears families apart.

It’s not of God.

And so while we cannot rescue them from consequences, we can urge them forward, trudging through the mud and mire to the other side of the river.

We can, carefully and peristently, draw them full circle back toward us with that increase in love part that’s supposed to follow discipline.

Do you want to sit in my lap as you cry? You are remembering how your mother stole, too?  You don’t have to give your body away.  You don’t have to steal to stay alive.  You are safe now.  I promise.

Do you want to sing a song with me to chase your mads away?  We all make mistakes, sweet boy, but we must not give up.  Never give up.  And never believe that a mistake means you are unloveable or not worthy.  You are worthy, because of whose you are and who you are and what He has done for you.  Nothing changes that.  Let’s sing our “Try again” song.

Listen, little boy, you got your mouth from your other mama and from me. You better watch it, or al kinds of trouble will fall in your lap.  Trust me.  Ask her.  It’s especially bad, somehow, when you have such a gift for kindness and caring for others.  Don’t betray you.  Protect who you are.  Be wise in your words, not careless.

Just because you got beat all the time doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to do it.  Just because the only thing you remember is the screaming and the hitting doesn’t make trying it out alright.  We promised this was a safe house, a no screaming and no hitting house, but that means everybody does their part – including you.  Your feelings are so big, but that’s because they are.  Name them.  Learn them.  Make friends with them.  Talk them out, draw them out, put it all to words.  But do not use that power to strike against someone else.

You are a warrior.  But a warrior is wise and cautious, not impulsive or cruel.  A wolf takes care of her pack, and keeps them gathered in line instead of scaring and scattering them.  These other children need you, and you need them, siblings long before foster care or adoption.  Your story is made of eternal stuff, so don’t sell it for porridge.

Some days we need a collective intervention of stories or music or distraction in some way to calm everything back down.

Some days Kyrie can’t breathe, and we get a reminder of more important things.

Other days she can breathe, and she’s a brat of a toddler, and we all run for our lives.

But the funny thing is, no matter what we do to chase away the Spirit from our home, nothing coaxes peace back as quickly as legit forgiveness, letting go of grudges and resentment, and the whispering of softly spoken words and cuddles in giant, donated, sofa chairs.

And sometimes a short song from a little girl who just wants to breathe well enough to make a little music.

Enough music to make the children laugh again, to sing again, and then dance again.

(But not on the roof.)

Rooftop Jumpers

Our apologies to the neighbors. 

Alex, who will be the death of me yet, taught Barrett how to climb on the air conditioner to climb on the rain barrels to climb on neighbor’s fence to climb onto our roof. 

When Nathan suggested this was not the safest activity to be teaching his little brother, Alex responding by running away from Nathan to the middle of the back yard, where he stands screaming about how his family hates him and never feeds him. 

This is a new theme lately, as he has apparently and allegedly just realized that the “other parents” we visit occasionally, who bring him candy and play with him on the playground, are the same ones who starved him, who locked him in a van, who started a meth fire, and who didn’t do anything to get him back. 

And he’s angry. 

For the first time, finally, four years later, he’s angry. 

Except taking it out on us, and it’s exhausting.

It’s like that when we first got him, when he cried for three hours and Nathan just rocked him and rocked him, knowing there was nothing we could do to erase that heartache.

The safety issues have to be addressed, obviously, but the screaming and giving up and thinking he is already lost and rejected… it it heartbreaking.  We can hold him, and rock him as if he were tiny, and we can process as nauseum.  But we cannot undo what was already done to him, and we cannot make realizing it easy.

But I promise he got breakfast, and a snack, and lunch, before any of the screaming started.

And we do love him, and we do want him – we just don’t want him on the roof.

It’s so hard, this life these little ones live, and I hate that we can’t rescue them from it.

But we do love them.  Really, we do.

Even when all the love in the world isn’t enough to undo what’s already happened to them.

We will support him best we can, and continue to process with him privately, but in the meantime we also have to keep the children safe – and off the roof.

It’s hard, this parenting thing.

Parenting Class

Well, you obviously know the name of my blog is Housewife Class.

If you didn’t know why, it’s because when I first started going to church with the Mormons, there was a third hour of services after Sacrament meeting and Sunday school – but it was just a women’s class.  I was pretty raw back then, and also Deaf. The name of the class was “Relief Society”, and it was full of ladies learning to be wives and mothers, and that was pretty overwhelming to me.  I never could remember the name of the class in English, and so I called it “Housewife Class” to poke fun but in appreciative way.  I had believed myself to be so smart, but then went to that class and found out how much I still had to learn!

I tell you that story because guess what?!

Today we launched a new website called Parenting Class!   Or, more specifically, ParentingClass.Solutions!  How exciting is that?  Click on that link to check it out!

We have been working on it since August, and still have some cleaning up to do and tons of content to add, but it’s finally laid out enough to let it go live.  I can’t believe it!

Except I do, because I am exhausted!

Nathan took the children to his parents’ house today, and I spent the entire filming six hours worth of 7 minute videos.  That was intense!


We have been preparing for ages, because we knew the one thing we could not do with the kids home was get out the lights or record any audio.  So that sends a million thanks to his parents, who watched the kids today so we could follow a “random” prompting to get the site up and live today – even if more content is still coming.  My eyes are crossed and my muscles cramped and my brain hurts, but we got it done!

