Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Rest, Rest, and Rest Some More

Hi, hi, hello, hi. It appears that I will eventually recover from this cold/flu/possible allergy thing, though it's not quite done with me yet. (I know. It's endless.) As predicted (but initially resisted), the only thing that works to get rid of it is rest. There were some other things which helped ease my suffering from the symptoms, but rest is what does the healing job. There is absolutely no way around this.

I find this to be frustrating. I am an Enneagram 1, and my inner critic is not down with just doing nothing. My inner critic thinks I should recover faster. My inner critic does not think that taking a short nap after returning from an early morning cat care job is acceptable. My inner critic wonders if I have seen the state of the kitchen lately? Or my disaster of a desk? My inner critic asks if I've figured out the budget for the rest of 2019, and if I shouldn't just get up in the night to finish that?

My inner critic clearly needs to shut up.

Because overall, things are going well. I no longer feel like someone has filled my sinuses with concrete. My energy levels have come back up to a level which allows me to get most things done without feeling like I need to sit down every few minutes. I booked a holiday for late September/early November, and that gives us all something to look forward to. Pascha is coming up this weekend, and we've got a plan to keep it as low stress as possible. So my problems right now are small, it seems.

For example, I'm experiencing dinner-making burnout. I just don't feel like making dinner anymore. I love cooking, but suddenly it seems that I've made enough dinners. Why does my family still want to eat dinner? Haven't they done that enough? Apparently not.  But they do seem to have accepted mediocre dinners pretty readily. Mediocre is better than nothing, and they know it! And also I got a bunch of pizzas on clearance, so there's a backup option in the freezer if necessary. Let's just keep it real.

Also real? That I have other things to do besides complain about making dinner to my audience of 35 willing readers. Like grate cheese for tonight's mediocre dinner of quesadillas heated in the waffle iron. Off I go.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Quick Note About Resting (and How I've Been Doing It Wrong)

Aaaaaaand...we're back to the cat photos. You're welcome. I took that photo while lying on my bed today, massaging my face with frankincense and lavender oils to try to get my sinuses to stop making my whole head hurt. It was nice, lying there with the cat nearby. I'd say it was nice to smell the oils, but I honestly couldn't smell a thing.

I'm spending three days trying to recover from the cold/flu/who-knows-what that I've had since early March. I thought it would be gone by now. I took little breaks! I did! But my problem has always been not being able to allow myself to take the kind of rest I really need. Sometimes I'll take as little as possible, and other times I will take not quite enough. Logically, I know that I need it. Practically, I see all the things that need to be done and figure that if I can drag myself out of my bed to do them, I probably should. This is a lie, but it's one that I apparently believe, as I keep doing things instead of resting.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't really work out. And yet, today I started on the project of swapping my winter wardrobe for my spring/summer wardrobe when I had vowed to rest. I meant to do it! But there I was, contemplating which things were truly for winter and which were more transitional between winter and spring.

I also did laundry.

And some dishes.

But then I laid down. Many times. In between the laundry and dishes. Because some things that can wait turn into absolute disasters if they are not attended to in a timely manner. I did what I had to do, in order to not suffer terribly later. I don't have a solution for this. All I can do is spend these three days lying down as much as possible and hope for the best.

For the long term, I am trying to build things into our lives that will mean that I get more rest overall. I took a free online course about increasing energy, and I'm going to incorporate some of the strategies I learned as well. (If any of them work, I'll let you know.) But none of that helps me now. What will help me now is lying down as much as possible. And that is hard for me, but I am going to do my very best.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A New Day in Our Week

For most of the years we have been home educating, we have had a four day school week for book work, leaving one weekday for whatever else we wanted or needed to do. This worked out brilliantly - much of the time we would have an extra activity booked one day a week, but when we didn't, we'd take Friday to just relax a bit and get extra things done. This year I didn't build in that day, as we consistently have our Wednesday group that takes us away from book work fortnightly, and on alternating weeks we almost always have a day out planned. It became clear to me last week that we still really need it scheduled in, and that some weeks we need more than one book work free day.

