Monday, 20 April 2015

Dear Joseph..

You are 11 weeks old.
11 weeks of divine. And I am smitten.

Tonight I tried to tidy up your change table and drawers a little bit.
Truth is; all your clothes at the moment are sitting on your change table. Because going into your drawers means I have to move out the sweet wee oufits you were in summer and admit, that you might have outgrown them some. I popped a few things to one side, ready to store, and that made me want to cry.
Im sure hormones have a lot to blame for this. And I truly am so glad you are growing so healthy and strong. Thriving. The Doctor said you were the model baby.
You are.
But my mother heart is falling to pieces.

And there's the irony of it all.
We had you, because you were a gift from God, the enlarging of our hearts. I guess I naively thought you would fill a little gap. I did not expect you'd tear apart the borders completely. And in the most loveliest of ways.

I smell you every morning and night, just to try and memorize that forever. Nate leaned in and whispered to me today "I love the way Joseph smells". It was a confession of sorts. In case I wondered why he sometimes just breathes you in. I whispered back "me too".

Ive been holding your head in my hand this past week wondering when did it become more firm? When did your wee fingers get dimples? When did your nose crease, smooth out? When did you go cross eyed, for the last time? It all changes so fast. And being that it all goes so fast, I feel set on holding you and snuggling you every possible moment.

In the supermarket today, you were having the sweetest conversation with me, gazing into my eyes, so while I lined up in checkout we chatted and the world may as well have stopped. I looked up to see the ladies around me, staring at me, staring at you. I felt like asking them to grab me a chair while I sat down and told you how I just so love you. I think they probably would have. But instead their eyes spoke back to me what I already knew "such precious moments go so fast..".

Come dinner prep time, I popped you in the front pack and enjoyed the way you feel as I gently swayed about the kitchen, preparing vegetables with your sleepy warm body against mine. You woke up just as daddy came home, so he got to see the way you stare so adoringly into the depth of me, with eyes for no one else. I love that you do that. That you know me. That I know you.
Its just one big love fest here with you, sweet boy.


Back to 11 weeks.
Youve always slept awesomely. Still do. Definitely being more wakeful in the day now, though I cant complain. Youre doing about 8-9hrs each night. This is the stuff of baby legends. Ironically, I couldnt care less. I can count on one hand the nights youve woken for feeding and Ive minded.
You smiled from, like, WAY young.. and now your giggling too. And today I swear you said "mum". Okay, maybe it was a bit of a coincidence, but still, lets just settle it that your first word was for me, deal?!
I havent actually done the whole weight and height thing. Mainly because, well, you just have to take one look at you to know youre tall, and healthy. You have a nice layer of squidge on you, and all the doctors and nurses say "aw, he's so long". Sometimes I forget how much so, but your foot length floors me. In utero, I remember tracing your foot, pressed against my belly and thinking "woah". And yup, I was right. You dont fit any of the booties. Youre already well too big for the 0-6month socks.

I just wanted to say Joseph, its so super awesome being your mummy. Were all so glad to have you in our family.
Love you

Friday, 17 April 2015

A ministry focussed family..

One of my favourite magazines just happens to be the Wallace Cotton home magazine. With all the inspiring magazines that are out there, this one just tickles me in the happy places. Each page represents order. Nicely folded linen. Crisp white sheets. Touches of beauty. A hint of French.
And while I recognise its an elusive dream to hope it all will just always look that way, I keep the magazine on display on the bottom shelf of our buffet unit in my dining room, because just its cover inspires me to hold a standard of beauty in our home.

In a very real way, thats often been the means by which Ive coped with the day to day. Especially as a homeschooling mum.

You see, much of my time as a mother is spent in the seemingly mundane, as Im sure many of you can relate to.
Washing, dishes, training, playing, character building, nursing, cooking, reading, maths and picking up lego from all sorts of places. There are days its all just hard work. Messy, unglamorous and outright exhausting. The house falls apart. The rooms are far from orderly. The kids are needing lots of attention, cuddles, order, and an ever present eye and ear and I, quite honestly, would like to curl up and go to sleep on the couch. Especially with my newborn son.

And while I know there are all sorts of great placards I could put on our walls such as "Good mums have sticky floors, piles of laundry, dirty ovens and happy kids"... I'm not convinced that I believe that to be true.

I think its possible, in fact, healthy, for there to be order AND happy kids.

