What just happened?

While we were on vacation in the Poconos with our Korn extended family (plus my mom), I got my very first bloody nose ever. I really don’t remember ever having a bloody nose before even as a child. It was heavy and gross. The blood went down my throat making me vomit clots and spit out blood. It lasted about an hour before it finally stopped and I breathed a great big sigh of relief.

Until the next morning. And again later that day. And repeatedly over the next couple of days. They started on Monday night. On Wednesday we were checking out to come home and decided we should stop in an ER on the way. In the ER, the doc said these types of nosebleeds are not something to worry about. He gave me some medicated nasal spray, advised me to pinch my nose for 30 minutes instead of 10 and wished me luck.

My nose bled again before we even got home. I used the spray and pinched for longer and tried not to over exert myself. It maybe seemed to help a little. On Thursday, I had one nosebleed and on Friday I had none! I was excited until about 2pm on Saturday when I sneezed while bending over to wash my hands and, as Patrick says, “I blew a gasket.”

On Saturday and Sunday I had repeated choking on blood nosebleeds, keeping me from sleeping at night and walking me up from those few moments of sleep I did get. Monday afternoon, I had an appointment with an ENT (ear nose and throat doctor). Of course, my nose bleeds right before the appointment but not while I’m at the docs. He does a thorough exam and finds no blood vessels that are good candidates for cauterization (burning them closed so they stop bleeding). He says that like most pregnant women, I have a lot of engorged blood vessels – called hypervascularization and it should go away after the baby is born. He packs my nose full of gauze and says to come back in a week.

No bloody noses on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, while putting in a load of laundry, I blow a gasket again. I think I get them under control, but that evening I have one of my worst while Patrick is away. My kids basically put themselves to bed. 

We go back to the ENT on Thursday morning. We see a different doctor who says the same thing as the other guy and packs me again. She says that if this doesn’t work, we should go to the ER at Carroll so they can put me to sleep and find the problem.

On Friday, I get a small nosebleed while taking a nap but I get it under control and think maybe it was a fluke. That night around 12:30am, my nose bleeds again for real (including the clots and gushing and gagging) so I wake up a very flustered Patrick. He calls the ENT who is on call at Carroll and he says to come right in. My mom comes over to watch the kids while they sleep.

Once we get to Carroll, we get checked right in to the ER and they prepare an OR. My nose is of course not bleeding anymore. Everyone is super efficient and sweet and kind. They have a nurse from L&D come to monitor the baby while I have my nose looked at. We joke about how her job should be easy. I kiss my husband after bragging about how wonderful he is to all the nurses and docs.

I get a bloody nose as I’m lying on the table in the OR and the ENT is super excited because then he can see where it’s coming from. I fall asleep pretty quickly as people fuss over me in all directions.

Fast forward to when I wake up. I wake up in flashes. I remember having a hard time breathing. I remember seeing Patrick and my mother. I remember someone telling me they delivered the baby and I think I remember seeing him briefly before I was whisked away.

Saturday was rough. My hemoglobin was 11.6g/dL at the ER in the Poconos. Low is defined as less than 12g in women. When I get to the ER at Carroll, it’s just above 8g. After my nasal surgery, it’s just above 6g. Half what it should be to be considered normal. I spent the day adjusting emotionally to the fact that I had been rushed into an emergency c-section and my baby is not in my belly anymore. I am so tired from the general anesthesia and blood loss that I’m falling asleep every five minutes, in the middle of sentences, during conversations, even when I’m nursing baby Finn.

Let’s take a minute to brag about how awesome my baby is. The reason they decided to take him by c-section is because his pulse kept dropping (starting in the 140s and dropping to the 40s) and his oxygen saturation levels were troublesome. They had already extubated me from the nasal surgery and had to reintubate me for the section. But on Saturday when I was barely holding it together, my Finn was beautiful and gorgeous and seemingly healthy. He nursed like a champ and especially so considering I wasn’t up for helping him. The cardiologist had concerns because his pulse was still low so he was kept in the special care nursery with the oxygen on.

Overnight, they decided I needed a transfusion and I got 4 units of blood over the course of the night and Sunday day. Sunday morning people kept commenting on how much better I looked but I was still feeling very fatigued. Add to that nausea, gas pains, uterine cramps, incision pains and general grumpiness. Not to mention the residual swelling, pain and discomfort from the nasal packing and surgery.

They were promising me that Finn would be able to come join me, but we were waiting for a follow up echocardiogram and then we were waiting to have the pediatrician read that echocardiogram. He didn’t join me until 7:45pm on Sunday.

At some point on Sunday, much of my discomfort passed. I threw up and the nausea passed. I napped on my side and much of my gas pains passed. I worked with my mom and nurse to get out of bed and sit in a chair. Then my transfusions ended so I didn’t have to drag that IV pole around. And they took out my catheter so I could use the bathroom on my own. Finally, I finished the antibiotic, so they disconnected the IV on my left side. 

