Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Quiver Is Full

I took a pregnancy test tonight.  I didn’t really think I could be pregnant, but what else was I to think when my cycle was late and I felt nauseous?  As a young girl playing house, I often wondered how many children I would have. The closer I got to becoming a real mom, I tried not to jinx myself by creating precise plans of how many, which sex, and what order.  For me, the Brady Bunch seemed nice, but even Supermom Mrs. Brady didn’t give birth to all those children. (And she had Alice.  I’ve always wanted an Alice.  Maybe that’s why Mrs. Brady was always smiling!)  Yes, even the tidy world of the Brady Brunch included the unexpected inheritance of additional children through re-marriage.  Nothing could be perfectly planned to a tee. 
To hear some people talk, you would think family planning was as easy as going through the McDonald’s drive-thru, but choosing how many children to have is a relatively new development in human history.  It was a whole different ball game just one hundred years ago. Back then, you were either fertile or you weren’t.  And if you were, you just might get thirteen children.  Today’s parents have much more to think about.  
Mothers who find themselves unable to have children naturally have a myriad of options, but the results are still unpredictable.  (Kate Gosselin and the Octo Mom are perfect examples.)  There is always adoption, but even then there are decisions to be made about how many, what age, what race, disabilities or no disabilities, and so on.  Even those who can have children easily find that family planning can be harder than it seems.  If you love children and have the resources, should you just keep ‘em coming like the Duggars?  Some argue that the world is over crowded as it is and couples should only reproduce themselves – the politically correct two children family.  (When I had just a daughter and a son, people would often say to me, “You have your boy and your girl!” as if I couldn’t - or shouldn’t - want anything beyond that.)  As a urologist, my husband performs vasectomies on a regular basis, and depending on the age of the patient, he feels compelled to counsel with them about the permanence of the procedure so they don’t regret the decision later.  Then there are those who “accidentally” got pregnant, mothers who seem to have more than they can handle, or mothers who wished they had more children after it was too late.   
So if you can decide, how do you decide?  Environmental reasons?  Financial?  Physical? Religious? Or maybe more to the point: how do you know when you are “done”?  I have wondered about all of these things and more each time my husband and I have considered welcoming a new little soul into our family.  
My story is fairly uneventful.  It took about a year to get pregnant the first time, then there was a miscarriage, and then my body seemed to figure things out.  The miscarriage was a mixed blessing.  When we finally had another child three and a half years after our first, we decided that kind of spacing worked quite nicely given I was functioning like a single mom during that stage in my husband’s medical training.  Throw in a little postpartum depression and you’ve got another three and a half year break before baby number three.  Baby number three was such a sweet, easy going cherub that I was certain I had figured out this mothering business and should go for at least one more.  Three and a half years later, presto!  Baby number four. 
So here I am half way through my 38th year (how did that happen?) with four healthy, vivacious children that demand more of me than a boot camp sergeant, and I’m feeling pretty maxed.  With a ten year spread between the first and the last, I am trying to do the pre-teen thing while simultaneously doing the baby thing.  It’s a lot of fun for the most part, but certainly a challenge.  But does that mean I’m done?  As the calendar inches along and my “baby” approaches her third birthday,  I can hardly stand the thought of not having an infant in my home ever again.  But wanting a cute and squishy baby to love, and being willing and able to commit to another 18 years of responsibility for another life are two different things.  I can’t just keep having children because I want a perpetual baby to munch on.        
Still, it’s not an easy thing to close the door on the child bearing years of life.  Knowing when to say when is a tricky thing.  My mother-in-law gave birth to her sixth son when she was 46 years old.  My husband is her oldest child and we had our first child just four years after his mother had her last.  When she was giving me some of her baby things, she talked about her bittersweet feelings as she closed that door for what she knew was definitely the last time.  I can see that.  Perhaps the longer you are in that phase, the harder it is to leave behind.  The ability to create, bear and nurture life invokes powerful emotions in every woman.  Leaving that behind almost feels like leaving home.  
My pregnancy test was negative.  (I left it on the bathroom counter just to give my husband a heart attack between the moment of realizing what it was and then confirming the negative result. Bad Allyson!)  I felt a rush of relief.  I was almost giddy.  I have taken each child one at a time, but after the birth of each baby there was always a feeling that there was one more. This feeling was especially strong while I was still in the hospital with our third child.  Not so the fourth time around.  All pregnancies are difficult, but I felt especially burdened this last time.  After bringing the baby home, I found myself doing book reports and car pool while simultaneously nursing around the clock on low doses of sleep.  I just couldn’t imagine trying to pull that off again.  (Not unless Alice moved in.)  I always said I wanted to keep having children until I felt maxed, and I feel maxed.  That was the first time I had a negative test result and felt nothing but pure relief.  That’s when I knew for sure that I was done. 
Psalms 127 reads, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”  (You can probably surmise that a quiver is a container for arrows.) Whenever I think about this verse, I wonder if quivers come in different sizes.  My quiver certainly feels full with four, but I know some women who wouldn’t feel complete unless they had at least six little arrows in their quiver, and others who couldn’t be happier with one.  I wonder if every woman comes wired for a certain number of children they can wrap their heads and hearts around. 
As in all aspects of mothering, we should never judge another mother’s value, strength, or ability to love based on the number of children she brings into this world.  I think all mothers would agree that their love runs out of bounds with each child, no matter what the number.  
QUESTION:  How do you know when your quiver is full?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Musings On Decisions About Family Photography

