About Kathy's Chronicles

Mom to six, finding joy in the ordinary and humor in the mess, working hard to keep life simple.

Face Time: An Interview with my Kids

Summer’s perfect for quality time with kids, but I’ve got to say, sometimes I think I’m getting a little more quantity than quality. We eat three meals a day together, but the current favorite meal-time discussion topic for my kids? “Tooting.” That’s edgy language to my two-year-old, and when she says it she always gets big laughs from her siblings, so it’s her favorite word these days.

In a quest for a little different line of discussion, my mind drifted to the set of interview questions I’d asked my kids in the previous summers. Looking back, I realized I haven’t done this interview in three years.

That makes enough time for my little #5 to have been born and then develop enough language skills as a two-year-old to participate in this interview. As for our baby, I’ll just have to wait on hearing his words.

In previous years I asked the last questions with Mom as the subject, but since Father’s Day is upon us, it seemed appropriate to switch the subject to Dad this year. I’m not sure how many more years my oldest kids will be willing to do these interview questions, but I do enjoy seeing the personality snapshot of each child right now. My oldest daughter cracks jokes about politics, and my youngest daughter cracks jokes about, well…cracks.

I sat down with each child individually, and they each had my full attention for about ten minutes. So much of the time, life around here runs en masse. Sitting with my kids one on one and talking to them was a great reminder of how much I enjoy each of my kids’ individuality.

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Happy Father’s Day to that big guy in the middle from the whole crew. (Photo taken at a lovely rest stop with “Poisonous Snakes,” somewhere in South Dakota.) 

If you have a few minutes and you can find a willing (or at least semi-willing) child, give them an interview! If you have a toddler handy, definitely do this. Little toddler minds are just the best. You never know what you’ll get…

Here are the questions I used and the answers I got from my kids, with each child labelled by age.

What was the happiest day of your life?
11: Having a sleepover with my friends.
10: There are a lot of good days, but probably when I rode on Thomas the train the day Thor was born and coming home to see a new brother.
7: Probably when I met Isabelle (his friend).
6: Me being born. Because otherwise I wouldn’t exist.
2: My mom got me a sweatshirt.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
11: Either world peace or not have Donald Trump be the president. Either one would result in world peace. (laughter)
10: Instead of running things on coal, oil…things that emit pollution, change things to running on solar, wind, use energy like that.
7: It can be anything? Oooh. Shelby.
6: I would change that in our house, even if someone made a mess, it would just go right away.
2: My dress.

When were you most afraid?
11: When Donald Trump became president (cracks up laughing).
10: There haven’t really been many instances where I was really afraid.
7: When I went rock climbing at Eagle Bluff, 30 feet high.
6: I was the most afraid of that “America’s Got Talent” video where they were doing dangerous things.
2: Bad animals, that bad dog eat me all up. And my doll has eyeballs and makeup.

What do you want to do for a job?
11: Be an elementary teacher.
10: Be a computer technician.
7: Do the Mosdal Scale System business.
6: Two things: I want to be a mom and a masseuse.
2: I want to do this much and be taller (stretches her arms big).

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
11: Any other president. Mom and Dad.
10: Water, or food. Computers.
7: Hooks.
6: Food. Because of course you can’t live without food. And you can’t live without a mother.
2: I can’t live with no shirt on. (Actually, she often does.)

Describe your perfect day.
11: A day where I could do anything I wanted and have lots of slushies and ice cream and stuff.
10: I would get a Nintendo Switch, there are a lot of things, but not enough time for a day. Wisconsin Dells, pancakes for breakfast, pizza for lunch, supper would be salmon.
7: If Shelby diappeared.
6: Go to a castle.
2: Silverware. I farted.

Who are your friends?
11: Lauren, Lindsey, Sophie, Indy
10: Grant, Kyle, Holdyn, Rowan, Ryan and Daniel
7: Isabelle. That’s it. She’s my best friend ’cause she’s my only friend.
6: Eliza, Elin, Ellie, Isabelle, Cassie
2: Tillie and Mom.

What was Dad like as a child?
11: He was probably a little stinker.
10: Reckless.
7: I don’t know.
6: I think he had lots of friends.
2: He was like this tall (holds hands close together), and he was a baby.

What does Dad do when you’re not around?
11: Watch TV.
10: Pretty much the same things he’d do when I am around.
7: Makes oatmeal cookies for himself.
6: Normally in the shop.
2: Dad is supposed to not have me wash windows. Just Isaac.

What’s Dad’s favorite food?
11: Steak.
10: Steak, a T-bone.
7: Oatmeal cookies.
6: Spaghetti.
2: He loves to eat his food.

What’s Dad really good at?
11: He’s really good with tools and stuff.
10: His job.
7: Making scales.
6: Working with metal.
2: He’s good at doing work in the shop.

What’s Dad really bad at doing?
11: Hmm…putting us to bed.
10: I’ve haven’t really witnessed him doing things badly.
7: Not getting work done.
6: Doing his homework, because he doesn’t have any. (giggles)
2: He’s supposed to not go to hospital. That’s why my dad’s not sick.

What’s Dad’s favorite place?
11: His shop.
10: Oshkosh.
7: On the couch watching TV while eating oatmeal cookies.
6: His shop.
2: He likes to live in a house by me and you and everyone else.

How do you know your dad loves you?
11: He hugs me, because that’s what dads do.
10: Because he has me come out and help him with his work.
7: By saying thank you for coming out and helping him.
6: Because he has said it multiple times.
2: He loves me and you and…(lists all family members multiple times)…and I love him.

Go find a willing kid, and take a few minutes and ask a few questions. Their responses become like a little time capsule into their personalities if you repeat the questions over the course of a few years. Maybe it could be a Father’s Day tradition…

Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there, the ones here on earth and the ones we miss up in heaven.

Written June 12, 2017

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The Better to Hear You With

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Enjoying a little pool time on the porch and now hearing all kinds of new things.

