I’ll never forget it. My babysitter was named Henrietta and she played by the rules. Eat your applesauce or you don’t get down from the table. I don’t remember exactly what happened after I refused to eat mine, but let’s just say, applesauce was off my list!
Fast forward to a 7 year-old bookworm, standing at the kitchen counter while my mom was cutting up some strawberries. Now up until this point I hadn’t touched a strawberry. Maybe my mom didn’t even know this. I wasn’t prepared for her answer, though, when I sweetly asked, “Mom, could you cut the seeds out of the strawberries for me? I don’t like them.” Very quickly, she shot me a look of incredulous shock, then said rather bluntly, “I’m sorry honey, I guess that means more strawberries for the rest of us.” Darn. You guessed it. Strawberries were off the list, too.
As a child, I walked up to my Grandma’s house every day after school. And of course, she wouldn’t make me eat any strawberries or applesauce, being the amazing Grandma she was . . . and since she was the best cook this side of the Mississippi, my little picky self could find several things that definitely made my list. Things like homemade rolls, chocolate chip cookies, and my very favorite, Dr. Pepper. She kept several “flats” of soda (this was before “cases”) in a so-called secret closet that all of us grandkids knew about. Of course, being a child of the Depression, Grandma knew how to moderate her DP. She probably only drank two to four ounces at a time. But for me, let’s just say, my choice of food and drink became solidly focused on meat, sweets, and bread. I even advised my mom one time on her cornbread, because it didn’t taste like Grandma’s. Oops. Remember, I said only ONE time . . .
Once I got my driver’s license, Sonic became one of my favorite spots. I mention Sonic because I had no problem eating their so-called fare, and I loved happy hour! But I had issues with real food like tomatoes, peppers, onions, salad, oatmeal, avocados, and oh, yes, strawberries and applesauce. I mean really, people, this was ridiculous. And let me stop here to say my parents (and Henrietta) had probably tried to change my ideas until they were blue in the face. (They will probably attest to my stubborn determination even today.) And you can bet I have an appreciation for their hard work after becoming a parent myself. All of that being said, I still had some lessons to learn!
Though I had developed a good work ethic (thank you farm life) and was relatively disciplined in some areas, my choosy palate was an obvious weakness. But I didn’t really realize how much so until I had someone else for whom I had to be responsible.
Yep, you guessed it, enter motherhood. (I’ll skip the eye-rolling I experienced with my husband before our baby came along, bless his heart. He will eat absolutely anything and truly couldn’t understand my food pyramid!) Through a very cool chain of events, I came across a health professional called a midwife. (Thank God, Jesus, and the angels for these amazing women across the world who love to help families have the birth they hope for, if it all possible.)
Well, Margarett and Michelle gave me the low-down. My food pyramid was about to change. No more 99 cent corn dogs or happy hour. I guess you would call this my “come to Jesus” moment. I could see that our little one was going to be affected, for better or worse. I experienced a mind-blowing paradigm shift (so my hubby says) and promptly sat down for lunch that day with a grilled chicken breast, pasta and LOTS of veggies. And WATER. Suddenly (so it seemed), I wasn’t very picky after all.
That whole scenario was over 18 years ago. And as our precious babes began to arrive, not only did I see what I’d been missing, I also had to be honest about what I wanted to teach our children.
Today, if you come to our house for dinner, you might hear our family’s famous phrase, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!” You will probably also see a little one experiencing some kind of training for fussing about a food they don’t want to try. You might even hear one of mom’s stories about trying to boss their Mimi around about her cornbread. Yes, even our children’s palates need training and direction; not only for teaching gratefulness, but also for wisdom in making good food choices for the rest of their lives. Since we live in a nation with 44 ounce sodas and dozens of donuts available at every corner store, the habits they build now will carry them through to a healthy adulthood.
By the way, you might still see me pull into Sonic. Or I might even be caught eating a donut once in a while. But rest assured, I’m eating my applesauce, too.
Jen’s Sonic Drink
(Recipe from a former Dr. Pepper Addict)
1 Limeade (You can make your own with lime juice and Perrier, but I usually don’t. I like Braum’s version, ask for no simple syrup)
2 dropperfuls of Berry Sweet Leaf Stevia (from the stevia plant, 0 on the glycemic index.
