Quiet Nights

When you work in a hospital, you learn that it’s part of cultural superstition that you are not allowed to ever be glad it’s “quiet”.  They think this will jinx it, and things will get busy again.  Instead, they say things are “under control” or use other code words, so as not to invite trouble.

So I will say, I was really grateful that it was “under control” this weekend after some very insanely busy weeks around here.  No pun intended.  My work at the office feels caught up, and my proposals for the group home stuff is as finished as it can be for now, and I am as ready as I can be for speaking in Houston.  That feels pretty good, I’d say.

Good enough that I was able to take a little walk this evening, and watch the sun set from the top of the parking garage.

Today is the four year anniversary of when our first child would have been born, the first little one Nathan and I lost, our little honeymoon-ish baby.

What would I do with a four year old right now?

That’s what I was thinking about when I remembered I have two of them.

Except they are turning five!  I can’t believe it!  They are all growing so fast!

I wonder sometimes if it’s too fast, or if I am just too slow.  There is so much to teach them!  I don’t mean math or spelling or how to type or play piano.  I mean how much they are loved, and how amazing they are, and what gifts I see in them that I know will offer something to the world in their own unique way.   That’s what I want them to understand, and to believe, even to know, more than anything.

I barely got to them in time.

That’s what I think about sometimes, when I consider how long it too me to find Nathan, and how I finally jumped in feet first and got baptized only a month before my second graders were born.   It’s like I could feel them calling me, like I could feel their absence as their spirits left me to be born into this same world, as if I missed them those years we were apart the same as I missed Nathan until I found him again in mortality.

I wrote about that last night, in the Making Marriage book we are writing.

Like any parent, I cringe at the things they saw me say and do before they were born.  Or some days now.

And like any parent, I am in awe that they would still come to me anyway.

They are such gifts of love, and I so want them to know they are loved.

Mamasita, they call me.  Did you know that?  It started when our foster daughter from Honduras still lived with us, but it stuck even after she was gone.  I heard Kyrie say it for the first time yesterday.

Like any parent, I wonder if I will get myself together in time to communicate any of that love to any of them.  I don’t want it lost in translation.  I don’t want it smothered in correction or buried under expectations.  I want there to be air in there, even while they grow more independent every day.

And they are.

Mary has started picking out clothes for the girls everyday, and can clean the kitchen by herself.

Alex can finally play alone for a little while and still be okay (better, even).

Kirk picks up books Kyrie pulls off the shelves without being asked, and tries to beat Mary to cleaning the kitchen.

Barrett still screams, but he screams feeling words!

Anber gave me a ponytail for the first time ever, just randomly figuring it out one day after conquering shoe tying.

Kyrie wore panties today, and put them on all by herself.  She put them on over her pull-up and had both legs in one hole and her body in a different leg hole, but I was excited she was interested and left her that way.

Nathan made it all the way through bedtime without being overwhelmed.  He was used up, but not drained empty.  That’s something.

I had a sweet talk with my two troublemaker boys when I wanted to just scream at them for being so foolish and mean.  But I didn’t scream or shout or even raise my voice.  Natural consequences happened, and that was hard enough, and I let it go.  Motherhood isn’t about retribution.  I was able to join them in the space they were in and just be present in their not very enjoyable circumstances without making it worse just to get back at them.

Because the behaviors we have now are “normal” kid behaviors, not safety concerns or feral child problems.

And that’s progress.

It’s like we are all getting better at being ourselves, and the better we get at that, then the better we are for each other.

Because when we say we want to be perfected, we aren’t talking about “without mistakes”.  

We are talking about wholeness, so much as to be completed.
It’s not a doing.

It’s a being.

And there is space for grace, I think, in letting people be who they are.

Even when there is little girl drama.

Or boys climbing the roof.

Or toddlers who slap your glasses off your face when they are trying to play monster.

You are good, so good, I tell them, because you are you, and because of who your Father is, and because of what the Savior has already done.

I don’t mean they are always angels, and I am surely not.  But even when we are super fans of natural consequences and uber consistency of enforcing limit setting, that’s different from being punitive just to compel them into something they aren’t with an illusion of power I don’t actually have.