A 5th grade girls sleepover, relocating 65 baby chicks out of a stock tank and into the roomy shed, a bonfire, swimming at the pool, a surgery for ear tubes, strep throat…just four days into summer vacation, I feel like we’ve squeezed in about a month’s worth of activity.

One of the highlights of my day today: when I clicked my fingernails together behind my baby boy’s head, he turned his head to that sound. That seems like nothing, but that is a big deal because I’ve never seen him do that before. He was hearing it for the first time. That simple action is the result of numerous hearing checkups, appointments, and finally, this morning’s surgery to get tubes put into his ears.

With Down sydrome, he goes in regularly for hearing checks. Since last September, each time he’s gone in for a check, he’s had fluid in his ears. While it’s normal to have fluid in ears temporarily from a cold, his ears never drained themselves. After monitoring it over months, his doctors decided getting tubes to drain the fluid was the best course of action since the fluid impairs his hearing.

Realizing that he’s lived most of his first year with very muffled hearing (equivalent to wearing ear plugs), I’ve been so anxious for him to have better hearing. And at the same time, I’ve been dreading him having surgery, even that minor one.

This morning Jarred and I and a sleepy baby were on the road heading to Rochester well before 6 AM. Babies get the earliest surgery time slots to minimize the amount of time they have to go without eating or drinking. I’m so thankful for that. As I walked out in the early morning sunshine, I was also thankful for summertime daylight. It would have been so much harder to scoop a baby out of a warm bed and head out into the cold and dark at 5:30 on a winter morning.

By 7:00 AM we’d finished all of the check-in procedures, and it felt like such a long half of an hour to wait until his surgery time when all he really wanted to do was nurse, but couldn’t. We rattled off his name and date of birth half a dozen times for surgery protocol checklists, met with the doctors, and off he went. By 8:00, his surgery was done and he was back in my arms. All went well.

I have to say, though, that the morning was one long blur. Between being anxious and not sleeping well and getting up extra early, I was definitely in a fog. It’s the kind of morning that called for some coffee. On the way in though, I elected not to share a drink from the big mug Jarred brought. He’s had a sore throat for days, and his throat looked really bad with white spots, so we were pretty sure he had strep. Coffee? Strep? I chose no coffee and hopefully no strep.

After our baby had some time to recover from anesthesia and nurse until his belly was full, we were free to go. We left the hospital and I got my own coffee, and ironically, we went from the hospital to the FastCare clinic where we took Jarred to get a throat culture. Positive for strep. In the midst of waiting for the prescription, Jarred walked next door to Menards to grab some paint. While I waitied on his medicine, I paid for the things I had at Shopko, and can you guess what I forgot to pick up on the way out of the store?

Just as we started to get back on the highway, Jarred asked if he could have his prescription. All I could offer was an “Ooooh no…” We turned back around and got the medicine. Meanwhile, our little guy snoozed peacefully through most of it. And now, I am so very glad the surgery is finally done.

After our little guy woke up from a good nap this afternoon, I sat on the bed with our baby. We’ve only had a few hours with his new and improved hearing, but my impression right now is that he is delighted. I sat talking to him on the bed, and he intently stared at my mouth moving, listening, and smiling. Usually he looks me in the eyes when I talk to him, but it was obvious he was trying to figure out the new sounds he heard. He looked ever so pleased to hear all the words coming out of his mommy’s mouth.

I can’t wait to see what develops over time. I’m going to flood that little boy with words to help make up for the months of not being able to hear as much.

With his surgery out of the way, it feels like we are ready to kick off a great summer. Over and over I feel the huge energy difference in myself between this summer and last year. I happened to look at the calendar from last year at this time (it’s easy with the 2016 calendar still hanging underneath this year’s), and I saw that last year at this time, we had a two-week old baby, I had a migraine for two days, I got mastitis that week, and he had an appointment for an ECG to check for heart conditions. Wow.

It’s a whole different world with a one-year-old. I have the energy and strength back to lug around 50 lb bags of chick feed, shovel out the shed to clean it out for the chicks, and till up a garden. That’s right, I have a new garden this year!! After five years here, I realized the place where I really want my garden is in the back yard, right under my kitchen window where I can look out and enjoy it countless times a day.

Two Saturdays ago, I borrowed a walk-behind tiller (thanks, David!) and made it happen. It was the first time I’d run a tiller, so I was pretty proud of it all. I deliberately made the garden small and manageable, about 8 x11. With the help of four big kids (and two little ones that helpfully napped) we went from grass to a fully planted garden in two and a half hours. Awesome. Ten days later, almost all of my seeds are up. I’m so excited for cucumbers, peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, zucchini, flowers…all of it. I just love to see new life happening right before my eyes.

The biggest attraction for my kids? Seeds for giant pumpkins. The packet promises pumpkins weighing up to 100 pounds. Oh man! My oldest daughter just happens to weight exactly 100, so I had her curl up like a pumpkin on the ground to show how big those pumpkins just might grow. The other kids took turns trying to lift up the “pumpkin” and all of them were just giddy at the thought of growing pumpkins as big as their sister. We plan to just let all the vines spill over onto the lawn as much as they want. Oooh, I can’t wait for too see everything grow, either.

Surgery for ear tubes: check. Bring on the warm sunshine, kids playing outside, plants growing, and a baby that’s all ears for all of it. Happy summer to all of you!

Written June 6, 2017.

Giving my Kids Nothing this Summer, Again

Summer vacation officially kicks off in a few days, and I’m feeling the squeeze of my self-inflicted to-do list. In a moment of excitement or insanity, I agreed to host an end-of-the-year sleepover party, inviting the 15 girls in my daughter’s 5th grade class. In one week, our baby boy has a minor surgery to get tubes put into his ears to drain fluid.

My brain is full of camps, swimming lessons, 4-H projects and all sorts of things we “should” do this summer. And at the point where my head is swimming, I came across just what I needed to hear. As it turns out, it was my own words that I wrote four years ago at the beginning of summer. I’d forgotten that I wrote this, but it’s just what I need to remember all over again. I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear it, so I’m sharing this again with all of you.

