Thursday, July 30, 2009

Well, he's not dead yet . . .

Allison rescued a mouse on Tuesday from the clutches of our cat. His prospects weren't looking so great. He was cute, healthy, and active, but he was also very small, so young that his eyes aren't even open yet. We've been feeding him formula from a dropper (you know, that free stuff they send you in the mail even though you're breastfeeding?), and Allison loves him with all her heart. In her prayers Tuesday night, she said, "Thank you I caught a mouse, and please bless him not to die."

So far, so good. Allison is in charge of the mouse, but I've made Joseph responsible for feeding him every few hours because I'm not totally stupid. Allison is very enthusiastic but a bit too much enthusiasm could kill little Scampers.

Watch the video to hear Allison describe her mouse-catching technique:

"Can I Color, Mommy?"

I hear those words often at my house, and I don't know about you, but kids' art supplies can get SO messy. Crayons never quite make it back into their box, marker lids are easily lost, and kids are often raiding my stash of pens and pencils so that just when I need one, I can't find it.

We solved some of these problems a couple years ago by introducing each child to their own "art bin." We keep them in the office closet for them to pull out and bring to the kitchen table when they want to color. Inside is a notebook, some paper, coloring books, and a pencil box to hold their own art supplies. Every six months or so, when the bin gets overflowing and the crayons and colored pencils are mixed in with the layers of papers, we go through and purge a lot of the extra papers, and organize again the crayons, markers, and other supplies.

On my "to do" list all summer has been to re-organize the kids' art bins. Yesterday, I was happy I'd put it off, because I found these great baskets at our local Buy Low for 88 cents (there were lots left if you live in my area, so head on over!)! I picked up seven of them and today some of the kids helped me set them up. And yes, I did make one for Harmony even though she's still too young to care. I figure that way, at least I will be able to find some supplies when I'm in quick need.

One of the problems with our old system is that the crayons and markers and such never ended up back in the pencil box. This will work better because there's no opening and closing or digging through to find things. Just a sweet little handle and everything's at their fingertips.

Everyone got crayons, kid scissors, colored pencils, a small pencil sharpener and watercolor paint in their bin. The older three kids also got glue and markers (I've found Sarah and Allison just will not put those lids back on, no matter how many reminders I give them).

Their old bins are still there, but they only have paper, stickers, and coloring books in them now.

How do you organize your coloring supplies?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Backpacking (Wordless Wednesday)

From two weeks ago, when my husband took our five oldest kids out in the middle of nowhere with our neighbor and his three oldest. They did great!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Q&A: What is the biggest challenge of having a large family?

From the Depews:
What is the biggest challenge you face with large family? I can imagine the logistics are daunting - finding cars big enough to fit everyone, figuring out how to get everyone where they need to be and when, cooking, cleaning, finding the time to get it all done, while still having a little time for yourself, too.

This is a hard one for me to answer. There's lots of challenges with having a large family, but which is the biggest?

I thought about writing about the loneliness I feel sometimes as a mother of a large family. I have a few close friends who also have their hands full, but otherwise, I usually feel I'm headed down a path with very few mentors to guide me. I know personally only a few women who have more children than I do. I sometimes wish I had a list of a dozen mothers who had done this before that I could call with my questions. But I've also discovered that I can learn from lots of amazing women who have all sorts of family dynamics, from single to childless to married with lots of children.

Then I thought about the logistics, but I don't think it's a big issue; a lot of the work of a family has to be done whether you have one child or a dozen -- a meal has to be made every night, for instance, and it really doesn't take much longer to cook larger portions. Grocery shopping has to be done and while we buy more fruit, for instance, we probably don't buy it more often than a smaller family. Many of our summer activities don't take much more time either. Sure, it might take a bit longer for everyone to find their swimming suits and pool toys and the sunscreen takes longer to lather on more bodies, but once we get to the pool, everyone's entertained. And it takes no more time to take seven kids to the movies or the museum than it does to take one.

The constant messes everywhere and the way the housework multiplies can be a big challenge, but part of that in our house is a function of having our children so close together and so young. As they get older, I fully anticipate that getting the dishes done and cleaning the house will get easier, and that those many hands really will make light work.

