I Did (Almost) Nothing All Year

Last September the third of my four children marched off to grade 1, which is the beginning of full day school here. That’s when people started with the question. “So what are you going to do this year with just Rosalie home all day?” It’s a fair question and one I’ve asked other at-home moms myself. At first I thought I was going to work part time from home for my church, but it quickly became apparent that doing so was going to involve trading a significant portion of my sanity, and by October I had to let it go. I considered putting Rosalie in preschool, thinking she’d be bored and need the socialization. That didn’t feel quite right either. Should we join a play group? Put her in a lesson or class of some kind? Join a Bible study or moms group at a church? Hmmm. I didn’t think so.

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First day of full time school for all 3 boys. It was a huge milestone.

The problem was, that last September I had been a full time stay at home mom for 10 years, and I was tired. The kind of tired that you feel in every cell of your body. Exhaustion, fatigue, weariness – all of it, all at once. I had nothing left to give to anyone or anything. What energy I did have was going to Rosalie during the day when the boys were at school, and all four kids when they weren’t at school. When people asked me what I was going to do all day with just Rosalie, I couldn’t think of a single answer that involved doing anything at all. Caregiver burnout of a kind I did not know existed had fully set in and I was quite happy to not have to do anything. The concept of Sabbath for mothers is insanity. When mothers rest, the house burns down. Rest comes in seasons and I felt that this was a season I had come to, quite unexpectedly and not entirely of my own free will.

So I made the unintentional decision to just say no to almost everything. I did (almost) nothing all year from September to June. Rosalie and I spent a good majority of our mornings in bed. She’d wake up while the boys were getting ready for school with Glenn, and crawl into bed with me. While they packed lunches she’d watch Netflix or play Starfall on the iPad. I’d doze off or play on my phone. Some mornings she’d just snuggle in and go right back to sleep. The boys would come give us hugs and Glenn would bring them to school. We’d saunter on downstairs for breakfast whenever we felt like it. Or sometimes Glenn would bring her a cup of milk and granola bar in my bedroom before he left, because we were just not in a hurry to move or do anything or be anywhere.

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Afternoon nap and Netflix, captured by Glenn.

We had some play dates, although almost all of them were initiated by other people. We ran errands. We stayed home and read books, drew pictures, cleaned the house, did nothing, went for walks, played at the park. It was the most unproductive year I’ve had in my adult life. Rosalie didn’t seem to mind. When you live in a house with this much testosterone coursing through it, the times when everything is still and quiet are rare and valuable. She’s as independent as I am and enjoyed quite a bit of alone time with her babies and teddy bears and horses and imagination. At various times over the year I thought for sure I needed to get the both of us out more, but I just could not bring myself to do it. I prayed about it even, thinking that surely God must have some kind of direction or intention for this year of my life.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

That verse has come to me a lot this year. It’s difficult to submit to rest and nothingness when you are a type-A, take charge, kick ass, no mercy kind of personality. I did it though, and it was good for me, much as I am loathe to admit it. I’m not sure when it happened, maybe around the New Year, but as the time wore on in this my year of nothing, as I came to start calling it, I began to come back to life again. I had more energy. I felt less guilt over needing what felt like an excessive amount of time to myself, even for me. I was able to think through and process some of the complicated years of raising and figuring out these boys of mine. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think. You just do. You move forward in whatever direction you have to. You go to the assessments, you fill out paperwork and answer so very many questions, you call the ambulance while your boy turns blue, you go to a thousand doctor appointments, you get the diagnosis, you try the inhalers and meds, you go to more doctor appointments, you meet with teachers and sign IPP’s and fill out medication release forms, and you just go, go, go. There is no time to stop and that was okay. Until it wasn’t. Until I wasn’t.

Caregiver burnout is a real thing. I’m not a doctor or psychologist or professional but I am a stay at home mother and after 10 years of caring for all of my people, I burned out. And so I stopped. I stopped everything and just did nothing. I loved the time with my daughter and spent every waking moment with her for this whole year just because I could. She was my only yes all day every day. I read when I felt like reading. I wrote when I felt like writing. I purged old toys and clothes and things out of this house at a rate that almost alarmed my husband. After school we played at the park with the boys or went to the lake or for walks. Sometimes I went to church and sometimes I didn’t. I sat down and colored with my kids at the kitchen table. We went to the zoo. We watched movies. I spent time in prayer, in silence, meditating on Scripture and on the words in the songs we sing in worship to God, copying Scripture, and listening for the still, small voice of God. With His help I got myself un-burned out and didn’t feel bad for one second that the only people who got my time or energy all year were my kids and Glenn.

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My yes this year was her.