Here’s to more of doing nothing this summer…

Kathy, May 2016

 

“Giving my Kids Nothing this Summer” (Originally printed May 2013.)

My original plan this week was to write about our summer list of things to do, you know, to feel like our family has a “successful” summer. Making plans and writing to-do lists does have value. It helps me get things done. But sometimes, a to-do list is a load of garbage.

I can’t speak for past generations of mothers, but in the circles I run in of moms with kids at home, we spend a lot of time trying to do it all right. We try to make meaningful memories, create precious moments, provide engaging learning opportunities, all that. But maybe, just maybe, we need to try less hard, too.

My oldest child is just finishing first grade. What do I remember about my summer after first grade? The only specific thing I remember was that I had short permed hair that my grandma said looked like Shirley Temple. In the summer time I would go days on end without combing it. Much of the time my hair looked more like a rumpled Afro than Shirley Temple’s ringlets.

Combing my hair? What a waste of time.

I had ant hills to smash on the edge of the driveway. I needed to make sure I was the one who raced down to the mailbox first when the mailman came around noon, a highlight of the day. I was busy riding my bike down the field lane and learning to ride down the gravel on the driveway without wiping out and scraping up my knee.

I don’t remember many other specifics, because the summers growing up all sort of blend together in a sort of sweaty, Kool Aid, dandelions, swimming in the freezing water at Whitewater kind of way.

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Isn’t doing nothing just the best?

On a visit to Whitewater a couple summers ago, I spotted a mom lugging a huge plastic tote down to the beach while trying to wrangle her kids. The tote was neatly labelled “Beach Toys.” I imagined her pulling it from it’s special shelf in the garage and loading it up in the van. As she emptied it, out came every sort of wonderful beach implement imaginable.

Part of me admires that sort of amazing, logical organization. And part of me just wants to puke. That level of perfection is just too much. Many of the toys didn’t get touched.

Seeing that tote made me think of my own days as a kid playing at Whitewater. When we made the trip there as a kid, if I wanted a sand toy, it was my job to get it. If I brought something, it was probably an empty Cool Whip container from the cupboard. Fairly often, we just went there with nothing. Sometimes we dug a pop can out of the beach garbage can to use as a digging toy and water carrier.

No tote full of toys, and we were happy at Whitewater. Very likely, my next older brother suggested we were superior in some way because we were kids that could make our own toys. He was good at always making us feel like we were part of some sort of secret elite force of little survivors.

Sand, water, kids. What else do you need at the beach?

I tell this to remind myself that when it comes to kids, less is often just as good as more. A big tote full of toys is fun, but so are hands, sticks, and rocks.

Sometimes I’m like that mom lugging the tote. I love my kids and I try to do my best. The trouble is, it’s easy to think “best” and “more” are one and the same. They are not. It is a fine line to balance between wanting the best for your kids and crippling them because they get everything they want. Innovation and ingenuity often comes from those moments of creating something out of nothing.

I want to give my kids more “nothing.”

A few nights ago I spent 15 minutes hauling boxes up to the attic. While I was up there, three of our kids played out on the porch. I came down to find discover three kids completely enmeshed in their own imaginary world of playing house. I said hi and then ignored them in that sort of way that doesn’t make them self-conscious of a viewer, putting on a show for mom. They did their thing.

My seven-year-old “Mom” decided it was bedtime, and put her two-year-old baby to bed. She tucked in her sister on the wicker couch using her favorite blanket. Then, while I got the mail and seemingly ignored them, I listened to my big girl sing a lullaby to her little sister, who pretended to sleep.

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sweeter lullaby than that one I heard that evening. There’s nothing on my summer list of fun activities that’s any better than that.

I give up.

And I think I probably should. We made a list of fun things to do this summer, but most remarkable is that what the kids want is pretty darn unremarkable. They want to go swimming. They want to have bonfires. They want cousins to come over and play. Simple things.

And that’s probably how it should be.

They’re little kids. Hot, sticky, endless summer days with messy hair, scraped up knees, dirty feet, popsicle drips and grass stains…that about covers it. Anything else is just details.

So, it’s settled. We’re doing nothing this summer.

Happy Birthday, Little Buddy!

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You know what’s even better than your baby’s first birthday? Your baby’s first birthday AND 65 new baby chicks arriving at your house on the same day!

Somehow a year flew by and our little boy turned one on Monday. A few days ago I looked back at his newborn pictures. Even though he’s still so little, at 24 pounds now he looks like such a big boy compared to the sweet little newborn he was last year at this time. In photos I see that soft newborn skin and fine fluff of hair, those tiny little fingers and I just get choked up about how sweet he was. I just love new babies, fresh from the oven. Looking back at those pictures, I also remember the worry, stress, and uncertainty that clouded that time, being taken by surprise when we learned he has Down syndrome. I didn’t know what to expect.

I wish I could go back and tell myself then to not worry. A year later, I feel much more of a peacefulness about his life. I don’t know the timeline of when he will check off each milestone, I don’t know all the answers, but I do know it will all be fine.

We have so much joy with him in our life. His big brother’s bedtime prayer on the night before his birthday was “thank you for blessing us with Lars.” We have a baby boy with an infectious smile and an easy-going personality. There’s so much excitement, joy, and love that surrounds him on a daily basis. On any given morning when I carry him downstairs, I ask if anyone would like to hold him while I start getting breakfast ready. Every time, three or four kids shout “I DO!” and then squabble over snuggling him. Lucky boy.

And what did we do to kick off this baby’s first birthday? Why, I hauled him to his big sister’s dentist appointment first thing in the morning, of course. And then we ran errands.That’s how you roll if you are child number six in the family. We got a few groceries (just a full cart, not a heaping cart) and had lunch.

