Oliver's worldview shows us that sometimes one needs to. 

I used to think parenting was easy.  I used to think I'd have five or maybe even six kids.  I used to think I rocked at this whole parenting thing - that it was satisfyingly easy, even.  And then God sent me Oliver.  It's not that I don't love him as much as I love the others, or even that I like him less.  It's not that at all.  It's that with him, I'm forever finding myself having to teach things I never imagined I'd have to teach a child. 

Like, for example, it's not OK to belly-buck your friend on the school field.  Sometimes - I'm beginning to find - belly-bucking, because it hurts more than one might expect, can escalate to a full on wrestle match on the ground with your friend during recess.  You may have intended to begin and end with happy, laughing belly-bucking, only to find yourself sweaty and dirty and being pulled along to visit the principal by a concerned teachers' assistant.  Theoretically speaking, of course.  If you are one of the lucky ones and you have a principal who understands your heart and the fact that you are a physical little boy who needs a physical outlet and who believes in you, you may well be OK.  But not all principals have the requisite time or energy to get to know your beautiful heart and so, one might think, you'd be wise to learn early on to be less physical in your play.  Are you reading between the cryptic lines yet?

With Oliver, we have to explain why it's important to be mannerly and patient.  The other joykids understood these things instinctively when they were his age.  Their own internal policeman informed them all on his own.  With Oliver, we have to painstakingly walk him through why you shouldn't impatiently tell your friends off when you feel the first stab of irritation with them.  He doesn't suffer fools gladly.  Where Oliver is concerned, I don't wonder at his long-term success in life.  I know he'll be a world-changer.  I admire him and his indomitable spirit.  He loves God and his family with a cement-like fortitude.  No one can push him around on the inside.  Oliver is an incredible person who insists upon doing things well or not at all.  He's diligent, careful and he prides himself on his competence.  He's smart in a way that has you always writing emails about his aforementioned intelligence to your mother, because you can't believe it sometimes and everyone needs a grandma to brag to with impunity. 

But the journey between Oliver's adult self and the little six-year-old we see before us today is fraught with hills to be climbed and valleys to be carefully descended.   But I have noticed that when you get to the top of one of the more daunting hills - one of the ones you where you wondered if you'd ever reach the summit - you notice that the air is clear and bracingly beautiful.  You wonder if maybe you can't see to the ends of the Earth.  There is real clarity there and because it's been hard-earned, it fills the lungs.

I adore my Oliver and I respect him so much.  I've never liked anyone more.  Shepherding his young heart isn't easy.  But maybe the things in life really worth having are the things that require that you invest all of yourself.  Who needs five kids, anyway?
We're on week two of our summer vacation this year.  This second week finds us in granola-land, or Salt Spring Island as it's more commonly known.  The natural beauty accosting us from all angles is striking.  We've spent many hours beachcombing and displaying our ocean life newbiness each time one of us discovers some new creature or other.  We hoot and we holler and we are dazzled with one another's creature spotting proficiency.  There are sea stars almost to the point of the mundane here.  There are enormous crabs which, if it weren't for my ignorance in the art of cooking them, I'd be feasting upon over and over again, so that my belly would be protruding well past the safe zone (Instead, I content myself with the frozen version, safely prepared and ready for my gluttenous seafood heart.). There are otters and moon jelly fish as far as the eye can see.  And eagles.

It'll be great to get home again, though.  I'm an introvert deep inside my extroverted heart and I love to cocoon in my warm, safe nest.  Living out of suitcases, while delicious at first, comes to feel old to me after a  short time.  Living inside someone else's home feels foreign and wrong after the initial excitement of running through all the rooms, checking each nook and cranny for little finds.  One cool side note there, though, is that the owner of this beach house is a Hollywood guy who's won awards for cinematography.  I know this because he's got awards up on the walls here.