In the meantime, though, another challenge I could address is the struggle of teaching a lot of kids how to be responsible and how to work. There's just not enough of me to go around during our work periods sometimes and it is tough to take the individual time to train the younger children while simultaneously waging a battle with a certain older child who thinks that because he hates to work, he shouldn't have to. But even there, I find it can be done, not perfectly, but it's happening. I'm learning to be more creative and find new solutions to various problems. While that is an issue that is occupying a large bit of my emotional energy this summer, it probably isn't the biggest challenge.

A lot of people assume that the biggest challenge in a large family is finding individual time for each child, but I haven't found that to be very difficult at all. I'm home, available, and sensitive to the needs of each child, and my husband is also very involved. All of my children are loved and cherished. We are constantly telling each one why we love her or what a great kid he is. I thank my children for what they do for our family and I apologize when I make mistakes. I praise them each for the good things they do and I express my confidence in them. We pray for each of our children by name daily and try hard to be in tune to their needs. And frankly, my children get a lot of attention and love from each other. Harmony lights up when her sisters gather around her to talk to her and tickle her. Eliza loves tagging after the twins as they explore outside. Michael's reading improved tenfold the last half of first grade because an older brother took time to encourage and listen to him read every night. Lillian came over to me at the pool yesterday and asked me to take one of the twins down the waterslide, "so I can have an excuse to play with Harmony." My children are blessed to be loved by many siblings as well as their parents.

I've read criticisms of large families that divide up the hours in the day by the number of children and then say, "See, there's only x amount of minutes available in that family per child. That's not enough time." That kind of thinking is just plain wrong. Children are not an assembly line or a formula. You don't divide up your day and say, "Okay, child #4, it's now your turn for 'quality time!' " Being together, working, playing, or relaxing, nourishing relationships both individually and collectively, happens in all the hours in a day, whether you are focused on it or not. Most of the moments I cherish with my children happen while we are pursuing other goals; while we're outside pulling weeds and one comes over to show me their full bucket and grins as I exclaim over the size of those weeds and their intact roots, for instance, or when I find that one time this week when my son cleaned his zone without complaining and I praise him to the skies. I love listening to Lillian read the scriptures in the morning while I gather three little girls on my lap and whisper to them how lucky I am to have three special girls. Michael is a grouch in the mornings and lately, he hasn't wanted to come out. So my husband goes in, pulls him out upside-down by his feet and swings him around. He laughs and says, "Do it again, Daddy!" Lillian and Joey both love to go on walks with me in the evenings, and I love having them one of them all to myself for those forty minutes or so, hearing their thoughts and enjoying their individuality. Sometimes we've had really amazing conversations and other times we don't find much to talk about at all. The joys of mothering come in moments, and there are lots of unspectacular ones that add up to nourished children, children who feel securely loved by all of their family, not just their mom or dad.

Some of the other challenges I considered and discarded are carving out time for yourself, handling exhaustion and lack of sleep, dealing with difficult children, or developing the patience and unselfishness needed in a large family. But even these are not the hardest for me.

So what's left? What's harder than all of these? I might change my mind later, but I think the hardest thing for me right now is coming to peace with the fact that nothing will ever be done as well as I want it to be. It's probably a problem felt universally by mothers, but I feel it keenly. I have a good friend who has six children. Every so often, we call each other and cry out, "I'm drowning!" It's easy to get buried by the household tasks alone. I've been mopping my floors once a week for the last month, but if you walked in at any given moment, you'd probably think they hadn't been mopped in months. The piles of laundry that multiply on their own. The kitchen -- sometime I'd like to do a photo essay on how messy that room gets and how quickly. I feel like I could spend all day just cleaning the kitchen and still not have it up to my standards. On top of the cleaning, there's the hundreds of little things that have to be done to maintain the household. The lightbulbs to be switched, the repairman to be called, the bill that needs to be clarified. Then there's the important nurturing tasks of raising children. Reading to them, helping with homework, helping them to be responsible with chores, plus mundane things like making sure their fingernails are clipped and that there are enough socks in the house without holes in them. Realizing that almost every pair of pants one son owns has holes in the knees but that as it's January, it's neither warm enough for him to go to school in shorts nor the right time of year for school uniform pants to be on sale. The little frustrating things can add up to big feelings of failure if we allow them to. My friend Michelle, a mother of nine, wrote a great post on her blog about this very issue, entitled, "Good Enough," about how important it is to come to terms with not having the perfect, clean house you dream about.