By spring I was applying to go back to school. Life had not slowed down but I had slowed down in the middle of it and suddenly I could think straight, see straight, and make rational decisions again. Oh this year of nothing, it was necessary and it restored me but it certainly went fast. The funny thing is that when I got my boys back at the end of June, it was them who were burned out from a long, busy, productive school year. They had as profound a need for rest and nothingness as I did last September. Rest is good, as it turns out. I learned a lot about making room for rest, and that a lot happens when you think you’re doing nothing. All of us are rested now and about ready for more.

Now the big question is what I’m going to do when Rosalie goes to kindergarten this fall. I’m taking classes. Not too many. One or two at a time, and all from home. Kindergarten is only half days, less than 3 hours actually. The part of the day when she’s home with me? We aren’t going to be doing nothing this next year. I’m done with that. Now? We’re going to be doing everything. The two of us in the morning, me alone in the afternoons, all four of my rascals the rest of the time, Glenn too when he’s not working. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s time. My Sabbath year of nothing, of rest, of giving myself time and space to breathe and answer to no one but my Maker – it restored me. As He promised.

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Me. Rested. Restored.

Moving out of this year of doing (almost) nothing, it has become apparent that while the concept of Sabbath may be insane for mothers, living life without making space for some kind of Sabbath rest will about drive a mother insane. I’m not good at moderation but I’m going to give it a shot. I don’t know who is reading this, but maybe I’m not the only one who needs to intentionally make space for Sabbath rest. Perhaps I won’t get to the point of needing a year of it again, if I can make a disciplined habit of it instead.

(I’ve already tried to imagine what I’m going to do with myself when Rosalie goes to grade 1 and is at school full time like the boys. We’re over a year away from that and I can’t picture it without freaking out. That much peace and quiet is likely to be way too much me time. I’m going to need to take a lot more classes or find some time consuming hobbies or get a part time job. Funny how moderation works in both ways!)

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

Love Greater

Blood. Not so long ago, it was common medical practice to stick people with something sharp to let the blood out. It was a go to, a cure all, for an astonishing number of conditions. Let the blood out, we have too much of it, balance the bodily humors, and maybe the sickness will go out with it. They were wrong mostly and it seems barbaric, even criminal, today to consider such a crude course of treatment. We are more likely to do the opposite and give a patient more blood when the need arises, than to take it away. And where does the blood for patients come from? Donors. From people who show up at clinics to voluntarily get stuck with something sharp, giving of their own blood to save the life of another.

Perhaps we have not come so far as we think in our current age, because it seems as though the entire world is set to bleed itself to death anyway. And on such a scale as would seem wholly barbaric to those who came before us. With explosives and guns these days rather than 18th century fleams and whatever-passed-for-needles in ancient times, we are hell bent on letting the blood out, certain that in its taking will be found justice or vengeance or righteousness or satisfaction.

We have a way to go in this bleeding, broken world. Medicine has figured out that it is in the giving of blood, not the taking, that lives are saved. It is when people line up ready to bleed for each other rather than to bleed each other out that miracles take place. Jesus said, “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And then the God who calls us friends laid down His life, bleeding out on the cross until death came like a shadow, taking even Him.

I think His friends then must have felt something like we do now. We watch the news and wring our hands and wonder how in God’s name this world can ever be reconciled to itself. And the answer comes swiftly: it cannot. It can only be reconciled to Him. Him who bled to death and yet could not stay dead. Who calls us to do the same, for our neighbors and our enemies alike. The power of resurrection is really kind of terrible when you think about it, but it’s the best we have in the battle for flesh and blood in this world. There is a battle waging, make no mistake. Resurrection says that the dead will live, and the broken will be made well, and the lost will be found, and that justice in the end, is in the hands of God Almighty.

The human heart starts beating before it starts pumping blood. We don’t have to bleed to have a heart beat and we don’t have to bleed each other out to make our own hearts beat stronger. The heart of God has blood no longer, yet beats for us like the heart of a parent for their child.

Jesus wept for the dead once. If there is nothing else we can do, we can weep for the dead. And then love the living with the kind of greater love that is willing to give blood instead of take. Our hearts beating for another, instead ourselves. Practically speaking, I don’t know. Be nice. Have compassion. Show up with a meal. Hold the door. Hold your tongue. The latter of those being the hardest challenge of loving people for some of us. Okay. For me. Whether the world needs us to open our eyes, get our hands dirty or simply shut our mouths, if we are looking we will figure it out.

God be with those lost and those living with loss. And may the rest of us be given the almighty kick in the pants that we need, to love greater.

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love

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

Nobody Cares

I am re posting this today as a reminder of what really matters in raising up our kids.

TroubleFace Mom

Wait a minute. I’ve read this before.

Yes indeed. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you may remember this one. I archived it and today I am re-posting another updated version for new friends and new moms and anyone who needs a reminder.  A reminder of that which nobody cares about, but mostly what they do care about. What they care a lot about.