I know personally, I function far better when peace and cohesion reign in the walls, even if it takes a bit of effort to get the kids involved. So while we are the journey to learning how to work together as a family, to keep and create a home of beauty, I often remind myself why.
Its the why, I think that matters most. I believe, having a healthy mindset on keeping a home, makes all the difference when the housework is falling apart and when it all looks just amazing.

For me, the key has been to discover Gods heart for our home. To recognise the purpose for which He has given us these walls, this space, these children.... and the answer is; to please Him.

As simple as that sounds, its been so hugely freeing. Holding my home and schedule to His standard has only served to bring a greater joy into my life. And I am recognising that when we walk and work in our homes, to bring Him pleasure, that our homes can function as a place of ministry.

On this journey, Ive found and gleaned so many wonderful tips to creating a home that functions that way. We are a work in progress but I can honestly say, its a joy to watch our children learn the blessing of Gods best design. Yesterday, our 8yr old got the opportunity to work alongside his daddy, filling holes to prepare the walls for painting. Its a small skill, but it takes precision and an eye for detail. Hubby came home with nothing but praise for the accurate attention to detail and commitment to stick at the job. And all the while, our son had the joy of knowing he was achieving excellence in a 'real mans world'. Its these sort of opportunities that we can create, to teach our children about the character of Christ.

Where does that heart attitude stem from? In just the small and most insignificant of jobs. Such as, as a mere three year old, picking up the toys and popping them away in the right box, or as a four year old, learning to fill the toilet roll holders with paper that opens from the right way, and hangs down the right side of the wall. Or as a five year old, to clean a toilet in a way that reflects not just hygiene, but a note of dignity and care.

They are, as I say, the mundane things. The tiny and time consuming tasks which quite frankly, are far easier as a mother to do ourselves, then to teach. Yet when we take the time to instruct them in the art of creating beauty in the home, we are teaching them SO much. Challenging though it is, the key to teaching these things well, lies in our own heart attitudes as mummies as of these children. Thats *really* where true beauty lies.

Here are some practical tips Ive learnt along the way:

*Enjoy work and play.
This is something my husband has worked to instill into our children from such a young age. Work is a joy, and so is play. That kind of joy is contagious. We can choose our attitude whatever the task at hand, including the mundane moments of motherhood. I will never forget hearing Rosie Boom talk about homeschooling, to work hard, and then to play. Thats a Godly order and the truth is, isn't play so much more fun, when you can rest knowing the work is complete?! Things like reading a chapter of a great book together after morning chores are finished, or lighting the candles around the home, when its all cleaned up at night, are simple joys which reward a task well done and reinforce the value of work and play.

*Turn on some happy music.
A sweet sound in the house to hum along to, really helps you as a mum to not deliver orders with military tone and a frustrated spirit.

*Theres joy in variety.
I delegate four jobs to each child each morning and they change each day. If I know one of them are particularly tired or flat, I'll often choose them a job thats actually therapeutic. It might be dusting the lounge suite, so they can wipe it down and be close to the music, or making some biscuits with me, or washing the outside window down with the hose. Today I was teaching Amy how to clean a handbasin and I realised that she was sluggish. So I set her loose with a small tub of baking soda and a toothbrush, and had her scrub and smear that everywhere. Then she had the joy of spraying on the water/ white vinegar mix which set of a fun fizzing reaction. Science and housework all in one ;)

*Pick real jobs.
I used to follow a housework schedule, but the reality is, that mess is unpredictable. As life is. I ditched that and instead every morning I do a quick walk around the house and note what truly needs to be done. I dont make the kids clean, just for cleaning sake. Funny enough, we are never short on jobs to do however. Today, for example, Nate cleaned the washing machine filter. Tim emptied the car. Ben put random toy objects in right places and Amy swept the bugs out of the corner of our outside entrance. Other jobs that are real, are picking flowers for vases, spraying shoe deodoriser in all the boots and sneakers in the shoebox, or I let them decorate a room up. Our bathroom and bedroom has never looked so good as the times that Ive left them to it and said "can you make this place look nice" and entrusted the task to them.

*Choose one area a day.
I often just pick one drawer, one cupboard or one room that is vexing me, and ask myself "what can I do to make it beautiful here?". And then while the kids are cleaning their designated areas, I attack that space. Often I will get the kids to help me out too as Ive found children are far better at not making disarray of something they've helped tidy up. Yesterday it was the sock drawer and today it was the kitchen bench. Dont bite of large bits. Keep it small and simple.

*Invest in baskets.
We have baskets all around the home for everything. Not the plastic tub sort, although we have a few see through ones for construction toys, but I opted for nice ones that I don't mind to have on display. I often have a basket by the stairway simply for those 'bits and bobs' that randomnly find their way into my kitchen and at the end of the day, have the kids take these things and put them away. It helps to have a place for everything, and everything in its place. It also helps to keep stuff to a minimum, including toys.