Anyway, we did our best and tried hard and it’s pretty snazzy even from the phone.  We have applied for CEU credits for people who finish a certain number of classes, and have also applied for DHS credit for families who have parenting classes listed on their treatment plans but who can’t attend traditional classes for a variety of reasons.  It’s really unfolding!

While I did that, Nathan submitted his musical for production in Philly next month, got confirmation of his opera happening in New York, and sought out dramaturgs for his Christmas play he just finished yesterday.  He also finished designing the ABC book Kyrie and I wrote together last week, and has almost finished editing the next volume of Plain and Precious (our Book of Mormon commentary).  We have been busy!

I even got a new headshot for freebies!


Look at all that grey hair!

I fought for every one of them, and am quite proud, and have absolutely no plans for trying to cover it up.

Besides, it’s way better than my bald chemo head, right?  Except I was pretty proud of that, too (especially the teal wig).  

Anyway, that’s what I learned from Housewife Class, which was actually Relief Society…. that you can work harder than you ever knew was possible for your kids, and it’s best to just be you with all the you that you have got.  That’s what we’re trying to do around here.

Commentary

Oh my goodness, the Book of Mormon commentary I have spent eight years writing is officially published!

It is coming out as a series of five volumes!

The first volume dropped tonight as an eBook HERE.

If you need help converting the file to work on your Kindle or iBooks or whatever device you are using, there are super simple instructions HERE.

It should be out on Amazon and iTunes in the next week or so, and then paperback and hard copies after that.

It’s so exciting!

Even the Hebrew came out beautifully!

The cover was designed by Nathan, as a pattern (get it?! A PATTERN?!) of gold plates and Liahonas.   Isn’t he so clever?  I love it so much!

It even has a super cool searchable table of contents so you can jump around to wherever you are studying!

I can’t believe it!  It’s really happened!  Eight years!

Here are the acknowledgement pages:



This is crazysauce!  Eight years!  We are so excited!  Thank you for all your support!

Growth Chart

Maybe I should make her have the feeding tube all the time.

Maybe being able to eat all her food and all her snacks and actually get most of it swallowed isn’t enough.

But for us, its miraculous.  Really.

And so when this six year old in the body of a two year old tells me she doesn’t want the feeding tube “because I can get it down”, and tries so hard to eat, then we give her that freedom if she really can swallow some of it.

Sometimes she can’t. 

Sometimes she just tastes her food, and then spits it back out in my hand like a bird.

Then we have to use the feeding tube, whether or not she would prefer not to use it.

Or sometimes she can eat her food, but can’t swallow her drinks without drowning, and then we have to use it (and flush it with water, which is part of using it anyway).

But we have come so far, and we have come so close!

But I’m not worried about her not being on the chart.

Because she is taller.

And growing.

And learning.

And happy.

Except for, you know, the being two part.  But mostly happy.  We are trying.

It’s a fine line, though, and there is always mom guilt.  Maybe she would have hit the chart if I hadn’t stopped the feeding tube.  I’m sure it’s my fault, because I’m the mom, right?

Or maybe it’s not about failing by a few dots.

Maybe it’s about that upward line, and everything counts as progress.

That’s the hope we all need, I think, that instead of doomed to failure because of this or that, we ought to zoom out and see the big picture of progress.

And instead of despairing because of a hard moment, or being overwhelmed by little things, maybe we just need to take a big Kyrie breath and recognize how far we have come – and be content, that it’s enough, for today, and enjoy the lines of life that we have been given between the dots.

Well Children

Mama!  I saw the doctor, and she asked about my poop!  Can you believe that?

That’s what Kyrie said to me when she got home from her two year old well child checkup.

And you said she was your friend, and so I went in there without any boo-boo’s, but I came out with a boo-boo!

We finally got her well child visit completed, and our little sassy pants is finally 22 pounds at 25 months!

That’s just fine if you consider she is still growing, or if you have our palliative care doctor who says just to use the WHO chart for her.  How funny is that?

Her oxygen was 89 at the doctor today.

We have more sleep and swallow studies coming up, oxygen while she sleeps (but we need to buy a new concentrator and I don’t know how to pull that off), oxygen for physical therapy and as needed, and we just continue one day at a time.  Her epiglottis still isn’t right, and she will have to have pflap surgery when she is four… but we are talking about that, about if she is four.

In the meantime, I got up at 3am this morning to work on a new parenting consultant website unrolling soon!  There will be free printables and free videos, plus links to all the books as they come out, plus courses people can take if they want help… as well as starting to do individual coaching and consulting for families.  It’s going to be so fun!  I can add content whenever I am able while the children are sleeping or I am at conferences, record some of the conferences, and just let it grow on its own over time.

We also have the first volume of my Book of Mormon commentary edited, and it should be released as an ebook in the next week or two!

Making Marriage, our book for engaged and newly married couples, is about halfway finished and we can work on it more again now that Nathan finished his opera and two musicals that had summer deadlines.

Mary has settled in, and Anber is doing better than ever.  Kirk is doing great, and Barrett is almost settled.  Alex is still struggling with the transition and acting out with regressive behaviors, but we expected that and are just trying to be consistent and direct with him while we ride his wave of autism anxiety until he knows everything is still okay.

Breathing a little better, all of us, even while we know scary days still come… but we have learned enough not to take any of good days for granted.  They are everything. 

Thanks, doc.