***

The first day of school. Ever. It’s a huge milestone for most families, and we are no exception. We kind of make a big deal out of it every year. The first day of school is always cause for celebration in our house. This school year our boys are in grades 5, 3, and 1.  We’ve got three first days of kindergarten behind us, and one last one coming up in September. Maybe it’s a little odd to be talking about the…

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The One With the Interview

So I was interviewed this week by Mandy from We Are His Daughters, a website committed to encouraging women to be bold in their faith. I was flattered by the invitation since being interviewed is not something that happens in my life except for when my family wants to know what’s for dinner and *why can’t we have something else* – so I went for it. I didn’t tell anybody that this was happening because I figured there was a good chance they’d read my answers and change their minds. (Insecurity: I need to work on that.) But they didn’t change their minds and the interview is up as part of their Ministry Monday feature.

I know that not everyone who makes a pit stop at this blog would identify as being a faith-based person, and that’s cool! Don’t abandon ship just yet. For those who are interested, you can find We Are His Daughters on facebook and on wordpress.

Their interview with me can be found here.

Have a good week friends!

~Jenna

copyright (c) Jenna Pelias 2016 // all rights reserved

We Aren’t In Kindergarten Anymore, Toto

We Aren’t In Kindergarten Anymore, Toto
On Parenting A Preteen
by Jenna Pelias

People keep asking me how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten. I’m still not even 100% sure we’re sending her, but to be honest I’m fine either way. Kindergarten is 2.75 hours of learning the alphabet, numbers to 10, center time, carpet time, art, music, playing on the playground, and learning how school works. Kindergarten is terrific and she’ll love it whether we send her this year or wait til next.

To be honest, I keep thinking that people who ask me how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten are asking me the wrong question. The real question is how I feel about raising a preteen. Our elementary school goes to grade 6, so Mateo has only one year left after this. How about “hey Jenna how do you feel about Mateo going to junior high in a little over a year?” Now that’s a conversation I can get invested in. He just went to kindergarten and now we’re about to start packing it in on his elementary school days. HOLD ME JESUS.

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Mateo’s first day of kindergarten.

We are just dipping our toes into this hormonal world of ditching playing for hanging out, and deciding whether we need to get a spare cell for when the preteen is out not playing at the park with his friends. This afternoon I heard the words, “we have to get that on video” when Mateo was on the trampoline with his buddies and a go pro camera. This is apparently what preteens do. Haul go pros around and film themselves making questionable life decisions. I decided not to look outside – I don’t know if I want to know. I definitely want to follow through on my recent threats to get rid of the trampoline. For real. I feel like we’re just a ticking time bomb to the next broken bone. Third time doesn’t need to be the charm with hormonal preteen boys running around with go pros, am I right?

There is a lot of unknown happening around here. Mateo recently made the decision to occupy the spare room in the basement – alone. He’s shared with Andreas for going on 8 years and now all of a sudden he wants his own space. So he moved downstairs, Andreas moved in with Olivier, and Rosalie is on her own after sharing with Olivier almost all of her life so far. What is happening to my house? Everything is changing.

Last night I went to say goodnight to Mateo – because you don’t tuck in preteens, you say goodnight to them. Obviously. He asked me to pray for him. I prayed and thanked God that in Mateo we have a kid we can trust and have confidence in. Today he was making plans with the aforementioned go pro friends and we were negotiating terms. Where he was allowed to go. When to call. Etc. We definitely aren’t in Kindergarten anymore, Toto.

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Negotiating the terms of his release from captivity aka our home.

This is my life now. Negotiating terms and avoiding the words “we have to get that on video” and praying words that speak life into my kid hoping that he hears us and God louder than all the crap he’s about to hear from this world. Also deodorant. And having their own room. So far that’s all I have in my arsenal.

So ask me again how I feel about Rosalie going to kindergarten. Compared to getting Mateo ready for junior high? Kindergarten feels like a walk in the park. I tried but clicking my heels together three times and saying “there’s no place like kindergarten” won’t bring back 5 year old Mateo. Onward and upward we go, then.

***

copyright (c) Jenna Pelias 2016 // all rights reserved

 

 

Where Autism Takes Us

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We love a boy with Autism. Andreas is just here for the pizza. His eyes are closed because the sun was too bright.

It’s been just over 3 years since our second son, Andreas, was diagnosed with autism. He’s 8.5 now and in grade 3. He is doing well. Math is his spirit animal. His teacher was recently fist pumping with joy as she explained that she has been catching him reading books in his lap when he’s supposed to be paying attention. Why is this good? Because boy wonder was hitting junior high reading level in grade 1, despite the fact that reading was not his favorite. You’d expect a kid that advanced to be a book worm, but nope. He read when he had to. Now he sneaks books in class and that is a real cause for celebration. Geology and animals are topics of great interest, and he’s recently become enthusiastic about research projects. (Seriously, if I hear one more word about Andean condors I might actually spontaneously combust.) His teacher hit the jackpot this year by providing him with an alpha smart to do his writing with. Writing is tiresome and he pretty much hates it. Last year he had a teacher tell him that he had to write 1 sentence before going home. He wrote, “Miss Teacher school sucks I want to go home.” She wasn’t impressed but hey, a sentence is a sentence and he used his to make a point. Well done. Now, with the alpha smart he is typing pages at a time. This all sounds really wonderful, and it is.

