Friday, August 31, 2018

Change and Focus

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

#1: I have survived!

I find that when you struggle with an upcoming event for a while, (and allow yourself to wrestle with the emotions and not just "stuff" them away), when the day finally arrives it's not nearly as bad as you're afraid it will be. After struggling all summer with one of my older sons heading to another state for grad school, Jay and I spent a tear free day dropping him off at his rented room which will be his "home away from home" for a while. I think I was just resigned that this change was happening and I was ready to stop thinking about it, get it over with, and get used to a new normal.

Jon drove his car with his fiance, Marisa, on the way up, so Jay and I had a couple hours just to talk and spend time together sans kids. (As most parents of large families gotta make a "date" out of whatever time you can get!)

After lunch, a quick walk around the center of town, and helping carry in all of Jon's stuff and unpacking, we left without any tears, sobbing, or any embarrassing "emotional mom" moments.

#2: Back to Routine

School started for most of the rest of my kids this week. On Tuesday, Peter started back in his special needs high school program(which I LOVE), Luke is in 3rd Grade and Kate is in 1st Grade. A massive heat wave also started on Tuesday. Luke and Kate's school made Wednesday a half day and Ellie's first day of sophomore year ended up being a half day as well. Everyone came home with smiles this week, so at least we are off to a good start!

Peter walked up to ask and said, "Who's on my shirt?" and then he made the silliest Grumpy face EVER!
Sarah and I cracked up! Thankfully, he did it again so I could catch it!

This is Peter's real disposition. :)

#3: Five Down, One to Go
The only one left is Sarah. She starts senior year of college on Wednesday.(bc of so many high school AP credits, she is graduating 2 years early!!) We got to go out to lunch together yesterday for a little 1:1 mother/daughter time. I totally forgot to snap a pic with is so unlike me! Trying to get into a new routine has left me a little tired and discombobulated so I will blame it on that!

We had a great lunch and Sarah is excited to start a new year. She's taking 6 classes and will have to start filling out grad school applications before long. I' to take this road again so soon, so I'm just going to ignore it until at least March or April. (Sounds like a good plan to me!)

#4: Grown-up kids

It's so strange having two grown up children who are done with college. Mike(child #1) has been with his current job over a year and is still living in an apartment about 5 minutes from home. Over the last several months, the time he spends here has decreased significantly. We mostly see him on Fridays and Sundays with a very occasional weekday appearance at dinner time. 

This is (child #2) Andrew's first September since he was 4 when he hasn't been in school. He isn't sad about it at all! He is enjoying his new job and is still planning on moving in with a friend about 15 minutes away from home at some point this month. The packing process is S.L.O.W. Ellie is chomping at the bit to get her own room and is anxiously awaiting his departure.

#5: Regaining Peace
Even with all the new routines this week, I've done pretty well most days. The only tough day was Tuesday. It's always hard when my youngest two start that next grade level. With Kate in 1st grade this year, she is well on her way to becoming one of the "big kids" and that's a little hard to swallow. Monday night I stayed up way too late...I think it was a little internal rebellion to keep Tuesday from coming as long as possible, which totally backfired because it just made me really tired on Tuesday! After working in the morning, I was feeling all over the place emotionally.(A little "emotional ADHD "if you will. My thoughts and emotions felt like that Pong game I played as a kid when the ball breaks through the lower layers and bounces around spasmodically without me doing anything! I know, I'm aging myself...) Anyway, I was so tired and a little sad and a little hangry, but I made a good decision to stop at adoration for 10 minutes on the way home. I read a little from 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr Gaitley. (For's more like 33 weeks to Merciful Love. I love this book but have been inconsistent in reading it and going through it VERY slowly. I'm getting so much out of it but I'm a little afraid to actually make the consecration.(which is a whole other blog post for another time!) 

