Monday, August 17, 2009

Debunking The "What's One More" Myth

The response to our family is generally split in thirds. First of all, there are those who assume that we couldn't possibly handle one more thing and so they never, ever want to impose upon us. They won't call, they don't allow their children to suggest playdates at our house and they would never, ever stop by unannounced. They won't participate in carpools with us without committing to do all the driving which, consequently, usually means it isn't happening. We miss these people. We enjoy their company and our kids would really like to develop friendships but that's just a wee bit tough to do when they are afraid to talk to us. I'm terrible about making and receiving phone calls - you're more likely to get an email or a text message from me just because our home background noise is not conducive to telephonic conversation. But that doesn't mean we don't want you around! I suspect these people carry around a lot of guilt about being our friends because they never actually *do* anything with us in spite of their good intentions. And I also suspect that their expectation is that they will serve our family by not adding one more thing to our plate which means if they are going to get our children together to play, they will pick up all of them at once, host, drop off, feed special diets and run an errand for me on the side - which is unrealistic for all of us which is probably why we never see these people.

Then there are the ones with a more middlin' attitude. Those are the realistic folks we're probably most comfortable with. They let their kids play here, they invite ours over from time to time and they realize that, just like for them, some days are going to be better than others. They give us a call before they send the kids over or they call after they've been here for a few minutes to make sure the arrangement is working for us. Their kids are comfortable here, they know the rules and their parents don't mind if we call them on it. They don't mind if their kids show up and I promptly send them home because I'm incidentally having one of those trying-to-get-tons-of-people-fed-and-out-the-door hours. They also realize that I drive taxi too so if I suggest the I'll-drop-them-off-if-you-pick-them-up option they recognize that this would be *helpful* to me. Sometimes they take on a younger sibling or do me a favor but that's not the expectation and we all know it. It's no big deal to say No once in a while.

The ones who really get me, though, are the ones who look at our household and say, "What's one more?" They just assume that there's enough chaos in our household that we would never notice one more kid. Unfortunately, these are usually the kids who don't like rules and we have plenty of them. One more kid in the mix *can* really, really make life miserable here. I've been mulling this post over for a very long time and I've come up with the things that make our household seem like a foreign land to some kids - especially kids from very small families. Here's the low-down:

Food Rationing - yes, food rationing. We have a lot of mouths to feed at least 3 times a day. Food is expensive and we splurge on the side of healthy, additive-free foods to boot. Grocery shopping to replenish depleted stores takes time and energy I just don't have a lot of. We serve 3 significant meals a day and then close the kitchen until the next meal. If I made it, they eat it. No arguments. If you put it on your plate, finish it. We can't afford to feed to feed the trashcan. Occasionally there are snacks served if people seem to be getting peckish but don't ask me for one - I'll let you know if it's happening. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cleaning up and preparing in between those meal times but just because I'm in the kitchen doesn't make it open for business. Standing around and staring at me with big eyes only irritates me.

A Thing - Our kids know exactly what this means. There are some things that are just way too complicated to get into with everybody. While coloring may be a great activity for one or two kids, make it 8 with a couple of toddlers thrown in and it can become a huge messy affair. So if our kids want to initiate a new activity they need to ask and make sure they are not starting "a thing". As soon as one gets an apple -the rest are going to want one and the next thing I know I've gone through an entire 3 lb bag of apples. One of them mentions a craft involving cutting things with scissors and my entire floor is now covered with scraps of paper which nobody seems to know how to clean up. One kid is allowed to read a library book in their room and now they all think it's ok which explains the $23 fine on our next trip to the library. Yeah, you get the idea...whatever you do, Don't start A Thing.

It's Everybody's Business - I can't do it all. I gave up that expectation long ago. So if something needs to be done I will call on the closest hands. You may be asked to pick up a stray toy, coddle a baby or switch the laundry over. We expect it to be done without argument, and we don't care if your last name is Klopcic or not. Helping out is second nature around here. There is no such thing as "but that's not *my* job".

Leaving is an Hour Long Process - It takes a long time to leave the house, especially if we are headed to an activity that either involves taking food or feeding people before we leave. Everyone should have their shoes on the steps so they are easy to find on the way out the door. We have three in diapers who need to be checked and changed before exiting the house. Anybody is fair game for a job - fetch me diapers for the bag, grab the hotdogs from the freezer, find the 3 year-olds' shoes outside, buckle a baby into a carseat. In order to leave all hands need to be on deck and available, they may not be able to play and they sure as heck better not be making a mess somewhere.

Rules, Rules, Rules - we have lots of them and they don't often make sense to people not in our household. To further complicate things, everyone's rules are different. We have preteens with a lot of responsibilities and privileges and we have teens and preteens who are not allowed to do the most basic things due to their limitations. Age does not necessarily mean more privileges around here. Toys all have a place and they are not to leave the place. Train tracks go in Nathan's room and they are not to leave Nathan's room. Food gets played with in the girls' room and don't even *think* about taking the chalk out of John's and David's room and away from the chalkboard. It's easy to tell when these rules have been broken - the house looks like it's been attacked by a hurricane within just a few moments time.

