It’s been months since my last post, and who knows how long until the next one. All four kids are sleeping so it’s now or never, a quick unedited update on life right now. The kids are 4, 4, 2, and 1. It’s early fall. Harvest is underway in the corn and soybean fields. A few trees have turned. We start most days with thin bright autumn sunlight and chilly air when we step out on the porch. By afternoon nobody needs jackets but the cold quickly returns as day fades into clear starry nights.
Since I last posted we sold our house, moved from North Carolina to the Midwest (a Job-like saga involving shingles, other illnesses and injuries, and multiple ER trips), and settled into our new home. We miss our Army life but live near much of our family now and enjoy frequent visits from other relatives. It’s great to be back in the beautiful Midwestern landscape with the gorgeous Midwestern seasons.
We took two trips to my parents’ cabin on Lake Michigan over the summer and reveled in a family-focused season of outings, yard work, reconnecting with old friends, hiking, pool trips, and play after a very stressful spring preparing to move. We plowed through many intense years before that of work and increasing numbers of small children. This year, with a break from work and slightly older kids we loved getting to milk the hot summer days for every last drop of goodness.
The Man started his new job in late August. His new work schedule is very family-friendly and we get to see much more of him than we used to. The twins started preschool two mornings a week in September. We spend our down time working around the house and yard, and embracing the season with fall bonfires, family get-togethers, apple-picking trips, autumn hikes, and cozy evenings sipping hot cider and reading in our home while the wind whistles up the hill past our house. Life and parenting hold plenty of hard parts and stresses but we’re loving this season together.
It would be hard to write detailed posts catching up on every detail of our family life over the past summer so I thought I’d start where we are now, and perhaps catch up on bits of the past as time allows.
My Dad’s Mom (Gram) came into town for a visit last week. Carl wrapped up night call in the ICU and, as usual, was swarmed by the kids with the usual “DaddyDaddyDaddyDaddddeeeeeee!” chorus while he tried to eat breakfast. He caught a short nap before we headed out to meet up with Gram/Great Gram and my Mom at a nearby apple orchard for cider, cider doughnuts, and a little outdoor playtime for the kids.
The weather turned chill and dreary but the kids had fun seeing the farm animals and playing on the hay bales and tractor. We finally got to introduce the younger two to their Great Gram.We didn’t pick apples this time since it was our fourth orchard trip of the month and we still had a stockpile in the fruit bowl. Plus, after eight cider-doughnut deprived years in the South I’m focused on milking the fresh orchard doughnuts season (not on the calendar, but just as real as Advent or Winter) for all it’s worth. We particularly like this orchard because it doesn’t charge for admission like some of the more touristy local options. You pay for any apples you pick or the doughnuts/cider you consume, but it’s free to climb on their little collection of hay bales and let the kids watch the animals.
We obviously have a ways to go on the “staged photo opportunities” front:
A downpour nixed our plans for a weekend fall festival so we took the kids to Costco and let them ride in the carts and try the free food samples. Don’t let anybody tell you our family doesn’t know how to party.
The next day my parents and Gram came by for an easy pizza dinner. After many years away with the Army, we know proximity to family is a privilege and a pleasure. The kids love it when relatives come over. They adore their grandparents on both sides of the family and spent a significant chunk of the evening trying to copy my Dad’s coffee drinking by sipping their water just so. Gram won Annie’s affection by reading the I Spy book about 300 times and we finally packed the kids off to bed exhausted, hyper, and happy.
The next evening we all gathered at my parents house for another family dinner, this time with my brother, sister-in-law, and newborn nephew as well. I didn’t take any pictures, but did get to snuggle a sleepy (and shockingly-light-compared-to-our-tubby-one-year-old) baby for a good chunk. After Gram flew back to prepare for the hurricane we filled the next few days with more mundane tasks – school for the kids, partial work days for The Man, catching up on laundry, evicting frogs from the window well, walks, outdoor time, pre-dinner hiking, meals, and the litany of everyday life. The swings Granny (Carl’s Mom) gave them for their birthday are big favorites. While in general our new neighborhood is less friendly and inviting than our old neighborhood our next-door neighbors are an exception. We have a lot in common. They, too, are Christians with four kids, some transracially adopted, and most homeschooled. It’s fun having them over for the occasional meal or, this week, a bonfire with s’mores.
On Wednesday the kids’ school took their fall field trip to a local small farm and pumpkin patch. Funny how parenting can crush your pre-kid opinions. I was full of ideas on how others should raise their kids before we had our own. These days, others who don’t have kids or have completely different families are still full of opinions on what’s best for our kids. Having heard the litany from many others that we’re too lax/too mean/too relaxed/not academic enough/etc. I really try to keep my parenting advice to myself unless asked for it (although it does slip out sometimes and I apologize!). What goes around comes around. Parenting real kids in real time can change formulaic assumptions. We’ve always planned on homeschooling our kids, but right now for this year it’s clear that Annie’s special needs will best be served by immersion in an environment full of other small children to model typical behavior. It’s likely we’ll homeschool in the future. Right now, though, the twins attend Montessori school two mornings a week, and Annie has an aide to work one-to-one with her as she plays with other kids and completes tasks. We like the Montessori focus on independence and sensory play, both areas where she would receive therapy regardless. We’re not fans of early academics for our kids since studies tend to show pushing intensive academics on typically-developing young kids has no long-term benefits and often significant negative side effects. However, we are fans of rolling with a kids interests and natural bents, and finding the best resources for them at a given age. We’re happy to see Annie getting the focused attention she needs at school right now, with Jack along for the ride. Two days is just enough for social immersion without taking over our family schedule. It leaves lots of time for outdoor play, imagination at home, reading picture books, listening to music, and normal home activities.
Along the line of “things we didn’t particularly like before small children” were touristy farms and pumpkin patches. However, the kids loved the school outing – everything from seeing the animals and riding behind the tractor to playing in the giant field full of play structures, tunnels, a sand pit with construction vehicles, a tire swing, a tent, and similar preschooler-magnets. They had a grand time, and at $2 a head (and free for the little ones) it was an inexpensive, low-key, and fun family outing. We love having a larger-than-average family, but admissions costs can add up when there are six heads! I suppose our goal should just be to have so many kids that we always qualify for the group rate and can skip past all the individual fees…
Our new home sits on the edge of farmland. We have an acre and a half in the last neighborhood before clusters of homes give way to croplands, pastures, prairies, and woods. We loved our years camping and hiking in North Carolina’s beautiful terrain, but the hiking options close to our home were limited. We tended to hike the same three or four trails over and over again on days when we couldn’t leave town. In contrast, there are a couple of dozen great trails within a ten or fifteen minute radius of our new home. We love the ability to run out for a hike when we have a spare hour or two. Pre-dinner hikes are a new favorite. A couple of days ago we hiked a trail down to the river before heading home for leftovers and bedtime:
I don’t want to paint a deceptively rosy internet picture. Life with this many small children can be utterly exhausting. Parenting kids with special needs is hard. We have so many medical specialist’s appointments to make that I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of them all. The dishwasher has been broken for two months. We haven’t found a church or developed any close friendships in our town yet. We miss our old friends, our old church, old colleagues, and our old small group. One child is definitely in the theoretically-but-not-fully stage of potty training messes. My to-do list stretches longer than my arm. The mess, the laundry, the whining, and the tantrums sometimes threaten to drown us. But, in all that, there is joy, satisfaction, and reward. We are so grateful for this life with these kids in this place.