Sunday, October 4, 2015

Breathe in grace, breathe out praise

I'm breathing in Your grace

And I'm breathing out Your praise

Hey, hey, hey faithful readers! I am back from my blogging vacation. And by "vacation" I mean parenting 4 small children (and their dog) all by my lonesome--mm, hmm. When I last left off I entertained you all with stories about how the majority of us in this family were gettin' schooled this fall. What I didn't mention was that the Handsome Coastie was also going to school, or that said school happened to take place far, far away over an entire month--the longest we've been apart since our first year of marriage. And so he's been there for the last 4 weeks and I've been here holding down the fort and single-parenting our brood (except that's not really a fair statement because I've had LOTS of help.) But before we get ahead of ourselves ...

Jon left Labor Day morning, so it wasn't much of a holiday for us. He had to be at the airport by 6:30am. And although he could've taken a taxi, that didn't seem like a proper send off. Also, the Fantastic Four were still in their early-rising stage back then (thankfully the shorter days have seemed to curb that habit this last week.) So getting everyone up and around wasn't a huge deal. What I neglected to consider was the actual saying of goodbyes. Note to self: the next time you send your husband/daddy off at the airport, get your goodbyes in while still at the house. Instead, we were just a mess of emotions and screaming children at the airport drop-off zone.

Poor Jon's last glance of his family was me stressed over getting in and out of the loading zone, Jude trying to fight off a frown, Julia in an early-morning daze, Jack saying his throat hurt "because sad things make my throat hurt" and, perhaps most surprising, Joci screaming because Daddy was leaving.

When it comes to toddler emotions, I'm a firm believer in the power of distraction. So while I had failed to plan a proper set of goodbyes, I did have an idea of a way to ease our sorrows. First--donuts. Donuts help everything. Then we headed to a small park that's just at the bottom of the airport "so we could wave goodbye to Daddy." And it worked, really worked. We saw about 20 planes take off and land and we waved to all of them "just in case."

Personally, I thought it was the PERFECT time to go the park. 7:00am on a holiday and we had the place to ourselves! Maybe playgrounds aren't everyone's idea of quiet and solitude but, I know I've mentioned this before, I get nervous with my kids around other kids at the park (well, one in particular) because someone always ends up hurt.

So not only did I not have to worry about anyone other than my offspring sustaining an injury at the hands of one another, but I could actually sit and enjoy a quiet moment to myself. I was even able to do my Bible/devotion reading on my phone without worrying about being the subject of someone's "Dear mom on your iPhone" blog post ... I digress.

We probably got a good hour of play + donuts + coffee + Jesus in before a grandma and her two kids showed up. Naturally, my children were ecstatic for playmates. Naturally, their play turned to tag. And naturally, one of our new friends got tripped, fell, started screaming, the whole shebang. So naturally, the grandma yelled at my son for accidentally tripping the girl she was cuddling (that stopped screaming and was back to climbing within 23 seconds.) No further comment.

Anyhoo--I used to think that if Jon was ever deployed again I would just pack up my brood and head north to stay with family. Obviously, I forgot about that one thing called SCHOOL. Not only was I trapped here in Maryland, a victim to the pubic education system, but Pennsylvania wouldn't have been much help anyway. Because BOTH sets of our parents were enjoying a long-anticipated vacation in Hawaii!!

They returned after Jon left and stopped by from the airport for a short visit and some swag, like coffee, macadamia nuts, and these fantastic dresses and seashell necklaces for the girls!

Prior to leaving the country, my parents filled my freezer with 31 Freezer Crockpot Meals from New Leaf Wellness. I was so happy-shocked when they walked into my house carrying two big coolers. Because, in my opinion, one of the best gifts you can give a parent of young children is a meal (and babysitting!). And 31 meals is just plain crazy goodness!! We haven't got through half of them yet because they stretch a lot further when it's just me and the kids (and we also had our fair share of cereal for dinner!) but so far, my favorites are the Beef Roast and Carrots, White Chicken Chili, and Ginger Peach Chicken.