No Cacophony - people who do stop by our house often comment how quiet it is. I suspect most people expect chaos to reign here which is just not the case. (As I type this there does happen to be a large amount of screaming and running about which is due more to my pregnant state than business as usual.) Just because we have a large family does not make us uncivilized. Screaming and yelling is not allowed indoors, neither is ball playing and wrestling should be done in the basement - out of sight, out of earshot. Good manners are practiced (practiced, not always perfected) with due diligence at all times. This goes hand in hand with the next point:

Quiet Time is Quiet - When on our usual schedule we institute a daily quiet time. The expectation is that this time will be quiet. All should be in their rooms, reading a book or doing a quiet activity and not chatting with others or bumping about. Usually if we have visitors during quiet time they may play outside with whichever of our kids is hosting them but they may not come inside and disturb the quiet.

It always seems to me that it's the "what's one more" proponents whose children cause the most grief around here. Their parents toss them in the mix and they immediately go into shock when asked to follow a rule, are denied a snack, put in time out for whining or are expected to keep their voices down. Fortunately, we don't have a lot of these friends - and most people will say it only jokingly without ever actually tossing their children into our home unannounced. We have lots of kids who are welcome here just about any time and they are ones who understand that "just one more" can make a difference.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How To Have a Fun Stay-Cation With 12 Children While 37 Weeks Pregnant

This past week was our annual vacation which we couldn't really afford to go on and which coincided with my 37th week of pregnancy, thus making any real travel impracticable anyway. Soooo...we decided on the new trend in recession family vacations - the StayCation. We booked a 7 bedroom house in MD for FREE which we used as home base for a week of day outings. Adora, unfortunately, was *not* on vacation this week and so we added Nehemiah into our mix of activities. Somehow I managed to take pictures on Monday, drain the batteries to my camera and not get them recharged again until this evening so unfortunately I have very few photos. So here was how our week went:

Monday: Ravens Training Camp (free) - we drove 1 1/2 hours to Westminster to sit in the blistering heat and watch the Ravens practice from across the double practice field. This was a very popular event for the more die-hard among us and not so much for the smaller ones. The Fan Zone fun area was a great way to keep the dissenters happy. They got to bounce around in the moon bounce, run the inflatable practice field obstacles, slide down the gigantic inflatable slide and whack the heck out of each other with giant padded sticks. We followed that up with a trip to Baugher's, the local ice cream place and then went home and celebrated David's 5th birthday.

On Monday we also announced the week-long project - a movie/story parody contest. The kids were to pair off with whomever they chose and perform a parody of any movie/book/show they chose. They had until Friday to plan and rehearse.

Tuesday: Three "B" Day - All the B's were a surprise as the day wore on. They were told only to get up and get ready for the first B by 9:30 am. I had managed to save enough MyPoints to get us some gift cards to Cracker Barrel where we had our first B for Breakfast (which turned out to be more like Brunch but, hey, it still starts with a B). We went home and regrouped and then headed out to our second B - Bowling. We managed to correspond our B day with the homeschool bowling at the local lanes so it only cost us 2.50/game/kid with free shoe rental - pretty good on our budget! Nathan beat the pants off nearly everyone and Ruth surprised us with her very unique but effective pinball style bumper bowling. We came home and threw some supper at the kids while Tad and I skipped gleefully off for a date night while Adora handled the final B - Bingo. I had raided Trader Joe's and bagged up a bunch of additive-free cookies and snacks which they earned while playing several rounds of Family Bingo. They ended their B day with a bonus B - Bug's Life - before heading off to Bed.

Wednesday: Game Day. I was anticipating the need for a break for me and baby so planned a day at home base in case I needed to just sit and rest. We pulled out any and every game anyone wanted to play. Our neighborhood gaming friends came over and spent hours playing LOTR Risk and Viktory II. Meanwhile, the younger crowd broke out Elefun, Uno, Moose in the House and a whole score of other games. Dinner was Panera bread sub night. Instead of dropping the $65 it normally costs to feed our family from Subway, we spent $20 in delicious breads from Panera Bread and broke out our home supply of lunchmeats and garden veggies for make-at-home sandwiches. That was a real hit for supper and the older boys got a whole day of gaming with their dad - a very rare treat.