Stir and enjoy. This is especially good between the hours of 2 and 4pm during very hot weather. 🙂
Well, the name of our website is “just a family thing,” and as you may have guessed, sometimes “family things” happen . . . all in the process of wanting our blog to go out. So, here I am, running a little behind. But hey, that’s real life around here, and I would be amiss not to be honest about that!! Soooo, all of that said, I hope today’s post is worth the wait. 🙂
Looking back, I wish I had a few pictures to show you how rough a start we had with our son’s earliest projects, who, by the way, built this chicken coop. I remember hearing his dad, over and over, asking him to clean up his mess in our old garage. When I say “mess,” I do mean “boy, was it a mess!” He took everything apart, left parts all over the floor, and scattered his dad’s tools (though I can’t tell you his dad used his tools very often! More on that later.) And when all of the children you have are in the mess-making mode, you think it will never end! It’s hard to see any purpose in it at all. I truly had no idea how Nathaniel’s mess-making time was literally catapulting him into his God-given ability to build and create. Looking back, we actually helped him out immensely, without realizing it. Just allowing him to “make his mess” was the beginning of an amazing and fruitful process.
I hesitate to give you ideas based on certain ages, because all children are different and they all learn on different timetables. I cannot stress that enough! Lorenzo and I joke that if we have proven anything with our big crew, it’s the fact that every single one of them are uniquely and wonderfully different. I would say the source of most of the worry parents experience during the childhood years is based on expecting a child to do something when and how some other child is doing it. Nope, not gonna happen!! So, these age groupings are just a guide, not a rigid rule.
1. Ages 0-5: This is the time for mess-making. At this stage, children are “wet cement.” I read somewhere when we first began this big adventure that a child’s character is formed by the age of five. This really made an impression on me. Lorenzo and I began to see that in order for anything else to work with these little ones, we had to teach them how to obey. It’s impossible to do anything with a screaming two year-old in the grocery store if he has no experience or training in the word “no.” I would spend days on end doing the “trench work-type” stuff (diapers, food, laundry, read books, sing songs) and feel like I wasn’t doing anything important. But all of the moments between the supposedly mundane were spent constantly training the children to obey. Some of the most beneficial areas to work on were “come here,” “no touch,” “sit still,” “please and thank you,” and of course, “no.” Over and over, using the same words, we would practice like it was a game. (By the way, the training part needs back-up with the discipline part, more on that later, too.) We memorized a song about “obeying the first time.” It really is life and death at this point when you think about a little one going towards a busy street. They must know our voice and obey quickly. (Sometime I’ll write about the similarities of dog obedience training to child training . . . won’t want to miss that one 🙂 Let me just say this. It has paid off. (And I’m still knee-deep in training with the little ones!) It comes in handy to know a sixteen year-old understands obeying instructions when we say, “Make sure you are wearing your eye goggles when you are using the table saw. . .
2. Ages 5-10: This is the time for tactile interaction with responsibility. Now (or really even earlier) is the prime time to include your children in your tasks. If you can think of it like this, it’s a way to “work yourself out of a job.” No, they won’t do it like you do it, and here’s where the rub comes in. It’s a bit ouchy to watch a child shut his dresser drawer with underwear and socks folded the wrong way, inside out, or mismatched. But really, who cares?? You can always patiently teach them again, and they will get it. Eventually. And you will turn around and they will teach a younger sibling, and bingo! You are working yourself out of a job! You can very feasibly show this age group how to help in the kitchen (rinse and dry dishes, load the dishwasher, sweep, take out trash, wipe the table, etc.), help with the laundry (fold and put away clothes, get on a step stool and help load the washer, put dirty clothes away in the right spot, etc.), along with chores for a pet or in the garden. And guess what? They love helping out!! It makes them feel important and part of the team. I’ll never forget my grandma showing me how to wash dishes one summer when they took me to Ruidoso, New Mexico. I thought I was so big, getting to do a grown-up job! Of course, now as an adult, it’s not really my favorite thing to do, but the habit is there. If you wait until your children are “old enough” to help do basic chores, they won’t like it one bit, and it’s an uphill battle from there. And as I said before, this all comes in handy when you tell the sixteen year-old to please clean up his chicken coop mess in the barn . .
3. Ages 10-13: This is the time to start identifying your child’s “bent” and helping supply it with tools and finances. Finally! I know you’ve been thinking, “Okay, we haven’t taught them anything about a small business! They’ve just been obeying, cleaning, and working hard! (Hopefully!) Well, it’s like the Karate Kid and waxing the car. (Hope you’re old enough to remember that movie.) Here’s the age that all of these habits start to make sense. And I say “bent” because of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In this scripture, “train” in the Hebrew implies taking into consideration his individual gifts or “bent.” Each child has their own “spiritual DNA” and God is able to give us wisdom concerning each and every turn in the road. When Nathaniel was still in the destruction stage, I was standing at the kitchen sink one day looking at the screen on the window that was broken. I was complaining to myself about my husband’s lack of interest in “fixing things.” (I know, not a nice thing for a wife to do, just the truth!) In the midst of my whining, I felt God nudge my heart with these words: “You don’t need your husband to be a fix-it guy, he has other gifts. You are raising a fix-it guy!” Wow. Gulp! I got the message. Ok, God, I’m trusting you that my little mess-maker will grow up and fulfill his calling. This is when we started buying Nathaniel his own tools and giving him small projects. We watched for opportunities for him to hone his skills that were underneath the surface. His grandparents got him an Erector set (a complicated model car), we got him plenty of wooden blocks, hammer and nails, etc. Slowly, but surely, it has all come in handy . . .