With dinner off my plate, or on it (hee hee), I could focus on other things. Like soccer. Taking four kids to soccer practices and games is nothing new. I actually had to do this more last year, when Jon was working those night and weekend shifts, than I did these past few weeks. But I'm also pretty sure it rained for every soccer practice and game we had this month. It was actually thundering at Jack's first game. So just picture me trying to corral 3 kids under an umbrella while keeping their blanket + books + play-doh dry, and also cheering on my little player and reminding him (constantly) to "KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF!" Ugh.

Just another rainy soccer practice.

But people, I am dedicated. I may have intentionally scheduled an event during one of Jude's practices and a trip over one Saturday of games, but for the rest of the time I'm all in. In fact, during this week's rainy practice, let it be known that the only kids that showed up were the two brought by the coach and the one brought by the mom of the 4 crazy children doing gymnastics in the back of the minivan ...

Goalie is his favorite position.
Perhaps slightly easier than soccer, but still a challenge in itself, is church. A mama's got to get to church. And I don't just say that because of the free coffee and hour and a half to myself!! It is a bit crazy trying to get everyone fed, cleaned, dressed, (and kept clean!) and to church on time. I had one tough morning where I almost got into a car accident (my fault) and was scurrying around to get all my kids in their 4 separate classrooms on time. I always feel a lot better after the church service, and so I collected my many small children and even braved the crowd around the free lemonade and day-old baked goods.

The kids match--so we needed a picture!
After everyone was properly refreshed I switched over to Commander Mom mode and herded the whole lot of 'em away from the lobby and out to the parking lot, weaving in and out of the throngs of people either preparing to leave or just arriving for the next service. We made it to the door, I took a quick headcount, and discovered we were down a person. No biggie, Julia's always been challenged by walking while holding a snack at the same time. I simply retraced my steps to find her. But no luck. I returned to the other 3/4s of my clan, lined them up against the wall, and commanded them not to move. Back into the sea of people and still no Julia.

I had a few friends helping me at this point. And so while one daddy friend entertained 6 kids by the wall, the rest of us split up--I continued out to the parking lot to see if she had wondered out to the car on her own, another person traversed to the other side of the church, and another one went up on the second floor overlook to get a better vantage point. By this point, we had church security on the radio looking out for a little lost girl.

If only this is how she had dressed for church, it might have been harder to lose her!
Thankfully, as I was walking back from an unsuccessful venture to the car, I received a call from an unknown number saying they had my little girl at the welcome desk. I'm still not quite sure what happened, Lia wasn't really in the mood to talk and just wanted to snuggle. [Moral of the story: keep those contact information stickers on until you get home, but before you wash their clothes (another story, another time.)] And if you're going to lose a kid, the church isn't the worst place to do it!

"Take a picture a-me!"
I do want to make it clear that I wasn't entirely left on my own this month. There was one night when Jared and Kylee helped me manage an evening of soccer practice and back to school night and classroom visits. And while I did give my parents a few days to recoup from their travels, I invited/begged them to come back down for week #2. They helped around the house and took the kids on lots of outings so I could have a chance to regain my sanity, er, I mean, do work.

In his words, it was "Johnny-seed Apple Day!"
The County Fair was in town and you all know I can't miss an opportunity to tap into my rural roots! I was a big 4-H'er in my day and have QUITE the stack of Honorable Mention ribbons in a box in my parents attic... But back to my kids. They loved cheering on the pig races ...

... making "snow" angels in the corn pit ...

... having their own rubber ducky pump races ...

... riding the bull ...

... fighting with balloon swords ...

Watching some other kid's balloon go up, up and away!
... and my very favorite, The Friendly Farmer's Barnyard Review. It's a magic show, in case you couldn't tell by the title (me neither!). And Jack got to be the audience volunteer!

It was pretty much the best thing ever. His sneaker "disappeared" and then reappeared with a dollar bill that he got to keep!!! (Along with "100 bad scents.") And I know that this picture is fuzzy but I love my nearly-7-year-old's "can't help it" smile!

