10 Books of the Summer

I made a goal this summer for my children and I to read more and watch less.  Surprisingly, it worked!  I thoroughly enjoyed having the screen on less and spending more quality time with my children reading together.  It was also amazing how often I watched them pick up books when they realized the screen was not an option.  Even my toddlers pored over story books this summer after I starting setting them out in appealing, accessible ways.  I constantly had books all over the couch and floor, but that is a problem I can deal with 🙂  Here is the list of books that blessed me this summer, just in case you might want to take a peak at a few of them!

1. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

I read this book at the beginning of the summer, soon after making the goal to read more, and it both inspired and empowered me to strive to become a reading family.  Sarah Mackenzie is passionate about literature, family and Jesus and she takes those three things and binds them into one in this practical, thought provoking book.  This summer we became a “read aloud family,” and it changed our home atmosphere in subtle but beautiful ways.  For anyone who, like me, spent their adolescent years buried in books, this book will reawaken the magic of stories and encourage you to give your kids the world through books.  If you want some extra food for thought and an introduction to reading aloud, listen to Sarah’s podcast called The Read Aloud Revival.

2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

This summer was a challenging one for me, with five children of varying ages and stages at home kept me busier and more overwhelmed than I’ve ever been.  However, this book shifted my perspective from one of stress and fear to one of gratitude and renewed peace in the middle of my busy days.  Practical, authentic, encouraging and full of grace, this book taught me as much about my own issues with entitlement as about raising grateful kids.  Kristen Welch speaks from real life experience and tells her own stories to help teach with humor, humility and kindness.  This gratitude in a world of more, this contentment in a sea of excess…I want this for my kids.  Especially geared toward middle school to teenagers, this book is full of tips with the heart of the gospel at its core.

3. Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

This is my humble confession that I am an angry mom.  I am strong willed, passionate and impulsive, and too often that spills out onto my children in negative ways.  I read Triggers because I desperately needed my heart to realign with the grace-filled, gentle and calm way that God fathers me.   Triggers is both practical and spiritually grounded, giving helpful tips for reactive moms that will help you tonight at five o’clock and will bring your heart into line with God’s desires.  I found it challenging, encouraging and refreshingly easy to read.  Divided into short, engaging chapters titled specifically, you can use this as a devotional, quick look up reference or pleasure read.  If you have ever felt angry at your children, this book will help you work through the guilt and pain of those feelings and your circumstances towards peace, forgiveness and unity in your home.

4. Raising World Changers in a Changing World by Kristen Welch

After reading Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, I leapt on the chance to read this similarly themed book by Kristen Welch.  When I watch my daughters grow and interact with their friends, I dream of the world changers they can be for Christ’s Kingdom.  Whether it’s in their homes around a weathered kitchen table, across the ocean or down the street at a friend’s, I want my kids to become a part of changing the world for Christ.  The subtitle of this book is: How one family discovered the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving.  That sums up the essence of this hope filled book compiled of stories of Kristen’s family and acquaintances who are truly changing the world.  I loved the interview style conversations with her children Kristen included at the end of each chapter and the personal stories she shared.  You can become a world changer, and this book will inspire you to see the place and space you are in right now as one where God can use you for His glory.

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I dove into reading aloud this summer with my girls, especially, this book kept niggling away at the back of my mind.  My grade four teacher read aloud a multitude of exceptional books to her pupils, many of which are still favourites of mine today.  This was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I have been waiting for just the right moment to introduce this series to my girls, and finally a few weeks ago at the tail end of the summer I couldn’t resist any longer.  I wasn’t sure if they were quite prepared or not, but I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did.  My very energetic, impulsive and concrete minded nine year old sat curled up beside me, wide eyes glued to my face through each rollicking, vivid chapter of adventure and drama.  Many of the breath-taking metaphors to our spiritual reality brought tears to my own eyes as we pored over each page together.  My soul ached with pain and understanding for Edmund’s self absorbed choices, leapt with joy for each victory over the White Witch and grieved at the cost of betrayal.  It was awe inspiring to be introduced to the mighty Aslan and charming to enter the magical world of Narnia through the wardrobe where good and evil are painted in stunning clarity.  When we turned the last page and found the children back in the real world, I marvelled all over again that this fantasy tale had brought to my children’s hearts the gospel, and lead my own heart to worship.  I enjoyed this book just as much today as I did as an enchanted ten year old and all the times in between.

6. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

I had heard so much about this young woman’s memoir, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until this summer.  From the very first chapter I was hooked.  God brought this book into my hands at the perfect time and lent me refreshing perspective to my days.  Katie Davis’ story is one of an ordinary girl who chose to say yes to an extraordinary God, and the product is overflowing with love, beauty and the glory of our Abba Father.  Through Katie’s eyes, her remarkable journey of surrender is not radical, but expected, in light of the gospel.  I could not put this book down til the very last page, and a few weeks later it’s story is still churning through my mind challenging my motives, my actions and my status quo.  We need more Katies in the world and I am so thankful she chose to share her story.

7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

While this was not the first time we read aloud this delightful classic, it’s a tale that never disappoints.  Light, inquisitive, thoughtful and humorous, I am quite convinced that Charlotte’s Web will continue to capture the hearts of readers for years to come.  I love the way the story unfolds in gentle detail, taking the time to help even young readers or listeners to develop affection for each character.  The story celebrates friendship, kindness, loyalty and compassion while letting children immerse themselves in the perspective of ordinary farm animals.  If you have never taken the time to digest this gem, know that it is never too late to fall in love with a pig, a spider and a miracle.  Equally delightful is the 2006 movie version starring Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts.

8. Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

This book was a paradigm shift for me, helping me peel back the layers of my own motivations for teaching good things to my kids and helping me understand my own tendencies toward law-based behaviour modification.  I didn’t expect this book to make this list of my ‘favourite books’ as it is a bit of a heavy read and was a bit of work to slog through but it challenged me to rethink some of my habitual responses in parenting so I decided it had earned its place.  I feel like I’ve been on a journey of rediscovering what grace means in my own spiritual life, and putting grace into practise in my parenting has helped me to identify the areas I struggle to fully embrace and believe these things personally.

9. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Patterson

This was another elementary school favourite of mine and this summer I finally got around to reading it to my girls.  This children’s book weaves childhood themes such as friendship, fantasy and innocence with deeper undercurrents of grief, shame and poverty.  For young Jess Aarons, life is predictably gloomy, disappointing and demanding until a new family moves in next door.  Leslie Burke will change his world forever, and the tale will nestle its way into your own heart as well.  This story enchanted me as a fourth grader 18 years ago and I enjoyed it just as much this time around with my girls.

10. Carly’s Voice by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann

Another foster mom lent me this book to read when she heard we were caring for a child on the autism spectrum.  It took me awhile to pick up and dive into but about halfway through it grabbed my attention and I couldn’t put it down.  Written cooperatively by father and daughter, Carly’s Voice is the true story of an autistic young woman who inspired and challenged the world around her to think more deeply and creatively about individuals on the spectrum.  Their capabilities, their intelligence and the ways that we view them.  I guarantee once you have met Carly you will not forget her!  Sassy, smart and sensitive, she set out to change the way the world saw her and others like her…and succeeded.  Carly will challenge the way you define normal, the systems we live by and the ways we define success.  Her story makes it clear that lack of verbal skills in a person on the spectrum should not be equated with limited mental, social or emotional intelligence.  Through typing, Carly takes the opportunity to free herself from her own space of isolation and help those closest to her understand her inner world.

Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read with ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imaginations take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them!  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing little ones trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories together. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honor, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF

 

 

 

Summer Bucket List

  1. Make play dough
  2. Water balloons
  3. Set up a “car wash” for bikes and trikes with buckets of water, a garden hose, brushes and soap.  OR for toddlers set up a bucket of water, a bucket of dirt, some brushes and some toy cars.
  4. Beach Day
  5. Eat lunch at a local food kart
  6. Build a lego town
  7. Go for a bike ride.  Pack some snacks, water bottles and a book for breaks along the way.
  8. Sidewalk chalk or paint
  9. Visit the zoo
  10. Go for a hike
  11. Backyard camping – set up a tent in the backyard and make lunch over a campfire.
  12. Visit your local library once a week for story time, crafts or any other special events they may have going on.
  13. Read aloud together every day
  14. Have a garage sale or bake sale
  15. Wash all your stuffed animals or doll clothes and hang them out to dry in the sun.
  16. Set up a store or hospital in your playroom
  17. Games Day – this could be active outdoor games or board or card games inside.
  18. Track and Field – organize events and hand out ribbons.
  19. Puzzles – set up a separate table so your puzzles can remain easily accessible for a few days as you work on them
  20. Plan a scavenger hunt
  21. Have a pool party with a couple friends.
  22. Spread out a blanket in the front yard and eat lunch there.
  23. Do something touristy in your town
  24. Dairy Queen
  25. Visit a splash pad and take a picnic
  26. Introduce your child to audio books.
  27. Find a summer market or fresh produce stand to frequent.
  28. Go strawberry picking.
  29. Plan your back-to-school shopping trip.  Set a budget and give each child the allotted amount to spend.
  30. Build a blanket fort together and have a snack inside it.

10 Wishes for my Daughter

Dear Daughter,

There are so many hopes and dreams I have for you tucked away inside my heart.

I know I don’t tell you these things, but I hope one day you’ll understand just how much of your mama’s thoughts and prayers were invested in your life as you grew.

Watching you grow is both terrifying and beautiful.

I love seeing you come into your own, even while I stand gasping for air at the edge of our nest.

I would give you the world if I could,

but because I can’t these are…

My 10 Wishes for You

  1. I wish for you to always feel beautiful in the eyes of those you love most.  I mean the kind of beauty that makes you glow inside and that lights up your eyes with happiness.
  2. I wish for you to learn the power of saying no.  Your heart bends toward nurturing and serving and pleasing those around you.  It is breathtakingly beautiful…but it can also be your curse.  Learn to say no to the things not meant for your story.
  3. I wish for courage when your heart is breaking; strength to stand up again and dust yourself off.  Life will break your heart sometimes, Babe.  The hardest part is choosing to believe that those painful moments are meant to build character, perseverance, hope and beauty inside of you.
  4. I wish for kindness and gentleness to reign in your heart, and that you would hold fast to those qualities.  The world would love for you to believe that you need to fight hard and conquer it all…but kindness and gentleness are the fruits that will grow peace inside yourself and teach you wisdom.
  5. I wish for you to have at least one friend who you can always be yourself with.  Someone you don’t need to filter your words with or try to impress.  Someone you can be honest with, and someone who will give you honesty in return.
  6. I wish for you to find love.  A soul mate.  A man who will carry your heart gently in his all the days of his life and love you unconditionally.  A love that will teach you to understand the height and breadth and length and depth of your Father’s love for you.
  7. I wish for you to enjoy your own company, and not be afraid of solitude and quietness.  Loving yourself is the first step toward loving those around you well.  It’s in those quiet moments of rest that you will hear the Spirit’s soft whispers in your heart.
  8. I wish for confidence to follow your dreams, pursue your passions and be yourself.  You are enough and those passions and dreams were placed lovingly inside of you by your Creator.  Little glimpses of Himself in you.
  9. I wish for people to love you as much as I love you…the real you, with no conditions attached.  You are enough, sweet girl.
  10. I wish for you to find your purpose and peace in the knowledge of your weaknesses.  The world would love for you to divide your soul in a thousand pieces and places trying to do it all, have it all, be it all.  I wish for you to find rest in the God breathed purposes your Designer entrusts to you and know you are doing what matters.

I hope you know I will always be here for you.

I will not always understand and sometimes I will hurt you in my attempts to love you.

But know that I will always be so proud of you and nothing you do could ever make me stop loving you.

Love,

Mom

-AF

Love Multiplies

They are less than 6 months apart.

Everywhere I go people ask me if they are twins.

I smile and say, “Not quite.”