I know this is hard for people to believe, but I have never had professional pictures taken of my kids.  I did take Kate to JCPenney ONCE when she was about two-years-old, but that's it.  I thought my own candids were as good (or better at times) than the cheesy JCPenney pics, and since our first three children were born during medical school and residency, we just never had enough money to hire a professional photographer.  (Or lots of trips to JCPenney, for that matter.) On top of that, I always knew we were going to have one more child, so I didn't really want to spend a bunch of money on a picture that didn't include "everyone".

Then we graduated and had our last child.  Kate turned ten exactly two weeks before Rachael was born.  It would have been perfect to have their pictures taken the next summer right before Rachael turned one and Kate turned 11.  But I didn't.  In my mind,  I still didn't want to spend the time, effort and money unless we were going to take pictures not only of the kids, but of all of us, the entire family.  And I was still "too fat", or I didn't like my hair, or I didn't want to have to find 6 coordinating outfits, and then there was always the issue of "photographer shopping".  (Honestly, could there be any more options out there?  So many choices, such varying price ranges, and completely different styles.  I can hardly make a decision about two brands of sliced cheese for crying out loud, how am I supposed to wade through the hundreds of photographers for hire around here?)  If I am going to bother, and it's going to be a one time thing (which, at this rate, it probably will be) I want the picture to be as classic looking as possible, both the clothes we wear and the style of photography.  Especially if I have the intention of hanging it on the living room wall.  But I don't want it to look stiff and formal . . . blech.  Too much to think about.

But what is REALLY bugging me, is the fact that all of a sudden we aren't the cute, young parents of four cute, young children anymore.  Brandon is super gray with glasses, I don't think my "postpartum" thinning hair is ever going to recuperate, I have yet to lose the last ten pounds, but worse yet - I now have three young children and an almost teenage daughter who is practically my size!  To further aggravate matters, I actually purchased a gift certificate for a sitting with a professional photographer exactly one year ago next month at the kids' school auction/fundraiser.  So in essence, I have chosen the photographer (even though I don't know much about her or her prices), but I have procrastinated so long that now I am filled with regret.

Yes, it's ridiculous that I'm wasting any emotional energy on this at all when there are people in this world who will never even consider having a professional family photo taken, but I am a bit of a picture nut.  (I would say photography nut, but I have yet to indulge my secret wish of taking a photography class, so I really don't know enough to say I'm a photography nut - except that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE inspiring photography of all kinds.)

I should say I'm a reluctant picture nut.  While I love and appreciate good photography, I almost feel it's gone a little overboard these days and I don't want to get too wrapped up in all the hulabaloo.  Everything is constantly ramping up, from proms and weddings to baby showers and family photography.  It's not just getting better, it's getting more . . . obsessive.  What I mean is, while I'm sure our ancestors would have liked to have had more than one wedding/family photo in a lifetime (standing there in their corsets with stoic looks on their faces), the thought of all the volumes and volumes of scrapbooks filled with pictures documenting every waking moment a child's life, or the scads of professional family photos out there of children and parents looking like they are in a magazine ad for baby food - it's slightly annoying to me.  It's just one more "good thing", the new norm, a higher standard.  If everybody I know suddenly has gorgeous, creative, inspiring family photos, suddenly I start to want a gorgeous, creative, inspiring family photo - even if billions of families have loved each other and had fulfilling family lives without them for thousands of years.  It just bugs me.  I want my cute little candids of our family to be good enough, but the more "regular" people get super cool professional pictures taken of their families, the more I start thinking I need that too.  It bugs me about myself.  (I actually CRIED after leaving someone's house a few weeks back when I saw the gorgeous, framed photos of each of her three children when they were just babies.  Pictures of individual hands, bums, feet, sweet little faces . . . I could never have that. Wah!)

