Saturday, November 30, 2013

An Explanation of My Hiatus

While I've certainly been a busy-body lately, I haven't posted in an eternity and thought it might be time to provide some insight...

As change wafts through the branches of northern Illinois and has painted us beautiful pictures of God's creations, we Smiths find ourselves letting the natural seasons of our lives dictate how our days look as well...even if that means letting some of our favorite things that just don't fit into the current season fall to the ground.

Since my last post, 3 areas of my life (that all rank higher than blogging and even brain development) have shifted dramatically enough to beckon for more of my attention for now.

Supporting my Husband: Brent and I are so grateful for the months God gave us to focus on miscellaneous projects while Brent was out of work for a year, but about the time I last posted, Brent jumped back into the saddle with two hard-working, successful feet (like he always does when he starts anything). His new full-time job as a facilities manager for 22 of our church's northern Illinois buildings is keeping him busy, but is a huge blessing for us. It feels comforting to have long-term work that pays for our basic needs and I'm especially grateful I can now send my husband out the door each morning to a lower-stress, service-oriented job that he truly loves.

Although most work is done by contractors, Brent enjoys getting his hands dirty and fixing breaks and leaks to his heart's content. He occasionally brings our kids along in "Daddy's gay tuck" (that's what MaryAnn calls the grey pick-up truck he uses for work) to visit various buildings, which makes them each feel grown up and very happy alongside their Daddy. Sometimes towards the end of the day, I drop the kids off at Dad's office (which is at our local building that's within walking distance on fair-weather days) to play basketball in the gym while Dad wraps things up...and then joins them for a game of HORSE. And whenever necessary, Brent customizes his schedule so he can serve those in need in our church congregation and community, attend the millions of recitals, games, and concerts our kids keep having, OR report to the home-front if I raise the red (or white) flag. Even though it's a major pay cut from Corporate America, it's a dream come true type of job that we hope to enjoy for a long time during these precious years of raising our children together.

Brent supported me so graciously in getting a good start on writing up Present Parenting and in sharing more on this blog during his lay-off period...but now the winds have shifted. Of course I like to soar once in a while, but probably because I absolutely adore my husband, I also find great joy in lifting him as the wind beneath his wings.

Educating my Children: Since my last post, Carefree Summer ended and a new school year is in full-swing, which swarms me with learning and practicing and extra-curricular activities all day...every day. We continue to maneuver between a combination of home-school mixed with several public school classes.The few short minutes of computer time that I might squeeze into a day are consumed with communicating and coordinating with teachers and coaches and directors and principals. Juggling schedule conflicts feels like a full-time does the taxiing that's required to keep all the balls in the air. And oh, how feeding everyone in a timely manner keeps me literally twirling on my toes.

Creating Life: But most of you already know that what's keeping my body the busiest right now is something far more meaningful than making it to a ballet class on time or reviewing that violin piece once more or getting a gym suit washed before tomorrow.

I'm creating another precious human being and it's exhausting. I need more sleep. I need more time to sweep the floor. I need to sit and just breathe more often and take the time to entertain lots of "Is the baby about this big now?" and "When are you going to be this fat?" questions while little hands connected to giggling bodies rub and poke at my belly. I need to retire to bed by 9, which wipes out any potential for evening hobby time.

While my energy goes to our new little miracle, I need to take the time to soak in my children's overflowing energy because whenever I start to wonder if it's all worthwhile, it is the simple, but focused attention I give to my children that make it so. I simply can't afford to spend very many minutes self-absorbed behind a would eventually drain me completely.

Prior to getting pregnant, I imagined that I would very much enjoy documenting my thoughts on pregnancy throughout these blessed 9 months and sharing why Brent and I continue the eccentric tradition of adding yet another child to our family. I do hope to still get to a journal entry on the why, but I can clearly see now that a daily or weekly or even monthly update is too far beyond my energy level. And because my biggest battles in pregnancy are typically not gagging over food and leaning over the toilet (I'm so lucky!!), but instead include frequent washes of fatigue and a thrilling emotional roller coaster, my posts would probably just be a big alternating mix between "This is the most glorious time in my life! These years won't last forever..." and "What was I thinking?!! If we could turn back the clock, I would vote for a different path..." anyways.

And this world already has enough drama methinks.

So...While we both feel that Brent's new job came as a divinely inspired career move packaged personally for us at this time in our lives AND we deeply value our children's education and the attention they each need every day AND we jointly feel inspired about adding another precious bundle to our brood, each of these pieces all naturally add up to less opportunity to play around with our Present Parenting site and this here blog for now.

