A Mama’s Guide to Surviving Summer Break

As I reread this post from last year, I’m reminded of the panic I often experienced as summer approached and the isolation of rural life began to close in on me and 8 kids.  Last year was tough as I’ve detailed in many posts with Ryan’s health issues and the kids getting older, and soon after summer break, we made the life changing decision to change what wasn’t working anymore. We found a house in the Nashville area, and we jumped.  It was the best decision for our family. 

The first week of summer break sucks every single year.

I always vow to wrap my mind around all of my blessed offspring being home for every second of our life together, but apparently I fail because it doesn’t feel very blessed approximately 10 minutes into the first morning as the fighting begins over PBS versus Netflix followed by moans of disgust when breakfast is served and teenage smirks ensue as the youngest squeals “”STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

Where’d I put my coffee?

I know, some parents love the freedom that summer break offers, but I am not one of those people. I love structure because structure in the form of a school building and angels masquerading

as teachers allows for a few peaceful hours of productivity and peace and productivity are this introverted mama’s best friends. Amen.

Every year, a week before the last day of school, I vow to do better. I vow to have more patience, be more intentional in my unique calling, have more grace and mercy and love – all of those good motherly qualities- but inevitably the stress mounts with my offspring’s constant need for food and entertainment; they fight and bicker and moan and bewail their existence, and I turn and hiss at my husband in the dead of the night – or actually like 9 p.m. because we’re so dang tired –

“You can’t work anymore. You need to stay home and co parent for the summer. No individual is physically and emotionally capable of raising this many human beings for any stretch of time. And honey, four teenagers! Do you understand the complexities and the zits and the hormones? Are you listening?”

I hiss even louder –

“It would drive anyone insane!.”

Those are the words I say, and he smiles and lovingly replies, “You go through this every summer. It’ll get better after a week.”

”

NO IT WON’T! I wail and open my eyes really wide so he knows just how serious I am.

“Give it time” he smiles again.

Of course he smiles – he goes off to work the next morning.

I usually enjoy the rural life that we chose – the peace, birds chirping, the river, the beauty, the land our children roam upon and the innocence this life has provided. I enjoy it all until the last day of school, and then it begins to feel a tiny bit like the land is closing in on me, and the river is rising, and I’m trapped in a zoo where the birds never stop chirping (and yelling and screaming and fighting) and the coyotes are ready to tear me limb to limb if I don’t remain constantly vigilant, and in desperation I inform my husband that we are not living in the country any more. We are moving to the biggest city we can find before the next school year begins. NEW YORK CITY if need be, and I swear I’m not living in rural America for one more day, no sir, I need options! I need restaurants! I need a coffee house and a park and easy access friends for my children and a Mrs. Jones who lives down the road who will dote on my precious babies and feed them snacks and allow constant video games so that I can enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet.

I chose this life but that doesn’t make it easy. I chose to have four children. I chose life for Luke my boy with special needs. I chose Ryan and I chose to adopt his three kids. I chose a rural life, and I chose to have another baby but damn – those choices kick my rear end the first week of summer break as we all figure it out again, figure out how to maintain loving, somewhat tolerable relationships with one another in close quarters – relationships with respect and boundaries – relationships where we still like each other at the end of summer. There is a steep learning curve as the kids sacrifice a huge chunk of their social life from school and a huge learning curve as I give up a pretty significant chuck of quiet work hours. Not to mention, the substantial increase in dishes and trash and diaper changes and grocery runs and meals (have I mentioned the meals)?

Every year I prep for the last day of school. I frantically implement great ideas for our many hours together such as our pool purchase a few years ago. I plan vacations. I sign them up for camps and volunteer positions and kids bowl free coupons. It helps! It really does. And we eventually get into the groove. We stay up a little later, and we sleep in. I begin to relax into what summer is all about and the kids do too. I kick up my feet and read a good book while they splash away in the pool. I shorten the to do list. I lower my expectations and then – just as soon as summer break begins, it comes to an end and without fail I realize, I survived summer break, and I turn to my husband and whisper in shocked acknowledgement –

“Honey. The kids and I have found our groove. They are having fun together and doing their chores without nagging, and helping with Luke and Annabelle, and I kind of like this motherhood gig again. Maybe we should consider homeschooling!”

And he rolls eyes just like he does every summer the week before school begins again because he understands that the only reason we have all found our groove is because we’ve also found the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two miraculous life giving head lights that will soon be rolling down the road at 6:30 a.m, firmly attached to a big yellow bus, ready to transport 7 eager souls promptly back to school.

Ahhhhh. Structure.

Just keep livin.