In adoration, I read about St. Therese being on retreat and feeling nothing but aridity and abandonment. Her faith in God never wavered, and she considered it all blessing that "Jesus was sleeping in my little boat" and was "taking advantage of the repose I offer Him". In Therese's words, "instead of being troubled about it this only gives me extreme pleasure". Reading this made me think of my emotions as that storm the apostles were dealing with in the Gospel when Jesus sleeps in the boat. And I realized I was caught up in the panic of the emotional storm. What I realize I needed was to rest with Jesus until the storm passed and He helped me to see all the new directions life is heading in this Fall. In my imagination, I pictured myself resting with Him.  10 minutes after arriving at adoration with my emotions in a whirlwind, Jesus totally quelled the storm within me. I can't recommend adoration enough! Even a quick visit does wonders!

#6: The Next Best Step
After a highly emotional summer, I'm looking forward to a Fall that is filled with discerning some future goals and plans as our family grows and changes and enters into a new chapter of engagement(s?), weddings and beyond!

The first few years of my 40's has been very challenging...I've spent the last 25 years having and raising babies and as my role is changing I'm having a hard time figuring out where I fit and what God's plan is for me. Being patient is not my biggest strength, but I've certainly had lots of practice waiting on God and trying out paths that seem to be the way to go but end up being not quite right.(#gradschool) Even though I would still like a better view of the "big picture", I'm getting better at focusing on and being more content whatever baby step God seems to be putting in front of me.

#7: Fall Focus
I'm hoping to spend the Fall focusing on some topics that have caught my attention in the last few months. We are focusing more on budgeting and trying to save money for things that we would like to do. With a ton of kids, a one income household, and the high cost of Catholic high school education, we have spent lots of years just getting by. After struggling with lots of anxiety over the past year, I've tried to get a firmer grip on finances. Feeling more financially secure will be a good thing. Now that I'm working part time it's a little easier. But I still want to figure out how to do better so that we can afford to save for things like family vacation time together. I really need things to look forward to and plan...and I can't do that if we don't have the money for it. So that's one area that I have committed quite a bit of time reading up on and watching podcasts from people who have lots of tips to share. It's slow going but most days I feel optimistically hopeful.

I'm also focusing on clutter. I've been reading and listening to people talking about minimalism. While I have absolutely no desire to live in a tiny house...I get anxious and claustrophobic just thinking about it!!... I want to be more focused on getting rid of the clutter that makes me crazy. There's so much stuff we don't use and spend so much energy "organizing" and cleaning. I just want to simplify and stop any material gluttony we have going on.

Money and clutter...interesting topics that go together as we creep up to the holiday season. It's making me rethink a lot of things and I'm hoping to tweak my shopping this year. I'm trying to make my new areas of focus and my love of shopping and making my family feel special all come together in a really positive way. More on that in the days ahead, I'm sure!

Enjoy the long weekend!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Art Of Letting Go, Grieving, and Perspective...

The calendar has turned to August, and despite my internal protests, I have no choice but to face the countdown that I have tried to avoid in my head since summer began.

August is always a bittersweet month for me. I am one of those moms that loves to have my children around me and the impending first day of school always brings with it feelings of sadness for me. This year, those feelings are magnified 100 fold...or at least that’s the way my heart feels!

In less than 2 weeks, two more of our sons will be moving out. Andrew, who graduated in May and began his first real full time job at the beginning of July, will be moving in with one of his best friends since high school. It’s only about 25 minutes away and will cut his commute time to his job to less than half the time it takes from home.

It’s a big step for him...and for us.

In only 3 days(!), Jon will be heading to grad school over 2 hours away. Visits will be limited to a couple weekends a month and school vacations. This time away has a bigger meaning because it’s more like a weaning process for us. With a wedding date set for May 24, 2020, he will never move back into our house as a full time resident again.

It’s a big step for him...and for us.