Beyond the household, homemaking tasks are the many pursuits that have to be put aside for the time being. It's so easy for women, and it's almost become a cliche, to compare our weaknesses to one another's strengths. Even if you're good at something, there's always someone who is better. I have a long list of hobbies I really want to be good at, if only I had the time to pursue them, along with a list of friends who are much, much better at those things than me. There's blogging (Kacy), photography (Chalice, Toni), writing (Katie), exercise (Kelli), Photoshop (pretty much everyone who posts on the digiscrapping galleries I don't have time to frequent anymore), scrapbooking (Angie), and even birthing babies (Rachel). Then there's the intangible qualities I want to develop. My friend Rachel has a serenity, patience, and dedication to her children that I admire and seek to emulate. I admire Kelly for the way she makes everyone feel important and special. Meradith is really good at enjoying her marriage. Allison deals with tough challenges with grace and humor.

While it's good to admire and appreciate other's gifts and talents, it is wrong to discount our own and become discouraged. Part of my struggle with life is being content with my place at this point in time. Knowing intellectually and feeling deeply that the work I'm doing with my family is important helps me to be patient with myself and all the things I don't have time for right now. The closer I come to my Heavenly Father, the more I feel my own worth and the blessing of where I am and what I'm doing with my life. I know it sounds trite, but "bloom where you are planted," is a true principle -- that little spot of earth is the place you've been given. Thrive in it. If you can learn from other people things that help you, do so, but don't compare and get down on yourself. Be your own kind of person and be thankful for your own gifts.

So for me, my hardest challenge is constantly wanting to do and be more, but having to be content with less. Finding peace with "good enough," putting my priorities in proper order, and learning to be grateful for what I've been given while still striving towards perfection. And above all, reminding myself constantly that the unseen, simple work of nurturing that takes up the majority of my efforts is worth all that I can give it.

Anyone have any thoughts or ideas to add? What's the biggest challenge you face, whatever the size of your family?

Q&A: Car

Finally, an easy question!

from Jaradoron:
what kind of car do you have?

Our largest family vehicle is a 15-passenger Chevy Express. It looks like this:
and this:
The inside looks like this:
and this:
Right now, it only seats 11 passengers, since we took out the back seat to make more cargo space.

What I drive most often, though, is my 8-passenger Toyota Sienna.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Surrounded by Donkeys -- Movie Monday

I mentioned that last month my husband took five of our kids on a trip. They went to Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Custer State Park, and many pioneer trail sites. At Custer State Park, they were assaulted by potato-chip and pretzel eating donkeys:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Q&A: Advice for those expecting twins and Do I want another set?

from Rebecca:
Do you have any good advice for someone with a 2-year-old and expecting twins soon?
#1: Don't listen too much to any advice about twins. Individual variation is a huge part of what you'll experience as a mother to twins. Some have colicky infants and barely hang on for the first year and then tell everyone else, "The first year is the hardest." I heard that so many times that when I found the first year hard, but manageable, I congratulated myself and thought I was home free. It didn't take long for the the REALLY tough years to humble me -- my mellow, fun, active babies turned into fighting, hitting, tantrum-throwing, strong-willed, stubborn-to-the-extreme two and three year olds. Those years, I almost never left them with anyone else because they were so hard to handle. But some mothers find the twos and threes to be fine. Your children's personality will play a large part in this. If I'd had Eliza and Michael as twins instead of Sarah and Allison, those years would have been a breeze. Another part of it is the type and gender of twins you have. Because mine are identical, they were easier to handle as infants. Their nap schedules and feeding times could be coordinated very easily. But because they were the same gender, when they started playing with toys, there were constant battles because they always wanted the same toys. Boy-girl twins often avoid that because their interests are different.