We still love those projects and we still look forward to setting aside time to answer specific parenting and discipline questions received over here on our site. Please feel free to drop us a line--it was a joy to interact with a couple who asked about sleep issues with their 3-year-old recently. I would love more parenting and brain development and discipline questions and insights from friends, family, and readers! It keeps my mind moving in useful directions and makes me feel like I can positively influence the world beyond the walls of my own home occasionally...and that's important for a mama...even one who sincerely loves giving most of her minutes to her little ones 24/7.

But overall, we must feel content with our lack of cyber-space time during this current season.

We expect that spring may emerge again for a more detailed sharing of our parenting moments, philosophies, and tactics here and at Present Parenting (because my love of brain science and emotional regulation and the potential parents have for spreading world peace through present-minded discipline is still burning bright inside my heart), but we will wait patiently and see.

And we trust that dormant seasons have a divine purpose as well.

**But do check back occasionally because posts may sneak out here and there...I'm not sure I can keep from posting about our big 20-week ultrasound that is scheduled just in time for Christmas on Dec. 23...We're having a family debate about if we should discover Baby's gender that day...we probably will...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Final Road Trip Re-cap + a tribute to Aunt Dorothy

I just have to take a few final minutes to re-cap something that keeps running through my mind regarding our recent road trip: Exchanging emails and texts and sharing blog posts and Facebook statuses and even Skyping or video-chatting are all such lovely ways of communicating when miles separate us from loved ones. But creating opportunities for gatherings and making the effort to visit face-to-face (even if it means traversing 1000s of miles) reigns supreme!

Nothing beats the real live physical and emotional presence of family and friends.

This concept is even more near and dear to our hearts because:
Less than two weeks after returning home from this trip, we received the tragic news that Aunt Dorothy, the primary organizer of the big Smith family reunion, died suddenly from heat exhaustion while hiking in southern Utah on August 15. She was only 56 and was the first of all 8 of the Smith siblings to return home to greet their parents on the other side despite the fact that she was the second youngest and healthiest one. We are heartbroken for her husband and seven children, one of which is away finishing up his mission in Chile. But, how grateful we are for the opportunity to have seen her and her family--in person--so recently.

The Utah reunion--which greatly influenced the existence of our 2013 Summer Road Trip and all the lovely memories we accumulated because of it--may not have happened if it wasn't for Dorothy. She happily took on the stress of managing all the details so hundreds of family members could enjoy a day together. And now she is gone. I still can't believe it. Her influence will surely be felt for generations.

She left such big shoes to fill in order to plan for the next gathering...but shoes worth filling (it will probably take a few people to fill them) because gathering people together for real life time together is a very worthwhile endeavor.  You just never know when you're going to see them again.

Thank you, Aunt Dorothy, for your example, life, and light!! You are very missed already and will be for years to come. We love you and your family!!

A few final road trip thoughts and memories:

<Seeing pictures of Mount Rushmore or the Hoover Dam or the St. Louis Arch doesn't convey the same emotion or stir the same thoughts as a real life encounter. >

<As we were driving through the mountains, Brent, who normally feels quite determined to get us to our next location in a timely manner, suddenly stopped the van and jumped out to smell the roses for several minutes. He threw a stick upstream and shared his boyhood joy of watching it dance along the water while his children huddled up next to him. Knowing Brent would start a new job and the kids would begin new school years upon returning home from our trip, I sensed the symbolism of this quiet, still moment and felt grateful for the strength and refreshment that such moments give us if we take the time to have them amidst all of our daily and weekly and yearly rushing around. We don't have to take the time for these moments. But I'm always glad when we do.>  

<Without our road trip, when else would MaryAnn get the chance to monkey around on the toddler chair in Nana's kitchen that every other one of her siblings, Smith cousins, her uncles and maybe even her Daddy(??) have already fallen in love with when they were her age? MaryAnn felt very blessed.>

<I wonder how many other lucky dolls got to explore the country this summer...I smiled when I found their church clothes tucked in neatly next to ours the first time I opened the Sunday Bag down in AZ. Everything else they brought along was stashed in their individual doll suitcases. Watching my girls care so completely for their girls was a true treat.>

<We enjoyed Roadside Cereal during our western route to use up the remaining milk that would've spoiled back home in our fridge because we're frugal like dad would be so proud..>

<GG didn't get to see Kenny in person, but because we were with her in AZ and we Skyped with Kenny regularly while he ventured around up in Utah, GG and Kenny connected nonetheless.>

<My older kids took turns leading Christopher around during our journey home. "Seeing" the world through his blind eyes is a very insightful experience and one that truly enlightens us all.>

<And this is my confession of how we actually endured 70 hours on the road with a 2-year-old.>

I will be forever grateful that we took the time, energy, and money to live out of our van for two weeks so we could travel to places we don't see very often, but especially so we could visit with family and friends who mean the world to us, but just live a tad too far for us to cross REAL paths (instead of just virtual paths) often enough. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Part 3 of the Ol' Western Road Trip 2013

As part of our big loop around most of the states that sit west of the Mississippi River, we had the very unique and inspirational and quite adventurous opportunity to travel home with another family from IL who had similar plans this summer.