So here I am, late on Sunday evening, holding my Phinehas Aquinas, listening to him make little baby cooing sounds thankful because it could have been so much worse. I can look beyond the stuffy nose and how much it hurts to cough when I realize how awesome it is that my Finn and I are both okay.

image

Now….all I have to worry about are the pesky nosebleeds. Please pray with me that they won’t return.

And now let me brag about a couple of other people. My mother continues to amaze me. Here we are at a hospital where she doesn’t even work and most of the nurses and techs know her anyway. She’s spending the night with me tonight to make sure I can get around okay. She gives me her opinions, helps me make decisions and gets me the best care I can get. I really could not do this without her.

And last but not least, my amazing husband Patrick deserves some sort of medal. The night I was rolled into the OR, he sat in the family waiting room. Someone came out to tell him that the baby was delivered and was okay, but when he asked about me, they said they didn’t have any information about me at that time. Can you imagine what was going through his head? Then he watched me struggle through those first hours while I was still fighting the anesthesia and overcoming the blood loss. He arranged child care for the three big kids, taking a few shifts himself to put them to bed and cook them meals. He is an incredible man and I can’t believe God chose me to be his wife. Thank you God, for Patrick.

Madeline

During the week of June 15th to the 19th we explored the world of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. This was in the plan for last year but I kept putting it off because I wanted to figure out some more interactive ways to teach some of the concepts.

Madeline

Day one was spent talking about the human body. My kids are very curious about this kind of thing and are always asking questions about it. I am a science teacher and enjoy watching surgical shows on television, so we have talked about it A LOT before.

We used my five-year-old’s anatomy coloring book (a Christmas present) to discuss the structure of the digestive system in particular because Madeline gets her appendix removed. We traced the flow of food through the system and then we ate lunch and talked about what the food was doing as we swallowed it.

0617151053

We followed this up with a question/answer session on surgery. They learned the difference between laproscopic surgery, which they would use today to remove an appendix and the more invasive procedure Madeline had done. We actually watched some clips of a laproscopic gastric bypass so they could see how it works and how it minimizes the scarring. (I do this with my children because they are able to handle it – not all children could!)

We looked through a children’s book on anatomy called The 3D Body and talked briefly about the other systems. Bo had lots of questions about the nervous system and how the brain works.

After Maggie went down for her nap, Bo, his father and I had a talk about mental illness and how it is different from other illnesses. We made a big deal about telling him that people with issues like anxiety, depression and the like feel a great deal of shame but they are diseases like a cold or sore throat.

I think it’s very important for my children to understand that if they start to feel those things, they will still be loved and supported by their parents. Lots of talking on Day One. Definitely needed more interactive activities.

Day Two was a mishmash of a couple of days because we had a day full of errands and doctors appointments on Monday and we were a day behind. We talked about health and doctors first.

0617151007 0617151001

I found a book called ABC Doctor which was a simple way to talk about things to expect at a doctor’s office. We didn’t really read it, but we went through the letters (like O is for otoscope and U is for urine sample) and talked about them. I also brought the awesome play doctor kit my mom made for Maggie for Christmas which included quite a bit of real doctor tools – a working otoscope, a stethoscope, a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff) and a variety of other things. As we learned about these tools, we practiced using them and talking about whether or not they hurt. We measured our temperatures using a thermometer and talked about medicines. Even Joe was paying rapt attention to this. He was mad when we stopped taking temperatures though.

0617151016 0617151015

Finally, we talked about how we can stay healthy. I had Bo write on the board a list of three important things to stay healthy. (Wash your hands. Get good sleep. Eat healthy foods.) We practiced proper hand washing technique by singing our ABC’s as we washed. We talked about when we should wash our hands. Then we discussed healthy and unhealthy foods. They are more conscious now of what veggies and fruits we eat – they even asked for a vegetable with their pizza for dinner.

0617151026 0617151021

After that, we practiced dividing things into equal halves. In the story, the 12 little girls were in two straight lines, so I gave them a random even number of Lego blocks and asked them to put them into two equal halves. Maggie got frustrated with this pretty easily because she thought she shouldn’t be able to do this, but when she wasn’t trying so hard, she could do it very easily. We practiced this with other objects throughout the day too.

0617151031

Doesn’t she just look thrilled?

0617151031a

Day Three was all about Paris. We looked at tons of pictures of famous Paris landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. We identified some of those in the book itself because many of the pages have those landmarks on them. We colored some French flags too.

IMG_0962

Maggie’s flag was a little small, but she said she didn’t want to make it big.