It does seem a bit lax to only do book work three days per week some weeks, but in the end we always manage to get through more books than were on our curriculum plan, so this is not a real problem. It's a perception problem. Because most children attend school all five weekdays, it seems like doing less would make us slackers. But we don't actually do less. Absent the need for classroom management and answering the questions of thirty plus students, we can get a lot done in a short amount of time. So four days as standard is plenty, and three days can also be enough.

Therefore, recognizing that we needed a bit more time to develop some key skills, last week we added a new day to our homeschool week. It is Cleaning and Project Day. This will normally take place on Thursday, and the key skills that will be developed will include cleaning, not complaining because your mother doesn't want to be everyone's maid, and not begging for Minecraft instead of doing something else creative.

I do allow a small amount of Minecraft once the cleaning is done, but I'm not keen for this to be a day in which my kids rush through cleaning tasks and then glue their faces to screens. So they do a little Minecraft or other screen time if they want, and then they pick something else to do. Today, Z finished sewing a skirt that's been in process since January. E ate ice cream and got out her big doll stroller. I made orange syrup and some applesauce.

Honestly, the main point of this day is the cleaning. It is, in a way, selfish on my part, but I believe it will benefit the family as a whole. As I mentioned in my last post, feeling peace in my surroundings helps me be more patient, and of course it's a good thing for everyone when I feel peaceful instead of shout-y. But I also want it to be possible for everyone in our family to clean up easily and without a lot of stress. When things get too messy, it feels overwhelming to my kids to complete the task. By cleaning regularly, we avoid that trap.

I'd also love to be able to have people over without having to do more than a quick tidy of the bathroom. Up to this point, I've felt that we have to plan at least a week in advance to have people over to our house. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I have realized that it would be nice to just be able to ask people to come over and know there will be a place for them to sit, and they won't be tripping over things as they walk through the house.

So on Thursdays, we start by cleaning and tidying. It's nothing special - our house won't pass the white glove test when we are done. In fact, today we didn't even vacuum all the rooms, and you can tell if you look. But the bathrooms and kitchen got cleaned, and everything that we have out throughout the house got put away where it belongs. These are the things that must happen every week on this day. This is not my kids' favorite thing, but it doesn't have to be. Frankly, the cleaning part isn't my favorite thing either. But then we all get to do projects, and I think that might become one of my favorite things. I hope that my kids will come to love this, too.

I also hope that this gives us the extra space we need to feel less rushed. Both kids have complained of this feeling lately, and so my hope is that as we take this day away from book work each week, they will feel the freedom of getting a little work done and then having the rest of the day open up in front of them to do whatever their imaginations can conjure up. Whether we have four full days of book work or have had an special group or activity thrown in, this day will be there for us, just waiting. I'm excited for it. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Adjustments and Plans

I have been going to IKEA a lot lately. This is partly because there is one quite near to me now, but also because I've decided that organizing is what will make my life worth living. Well, okay, not worth living, but easier at least. And it brings me joy to look out into my laundry room and see everything in containers, with a clear path to the back door. I put down a rug out there. It is glorious.

And I mean that. Sometimes it really is the little things that make a big difference.

For the past month, I've had a cold, the kind that settles in the chest and makes it feel like I'll never take a full breath again, and I'll always be tired. I am very nearly over it, but now we've had the time change to British Summer Time, and so I'm contending with that lost hour of sleep. But at least I am not tired in the sense that I feel like I cannot do anything beyond the bare necessities, which was the reality of most of the last month. I realized as I was finally coming out of the fog last week that it is very hard to slow down my life when I need to, and that's when I made my plan to amass a large quantity of clear IKEA storage boxes, as well as a lidded basket to put our sofa blankets in.

I understand that the connection between needing to slow life down and amassing storage containers may not be obvious, but allow me to explain.