After lunch, excitement mounted when we made a trip to Fleet Farm. I realize that may sound sarcastic, but I’m dead serious. Walking around in Fleet Farm always gives me a happy feeling, being surrounded by all the things you need for getting work done and living a good life. I love shopping in a store where the guy ahead of me in line bought a bag of walnuts and some teat dip. Today’s mission: get ready for our chicks.

Heading to the back corner of the store with the animal feed, I pushed a cart with my two-year-old girl, and my 11-year-old pushed a cart with my birthday boy. A bale of wood chips , a bag of chick feed, a red heat lamp bulb and we had two carts loaded and ready for our new chicks. By the time we walked out of the store, I had a heavy baby boy sleeping on my shoulder, so I used only one hand to push the cart loaded with chicken feed and a crabby toddler.

As cumbersome as that is, with the sun shining, a baby’s first birthday to celebrate, and chicks to pick up, life felt just about perfect. I desperately wanted to check out the greenhouse in the parking lot and pick up some flowers, too, but I restrained myself from adding another project to the day.

By the time we got to the Rushford feed store to pick up our chicks, we were well past the time that my two-year-old needed a nap. The drive from Winona to Rushford was pretty much one long toddler meltdown. All of that evaporated, though, with lifting the lid off of a box of baby chicks. It’s like having the magic and wonder of Christmas morning on an afternoon in May, with peeping tiny balls of yellow and brown fluff.

The rest of the afternoon and evening evaporated in a flurry of getting the chicks situated in their new home, making birthday supper and celebrating. It’s been four years since we’ve had a batch of chicks at our house, a lifetime in a kid’s world. Seeing the other kids get off of the school bus and discover a box full of peeping chicks was one of my favorite moments in a long time.
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With chilly evenings for the week I decided to keep the chicks cozy in an old stock tank in the side room of the barn. Lots of small eager hands helped line the stock tank with wood chips, help fill up the feeders, and help take each chick and individually dip their beak into water to give a first drink. Throughout the whole process, my mind was right back in the time four years ago when we got 110 chicks and my brother Mike and his family came out and helped us get the chicks settled. Mike’s been gone now for almost four years, but to me at that moment I had the comforting feeling like he was right here again as we repeated those same steps that we learned from him.

Just as we finished getting the last chick a drink and settled in, my mom and sister arrived for our little guy’s birthday supper. I was surprised to see them already, since it seemed pretty early in the afternoon, and then I realized it was already after 5:00. Time to switch gears to birthday mode. With a day in town and taking care of new chicks, we had a kitchen table full of groceries, the living room wasn’t picked up, and with the meal we added a bunch of new dishes to the melee, but the birthday celebration comes just the same.

While I cooked in the kitchen, our lucky birthday boy received Grandma’s full attention while she built towers of blocks for him to knock over. For supper we ate our little guy’s favorite, spaghetti and sauce. My oldest daughter, quite the baker, whipped up her own creation of a banana blueberry birthday cake after his favorite flavor of baby food. The cake was awesome.

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Our little buddy opened a few presents, including a swimming suit, which prompted my daughter’s wisecrack “Hey Mom, let’s call this his birthday suit!” and some fleece hand puppets –the very sweet creation of my six-year-old. We sang Happy Birthday a few times and he smeared cake all over everything. Bedtime came a little later than usual, and he went to bed a very tired, very loved little boy.

When all of the kids were finally in bed, I grabbed my umbrella and headed out with a flashlight to check on the chicks in the barn. They all looked cozy and warm in the glow of the red heat lamp, so all was well with all of the babies for the night. One baby turning a year, 65 babies one day old, and a good day all around. Happy birthday, little buddy. We love you!

Written May 23, 2017.

 

Summer Vacation for Mother’s Day

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Dirt under my fingernails, dandelion pollen on my neck, a little baby slobber on my shirt, homemade cards on my table. That is all I’ve ever wanted for Mother’s Day.

“Are we on summer vacation now?” my kindergarten daughter asked me this weekend. Decked out in a swimming suit, she was running around in the warm sunshine at a park on Saturday, sliding down the slide and eating an ice cream sandwich as a treat. I understood the feeling completely. It did feel like summer. She knew they hadn’t had the official last day of school, but dressed in a swimming suit, school felt like a distant memory, even though she was there just the day before.

I call that a pretty great Mother’s Day weekend. It’s a little late, but happy Mother’s Day to everyone! Thank you, Mom, for making a welcoming place where we can gather every Sunday and get together with family. Thank you, Cheryl (Jarred’s mom), for being the wise one who started Jarred on mashed potatoes early and for making our kids feet cozy in winter with wool socks. And obviously…to both of you, thank you for so much more.

As for me, with weather that felt like summertime and with a full weekend of good things, I couldn’t ask for anything more. On Friday and Saturday I got to dig in the dirt and shovel rocks, weeding the hostas and reviving some landscaping on the side of the shed. It’s a project I’ve been wanting to work on for years (literally), but was one I just had to let go last year with a new baby. And as my neighbor astutely pointed out, finishing a project like that is all the more gratifying because it lasts. A job well done on laundry, cleaning, or a meal lasts only hours, or sometimes minutes, but with any luck, that landscaping should last a long time.

On Saturday afternoon we watched my oldest daughter’s dance performance at school. While she was doing some hoe down moves to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” my eyes were getting a little misty sitting there watching. Getting to have that moment of seeing my daughter up on stage in a cute costume and giving a dance performance her all…that is a pretty great reward. It’s the very visible reminder of why I made those weekly trips to town after school, loading 3-6 kids up in the car and delaying supper for dance practices.

We ended a very summery Saturday with a bonfire. For the occasion, I literally blew the dust off the bottle of Jose Cuervo in the back of the cupboard and officially re-opened margarita season. Last year between the heat of summer and nursing a newborn, my cocktail of choice was water on the rocks, by the gallon. An occasional margarita on the porch on a summer Saturday night is pretty wonderful, though, and always reminds me of the summer I worked in a Mexican restaurant.