I am truly excited for both of them as they take such big steps in their personal lives.  But I would be lying if I said that it didn’t hurt. It hurts a lot. I am laboring to let go of the spot they have held in my heart and our home as children and trying to comprehend this new relationship and our new rolls that we will have with these upcoming life changes. The waiting and the countdown to the day they both actually leave and the change it will bring to our lives is like giving birth all over again. When this “emotional labor” of the countdown to moving day ends, I don’t get a beautiful snugly baby to hold in my arms!

We have spent over 20 years nurturing these sons of ours. There have been good days and bad days. There are decisions we have made that we would do differently if we had the knowledge and hindsight we have now. We are not perfect parents and they are not perfect children. But we are very proud of the young men they have become and the choices they have made so far in their lives. Their stepping out of our fold and starting their own independent lives is only filled with sadness because of the hole it will leave in our family. For that, I am very grateful.

It’s just a chest filling grief that our family life as we know it is ending...and I’m just not ready. And I’m blessed because I still have several younger kids in the house, but part of me is only thinking that I am going to have to go through this over and over (and over and over) again. These children who grew in my body and I gave birth to, the thousands and thousands of hours spent nursing, rocking, walking, caring for and loving, are moving on and all that’s left is grief and loss.
Melodramatic....maybe...but the feelings are real!

It’s a big step for us...and one I'd rather not take right now. It’s yet another thing not in my control. I’m trying to focus on being grateful for the gifts they have been in our lives and not on the fact that I will have to do this letting go thing again. I know it’s a gift to have all these children. With so many you would think a few moving out wouldn’t matter...but it really does.

Two weeks ago, I got to go to a daily Mass on my own in a different parish. The priest celebrating Mass was a retired priest that we know. I was very melancholy and emotional that day. I was having trouble with "leaking eyes". After Mass, the priest was talking to another family sitting behind me and also said hello to me and asked about my family. My eyes watered, but I was able to hold back the tears while explaining I had two heading out of the house. The priest mentioned that he was from a family of 7 and when he asked his mom when they were down to 4 left at home if she liked that things were a little easier and less crowded she replied, "I miss things the way they were."

It helps to know that you aren't alone in your feelings.

It's been an emotional summer for me living with this internal countdown and trying to work through all my feelings. I've been doing lots of praying...and lots of crying...and some days I have felt like I just can't get out of my own way and long to feel more "normal" and think "why can't I just deal with all the changes and stop having so many bloody emotions!"

And then comes perspective...

Recently, we found out that one of the staff at the high school most of my kids have gone to had thier 20 year old son, Lucas,  that was diagnosed with cancer. Jon knows Lucas and his sister was in Sarah's graduating class. I feel so incredibly horrible for this family. In a moment, they went from planning a summer vacation to putting sophomore year of college on hold and facing 6 rounds of chemotherapy treatment. I can only imagine the fears that are bouncing in their minds about what the future holds. Such a big cross for this loving, faith filled family.

My cross seems a little less heavy when I think of what Lucas' family is going through. It also helps that now my grief and suffering from the change and separation will have a purpose...I will be offering it for Lucas and his family. It gave me some good perspective and helped to calm my typhoon of grief into the tropical storm size that it really is.

For all of you moms that are getting ready to drop off your babies..err young at college or facing a big life change, just know that you aren't alone. The sadness will calm down(eventually) and our lives will settle into a "new normal" as our homes and hearts adjust. Text messages and phone calls will be little treasures...and face time is even better! While our young adults will enjoy their new freedom...and adjust to the new stress of life in a different world where they are responsible for themselves...they will become much more appreciative of the home cooked meals, comfortable beds, and having people that care for them when they come back to visit.

And, if you think of it, please say a prayer for Lucas and his family. Us moms have to stick together!

See you on the other side!

Image result for cartoons about moms sad their kids are going to college

Thursday, August 2, 2018

When Special Is Not Such A Bad Thing After All...

On July 31st, we celebrated Peter's 17th birthday!! It’s hard to believe that it was 17 years ago that they laid him in our arms for the first time!! 