A lot of my life is spent getting things out and putting things away. I need to move around my house efficiently to get things done, and certain spaces need to be clear for me to complete tasks. It also falls to me to make sure that our house is ready if we have guests over, and while I can delegate some of the tasks, ultimately whether it works out or not is up to me. All of these things are easier if the house is organized, and I didn't realize until I was sick for a month that my organizing efforts thus far hadn't gotten me to a place of ease in tidying. I still endeavor to keep the house in a happy medium between hoarder and minimalist, slob and neat freak, but I was falling behind on basic tasks because it was just too hard to do my work without tripping over something or finding something in my way. When I was exhausted and not feeling well, it made me feel like just giving up and letting the place go to ruin.

So I took a look at what wasn't working, and I've been adjusting some things. My plans won't solve every issue, but even with a few small changes, it is easier to do what I need to do. I can get the vacuum out more easily now. I can walk through the laundry room without a rolled up piece of carpet tripping me. There aren't ziploc bags of carefully sorted old clothes of Z's falling off shelves. The sofa blankets aren't piled haphazardly on top of the back of the sofa. These things didn't seem like they'd matter much, but they do. Not only are things functioning better, but they look nicer, too. Now, the messes that exist (because there will always be messes in our space, most likely) don't look so messy. The house feels more peaceful. I feel more peaceful. This spills over into other areas of my life. Of course it does.

I wrestle a lot with feeling that some of my priorities, particularly when it comes to home improvement, are selfish. My husband and kids really don't care of the house is organized or neat. But I know that they do care if I am stressed out. My kids like me better when I have more patience. I wish I could just be serene in any circumstance, but I'm not that far advanced in my personal growth yet. So I will change what I need to change in my physical space order to be more of the person that I want to be in my heart. I'm not sure how many more trips to IKEA it will take, but I'm open to any number.

Monday, March 25, 2019

In Praise of Inconvenient Love

On Thursday, I bribed my children with extra screen time to visit our neighbor in the hospital. I'd never had to do that before, though sometimes I had to talk them into visiting her. I think that, if pressed, they would have said yes without the promise of screen time, but the sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital are hard to take even for me, so I thought I'd make it an easy yes for them. My hope was that it wouldn't be long until she was placed in a care home, where things would be a bit more stable, and she could be a bit more comfortable, with more of her own things around her. We would stick it out with the hospital visits until then. We always saw her on Mondays and Thursdays if we were around, and that was not going to change.

Except that it did change.

Five hours after our visit on Thursday, I received a message that she had passed away.

We are still in shock. We are terribly sad. We loved her a ridiculous amount, and we didn't even know how much until she was gone.

Loving a neighbor isn't always easy. There were things about our neighbor that were inconvenient, maybe a little challenging. But I am here to say that love that is inconvenient may be the very best kind of love. It will surprise you with how much it gives back to you when you invite it into your life. I wish we had more time for the inconvenience that came with loving this neighbor. I wish we had years more of arranging our schedule to include visits to her. I thought we would have at least one more. But we don't. And so instead we have our memories of her.

She laughed easily. She gave generously. She made us welcome in her home and in her life. She held the girls' dolls, told us she liked our clothes and shoes, insisted that we take home sweets and random things from her fridge. She let the kids take charge of the remote to her television and watched what they chose as if she liked it (I'm sure she didn't always like it). She had a big heart. We were well loved, and I'm sure it wasn't always convenient for her to love us. But she did, and we will remember this the most about her.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Things I Don't Regret

My E is growing tall, all arms and legs and sudden grace as she grows into them. I watch with wonder, remembering the past, remembering carrying her through an enormous airport in my arms, so light I never had to shift her position to be able to carry her more easily, though we walked and walked and walked. She is no longer small. She has grown, healed, made her way in this life in ways that have surprised everyone. She is a wonder, through and through.