All combined, it made a wonderful end to a great day: a first margarita in nearly two years, a fire, a beautiful night. We even had technologically enhanced star-gazing. With my brother’s Google Sky app, we could hold his phone up anywhere in the sky, and the stars and planets would show up labelled on a chart. It was amazing, no more guessing about Mars or Venus or the North Star.

After a full day with landscaping and dance and just being busy, I could have gone to bed at 8:30 and easily fallen asleep, but on a beautiful evening, it’s hard to pass up spending time outside. Sitting outside until nearly midnight with just shorts and a t-shirt feels like being set free after winter jackets and mittens. Ah, (almost) summer…

On Sunday for Mother’s Day, I once again had the reminder that I’m in a pretty choice position. With four kids in elementary school, I got a mother lode of handmade presents: a painted pot with a marigold and an original “Mom” poem, a coupon book for favors like cleaning and five-minute back rubs, a not diamond but “dime-on” necklace made of clay with a dime stuck inside, and a laminated paper locket necklace with a school picture inside. The kids also made presents at Sunday School, so my flower garden now has five hand-painted clay pots made into garden lights by flipping the pots upside down and tucking solar lights in the drain holes. I love them.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy the other stages of motherhood, but having a crew of elementary aged kids is so much fun. I love the honest, sweet simplicity of presents made in school and kids that are so excited to give a gift. For days ahead of time, the anticipation builds: “I am making your present! You are going to LOVE it!” I always do. My first grade son wanted the gift to be a surprise so much that he actually told me he forgot the gift at school, and all along it was hiding in his underwear drawer, where he thought I’d never see it. He was right.

My kindergarten daughter was so excited that immediately when she got off of the bus on Friday, she ran to me and had to give me my Mother’s Day gift. I asked her if maybe we should wait, but she couldn’t. She doesn’t know it, but having a little blonde girl flying off the bus bursting with excitement to give me a present is the best gift she could give me.

Being up on Saturday night later than usual, all I really wanted on Sunday morning was to sleep, maybe all the way until 8:00. One by one as my kids woke up, though, the bedroom door opened and in walked someone with a present in hand. If someone interrupts my sleep with a present, well…I can’t really complain about having that kind of blessing in my life. As for my two youngest kids, they have no clue what Mother’s Day is, but our baby gave me plenty of slobbery kisses and my two-year-old daughter celebrated the day by wearing three of her favorite dresses. That’s just right.

Not only did I get two necklaces made by my kids, but I also received a dandelion and lilac woven necklace, artfully crafted by Jarred when he took kids to the park on Sunday. He read my article last week and said “I didn’t know you liked dandelions. THAT is easy!” Move over Hawaiian leis, I received an authentic Minnesotan dandelion lei, very fancy, indeed. Holding a fussy two-year-old, my dandelion necklace broke relatively fast, but my admiration of it remains. Later, the topic came up of my necklace and someone said “Oh, that explains the yellow stuff on your neck.” Yes. Dandelion pollen. I really do shower, honest.

Dirt under my fingernails, dandelion pollen on my neck, a little baby slobber on my shirt, homemade cards on my table. That is all I’ve ever wanted for Mother’s Day.

Written May 16, 2017.

Dandelions and Marshmallow Guns

When it comes to dandelions, the world pretty much divides into two camps: love or hate. Flower or weed. Cheery springtime yellow flower or scourge upon the perfect lawn. People even divide up into particular neighborhoods about dandelions. Okay, perhaps it’s not just about dandelions, but the preferences are often clear. Drive around in the springtime, and you’ll know by looking at the lawns. On one block you might find dandelions in every yard, and in another neighborhood, a dandelion is an embarrassment.

What a shame. Not liking dandelions, that is. To me, dandelions are one of the welcome signs of spring. If my kids don’t pick enough dandelion bouquets for me, I sometimes go out and pick some on my own.

As a senior in high school, when it was time to pick the class flower, I campaigned for the dandelion. Think about it…local, abundant, blooming at graduation, free. What’s not to like? I don’t remember ever actually voting, but in some sort of non-democratic fashion we wound up with a teal-tipped white rose as the class flower instead. I’m still disappointed.

People claim that dandelions aren’t real flowers, but I am certain that teal-tipped white roses do not exist in nature, and therefore are the ones that are “not real flowers.” I don’t lose sleep over the class flower issue, but it does sometimes pop into my mind in the spring when the dandelions reappear. And over 20 years later, I mention it in the newspaper because I still think dandelions are beautiful.

And right now, dandelions are in their prime: in full bloom, no messy-looking seed heads, just glorious yellow everywhere. I truly love this time of year more than any other time. In May it feels like the world is in the peak of springtime: days of blue sky and loads of sunshine, grass is lush green, apple trees are beginning to bloom, the tulips are out, dandelions blooming. It’s school field trips, graduations, open windows. Everything just feels alive with springtime, and the excitement of summer right on the horizon.

On the Run
On Saturday when I went running, everything around seemed full of that springtime life. At one point on my 3-mile loop there was a point when I was struck by it all. Heading up the incline of a small hill on a gravel road, to my right was a hay field, vibrant green dotted all over with the yellow blooms of dandelions, on my left was a freshly planted field, as deep, dark and rich as soil gets….the soil so rich that you almost want to eat it. In front of me, the sun shone right down directly in front of me on the road, and all around the sky was a deep blue.

For a second, I literally stopped in my tracks, and I wondered if heaven looked something like that. That of course made me think about my brother Mike up there. After my run, I sat down on the porch swing for the first time in a long time, feeling pretty darn lucky for the place I call home and for the people I have here with me.

