Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Till Next Time

Goodbye, Grampa Neil! We enjoyed having you visit for three weeks and look forward to your return.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Thomas, six weeks old

Updating the Music Binders

Yesterday I updated the children's piano binders, making sure sheet music was organized behind the correct tabs and updating the children's daily practice lists. I don't know how other parents help (or don't) their children stay organized with music and I haven't carved out the time to find out what are probably their even better tactics, but this is what I do every month or two.

Each child has his or her own binder of sheet music, organized by tabs. I have a return address sticker pasted on each binder, having learned the lesson of leaving behind an unidentified white binder at our music teachers' home, which is full of hundreds of other white binders.


  • Songs Being Learned
  • Repertoire (songs the child already knows and should play once daily to retain)
  • Recital (songs being perfected for the next recital)
  • Federation (songs being perfected for the Federation competition)
  • Technique (exercises)

Inspired by how Mary's violin teacher writes up extensive daily practice lists for her students, I began doing so for the children's piano practice. I decorate them with color, stickers, and encouraging love notes in hopes this has some positive effect on attitude.

Margaret is four-and-a-half so neither the teacher nor we have required practice from her, even though she takes a 15-minute lesson once weekly. However, she has shown increasing readiness and this week expressed that she also wants to earn ten minutes of video game time for daily music practice like her siblings do, so she is giving it a try now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Music Recital August 29

John and Mary participated in a piano recital last night. I've missed at least the last two recitals, having their daddy escort them, so I hope to be ready, with infant in tow, to attend their next one. 

Warming up in the back room of the studio

John played Star Wars "Main Theme" and "Softly Whisper," although we don't have video of either.

Mary played "PB and J Blues," which I heard was a hit, and Star Wars "Imperial March," although I have video of only the latter, below.

You know the kids are exhausted from a birthday pool party and a late-night musical recital to be found sleeping like this . . .

Kung fu sleeping

Friday, August 28, 2015

First Day of Catholic Classical Enrichment

Today was our family's first day participating in our parish's program of Catholic Classical Enrichment (a wonderful program inspired by the Protestant program Classical Conversations).

The children were so excited that all three of them wrote signs to post by their beds, such that they would wake and lay eyes immediately on a sign reminding them that today was the first day of CCE!

This was probably my first outing both with all five children and when I had to be somewhere on a schedule. I planned our outing like an expedition, writing lists of everything I had to bring and starting packing up everything three days prior. Amazingly (and with much help from my husband), we were out the door by 8:30 a.m.

Chris suggested he come with me. I felt I didn't need him, since the only time I'd be alone with the children would be while they were strapped into their car seats, and otherwise I'd be surrounded by helpful mom friends. However, Chris came anyway and it turned out that I needed him quite a few times when I couldn't carry all my bags, couldn't transition from here to there, or couldn't chase my toddler while nursing my newborn. Thank you, honey!

Arriving at CCE
The children will be giving a presentation every other week, coincidentally my girls on the odd weeks and my son on the even weeks. Today Mary (first grade) presented on the history of the Fatima prayer, which the children are memorizing in Latin, and Margaret (Pre-K) did a show and tell of her new baby brother Thomas.

I am working in the nursery, where I have the toddler and the baby. There are a total of 18 children three and under in the two-room nursery, staffed by about five mothers.

Each week, the children will memorize

  • a Latin prayer
  • faith facts
  • math (e.g., a formula)
  • English grammar
  • geographical locations on a map
  • a history fact
  • and a history timeline

The children learned so much, both academically and socially (how to be in a classroom setting), during the morning, and then had a grand time eating lunch and playing with their friends. We are looking forward to our year of CCE!

And in an update well-deserved by our children: After our rough and challenging first day of homeschool this Monday, the children really performed beautifully the next three days. In fact, on Day 2 of school, the children willingly did all their work, completing it by noon, and played together so sweetly that we pondered if Pod People had replaced them in the night. Rather than let our worries consume us, we took the family to ice cream that night to spontaneously reward such cheerful behavior. The whole rest of the week, the children did quite well in school with very few "hiccups" in behavior.

Our homeschool week going well was in large part due to Grampa Neil, who is still visiting, and who occupied the 2- and 4-year-olds each morning for me. It will be a real challenge when I take over that duty next week!

Thomas Is All Smiles

Thomas is almost 6 weeks old, weighs 12 pounds (50% above birth weight!), and is all smiles. He began smiling mighty early and now smiles interactively. I can start talking baby talk to him, smiling broadly, and he smiles back purposefully, which is such a joy for a Mama!

Now everyone in the family enjoys gathering around and eliciting smiles from this bundle of joy.