IMG_0967

I speak a little French, so I taught them some everyday phrases and colors. They asked how to say “I love you” and ran around the house telling everyone “je t’aime!”

For lunch we had some good stinky French brie, grapes, a subpar grocery store baguette and some madeleines. We talked about how France has really important food traditions and are famous for pastries, cheese and wine. We learned some French food words. I wish I had found some good macarons.

0618151347

I had gotten these sticker passports at the dollar store, so I let them put the stickers on the pages in their passports and we talked about traveling.

IMG_0954 IMG_0969 IMG_0971

Day Four, we did some monochromatic painting like the illustrations in the book.  I only had a little bit of time on this day, so we didn’t do anything besides this, but the kids really liked learning about watercolors and how to change the shade of color by changing the amount of water.

0617151051 0617151051b 0617151056

On the last day, we talked about compassion. What is it and what does it look like? We wrote letters and drew pictures for some ladies in our church who had surgery or are very sick. We talked about visiting people at the hospital and taking care of people who are sick or sad. We also talked about being sure we thank God that we are healthy like it says at the end of Madeline.

Next week is A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert.

The Lazy Lion

There has been quite a lot going on and I have a half a dozen blog posts bumping around in my brain, but nothing worth publishing just yet.  I actually wrote this post two weeks ago and haven’t been able to post it since, so this is our summer “school” summary for the week of June 8th to the 12th.

Ready to read and learn!

Ready to read and learn!

BUT it is officially summer in the Korn house and we have started our summer “school.” We took a week off after school ended to get used to a different schedule and then this week we started with <em>Lazy Lion</em> by Mwenye Hadithi.

The lazy lion

This was a book that my father in law had brought back for the kids from a missions trip in Africa and the kids really love it. It wasn’t part of my original plans for summer “school” but they requested it and I was happy to see them actively searching for books we can use for school.

On Monday we started by talking about goals. What are goals and what will our goals for the summer be? I felt much more equipped this summer after having the kids in actual school for a year, so I could determine what they can be expected to do and what things they need to concentrate on for next year because their teachers were so willing to help me out with that.

Reading about various African animals.

Reading about various African animals.

Bo’s goals as a upcoming first grader are to improve on reading skills (attacking difficult words, understanding what he’s reading and basic phonics skills) and writing skills (especially writing in lowercase). Maggie’s goals as a soon to be four-year-old are to work on writing letters and refine her fine motor skills. Joe (18 months) gets to have fun, be creative, learn to focus on a task and work on holding a writing utensil.

Maggie very intensely coloring her African animals.

Maggie very intensely coloring her African animals.

Monday’s topic was African animals. They brought their African stuffed animals to the school room with them. We used the Smithsonian’s Little Explorer series <em>African Animals</em> to look at the crazy diversity of animals in Africa. This was nice because it wasn’t just the big cats and grazers you see in most books about African animals. We also talked about reptiles and amphibians and talked about words like herbivores and scavengers. Made my biologist heart proud.

Love those cheeks.

Love those cheeks.

Maggie and Joe colored pages of African animals like cheetah, giraffe and baboons. Bo practiced writing the names of a variety of animals to make a booklet. He got a little frustrated whenever I had to remind him to write in lowercase or if he wrote a letter backwards. I will admit there were some tears, but he needs to work on pushing through that frustration.

Working hard!

Working hard!

When he was done writing the names on the pages, he cut them out and then we worked on alphabetizing. He really had a lot of fun with that because he loves putting things in their places. Meanwhile, Maggie worked on her E’s using a worksheet. We will work on this all week because she tends to give up on those E’s and it’s a letter in her name.

0608151000

0608151002

0608151010a

Finally, we used a template to put together a lion and a cheetah craft. I wasn’t super particular about them putting it together as instructed and the kids had fun figuring out where the parts all went. I think their favorite part was hanging all of their work on the wall – even Joe enjoyed showing off his handiwork.

0608151023a

We finished the day by watching <em>The Lion King</em> before lunch and talking about how different the animals and trees in the movie are compared to home.

Because I decided to be less uptight about fitting school into our busy schedule this summer, we skipped school on Tuesday. (If the point is to give them something to do during they day, I shouldn’t be worried they are missing school to do something else, right?) So they spent Tuesday with their Nana picking strawberries and running errands.

Wednesday morning was spent at the lake, but when we came back, we learned all about Kenya. I’m not sure why I chose Kenya of all the countries in Africa but it was a lot of fun. We looked at photos in some library books of the country and the people there. We talked about how they are different and how they are the same as us. That led into a discussion on climate differences. Bo wrote sentences describing weather where we live with the weather in Kenya. Maggie wrote the word “hot” and drew a picture to go with it.