No matter what, you'll find yourself surprised a lot, in both good and bad ways, as you raise your twins. Good luck!

#2: Don't let yourself become an elitist. Sometimes those with twins think they have life so different from every other parent. There are some very unique things about raising twins and it is a special, miraculous thing to watch two children grow up together, but allow yourself to learn from all mothers. Don't assume that you must have it harder than any other mother just because you have twins or that no one can understand you unless they've had twins. You will feel an instant bond with other twins moms, but you'll also find that you may have more in common with other moms.

#3: Find a way to record your family history that works for you and do it. One of the best things that happened to me when the twins were born was that my in-laws moved to the other side of the world for the next three years. It would have been nice if they were closer, but having them far away started me in the habit of writing weekly emails, with pictures attached. Almost every Sunday since then, I sit down, pick out the best photos from the week, and then write a summary of what's happened, what the kids are up to, and any events or thoughts I want to remember. Life with lots of little ones comes at you fast -- there is so little time left for the extras and you'll find yourself mourning the loss of some of the things you used to have time for. You will always treasure whatever you can write down about this unique period in your life. Make it a priority. It doesn't have to be an email. It can be a blog or a journal. Just write.

From the Depews:
After your first set of twins it must have crossed your mind when you were thinking about more children that you could have more multiples. If you had a choice would you want another set of multiples or is one set of twins more than any sane person needs? :)

I always said during that first magical, manageable year, that I'd love another set. When I was going through their tougher, toddler, tantrum years, I'd say I'd love another set, but only when THIS set is old enough to help out and realize what they put me through. My cousin asked me at a family reunion last month if I had two sets of twins and I said, for the first time ever, "Don't wish that on me!" but I'm pretty sure I didn't mean it.

I'd really like to have all my children born before my oldest daughter leaves for college. If that means another set of twins so I can get them all here a little faster, I'd be thrilled. There is something so magical about watching twins. They have a unique relationship and I'd love to be able to see that develop all over again in a new way. So yes, I'd love another set of twins.

Realistically, though, I'm not likely to have twins again. Fraternal twins run in families. The odds of a couple who spontaneously conceives fraternal twins of having twins again is one in four, because a woman who drops two eggs in a cycle is likely to do so again. Current research suggests that there is no genetic component to identical twins, though I do know of a few families with more than one set. It is considered a random occurrence that occurs at the same rate across populations -- about one pregnancy in two hundred and fifty, and my chances of having twins again are no higher because I've had one set.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Q&A: Kid's Activities

Thanks for all your questions, everyone! (Didn't ask one? Go ahead, ask away.) I've started writing the answers to each question, but it will take me a few weeks to get through them all. In other words, don't be offended if I don't get to your question right away.

I was surprised to see some things come up that I'd never thought about addressing, especially the one question that was asked the most.

From Dina:

So, as my kids get older and busier (I have a high schooler and middle schooler now), I physically can't be in as many places as I need to be with them and my younger kids. There are times that are less than ideal. Little boys eating sandwiches in the car for the 3rd night in a row as we drive to baseball games, or just wanting to stay and watch my high schooler practice with her dance team, but I have to drop off and run because the little boys need me, etc. I know that you don't have your kids in sports or a lot of outside activities. What if they show interest? Will that change? As you have more children and can't clone yourself, how will you manage to meet everyone's needs?

and Shaunda:
I like Dina's question. This is something my husband and I talk about a lot. Even if each child only did one music activity and one sport or other activity that adds up to a lot of activities with a large family. (We have six kids). How do you decide what activities to have children in, especially when they have an interest or a talent in a specific area?

And Allison:
Anyhow, my first is Dina's question on how you manage to get everywhere you need to be for all your children. Even if activities are limited, there are still school functions, church activities, etc..... that might be for one child/age group and not the others. I guess I'm feeling a little like my world was rocked with the addition of sweet Audrey and I am really struggling to balance the needs of my toddler/newborn with my 11, 8, and 6 year olds. Help, please!!!