Meet Celeste.

Celeste is an incredible woman from our church congregation who has 10 children. Her youngest six line up with our six kids quite nicely; they are compatible both in ages and in personalities.

Celeste and her husband Les' parenting situation is extremely unique because 4 of their 10 children have been diagnosed with a rare genetic degenerative disease called Batten's disease that includes severe seizures, blindness, dementia, and the gradual loss of motor skills. Two of them (ages 15 and 11) have digressed so dramatically that they cannot travel. So while Les stayed home to care for Elizabeth and James, Celeste packed up the remaining 6 children (including 16-year-old Christopher who is blind and 6-year-old Samuel who is nearly blind) and drove out to Utah in a caravan with another family and then journeyed home with us. (Their two oldest boys are away from home serving missions.)

During our Utah stay, we met up with Celeste and her kids to hang out on a mountain lake for a day where the kids enjoyed tubing and Brent impressed us all with his wake-boarding skills. After lots of fun in the sun, we started our homeward eastern trek all together a few days later (3 adults, 12 kids and 2 vans).

<Though he couldn't see them, Christopher kept asking about other motor boats he could hear in the distance. He enjoyed the job of warning them when we had someone in the water.>

<Brent was a 6-and-under magnet for the entire trip...a role he takes very seriously and with lots of love.>

 <Celeste says all the effort it took to brave this trip was worth having Samuel see his grandparents because by next summer his sight will likely be completely gone.>

 <The Littles had no desire to go out on the tubes, but boy did they LOVE riding on the boat!>

About halfway home, we stopped for a camping adventure in Mount Rushmore. Besides viewing the majestically carved faces after a thick fog thankfully lifted that morning, other highlights included multiple dutch oven meals, a chain of severe thunderstorms, wet sleeping bags, no need for bug spray the entire time (I couldn't figure out where all the mosquitoes were, but was so happy not to meet any), a peaceful picnic by a lake, a drive through a safari park, and hundreds of thousands (literally) of roaring motorcycles engines who were gathering for an annual Harley Davidson pow-wow near Mount Rushmore the same weekend we happened to be roaming through the neighborhood. (They were very kind to us...a few of them offered rides to Christopher and eventually to all the rest of our kids who swarmed over to them.)

<Eggs in a bag...yummy and almost no clean-up...courtesy of my Eagle Scout husband.>

<This is what we saw after our climatic entrance into Mount Rushmore National Park. I admit I was a little nervous about the memories we'd take away from this historic site.>
<About 20 minutes later, we caught this outlining glimpse...but with patience, we eventually experienced the full clear breathtaking view.>

<For the first time in my life, I noticed that George Washington's statue also incorporates his old fashioned jacket as well (because someone pointed it out to me). MaryAnn noticed that all those big faces had really big noses.>

<These two were determined to make peach was delish!>

We experienced the beauty of the earth in places we'd never visited before.

We experienced the opportunity to deepen friendships with such an awesome family (in other words...we gratefully all still like each other despite how camping and road-tripping naturally encourages the entire spectrum of emotions to shine brightly for all to see).

We also experienced a few bumps along the way...with the bumpiest part being when Celeste and I and the 6 youngest kids were riding in Big Blue (their 15-passenger van) and the back left tire blew out while Celeste was driving at 70 miles/hour somewhere in South Dakota. It was scary. I'm still shocked and thankful that angels guided Celeste as she carefully pulled the van to a complete stop without rolling us off the road into a messy heap. Brent, who was driving behind us with the older kids, felt a knot in his stomach when he saw the tire fly away and then was so thrilled that we got safely to the side of the road that he came running up to our van with big cheers only to find that most of the occupants in our vehicle were crying hysterically. After lending his shoulder for teary eyes, Brent changed the tire and the big kids thoughtfully offered to ride in Big Blue after that. But the spare was not in much better condition than the blown tire, so we stopped for the night in Parkston, SD and continued on our way the next day after hitting the tire finally cross the finish line into our driveway after 10 pm on Sunday, August 4.

What an accomplishment for Celeste to take such a journey without her husband's rock solid support right by her side. I'm so proud of my friend!

<When we arrived in Mitchel, SD, there were no rooms in any of the 5 or so major hotels because bikers had already claimed them all. So we had to drive 20 miles off the freeway to Parkston, SD (a town of 1488 people) where we got the last two rooms at the quaint Rainbow Motel...pictured below.>
<Our final day's journey occurred on a Sunday. We decided to dress ourselves in prep for attending church somewhere along the way; however, we never got to a building in a timely manner. But the Lord was in our hearts as we thanked Him for our safe and enjoyable trip.>

It was a good trip.
We would totally do it again.