What I want people to be aware of on Autism Awareness Day, is that the wonderful things and the moments to celebrate? They come with a lot of hard work. Andreas doesn’t even realize how hard he is working, because this is his normal. It’s our normal. And sometimes that makes me really mad for him.

A couple months into last school year (grade 2) I honestly thought I was going to have to pull him out of school and home school him. It was so bad that he was shutting down completely every day. He hated school. He was miserable. This was not like him and we were distraught. Our happy boy was sad all the time and people around us were starting to notice too. I had had enough when I was told he was being placed into literacy support. What the boy who was reading at junior high level needed was not literacy support to get him to read a bunch of boring fairy tales because “that’s the grade 2 curriculum.” He needed to be able to be himself and that wasn’t happening. Everything he did was “wrong” and he was responding accordingly. After one very ticked off email on my part, the school took action. The principal stepped in, and put him into a different classroom.  That day he came home from school and I told him the good news. He said nothing. But he gave me the happiest smile I’d seen in a very long time.

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The day he found out he’d be switching classes to be with his friends, a quirky teacher who would let him be himself, and be able to do “harder” work that wasn’t boring. It was a good day.

I’ve never shared that online because it was so upsetting for such a long time. The teacher he had did have a part to play in it, but she was also a first year teacher who had learned “strategies” for autism, but never had to implement them with a child like Andreas. The school had not prepared her for the complexity of a 2e (twice exceptional) child. The principal actually acknowledged this, took responsibility, and apologized to me. She also used it as a learning experience for the teacher – who is not a bad teacher – and the school. Going back though, twice exceptional refers to a child who is BOTH gifted and on the autism spectrum or having adhd or learning disabled in some other way. Sometimes Andreas being as bright as he is, causes people to question the challenges he has. Other times, him being on the spectrum causes people to question the gifts that he has. We are always walking a line for him. It is exhausting, complex, and more rewarding than I ever thought possible.

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This is one terrific kid.

After he switched classes last year, everything changed overnight. The rest of the year was positive and we got our boy back. I was terribly anxious at the beginning of this year though. We did not want a repeat of trial and error with classroom placement. Not just for our sakes, or Andreas, but because I didn’t want another teacher to go through what that one did. I want to acknowledge that the whole situation was terribly upsetting for her as well. The school really had learned though, and as I noted above, I’ve got his teacher reporting that he’s writing pages and pages, loving research, doing math enrichment, and hiding books in his lap when he’s supposed to be learning.

There are other challenges. Socially things are changing as his peer group is growing up and this has been difficult. We convinced him to join the after school ultimate frisbee club with his older brother Mateo this spring. I think it’ll be good for him to do something fun with his friends, that is also structured and supervised. He may love it or he may hate it, but he’s trying it. Things like that are so brave for a kid who is not athletic and not a social butterfly and who comes home from school every day in a rush to put his pajamas on and be alone.

There are surprises. Last summer Rosalie was being terrorized by a housefly. The sounds of her shrieking could be heard far and wide. Andreas found this terribly distressing. I suspect her shrieking was bothering him more than anything else, because it motivated him to come up with a solution to get rid of the fly.

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A giant crumb to entice the fly and duct tape to trap it. Brilliant.

Now that’s a fly trap. It didn’t work. We eventually had to swat that fly dead, but his heart was in the right place. He’s valiant in his own way.

There are breakthroughs. It is no secret that Andreas and Oliver are not just different, they’re almost in opposition to each other. Andreas craves order, quiet, and routine. Olivier needs chaos, noise, and surprises. As a parent, meeting each of their needs at the same time is like being a magician. Everything is an illusion. I had been praying for them to find common ground. For my own sanity as much as for their relationship. And then it happened. Olivier is all about dinosaurs. One fine day it occurred to Andreas that geology (his science of choice) and paleontology (Olivier’s science of choice) are sciences that go together and all of a sudden they’ve got common ground. It was like watching a miracle.

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My heart in four pieces.

We have a funny little life with our funny little kids. Autism is a spectrum and we have a whole spectrum of ups and downs happening in our lives with Andreas. He has taught us more than we’ve taught him. I suspect that’s what happens in many families that include people with special needs. Because we have to pay attention to every little thing, we get to really see and experience every little thing. It is a gift. A friend made the comment that to know Andreas is to love him. She wasn’t the first person to say that.