Yesterday, we climbed aboard a 40 foot sailboat and cruised all though the Gulf Islands, gaping all the while.   Or at least we gaped while not smack dab in the middle of the moments when I was almost desperately stressed out, trying to spot all four of my kids at the same time, so as to ensure that they were indeed, still on the boat, much to my husband's other-than-enchantment.  Low maintenance I've never professed to be.  It'll be so good to be home, nestled safely within the bleached folds of my clean sheets.
A guy just rang our doorbell.  He had the world's cutest baby strapped to his chest.  I didn't hear a word he said because she was smiling at me.  The scene I lived through just now is essentially  porn for peri-menopausal women.  I lose myself and no longer feel obligated to follow societal rules of politeness when I see their chubby thighs.  The conversation of their parents no longer holds any interest for me.  It's all I can to refrain from very disconcertingly pressing my nose into the soft folds of their necks.  I love them.  But, for the first time I realize with certainty that I'm no longer for that world.   

I love to sleep in now on weekend mornings while my kids either sleep in themselves or play quietly in their rooms.  I love to spontaneously zip out the front door on some hairbrained scheme or other involving fun sans carefully packed diaper bag, stroller, and full complement of age-appropriate car seats.   I love that my husband can now come home from work and suggest that we go out to dinner while the two eldest co-babysit.  I love that I'm not living in a state of near-constant pregnancy induced nausea.  I love that I'm no longer diabetic, anemic or toxic.  I love that I no longer live for naps or nap to live.  I love having a 13 year old in my life.  I love the journey of living with progressively older kids.  I think that these must be the salad days.  No one pees themselves still and no one yet desires to leave the home.
I was wandering up and down the bulletin-boarded hallway of my children's elementary school yesterday, waiting for the bell to ring.  In full, oblivious Mommy mode, I craned my neck to find my children's artwork in amidst the masses of little kid artwork, for without question, they are the most beautiful of all.  Actually, I'm positive that my children's artwork indicates some level of genius at the very least.  So.  Gag on that for a moment.   While I was feasting my eyes and ruminating on JoyKid genius, some man whom I do not know in any capacity whatsoever approaches to ask me if I've started running twice a day now (I'm not.).  He expounds to say that while he knew that I was a  runner, he's noticed lately that it's been twice a day.  AAAACK!  Can anyone say, call the police immediately?!  To say that I felt disconcerted is putting things mildly.  I proceeded to pepper my subsequent conversation liberally with my husband this and my husband that and tried to keep it brief.  What a freekazoid.
Look what Anabel went ahead and did to herself!
She's the last one of our brood one would expect to dislocate an elbow, and yet sure enough, that's precisely what happened.  You sort of think you're home-free when they become teenagers and still haven't broken anything, and yet one quick peek at this ghastly monstrosity of an elbow is enough to indicate how other-than-home-free we actually are.   

She was home alone, babysitting her youngest brother when it all shook down.  In one of my more shaming moments as a parent, I chatted away obliviously with neighborhood parents as I picked up Jude and Lucy from their respective playdates.  And here's the shame part:  I'd left my cellphone at home, thinking I'd only be 15 minutes or so.  And I took my sweet time, let me tell you.  I didn't drive, I walked.  And slowly.  Meandering my way through the novel Springtime heat with my Ipod lulling me into a sun and acoustic music mixed stupor.  I relished the alone-ness and I stopped to breathe the lilac infused air around me more than once.  When I think of it, I feel a renewed anger at myself.  While I tracked the progress of butterflies,  Anabel was calling around frantically, trying to locate either one of  her absentee parents, all the time trying to keep her yelps to a minimum as her little brother watched with fear in his big brown eyes.  I'm sure as he looked at  her arm that looked a backwards picture of what it was supposed to be, elbow bump now on the inside of her forearm, he felt some trepidation.

She finally got her Dad's receptionist (his own cell phone had been turned off), who proceeded to interrupt him from the meeting he was in.  He was home in relatively short order and got her quickly to the ER.  It's all good.   The doctor there (with the aid of two male nurses) wrenched her elbow back where it belonged after having knocked her out with the same drugs that Michael Jackson was so infamously addicted to.  The only glitch is that she tried to bite one of them, which made me feel sort of proud.  My girl.  Unconscious and biting at the burly men she perceived were hurting her.  I love that kid and her elbow to bits.
I think often (obsessively might more accurately describe the true state of things) of what my life will look like next year.  The last of my children will enter those anything-but-hallowed halls of full time school and my heart feels like it may break.  Just to enter into the melodrama a little more fully for a moment, I feel like my whole raison d'etre for the past thirteen years is coming to a close.  A close that, from this vantage point, appears to be awfully abrupt and final.  I know.  I know.  My school-aged kids still need a loving and involved mother, but the reality is that I'll have six full hours a day to fill with activities other than those that have engaged me so happily for the past thirteen years. 