My "Village" of Helpers

I believe it is safe to say that this is the first postpartum when I've truly had children old enough and numerous enough to help me substantially with the new baby. That doesn't mean I'm sitting around eating bonbons, as I still have five children to take care of, but I am enjoying having helpers!

Margaret (4-1/2) is an Assistant Helper who would do more if I'd let her. Below is a picture of how I found her one afternoon when I'd set the baby in his swing so I could work in the kitchen. She put a blanket on him, gave him her bear Snuggle, and was reading aloud a picture book to him "to help him fall asleep." Indeed, his eyes were heavy when I came upon them and he did fall asleep!

Mary (6-1/2) is my Little Mother Hen! She is thinking of Thomas' needs for much of the day and will hold him for me just about any time. Sometimes I ask her to hold him while I'm cooking dinner or while I'm pumping milk. Big Sister has a real way of soothing him: she hums her Suzuki Violin songs to him and he really seems to enjoy that.

I wish Thomas didn't take any bottles, but he still can't nurse sufficiently on his own, so bottles are our reality. Therefore, I've taught Mary how to feed him with a bottle and she does an excellent job doing a "paced feeding," which is a slow method of feeding in hopes of getting the baby back to breastfeeding. Mary knows how often to pause and burp the baby, and she knows when to try to offer him the pacifier instead of a bottle. Mary is a real treasure to me right now!

If Mary has a fault, it is that she is overly independent in taking care of her almost-six-week-old brother! One day, Chris was cooking dinner within eyesight of the children, the kids were watching TV, and Thomas was asleep in his swing, so I asked to step upstairs to do a chore. I returned 15 minutes later to discover that, unbeknownst even to Daddy, the baby had woken, and Mary had discovered he had a poopy diaper. She got him out of his swing, carried him to the bathroom (not having been taught or given permission to carry a baby while walking), and changed his diaper while laying him on the bathroom counter (not having been taught how to change a baby's diaper, and certainly not having permission to set a baby up on a counter!). Then she prepared him a bottle and was feeding him when I returned. Thankfully, Mary executed everything properly, but I did instruct her about changing diapers only with the baby on the carpet, and about asking our permission!

John (8) loves his baby brother, but is more of a helper to me than to the baby, I've noticed. He runs and fetches things for me all the time (often up or downstairs, wherever I am not), which is such a help as I can remember all too clearly having two and three tiny tots, none of whom were really old enough to go and get me anything.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to School 2015-16

After more than two months of maternity leave, today marked our first day back to school: John is starting third grade, Mary first grade, and Margaret pre-Kindergarten, while Joseph (2) and Thomas (5 weeks) are our school mascots. Daddy bought us doughnuts to celebrate with a fun breakfast.

John decorated his sign really well,
then promptly lost it somewhere in the house.

The children insisted I make Joseph a sign
"so he will feel included!"

I thought my expectations were low enough, but I don't think my expectations are ever low enough to avoid my own crashing disappointment. My big goals for last week (four weeks postpartum) were simply to resume having the children do daily music practice, which had been dropped since I went on bed rest, and for the kids to start reading their new literature books. Then my goals for this week were to add to last week's goals their music theory homework, daily holy reading and catechism (about 20 minutes total), spelling, and mathematics: that's it! (We will add in progressively more as the weeks go by.)

I explained to the children that we've had a very orderly home school for at least the last year, if not two: we were at the table by nine o'clock, done by 11:30, and we finished our lists. Now I am at the whim of a newborn who has no routine yet and insists on being held almost all the time, plus he doesn't know how to nurse so I'm repeatedly dashing off to go pump for him. I forewarned the kids that they will have to learn to be a lot more independent with schooling, do what work they can while the baby is awake and occupying my hands, and then drop whatever they are doing to attend to lessons with me as soon as the baby falls asleep, whenever that may be. Just describing in words that degree of uncertainty and irregularity gives me the willies!

The day was hard. Chris can attest that I was melting down by ten in the morning. My frustration levels spiked when the baby finally seemed to fall deeply asleep after being awake for three hours straight, I transferred him to his crib, I set up a math lesson with a child, and within five minutes the baby was screaming again because I had dared to put him down. We weren't done with our minimal list of subjects till three o'clock in the afternoon.

I remind myself that last time I had a baby, my oldest child was only newly six years old and in Kindergarten. I had a bright three-year-old sitting in on her big brother's reading lessons so she was reading by then too. Our school requirements were minimal and I felt like a homeschooling rock star because I was still a super fun mom--a mom who has, sadly, long since disappeared--who had two children reading well already. Throw a baby into the mix and I was still a rock star.