Are You My Mother? How to be Sensitive to the Complexities of Blended Family Life

I overheard a conversation the other day one of my children was having with an older, married couple. They were talking about our life, all of the brothers and sisters they have, and how fun it must be to grow up in such a big family, and then the woman turned to my kid and asked,

“Who are your real brothers and sisters?”

My child responded with the biological names.

Then the woman said,

“Is that your real Dad or your real Mom?”

My tongue began to hurt as I bit down hard upon it.

A year into our marriage Ryan and I finalized the adoption of each other’s biological children because we didn’t want our kids to feel as if some of them were real to one parent and some of them were not, and we’ve done a pretty good job of eliminating any labels. We have never allowed a pick and choose buffet – it was an accept them all of none of them.  This also applied to extended family, and they have responded beautifully to this desire. Our children usually feel confident in their identity in our blended family until outsiders ask an ignorant question which then has the undesired result of making them doubt themselves and who they are in our family unit.

The definition of real is this – being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary.

We are a real family; we have an objective existence – which is not imaginary.  We aren’t a step family.  We are a blended family.  We take real ownership of what we are and what we aren’t.  We don’t pretend that I gave birth to eight children, but I am the real, active mom to each and every one of them and Ryan is the real, active dad.

Questions such as the one this couple presented, although asked without malice and probably in ignorance, are not appropriate. Not only are they not appropriate, but they have the potential to be extremely hurtful and often have the additional tendency to imply that the children are not involved in a real family situation. Instead, the implication suggests, it was their unfortunate luck to get a fake family.  These questions also enable the construction of boundaries (real or imaginary) between the biological members and the adopted members as the children begin to question their identity and place within this perceived unreal family situation.   Kids in situations such as ours, or adoptive children in general, already have many questions in terms of their identity, where they fit in the world, and where they fit in their family. They also have a tendency to harbor doubts about the structure and security of their new family unit that don’t need to be amplified by strangers.

I would guess that the majority of adopted or step parents feel offended by the implication that they are not a real parent or the siblings are not real to one another.  If you need to address any family in such a way, or if it is merely for curiosity sake you wish to know who are biological or who are not, present the question in a respectful way, but please be careful about asking when the kids are present.  I won’t (unless heavily pressed) say who my biological children are and who the adopted ones are in the presence of my kids.  It’s happened before, and I didn’t like the looks of quiet, almost shame like induced shadows that crossed some of their faces seeming to suggest that they weren’t as good as nor as wanted as the biological ones.

It is a sensitive issue for our family and for families like ours.  Our children have one earthly mom and one earthly dad. We acknowledge that there was another parent, a parent who loved them fiercely, but he or she is gone, and our faith tells us that he or she is in Heaven where they no longer hold the title of earthly Mom or Dad.  Neither one no longer plays any active role in raising them, and therefore, in our family, they are referred to as Mom or Dad in Heaven. Ryan and I are the God appointed, active and engaged parents, the one and only. No one is subbing in, we don’t have every other weekend to ourselves, and we don’t get breaks.  We are two people who try day in and day out to be the best we can possibly be for our eight kids. To suggest that I’m not a real mom or he’s not a real dad is hurtful; especially when we participate in all of the real aspects of parenting such as discipline, family meetings, devotions, driving to and from practices and school, cooking, lazy river days, laying out school clothes, haircuts, snuggles, heart to heart talks, tears and laughter, and the list could go on and on and on because a parent’s to do list is never complete.

We do the REAL WORK of raising REAL KIDS so that makes us REAL PARENTS.

My prayer and hope for this post is to educate because you can’t fix what you don’t know.  Ignorance is not always bliss. I may have said something similarly hurtful to someone in the past before I understood how delicate of a situation adoption or blended families can be.  Please be careful with your words and even doubly careful in the presence of children.

We are really invested in each and every one of our children in a unique and special way because we are a God appointed REAL family.

Just keep livin!!

 

A Bittersweet Day

Mothers Day has come and gone.  It was a huge improvement over last year’s very special day which I detailed in a semi-rant post called My New Mother’s Day.  The other night Ryan questioned how exactly I wanted my day to look, and I replied that my deepest desire was to take a bath without one single person asking or telling me anything through the door (but then that would make me NOT a mother, right?).

My day was good – peaceful, solid, void of any huge pains or heartaches, good.

But –  this day is also a constant reminder of a gigantic ache for three of my children and that makes it bittersweet as their mom. As a family we attempt to not dwell in the agony of the past.  We share memories with the kids about Mom and Dad in Heaven, and we recognize their grief, but there is a difference between honoring the past or choosing to wallow in the pain of the past. Ryan and I do our best to model joy and not allow ourselves to use the past as a crutch. Bad things did happen, but we move forward in praise for what we have been given – recognizing that this life is fleeting and acknowledging God’s faithfulness through thankfulness.