I have, to my initial surprise, loved being a stay-at-home mother.  Though I expected to continue working outside the home during these pre-school years of parenthood, a couple of unexpected and upsetting daycare situations ended that pipe dream.  Lucky for me.  I've discovered that I love trimming little child-sized fingernails.  Scrubbing their soapy, shampoo-y heads while they languish in the bath with their GI Joes and their ponies feels like therapy.  I've found that making healthy, home-made baby food really does it for me.  I've realized that taking kids for walks to the park equals fun.  I love chatting with tiny people, meandering our way through conversation, peppered with the cutest mispronunciations I've ever heard.  I love reading to these perfectly round and warm small Ones, as we snuggle up in bed together, their hot, perfect breath warming my very insides.  I've felt very happy, very fulfilled over the course of these last thirteen years.  My work has felt very meaningful.

As I imagine the upcoming year, and the countless others stretching out surreally beyond  it, it scares me to think that it may be full of things like a perfectly clean home with empty rooms overtaking everything for much of the time.  No one will pee the bed any longer, needing me to swoop in to the rescue, comforting and cleaning as I go.  Who will leave chaotic, comforting paths of K'Nex and Lego as they go along their merry way?  I foresee the beginning of the end of the thousands of pieces of child art that have decorated my life for so long.  Who will I teach to read?  Who will forget to flush the toilet?  Or leave a hundred toothpaste-spattered sinks in their wake?  It will be so clean in here that the sheer emptiness of it will underline my sucky-baby grief.  For to acknowledge that I am indeed a Suck is probably only fair.  And yet, when you're a Suck, caught inside the skin of a Suck, what does one do?

I know I'll get over it in time.  I have dear women in my life who have walked this path and lived to tell about it.  They say the hurting dulls after a while, that you stop wondering all the day long what your Littles are doing at that very second.  Whether or not someone is treating them unkindly just then.  Whether or not they're trading the apples and nectarines in their lunches for a junky Dunkaroo or a Pop Tart.  Whether or not they're using their classtime well.  Or if they're talking the whole way through the way that both their Mother and their Father did.  These are the questions that I suspect will haunt me.
From Flor Larios' Etsy Site
Spark plug.  Feisty Little Thing.  Chatterbox.  All of these cliches so aptly describe my little girl.  She's Lucy and there's no overlooking her.  She's the tiniest little thing you ever saw, but the magnitude of her personality more than makes up for all that.  She has the funniest,  riciculously advanced vocabulary and she thinks that disco needs to be revived.   She can talk in a rumbly Fat Albert voice and when you watch her doing so, you can't help but yelp out with helpless laughter.  She loves to dance, but not in the ballerina/princess sort of way that so many of her little peers master.  Her version is all fairy jive.

I think I've mentioned that everything about her is brown.  Her eyes, her hair, her skin and even, more  often than not, her clothes.  Her skin reminds me of a butterfly's wings.  Sometimes you wonder if maybe you shouldn't touch it, it's powdery softness seems so delicate.  Warmth emanates from her little brown body and from her great, effervescent  personality.  My Mother-in-law delighted in using the word scintillating before she died, and I've never known anyone more worthy of being called so than Lucy.

When she tells you a story, her round facial features screw themselves up with tremendous animation.  You sometimes find yourself so caught up in the watching of her to actually hear what she's saying.  Her lips are a rosebud.  Her round eyes are fringed in a thick black sweep.  She is generally utterly joyful or dramatically downcast.  There's little middle-ground with this One.  She's endlessly forgiving.  She'll follow me around anywhere.  My lady smells and colors are a magnet for her.  One of her favorite places to spend time is in the secret, cave-like confines of my closet.  Here she can be a woods-fairy and try on all my high heeled shoes at the same time. 

