Life With Nine Kids

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dear Sebastian,

Ohhh Sebastian. You are so wild, brave, silly and serious; you've always been all of those things, but as you've gotten older you have gotten even more so! Recently, or maybe not so recently, you started screaming and being really demanding. Really, you've acted like a jerk. Your brothers and sisters finally got fed up with you, mom and dad were busy and hoping it would pass. Time went by, more TV was watched, and soon you turned into a preschooler that I for one could not believe. I actually said to your daddy, "I cannot believe this is my child!" You were not very nice, you were awfully temperamental, you were mean. For a long tome you also had trouble controlling your anger and hitting / scratching people. You once scratched your dads arm in an angry tantrum and he actually got an infected, red, swollen scratch from your dirty little kid fingernails. I remember him washing his arm with soap and hot water in the bathroom. Finally I knew you weren't growing out of this; you needed more attention, you needed more time with your mom and dad and we had to stop turning the TV on when we were busy or you were bored. We are a reluctant TV watching family. We don't have cable or satellite; we have only a few basic channels, Netflix and video tapes. We limit TV watching for all the kids, but ALWAYS, always every preschool child of ours ends up watching too much TV at some point. By the time they are four or five years old our TV dependent preschooler gets angry when we tell them no more.  (Charlotte and Layla are the only exceptions, they never got immersed in TV.) We have to fix a cycle of boredom, habits and lack of imagination. TV suffocates the imagination of a child and it's entirely our fault it happens.

 Since we let your meanness problem get out of hand we knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did. Oh the screaming. :( It tore a hole in my heart, but a couple of kids had already done that over the years so your Daddy was there to help me remember we've gone through bad times with other kids and that it would be okay. You told me you didn't like me, you told me I was mean, you told me I wasn't your family anymore. I reacted by not looking at you. Sometimes I'd tell you that you could go get a job and move away and take care of yourself if you don't want a family. Sometimes I'd tell you that I love my family and would never tell them they weren't my family. Sometimes I'd tell you that you will not have any family if you treat people that way. I would remind you of all the things I do for you and when you'd ask for something I'd tell you I didn't feel like doing it because I don't do nice things for mean people, I stay away from mean people. "I don't want to get you a drink, get it yourself because you are mean to me and you tell me I'm not your family." This helped you understand that relationships are a two way street where people must mutually respect each other to get anywhere.

 There are many hard stages of parenting, but dealing with the willpower and independence of a toddler or preschooler is pretty high on the list. They are their own people and they feel so good about themselves when they are making decisions, but on the other side they feel so bad about themselves when we try to "control" them. Different personalities in these little people add another element. Charlotte always trusted I knew what was best for her so we reached compromise easier, Layla did not and so it was always a battle of wits with her. Sebastian, you fall in the unique category called 'I know what's best because I'm as tough as nails and a superhero-man-boy.'

 After months of your behavior going from bad to worse and a bunch of time-outs that had various results I asked myself what I needed to do. The answer is just about the same for every kid problem we've ever faced: less or no TV, more one-on-one time, more family fun time (games, exercise, field trips), more outside time, more attention, more story books read. So that's what we did. Magically (or not so magically) you have transformed over the past month. You only yell or scream about once a day instead of six times a day. You are more thoughtful, more kind and happier. You think before you act most of the time. I have had the great pleasure of watching a respect bloom between us as well. Recently if I raise my voice, get mad or say "What?!" in a frustrated tone (usually because three kids are talking to me and a baby is crying at me and I'm rushed and impatient) you will get a very serious look on your face and in a very particular and concerned tone you will say, "Don't talk to me like that" or, "You are talking mean Mommy." When that happens I drop to my knees and I go to your level. I immediately apologize and thank you for teaching me how to talk nicer. Since you have started asking me to talk nicer and I respect you, you in turn respect me when I ask you to be nicer or not yell. It's been a joyous uplifting time in our relationship with each other. Communication with people is such a wonderful skill to have and I feel like you are really learning that.