My biological children embraced Mother’s Day with all the joy and giddiness it held and showered me with 500 billion homemade cards and pictures.  Two of my adopted kids were also excited for what the day represented and fully participated; however, I’m sure they also have moments of pain and confusion but their angst wasn’t as obvious as one of the kids.

This particular child was not into this day at all.

This child was angry and had been angry for a week.  I noticed a tenseness every time a commercial aired about Mothers Day.  The other kids would run to make me some thrown together picture declaring their love or they would hurry outside to pick another beautiful bunch of weeds, and this child would sit quietly, not meeting my eyes, not saying a word, just silently aching for the loss, and I didn’t know how to make it better.

I can’t make it better and that is incredibly difficult as a mom. My mama heart wants to be enough – so much so that the loss won’t hurt and in numerous ways, I know I’m a good mom for all of them, but it doesn’t erase the ache and how this day is a blatant reminder of that pain.  As a mom I want to take away the agony, take away the void, maybe even erase the memories because then it won’t hurt so much, but I can’t.  I can’t because at times I even question God’s decision in the matter.  As a biological mother, I have a difficult time understanding why he would choose another woman other than the mother who gave birth to them and loved them?  It doesn’t seem like the best choice but then God’s ways are not our ways, and he doesn’t owe us any explanations.  It only makes sense that his ways are so much higher than we can comprehend, and I don’t believe that our comfort and well-being are a priority to His ultimate plan or purpose here on Earth.  I believe that his ultimate plan probably looks much more like an adoption than a biological conception; a choice to love others as ourselves rather than a inborn, feel good instinct toward one another; a choice to love God and choose his ways over our sinful nature that wants to have everything our own way.

This child and I got into it the night before Mother’s Day, as we do occasionally, both of us having a black and white tendency that needs to be right and both having mouths to match that desire. There was outright disobedience –  something that has never occurred before.  We talked and aired our frustrations and mourned and reaffirmed our love for one another, and I held my child and offered reassurance of my love and that I would keep trying to be the best mom I can possibly be.

And isn’t that all we can do for our children?  Those of our wombs and those of our hearts?  Just be the best we can possibly be for each individually and collectively; relying completely on God’s grace and mercy  in our lives as we repeatedly stumble and pick ourselves back up.  Praying that somehow all the pain and the loss and the aches will be gone one day, and it will all make perfect sense when we end our race here on earth and come face to face with the one who orchestrated it all, our Abba Father who has graciously adopted each one of us into his eternal family.

flowers

These were the beautiful flowers I had waiting for me the next morning – from anonymous child.

Just keep livin!

The Picture Spoke and I Didn’t Listen – A Lesson in Introverted Parenting

Disclaimer – This post is looking at broad, societal generalizations of two strikingly different personality types.   It is merely my understanding of how these personalities interact together on a very small scale of life otherwise known as the Ronne household and how we can successfully mesh them together to create a peaceful and harmonious environment beneficial for all of the family members involved.   

The writing was on the wall from the day I married this man and became mom to three new children.  

It was always there, right in my face, prominently displayed upon our fireplace mantel for the whole world to see, but I never saw what the picture was really saying, speaking to me in a still, small, quiet picture voice.  You see, if you look closely at this picture, you will notice mostly subdued, tired, calm looking children, with two subdued, calm looking parents, that’s what will catch your eye, mostly… except for two of the beings in the picture.  Two children who I would be adopting within the year and becoming legally mom to, two children who I would choose to love as my own, regardless of the lack of bonding I had with them during the early years, two children who would cause me to repeatedly bang my head against a wall in despair and guilt over feeling like I was failing them as a mother because I could not for the life of me figure out why they ticked the way they did, two children with so much joy, so much life, so much exuberance, so much energy, and SO MANY FREAKIN WORDS ALL THE TIME.