Marmie and Poppa returned to their home for a few days to rest and then we met back up with them again at the Delaware beach. The boys' school was closed for Yom Kippur so I took a vacation day from work and we drove out the evening before to meet the grandparents at their hotel. Although the day was cooler and windy (and the there was a surf advisory for dangerous waters) we had a lovely day playing at the park, crabbing at the pier, and beaching it by the ocean. The boys were even brave enough to play in the shallow water and jump over the waves.

After an afternoon of fun, I packed the boys up and headed back home in time to host a MOPS leaders' meeting. Meanwhile, Marmie and Poppa kept the girls at the beach for an extra two days before taking them back to Pennsylvania. And then I brought the boys and the dog up Friday night for a weekend with family and *drumroll* the Watsontown Yard Sales.

For those of you who don't know, this is a major event on the Central Pennsylvania calendar. There are literally hundreds of yard sales lining the streets of this quaint American small town. Growing up, the last Saturday of September was practically a holiday. I never missed it until my junior year of college when I was away in England. And I'm not sure I've made it back since then! But Marmie is a valued customer, and usually she is able to provide the majority of my children's wardrobes just from this one day!

I decided to make it a point to be there this year since (a) we'll probably live too far away to make it back over the next few years, and (b) it was a good excuse to skip out on soccer and not be on my own with the kids for a whole weekend. And it really was a profitable excursion! I got lots of clothes and goodies for the whole family (and barely covered a quarter of the sales!)

We decided to finish off this most perfect Central PA Saturday with dinner at The Fence Drive-In since I hadn't been able to make it there all summer. And really, you can't have a summer without a Fish Sandwich Basket. And you can't visit The Fence without walking the kids down to the river and letting them throw all the rocks.

The next day was church, followed by lunch at Uncle Micah's, some play time at the park, and then me trying to leave at that perfect hour--late enough that the kids will sleep but early enough that I still have energy to unpack when I get home. Except, it didn't really work out that way. Approximately 2.3 minutes into our travels the kids started complaining that they were hungry. And then mama needed a coffee. And then Jude started complaining that he was feeling sick.

Panera's drive-thru seemed to fix all that. And amazingly, we made it over 2 hours before stopping for a quick dinner and potty break. And RIGHT as we pulled into the parking lot Jude started whining again. He grabbed the dog's food dish in just enough time to fill it with half-digested bagel and cream cheese while I was being dragged through the small strip of grass/bushes by a dog trying to find the best place to make his mark. Jude then pronounced that he was feeling much better and ready for dinner.

We had to make one more stop at Uncle Jared and Aunt Kylee's, and by the time we made it home, after 9:00pm, I was left with 4 very tired kids, 1 very crazy dog, and a car packed to the brim with secondhand wares. But hey, we made it!

One of our yard sale purchases--a proxy tea party set to help preserve my favorite one (she's already broken two pieces this week!)
The rest of the week limped on by. I just kept my eye on the prize--Friday evening with my honey! Of course, obscene amounts of rain delayed his plane to the point where I could barely keep my eyes open when he finally walked in the door, but at least I had him all to myself for a few hours before he got pounced on by the Fantastic Four.

Daddy's welcome home treat: Mama tried her hand at a grape pie made from NY concord grapes (sent by Nonnie and Poppie). 
Yes, they all still remember him. Joci keeps asking if Daddy got off the plane (I'm guessing she thinks  he was stuck on that plane the whole time he was gone ??), Lia thinks that Daddy came home Saturday just because it was her birthday, and Jack and Jude have yet to finish catching him up on all the news + Lego creations from the past month. There's also plenty of man-chores waiting for him and, oddly, light bulbs to change. Yeah, that's right. In the 4 weeks Jon was absent 5 light bulbs went out. And we didn't have replacements for any of them!

But other than that, we managed. And although I'd be very happy to never go through a month-long separation again, it's nice to know we can do it if necessary. With some help. And lots of grace.

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