Party On
This weekend, our home was especially lively. Add four extra 10 year-old boys for a birthday party on a beautiful Friday evening, combine it with our six kiddos, and the energy of kids in spring burst from every corner:

Two gallons of lemonade guzzled, a trampoline in constant use, outside cats getting hauled into the house and carried around, two big homemade pizzas devoured, one giant chocolate chip cookie evaporated. A marshmallow gun gift resulted in children, cats, and chickens all getting pelted. Bonfire with a Lord of the Flies-like swarm of boys all around, a few bonus fountain fireworks lit off, kids in sleeping bags filling up the living room. Sounds finally quieting around midnight. Waffles, blueberries and whipped cream for breakfast, and strong coffee for parents.

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Trick candles on a giant cookie cake seem like fun…until nine kids blow all over the cookie.

And the remnants of the party: one dirty sock of unknown ownership, marshmallows scattered all over the yard but soon cleaned up by willing chickens, staying up late Friday night turned into all eight people in our house taking Saturday afternoon naps. Lots of good memories.

It feels like with May we are finally getting the sunshine that we didn’t seem to see all winter. If I could, I’d completely cease all indoor projects and just stay outside. (Can I just stop doing dishes until winter?) Sunshine in May makes the classic rock on the Sunday drive seem all the better and the return of sundress season all the more welcome. Bring on the long days of light and extended evenings. We have a full list of plans in the works for the summertime. How much can we squeeze into three months? As much as possible.

Of course, we need to have plenty of time for the important things like picking dandelions and pelting one another with a marshmallow gun. Next time, I get a turn before the marshmallows run out. Pow pow pow!!

Written May 8, 2017

The Flurries of Springtime

DSC_1422 (2)Springtime in Minnesota: on the radio this afternoon I heard that the Twin Cities area has snow, and in one month, the kids will be out on summer vacation. I can’t seem to decide if I should keep mittens available or start filling the dresser drawers with shorts again. My ten-year-old keeps asking to wear shorts to school on any given morning that the weather looks even remotely pleasant, and by “pleasant” he considers anything above 40 degrees to be acceptable. Perhaps some mittens with his shorts?

Last spring I remember being in baby mode at this time of year, with our little guy arriving at the end of May. This year, though, spring is taking me by surprise. Right up until Easter, all of my thoughts were centered around making a trip to Montana for Easter. Something about packing up a family of eight, driving 950 miles one way, and being gone from home for a week just seems to fill all my time and thoughts. Spring and summer plans about everything else just went to the wayside.

My epiphany moment was literally when we pulled into the driveway at home at 5 AM after the all-night drive home from Montana. That was the moment that it really struck me that April was nearly over, and at the time, it was about six short weeks until summer vacation. In a few short weeks, the relative quiet of two little kids at home during the day will be replaced by six busy kids, all here, all the time.

And now, I feel like I’m in catch up mode. The flurry of a big trip really just makes the next few weeks become a complete blur. Every day I think “today I’ll get a good nap to catch up” or “today I’ll get in bed early,” and then it just doesn’t happen. I make meals, I get kids on the bus, I wash load after load of laundry, I pick up messes, but I couldn’t hardly tell you what day it is.

Last week my schedule filled in with four separate trips to a doctor’s office: an ENT visit, an audiology visit, a well-child check for my oldest daughter, and as a bonus, the strep throat that I had at Easter came back, so last Tuesday I had a visit for myself. The nurse offered that I could just get a shot of penicillin, and that sounded way more appealing than trying to remember a pill three times a day for ten days, so I took her up on the offer. One shot? Simple. No problem.

As I walked into the room for my shot, I planned to roll up my sleeve until she said, “It’s going to go in your butt.” Oh. Wait. What?!?! They still do that?? She mentioned the needle was pretty big and guys say it hurts quite a bit, but I also needed to make sure I kept my muscles relaxed. Oh, yes, of course, I feel very relaxed. It’s funny how quickly I wasn’t quite as excited about my “once and done” shot. I did decide though, that if I could handle giving birth six times with no pain medication, I’d probably be okay with a shot in the rear.

I will say, though, for the first two days afterward, I couldn’t really decide if it was my throat or my back side that hurt more, but neither one felt very spectacular, and I wasn’t very excited about any of it. Around day three, though, that shot really seemed to kick in and made life turn around. As the week went by, I kept wondering why I felt so tired, and I’d remember that I still had strep throat. Oh yeah…

I had to get better by the weekend, though, because this past weekend happened to be Girls Weekend at my sister’s cabin on the Mississippi. It’s one of my favorite events of the year. As the schedules worked, unfortunately none of my sisters-in-law could make it, but my sisters were all able to come for the evening. For a few hours six sisters sat around a fire. That’s pretty special indeed to not only have so many sisters, but to be able to get together with all of them for an evening and that four of us could stay overnight to enjoy coffee and omelettes together in the morning.

For one evening and morning, the only little person I took care of was my baby boy who goes along with me everywhere since he’s a nurser. Meanwhile, my husband and five kids stayed home. As a bonus, they got to spend some extra time with Jarred’s dad, AKA Grandpa David. David recently retired and bought a kit airplane that he plans to tinker on and build. The plane parts he bought happened to be in Iowa, so it all worked out perfectly that the owner of the parts agreed to deliver his plane parts to our house, and David will load them up onto a trailer here at our house and then take them all back to Montana to build.

In the meantime, while Jarred and David are working on reconfiguring the trailer and on some of the plane parts, we get a little bonus visiting time with grandpa here. Our kids only disappointment is that Grandma Cheryl stayed in Montana because she is a school bus driver, so they’ll have to wait until summertime for her to be able to come and visit.

So, with a busy house and lots of activities, we’re quickly spinning toward summer vacation. Just yesterday I signed a permission slip for an end-of- the-year school field trip and sent in a registration form for my oldest daughter to go to 4-H camp this summer. My oldest son had a birthday last week, turning double digits…the big 10. He’s got birthday party plans on his mind and asked if he could have a sleepover for his party this weekend. Add four more 10 year-old boys for an evening? Oh boy. That’s just a little bit of the flurries of springtime around here right now.

Happy May, everyone!

Written May 1, 2017.

World Down Syndrome Day…Because Down Syndrome is My World

We are going to give him every opportunity we can to learn, grow, and become the best person he can be. We want that for every child.