Autism. 3 years ago I was focused on what brought us to that word. Now I am focused on where that word is taking us. I admitted that sometimes the challenges make me mad for Andreas. Nobody wants to see their kid struggle and be misunderstood. At the same time, I’m thankful for every hard lesson he’s learned  or that we’ve learned as a family. It’s made us more steadfast in our love and determination. It’s made him more brave than he knows right now. I can’t wish that away. What I do wish for him, with everything in me, is that he would take this exceptional life he’s been given and live it well. And I wish very much that the world will get out of the way and let him.

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I told him to be a superhero. This was the pose I got. (Sidenote: if he could have any superpower he would choose telekinesis. Of course.)

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

 

 

Pitch A Tent

Pitch A Tent
On Making Room For the Holy

I posted a photo on my facebook page last week which garnered more of a response than I’d anticipated. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure if I should share it but it seemed significant and so I did. In that photograph is a stack of paper.

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Not just any pile of paper.

I’ve been working on that stack of paper for over 14 years. In fact, I’m fairly certain that this ever growing act of blatant plagiarism is in direct violation of all the copyright laws – an irony not lost on someone who slaps a copyright on everything she produces. I figure what Zondervan doesn’t know won’t hurt them. Hopefully. Because this isn’t a journal or a thesis or some kind of opus that’ll one day blow the minds of all who ever knew me. It’s the Bible. I’ve been copying the Bible, painstakingly, for my entire adult life beginning at age 18 and having just passed the halfway point now at 32. So in fairness, this is only half the Bible.

Why? I guess I fell in love with the Word of God kind of by accident on my part. Initially I began reading it in order to prove it wrong. Like if I read it for myself, then I could bring my own arguments to the table and be able to believe in God (maybe) without all the Jesus stuff (because that would be weird) and I damn sure wasn’t interested in Ghosts, of the Holy or any other variety. (The lighbulb in my lamp exploded after I wrote that and I almost peed my pants. True story.)

It went well for me in that I failed miserably. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. What does that even mean? Who knows. I was in. Just like a crazy person. It was highly unsettling and I am still at odds with myself trying to reconcile logic and faith. So there I was. 18 and a new Christian. Like a for real one. Now what?

I didn’t know it then, but my now what was that God was helping me pitch a tent. I’d read the Word, but it was time for me to know the Word.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting…Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses…Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
Exodus 33:7a,9,11

Pitch a tent. For Moses this was a literal thing. An actual tent. A place where room was made for the holy. A place of meeting with God. And what is so perfect about this for me is that tents were just ordinary to those people in that place and time. Everyone lived in a tent. And perhaps God chose this way of meeting with them to demonstrate His movement with them, among them and for them. He moved where they moved. When they moved. How they moved. Not just in a pillar of cloud or fire, but in a tent. In a way that was accessible and sensible to people who were displaced, dismayed, and at some serious disadvantage.

I shared that passage of Scripture with Mateo on Sunday at his baptism. I prayed about what verse or story would be an encouragement to him as he’s made this choice to follow Jesus at such a young age. I shared with him that it’s not Moses who strikes me in this story, it’s Joshua. Joshua the man who would later be one of only two to give a good report about where they were going, and would ultimately lead Israel into her Promised Land. Yet before all of that, as a young man he did something so odd that someone made note of it at the tail end of a narrative that wasn’t yet about him.

Joshua stayed in that tent.

This is what I told Mateo matters. We don’t know how long Joshua stayed in the tent of meeting. Or why. Just that he did. Imagine being the fly on the wall to God meeting with Moses. I wouldn’t leave the tent either. I probably wouldn’t be able to get up off my face or put words into sentences after witnessing that. So that was my advice to Mateo. That he finds a way to stay – to abide – in the Presence of God. Now. While he is young. After the baptism, after the church service, after the speaker goes home, after the lesson is over, after a bad day at school, after his heart gets broken, after he succeeds and after he fails. Pitch that tent and stay there. Learn to know the Voice of God. Acquaint himself with the holy. Before he meets whatever it is that God has called his life to be about. So that he can go forward and give a good report. So that he can be confident and sure of what that still, small voice sounds like when the rest of life is a clamorous noise. Because He knows that Voice like his own best friend.

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Glenn, a worship pastor, and his Dad, a pastor here in Canada and a church planter in the Philippines, baptizing Mateo.

As for me, I felt called to start hand copying Scripture after hearing a story about a woman who’d done so for each of her children. What a thing – I was inspired. This was God calling me to the tent of meeting. It has come with me everywhere I’ve gone and through every high and low season. It is the most valuable thing I possess. It is perfectly ordinary – nothing but a stack of paper bought for 25 cents a package. So I pitched a tent and I’ve been there ever since. This abiding has anchored me in storms that should have sunk me. I know the Voice that has called me out. I can confidently give a good report, seeing potential where others see ruin.