0610151139 0610151123 0610151139a

Maggie colored the flag while Bo labeled and colored a map of Kenya. Maggie practiced her scissor-ing skills and cut out her flag to hang up. I was pretty impressed with her concentration while she was cutting. We talked about a few things like currency, religion and language.

0610151155a 0610151159a

0610151159b

We read together a story called <em>Mama Panya’s Pancakes</em> by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, which describes life in a Kenyan village well. Also, they have Swahili phrases and vocabulary in it as well as various plants and wildlife and a recipe for pancakes. We learned some basic Swahili phrases, many of which the kids recognized from The Lion King and the kids asked to watch it again. (For example, simba means lion in Swahili.)

Before we watched the movie, though, we looked at a pottery bowl that someone had brought back for us from Africa. We made our own bowls out of clay and then made some beaded necklaces to practice our fine motor skills. In church on Sunday, the kids even recognized and pointed out to me the Kenyan flag.

0610151224

I was surprised at how interested in sculpting Maggie was. She even decoratively pinched the edges and bottom of the bowl to “make it pretty.”

0610151224a

Our beaded necklaces

Our beaded necklaces

Thursday we went to the lake and had a blast. But Bo asked me why we weren’t having school. Yikes. He even started suggesting times when we could have done school in the day.

Friday Daddy taught us about a biblical view of laziness. We learned about terms like “sluggard” and “workmanship” and what it means to provide. We learned to learn from the ant and work diligently (Proverbs 6:6). Finally, we talked about what kind of work God has for us to do by looking at Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”

0612150928

What? You don’t do school in diapers?

We ended the day by doing a summary sheet for the week. Bo wrote about what he learned this week and Maggie drew a picture of what she learned this week. The really interesting part was the discussion that occurred between the two of them about it.

There was so much more we could have done. I planned lessons on engineering (because the book is about a lion trying to get other animals to build him a house) and missions. We easily could have done an art lesson on watercolors or landscapes. There was a lot more we could have done.

Next week is <em>Madeline</em> by Ludwig Bemelmans

Memories: The Good and the Bad

Two years ago around this time, my brother-in-love Chris gave me a call and told me I needed to get my butt to Hopkins because Jen was probably going to die from the leukemia she had fought for over a decade.  I know he used gentler words than that, but that’s not what I heard.  What I heard was that my world was about to crack into pieces yet again.

My gut told me to drop everything and get there.  I called out of work for the foreseeable future, got a sub who could cover for me even if I gave them really bare-bones sub plans and I gathered up my family for Baltimore.  When I stepped onto that elevator in the Weinberg Garage (or GARE-ahge as the machine greets you when you pull in), I felt a wave of anxiety for a split second.  What if Jen looked awful and I would only remember her that way?  What if her death wasn’t peaceful and I had to steel myself to handle it to support her and to support her husband and boys?

Then the wave passed.  I would endure anything to spend Jen’s last moments with her.  If she was convulsing and vomiting blood, I would hold her hand and coo her name in her ear. I would remember that these moments were not about me or what I would remember or how I felt.  These moments were about drinking up the very last seconds of Jen’s life so that I could somehow make it without her after she died.

Those few days (I really can’t remember how many actually.  It felt like forever.) were hard.  Most of us were camped out in the waiting room or on the floor in her hospital room or down the street at my other sister’s apartment.  We were smelly and hungry and on edge and we had a variety of nurses and doctors coming in to say goodbye to Jen because she had touched them in some way during her treatments there at Hopkins.

There are moments from those days I will never forget.  Good moments.  Like when we snuck Bo (then only 3 years old) into Jen’s room and she opened her eyes for real and we saw that magnificent smile on her face.  She reached out for him and held his little hand and seemed herself for second.

2013-03-049511.18.18

Or when someone mentioned Rico and she rolled her eyes in classic Jen style. Cuddling with my siblings and nephews on the waiting room furniture, joking and laughing and trying to forget what was happening in the room down the hall. Rico’s ridiculous slippers. (Please someone tell me we have a picture somewhere!)  Jen’s cool smooth skin as I held her hand and talked to her like nothing was happening.

IMG_20130410_213438

But there are things that I won’t forget that are difficult to think about.  The look on her face when she needed her meds increased.  How dry and shriveled up her tongue got because she was breathing with her mouth open.  The panic in her eyes when she felt like she needed to throw up.  The sound of the oxygen pump bubbling next her bed reminding me how she couldn’t do something as basic as breathing. Tears dotting her sheets. Falling in and out of sleep in the early morning hours, seeing my dad and Chris sitting Jen’s left and right sides, whispering to her and holding her hands.  Hearing Chris yelling when she finally slipped away. Not wanting to leave her hospital room because that meant it was really over and she was really gone.

But all the fears I had about only being able to see those few last moments – the ugly moments of vomiting blood and slowly slipping away?  They were completely unfounded.  How could I focus on those few moments when I had a lifetime’s worth of beaming smiles, goofy faces and happy memories?