4. Ages 14-18: Around this time, we set up Nathaniel’s checking account for his small business. He now has his own workshop and has an ongoing list of projects. He’s had an endless stream of conversations with his Dad about every aspect of his business, which he has named Young American Craftsman. He makes paracord bracelets and has been filling orders for picture frames and other items. At sixteen, he is definitely making progress towards an entrepreneurial mindset. Though I haven’t mentioned his 17 year-old sister, she is several steps ahead of him with her homemade bread business (You can check out her and her 14 year-old sister’s work at homemadehelpers.com). She built her own website and did most of the work for this website. Nathaniel is hoping Hannah will help him with a website as well. As he has said, “I’m not a software guy, I’m a hardware guy.” Wow, we know . . . and that sure has come in handy!
P.S. I have no idea what to say about anything to do with parenting after the age of 18. More on that after we get there. 🙂
Since I could write a book (a very long book) full of all the questions/opinions/comments/advice concerning our ability to “know what causes that,” let me assure you at the beginning of this post, that yes, “we do know what causes that” . . . and depending on what state of mind you catch me in, you’ll get a variety of answers to this question. I’ll save all the most pointed and blunt responses for another day and another post. For now, I’ll get back to the really good reasons we have such a unique brood. So, where were we? Oh yes . . . I’ll touch on mismatched socks, beans and rice, and why, though it may be hard to believe, I’m going slower than everybody else . . .
4. Children help us relax. Keeping up with socks has been one of the biggest hurdles of my whole mothering career, and darn it, I’m not even close to mastering it. I’ve tried all kinds of different systems and ideas and some work only part of the time. I have joked that all the missing mates that never come out of the wash are piled somewhere up in my house in heaven so I’ll know when I get there that I wasn’t crazy! Along with pens, pencils, hair bobs . . . but I digress. One day my nephew put my mind at ease about a solution I have considered so many times. “Aunt Jenny, I don’t know if you knew this, but it’s the style to wear socks that don’t match!” Oh my. Who knew. We’ve been in style all along! All of that said, our kids have helped me decide I don’t want to sweat the small stuff.
5. Every baby brings their bread. Lorenzo and I have sung, played and officiated for many weddings over the years. One in particular was right around our sixth baby’s due date. I wasn’t worried that we’d miss the ceremony, but as big as my belly was, plenty of other people were. One older woman made our day during the reception when she came up to us and asked about the new baby. She wasn’t shocked at all when we said we had five little ones at home. She looked us straight in the eye and said, “Don’t ever forget this. . . every baby brings their bread.” Wow. What a gift she gave us. And I can say, unequivocally, yes! God always provides. Soon after Susanna was born (our tenth), I was really wanting to buy a new car seat for Elisabeth (two years old at the time.) I was audacious enough to ask God for a really nice, quality car seat because I knew it would last the longest. But at the moment, it just wasn’t in the budget, so I waited. Two weeks later, we drove up in our driveway and sitting on our porch was not one, but two toddler car seats, the exact kind and model I was hoping for! To this day, we have no idea whose hands set those gifts on our porch. Suffice it to say, He has blown us away with His provision. Though I must mention, being picky or faint of heart hasn’t been on the agenda. I’ve found treasures at garage sales and thrift stores, we’ve had beans and rice more than once a month (Dave Ramsey is one of my heroes for giving proper glory to this wonderful meal) and yes, sometimes we’ve done without things we have wanted. Delayed gratification hasn’t hurt our kids one bit, and it darn sure won’t hurt us adults either.
6. Children balance people and things. My husband has a saying that I love. “Life is all about balancing people and things. In the end, you want to be “heavy” on people and “light” on things.” It’s funny how younger people think often about all the things they can acquire, and as they get older, the final sunset hours might be spent in a small room in a nursing home with two chairs and a grandfather clock. That’s the time to be “heavy” on people! Our children have helped this happen with me a little earlier than I think it would have normally. Because it can frankly be overwhelming to maintain lots of “stuff” with our numbers (we have a fairly small house, too) I have been blessed by the unseen pressure that forces me to simplify. If something is not being used, someone else could use it. If it takes up space, I’lll chunk it in the trash. You might be familiar with the phrase made popular during the Depression . . . “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” Yes!! There’s a lot of liberty in letting go of the things that take our precious time to maintain so we can invest in the people we love. Without our crew, I’m not sure I would have ever caught on to this truth. (Well, I’m still catching on. . . )
7. Children change the atmosphere. My hubby and I were visiting a car dealership one day. We were waiting on the salesman to come talk to us in the waiting area. Hannah was about 18 months old and sitting in her Daddy’s lap. An older gentleman was sitting there as well, and he appeared to be quite grumpy and “put out” with a child being in his vicinity. A few minutes later, Hannah crawled out of Lorenzo’s lap and walked over to grandpa, and held up her arms for him to hold her. He seemed momentarily indecisive, but smiling, picked up our little girl. Joy crinkled in his eyes and a conversation ensued that we as the adults were not able to find. A beautiful moment, to say the least.