World Down Syndrome Day is on March 21. The date (3/21) is significant because it is the triplication of the 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome. The day is globally recognized as a time to spread awareness of what it means to have Down syndrome, and share the vital role that people with Down syndrome have in their communities.

For me personally, I don’t need a specific day to be aware of Down syndrome, because Down syndrome is my world. Rather, a sweet little ten-month old baby boy is my world, and he also happens to have Down syndrome. Because of him, anytime I see anything about Down syndrome, my eyes are open and my ears are listening.

Something that caught my eye is a new video that was released in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day. The video is called “Not Special Needs,” and it can be seen on youtube.com. It’s a humorous but thought provoking two-minute video that highlights the paradox of suggesting that someone’s needs are special. If you are on the internet and have two minutes, check it out.

Picture a guy in relaxed bliss on a massage table with a fluffy cat rubbing his back : “If people with Down syndrome needed to have cat massages, THAT would be special.” It has a few more funny scenarios of what would be “special needs” like wearing a suit of armor or eating dinosaur eggs. But what people with Down syndrome really need are “education, jobs, opportunities, friends, and some love, just like everyone else.” Those are not special needs, but human needs.

In the world here at our house, it’s the same concept, but different. We don’t have special Down syndrome baby toys, just baby toys. I don’t have Down syndrome baby food or outfits. It seems kind of funny, but the realization that there aren’t special toys, food, or clothes was comforting to me when he was brand new. He’s just a baby.

When he was born, I felt overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to take care of a baby with Down syndrome. I remember sitting on the couch and talking to my sister-in-law Tricia about it. She pointed out that he just needs love and for his needs to be met, the same as all babies. That made sense to me; that I could do. And the advice was meaningful because Tricia has extensive experience and education on the subject, with starting an adult family home and for years caring for her own sister Rose who had Down Syndrome. We just need to take care of him, just like we’ve done with all of our kids. And so, we do.

But it’s not just business as usual; he has expanded our world. A few months ago my kids noticed a display in the children’s department at Target. One of the models of children’s clothing was a little boy with Down syndrome. They were all excited to see that and commented how cool it was to see a kid like their little brother. I agreed.

I’ll be honest that the cynical part of me used to sometimes roll my eyes, thinking that sort of inclusiveness felt like a very staged and calculated move from companies trying overly hard to be politically correct. I’ve changed my view, though, as a parent of a son with Down syndrome. I’m happy that the executives in big marketing departments have expanded their perspective, and I view that inclusiveness with gratitude. Kids are just kids, and they happen to come in all sorts of packages. Yes, it is cool to see a little boy like my son on a billboard.

It’s cool to see because it makes me excited for the future. I can’t wait to see what he is like when he gets older. I can’t wait to see the person he becomes. Each one of our kids share similarities with each other, but they are each so unique in their personalities. Sometimes my mind moves ahead in time, and envisions what our family dynamic is like when our kids are older. I see good things ahead.

My oldest daughter commented one day “he’s such a peaceful little soul.” She so perceptively nailed it. He truly is a peaceful little soul. He has been since day one. I can’t wait to see how his personality grows as he gets older.

Right now, though, he’s just our sweet little baby boy. He’s just a few days shy of ten months. He loves crinkling up paper and shoving it in his mouth before it gets taken away. One of his greatest joys is sock removal. He loves holding spoons in each hand while in his high chair and making racket with a big smile or lots of concentration.

He’s developed his balance enough to become a champion sitter. He loves hanging out on the carpet in the action with other kids, grabbing blocks and dumping them out of the bucket, and playing peek-a-boo with blankets.

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And, he’s a lover. He often reaches out to get from one person to another to give hugs and snuggles. He gives real hugs at bedtime, reaching arms out and wrapping his hands around his siblings’ necks. He gives big open mouth kisses on our cheeks. And, he’s a real, live baby. That means in the middle of snuggles, he’ll also reach out and grab handfuls of long hair. Or Dad’s cheeks, or his brother’s nose. HONK!

He gives all of us so much joy. We get big smiles when he wakes up, smiles for kids when they come home from school, and when everyone is laughing at the dinner table, he’s watching us and smiling because we are.

And as he grows, we are going to give him every opportunity we can to learn, grow, and become the best person he can be. We want that for every child. So, from us, happy World Down Syndrome Day…because someone with Down syndrome is our world. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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A Good Heart and a Bounty of Babies

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Three baby cousins at Grandma’s house. 

In a fast and furious blur, week one of summer vacation is in the books.

Life is pretty busy when the projects that I have on my list for the morning don’t get done for days.  My poor six-year-old has been begging for a haircut for weeks. Every day I say I can cut his hair that day, and then at the end of the day, he goes to bed with a shaggy, sweaty head once more.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And as much as I just want to tackle all of the things I see that need to be done, sometimes I get big reminders that I can’t add a newborn and lots of nursing to life and still keep up the same daily list of projects to do.  Last week I spent one of the days mostly laying in bed with a fever and a case of mastitis.  Antibiotics and rest took care of it. I am so thankful that Jarred’s mom Cheryl was still here.  She made it possible for me to be able to just “be sick” that day and get better. Even grown ups need a mommy sometimes.

Later in the week, the big event was our baby’s echocardiogram.  It went well.  Our little boy doesn’t have any heart issues that require surgery or long-term care.  In the course of the scan they did find a tiny hole of a few millimeters, a secundum atrial septal defect. The cardiologist said that very likely the hole would close on its own as he grew, but either way, it was nothing that required further attention or monitoring.  I’m very thankful for that.

As I navigated the Mayo jungle of parking ramp, subway, elevators and corridors, I walked with the baby tucked into my front wrap-style baby carrier.  It’s basically a long stretchy piece of fabric that you criss cross front and back, and it makes a pocket that the baby sits in, snug against your chest.  It’s very cozy and so much better than lugging an infant car seat.