This face is so Jen that it hurts. :)

This face is so Jen that it hurts. :)

I remember those things about the day that Jen died, even though it’s been two years.  I remember those things like they happened yesterday.  I feel those things in my gut, even though it’s been 728 days since she died.  But it’s with the same clarity and detail that I picture days like these:

On the way to Lancaster, PA to visit Green Dragon and pig out on Amish goodies.

On the way to Lancaster, PA to visit Green Dragon and pig out on Amish goodies.

Jen stepping off the elevator the first Christmas after her diagnosis.  We talked the nurses into letting her come down to the lobby so she could celebrate with her babies who she hadn't seen for three weeks.

Jen stepping off the elevator the first Christmas after her diagnosis. We talked the nurses into letting her come down to the lobby so she could celebrate with her babies who she hadn’t seen for three weeks.

jen and will

And look how happy she is to see them!

Laughing with her at a photo shoot that she demanded so that we could get pictures together "just-us-girls."

Laughing with her at a photo shoot that she demanded so that we could get pictures together “just-us-girls.”

Jen was more than her last moments.  She was more than her last days or years.  Jen will be remembered forever and her story and life have impacted more people than I will ever know.  I am thankful for every second I had with her – even the ones I’d rather not think about.  And I’m trying to live a life where I am like that with everyone I love.  I am thankful for every second I have with them because I am unsure when it will end.  I find peace in knowing that as long as I enjoy the now, the later will be full of memories I still enjoy.

Jen, you’ve been gone for two years, but in reality, you’re not gone.  You color every moment of my day.  You’ve trained me to know what you’d think in every situation and you’ve shown me how to learn from you even when you’re not around.  I miss your physical self – your hugs, your laugh, your voice – but you are with me forever.  And I praise God for you every.single.day.

As Time Goes By

Do you ever think about the people who used to live in your neighborhood?  Your house?  Who used to sleep in your bedroom before you bought that house?  What happened to them?  I remember taking car rides with my dad when I was a little girl and I would spend the time looking out the window and wondering what everything would look like a hundred years ago.

I actually think about this often. When I’m out driving around, I look at houses and I wonder about what went on inside them.  Because on the outside, my house looks normal (a bit ratty, but normal) and cheerful maybe.  Random passersby would have no idea of the loss we’ve experienced or the pain we’ve felt.  They have no idea that this Saturday when it was snowing like crazy, the family was gathering to celebrate a man who died almost a year ago on my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary.  They would have no idea that the smell of bacon, scrapple and sausage was because my dad loved big breakfasts (although, I think he would have wanted some fried potatoes too).  They would have no inkling that half of the family was unable to get out in the snow and were having their own celebrations at their homes.  They wouldn’t be able to share in the memories and stories we told about the ones we love.  They would drive by and completely miss out on what was happening inside.

What history am I missing in my little house?  What happened to the generations of people who lived here before me?  Over time their stories are lost and I find that sad because I could have learned from them.  I would have grown from them.

Modern American families have lost the ability to prepare for death.  We expect that all of us will be healthy and well and that if we’re not, the doctors should be able to fix it.  Death comes as a surprise these days – even if we know that someone is sick!  Jen had leukemia for eleven years and I still expected the doctors to run in at the last minute and say that they had an idea for something that would save her.

And all of us take for granted the days we have with our loved ones.  We assume that we have lots of time left with them to say the things we want to say.  To do the things we want to do.  We think we’re doing ourselves a favor when we avoid thinking about death.  Why be so morbid? I don’t think being prepared for death is about being afraid.  I think being prepared for death is a celebration of life.

Imagine a time when disease was commonplace and death was everyday.  Didn’t parents prepare their children for death instead of hide it from them?  Oh, how I hope these losses in recent years have helped me to prepare my children for the possibility, no – the EVENTUALITY of death.  How I hope I have not made my children afraid of death, but instead make them see it as a distinct part of life.  As I live this life, I am more and more convinced that it is our duty as parents and relatives to prepare them for loss.  From simple loss, like a broken toy, to big loss, like the death of a loved one.  They will lose things.  They will lose people they love.  And if we don’t teach them to deal with it, who will? Society?!  I don’t think so.

Sure, my kids see me at my worst.  Like when I start crying when I’m cleaning a room because I’m afraid of cleaning away the last vestiges of Jake, Jen and Dad.  Or when I illogically demand to watch a pretty silly movie because it reminds me of someone I love.  But I hope my children also see me at my best – when I can show them the peace that I have in Christ and the hope that we will see our loved ones again in heaven. When I can feel happy in the memories I have with Jake, Jen and Dad and we can laugh and smile and talk about how they would have enjoyed our celebrations.  When I can teach them what my loved ones would have taught them about faith, creativity, individuality and strength.