*Use the time to chat to them.
Job time is a great time to get to know your kids hearts more. Instead of telling them how to clean the handbasin, come along side them and just start quietly scrubbing one small area and just be there. often I will just quietly hum and wait for them to start talking. Its funny how when they have the chance to talk, they will often take a little more time to care and you get the joy of having greater insight into whats going on in their lives.

*Create beauty everywhere.
This is something my mum is SO good at. She is one of those people that just leaves a sparkle on everything she does. Washing folded by her, seems to feel softer. The kitchen glows a bit brighter. The carpet feels more fluffy. She arranges things in a way that makes you want to sit down and stay a little while. She also achieves this making her own cleaning products that smell lovely and won't make you sick and has a simple solution to most problems that doesn't involve a load of money. I tend to be more minimalistic than her, however, Ive learnt from her so many ways to make things, just, well, lovely. A small example would be my breakfast buffet unit. I do not like cereal boxes. So instead, I ordered three large jars with sealed lids, and three scoops to sit inside each one, and have these on display on the buffet unit beside our table. From time to time, I would think that it looked just a little stark. One day mum popped in and slid a table runner she had made underneath it.. a burlap strip with a lace band in the middle... and suddenly, it looked complete. Not just complete. But beautiful. Because it looks special, the kids are careful to not spill their cereal all over the place, when getting breakfast in the morning. Beautiful places elicit us to take more care, be more mindful, present and peaceful and its an art we need to cultivate. Flowers are pretty much my favourite way of creating beauty instantly and I love to purchase a bunch from time to time and separate them out into small vases spread through the bathroom, laundry and bedroom. Just this week I let my little Amy choose one flower from the florist for her bedroom. She chose a pink Gerbera for $5 and I asked them to sprinkle it with glitter. We popped it into a blue mason jar fitted with a zinc sipper lid (less likely to topple and spill). Such a simple thing added feminine sweetness to her room and has encouraged her to take a bit more care in the mornings to make her bed, open her curtains and tidy her 'treasures'.

*Ask for help.
Im great at being efficient, I can hold colour in my memory well and juggle a lot of balls. But I am not good at administration. I also sometimes get lost by the issue right under my nose and miss the point. Asking help has often given me a solution that is far better. For instance, just last week I rang my mum frustrated. My 4 year old daughter is tidy with her things, most days, however for months, whenever she had friends to visit, it would inevitably involve that items would be pulled down from her wardrobe, clothes strewn everywhere, hair-ties and jewellery pulled out and it would be a major tidy up job for this mummy at the end of the day. I knew I couldnt keep this up with a baby, so I rang my mum. Lost in the details as to what possesses girls to tip the entire contents out of all baskets, I missed what my mum saw quite obviously: That they were playing dress ups and without clear boundaries. Mums practical suggestion was to create a dress up box, and to even have a mirror, with jewellery and bits and bobs that belong all in one place. Only things in that box come out. Then when its tidy up time, everything can go back in the box. It seemed so plainly obvious when talking to someone else.
In the past, Ive solicited help in many ways. Getting someone in to read to the children, while I cleaned, or sorted some space. Paying a dear friend to sort a cupboard that I know she could do so much better than I could or just unloading some worries I have about the smaller issues of life to a mentor, so I could see what really mattered most.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Sibling Relationships

Any typical day in our family involves quarrels, unkind words, fights over toys and reminders of whats right and wrong.
Thats the normal.
Thats also the changing normal.

You see, for the longest time, I've wondered, can you really teach siblings to be each others best friends?
Can you really have them treasure one another?
Can they really form life long friendships?

I know its possible as my brothers and I love each other dearly, and I can tell you, they've been fiercely defensive of me and equally as treasuring. And I happen to think they are the best brothers that I could ever have.

But it wasn't always that way.
I was a pain of a little sister and my eldest brother and I fought a lot growing up. At least till they were old enough to demand my respect. And even then, I kept myself distanced, secretly wanting their approval, but to cool for that.

I distinctly recall however, that at some point, my brothers broke through that shell with their affection. It didnt matter if it was cool or not to show affection to your sister and perhaps, I grew old enough to leave their stuff alone?.. but "go away" was replaced with "sweetie" and "hun" and I glowed under the endearing terms which they lavished on me.
I still do.