I have researched, labeled, prayed, and attempted to reason with these blessings from above in an effort to wrap my mind around how they tick, why they are wired so differently from anything or anyone I’ve ever mothered or experienced before, and I’ve come to the realization, almost three years into knowing them, that it all boils down to two words, two words that have freed me from the confines of guilt within my inner soul in ways I never knew possible and opened my eyes to a realm of possibilities, those two words being so simple, yet so profound:

INTROVERTED – ME

EXTROVERTED – THEM

This moment of revelation, where the Heavens opened up and rang down answers, was a day that happened quite by accident when I stumbled across one woman’s blog entry about being an introverted mom raising an extroverted child and how challenging it was for her and then the fire was eternally stoked. I knew in an instant that I had unearthed the deep mystery of my reality as well and it all started to click.   I spent hours that day researching anything and everything I could find on this very eye opening discovery.  Tate and Jada are extroverted –straight up extroverted, and I am straight up introverted, as are the other 5 children in the family, including the four who have come from my very own loins and as frustrating as it has been for me, I have to imagine these two children have been equally as confused and frustrated, especially ten year old Tate who had a whole new form of motherhood to contend with and adapt to.  A mom who didn’t want to talk about everything, a mom who needed to decompress often, a mom who would jam head phones into her ears to avoid speaking or interacting for periods of time, a mom whose eyes would glaze over in the morning as he bounded down the stairs eager to fill her ears with every single thought that had passed through his mind during the evening.  These two children love to talk, need much less sleep than the rest of us introverted souls, and always, always want to be doing something social.  Their batteries are recharged through going places, seeing people, seeing the world, flinging decorative throw pillows around the room, getting reactions, negative and positive reactions doesn’t matter as long as it leads to someone or something acknowledging and conversing with them, constantly pestering their siblings for the same type of reactions, expressing every single feeling very vocally and very externally, and attempting to fix the funk their introverted mother appears to be in occasionally by doing what they would love to have done for them in a similar situation –BY TALKING, whereas I’m screaming in my head, PLEEEASE…. just give me two seconds to THINK.    

Introverts do very little of any of this because most actions exhaust us after a certain amount of time.  Introverts process almost everything internally and by the time something comes out of our mouths we have thought it through, completely and thoroughly, including any implications that may be involved, and we have deemed it worthy to be vocalized or written to the world as something we stand behind and give our stamp of approval upon (thus many introverts are writers). We are very much homebodies, avoid small talk (it doesn’t seem worthy of the energy), need a significant amount of sleep, and have a much lower need to be social, but that’s not to say we don’t have friends, we are very loyal people and once we actually allow you into our realm of trust, you will be there for a very long time, therefore our circle of intimacy is usually quite small.

The world, especially our American world, is much kinder and more welcoming to extroverts.  We as a culture encourage stress, constant movement,  making all the friends and social media contacts as can possibly be made, loud, inhibition less actions,  excessive congregating and forming groups for this and that and attending  this class, and that Bible study and if you don’t, Why in heavens name wouldn’t you? Don’t you want to grow spiritually with other believers?   Are you struggling spiritually?  Are you backsliding?  What in the world is wrong with you?

Extroverts give the appearance of being much more loving and giving as people than the introverted crowd, generally  basking in the joy of being social, giving back, setting up charities and organizations, hob knobbing with all the people of the world about the next big fundraiser or activity planned and while this is a true characteristic of an extrovert, there is also something inherently and often times unconsciously selfish in these actions in that the acts themselves fill something inside of the extrovert; they fill a void required through this outlet of social stimulation. 

Now contrast this with the introverted perspective on life. No, I probably don’t want to go to every activity and class out there, not even probably no, just straight up no.   My brain needs a lot of time to decompress, alone, or with a single person, either a close girlfriend or my husband.  I enjoy reading something, simply and quietly in the privacy of our home.  Introverts aren’t necessarily rude people although our behaviors are often misinterpreted as rude, we are just very intense people who need to get away from it all and reenergize ourselves; in contrast to the extrovert who gains energy from people and a constant social life, introverts loose energy at pretty rapid paces when we are called upon to be always socially available, not to mention it can cause some massive headaches because it’s just not how we are wired.   It’s not even that we don’t want a social life, we just realize that it will drain us, and we will pay for it with hours of down time and medication later.   Ryan and I love date night and 90% of the time it’s just the two of us, in a quiet place, chatting about life.  Occasionally we double date with people who are very dear to us, and although we enjoy it, the time leading up the event can cause some anxiety because we both realize how much more  it will take out of us to double date, this feeling of being “on” for other people.  Introverts totally understand this, extroverts think we’re nuts because we can’t and won’t stay out until midnight, soaking in the moment, chatting and dancing the night away.  If we did this, we would need to regroup for a month.  It’s exhausting to feel like you need to be on all the time and introverts feel this especially in the presence of an extrovert. 

Bottom line, I love these children fiercely.  Being introverted, I will take some time to process this, claim it as my reality, and then my first born nature will kick in, and I will make it as right as I possibly can by our family. I hope to have some practical suggestions to share in the next post for other introverted parents struggling as well or if you have suggestions, please let me know in the comments.  Ignorance can seem to be blissful for a period, but knowledge is ultimately the most powerful force.

I’m exhausted, time to decompress with a nap…

Just keep livin!!