 Every morning you say good morning to everyone. This morning you happily said good morning to Everett and kissed him. You then looked at me and said, "Do you know why I say good morning to Everett? Because I love him so much." You are so sweet. I remember this sweetness, it was always inside of you. Last winter I made you breakfast and you hopped up on a stool, looked at it and cheerfully said, "Tank you Mommy for this breakfast that you made for me."

 THAT is the Sebastian I lost and found. That is the love you have in your heart for your family.

 I don't even know how many months ago it was when I noticed there was something missing, something was lacking inside of you. I mentioned to your daddy that I feel like there's no preschool magic in your life. I did this project with Penelope and Everett while you sulked and complained to watch TV. Since attempting to reclaim you as a preschooler everything feels better. You used to not want to leave the house very much, now you bring a backpack of toys and do well on outings. You used to throw fits when it was TV-off time, now you don't. You do projects more willingly and everything just seems better. The sparkle in your eye is back. Today we did that same project and you proudly worked hard at stringing your cereal necklace. You stopped halfway through and said it was a long project. I could tell you were proud and determined. I told you that you could stop and do more later or just not string it all of the way. You were enjoying having focus, seeing the results, making something useful and feeling good about your ability. You talked cheerfully, joked, laughed and worked hard.

You are four and of course this isn't the end of fits and troubles, but we're on the right path again. You have also matured tons over the past 6 months, so that you listen and talk about things. That is something that can't be forced, it comes with time. This will make things so much easier on all of us. Yesterday there was an issue and you were mad at Sage, but you listened when I talked to you about it and you actually saw a different point of view. You want to understand and you are open to the idea that the world is a big place and you are just one person. What a big boy you are becoming!


Winning a Pie Contest and Meeting Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar (Why I really do love them)

 When we arrived at the Patriot Day Rally we had a few things to get in order: pie drop off, bounce house for kids, find some food. After we got our food I was happy the table seating was taken up because I instead parked us in the grass next to where the Duggar family was signing autographs and meeting people. There was a huge line to meet them. Some of their older kids noticed us as I started spreading out blankets for kids to sit on and as Ricky and I opened chips and drinks for little kids. I often feel like a busy and satisfied mother hen tending to my chicks as I'm: wiping faces, making sure they have the food they will actually eat, helping them with this and that, patting them on the heads, kissing their cheek and laughing at them... or telling them to be good/quiet down... or to STOP fighting.

 The line to meet the Duggar family got longer and longer. I had not planned on waiting in line. I went up close to take some photos of them talking to other people. I just wanted to observe. As more of the event unfolded the Duggar clan soon took the stage leaving the line of people on hold. Their kids sang, played violins, played piano, they talked. 

 I knew our little kids were going to grow bored so we headed off to the playground after a while. Jim Bob and Michelle were telling their life story together which included the motivation behind having a large family, but I already knew some of those things. I wanted to make sure my kids didn't get burnt out and bored so I could listen in later and be there for the winning pie announcement. Sebastian is at this really frustrating (for us all) 3-4 year old screaming/angry stage. He's very independent and having trouble expressing himself and controlling his anger so I try to keep him busy and unruffled.

 We played on the playground and then played closer to the event. We played duck-duck goose, red light green light and ran round like crazies. Sebastian screamed over something, I was worried about him having a meltdown but he was okay. 
Charlotte's unbaked cherry-raspberry pie

 When it was time for door prize announcements we moved in closer. 
my unbaked apple star pie

 Yay pie contest was up first!! Third place was a peanut butter pie, second place they announced was Charlotte! To which I jumped up and down and started yelling, "This is my 16 year daughter!! She won 2nd!!" I'm sure she was thrilled at my yelling. Hahaha. Then they announced my name for 1st place. I jumped up hollering and acting like I was at a pie rodeo. I grabbed Charlotte by the arm and pulled her up to the front of the podium with me. All the while I'm yelling, "Mother-daughter won, mother-daughter won!!" at the top of my excited lungs.

                                                                  I dorked out. Totally.

And not only did they say I won but they said that my pie was exceptional. I'm so happy!