The early years with Peter, who was diagnosed with Autism at 27 months, were filled with SO many challenges....trying to keep an incredibly impulsive escape artist safe,(I still have ptsd from the day he got out of his car seat for the first time when I was driving on the highway and got to the very back of the van laughing maniacally!!), survive his horrible sleep problems, (years of waking up multiple times a week for hours at a time), and the challenge to do everything we could to help Peter be the best person he could be while grieving and letting go of all the hopes we had for him as a “neurotypical” family member.
Peter at 7 in one of his favorite places...the beach!

Now, the struggles are more like speed bumps and we are able to enjoy Peter for who he is. Peter brings love and joy and silliness to our family. He is a tease like Jon and knows just what buttons to press when someone is feeling frustrated. But, more importantly, Peter is very intuitive when someone is sad or hurting and is quick to try and give hugs to make someone feel better. 

Life with Peter includes:
~using up all the space on my phone taking hundreds of pictures of dinosaur balloons(there were 500 just from the week leading to his birthday!), his Southwest Airlines tshirts, miscellaneous calendars, and wedding dresses.
~obsessing over doing laundry. I know some of you are reading this wishing that your teenager obsessed over laundry. And while it's true that I never have to worry about the laundry being done every day, it can be frustrating when Peter wants to do more laundry than we have and starts taking clean laundry from other people's rooms to try and do another load. Or stuffs his clean laundry into a load that is already running!
~Peter used to love swimming 24/7 all summer long until he turned into a teenager. Now, he enjoys the pool but needs a little coaxing to go in. And he never puts his bathing suit on...he always wants to go in with all his clothes including his black socks. It's quirky but one of those "small potatoes" of parenting that I just laugh at!
~watching him act like the "mayor" at Church, saying hello and trying to shake hands with everyone. (Then quickly asking for hugs and for people to "tickle my neck"!) 
~seeing how family members, friends and strangers can show such kindness to Peter with a kind word, a smile, or generously giving him one of those hugs I just mentioned.;)
~Peter may not be neurotypical, but he loves to try and get close to pretty girls! Especially in the summer when they are wearing tank tops...he had always love to see peoples' arms. He will hover around us until we take our eyes off him for a second and saunter up to a group of girls with a big, goofy smile on his face and say in an extra deep Peter voice, "Hi.." Most girls catch on pretty quickly that Peter has special needs, and most are super nice and say hello back with a big smile. (And then Peter adds a quick, "Shake my hand..give me a hug?!" At which point we remind him that we only hug our family and friends and steer him back towards the family!)
~the special bond between my dad, "Pa", and Peter. My dad is incredible with Peter. He takes him for rides all over the neighboring towns just because that's where Peter likes to go. He lets Peter sleep over every week on Fridays, and they often bake some kind of special treat together.(or head out for ice cream to the great local ice cream stores we are lucky to have!) Peter just loves to be with Pa...and asks to go over whenever he is home.
~Peter has a simple and beautiful spirituality. It has been such a blessing to have Peter receive the Sacraments over the years at his own pace. This year, he received Confirmation and it was a very special time for our family. 

Peter loves Disney World and Martha's Vineyard!
Those are his two favorite places in the world.
Another love is Southwest Airlines...note the shirt Peter is wearing...
 because that's how he gets to Orlando!

Life with Peter is certainly an adventure. Now that the next stepping stone is turning 18, we have to start navigating new paths for Peter and research things like guardianship and start to pray about how to best set up our lives to care for Peter in the future. These are heavy topics. It certainly makes me grateful for a big family. My prayer is that multiple siblings will be willing to help Peter during adulthood when Jay and I can't care for him on our own anymore.(which is hopefully a VERY long time in the future!) 

We hope and pray for Peter to be the best version of himself and to be surrounded with love all his life.The details might be different compared to the rest of our crew, but that's really what we hope for all of our children.

 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29:11