These are very good questions! How do you allow your children to participate in a variety of athletics, classes, music, and Church activities when you have more than just a few?

I'm not an expert by any means, and just like the rest of you, we make decisions, second-guess them, and sometimes make it up as we go along. Sometimes I think we do too much, other times too little, and there have been some activities I've signed my kids up for that I've said, "Never again!" afterwards.

I will mention what we've done so far, some of my thoughts on outside activities, and our plans for the future, but I'd also love to hear how you've found the balance in your own families -- feel free to comment on this subject with your own tips and insights.

First, I should mention that my children are pretty involved in activities. In the last six months, we've had four kids take gymnastics, one in track, one involved in the school play, one in early-morning orchestra, two taking piano and one taking violin. Add the preschool co-op I did for the twins, swimming lessons for five of them, several vacations and small trips, fun outings, Scouts for Joey, and Activity Days for Lillian (both sponsored by our Church), and I don't think any of our kids are starving for stimulation.

Principles of Family Management

As I've thought about this question, and particularly as it relates to family size, I've come up with these ideas:

1. Every family is limited to some degree or another in the number and nature of outside activities they can participate in. Some are limited by their children's interests (or lack thereof) and genetic talents. Some by where they live, like families in rural areas who don't have soccer leagues and gymnastics clubs within driving distances. Many are limited to some degree or another by economics. Some are limited by circumstances beyond their control, such as divorce, or disability. I know a good woman with four children, three of whom were born dangerously premature. Her options for extra activities have to take into account her children's physical handicaps and be fitted around doctor's appointments, therapists, and the like.

2. Every mother fills up her time, usually very productively, whether she has two kids or seven or twelve. When I was about twelve, one of my young women leaders gave us advice about getting ready for school on time. She was the mother of many daughters and she said, "I always tell my girls to do everything else first and your hair last. Whatever time you have left, your hair will use it up. If you have five minutes to do your hair, that's all it will take. If you have twenty minutes, then that's what it will take." Of course, even at the time, my most complicated hairstyle took no longer than eight minutes, but I got her point, and I think it's relevant to this discussion.

Commitments expand to fill the time available for them. We all have to say no to some things, but we also fill our time with good, worthwhile activities. Ask any mother whose youngest child has just entered first grade and you'll understand what I mean -- the dream of long, leisurely days with plenty of time to do all those long-anticipated projects somehow falters in the reality of all there still is to do, even with all their kids in school. We all have to make decisions about what is the best use of our time and talents.

I don't think having more children automatically makes you that much busier than someone with fewer. I may have three times as many children as a mother of two, but it doesn't follow that I'm three times as busy or that I work harder or do more than she does. I'm just busy with different things. My sister has two girls who are both in school full time, and she is just as busy as I am. She simply uses her time differently. She doesn't change diapers or teach preschool or organize playgroups, but she does attend the temple more than I do and is a beautiful watercolor artist. She gives more time to service outside her home than I do at this stage in my life.

I often get the "How in the world do you do it?" question from other moms, who then add, "I'm struggling just to handle my three (or four or two)." I like to answer, "The same way you do," because it's the truth. I'm juggling just like every mother juggles; I just have to juggle different balls. As a mother of seven, I've had to put on hold many of the things I did when I had fewer children. I don't do much design work anymore. While I keep a family history through this blog and weekly emails to family members and friends, I do less and less scrapbooking, and most of that is simply churned out as quickly as possible so I can catch up. My house is not really decorated the way it would be if I had more time, and my pile of projects to do when I find time keeps growing. I used to sew almost every day and now I'm lucky if I find time for it once a year. At times I've clipped coupons and hit sales and I enjoy it, but I've also found I can't keep up with it all the time. Here and there, yes, but all the time, no.

I still find time for things I enjoy; I just have to enjoy those things in smaller doses and put some off indefinitely.