They have agency, the right to choose, and I won’t always like what they choose.

But I love them.

And I will hold their hands.

Because someone pierced theirs for me.

I can’t rescue them from consequences anymore than I can do for them when they are trying to learn some new developmental task.  Both ways rob them.   It’s steals their agency away, and that’s not okay.

But letting them learn, and loving them up, that’s my favorite.

I don’t know why that’s easy to feel for them, but so hard to remember for myself.

Other moments are just nurturing freebies: icepacks, snuggles in the reading chair, and random homemade French fries for breakfast just because they asked.

Mamasita! We could call our yellow house “McDonald’s” as if that were our name!

No, kiddo.  No.  That’s not happening.

No one can say we are perfect parents.

But maybe, we are good enough parents, most days.

Refreshed

I got to sleep in, spent the morning with my babies, and then managed to finish my PowerPoint stuff while the played outside this afternoon, and then enjoyed a Nathan date this evening!

I needed this day off, and feel so much better!

Look at these cuties snuggled up for family movie night:

Roller Coaster Mama

I haven’t slept in two days, almost, except for a short nap last night.

Yesterday was a hospital visit for Kyrie, who is – of course – sick, just four days after our housewarming (chicken) party.

Sigh. This girl.

We busted her out, though, and had new oxygen tanks and a new concentrator when we got home.  I don’t know how to get another travel concentrator since hers is worn out, but we are relieved to have a new concentrator and tanks at home, at least!

But she completely failed her feeding assessment.  I mean, that’s unfair to say because her tongue is moving side to side more, so that’s progress.  We take all the progress we can get!  But she still can’t lift her tongue up at all (because it was sewn to her bottom lip her first year of life until they released it at palate repair).  She can chew some things, like crackers, but most things she tastes and spits back out because she can’t get them swallowed.  She aspirated pretty badly on her drink at the very end, and I just wanted to cry.  

The good news is, if you can call it that, is that she has a little pneumonia from aspirating, and isn’t really sick from the chicken party.  Maybe.  Except that’s not good news at all.

Regardless, this along with only being 22 pounds at 26 months has finally resulted in what we have fought off for two years: the referral for a gtube has been made.  At this point, it will just be more comfortable than doing the ng tube everyday, and maybe help her grow a little – though she is nice and long, growing inches and shoe sizes every time she is on oxygen for more than three days solid.

After that, I worked swing shift in the ER last night, and we were slammed.

I came home to a pile of paperwork at midnight, and stayed up until about 2am working on that.  Nathan was so sweet to make me some tomato soup so I could finally eat a little since I had to keep working.

This morning, I had to get up at 545am to drive back to Tulsa for annual licensure supervision ethics training, which lasted until noon.

Then I had uber exciting meetings about group home progress, which is both terrifying and thrilling, and finished just in time to come back to work in the ER until now.

Besides all that, I may or may not have been in a room (unwittingly) with a gun at some point in the last forty-eight hours, and I am still a little shaky from the experience.

Mostly I am exhausted, and missed the children today, and am in shock that the group home idea is actually unfolding finally, and I am very extra excited for a day off tomorrow.

A day off, just in time to turn a 600 page white paper into a into a 35 page proposal into a PowerPoint presentation, all of which reminded me I still need to create another PowerPoint for speaking in Houston next week!  And they added another speaking time for us!  We are so grateful, truly.  I know what I am going to say, but am hoping for more discussion than PowerPoint because I want to be helpful, not just nerdy.

These are my days, ups and downs, and running in circles.  

I will work hard to do my part at working hard, but I will also enjoy every moment of rest I can get, like at home with my babies tomorrow – especially since it is my weekend to work Saturday and Sunday.

So I am worn out, but finished with work as much as I can be, and ready to go home to Nathan.   I am not going to work more tonight, even though there is more to do.  My Sabbath has begun.

Life is so hard sometimes, and I am grateful he is my companion, and grateful for his good care of me.  I will miss him when he goes to Philadelphia for one of his musicals and we go to Houston to speak at the conference.

But tonight?  

Tonight I get to go home, and stay, for a whole twenty-four hours.  

Dream big, girl.  Dream big.

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.