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Because … (a glimpse into life with five kids)

A glimpse into life with five children …

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Because I needed to finish something up at work, I was delayed a few minutes getting home.

Because I was late, my lovely wife Kelsey left five kids (ages 7, 4, 2, 2 and 1 — the first three are biological sons, the last two are foster girls) alone in the backyard for a few minutes so she could start dinner.

Because I hadn’t yet put together the new deck box we bought to replace the old plastic bin that holds outside toys, a few inches of dirty rainwater were just sitting in the bottom of the bin (the lid doesn’t work so well) waiting to be used.

Because they were alone, the three youngest children (boy and two girls) decided to dump the waiting rainwater into the sand table that had just a few minutes before been lovingly cleaned and filled with new replacement sand that surprisingly enough we actually had in the garage.

Because water and dirt make mud, and because children enjoy mud, when I walked in the door from work, I found a frustrated mama, two older kids being perfectly agreeable and three younger kids with mud and sand on their shirts, shoes, hands, faces and hair. Mud and water were also all over the back patio and muddy toys near and far.

Because mama was cooking dinner and had taken care of the cherubs all day, I got clean-up duty. Because kids don’t like to stop playing in the mud just because you don’t like that they are dirty, it took a few minutes to wrangle them away from the dirt.

Because dirt in the house is a bad thing, I stripped them down to their diapers and pulled out the hose. Worked pretty well for Gabe. Because hose water is cold, and because she’s probably never had a hose-shower before, Lily (19 months), was decidedly not a fan of the hose and made her displeasure loudly known.

Because a kid was screaming, I wrapped her up in a towel and herded them all up to the bathtub. Because a boy and two girls in the tub together might not be the best thing in the world, I washed the two girls first, dried and diapered them and then washed Gabe.

Because the two girls decided to slam doors (after I specifically told them not to), one of them hurt her finger just before I put a pull-up on Gabe after the bath.

Because I aborted the pull-up mission to tend to the finger, Gabe was still in his birthday suit when I heard this: “Dad, I peed!”

Because I put my head in my hands at the news of pee soaking into the carpet, Nevaeh (2 ½), put her arms around my neck and hugged me. That was pretty sweet.

Because Gabe then went to the potty to pee some more, I got some clothes out for the kids while he did so.

Because I was not in the bathroom, I walked in a minute later to see both girls standing directly in front of the potty, peering curiously at naked Gabe as he relieved himself. So much for avoiding questionable boy-girl interaction.

Because I’m paralyzed by all the female clothes choices, my wife gave me specific directions about what to pick out for them to wear.

Because I finally got them all dressed, we got to eat dinner.

Because we got to eat dinner, we were all happy. Because we were happy, it all feels worth it.

But because of grace, even when we don’t feel happy – yeah, it’s still worth it.

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LOTD: Parenting

Good piece from the WSJ on “oversharenting” — the phenomenon of parents putting everything their kids do online, often to just say their kid is cuter than yours. Some parents even set up fake online accounts in their kid’s name, hijacking their identity.

There’s a line between beneficial use of fabulous tools and abuse of them. As the author writes, “I’m torn between wanting to offer my son a tabula rasa, and tapping the efficient, frictionless nature of digital tools to share him with our family and friends.”

Good read — and good reminder not to put too much of our lives online. It’s best lived in real life.

– Great post on Desiring God about motherhood, written in honor of Mother’s Day yesterday: Motherhood is Application. Love this line:

Every day we fight against disorder, filth, starvation, and lawlessness, and some days we might almost succeed.

She goes on to make the point that even in the moments when you feel like pulling your hair out, when there’s not time for Gospel presentation, we have to do Gospel application — “The gospel is not too big to fit into little situations. It is too big not to.”

How to Starve a Parakeet

A month ago we laid Joe the Bird to rest. How he came to be there is a story of horror, humor and even a little hope.

We all come down for breakfast on a Tuesday morning. I’m trying to get out the door to drop Carter off at school on my way to work. Kelsey and I are discussing something – the details are lost to history – when we hear all three boys doing one of their favorite things: being loud.

They’re gathered by the birdcage in the corner of the kitchen across the bar from us.  The cage is home to two parakeets – Joe and Felicia (named by Carter) – whom we inherited when Chad and Tiffany Statton moved to California (I found out we had them when my wife wrote the following on my Facebook wall: “Can you pick up some parakeet food on the way home tonight? Thanks!”)

We shush the boys and keep talking. Their voices keep rising, talking, chattering, until Carter’s voice rings out through the din: “It’s important!”

I walk around to see what the fuss is and stop in shock. Joe the Bird is laid out on the bottom of the cage, not moving. His feet are sticking out. He looks still and lifeless. Felicia sits alone on the wooden bar running through the cage.