They glance back at me, puzzled, and his little ears pick up the new word.

“Twins!” he exclaims.

I laugh and keep walking.

They are brothers in every sense, except that they have different biological parents.

They share a room, books, toys and clothes.

They share memories and siblings and for now…parents.

They share the same hazel eyes and sandy brown hair.

 

“It must be challenging raising another child that is so close to your son’s age,” she says to me as we are washing dishes side by side.

I tilt my head sideways, thinking.

Is it?

It’s challenging when they are fighting over the same car, the same book, the same car seat, the same seat of the double stroller.

It’s challenging when one does not want to sleep and pokes the other awake; when they both need to be potty trained.

It’s challenging when I need to go shopping and there’s only one seat in the cart so one toddler has to walk, the shelves easily accessible to his eager hands.

It is challenging when my son learns to shout “No!” and throw himself down just like his little playmate.

It’s challenging when they get in each other’s way and hit each other and scream at each other and both end up in an angry, sobbing heap on my lap.

But those moments just feel like parenting.

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They are tricky, but not impossible or unlike any other young family’s experiences with two children close in age.

What I think about more is how incredibly full my heart feels every day watching the two of them play.

From the time my son was very small, my husband and I always knew we wanted him to have a brother.

It feels like a boy should.

Someone to play hockey with him, wrestle, and generally make a ruckus with.

And though it may not be forever, right now my son has a brother.

I love to watch them play side by side.

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They dig in the mud, stomp in puddles, run in that unsteady toddler gate chasing each other.

They topple over the back of the couch and giggle uncontrollably as they grab each other’s feet and pull one another to the ground.

My son adores his ‘big’ brother and follows him everywhere.

It doesn’t matter that he gets shouted at for wrecking the carefully lined up cars or pushed to the ground for touching a sandcastle.

It doesn’t matter that he gets water dumped on his head in the bathtub or snacks sneakily stolen from his bowl.

That one little boy has changed his life.

dscf5496.jpgHis life is so much more interesting and full of joy and life since O has come to stay.

While his big sisters go off to school, there is still a buzzing little ball of energy flying around the house; creating, exploring, chattering and laughing.

Love only multiplies.

This I am reminded of over and over and over again.

I try not to think about what it might be like for my son to lose his brother, because this is a reality for us as a foster family.

But even in that, I believe that these moments are worth any pain we may face down the road.

It is Little O who helped my son make the most progress with his motor skills and speech after his surgery.

It is Little O that taught him how to ride a bike and blow bubbles and pull the cushions off the couch.

It is Little O that makes him burst into that contagious belly laugh that fills up my heart with happiness.

It is Little O that prays for him every night.

When one more comes we don’t lose, we only gain.

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Love only multiplies.

When you think there might not be enough, suddenly your heart expands and you realize there is more than you had before.

It doesn’t always happen overnight…for a while you feel like strangers are in your home.

But suddenly, you look back and can’t remember what it felt like to be 5 instead of 6.

Suddenly, the days he’s visiting his Grandma are oh so quiet.

Suddenly, you see how full and fun and happy your life is because of that extra little person.

And this is the beauty of love;

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It only multiplies.

Little O filled a gap we didn’t even know we had, and we are grateful every day for his presence here with us.

Little O shares a lot of characteristics with one of my daughters…and this brings challenges to their relationship.

They both have a whole lot of feisty, spirited life tucked inside of them and it takes a very small spark to start a huge fire!

However, it was this child of mine that missed him most when we spent a week apart from him.

“I miss him so much, Mommy,” she would say to me every day.

Without him there, we felt a little incomplete.

And it is he that can bring the biggest smile to her face when he runs to her with his little arms outstretched, begging for a hug before she leaves for school.

Love only multiplies.

If you’re afraid that there  might not be enough to go around,

that your children might suffer,

that you might not be able to love the way you want to…

remember this.

Love only multiplies.

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” [1 Thessalonians 3:12]

-AF

 

May 10th

I wake before dawn, my son’s cries prompting me to stumble out of bed and down the stairs to where he cries in the darkened kitchen.  He’s looking for his Daddy but it’s too early so I scoop him up and carry him close to my heart back up the stairs.