3. Outside activities need to be evaluated in terms of our ultimate goals for our children.
My ultimate goal as a mother isn't to turn my children into great competitors, or even to have them be well-rounded, though both are good things. I read a blog once where the mother worried that her children might not grow up to be funny. As I thought about what traits and characteristics I want my children to have someday, I realized that I could handle it if my children aren't funny or super athletes or even if they aren't as book-smart as I want them to be. What would be devastating to me, however, is if my children grew up to be mean and self-centered or if they turned away from their Father in Heaven.

My goal as a mother is to raise children that come to know for themselves the value of prayer, hard work, kindness, service, and faith. Outside activities need to be evaluated in terms of this goal. Many of them can contribute to developing my children's talents, helping them to learn to get along with others, and teaching them how to work towards a goal. Others may interfere with precious family time or stretch our resources too much.

4. Children need unstructured time.
Years ago, I read Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley and I was touched by this account:

“One day our oldest boy turned up missing. There were lawns to be mowed and irrigation ditches to be cleaned. The hours ticked away. All afternoon I practiced the speech I would give him when he showed up, and show up he did, at meal time, which I knew he would.

‘Where have you been?’ I asked. ‘Down in the hollow.’ ‘And what have you been doing down in the hollow?’ His reply, ‘Nothing.’

“Some years later I had reason to be glad that I had not given him the speech. He was home from his mission and was a senior at the university. It was test week and he was under a lot of pressure to do well in order to get into the graduate school of his choice. The pressures of adult life were beginning to be felt. I watched him as he drove home from school one afternoon. He got out of the car, kicked a clod of dirt, went over to examine the swelling buds on a lilac tree, came out to our kitchen, straddled a chair backwards and said, ‘Mom I had a wonderful childhood, didn’t I?’

“’Well, I hope so; you did your fair share of complaining about all of the work that had to be done.’

“’Oh, it was wonderful—those long summer days when you could lie on your back in the hollow and listen to the birds sing and watch the ants build their castles.’”

At the time, I was struggling to manage all that I wanted to teach my children and all that I wanted them to be involved in. As I read that story, I was reminded that many of the most important memories of childhood are made by having long hours with nothing scheduled.

I remember my own years growing up fondly. I vaguely remember eating orange slices during soccer half-time and hoping I would get to be goalie so I could sit down sometimes. I remember turning cartwheels in right field while some kid tried to hit a ball off a T. I have some fuzzy memories of dressing up for ballet with my friend Megan. But my most vivid memories involve the natural world. I remember catching snakes and getting muddy playing in the irrigation ditch behind my house. I remember peeking in the swallow's nest under our bridge and seeing first the eggs and then the hatchlings. I recall running away from my older sister once when she was mean when she was babysitting. I ran to the "big tree," a large cottonwood just beyond our pasture, and sat there imagining how I'd go off and become an Indian and live off berries and fish. That big tree was always my refuge, and I'd go there often to play, to climb, and to think. I also loved playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, or finding leftover lumber at the new house being built and helping my brothers drag it home for our next fort.

I had a wonderful childhood, and I hope to provide some of that same magic, unstructured time for my children.

I love this quote by M. Russell Ballard,
don’t overschedule yourselves or your children. We live in a world that is filled with options. If we are not careful, we will find every minute jammed with social events, classes, exercise time, book clubs, scrapbooking, Church callings, music, sports, the Internet, and our favorite TV shows. One mother told me of a time that her children had 29 scheduled commitments every week: music lessons, Scouts, dance, Little League, day camps, soccer, art, and so forth. She felt like a taxi driver. Finally, she called a family meeting and announced, “Something has to go; we have no time to ourselves and no time for each other.” Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together.
In our family, we may need to do less outside activities than another family in order to preserve the unstructured family time I value. As Shaunda said, even if each child takes just one music lesson and participates in one outside sport or activity (which is our general rule of thumb), that can overwhelm a family.

5. Outside activities can be overrated and overdone.
All families need to evaluate the opportunities around them in order to chooose the best ones for their families. Just because an activity is fun, affordable, or close by, doesn't mean we should sign our kids up for it. Dallin H. Oaks, in his wonderful talk Good, Better, and Best says this about children's activities:

In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best. A friend took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. “The thing I liked best this summer,” the boy replied, “was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.” Super family activities may be good for children, but they are not always better than one-on-one time with a loving parent.