It's the Laura Ingalls Wanna-Be in me coming out.  I really do want to "keep it simple", but when I'm faced with gobs of choices instead of just one or two things at Olson's Mercantile, I get a jumble of feelings that all seem to contradict each other:

1) I really, really want at least ONE nice, professional photo of our little family before we grow anymore.
2) I don't want to figure out what we are going to wear and have to shop for it, then get everybody's hair (including mine) to look good, schedule an appointment around Rachael's nap schedule, and then actually go through with it.

I want Mr. Olson to be the only person in town with a camera and the only thing we have to wear for the picture are the Sunday clothes we wear to church every Sunday anyway.

I guess I want to be the woman in the corset with the stoic face.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Too Much

(I have tried to fix the fonts and weird spacing in this post about ten times - I give up!)

I have so much catching up to do it's ridiculous.  Too much going on these days.  "Secret" things I haven't wanted to talk about too much with many people because then it would make it all more real.  Like the fact that we have been searching towns and new jobs like crazy for over six months; taking trips all over tarnation trying to figure out where to move our family this summer.  And the fact that my friend April talked me into applying to teach a series of classes especially for mothers at BYU Idaho's Education Week (holy guacamole - is that my name on the list?) this summer with her and the other co-creator of The Power of Moms website, and BYU-Idaho actually accepted me.  (What were they THINKING?  What was I thinking?)  So starting in about a week and a half I'll be "practicing" these classes on some moms here where I live.  If I live to see that day.  I'm having major anxiety attacks over the whole thing.  Not really, but I have felt on the brink at times.  You see, I find it terribly hypocritical to neglect any of my five million responsibilities as a mother to work on preparing classes about motherhood of all things, so I have had very little time to get ready.  I pretty much only work on these classes (NINE, one hour classes - three are actually for youth) if the kids are in bed, and since I am not one of those people who can function on less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep, that just doesn't leave me a whole lot of time.  

As if there aren't a bajillion other women out there who are more qualified and could do a better job, but for whatever reason the opportunity presented itself to me and I decided to go for it.  That's what I get for having this quote as one of my personal life motivators:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. - Teddy Roosevelt

I just really, really don't want to fail.  Even if it's while daring greatly. Failure stinks.  

Why even do this at this stage in life you might ask?  Lately, I'm asking myself that same question, but mostly I just love the idea of helping other moms who may need a little support and validation while doing the toughest job in the world.  (My little contribution to society I suppose, since I'm a PTA drop out.)  I think once women get beyond the stage I'm in, they get what I like to call "Momnesia" (future article title FOR SURE!) and they aren't as effective in relating to the moms "in the trenches".  

And we really, really don't want to move ever again, so the pressure of choosing the place our children will call home forevermore is also mounting as we get closer to our own personal deadline of this summer.  Kate starts Jr. High in the fall so we feel NOW is the time.  Everyone is new in Jr. High, right?  And the younger children are young enough to adapt easily.

Some days, it's just too much to think about.  But today was a great day.  I got back on track, re-focused, and was reminded that it in the end, it's all going to be okay.  

Taking a little Sunday stroll around the block with these guys helped: 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Something To Consider

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
- Elizabeth Stone

Will said he woke up with "spring fever".  I asked him what that meant, since for me growing up in the mid-west it was getting really sick and tired of winter and being ready for spring.  (Not really an issue here.)  He said it meant he was ready for school to be out.  I guess you'd call that "summer fever".  In any case, he was pretty bummed when I called him in from burning things with a magnifying glass on the backyard patio to head out the door to school.

He had his feelings hurt after school by his big sister who got tough with him because he was dawdling on the walk home and they were going to be late for piano lessons.