Thursday - Water Park Day. Every year we try to do an amusement park day. This year I looked at every amusement park within a four hour drive, combed the internet for coupon codes and figured and re-figured how to make group rates work. Even at that, I couldn't get us into an amusement park without dropping close to $500 for one day's entertainment. Finally, our priest's wife tipped us off to a parks and rec pool facility in Calvert County - Cove Point Park Pool - with some of the things our kids love best about water parks - fountains, slides and pouring buckets. For under $60 we were able to get everyone in. It was a two hour drive spent listening to the Focus on the Family Novacom series on CD (listening to stories on CD is a favorite family past-time). When we arrived there we found that some punks had vandalized the lap pool and it had been closed and drained. But we still had the run of the water slides and attraction pool. The older kids enjoyed that while the littlest ones spent the day splashing in the kiddie pool which featured a row of 8 inch fountains and a spouting whale in the center. That kept Nathan and Miah entertained for the entire day as Tali crawled in and out of the 9 inches of water. We packed a lunch and ate outside the pool gates. For dinner I headed to a local Food Lion for a rotisserie chicken which I took back to the pool so they could stay in the water as long as possible. A few die-hards - JT, Philip, Betsy and Ben stuck in the pool until the closing whistle while the rest hit the showers and cleaned up for the long drive home.

Friday - Performances and Girls/Guys Night Out - In the morning all got up and readied themselves for the Big Contest. We gathered in the living room (baby and I were too tired to head to the stage in the basement so we made do with a living room performance space). Tad and I acted as judges. Ben and Philip were first up with their parody of Kung Fu Panda - Fon Du Panda. It included some wonderful collaboration between the two and some fantastic mask work by Ben. That was followed by Betsy and Miriam's collection of scenes from Ice Age and Cinderella which involved two very hairy costumes and a lot of faux food consumption. They won an award for best Musical Adaptation with their song Amazing Grapes. Next came Ruth and Andrea who also parodied Ice Age. Their scenes were fairly unintelligible but they did manage to work together with a lot of grace and won the Best Collaborative Effort award. David spent the week being a Royal Pickle and rejecting every offer to collaborate with every team in turn. He finally decided to work alone, then chickened out at the last moment on his plan and hollered out one of PT Flea's lines from Bug's Life for which he (begrudgingly) won Best Character Study. JT and JM collaborated on an animated food show. JT picked up the technical end of the animation while JM helped with the story-line and did the narration. It was a wonderful little piece with some nifty technical work by JT for which they won Best Television adaptation. JT and Ben won special awards for their technical and mask work respectively. Prizes were awarded from Monday night's leftover Bingo stash.

We ordered Papa John's pizza for dinner (with 2 scrip cards I've had in my wallet for eons plus the XL pizza special) and then off to our respective Night Out. The girls headed to a local church to see Beauty and the Beast performed by a cast comprised largely of their homeschooled friends. They were bedazzled by the beautiful and talented young lady who played Belle and were quick to secure her autograph as soon as she appeared from behind the scenes.

The boys took in the movie G-Force in 3D (probably our biggest money splurge of the week) - Tad had the difficult task of trying to find something to excite our boys, aged 3 - 12, and so he pulled out the big guns.

Both of us ended our evening out with a trip to Cold Stone for ice cream and Tad's crew got home first to relieve the babysitter with whom we'd left Tali (her first time ever without family! She was so excited to have us all home she managed to weasle her way out of bed and didn't go back again until 10:30 pm).

Saturday - Picnic Day - Somehow we managed to line up two separate picnics on the same day. The first was a noon picnic at the home of a fellow John Carroll alumni. A group of Tad's friends from high school have reconnected through Facebook and decided to gather together in person. It was loads of fun to meet some of them for the first time and to see others again, gathered with spouses and children. From there we went off to the annual TORCH homeschool picnic, arrived home around 7:30 stuffed to the gills and filthy dirty. All were bathed, prayed up and bedded down.

Welcome Andrea!!

Andrea finally came home to us last Sunday! The past week has been full of fun family stuff as she timed her arrival perfectly with Tad's vacation week. Her whole foster family brought her here from Pittsburgh, where she's been living with them for the past year and a half or so. With Andrea, they were a family of eight children so the large family thing is already old hat to Andrea. We shared pizza together, chatted, the kids played and Andrea got some of her things unpacked and into drawers in her new room. Then her foster family went home a family of 7 children and left us as a family with twelve (counting the tiniest one still in the womb).

This week has been a fast and smooth adjustment for her. By Wednesday she was beginning to call us Mom and Dad, by today the names are sealed. She loves to play with Tali and she and Ruth and Miriam have really hit it off - which is good because they have to share a room with one another for..well, probably a long time to come. She fits right in at Miriam's and Philip's level of functioning and we see lots of issues and circumstances that look awfully familiar. It's nice to be experienced parents bringing in a child with Andrea's challenges as opposed to the naive and new parents we were when Philip came off the plane all those years ago. We feel very equipped this time around with our experience, skills, resources and expectations. Parenting her is satisfying, natural. She is a good fit.

Welcome Home Andrea! We are looking forward to building a life time of memories with you!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Friday Photo

This photo commemorates a very momentous occasion. On Sunday, our daughter will join her new adoptive family! Andrea will be arriving here with her most wonderful foster family Sunday afternoon to get moved in and become part of our crazy household. This picture was taken the first time we met Andrea when she visited us along with her foster family (minus a couple of theirs). Andrea is the smiling face on the far left in the pink sweatshirt.