What this looks like for Mateo and our other kids, is for them to sort out. I’d hate for my project to become a monument where they get stuck. Whatever their tent of meeting is, God will show them. My husband is a music guy. That’s what speaks to him and where he sees and hears from God. I’m a word girl. Give me words, all the words. We each find our own way to encountering the Holy, whether that be in the middle of a desert, on a mountain top, in a moment of song and worship, in stillness, in prayer, over coffee with friends, in a church service, or at the kitchen table with pen and paper in hand.

This abiding thing. It is where deep calls out to deep and it’s exceptionally more difficult than I’ve made it sound here. Because really, it’s supposed to go out from us and bring this light to the world and I really don’t know how to do that right. It’s not about us at all. That was why I wasn’t sure if I should post that picture of my stack of paper Bible. Sometimes I think Jesus needs to make me invisible so that I get out of the way of people getting to Him. I’m no evangelist on account of my lack of people skills. I read Scripture and wonder at how the Gospel got spread because thank God that Paul was there and that the early church was fearless. The apostle Paul – tent maker for a living and a tent pitcher for the Kingdom, making the Gospel a mansion where there’s room for everyone and showing people how to get there. And all I have is my pen and my paper and my Bible and it feels very much ordinary and inadequate in a world that spurns the sacred and holy. So I abide, in hope that in my meeting with God, someone else follows and gets stuck in the tent like Joshua shadowing Moses, and refuses to depart from it too.

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Deep calls out to deep.

It’s all I have to give.

(Selah)

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

 

Code Black: Company’s Coming

Code Black: Company’s Coming
Je-Ne-Sais-Quirky

Some friends are coming for dinner tonight. I know that this is a thing that people do. It’s a thing we do. We like food. Our friends like food. Are there people who don’t like food? We like to eat food with people who like food. Therefore, company’s coming for dinner tonight.

The difference in our house, is that having people over is like someone throwing a grenade through the kitchen window. Is it live? Will it explode? Does it matter? Take cover, man. Code black.

For a kid with autism who struggles with new situations, new people, noise, and changes in routine, having people over is not a thing that is enjoyable without support. Home is his sanctuary. His resting place and quiet retreat from the exhaustion of the outside world. Going out to be with people is different, because we are careful about our outings to begin with and if things get to be too much, then we can leave. When people come here, there is no leaving. They are just here. Andreas is quite polite enough to understand that you do not ask people to leave or tell them you don’t want them in your house anymore. He asks me when they’re going instead.

Knowing your kid’s triggers and managing them well is very much like dismantling a bomb. We get so good at it, that others don’t even realize we’re doing it. Do we cut the red wire or the blue wire? The blue one. Obviously. Now please pass the ketchup or he won’t eat his food. Over the years, we’ve figured out what works best for Andreas, ourselves, and our guests when people come into our home. It’s all trial, error, blood, sweat, tears, and ketchup actually. I was serious about the ketchup.

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Mateo & Andreas at a birthday party this week. When it was time to go? We left.

What works though, like really works?

1. An Escape Plan
Andreas likes a good meal and a good time as much as the rest of us. He tends to get over the good times faster than the rest of us though. What he needs, before anyone ever shows up, is an escape plan. Once he’s had it, he’s had it. There’s no turning that ship around; we’re on a countdown and the clock is ticking. He needs to know that he can go rest in his bedroom with a book or his iPad and be happy being himself, instead of being forced to act happy for everyone else until he explodes. Reminding him ahead of time that he can do this, is the most important part of having people over. Sometimes when he’s overwhelmed, he forgets that his bedroom is a staircase away and we need to point him in the right direction. You do you, kid. Be happy.

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Andreas gives actual people the same face sometimes. Nothing personal.

2. A Schedule
Not like a real, written up schedule – although we’d do that if he needed it. But verbally explaining everything that is going to happen before it happens, needs to happen. These are the people who are coming. This is when they are coming. This is what we are eating. These are some ideas of what you can play, if kids are coming. This is how long people are staying, or if we don’t know then we say we don’t know how long they are staying. Some families use a picture schedule for less or non verbal kids. We do this when we go out too. Spontaneity is not our thing. Our spontaneity involves a lot of foresight. We are not sorry.

3. Clear Expectations
Where food is involved, we have to run interference. Andreas will gag or throw up if he sees or smells something he doesn’t like. I tend to get him his food or tell him what is available to him. We remind him that he cannot say “that is disgusting” if there is food he doesn’t like. “No thank you” will do just fine. Having a house full of people can make a kid forget the normal rules. Reminding them that the expectations don’t change when there is a house full of people is very important. Just because so and so hit you in the face doesn’t mean you can hit them back in the face. (That has never happened, it just came to mind as an example.)