Now I have kids in older grades doing a lot more work with things like Composition and Latin on the horizon. I have three children in music lessons, which require supervising 90 minutes of instrument practice plus music theory homework daily, something that wasn't happening yet last time I had a baby. I have a third child desperately wanting to learn to read and I have a toddler boy who people keep remarking is "so full of energy"--rather like a ping pong ball!

The short of it is that I thought I knew somewhat what this postpartum would be like as I run the homeschool with a baby in tow . . . because I'd done it before! But I had no idea, this is entirely different, and I spent our first homeschool day bursting into tears and sneaking cookies and candy out of sight of the rascally children.

My husband remains ever supportive and can see the positives when I cannot.

My four-year-old, to whom I've promised to try to give a reading lesson daily now, is eager and already reading at a basic level.

So proud!

The two bigger kids don't seem to have lost much of their math learning, so three cheers for that.

My 8-year-old surprised me today by doing the best independent work, plus cheerfully offering to help entertain the younger siblings at times. Here he is, reading with animation a book to them . . .

Nobody has yet died from toys, shoes, and dirty socks littered about numerous rooms, or the fact that the kids are not yet back in the habit (since I had the baby) of making their beds or brushing their teeth in the mornings.

We are all still clothed even though for the first time in a decade, I can't quite keep up with laundry and there are piles of unfolded, clean laundry left around the house during the day. Even worse, there are, at any given time, several days' worth of dirty, wrinkled clothing covering the floors of the children's closets. The Queen of Laundry is fast losing her title.

Clean laundry sitting unfolded, getting wrinkly, and taking up space: a crime!
Plus note the pile of recycling boxes in the corner, cardboard that has been sitting there for a couple of weeks.

I felt like a failure one night last week when I was so incompetent that I had to ask my four-year-old to make us all peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches for dinner, which she did with excitement and pride. I felt like a failure again today when I had to ask my six-year-old to "make us lunch, just figure it out, make whatever you want"--and she did it, everyone was fed. My good girlfriend reminded me with a loving kick in the behind that this is exactly why I began training the children months ago in basic household and personal care. Now I am in the trenches and now is when they need to help! This is not a failure: this is exactly the adaptation and overcoming of circumstances that I could only hope for! I anticipated this chaos, I prepared for it, I trained the troops, and now we're in the thick of battle, fighting the good fight against disorder as best we can.

The two-year-old coated in yogurt from stem to stern,
and having rubbed it all over the tablecloth as well

I'm so emotionally fatigued from our first day of school that I'm ready to go back on summer vacation, but I will instead try to lower my standards further, accept the chaos with love, and face another day tomorrow. But I won't promise to stay out of my secret stash of M&Ms, not yet!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Outing with Five, and Lessons Being Learned

I am taking advantage of Grampa Neil's time here for him to be my "training wheels" as I learn to do everything anew with five children. On Wednesday, the housekeepers were coming over, which was a nudge enough to inspire me to leave my nest at home and actually take the kids somewhere.

We went to lunch at a restaurant and then visited the children's library where there is a temporary play area based on Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Our meal at the restaurant went actually quite well, although I would not attempt such a thing without a second adult at this time. We practiced a new "exit procedure" for getting out of the van, who I take out first, when the others are allowed to exit, and how we traverse the parking lot so they don't get run over. Their behavior was basically very good, I learned where some "weak spots" are, and the manager even came over to say how pleased he was to see a family praying grace in public, which was kind of him.

Then we went to the children's library, where behavior began to fall apart.

I discovered some big areas of disobedience and failure to listen, which truly are important because I don't feel it would be safe for me to be out alone with the five kids . . . if they're running away and not listening.

I am one month postpartum and am learning many lessons, some old lessons of which I'm being reminded and some new ones. I think that all my lessons are boiling down to my learning that I'm not in control, I can't keep our home life orderly despite my best efforts, and I have to accept a tremendous amount of imperfection. Somewhere God is working amidst all this and I'm trying to figure it out.

Eleven Pounds of Cuteness

Another week (or so), another pound (or so) . . . Thomas at one month old now weighs 11 pounds! He smiles every day (still hard to catch that on camera) and likes to be entertained by his bigger siblings.

On the bright side, Mama can supply all his milk now. But Thomas is still making very slow progress in learning to nurse himself, and can transfer only one ounce of milk, so he's still almost exclusively bottle-fed.

This morning, I got to experience a small-m miracle of sorts, the miracle of a tiny bit of normalcy returning to my routine. Thomas actually (1) slept out of my arms last night, so (2) I was able to catch several two-hour stretches of sleep, which meant (3) I was refreshed enough this morning to come downstairs (4) already dressed for the day (5) at seven (early) (6) by myself and (7) enjoy coffee in peace for thirty minutes! I call that seven small-m miracles!