Sometimes she talks so much, you feel tired at the end of the day.  You berate yourself a bit, asking What's your problem?  Why are you so wiped?  There's nothing tangible to point at to explain away the fatigue.  She's not naughty.  She rarely disobeys.  She's kind and she's fun.  But she just.  doesn't.  stop.  She finds it hard to wrap her little brain around why her parents aren't willing to devote their entire lives to her care alone.  She struggles with not interrupting.  Especially right after school on our walk home, where she and her siblings all clamor to tell about their respective school days.  If she's being honest, she would say that she thinks her news is just a bit more important than everyone else's.  But o my word is she cute.  The sweet little love notes this child brings home from the also-so-sweet grade three boys are numerous and touching.  They're often of the "check this box if you love me, too" genre.

She's one of the more interesting human beings I've yet encountered.  Her animation adds jazz to any room.  Where she is, there is laughter.  There are shenanigans.  And first and foremost there is energetic joy.  I'll be so lonely when my wood-Sprite leaves me.  But the world will be far better for her arrival there.
Curious Birdplane Boy Print from BlackApple's Etsy Shop
I've mentioned this child.  He's the one with a perfect smattering of freckles across the bridge of his brown nose.  This nose I could wax eloquent upon for some time.  It's the perfect nose, the kind that you have to intentionally not kiss anymore as you remember that it's owner is a great, big, dignified ten.  And soon to be eleven, at that.  If you do lose yourself so much as to go ahead and kiss it anyway, despite your best intentions, it must be within the safe confines of your own home where no eagle-eyed, pre-adolescent peer will witness your lapse. 

This boy makes me smile.  He's my easy one.  He's the one who  spontaneously comes up behind me to rub my neck.  He tells me that I look nice.  He still wants me to come in to his Grade 5  classroom to volunteer.  He still initiates a kiss for me each day right on the school field in front of his friends.  He tells me that I make the best birthday parties.   He isn't a child in the typical egocentric sort of way; he naturally excels at considering others.  I thank God for him each day.  When I first met my Mother-in-law, I remember vividly how she told me that JoyBoy - her lastborn son - never gave her a day's trouble in all his life.  This is precisely the way I feel about my Jude.  Life is so pleasant when he's in the room. 

His favorite activity is making people laugh and to say that he's good at it is putting things mildly.  I don't ever have to toss off a pity laugh for him in the interest of building self-esteem; there's absolutely no need.  I do, however, often have to tell him to stop already so that I can stop laughing and get on with the business of life.  He smiles all the time and somehow, the sun seems to follow him around.

Alongside his countless strengths, he struggles sometimes with his work ethic.  He's one of the lucky ones, and was born with a clever head on his shoulders and so most of the time has to exert very little effort in school and places like that in order to succeed.  He doesn't always see the value in "busting one's butt" in order to pull off an A+ when he can pull off B+'s and A's with no effort at all.  It's been a struggle trying to show him why this is valuable, even crucial for one's sustained satisfaction through life.  Seeing the intrinsic pleasure of a difficult job well done doesn't come naturally to this boy, cute though his nose may be.  At ten, he doesn't yet get that all that frantic paddling can sometimes get you to the crest of the most gobsmacking wave.  The one that very few others get to feast their eyes upon and slide down, the thrill of it ennervating their very souls.

He's a very olive-green boy.  I watch him, endlessly fascinated.  His current obsession (and they change at a frenetic pace) is playing soldier.  He loves to horrify me by telling me he wants to join the SWAT.  Either that or the RCMP.  I comfort myself in asserting inside my own head that he only says so to make me cringe.  He dresses in camoflauge as soon as it's tasteful to remove his school uniform.  He carves sticks into weapon-like things with his jack-knife.  He loves catapaults and sling shots.  He begs me to buy him all manner of  Nerf weaponry for his birthday.   But just try to hit a sparrow with the grill of your Volvo and watch him dissolve into tears.  His heart is so soft, and knowing this has helped me to be patient with all his commando shenanigans.  I am one lucky girl.
Pen and Ink drawing from nanlawson.etsy.com
Anabel is not long for the world of Pre-Teen.  I find that I can hardly believe it, cliche or not.  She'll be 13 in April and because she's our first-born, when I stop to really dwell on it, I can work myself into a quite a tizzy. 