The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.

Family experts have warned against what they call “the overscheduling of children.” In the last generation children are far busier and families spend far less time together. Among many measures of this disturbing trend are the reports that structured sports time has doubled, but children’s free time has declined by 12 hours per week, and unstructured outdoor activities have fallen by 50 percent.2

I struggle with the balance just like everyone else. Sometimes we do more than we should and sometimes less. I think it's important to remember is that for most of the history of the world, children did not spend their time in soccer leagues, dance classes, and the like. For the most part, they were working at home with their families, going to school, and creating their own entertainment. The pressure to sign our children up for every enrichment activity is a modern one. Outside activities can help children's development, but they can also hinder it, and that's something to keep in mind as we navigate through this generation's amazing variety of opportunities.

6. Heavenly Father provides His children with what they need. If God has an Olympic career in mind for one of His children, then I have to believe He'll send that child to a family where that aspiration can be realized. I believe that in God's wisdom, He has sent me children who will thrive in the environment we are able to provide for them, and I believe He'll help me know how to nurture my children. I've seen His hand in my life over and over again, providing for me and my family, and preparing a way for me to give my children what I want for them. I think many of the decisions are up to us, but with His help, we are able to do much more than without it.

One of my favorite hymns has this line, "Hast thou not seen, how all thou needest hath been, granted in what He ordaineth?" I believe and have seen that all that my family has needed has always been provided for us.

An example that is very pertinent to our discussion will illustrate. Almost four years ago, my husband and I both felt that it was time for us to move, and we wanted to find a permanent home to raise our children, both the five we had and the others we knew would come. As we began our search, we sat down with our family and talked about what we wanted in our home-to-be. Our children were all ages 6 and under, so some of their requests were a little funny. Joey wanted a "treehouse tree" and a "Darth Vader mask." (Hmmmm.) Lillian wanted a big backyard and lots of flowers. The others had no clue what we were talking about!

My husband and I had an even longer list. He wanted a commute of less than ten minutes and a place for a shop. I wanted a large dining area and the master bedroom on the same floor as the kids' bedrooms. One of my most important desires was that it be within walking distance of an elementary school. I knew how hard it was to get everyone ready and buckle in four carseats in order to get my oldest to school, and I knew that life would be much simpler if my kids could walk to school.

After we made our list, we prayed specifically for a house that had those things. We looked at a lot of houses that just weren't right before we determined that we would need to build. After searching and hoping for direction, I had a powerful, spiritual experience that let me know for certain where we should build our home. We bought the lot (there's a miracle involved in that story as well, but I don't have time to relate it now) and were thrilled that it was in a nice neighborhood with plenty of "treehouse trees."

The one thing our lot did not have, however, was an elementary school within walking distance. I felt resigned to driving my children to school, and since we were driving anyway, I looked into a charter school nearby that I thought would suit us. It did, and we were able to get our kids in for the next fall. In the meantime, I felt grateful for all my home did have and we set about the excitements and frustrations of building our dream home.

While we were building, the school, which had been renting a building twenty minutes away for the last five years, announced that it had purchased an old park and was drawing up its own plans for building. They also expanded their charter to include 6th through 8th grades. The "old park?" It was located just a block from our new home! We still had to drive our kids for a year to the old location while the school was being built, but I felt so blessed that my prayer had been answered and that we had been provided for so abundantly.

How we do it now and future plans

1. We are blessed by proximity.
Having the elementary school so close has been very helpful in allowing our children to participate in many activities. Joey's track club met after school twice a week. He was able to walk home afterward. Lillian leaves our home early, violin in hand, to attend early morning orchestra classes twice a week. The school goes through 8th grade, which gives us many years of easy access to most of our children's activities -- at one point, we'll have six kids in that school! After that, the high school is located within biking distance, so our kids could potentially get themselves to and from their events. Unlike many families, we will probably never have kids in three different schools, so that will help our juggling a bit.