So, no.  I don’t hide death from my children.  Bo was 14 months old when Jake died, and we had a discussion with him about Jake’s death.  He totally understood what was happening and cried with us in our mourning.  But he also gave us more hugs, gave us more reasons to smile and reminded us of all the sweet things about life with Jake.  Even at just one-year-old, Bo learned from his loss and helped to teach others through it.

More than that, my family and I have resolved to CELEBRATE our loved ones at every opportunity we have.  Of course we celebrate them on birthdays and anniversaries, but we also celebrate the anniversaries of their deaths – not by mourning, but by gathering together and remembering them together.  By being together with the loved ones who are still alive and creating more memories and taking every opportunity to enjoy the life we have.

So, my family, the two-year anniversary of Jen’s death is coming up in about a week. Where are we getting together?  What are we doing?  I’m thinking we need to crank up the New Kids on the Block and watch the movie Annie (the old one – NOT the new one) and eat some gummy bears, peach rings and sour gummy worms.

End of First Trimester Blues

Please tell me I’m not alone here, but at the end of my first trimester, I get this obnoxious case of anxiety.  Sometimes I feel like everyone else is celebrating because they can finally keep down food and they feel somewhat normal again.  But not me.

This has happened with every pregnancy to some extent, but definitely in the last two pregnancies after losing Luna.  I hate leaving the first trimester.

When all those awful first trimester symptoms disappear – the nausea, the fatigue, the intense moodiness and the constant need to pee – I don’t find myself feeling better.  I find myself worried that since I no longer FEEL pregnant, I must not BE pregnant anymore.

And maybe I don’t need to pee constantly anymore, but I still go to the bathroom as often as I can to make sure I don’t have any spotting or bleeding.  To check and make sure that nothing is happening.  It’s too early for me to feel the baby moving so I have no way to know unless something happens.

I very nervously wonder if I could somehow change my next OB appointment to a little sooner so I can hear a heartbeat.  I count down the days until that doc takes that little box, squirts some goo on my belly and attempts to find the swish-swish-swish of a tiny heart.  And I am practically in tears waiting for them to find it.  I seriously consider buying myself my own doppler to check myself…weekly…daily…maybe three times a day…alright…whenever I can.

That moment when they find the heartbeat is the first time I’ve really breathed since the end of my first trimester.  It’s like that tiny swish swish is the air being let out of a giant balloon in my chest and I can finally breathe.

So if you see me between now and my next appointment in two weeks, please know that my puffed up chest is not pride or snobbiness or anything.  It really is just a case of anxiety and if I seem a little distracted, please know that I’m just praying.  Constantly asking God to calm my heart and to help me trust Him more.  Fervently asking for His protection over my tiny baby and praying for that tiny swish swish in two weeks.

10 Lessons I Learned in My Big Family

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing.  Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

When you are raised as part of a big family, you feel a sense of pride in the number of siblings you have.  I would feel angry when I wasn’t the student in the classroom with the most siblings.  (I have vivid memories of meeting a girl in high school Spanish class who had 9 siblings when I had 8 and I probably missed out on having an awesome friend because I swore to hate her forever after.)

It becomes a competition after that. “Oh yeah?  You have more siblings?  Well, my mom is one of ELEVEN children!”  Or you qualify your numbering by saying, “And none of those are twins or triplets” like multiple births is cheating.  Or you say, “And those are all from the same set of parents” like having one set of prolific parents counts for more points than multiple sets of prolific parents.

Regardless of who wins the biggest family competition, you realize after talking to your competitors, that they understand you in a way your other classmates just don’t.  There are aspects of their personalities that just make sense in your big-family-minded psychology.  And this is because living with a big family teaches you lessons.  Makes you special.

Lesson #1:  You have strengths and weaknesses.  Partner up accordingly.

When you have enough siblings to make teams, you learn to very quickly size up the people around you so that you can form the best possible team for the competition.  Whatever that competition is.  An argument.  A game.  A manipulation.  A chore.  Whatever.  Not only that, but your siblings are not shy about explaining to you why they chose someone else for their “team” and so you become (sometimes painfully) aware of your weaknesses.  Instead of making you feel helpless because of these weaknesses, it reminds you to find someone to compliment them and make your team stronger.This also makes you feel valued for your strengths because they are equally bold in explaining why they want you on their team.  

This is not limited to formal and official competitions.  If you were in a room and an argument over what to eat for dinner begins, you automatically pick sides based on who is in the argument.  I learned fast to always pick Jen’s side in an argument because she was ruthless and never pick Jes’ side because she would fold in a heartbeat. (I love you, Jes.  You fold out of love, not out of weakness.)

Lesson #2:  Someone is always watching you.