He was also bummed because, while he had to go to piano lessons, his best friend was having a play date with his old best friend - the same boy his current best friend didn't want to have to "share" him with in the past.

He wasn't happy after his piano lesson because his teacher gave him a hard time for not practicing enough with guild right around the corner.

Then, on the way to baseball practice, I gave him a cookie from Trader Joe's that ended up having walnuts in it and he started to get 'that feeling' in his throat.  (I have never made this mistake in the 6 years since we have known about his allergy!)  I quickly gave him some Benadryl and all was well, but I waited a good twenty minutes before taking him, late of course, to his practice.

I should also mention here that he is NOT enjoying baseball this year as he has in the past.  His birthday is the cut off for this league, so not only is he the youngest boy within a two year range, he is also short for his age - 5th percentile for height.  I think it's starting to bother him for the first time.  What is a mom to do??

When I picked him up from practice, he was sitting out with a stomach ache.  He said his throat was fine, but he was sick to his stomach.  After resting for awhile at home, he got up and said he felt better, just itchy.  I noticed he now had hives, so I gave him some more Benadryl.  He was feeling much better and wanted to eat some waffles.  Great!

One hour later, he threw up.

It's one thing to have a bad day yourself, but when your kids have a bad day?  It's just so much worse!  The older they get, the more challenging 'bad days' become for them and I realize I can't fix everything like I used to.  With Rachael (2),  I can just hug and kiss things away, or at least help her forget about them with a little bag of fruit snacks.  Not so with the older ones.

As we were walking back to the car after baseball practice, I asked him if I could hold his hand.  I told him it would make me feel better.  I meant it.

It's hard, bearing the emotional burdens of your children, but it's definitely part of the job.

Something to consider before you decide to have a "baby".

Sunday, April 18, 2010


It just keeps moving on.

I got an email today about helping out with the end of the school year activities for the 6th graders.  And I missed the first (of several - so I'm okay) orientation for incoming 7th graders last week.  (I've been missing a lot of stuff lately.  I can't keep track of it all and I honestly think I burn out at the end of the school year more than the kids do!)

Next year I will have a child in Jr. High?  How did this happen?  Where has the time gone?

So I will just keep sharing little moments every day with each of my endlessly aging children so I will never look back with regret when I have all the time in the world to myself.  More than I will want I'm sure.

Today I:

Made more muffins with Elizabeth.  (Now she calls them "my muffins".)
Played catch with Will in the backyard.
Took all four for a walk around the neighborhood.
Helped Kate make a home out of a jar for the ring necked snake she found and caught on our walk.
Snuggled up with Elizabeth and Rachael while Elizabeth read "Green Eggs and Ham" to the two of us.

Not a bad way to spend my time.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Eagles, Hollywood and Yamashiro

Several months ago, somebody (Trenton and Laura?) told me about groupons.  I signed up, just for kicks, and started getting a daily email.  Most of the time I delete the daily deal without even looking at it, but sometimes I check them out, even though the majority are for young singles or those with lots of time and money.  (Not exactly stuff geared toward the stay-at-home mom.)  But when I saw a groupon one day for 50% off this restaurant, I just knew I had to take Brandon on a surprise date.  Not only is Japanese food his absolute favorite, but he's really into Japanese architecture too. (Kind of a mutual interest since we met there.)  

I'm never too crazy about going into Hollywood.  Every time I do, I end up sitting in traffic.  This time proved to be no different.  Turns out, this restaurant is in the same general area as the Hollywood Bowl (so close they do shuttles to concerts from the restaurant) and THE EAGLES were playing tonight.  The exit for the concert and the restaurant were one and the same, so we sat for AN HOUR AND A HALF in concert traffic even though this restaurant was 17 miles from our house.  At one point we even considered just getting some scalper tickets and going to the concert, but it was actually nice to just sit and talk uninterrupted, so we didn't really mind the wait.

Traffic and one of a million guys selling Eagles t-shirts.  

The view from our table.  I had the shoyu (soy sauce) glazed black cod with mushrooms and greens.  Oh, man . . . yumaliciousness.  

Look at that cod!  I've got some work to do before summer hits, that's for darn sure.  

The garden court in the center of the restaurant.  (Open air above.)

The front of the restaurant.


Turn around and there's the view!  There were some stairs that led down to a little path which led to a garden area and also an area where they have a farmers market I think.  I read a little about it online, but at night I couldn't get a really good feel for the grounds outside.  It's seven acres in the Hollywood hills!  The history is fascinating.  