 The lady handing us our ribbons questioned me with a smile, "Wait, did you say you're mother and daughter?" I proudly did not hesitate to confirm that fact once again. When we got back to our seats in the grass some other people asked if we were mother and daughter too. It was fun. Several people thought it was so neat! We thought it was pretty great to win together. Charlotte worked so hard on her pie!

 After we collected our other prizes/ gift certificates I realized I dorked out and Charlotte was sweet and reassured me that it was okay. She's so cute :)  Aunt Sharon had met us at the rally so she got to see. She was so glad she came and didn't miss it!

 It was dark and the little kids were bored, unfortunately the other fun things closed down. We didn't get to the mechanical bull ride or rock wall climb in time. It was a bummer. We walked around the back of the stage area and ended up at the end of the line to meet the Duggar family. I stepped in line and looked at my husband lovingly and asked if we should wait after all. Charlotte was all for waiting in line and so were Sage and Ethan. Ricky said sure but we both had the obvious worry about the younger kids. He took them for a walk to see some emergency vehicles on display. I strapped Everett into the Ergo baby carrier to nurse and he thankfully fell asleep. When Ricky came back Sebastian and Penelope sat in the double stroller and looked bored but tired. It wasn't long until they started fighting, crying or doing both. It was 8pm and dark. I thought the fireworks might start and that would be the perfect line waiting activity, but we found out they didn't start until 9pm. Somehow we entertained the kids, it was touch and go for a little bit but then things were fine. There were jumbo post cards with the Duggar family on them that we could get signed. The kids met about five of the Duggar kids, they were super friendly. They talked and answered questions if you instigated the conversation. I thanked them for being so nice to sign autographs and be at the event, they said they loved it.

 As I approached Jim Bob and Michelle I gushed with a big smile and they returned it. 

 They were just as fantastically refreshed and happy looking as they were at the beginning of the event. There is nothing wrong with the picture above, but I'm telling you they look better than this. Charlotte had mentioned earlier how much younger they looked in person, and it's so, so true! They look great and younger! They beam with happiness and gratitude for their happy and content lives. They glow with love for each other. That's what first attracted me to them so many years ago. As I gushed and told them we wanted a big family and now have seven kids they were super happy for us. I totally thought they probably hear that all the time and would be like 'oh yes that's so nice dear now run along'. But it wasn't like that at all, they were interested in our kids and us! I thanked them for being an inspiration to us and that having lots of kids was something we already wanted to do but were afraid to plunge into. I said, "People think you are crazy when you have a lot of kids." Jim Bob laughed, "Well it is a little crazy." :) I laughed back, "Okay, it's actually a lot crazy, but so wonderful! They said they had to get a picture with our family which really made me happy. I wasn't going to ask but they jumped right up and joined our kids in line for a picture. I was so happy they wanted too! 

 As I introduced Ricky to both of them Jim Bob shook hands with Ricky and quipped, "There's the good guy." I can totally see Jim Bob in politics (as he has been) he's very personable and very charismatic. Jim Bob took the time to ask how old Everett was as he slept in the Ergo even though Everett had his face hidden. Michelle commented on my Ergo baby carrier. (Moms bond over Ergos!)  She said, "Aren't Ergos the best carriers, we have a few of those."

 Nicest people I've ever met. They had met hundreds of people over the past 4-5 hours and they were that nice to us. I feel like they actually looked at the people they talked to and met.
 I don't care that they believe in somethings I do and somethings I don't. I don't care they are "extreme." I'm fascinated by them and always have been. We didn't have a big family because Jim Bob & Michelle did, but it has sure made me feel better about it at times. Made me feel less alone I guess. When they look at each other I see how Ricky and I look at each other. When I hear them talk about children it's how we feel about our children. It was wonderful meeting such wonderful happy people. I'm amazed they have so many children and I'm inspired by them in various ways.