That’s when I realize – I forgot to feed them last night. I noticed their food bins were empty and meant to fill them up all evening and just forgot. There was always one more thing to do. Surely he didn’t starve to death, did he? Nah, there’s no way. I remember seeing food in there a few days ago. The birds have lost a lot of feathers lately; maybe they had some kind of problem.

We talk to the boys, explain that Joe is dead. They have questions, but we muddle through them until I can grab a blue shoebox from the garage, open the cage and reach in with a paper towel to get poor Joe out of sight of the boys.

He looks stiff, but he’s not. He’s still warm, soft. He can’t have been dead long. Wait, he didn’t move did he?!

No, he didn’t. He’s dead. I pick him up, set him in the box wrapped in the paper towel and put the box on a shelf outside.

Carter said later he knew he had to get our attention because, as he put it, “Joe was down.” The boys seem okay. Kelsey and I are not fully okay – Felicia’s looking awfully lonely. Those birds loved to cuddle together, especially at night. Now what’s she gonna do?

Should I go buy another parakeet? Maybe. But do I really want more birds? Not really. I think I’m ready for fish.

Later that morning, I Google “How long does it take a parakeet to starve?” The answer: 48 hours. Shockingly fast. “Oh no,” I think, as I stare at the screen, my hand over my mouth. “I killed that bird.”

The week gets busy and we don’t get around to burying Joe for a few days, although the boys occasionally ask where he is. Felicia still looks lonely. Finally on Saturday morning, it’s time to bury my awful mistake.

I open the box slowly, afraid that maybe an animal got to Joe. But no, he still looks perfect. His feathers are still vivid green and yellow and he’s still got the bright blue spot right above his beak that was really the only way to tell the difference between him and Felicia.

I pick a spot for the grave at the corner of the narrow alley between our fence and the neighbor’s fence in the very back of the yard. I scuff dead leaves aside with my shoe and dig into the damp dirt, chilly after a few months of lower temperatures (let’s be honest – we never really had winter this year). The boys want to help, so Carter pushes the shovel in a time or two and we eventually have a good hole.

the boys

Kelsey comes out and joins the three boys and me for our first family funeral service. The boys are lined up next to the grave. I try to explain briefly that because Joe is dead, all that’s left is his body. He didn’t have a soul like we do that will live forever. They kinda get it, kinda don’t.

Carter bends over to place the box in grave and there it is – a blue rectangle in the brown earth, all that’s left of Joe the Bird.

I ask the boys if they want to say anything. We think Taylor(4) tells Joe to “stay there.” Carter, in his 7-year old wisdom, says, “Joe was a good bird. They had fun together.”

I cover the box with the dirt from the grave, stamping it down with my foot so it’s nice and tight (the former landscaper in me has to do it the right way). Carter wants to make a marker with Joe’s name on it and I tell him that maybe someday we can.

The boys are off, running around the yard, ready for the next adventure. But Taylorhas one more piece of advice for Joe. He leans over the grave and shouts with a smile, “Have a safe trip!”

A few weeks later, Felicia is still doing fine. I check her cage when I walk by, afraid every time that I’m going to see her laid out on the bottom.

But she’s still alive, kicking and missing Joe. A basketball game on tv the other night caught her attention as the players’ sneakers started squeaking on the court. She began chirping away, answering her soulmate Joe, who she must have thought was calling to her from somewhere beyond the blue.

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Links of the Day

Used to do this fairly often. I see too much good stuff to not post it, so I’m going to try to do this regularly. We’ll see how it goes.

Are we raising a generation of helpless kids?
Good perspective on today’s culture of helicopter parents who are so afraid to let their kids fail that the kids never learn how to do anything on their own. Couple money quotes:

“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” Tim Elmore says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”

“We need to become velvet bricks,” Elmore says, “soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”

Love the “velvet bricks” idea. As always, it’s a balance.

Looking for a job or interviewing someone for a job? There are really only three true job interview questions:

1.  Can you do the job?
2.  Will you love the job?
3.  Can we tolerate working with you?

Gulf Shores 2011 Vacation Thoughts

– Grains of sand are very, very tiny. I know that because I found them everywhere. In our clothes, in food, between my teeth, in the car, all over our bodies, in everything we owned. Abraham sure had a lot of descendants, I’ll say that.
 
– Great to see all our extended family. Fun to hang out with 27 people. G.G. would have loved seeing us all there.
 
– What did we all do before canopies? Fried, I guess. Or squeezed under umbrellas. Canopies are the new black.
 
– Sunscreen really works. Of course, you usually don’t realize this until later that night when you see all the places you missed.
 
– To the unknown (ahem) angel of mercy who mowed our lawn, my parents’ lawn and apparently my brothers’ lawn — you get around. Nice work.
 