More view with a cool, old tree.

Can't resist those downtown shots. 

It's always nice to get away and get a little glam in my life now and then.  

This is what I came back to at 10:30pm.  Reality check.  Brandon is on call this weekend and got several pages during dinner, so as soon as we got home he took off for the hospital and I was left to deal with this.  I'll take this.  (She is pretty fiesty, but still irresistible.  See the lipstick kisses all over her face?  She came to the door in her diaper and head gear saying, "Mommy, I missed you!" as if I'd been gone for two years.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Facing Your Fears

Can any mother ever forget that feeling of absolute panic the first time she was tipped out of her wheelchair into the big, wide world with an infant in her arms?  Sheer terror.  I remember looking around at the nurses and other hospital personnel, wondering if there wasn’t something else they needed to tell me, or check on, before they let me just walk out of there alone with that little human being.  You mean, that’s it?  As long as I have a legal car seat, I am expected to fly solo as a mother?  
Even though I had read every book ever written on how to prepare for a baby, and I knew people with even less preparation than me took new babies home from hospitals every day, I was still amazed and afraid.  And I felt so very alone.  

It didn’t get much better when all the well wishers went back to their lives, my mother-in-law flew back home, and my husband went back to work.  My daughter still hadn’t figured out how to nurse after I’d been home for several days.  My life was one continual round of trying to nurse, both of us getting frustrated and crying, breaking down and giving her a bottle, putting her to sleep, washing the bottles, expressing the milk she hadn’t consumed back into the bottles, and starting all over again.  Nothing in my books had prepared me for this.  I didn’t feel up to the task, and I started to wonder for the first time about my ability to be a good mother.  Surely good mothers didn’t feel so overwhelmed, didn’t cry so easily, didn’t second guess their every move.  
My daughter eventually figured out how to nurse, and I eventually stopped feeling panic stricken.  Now I know that every good mother has those moments - it’s just part of the program.  With every new stage in both the child’s and the mother’s development, the fears just keep coming, and the challenge to face them.  After twelve and a half years of moments like these, I’m starting to feel invincible.  Nurse discreetly in public?  No problem.  Fly across the country alone with four kids?  Walk in the park.  Talk to my firstborn about sex? Scoop of vanilla. 
The more terrifying moments a mother endures, the stronger she becomes. The stronger she becomes, the more fears she can face with confidence.  And so the cycle goes.  (It explains the nonchalance with which those “older and wiser” mothers seem to be able to handle the most difficult of challenges.)   
I’ve noticed that the confidence I feel from these triumphs in my life as a mother spills over into other areas of my life. 
Last week our family went skiing in Park City, UT for spring break. We went to the same place where, two years ago, I had a run in with a snow boarder that left me in an awkward leg brace for months.  (My fourth child was an infant at the time and still spent several hours of the day strapped to the front of me, so it was cumbersome and exhausting to say the least!)  I had no intention whatsoever of going back up that mountain.  It’s expensive, it’s cold, it’s potentially dangerous, it takes forever to get all that gear together, it’s a pain in the neck with little children, someone needed to stay with our two year old - I had every reason to stay back at the hotel curled up with my laptop.  
But then I saw it.  That mountain!  And I knew I had to get up there again.  Not because I love skiing (I grew up on the plains of the mid-west), not because my husband was bugging me to try again, not because I didn’t want my kids to think I was a boring mom (okay, there was a little of that), but mostly because I just hate giving in to fear.  It’s never gotten me anywhere before, and I can’t stand the thought of passing that mindset on to my kids.  And besides, I am the mother of four children.  If I can summit the mountains of motherhood, I reasoned, I can do anything.  

So I did it.  I conquered the bunny hill three days in a row with my children.  I even crashed one of their ski lessons.  It felt great to overcome my initial, residual fear and to enjoy the rush that comes from flying down a snowy mountain.  I enjoyed being out there with my kids, and I also felt like I acquired some skills that might help me prevent another accident like that from happening again. 
But most of all, I like to think that I am setting an example for my children that tells them they too can overcome their fears.  Because if they are lucky, someday they will become parents and find out soon enough just how scary it can be to be responsible for the life of another human being.  But I hope they will know they can do it.  

And so the cycle goes.
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