I wipe his tears and his nose, get him a drink, and then tuck him back into bed next to his love bunny.

“Goodnight, Babe.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Mommy loves you.”

Back in bed I climb between the cool sheets, but now I’m awake and the birds are chirping and it’s May 10th.

May 10th.

A year ago today my 18 month old son fell off the back of a pickup truck.

My husband and I did all the things you do.  We watched for drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, swelling on the skull, lack of balance.

He seemed fine.

It was evening so we kept him up an extra hour or two and woke him every two hours through the night.  Each time he responded appropriately and by morning we were less concerned.

He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day–his 18 month check up and immunizations.  I took him in, deciding I would mention the fall he’d had last evening to the doctor just to  be on the safe side.  I could feel a bit of swelling over his left ear, and he reacted to some slight pressure, but otherwise was his normal happy self.

When the nurse called us in she felt the bump on his head and said she’d mention it to the doctor.  We looked at the 18 month developmental goals.  His speech was on the low side of average but I wasn’t worried.  Kids are all so different and I hate the way we put them all in categories so early in life.  His head circumference was on the larger side and I joked about my husband’s genes producing large heads.  He had two routine immunizations, which he handled well.

When the doctor came in to see us she agreed there were no concerns about development at this point but said she was going to send us for a skull x-ray just to be on the safe side with his head injury.

“I’m probably going to regret this because if they see anything at all they’ll want you to get a CT scan as well but I’m going to do it anyway, just to be safe.  We don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

I reluctantly agreed and we left with the x-ray requisition.

I had been through x-rays and CT scans and MRI’s before with an infant we fostered so I was not looking forward to putting my shy little boy through the process of an x-ray.  I knew from experience the contraption they strapped tiny people into for an x-ray looked more like a medieval torture device than modern medicine.  The worst part was that because the x-ray emits strong radiation waves, I was not allowed to stay inside the room with him.

I called my husband and let him know what was going on, irritation in my voice.  I was frustrated that we had to put our son through this when it seemed that he was fine.

I went to the hospital as quickly as possible and they conducted the x-ray, promising they would send the results to my doctor who would call me to let me know what they revealed

By the time we got home we were both tired and hungry.  I made lunch and tucked him in for his nap.

I had barely got back down the stairs when the phone rang and my doctor’s name flashed up on the screen.

“I’m sorry, they saw a small fracture so they’d like to do a CT scan,” she said, her voice apologetic.  She didn’t sound worried, and reassured me it was probably minor but that they had to be extra cautious with head injuries.

I grudgingly woke my son from his very short nap and called my husband again with the news.  By now I had let the frustration seep in and I felt like crying.

It had been a long day already and it was just past noon.

Immunizations, a skull x-ray and now a CT scan yet too.

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

What did a fracture on a toddler’s head mean, anyway?

What have I done?

At the hospital the doctor reassured me it didn’t appear to be anything serious and gave him some sedation to help him stay still through the CT scan.  It was a relief to have him sedated for the CT so that I wouldn’t have to listen to his fearful cries as we strapped him to the table and I stepped outside the room.  It also gave him a chance to get some much needed sleep.

It was approaching dinner time and all I wanted was to be at home with my family.

Back in the ER unit across from the nurses’ station we waited some more, me trying to keep my son from falling and hitting his head yet again as he drowsily came out of sedation and tried to crawl off my lap.  He was tipsy and clumsy and I had to laugh watching him as I tried to restrain his movements to keep him safe.  Freezies and juice helped move the sedation through his body and reorient his senses.

I had no idea that day how often we would do this in the following months.

I kept my eyes and ears on the doctor as he came and went from the station across the hall.  I tried not to let the niggling fear creep in as I watched him studying the computer screen and talking in low tones on the phone.

I sent messages to my sisters and mother-in-law on our family chat group, letting them know where we were and why.  They promised to pray and sent hugs and kisses.  By 5pm my mother-in-law let us all know that they, too, were sitting in an ER room as my father-in-law had broken his wrist at work!