Lest I tarry too long and lose your attention, let me wrap this up. Here’s one of the biggest secrets of parenting our tribe . . . drum roll, please. . . 8. It’s easier with more. I know you might not believe it, nor would you like to try and see if I’m telling the truth. But this principle has fueled our passion to keep going in our parenting journey, no matter how much it stretches us. After many years of trench work, our oldest ones help us teach the younger ones, and the younger ones learn twice as fast. After changing a million diapers, our six year-old is in training to do the same. After making meal plans and grocery lists and driving to the store every week, now my two oldest girls can do the job single-handedly and do it better than I do. And they are quickly becoming young people that can make a difference, whether mom and dad are around or not. Parenting is all about thinking about later, not now. Children won’t be little for long, in fact, the majority of their lives they’ll look us in the eye.
Now you know why I can say I’m not as busy as everyone else might think. I’m definitely going slower than the typical rush. I’m still trying to match the socks!
Soon after we had our first baby, I saw a framed picture that has remained in my heart forever. The little girl in the picture looked just like Hannah did as a baby. She was sitting by these words, “A baby is God’s way of saying the world should go on…”
I guess it’s obvious I agree with that statement. 🙂 We just got to experience the birth of our eleventh baby last week. Eleven? 11? As in, more than TEN?? Yes, sometimes I even laugh in disbelief that all these big, middle and little people call me Momma. But as I reflect on the past almost eighteen years of this mom gig, I have to say with resounding joy, I am so glad.
So, just in case you were wondering, or just in case you are a young parent thinking about the pros and cons of the “having babies stage,” or even if you have some criticisms ready under your belt (be nice, please)..here’s my list of reasons why we would welcome such a far-out parenting job.
1. Babies mean life. Everything intrinsically and beautifully human is wrapped up in a baby. It is the ultimate sacrifice for a woman to grow and nurture and bring forth this life, and yet, the sacrifice seems to only strengthen her fierce loyalty to this little person. And the magic only increases as they get bigger. I have watched the effect of our children when we visit my grandmother in the nursing home. She rarely wants to communicate much with me, but the kids have her rapt attention. Everyone in the place can’t wait to get a hug or a smile from one of the kids. I’ve watched our eight year old keep an eighty year old in a ongoing conversation, and what a mournful time when we have to leave.
2. Children are the ultimate mirror. You might be familiar with the late pop singer Michael Jackson’s hit “Man in the Mirror.” Here’s a few of the words of the chorus: I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. ‘Cause no message could be any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change. . . Lorenzo and I always jokingly say “It’s not child training, it’s parent training!” So, I guess I’m saying I know I sure need some work, and yep, these children have a knack with holding that mirror up in my face. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. (This is a good kind of “ouch,” lol.)
3. Children tell the truth. Somewhat related to number two, but worth it’s own spot. If you want to know anything about anyone (grown-ups that is) just look at their kids. Look at their eyes and their actions. They will tell you a lot about who the adults are they live with. And what’s so cool is the mistakes we make as mom and dad can only go to solidify our kids’ trust in our leadership . . . that is, if we bite the bullet and apologize when we miss it. You know Jesus put it best: the truth will set you free. I believe God calls children a blessing because they have this ability to very bluntly assess our missteps, yet still, love us unconditionally. Their level of grace is astounding. When our first three kids were under four years old, I had a thing about giving them bananas for lunch with their sandwich, almost every day. I did this for several reasons, the main one being bananas were inexpensive and healthy, so they were a great fit for the budget. Well, Hannah didn’t think much of those bananas, but like a typical first child, she was doing her best. One day, I said, “Hannah, you just have to tell your mouth it likes bananas.” She looked up at me and said, “Okay, but Momma, you aren’t eating bananas for lunch!” Definitely ouch, again. I still shudder to think of that moment. She was four and she literally “had ME for lunch!” I was so convicted that I started eating bananas that very day, along with all kinds of other foods I had never “liked.” In fact, just ask my mom and dad to verify my horrible pickiness. I was 27 years old when this happened, people! Now, our family motto about food is “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Picky doesn’t stand a chance. Thanks, Hannah, your momma needed that. 🙂
Stay tuned next week for Part 2, “Yep, We Know What Causes That.” I’ll touch on mismatched socks, beans and rice, and why, though it may be hard to believe, I’m going slower than everybody else.