Seriously.  ALWAYS.  You can’t do anything without someone knowing about it.  You have older siblings who want you to toe the line and younger siblings who want to emulate you. And if your parents are good at this big family thing (and mine were) your younger siblings have been trained to innocently spy on you.  It’s not that we’re trained to tattletale, it’s just that a simple statement like “Go check and see how Bo is doing” or “Can you make sure that Jake is doing okay?” makes a younger sibling feel like they’re helping an older sibling in a very special way.  So when we come back with, “Bo is great!  He’s showing Jake how to mudwrestle in the backyard,”  we have no idea that we’ve just betrayed them.  And younger siblings remember EVERYTHING.  At least mine do.  (Ahem, Joe.) So you learn quickly to make better decisions and you also learn that you will eventually get caught.  Almost inevitably.

Lesson #3:  Figure out who is in charge.

In a big family, there is always someone in charge.  This is a big thing that I’ve noticed about smaller families – there is no desire for someone to be in charge.  They can sit in a room and have very little power-play because they are comfortable with everyone being in charge of themselves.  Not in a big family.  In a big family, you are trained from birth that your older siblings are in charge of you simply because they’re older than you.  Sometimes there are events that occur that disrupt that age hierarchy, but that’s rare.  For example, my older brother Jimbo did not like to be in charge.  He wanted to be alone.  So when he was left in charge, he put me in charge and locked himself in his room to play Savage Garden at an unhealthy volume.  I think in some ways this has damaged me in a way that makes me believe that I am permanently in charge….

Anyway, once you’ve read a room and figured out who is in charge, this will help in case of arguments or if one of your siblings tries to tell you what to do.  Only the sibling who is in charge can tell you what to do. If there is an argument, the final decision goes to the sibling in charge.  If you can’t decide what to watch on TV or what to eat for lunch or what to do for fun, the final decision goes to the sibling in charge.  And everyone else has to respect that.  (How do you small-family people make decisions if no one is in charge?!  I guess everyone makes their own decisions independently?  You mean, you don’t make ONE thing for lunch and everyone has to eat it without whining?  Everyone can make their own lunch?  No way….not possible.)

Lesson #4:  Make your expectations known.

When there are so many people in the same house, it would be stupid to assume that everyone knows what you want all the time.  Maybe in a small-family house, everyone would know that you like your cereal in the big orange bowl because you eat it that way every day, and they would stay away from it.  But in a big-family house your younger sibling wants to use that bowl too just because you use it every day and you have to make sure they understand it’s off limits.  You never assume that they’ll understand without your say-so because they won’t.  I would get a monster box of Frosted Mini Wheats for Christmas every year and even if I would write my name on box, the only time my brothers wouldn’t eat them was when I would write “DO NOT EAT” on the box multiple times.  So you just get used to telling people what you want and how you want it.  You can’t blame them for not living up to your expectations if you never told them what you expected!

Lesson #5:  Go with the flow.

When there are too many people to accommodate everyone’s every whim, you get used to rolling with the punches.  Sometimes you get it your way and sometimes you’re the one who gets disappointed, but you NEVER get upset when it doesn’t work out your way.  It’s all about what works for the majority.  You want to do Christmas on Christmas morning?  Okay.  Who else does that work for? If it doesn’t work for most of the siblings, then you figure out another time.  Even if it doesn’t work the best for you.  You just learn that things don’t have to be perfect and you don’t throw a fit when they’re not.  Can you imagine what it would be like in a house with 11 people if everyone threw a fit when it didn’t go their way?!  Goodness.

Lesson #6:  Take care of each other.  Sometimes that means you drop everything.

You definitely learn to take care of each other in a big family.  In the obvious ways, like helping your sibs find their shoes or pouring them a cup of milk, but also in less obvious ways like making faces at them while they nervously prepare for their band solo or bringing your obviously uncool sister to parties with your friends because she’s scared of public school.  You know exactly what to do to make each one of your siblings feel better after a bad day and you know exactly how to do it.  To this day, I know when my brother Joe is having a bad day and I’ll sometimes say to his wife (even though she knows better than I do) “He needs to watch a movie.  Any movie.”

Sometimes this means that what we need is for all of us to get together and we’ll end up making some excuse for a party and staying up way later than we wanted to and keeping our kids up past bedtime just because we need to be together.  It’s all about taking care of each other.  There is an intense connection in big families and we don’t question it when the spirit moves us to be together.  It’s like we’re all connected by these elastic cords and when they’ve been stretched too far too long, they snap us back together and we have no choice but to obey.    