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When he was 5, Andreas went to a birthday party where he told the magician that magic isn’t real and his tricks are fake. Then got a balloon flower instead of a sword like the other boys. He’s a lover, not a fighter.

4. Incentive
Spelling out what’s in it for him, helps. These are the kids who are coming. Remember when you guys did this and it was so fun? Or telling them they get to rent a movie. Or that they’ve got a certain treat for after dinner. These are normal things that everybody does, I think. But the difference is that for a kid who needs something to look forward to in a situation that feels overwhelming before it’s happened, having that incentive gives him something positive to focus on. Filtering is hard, even for so called “high functioning” kids. He sees the whole picture. The people. The noise. The gross food. The good food. The movie. The fun. The annoying adults asking him questions. It’s kind of a lot. Filtering out everything except the incentive helps him look forward to the good part(s). Typical kids may do this naturally but kids with extra needs often don’t and need an adult to help them learn how.

5. Grace
Sometimes we can answer his questions and give him everything he needs and the night is going to suck for him anyway. 10 minutes in and he’s in his room. Maybe he had a crappy day. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe nothing is wrong but he just needs peace and quiet and alone time. Okay. That needs to be okay. Just getting through the day is work for him. He doesn’t owe us an explanation. Adults love explanations. “Is he tired?” “Is he coming down with something?” Yes, no, maybe, we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter does it? One more thing at the end of the day might simply be out of the question. That thing families do where they are on the go all the time, and they actually like it? We are not that family. I require a lot of downtime. So it is totally not a problem for me that Andreas also requires a lot of down time. One day out of a week where we are on the go from morning to night, can throw him (and me) off for several days to come. Our pace is not the same pace other families can keep. There has to be grace for that among us, and the people we have in our lives.

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Party for 2. Just the way he likes it.

Company’s coming for dinner tonight. I’m cleaning my kitchen and making room on our coat rack at the door and pretending I am ever going to get the pee smell out of the bathroom. And disarming bombs before they go off. You know. Code black. Because our home wouldn’t be the same without Andreas. He brings a certain je-ne-sais-quirky to our lives and we want him to have a good time, whatever that means for him. To know Andreas is to love him. The bomb isn’t him. The bomb is whatever gets thrown into his world to disrupt it – the people, the dinner, the whatever. We are disarming the situation, not the boy. The boy is just right. This is his sanctuary. His resting place. We like to keep it that way.

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

 

 

Pandemonium (Deep Breath In)

My daughter is talking about her birthday. She’ll be 4 years old next month. I’m supposed to say that it all went by so fast and I can’t believe she’s not a baby anymore. It’s partly true, but kind of not. While it does feel sometimes that she was just born, mostly it’s totally believable that the time has passed and here we are. Because the truth is, it didn’t go by so fast. And it hasn’t only been 4 years. I’ve been a stay at home parent for 10.5 years now to 4 kids one right after the other. Fast? No. A decade doesn’t go by quickly. I am glad for that. Why would I want this time to speed away from me? Kids are small one time. Childhood is fleeting. Let them be little and let me enjoy it, please and thank you. No. I don’t need time to speed up. One day at a time is perfectly alright with me.

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Lord have mercy. I was so tired. So. So. Tired.

I’m supposed to be registering that baby for kindergarten today. She makes the cutoff date here, and would be 4.5 years old like her older brother Olivier was when he went. If I send her at all. I’ve got the birth certificate. I’ve got the registration form. I don’t have the will today.

There’s this mom. I see her going to and from the school with her gaggle of small children, as I do the very same with my crew of not-as-small-anymore children. Her oldest is in grade 1 like Olivier. Unless she has unseen older children, this must be her first year with a kid in school full time. I was that mom, only 4 years ago when Mateo was in grade 1 and I had 3 little ones at home. 3 little ones to suit up, loading the smaller two into a double stroller, going to and from the school, exhausted and wondering if a 15 minute walk was really supposed to take an hour to prepare for. Having a kid in school is a lot of freaking work for a mom with a house full still at home. Everything we did was all-consuming. There was nothing as simple as putting on shoes and walking out the door for many, many years. 1 in school and 3 at home. That was only 4 years ago. It felt like we would never, ever get past that stage of life which can only be described as pandemonium.

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I remember trying to take this photo. Pandemonium indeed.