As my own children grow, I find myself reminiscing about our first days as family to each of them, sometimes prompted by observing lives of others who are welcoming children into their families in the same way we welcomed our children into ours. Older toddlers will always remind me of my Z and the joy of getting to know her. Any child who joins a new family and ends up in a hospital fairly soon thereafter reminds me of E and all those hospital days.

I have been watching one such story unfold. I have debated about whether to speak up or not. I'm not interested in naming or shaming a family who may be doing the best they can. But this is also a high profile case, and I know that some people may feel inspired by this family to explore adoption as an option for adding to their family. I think that the impressions I get from watching this family (and not knowing everything) may be impressions that others are taking away as well, and I feel that in this light, it is important to speak up about best practice for newly adopted kids with complex medical needs.

I am not a perfect parent. I have made loads of mistakes and will likely make loads more. But there are some things that I do not regret. One of those things is always putting our most vulnerable family member first in line to get needs met. In E's case in particular, this meant having a parent available to stay with her when she was in the hospital, every time she was in the hospital, for as long as she needed to be there. We wanted to set the precedent that we would always be there for her, especially in her most challenging and painful moments. No matter what. We wanted to show Z that this is how we do things as a family - everyone's needs get met, and we all work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable member. She experienced this in her own story; we made big adjustments due to her needs when she was in a vulnerable position.

And Z's needs did get met, too. Was her life different than normal while E was hospitalized? Of course it was. She knew it would be, and she accepted this with grace. She was a key part of our family team, and her presence at the hospital was a delight to E. She is still E's favorite person to hang out with, nearly seven years later. Z stayed with someone else during the weekdays (usually a family member), but she could come to the hospital anytime she wanted to see E and me. We all met up at the hospital for dinner each evening. Then J would stay with E while I went home with Z and put her to bed. I'd shower, return to the hospital, and J would go home to sleep and attend to any needs Z had in the night or in the morning before he left for work. On the weekends, we'd switch, and I'd be with Z all day.

It worked. It was hard, but it worked. And I believe that it contributed in significant ways to E's healing, but also to her budding attachment to us. Even now, when she is feeling insecure, we can tell the story of her life, and how we did not leave her side when she needed us most. Hospitals are hard places to be. Imagine being a child, in a new country, in a new family, and having to contend with hospital life. It made sense to us to be there with her, for however long it took. We were lucky, because none of our hospital stays extended beyond four weeks. But if it had taken longer than that, we were committed for the long haul.

Would this have been nearly impossible if both J and I had needed to work away from home? Yes. Absolutely. I recognize that privilege. I recognize the work it took on the part of our extended family, who often flew in from thousands of miles away, and our friends, who were on call for us when we needed them. There were a lot of people in place in our lives that made this happen. We did not do it alone. I am not going to pretend that we did. But I am also not going to pretend that we didn't make sacrifices as a family to make this happen, or that we didn't prepare for and consider the practical implications of her level of medical need before we brought her home with us. That was an essential part of the process. We knew that because I was home with Z already, we were afforded flexibility that would make medical care easier to accommodate.

This is what I want people to be prepared for if they choose to adopt a child with complex medical needs. Your child will likely need to spend more time in a hospital than you ever dreamed they would. Please, please, please, for the sake of the child who may join your family, be honest with yourself about if it is possible for you to meet the child's needs with the resources you have available. Do not look at the selective things that people share on Instagram and think that is all that will be required of you. There will be more, so much more.

It will take a toll on you. It will take a toll on other members of your family. Can you handle that? Can your other children handle it? Be ridiculously practical about this, before you commit your heart. All these sacrifices will be worth it - we have no regrets about all that hospital time and what it took to be there - but it will be work. If you cannot do that work, that's ok. It is better to admit that it is not going to work well than to find yourself in a situation in which your most vulnerable family member cannot be cared for as they deserve to be cared for.