We laughed at the irony.

Finally the doctor reappeared and I sat up eagerly, waiting for answers and hoping he would be discharging us soon.

Now, I would be able to recognize the signs that something was wrong;

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

We might need to be sent to Orillia, the nearest paediatric centre, by ambulance for monitoring over night.

Did I have someone who could bring me some clothes and essentials?

I called my husband and updated him, asking him to pack a bag of things.  I wished he were here, and we discussed who should go and who should stay with the other kids.  Both of us felt frustrated and anxious and our conversation was short and stilted.  I didn’t want to go…I was scared.  But I certainly didn’t want to stay home while my baby went either!

He promised to bring me some things when I heard more and we hung up.

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

“Is there someone coming to bring you some things?  You will definitely be going to either Orillia or Toronto Sick Kids tonight.”

Sick Kids?

My heart dropped and I felt terror course through me for a brief second until I forced it down.

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

“Is everything ok?” I forced out the words calmly, though my mind was screaming them.

He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we wait until your husband arrives and I will explain everything to you both.”

I knew.

Looking back now, I can see that in that moment something resonated.

Everything was not ok.

This time on the phone my voice broke and I pleaded, “Please come now.  They’re talking about sending us to Sick Kids!”

We both knew something had changed.

When he arrived the doctor came to us and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

Our son; our beautiful baby boy…had a brain tumor.

When they took a CT scan to examine the fracture more closely, they could see it.  A huge dark shadow on his brain.

It took a complete reorientation to realize that this fall, this minor fracture, was the least of our worries.

Our son’s life was in danger.  Not because he fell four feet onto concrete…but because he had a massive tumor growing inside his brain.

It wouldn’t be til almost a year later, sitting across from my counsellor with tears rolling down my cheeks, that she would help me see it.

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

We could see it faintly…the blessing in the fall…and spoke it.

But to hear the words, He wanted you to know.

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

When the doctor left with sincere, hushed apologies and a promise to return with more details of transportation soon, we crossed the distance between us and clung to each other, our son held between us.

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

We’d be transferred by air to Sick Kids by the ORNGE Medics team.  They’d be there to pick us up in an hour or less.

It is the little moments that I remember:

The numbness that took over my body as we went through the next hour waiting for the helicopter to arrive.

The way I collapsed in tears into my friend’s arms when she found me at the hospital just before we left, her shift just beginning.  Her words, “It’s going to be ok.  They can treat this.”  And the news of her pregnancy; a light in the middle of the darkness closing in.

The way the chopper blades cast a whirlwind on us as we approached in the dusk, whipping my hair and carrying my son’s frightened cries up into the sky.

The utter confusion I felt when they asked, “When is the first time you were told his head was larger than normal?”

Were we supposed to notice it?

All the times he’d ever cried inconsolably or been sick or hurt came rushing back.

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

The way all of life seemed to hold its breath as we lifted up into the night sky.  I looked down on the bright lights below; at my son fallen into an exhausted sleep on the stretcher and the medics sitting quietly opposite me in the dark.  I heard the words almost audibly.

Steadfast Love.

They held me in that moment of terror and brought a quiet peace I cannot explain.

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

They told us our son’s tumor had probably been there since birth, steadily growing.

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

Where was He when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor?

Where was He when a hundred needles were poked through his smooth baby skin?

Where was He when we had to hand our son over to a scrub-clad OR nurse and watch them take him away from us, his cries causing sobs to tumble from our chests.

Where was He when our son’s IV line slipped out of his vein and sat unnoticed, leaving him without the antiseizure medication he needed and causing his little body to begin seizing every few seconds?

Where was He when we begged for healing for his hydrocephalus but instead he had to undergo yet another surgery to insert a shunt?  A shunt that causes other complications and dangers.

Why didn’t God heal our son when we asked him to?

Why him?

Why us?