She's our 'practice' kid.  She's the one who we think we have to be perfectly consistent with.  We're scared we might ruin her otherwise.  We are least lenient with her, though she's without question the most responsible.   We have the highest of high standards for her.  And she consistently lives up to them and in fact, raises the bar time and time again.  But every now and then, the first-born in me revolts just a little over all this.  Of course, the way we parent her creates a prototypical firstborn and she wouldn't be Anabel without it all, but sometimes I wish the world could be a little less exacting for her sake.   Sometimes I wish she would come home with a B+, or even a B.  I think it would be healthy for her to see that life doesn't hinge on one's sustained perfection.   I think that for her to make a colossal Blunder (capital B) might not be the worst thing in the world for her, so long as it doesn't involve me housing and parenting a newborn belonging to her and some Idiot Boy, around whom I'll grit my teeth  and try never to refer to as such (o I pray this theoretical boy stays far, far away from me and mine).  Maybe Anabel would see then that her worth doesn't depend on her performance.

So clearly though, she wouldn't be Anabel without the precise environment she's been raised in.  And she's so perfectly, greenly herself.  She's awash in a world of calm competence, almost as though she's underwater in a perfect, green world where serenity surrounds and permeates everything.    Her fair skin - in sharp contrast to the brown, brown skins of her siblings - looks like its origins are translucently submarine.  She glides through life, making everything look effortless and even elegant.  Sometimes  though, she limits herself in the things she'll try, as she likes to know beforehand that she'll be gracefully perfect.    I like to lend her my clothes and jewelry as they look so beautiful on her; feasting my eyes on my own clothes folding around my daughter's perfect little (but not so little anymore) body brings me far more joy than owning these items for my own sake. 

I always wondered how it would feel as an aging mother, to watch as one's daughter grew to be more beautiful and better in ways the World values than oneself.  The One ebbs while the Other flows.  I used to wonder if felt like a stabbing pain or more like a dull, under-the-skin ache that doesn't subside.  The growing obsoleteness of the woman seemed pitiful to me before I became her.  And now that life unfurls to find me here, this very woman, I'm reminded of Jesus' words  in John 3:30.  They say, "He must become greater; I must become less," and I'm surprised by the joy they bring in their wake.  To see the world receive my Little Love so beautifully, so enthusiastically even, makes me feel a deep happiness.  I see so clearly now that it's not either/or.  It's both and all and everything all at once.
Roosters Freely Roaming Everywhere
Mexico was sheer loveliness.   My cell phone’s battery was dead for days, nay weeks.  Our family lived in an airy, bright and probably magical condo where the Four shared a single bedroom.  Instead of invoking the spirit of sibling Christmas wrath the way I suspected it might, it bonded them powerfully.  Amazingly, there was almost no bickering.  There were almost no complaints, despite the fact that the Littles' schedule necessitated some changes in the Bigs'.  Anabel and Jude wouldn't ordinarily choose to start their day at the crack of dawn.  I wakened almost every day to the sound of muffled laughter.  That or the crowing of roosters.  We did have to institute a new policy - the fart tax.  I'll only say that both boys are a little less wealthy after Mexico than before and leave it at that.   

Our Christmas that felt like a non-Christmas was a delight and I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed and content.  We drank what probably amounted to our own weight in pina coladas and thanks to JoyBoy, mastered the art of making them ourselves.  Jude and I glutted ourselves on seafood, and in the end paid a heavy - but well worth it - price for our smorgasbord of octopus, lobster, prawns, butterflied jumbo shrimp, clams and mahi mahi.  To think about it again makes me sigh.  It was yummy for my sick tummy. 

I could feel the Vitamin D soaking into my skin as I lay there on the chaise lounge by the pool.  Little prickles of phantom sun pleasure meander their way down my forearms as I remember it.  It was a mish mash of colorful sensations all competing with one another for preeminence.  Laughing, splashing, delicious children.  A sky so blue it seems a cliche to try to describe it.  Faint snatches of diesel wafting through the air.  The thunderous crashing of waves so loud and so rhythmic you wonder how anyone could discount the Existence of a Creator.  The hot sun making its sultry way into the darkest, most chill-infested recesses of your soul so that at times you feel that you might just be able to fly.  Hyperbole seems the only even reasonably sufficient way to describe the way I felt lying there, listening to all the sounds wafting around on the breeze.  There were times where I couldn't even bring myself to read, so entertaining was the simple processing of the stimuli perceived by my five senses.  It was a nice time.
A Sand Jesus
A Mexican Flag with Accompanying Diesel Plume
These men were incredible street/beach performers!
Things Done Differently
Life Is Good