 Sometime in late 2004 or early 2005, before people knew who they were,  I caught a TLC documentary on TV called 14 kids and pregnant again. Ricky and I had four kids and wanted another couple of kids at least. So this show was a must see for me. I thought four kids was busy...I couldn't wait to see how a household of 14 ran! This show was my first TV encounter with the Duggar family and it covered lots of things I wanted to know:
Why do they only have one closet?
How much do they spend on groceries?
How much laundry do they do every day? And who does it?
How can they support such a large family?
How does each child feel about being a member of such a large family?
What do they do for fun?
Where does everybody sleep?
Do the kids ever get in fights?
How are conflicts settled?
How do you home school so many different ages?

 I recorded the show and watched it with Ricky and we found it interesting. It was the first time that I truly believed we could have more kids and be okay. Soon I heard about them on morning shows and in follow up shows on TLC. I remember telling my husband after we had Penelope, baby number five, that I had heard 'that family with the 14 kids are up to 16 kids now.' They soon became a household name in our own home. I enjoyed hearing about their new additions. I recorded their documentary style TLC shows to show our kids how their big family ran as I struggled to find our own groove and routine. As the laundry and chores at my house piled up I felt like if they could do it so could I. We were also new to homeschooling at that time. The Duggars were the first family with more than five children that I remember being exposed to. They inspired me and helped me see that we could do what we wanted to do, which was have more kids because it was what we believed in and it was the path we felt truly lead to. Their birth control beliefs struck me as especially interesting because we hold our own unique and in some ways similar beliefs as well. It didn't matter to us that they are extreme in their lifestyle. They are who they are and I enjoy the pieces that I connect with, which is really what we should do with all people. Their love and commitment for their family, their beliefs, their home and each other was and still is full of familiar and happy inspiration for me. I feel like people think they need to be exactly like each other in order to respect, embrace or admire one another. The best thing I learned in my young adult years was that this notion is totally wrong and dangerous. The saddest thing I discovered is that people love to hate each other. It's all over in our society. When I really opened my eyes to it I saw it everywhere. We all expect our children not to bully each other but our society shows adult bullying and the berating of people all of the time. It's in the news, in our own lives, in celebrity news, on TV and movies. Hate because some one is too fat or thin, too ugly or too beautiful, too outspoken, gay, because of political or religious beliefs. Hate just because. Read the comments at the bottom of news stories and opinion pieces, the hate is thick. Hate is the default emotion of 'I don't agree.' The biggest change I made over the years was to make doubly sure I didn't hate on others for who they are and that I didn't teach hate to my children. I was already teaching that to my kids but I had to make sure I was living that way. I now try hard to find the good in people, because it's there.  When I started doing that I felt more free because of it. Learning how to do that in a society of bullying and self righteousness takes realization, acceptance, self discovery and at times effort.

In a world where we aren't rallying against abusers and rapists or rioting in the streets over hungry and abused children in our very OWN country, heck in our very own communities,  I hold a lot of sadness and disappointment in people who take the time to criticize the Duggar family.

Related topics:
In Defense of the Duggars  

The Anti-bully Bullies 

The Top 10 Most Bullied Internet Celebrities People just being people, except hateful people band together and decided when people apparently aren't allowed to just be themselves.

Cyber-bullying cripples even celebrities  

Cyber / Bullying Statistics 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy National Chicken Month!!!

This month intends to promote the consumption of chicken...but chickens are so much more than food. They are fun to watch, fun to feed, fun for kids to frolic with. They are good at eating bugs and their manure is good for gardens. I actually support less chicken consumption because most chickens are raised in inhumane conditions. It's also important to note that while buying "free range eggs" feels good there is actually no legal definition in the United States of what that means. There is no common standard to what the term means either. It does not mean they roam and forage in grass; they may only get small area of concrete pad.

I support and encourage more backyard flocks so families can enjoy self sufficiency and healthy tasty food, whether it be for eggs, meat or both. When people decrease their dependence on factory farms smaller family farms benefit and so do the animals and our health. So, wish a farmer or backyard enthusiast a Happy National Chicken Month! 

Related links:

FDA finally admits chicken meat contains cancer-causing arsenic  

Meet Real Free-Range Eggs The new results are in: Eggs from hens allowed to peck on pasture are a heck of a lot better than those from chickens raised in cages!