***

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it’s garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
Who provides the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Do you give the horse his might?  Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust?  His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Is it by your understanding that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south?  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Will you even put me in the wrong? 
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 
Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like this?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Who is then he who can stand before me?
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  I repent.”
(Job 38-42 excerpts)

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

He was right there through 18 blissfully naive months as a monster grew inside my baby’s brain.

He was right there when we turned our backs for a second…and he fell four feet down onto concrete.

He was right there when our doctor sent us for a skull x-ray, just to be on the safe side.

He was right there when the very same day that our son was diagnosed, my father-in-law broke his wrist at work, leaving him without work responsibilities for 6-8 weeks.  Instead he was busy caring for our two daughters and us.

He was right there when the surgeon smiled and said, “It went better than I could have expected.  We got it all.”

He was right there when my gut prompted me to go to the nurse and say, “I’m sorry, I know I am probably just being paranoid but I feel like something is wrong.”

He was right there in that chopper, breathing words of peace into my terror.

He was right there for weeks before our son’s fall, drawing me back again and again to the words in the Psalms…steadfast love.

He was right there when we heard the words…benign.  No cancer.  No further treatment.  Low probability of recurrence.  “I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

I still don’t have answers to the why’s, but they become less important when I see His sheer Greatness and my own smallness.

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

As I look around the crowded dining room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House, smiling at the now familiar faces.  She bounces over, eyes shining and bright despite the fact that she and her family have been here for months now while her little sister fights the disease ravaging her body.  This room is one of the most beautiful displays of joy amidst pain, generosity amidst difficulty and hope amidst darkness.

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

Sin cast its dark spell and we are all vulnerable to it’s snare.

Today, on May 10th, I watch my son giggle alongside his foster brother — two tow-headed boys covered in sand and water.

Today, I watch him chatter to himself, copying his big sisters’ words and tones.  For months he was oh so quiet and I feared he would never speak again.  But the words keep coming faster and faster.

Today he roars at me while sitting on the toilet, my little lion, and giggles uncontrollably when I cover my eyes in mock terror.  Potty training and copying his favourite story book.

I watch him run across the yard, one foot landing a little harder than the other despite the physiotherapy we’ve done.  It doesn’t make me fearful…instead it makes me smile and feel oh so grateful.

I track his fluids and we go get bloodwork done at the clinic.  As I pull into the parking lot I explain,

“We have to do a little pokey and then all done.”

He looks at me with wide eyes and points to his arm.

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

There is no fear as we go inside, take off his jacket and sit down across from the elderly couple.  I’ve never seen another child here.

He is a calm and adorable as we take our place and the nurse holds his arm.

After a few tears he is happy again and proudly carries his stickers outside.

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

He will most likely have a shunt for the rest of his life.  He is still developmentally delayed and may suffer from learning disabilities as he grows older due to the trauma in his brain.  He has low sodium levels for a reason we are not sure of at the moment but that are moderated with a fluid restriction.  We do not yet know if he will need antiseizure medication long term.  He is still enrolled in three therapy programs; speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

But today I am just grateful.

Because I have my son, and in the last year I have seen my world shift on it’s axis, spin out of control and right itself up inside my Father’s strong grasp.

It’s hard to imagine how life can become more clear, more precious, more meaningful…until it does.

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

I know I can’t protect my son…and that brings sweet relief instead of fear.

I know I can’t control my life by doing it all right — my two little boys are a testament to that.  One I protected fiercely from the minute I knew of his fragile existence in my womb.  He was given every advantage and still a massive tumor grew in his brain.

The other faced adversity and fought for survival from the second he came into being…yet he is happy, healthy and brilliant as he shows my son how to build a tower and “reads” him their favourite story.

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

I don’t have all the answers and I cannot argue theologically through the why’s of suffering.

I just know that I have a good, good Father.

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

I can’t question the God I believe in because it is He who has sustained me, healed me, rescued me, and breathed hope into my terror.

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

It’s getting light outside now, and my hand cramps on the pen.

I set my notebook on the night table and curl up to wait for the inevitable pit PAT pit PAT of my son’s sleepy, uneven stride across the hall.

It’s May 10th

But I feel peaceful, grateful and humbled by the love of my God.

-AF