So watching my kids interact, Im so aware of how words can make a world of difference and attitude can mean so much.
And with three boys so close in age, especially, Ive held my breath as to whether or not, they would be each others friends.

Until recently.
I realised the role I have as a mother, to train them to be. To teach them what it means. To help them see the blessing they have in each other.

Baby Joseph was a significant part of that journey. His presence brought a dimension to our home, a place to lavish our affections. My boys don't hesitate to smother him in cuddles, kisses, hugs and tender words. Daily his giggles (and odd cry) bring a gathering of three devoted brothers (and a sister) to his side, eager to love on him, and eager to be loved. They ask me "do you think he loves me?" and "do you think he knows me?". Oh yes! I reply, over and over. And then I remind them how significant they are in his life. And how he will always look up to them. And how he will want to be like them. And how he will cry when they leave home.

As these conversations happened, I began to think more and more, how wise it is to invest purposefully into teaching our kids to be each others best friends.
And as the weeks have passed, Ive rejoiced to see hearts soften, attitudes change and a tone come into our home that blesses me.

Just the other day, my son was explaining to his friend why he was doing something for his brother, and the visitor said "oh I wish our family did that, Id love my brother to do that for me".. and I thought how affirming it was, to the need of each one of us, to be loved. Especially by our siblings.

The wisdom in getting there, is not my own. Its been a journey and I have gleaned from some amazing sources.
But here is what I know works:

*Teach them the significance of their role.
The eldest sets the mark. Its a responsibility and a privilege. I remind my eldest often how much his younger siblings look up to him, and how important it is to be tender with them and earn their respect. I also remind them how to correct in an encouraging and positive way, rather than a lording way, and to report quickly back to a parent when they won't listen.
Teach the younger ones to show deference, teachability and to make good appeals. Its a quality of the second, third born, etc.. to sure know how to wind up the older ones, to resist their correction and to remark "you're not the boss". They need a voice, but they also need to learn to heed correction as good. We talk often about having a teachable spirit, not fighting against someone who shows you 'blindspots'.
Theres examples everywhere of people who can back up your stories.. for good and for bad.. and we talk openly about both.

*Protect their time with each other.
Its good for kids to have other friends, but its not high priority in our home. We rarely separate them off to other friends and try to discourage 'one on one' friendships. They each have a 'dear friend' they love being with, and we don't mind that at all. But we try to include family in relating to those people.

*Watch Heart Attitudes.
Resentment can easily build up when offences aren't rightly handled. It doesn't work to just make kids say sorry to each other, but not deal with core issues. We frequently stop and assess whats going on inside their hearts, and how its coming through in their attitudes to one another. It takes time, and energy, to go down into the deep stuff but its worth it.

*Play with them.
As a parent there is always so much to be done. Im often tempted to say "go play together" and hope they will run off and find Lego, while I sit and read a book Ive been wanting to read all week. As a mum, I rarely get down time, and 'free play' is a tempting time to slot in a coffee and the chance to zone out. It also happens to be the time that they most likely fight with each other.
It takes a great deal of discipline to say "hey, why dont we pull out Boggle" and play it with them. Or draw with them. Yet when I take an interest in what they are playing, it pulls them together and also makes them appreciate one another.

*Keep Routine.
Kids without order, fight. Ive found if you give a kid too much 'free time', they get bored, irritated, and cantankerous. Ask any mum on school holidays. I don't make my kids work all day, but keeping a schedule, maintains a sense of order that ministers peace into the home. It doesn't need to be implemented with strictness, but rather function like a happy hum through the home.

*Get them to serve one another.
I listened to a fantastic message recently that suggested a different idea for each day of the week, in loving each other. We put it in place and every evening around the dinner table, talk about it. It's simple things: Learning to encourage, serve, pray, give and prefer one another above themselves. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it is to watch them practise these things and to see the joy it adds. I love watching them at the supermarket, choose something to surprise a sibling with, or noticing something in their sibling that they haven't noticed before.. and it sure does encourage us as parents, to remember to show appreciation and love to our own families also.

There are fantastic ideas, wisdom and strategies you can implement to encourage sibling relationships, but the change happens in the heart. Corrie Ten Boom wrote in her book about her experience in the Nazi concentration camp of a time in the barracks when all the prisoners were fighting and arguing and contention reigned through the cramped and horrible sleeping arrangements. Her and her sister Bettie prayed, and the Spirit of God brought peace across the whole place. Laughter and politeness replaced the harsh words and order came into the place. God can change hearts when we pray and ask Him to fill our home. And I can vouch, time and time again, He has come through for me. And will for you.