It also gets a lot of attention, in a sweet way.  I can’t tell you how many times I saw people’s mouths say “Awww…” as they caught a glance of this little bundle of baby on my chest.  Older people, especially.  By the time we finished and got back to the car, I had to smile at it all.  It made me appreciate how little and new he is all over again, and realize again just what a brief time this is when a baby is so small.

Speaking of babies, I’m happy to share that our little boy isn’t the new baby in the family anymore!  I have a brand new niece, Josephine Lily.  My sister Victoria and I had due dates just a day apart, but with my little guy showing up a week early and her little girl showing up over a week late, their birthdays are two weeks apart.  It’s pretty amazing to have two cousins so close in age.  A big congratulations to Rian and Victoria Jones and big sister Genevieve!

With her new addition, this past Sunday it was a baby fest at Grandma’s house: two newborn babies and their cousin William (son of Steve and April Kramer), who is only three months old but looks like a little linebacker by comparison.  Adding in my three-month-old nephew Eli in Montana and a great niece and nephew, my cup runneth over with all of these new babies in our lives.

With all of the new life around, we also still have an empty spot in our lives. This coming Sunday is a day I’ve been staring at for a long time on our calendar. It’s Father’s Day, and very poignant is that the day also marks three years that my brother Mike has been gone. I wish I had some sort of profound thought that made sense of it all, but I don’t. He was a great father who was active in the lives of his kids in every way, and three years later, while everyone grows and changes and continues with life, there is no question that he is still very loved and missed.

As for the dad at our house, I’m grateful for my husband who in the course of one day does things like making the best gooey cinnamon rolls with our kids and also teaches them how engine compression works.  A few days ago Jarred cut a tree down in our windbreak. Before he cut it down, he asked if any of the kids wanted to come out and watch. Only one did. I told him he does too many amazing things with big equipment on a daily basis that seeing a giant tree fall down didn’t even sound awesome. We both laughed.

Happy Father’s Day to the awesome dads, the ones here on earth and the ones up in heaven.

An Echocardiogram, a Grandma, and Seven Calves

When the baby is missing from his crib, there is a good chance it's because he's being held on the couch by his big brother.

When the baby is missing from his crib, there is a good chance it’s because he’s being held on the couch by his big brother.

It’s 5:00 in the morning, and for right now the house is quiet.  It won’t last long, though.  School is out, and it’s day two of summer vacation.

At 6:00 a few kids will trickle downstairs. They don’t have to be awake that early for anything, but they always are. Regardless of whether they go to bed at 8:00 or late at 10:00, they always wake up promptly at 6:00.  Someday when they hit that teenage stage and I can’t get them awake until noon I might miss this time, but right now I wish the day started just a little later.

I could use a later start because right now, I’m running on baby time: lots of nursing and diaper changing at all hours of the day, intermixed with ordinary life.  Baby time also makes me continually surprised how fast a few hours can go by.  When our baby starts to squirm and fuss, that usually means it’s time to nurse again.  So often I think, “I just nursed him,” and then I look at the clock and realize that an hour or two or three has gone by.  Without a baby’s tummy to mark time, hours go by so quickly in a day.

He’s two weeks old now.  Two weeks in “ordinary time” goes by in a blink, but with a new baby, it feels like a lifetime of living happens in a matter of days.  That lack of sleep combined with a big life change makes all of time seem blurry.  Hours slip by at night, but a baby grows and changes so quickly that a few days can make a huge difference.  In some ways, it feels like he’s always been here, even though he’s so very new.

We’ve been looking at his cute little sleeping face and tiny hands for two weeks.  He’s so irresistibly sweet that I find that after I’ve laid him down for a nap in his pack and play crib, he often disappears.  I’ll look over on the couch and see that he’s been scooped up and sleeping in the arms of an older brother or sister.

In these last two weeks, we’ve also had big news to digest.  I haven’t mentioned this earlier because we were still waiting on official test results.  However, the results confirmed what we suspected when he was born.  Our baby has Down Syndrome.

It’s all come as a complete surprise, with no indications of this during pregnancy. At my 20-week ultrasound, everything checked out just fine.  I remember commenting to Jarred toward the end of my pregnancy that this had been such a completely healthy pregnancy, with everything being just right all along the way (right down to having the least back pain of any pregnancy, with my sixth baby). For a healthy, ordinary pregnancy, I’m so very thankful and it puts me more at ease now.

When he was born, we suspected he might have Down Syndrome based on a few things about his appearance, and he was tested at his five-day checkup. For right now, he is otherwise doing just fine and he’s nursing well, which is important.

Because heart defects are common with Down Syndrome, he is scheduled to get an echocardiogram done this week, which is essentially an ultrasound of his heart. During his ultrasound at 20-weeks pregnant his heart looked good and at his five-day checkup the doctor did not hear any murmur, which are both good signs.

Long term, there are plenty of things to monitor health-wise and obviously things we’ll need to do to help him developmentally, too.  To be honest, at this point I don’t know what all that entails, but I know we’ll be getting a very good education on it all over the years.

So, this little guy took us by surprise.  It’s not what we were expecting, but I also feel like everything is going to be just fine.  I believe he’s here to bring good things to our lives and we’re going to learn so much from him.  We just love him and we’ll just take whatever we need to do in stride.

And truly, he’s just a part of the family.  We’re figuring out our new summer routine with six kids at home.  We also added seven Holstein bull calves to our little farm this week. We’ll be raising them for beef over the next year and a half, and right now, our kids are fascinated by the seven cute calves we’re adding to their chore projects.

With the busyness of life around here, we’re especially thankful for Jarred’s mom, Cheryl.  She drove 1,000 miles on her own to come and see the baby, visit our family, and be a set of open arms for a week.  It’s great to have Grandma here.  All the little things she does are big to us, and she adds a peacefulness to our lives when things feel a little crazy.

That means a lot in a week with an echocardiogram for a baby, six kids home for the summer, and seven new calves in our shed.