– To the state trooper who saw us with our flashers on by the side of the Natcher parkway and stopped to see if we were okay: Dude, a dirty diaper isn’t that dangerous — you don’t have to leave quite that fast.
 
– To the good people of Montgomery, Alabama: build a bigger Chick-fil-A.
 
– Also to the good people of Montgomery, Alabama: take down the billboards and maybe your divorce rate will decrease. On one side of I-65 heading south is a billboard advertising DIVORCE, $200. On the other side of the interstate, you can save $1: DIVORCE, $199. Giant letters. And of course, one of the signs is just behind another sign for a gentleman’s club. Meet all your needs in one short stretch.
 
– To the girl slathering Crisco oil on her legs as she sunbathed — save some of that for later. You might need it for brownies.
 
– To the person who invented family photos where we all wear white-and-denim or white-and-khaki, etc: I can’t decide if you’re a genius or a madman.
 
– To the person who invented mobile DVD players: you are most definitely a genius.
 
– To the Blue Angel pilots: my hat is off to you. Insane maneuvers. Wow.
 
– To the people who built The Hangout: turn down the volume.
 
– To my computer: I did not miss you.
 
– Not much better than sitting in a chair on the beach, reading a good book, listening to the waves roll in — and knowing that your kids are down for naps.
 
– To our Creator: thanks for giving us beaches — great place to enjoy your creation.

Foster adoptions on the rise

This article from the Washington Times caught my eye this morning: “Increase in adoptions spells fewer children on rolls, shorter waits

Seems that U.S. adoptions from the foster care system reached a record high of 57,000 in 2009 and the average wait time has shrunk by over a year. The number of kids waiting to be adopted is lower (but still is 115,000).

Specialists credit the improvement to adoption incentives for states that increased their adoption numbers, as well as the adoption tax credit, advertising campaigns, etc.

Older kids are still not adopted as much and the number of kids aging out of foster care is higher than ever, but these new number are positive news overall.

Hopefully numbers will continue to improve, especially as church grab hold of this issue and follow God’s directive to care for the fatherless.

We’re in the final stage of filling out our paperwork to be foster parents, with an eye to adoption. We’ve finished the classes and now just need to finish a few forms and wait for approval.

Some days we question what we’re doing. Most days, actually. But we’re going to at least try it out, see how it fits, see if God wants to bless us with any kids who might come into our home.

Glad to see the good news today — lots of kids need help.

Parenting isn’t so complex

Posted this on Facebook earlier today, but I’d like to do more on the blog (yeah, we’ve all said/heard that one before), so I’m gonna write about it here too.

Kevin DeYoung’s post on parenting today is fantastic. His main point is that we need to not worry about all the little stuff that so often consumes us as parents and focus on the major things:

I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they’re were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.

Great advice. A couple other good lines:

In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit.

There are plenty of ways to screw up our kids, but whether they color during church, for example, is not one of them. There is not a straight line from doodling in the service as a toddler to doing meth as a teenager.

And you’ve gotta read his dialogue between him and his kid as he tries to correct the kid for not sharing. Hilarious and so accurate you’ll wonder how he snuck into your house to watch you.

Once you’ve read that, you can go here to watch my dad’s series on parenting (as seen on Challies.com!). Great stuff, despite what you might think about the results of of his own parenting (me). Ha.

Foster Kids

So we started foster classes tonight.  One night a week for ten weeks, three hours each night. 30 hours of training and a blizzard of forms to fill out to become approved as foster parents. We’re heading for the foster-to-adopt option. All kids in the system start out as foster kids — some get to be adopted.

Eight or ten families there, four single people. Most with kids of our own already. All sitting around tables (with candy on them!) listening to two instructors with 29 combined years of experience in the foster system.

Why are we doing this? Don’t we already have three crazy boys who keep our hands entirely full? Well, yes we do. But we’ve wanted to adopt for a long time and although we’ve always thought about the international option in the past, this seems infinitely more do-able.

If the state is going to pay us to take care of kids who desperately need help, why not take advantage of it? We don’t have the time or energy to raise thousands of dollars to go overseas. Plus, these kids are in our own backyard. There are 300-400 kids in the foster system in Daviess County alone. About 7,000 in the state. They’re practically in our laps. The system desperately needs foster parents. We can give some of these kids a home. We keep talking about it. It’s time to just do it, as they say.

Just before our class tonight, workers had to remove six kids (two sets of three siblings) from their homes. They came with the clothes on their backs. One home had a bathtub full of feces and urine. That’s where these kids came from. They needed food and clothes and a bed and someone to love them and tell them it’s going to be okay.