2. We watch for our children's interests.
Our general rule is that in addition to Church activities, each child can participate in one musical experience and one other activity. Ideally, we'd like all of our children to play the piano well enough to play hymns. We start our children on piano lessons at age 8. Lillian showed an unusual dedication and self-discipline at an early age, so we started her on the violin when she was four. She takes both violin and piano now and really enjoys her orchestra classes. She practices daily without being reminded. Joey loves outdoor things and adventures, so we signed him up for a diving class this summer.

3. We try to cluster activities.
Having children close in age has helped us because many times they can participate in the same activities or be on the same team. All of our kids so far, with the exception of Lillian, will have a sibling just a year or less apart in school. Joey and Michael are a year apart like Eliza and Harmony will be. The twins have each other. When we signed the kids up for gymnastics, Joey and Michael were in the same class as were the twins. From 4 to 6 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, all four did their activities. On Tuesdays, I'd make a crockpot meal and on Thursdays, Lillian got the chance to cook (Having a ten-year-old who loves to cook is a great blessing!)

4. Our children help out.
Michael wanted to be involved in the school play. We felt he was too young to walk home alone after his once-a-week practices, but neither Lillian nor Joseph wanted to be in the play. We solved the problem by having Joey wait after school with Michael, reading and doing his homework while Michael rehearsed, then walking home with him. We paid him a dollar each time, and he was thrilled with the responsibility. Okay, and he liked the money, too.

In future years, we plan on having our teenage drivers -- there should be no shortage of them starting in about six years -- help out by driving their younger siblings to activities. My own parents were strict about the use of the car, but allowed me to earn the privilege of driving to school by driving my younger brother to early morning Seminary. I jumped at the opportunity and I'm hopeful my own children will feel the same way.

5. My husband has a short commute and flexible hours.
He works a lot from home, so he can keep an eye on the little ones if I need to run a quick errand or drop a child off at an activity. He can get away in the middle of the day for school performances and he's even driven the carpool for a few field trips. He still works -- a lot -- and working from home brings its own challenges for our family, but the flexibility he has makes a lot of things easier. I can run errands during my baby's morning nap or make a quick trip to the school to take pictures for the yearbook without having to take all the little ones with me.

6. We bring activities to us.
We've been blessed to find piano and violin teachers who are willing to come to our house. And, though it's not really an activity, we have a friend who comes to our house to cut everyone's hair every few months.

So, short of cloning myself, that's how we do and will handle outside activities. I'm sure it won't always be easy, and I anticipate there will be some years that I feel stretched to the limit, but I've already had lots of those years, so I should be well-prepared, right?

Anyone else have ideas or thoughts on children's activities?

Sunday, July 12, 2009


It's quite a responsibility to name a child, and some names are safer than others. You can name your child George or Brian or Kayla, and they are free to become whatever they want.

But give a child a name with certain meanings, and the pressure's on. Your Nike had better be athletic, Mason had better be at least somewhat handy, and Prudence had better have a head on her shoulders. Likewise with names like Charity, Joy, Justice, or Faith.

Take the name Harmony, for instance. A girl like that just won't get very far unless she's a little bit musical.

A mother might worry, What if she doesn't even respond to music?

I think we'll be okay.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


As seen on Main Street in the small town of Franklin, population 600, which boasts that it is "Idaho's Oldest Town."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


So . . . I know there are people reading this blog. Some of you even make my day and leave me comments!

Next week, I'd love to do a post where I respond to any questions you have for me. Ask me anything -- how I feel about world peace, why I picked my kid's names, how many kids we want, how we handle discipline issues, or even if I'm crazy (I'm used to that last one!). I don't promise to answer everything, but I'll try. I'd like to make my blog more interesting for my readers, but I don't know what interests you unless you tell me.

By the way, I hesitated
to write this post, because what if no one responds? That might be embarrassing! But here I am, going out on a limb, so maybe you could meet me halfway and leave a comment or a question?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Five (Nearly Wordless Wednesday)

Five Years Ago Today:
(that's 11.5 lbs of babies in that 38-week belly!)
Five Years Ago Tomorrow:
(after my easiest delivery yet!)

Five Years Ago This Month:

Five Years Ago Next Month:

Allison and Sarah.

My two miracles.


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