To be honest, the following year – when Andreas was in half time kindergarten and Mateo was in grade 2, while Olivier was still a 2.5 year old in diapers and Rosalie was still a baby – that year was the HARDEST year of parenting ever. I swear to God if parenting was going to kill me or get me locked up in a padded room, that would have been the year to have done me in. Because I had a hernia and an uncontrolled thyroid problem, so I was utterly exhausted and in pain. My daily ventures to the school increased to include an extra mid-day pick up thanks to kindergarten being half time here. 2 year olds still nap and babies need to eat, sleep, and be changed regularly. Everything my little ones did was scheduled around the school bell times. If they hadn’t woken from afternoon naps by the time we had to go back to school to collect Mateo, well, too bad for them. Wake up time it was. Our walks to pick up Mateo often included a lot of grumpiness and crying. In that year we had Andreas assessed for and later diagnosed with autism. We toilet trained Olivier. I got on meds for my thyroid. I had a hernia repair surgery. I weaned Rosalie. Olivier stopped napping. Rosalie started walking. And then at the end of that school year, to cap it all off, we moved. Pandemonium.

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4 Kids On A Log. One fell off and bumped her head. Mommy called the doctor and the doctor said stop taking your kids for walks in the woods and posing them for photos on logs. Duh.

It slowed down after that. The summer we moved, we gained a backyard. I could send my kids out to play in a safe, enclosed place. Deep breath in. Andreas and Mateo began grades 1 and 3 that fall – two in school full time. Olivier wasn’t a toddler anymore. Only Rosalie in a stroller and diapers. Deep breath in. That year went nicely by. Another summer came. Olivier went to kindergarten. The older two were in grades 2 and 4, and well settled into a school life routine. Yeah, I was doing the back and forth from school all day thing again – but it’s way different with just one kid at home. It was okay. I was sick again though. Tonsillitis from hell finally put me on the list for a tonsillectomy. Gallbladder attacks put me on the list for that to come out as well. But, by the end of that school year, the gallbladder was gone. Another summer. Deep breath in. Then it happened. This past fall Olivier was in school full time too. Finally, and just like that.

That’s when I noticed her. This mom with the 1 kid in school and 3 little ones at home. I want to tell her it gets better. But I don’t because I know it’s going to take a while. And I’m not sure how to say that in an encouraging way. A year is a long time when you have a house full of very small children. “Just wait til next year!” sounds like, “you only have an eternity ahead of you!” to a wiped out mom. From her vantage point, there’s no end in sight. And she’s not wrong. So I smile at her. I’m not even sure if she sees me. Her kids are fighting. Someone is trailing behind. Baby is crying. It’s cold outside. But I smile anyway. It gets better, I’m silently nodding in her direction, knowing she can’t hear that right now.

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A sign of things to come.

When we get home from school, my kids take off their own shoes. They get their own snacks. The front closet looks like a bomb filled with hats, mittens, snow pants, boots, and heavy jackets, just went off. There’s salt from the sidewalk all over the floor, and little puddles of snow and mud pooling under the boots. Backpacks have paper, books, and leftovers from lunch spilling out onto the floor. My boys have 153 things each to tell me about their day. Rosalie is running around hugging them all, telling them she loves them and forcing them to pay attention to her. I can’t hear anything anyone is saying. My previously clean kitchen is a mess of after school snack making. Pandemonium.

I think of that mom at her house. She’s taking her baby out of the carrier. Stripping snow suits and boots off of little kids. Checking who needs to potty or be changed. Making everyone a snack. Cleaning it all up. Is there anything in her son’s backpack that needs to be signed or read or cleaned? Someone is probably crying. The baby needs to be held. “Mommmmm come wipe my butt!” is not an unfamiliar sound emanating from her bathroom. Toys? Everywhere. Laundry? I promise you don’t even want to know. Pandemonium.

I take a deep breath in and yell at my little twerps to clean the mess they made in the kitchen. Put their boots on the mat and wipe up the snow. Get me whatever I need to see from their backpacks. Put away their hats and mitts and jackets for goodness sakes! Yes you can have screen time after you read. Someone turn on a show for Rosie while you play your games. I’m sitting at the table drinking a coffee. They don’t need me for everything anymore. They just need me. It’s a welcome change. The pandemonium is actually kind of nice these days. I can take a deep breath in and not feel like a loon in the midst of it all. Usually.

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After school snack these days is smooth sailing.

I’m supposed to be registering Rosalie for kindergarten today. But she’s the last bit of little one I have in this house. She reminds me of the long, long days and years of mothering very small children. Those were some hard years. But they were our years, mine and these kids. Years of reading just one more story. Singing another song. More milk please. Pushing on the swing. Endless cuddles. Walks to the park. Sneaking cookies. Trains on the floor. Finding lost bears and kissing away tears. She’s here still, for now, reminding me of all those years that almost broke me, but also built me up into someone I never would have been otherwise.  So. It’s about to be pandemonium around here as the boys get home from school. I’m going to take a deep breath in. I made the lucky ducks some brownies. Signing Rosalie up for kindergarten is going to have to wait until tomorrow. I’m ready for it if she’s ready. Maybe tomorrow we’ll finally say hello to that mom with all her little kids if we happen to pass them by.

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Fine. It *does* go by pretty fast when you look back at those baby faces.

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved