june 14

Yesterday was three weeks with our Enid Catherine. How we love her.

And how those days flew — as I knew they would, but still always such a strange shock to tally them up and realize it’s been weeks and you’re not sure where it all went. Somehow it always seems wrong, when I’m moving so slowly and intentionally, that moments and hours still have the audacity to move quickly.

My sister said something like, “I’ve done this enough to know the details won’t always be fresh in my mind, but the impression of these days will remain.” Yes. We sink our whole self into each moment because there’s an impression being made — on her life, on their lives, on my life. We are shaped by these fleeting moments.

We are keeping a tight orbit these days, with Enid at the center still. I don’t go far, they don’t go far. We hold a baby, prepare meals to be shared al fresco, blow bubbles and ride bikes and shoot hoops and figure out how on earth to get the frisbee to go where you want it to go. We clean feet and braid hair and tidy the house before running back out to the great wide world out our door.

Yesterday while Enid slept soundly in her basket, I organized the play kitchen and “taught” Cecily how to make pasta primavera and cake. It was so special — her shining eyes told me so.

Enid Catherine is born

It’s Wednesday, May 30. The sun is pouring, gloriously golden and warm. Dew glistens on the fresh green of nearly-June that is lush, verdant, nearly overwhelming in its vibrancy. Birdsong fills the morning air, air heavy with the fragrance of flowers and cut lawns.

Just like the dawning of last Wednesday, I think, as I wake next to the smallest and sweetest little bundle for the 7th morning in a row.

A week ago, I had woken before 1am to a strong contraction, followed by waves of nausea, followed by feelings of just weird. And in my middle of the night stupor, I realized my water had broken. “Is this it?” Ryan called from the bedroom as I wandered back and forth to bathroom. It wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from the onset of labor, but it was certainly something. Contractions began to come with a bit of rhythm. Ryan called the midwife. Not knowing what to expect, and knowing the only other labor that began with water breaking had gone very swiftly, I quickly switched into laboring gear. Up and about and laundry and tea and yup, here they come in earnest: time to move this baby.

I was 13 days overdue. I had been doing my exercises to get the baby in position, walking daily, and Ryan and I had even gone for a dirt road drive that evening. We knew the baby had to come sometime, and my midwife, Sunday, was expressing absolutely no concern about timing — and so I did my best to follow her lead and just patiently persevere through the increasing tiredness and uncomfortable nature of late pregnancy.

And now, in the middle of the night (I’ve come to expect no less!), it was time.

Around 4am, I decided to lay down for a bit. Steady contractions hadn’t intensified too much and I needed rest.

Two hours alter, I woke to the most perfect morning one could ask for. A day for a baby. With my water breaking, I knew this would happen soon, one way or another. I was feeling amazingly rested and ready to give myself completely to this process.

Friends and sisters quickly swooped in to take the girls and created so much space for me to focus and relax into what ended up being a truly peaceful and beautiful day. Ryan and the boys kept me company on several walks, the boys especially surprising me with their attentiveness and gentle support — a pause in conversation when they heard my breathing change, a hand slipped into mine, a soft touch on my back. Who knew little boys could do such a good job helping a mama in labor?

And so I walked and rested and walked some more. As long as I was moving, contractions came steady and strong, but every time I rested, they would pause to almost nothing. I was a bit confused about how I could get things really and truly moving along, but also was confident that progress was happening. And even as I settled into what I suspected would be a long haul, I felt both energized and calmed by the incredibly beautiful day all around me. On one walk, as breeze whispered through tall maple leaves and lilac scent enveloped us, Ryan said, “I’ve never been more of a fan of home birth than I am right now.” A country road to walk versus a long corridor — much more relaxing!

The midwife had left for her scheduled appointments at 7am, and I’d been checking in with her throughout the day, though I never had anything new to report. She recommended an exercise ball so I could keep moving without actually walking ALL DAY LONG. So around 3pm I set my laptop on my bed, played an episode of Blue Bloods, and sat on that ball.

Sometime before 4pm, as I was nearing the end of the episode of Blue Bloods, the contractions changed in intensity. Probably you know what I mean: there are contractions you have to breathe and relax through, and then there are the ones that move deep into your pelvis and lower back and make you start to feel a little frantic. There’s suddenly the thought: I’ve gotta get out of here. Make this stop. And that’s what happened. Two of those waves, with me suddenly having to use complete focus to relax and not run away (I’m not sure what that would look like, but that’s the overwhelming desire I had!), and I texted Ryan, who was in the living room. “Can you come be with me?”

He said he instantly knew.

I’d talked with Sunday 15 minutes before and told her there was no change; she had plenty of time for dinner with her family, etc. Ryan texted her back and said scratch that; “I know the sounds of intense labor and this is it.”

I told Ryan I was going to take one more nap. I got on the bed and almost panicked as another solid contraction rolled through me. Never mind the nap. I went to use the bathroom and (no surprise) ended up there for awhile, waiting for the next contraction to end only to have them keep coming. And coming, and coming. My mom arrived. I vaguely remember Ryan saying, “Do you two have the same color nail polish on your toes?” and my mom laughing because somehow we always end up matching. Somehow I made it back to my bed. Ryan asked me if he should tell everyone else to come. Or maybe that was earlier? Time and events began to swim. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t want to ask people to come and have them be here for hours. (Ignore the logic of a woman in transition, by the way.) Sunday and Erica, her assistant, were suddenly here. I barely opened my eyes long enough to see them. Erica apologized for getting in my space to check the baby’s heartbeat and I remember saying, “I don’t care. I just don’t care.” I tried to sit up for her but had to lay down but suddenly couldn’t get my legs to move without cramping and I buried my face in the pillow and needed someone to push on my lower back lest I totally lose it.

Then Liz was here, too, pushing on my back, and my mom’s voice that I locked onto, and Ryan rubbing my shoulders and I don’t even know who else. The contractions wouldn’t stop, and I was having an ongoing conversation in my mind: I’m freaking out. This has to stop. Everyone go away and make this stop. –no, this is it. Just relax. Let it do it’s work. That awful pressure is a baby.

And so it went. Me overcome with the pressing sensations on my spine and within, purposing to interpret those things not as pain, but as the progress and position of a baby. Wave after wave, and I just needed a break…

And suddenly a contraction that felt like bearing down. I ignored it and charged myself to just chill out and relax. Then another. Maybe even another? before I finally couldn’t talk myself out of it. “I need to push!” I’m sure I bellowed it. I’m sure I sounded as primal and earthy as ever a woman does. A mad scramble. Ryan said the women all looked at each other with their own waves of panic, suddenly in my shoes, knowing exactly what was happening in my body.

And then — nothing. Peace. That break I had been so needing.

How long? It seemed forever. Long enough for this totally rational thought: Was this not it? Am I really not actually that far into labor?

Then without warning, another incredible wave of energy rolled through my body, and another urge to push. “I don’t remember how to do this!” It’s the feeling of panic that always comes over me at this point, and my mom answered, yes you do. Relax. Let it just happen.

I say urge, but really, more like another force took over. I moved out of the way and let this powerful instinct take over. I could feel the pressure, the pushing, knew things were happening — but oh my, the total surprise when suddenly I felt a head crowning. The exclamations in the room, the encouragement to breathe, go slow, oh my! My mind kicked into gear. This was really happening. Okay. Small breaths. It felt like one long, slow motion event, and then — a baby! MY BABY! Somewhere in the laughter and exultation someone said, it’s a girl, yes? Yes, a girl! And Ryan was leaning over and laughing and I was trying to just catch up with what in the world just happened. Somehow the slow and relatively uneventful day had ended in a whirlwind of labor that had my head spinning. So fast. So uncomplicated. A healthy, crying baby and me, feeling tired but good.

Sisters and friends and all of my children but Cecily were there, laughing and talking all at once, celebrating with me and marveling at the miracle. I just held that little bundle, another sweet daughter, and smiled at the hubbub and joy and remember thinking how thankful and blessed I was to be in an environment where I simply trusted everyone there to be taking good, thoughtful care of my baby and me while I sank into that amazing post-delivery haze. Another whirlwind hour or so, and things were tidied up, the midwife packed up and gone to the next baby, and quiet beginning to reign. Dinner served to me in bed, children pj’d and tucked into bed after many kisses and hugs and turns with the new sister, and the sound of crickets through open windows.

Does a day get more perfect? I’m not sure it does.

*****

Enid Catherine
“life, spirit*; pure”

Her name was chosen from a very short list. It seems to work like this: I make a list. It gets whittled down and edited as we approach 40 weeks. Finally we’re left with just a few names, all of which I’m in favor of. The baby appears, and Ryan decides without much discussion which of those names is “it”, and somehow that’s just so fun to me. I am always curious to know which one has quietly been winning him over.

So, Enid she is. Just because I love how antique and Welsh and fair-maiden it sounds. Interestingly, when Ryan looked up the meaning of Enid, he found a different translation than what I’d seen: “pure.” Fiona also means pure. We just keep coming back to those names, I guess. Not such a bad thing to declare prophetically over our strong and courageous daughters.

Catherine because my paternal grandmother, Nana, was Catherine Elizabeth, and I’ve always wanted to name someone for her. She was one of the dearest people in my life, and although she’s been gone more than 20 years, my heart is chock full of memories of her kind brown eyes and laughter and shuffling slippers and notepad next to sweating glass wrapped in paper napkin and Jay Leno with a nebulizer and hands on both sides of my face, firmly pulling me to her generous kisses.

And so Enid Catherine arrived into a destiny, from a heritage, uniquely formed for her place in history. This blows me away.

*****

And a week has passed with many more peaceful, beautiful days. I can’t begin to express my thankfulness at how good I have felt, and what a gentle delivery it was. Even so, these days have found me sitting in my bed for many hours, resting, sleeping, recovering. If not there, an armchair in the kitchen. Up and about here and there a bit more each day, but lots of rest — and this all in an orderly, peaceful environment as Ryan and our children (especially the boys) care for everything. Recovering from baby #6, with older kids pulling weight so graciously, is very very very different from baby #3 or #4! What blessing all around.

*****

We adore her. We marvel at her little ears and fingers and feet that still want to collapse upward toward her legs. Her tiny face with pointed chin. Scrawny newborn legs. Tiny toes. Perfect. Beatrice said that evening, as we all sat on my bed together, “I really wanted it to be a boy, and then I saw her and she is adorable!” Fiona said, “I just love her size! God made her be born at just the right time to be a newborn.” And we all agreed that it’s a little mind-boggling that one day there wasn’t a baby, and then suddenly there was. We were instantly made larger — not just our number, but our hearts. A space instantly carved for a new daughter and sister.

God makes beautiful things. He really does.

settling in, waiting, soaking up sunshine.

That sums up the last few weeks of life, I suppose.

What started to certainly feel like a long 11 (or so) weeks without our usual rhythms has resulted in a beautiful, open kitchen that feels so grown up and real and like me. How amazing it was to see the elements of cabinetry and collected antiques get put into place, exactly resembling the drawings and ideas I’ve been concocting for so long.

I feel above and beyond blessed. I just keep smiling.

The cupboards are arranged (at least, for now!) and I have almost broken the habit of going to the garage for refrigerated items (where the fridge was kept since February!) The wide expanses of windows that we missed so very much are freshly appreciated as we gather around the kitchen table for meals, and enjoy the family room’s views.

And just in time to watch the world magically and suddenly turn to vibrant green right before our eyes!

Such a long winter we had, with no real hints at spring. April cold and gray, windows shut tight and not even a thought for summer clothing switches. But then, suddenly, it all changed. Better late than never, and certainly received with extra thankfulness and enjoyment, spring has arrived. Trees that were only in bud a week ago are unfurling leaves. Lawn is emerald and lush and scattered with the sunniest dandelions. Daffodils went from tentative little shoots to full blown flowers in only a few days. Bird song fills the morning. Cheeks and shoulders are pink at the first suggestion of sunshine, after months and months of sweaters and snowsuits.

We soak it in and pinch ourselves and try to find the sunscreen.

And we also are waiting. 40 weeks and 5 days, waiting. Keeping up the balance of walks and exercise and crossing off to-dos while guarding rest time each day, collapsing into bed each night. I’m feeling so good this pregnancy. I feel pregnant, but good, and I’m so thankful for that. The kids are so excited, and how fun to be living in an atmosphere heavy with expectation.

I’m feeling less prepared for the actual delivery than I have in the past, but learning even there to lean and trust. What ifs can creep in, and certainly life is uncertain in so many ways. But this is true: Strength for today, a favorite lyric from a favorite hymn. He knows the way I take, and He has promised to never leave or forsake.

Courage is the word on my heart this time around — at first, a reminder to myself to take heart and have courage, but as I mulled that over and prayed for a fresh dose, the deep assurance that God will not just give me courage; He will be my courage. I don’t need to keep it together and hold on; I can fall on Him and lean on Him completely, and He won’t let me down.

This morning, a spring rain that began so gently I don’t even know when it came, and now strengthening into a thoroughly soaking downpour. Even this is lovely and calming, as gray settles in around spring greens. We will take this day slowly, quietly. We will know that His name is near, and how that changes everything.

first things first

I really do love the homeschooling life. In fact, I wish I had about three more of me to go around, so one of me could dedicate all day every day to exciting and fun learning pursuits.

Combine that natural enjoyment with a heavy dose of regular “Am I doing enough? Is this working?” doubts and fears, and it’s the perfect recipe for curriculum-discontent and grass-is-greener issues.

This article today reminded me of how good and simplifying it is when the right things stay in focus.

See, we aren’t school teachers. We aren’t really even homeschooling moms. *gasp* We are mothers and we are wives, and we are raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Probably, most likely, this is why most of us are homeschooling — we feel it best serves the vision of discipleship that we have. But that word there — serve — is so important. The math and the language, the field trips and the journaling, the classical approach and the unschooling persuasion: they all need to serve this much higher, much broader task of teaching our children about the love of God for them and of how they might live lives of love toward Him.

I loved how, in that article, the mom would realize after reflection that the true goals and hopes for a new year often had little to do with curriculum and much more to do with character growth and personal development. There may be reading struggles to address, or the realization that this year’s choices just really aren’t suited to your personal style — but our eyes are also lifted to higher goals, and we can hear creative ideas spoken by the Holy Spirit as we jot down things like, “connect with each kid,” “see growth in personal responsibility for Johnny”, “more orderly start to the day,” etc. I think it can be easy to feel the lack in areas such as those, but get caught up in the shiny new math curriculum because isn’t it easier to admire glossy pages and hope for change than it sometimes is to stare face to face with our lack as home managers or our children’s sin issues?

We can’t allow the mission to get compromised by forgotten priorities.

I also love discovering what does work for our family, as this mom says. Sometimes I get a little itch to add something new, and sometimes that itch is worth listening to — but once I’ve evaluated what’s worked and how the past year has gone, and where we’re lacking, “new” often looks less like a whole new expensive curriculum and more like a new art project to tackle, a commitment to doing the science experiments, purposing to cook together more often, or taking a walk somewhere new a few times this next year. (And maybe for you and your family, other amazingly fun and creative things the Holy Spirit lays on your heart.)

There may be real learning struggles to address and research, or tears over academics that you really think could be avoided with a new approach — and how wonderful to have the tools we need so readily available to us, and certainly, equipping each child is part of what we’re called to do, with diligence and resourcefulness. But each spring, each October (when the new ideas turn out to not be a shiny and fun as I’d been hoping), each January (when the return after Christmas can sometimes feel a bit dull), I remember: evaluating how we’re doing is important, but it has to be done in light of the high call this homeschooling thing is serving. And suddenly, each time, I see clearly again and feel vision return for the what and how and why of it all.

Jesus first.

Family and character next.

And the rest can take a number.

a record of moments

This little family journal is in need of an update, although my memory isn’t nearly good enough to recall every moment worth preserving. But, a bit of a try:

There have been the smallest moments that pile up into absolute treasure — William leading our worship times with his guitar and repertoire of about 5 chords, with Jameson sometimes playing along on piano; Beatrice devouring “The Saturdays,” while standing right at the doorway to the kitchen, hoping against hope that Daddy might need her for something; kids rediscovering the woods now that the snow isn’t overwhelmingly deep and coming back with muddy boots and stories of what they found this time; sitting a bit like sardines all together in “the den” to watch a movie on a Sunday night; nap times and bedtimes with me sitting in a rocker, reading to the girls until Cecily is asleep or at least settled, quickly finishing “Understood Betsy” (so darling! — a favorite), and now onto the Shoe books; packing up ingredients, kids, math and piano books, and heading to my mom’s kitchen for a few afternoons of baking in an oven (what a treat!); walks in warm spring sunshine with Cecily on my back, and walks in winter wonderlands the very next day as the North Country reminds us all of its impossible unpredictable nature; crockpot meals and hamburgers coming out our ears, and soooo many bagels…

There have been less mundane moments, too —

Ryan walking away with just a scratch from quite the crash at Whiteface, and how thankful we all were; the three big kids preparing a performance of “Anything You Can do” for Grandparents’ Day that demanded they do and give a bit more than their natural comfort level; Easter weekend plagued with a tummy bug, keeping us home on Good Friday (where we all did our sardine routine and joined the CFC service online — perfect) and that meant after much excited preparation on Saturday evening, Ryan and I ended up staying home all day Sunday sick while the kids happily celebrated with grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins; me getting to spend a solid week of time laying floors with Ryan while our kids [mostly] happily tended to each other — not exactly the weekend getaway I’d been hoping to squeeze in before this baby, but maybe even better.

And the slow and steady progress of life in and around us: Boys working to prepare for another year of NYSSMA involvement and growing in their musicianship. Cecily talking more and more. A kitchen ready to be painted and have cabinets installed this week! Number Six baby continuing to wiggle and grow and drop and all that end-of-the-line kind of stuff, and me marveling that we’re already here, a few weeks away from meeting them. And yes, me trying to focus on the “meeting them” part and not get too uptight about the “delivering them” part.

There have been ups and downs in the last 6 weeks, sometimes just the normal life kind of stuff, and sometimes much bigger. His hand is there, leading, in both mountain and valley. There have been “I’m gonna snap!” moments, and there, too, His grace is always there, correcting and realigning and sometimes just giving rest. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask… and suddenly that’s there, too — seeking hearts led, souls taught His ways.

The wheres and the hows of life are sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes disappointing — but the Who that we find Him to be in all those things: that’s the treasure. That’s the golden thread we hold onto, that we delight in each morning. Great is Thy faithfulness, we sing, but we truly know that as we simply live. Each morning, waking up, asking, “Will you meet me in this day, too?”, and discovering that the answer is always and forever yes.