And an aside, for those who are of the Christian persuasion (as I am myself): you will hear a lot of people talk about the healing of a child as being glory to God and talk as if adopting a child is being part of their physical healing and even their salvation. I don't like this sort of talk at all; I think it leaves out a lot of the conversations we need to be having about adoption ethics and good practice in adoption and family preservation. I will tell you honestly that I believe that the help I received from God and the saints when I called out for it has helped both of my children immeasurably (as it has helped me as well). But God responding to my cries for help for my children does not absolve me of my own responsibility to them. I cannot say, "God's got this!" and then make choices that will leave my child in a vulnerable position.

Our kids are only kids for a short time. There will be other things which clamor for our attention during their childhoods, which may seem important, but please consider this. You cannot get those early days, weeks, months, and years of pursuing attachment  and trust back if they are used up on other things. There will always be other things, worthy things even, to demand your attention. But your child will only be a child for a little while. The window of opportunity for your influence in their life will narrow more quickly than you imagine. It will go by in a blink. If you are not prepared to use the time that you have to attend to their needs, if you feel that there is something else that you must do that will prevent you from being the best possible choice for their future, then don't move forward.

I know this may seem overly forthright. I do not mean to shame anyone, and I am not pronouncing judgment on the choices of the family I have recently observed. That is not the point of this post; the point is to protect and care for children by giving others the information they need to make an informed choice. I believe that there remains a big gap in education about adoption of children with complex medical needs, and that agencies are not doing their due diligence in many cases to ensure that families know best practice and can follow it. We cannot know everything by looking into the window that social media provides to a family's life. So do your own due diligence. Be informed. Make the choice that is best for the child.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let Us Not Plant Sorrow

When I woke up this morning, I read of the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I felt deeply grieved. We have many mosques in our community, and many Muslims are our friends and neighbors. I believe that I have not spoken out enough about respecting and protecting them. It should not take a tragedy of this magnitude for me to remedy this. But here I am.

I have come here today to address my fellow Christians in particular. Of course you are welcome to read along if you are not a Christian. But this is a message that I believe that Christians need to hear. Because we have been the ones who have helped to create this problem.

I grew up being taught that anyone who did not accept Jesus into their heart was destined for hell. Various religions were mentioned, and Islam sometimes singled out. I was told things that were incorrect about what Muslims believe. Seeds were planted that would lead me to think of others as lesser, as wrong in the worst way possible. Friends, it is not a long walk between telling people that God is sending others to hell and deciding it's okay to send them there yourself. If we believe otherwise, we are fooling ourselves and creating a world full of sorrow and pain. Small seeds can grow into giant plants.

The honest truth is that none of us know for sure what happens on the other side of death. This is why it is called faith. But the Bible is clear, has always been clear, that judgment is reserved for God alone, and we are not to engage in it ourselves. And so, fellow Christians, we need to stop doing this. We need to stop planting seeds of judgment in our hearts and the hearts of others. Look what these seeds have grown into! Oh, what sorrow have we wrought for others?

I believe that God weeps for these people who were killed today when they came to worship, to pray. The people who were slain this morning seek to worship the God of Abraham; we too seek to worship the God of Abraham*. Muslims are not the enemy; we have this common goal of worship. We have differences in beliefs, yes, significant ones. But the fact remains that not only are we instructed not to judge, but we are told to love our neighbors.

I Corinthians 13 has been the gold standard within Christianity to explain the importance of love. I think we would do well to read this and meditate upon what it means to truly love our neighbors. We can refer to the story of the Good Samaritan. Let us protect and care for our neighbors, whoever they are and whatever they believe. Let us rip out by the root these evil plants that we have unwittingly grown, and pray that God has mercy on us to help us never to plant them again in the future.

*J has pointed out to me that the official Orthodox Christian view of whether we and those who follow Islam worship the same God differs from mine. Referring to I Corinthians 13, we understand that we "know in part," so I will say that I absolutely do not know what is exactly correct. But we do know that we are to abstain from judgment and to love our neighbors, so I'm going to do that and encourage others to do that. If we err, let it be on the side of love.