We can give them that. We can give them a home and we can give them the Gospel. We can get our hands dirty and do something that’s not convenient, but will show Christ in a million ways. We can be a temporary mom and dad or even permanent ones. We can show our own kids how incredibly blessed they are. We can get them excited about helping. We can integrate this into our daily lives. Yeah, life is crazy, but it would be hard to get too much crazier — why not just go for it now instead of waiting until life has calmed down? If we wait for that, we’ll never do it.

Kelsey’s more excited than I am. She’s ready for a sibling set of three to fall in our laps (okay, maybe not three). Sometimes I’m to that point, sometimes I’m not. I’m not a big fan of change, so my heart moves more slowly in instances like this. My head is there. My heart is partway there.

Our parents are supportive (my mom watched our kids during class tonight), but I think they see how busy we are already and wonder if we can really handle this. (Don’t worry, I wonder that too.) I think they think it’ s a good thing, but that it could be hard on us. (More on my mom’s foster care backstory later — she has good reason to be wary.)

Friends our own age seem excited when we tell them what we’re doing. Our pediatrician is excited and says she wants to do it herself — and she’s got three kids too.

I wonder if we’re ready, if there aren’t thing we need to focus on in our own family, if we can afford it (yeah, the state pays, but still … another kid will cause a lot of changes), if we won’t be short-changing our own kids, if, if, if.

Here’s the thing. There are kids out there who need help. They need love. They need parents. We can give them those things. We can give them the Gospel. God calls us to help the fatherless. So let’s do it.

Update: It’ll be several months at least before we’d be eligible to get a placement. We’ve heard it takes six to nine months from the time you start the classes before you’re eligible, depending on how fast you get the forms in. Then it’s just a matter of getting a call and deciding if you should say yes or no …

A Night at the Museum

Ah, December. You bring your wintry blast of sub-freezing air just in time for the ladies’ annual ornament party, where otherwise sane women sit around and steal Christmas ornaments from one another. Plotting and intrigue abound. Because the women are thusly occupied, the men are, well, babysitting.

When men babysit, they tend to want to go somewhere to avoid being stuck at home with their kids. Since I’m a man, this principle applies. I took our three lovely boys to the museum where we have a membership precisely for times like these (when dad doesn’t know what to do with the kids — hey, take them to the museum and let them run around! They’ll burn energy! It’ll be great!).

Because it’s 14 degrees outside with a wind chill of about zero, most sensible parents kept their kids home. I, on the other hand, hauled mine through the frozen air, across the street and inside, where we were literally the only people I saw other than the lady at the front desk.

We go inside, play in the race cars, then head for the big room upstairs where the running will take place. On the way, I notice the tell-tale waddle from our middle son. He’s got a stinky. Great. We all head to the bathroom where I plop him on the changing table that he’s really too big for. Get him changed while trying to keep the other two from touching anything. This mostly consists of me hollering, “NO! Don’t touch that! Back up!”

We make it out, all three boys running for the elevator. Carter (6) and Taylor (almost 3) hit the button, the doors open and behind me, I hear crying. Gabe (18 months) has done a face plant. I go back to pick him up, then see the blood leaking out of his mouth along with the extra saliva generated by the crying. As I try to grab wipes from the diaper bag to stem the flow, Taylor disappears inside the elevator car.

More yelling — “Get back here!” — before the doors can close and take him away. Carter and Taylor run back to help as I pull open the wipes case that is apparently empty because of the earlier stinky. Fantastic.

We head back to the bathroom, a decent amount of bright red blood leaking down Gabe’s chin, onto his coat, on my fingers. Get in the door, grab paper towels, soak up the blood, try to find the cut.

Then I look up and see Taylor, hands planted with firm conviction on either side of the urinal, leaning over to spit inside. He’s short, so his mouth is very close to porcelain.

More yelling — “Taylor!” He lets go and backs up before touching urinal cake. Now I’ve gotta wash his hands too, but at least his lips are not forever contaminated.

Get everything cleaned up, cold water does pretty well on the blood on the coat, Gabe stops bleeding, get Taylor’s hands washed, etc. Go upstairs, do the running and playing (with yet another bathroom break, this time for Carter), get ready to leave and find Taylor with another stinky. Not gonna change it with no wipes, three boys and a public bathroom.

Go back out into freezing air, make a quick Wal-Mart stop (where we see another homeless ornament dad with five boys) and then home, where they each eat a cupcake and go to bed.

Can’t wait for next year’s party!

How to Raise Boys Who Read

From the Wall St. Journal:

“The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

People who think that a book—even R.L. Stine’s grossest masterpiece—can compete with the powerful stimulation of an electronic screen are kidding themselves. But on the level playing field of a quiet den or bedroom, a good book like “Treasure Island” will hold a boy’s attention quite as well as “Zombie Butts from Uranus.” Who knows—a boy deprived of electronic stimulation might even become desperate enough to read Jane Austen.

Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter’s husband—Raymond Bean or Robert Louis Stevenson?”