Lesson #7:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My mother would ask us all the time growing up, “What is the golden rule?!” usually out of desperation and exhaustion.  But it really hammered into our brains that we should treat people the way we want to be treated.  When you live in a house that is constantly full of people who can recall at any moment any of a thousand things you have done wrong in the past, it really helps to try to be nice to them.  I remember one time I was arguing with Jen (because she was in charge and I don’t respond well to not being in charge) and Jake was in the next room keeping score. (He literally had a paper and pencil and was making tallies every time someone said something particularly good.) At the end of the argument, he told me I won and, after a brief pause to sift through some mental files, I said, “You know that time you drew with permanent marker in one of my books?  You’re forgiven.” I just remember thinking that maybe he’d forgive me one day.  Or maybe Jen would forgive me one day.  Or maybe ANYONE would forgive me one day.  

So I remember this when I am tempted to do something awful to someone.  If I do this awful thing, I am opening myself up to the possibility of awful things being done to me. Like when Jes locked Bo out of the house and then he broke a window coming back into the house and they both got in trouble. Or when I let my cat kill Bo’s snake and he farted into a jar and left the jar in my room for me to find…and open….(P.S.  Never open a seemingly random empty jar.)

Lesson #8:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I first heard this phrase in that classic episode of The Twilight Zone where an ugly lady goes in to get her face surgically altered so that she could be attractive again.  I won’t ruin it for you, but they talk about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I had to have my dad explain it to me.  He also used to say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Or once (when eating a bowl of cereal that was all crumbs because it was the bottom of the box) “One man’s crumbs is another man’s cereal.”  

This was something we definitely experienced in our big family.  A joke I used with one sibling would fall flat, but the same joke with another one would be quoted decades later.  I used to play this game with my younger brothers where I was a psychiatrist and they would come to me for therapy sessions. Jake and Joe played along because it made me happy, but eventually they told me it was stupid and they wouldn’t play anymore.  But Rico honestly enjoyed his sessions and he would totally dive head first into his therapy.  I’m not certain, but I think he actually thought I was qualified to provide psychiatric help.  It’s the same with just about anything.  Jes and I are completely addicted to my mother’s pies, but Jen thought they were no good.  We learned very quickly that not everyone is going to love everything you love.  And sometimes that meant you had to sit through The Iron Giant AGAIN because Jack just couldn’t get enough. But eventually you will probably find someone who agrees with you and loves what you love, if you just ask enough people.

This also means we are not quick to share our opinion about everything.  You know those people who just have to tell the room how they feel about every single thing?  We don’t do that.  We wait to share until our opinion might add to the conversation.  Well…this is true for all members of big families except the oldest sibling, because they were alone long enough to think their opinion is the most important.

Lesson #9:  Why do anything alone?

The only thing I did alone growing up was bathe, use the toilet and change my clothes.  Every other time, there was someone around that I had to interact with.  When I was reading a book, my brothers would ask me questions about the people on the cover or what was happening in the story.  When I was making dinner, my brothers were providing their suggestions for what it needed or whining about what they wanted to eat instead.  When I was cleaning, my brothers were complaining about the fact that I was making them clean too.  But we never did anything alone.  We went to the library as a group.  We went to the store as a group.  We walked to the bus stop as a group.  We went to school as a group.  We did church events together.  We ate meals together. If we asked to go somewhere, the answer almost always included, “Take so-and-so with you.”

How this looks in my life now is that I like it when people tag along at the grocery store.  I turn the television on to make my home a little more noisy while I’m doing housecleaning or grading or napping.  My gut reaction to a party invitation is “I wonder if Jes is going” or “Maybe I can ride with mom.”  Even now with three small children, I wonder if I would enjoy some alone time, but I have a hard time imagining what I would do then.  Maybe take a nap (with the tv on).

And I feel weird when I talk to my youngest brother Jack because he’s the only one at home with my mom now and he does quite a bit alone.  I don’t know what that’s like at all.  When I was a junior in high school, Jake was a freshman, Joe was in 7th grade, Rico was in 4th grade and Jack was 2.  There was no chance I’d get a moment alone.  But I think Jack still has some of the same habits.  He is constantly listening to music because it’s “too quiet” otherwise, for example.  On days he doesn’t have to go to school, he sometimes chooses to come to MY school just because.  

Lesson #10:  Do your part.

When there are a billion people living in one house, the mess can be enormous.  Seriously monumental.  We found very quickly that if one person refused to do their chore, everyone would refuse to do their chore and chaos quickly ensued.  Not only that, but when we have to get something done – anything done – we are quick to divvy up the responsibilities and delegate.  Part of this goes back to knowing strengths and weaknesses, so we know who to put in charge of what, but we definitely break it up.  We never have a party where one person is in charge of food.  No way.  We never plan something without everyone’s input and we definitely don’t forget to invite people to participate even if we know they won’t come.  This means we have huge whole-family conversations on Facebook where our phones are buzzing and beeping every minute for an hour and a half.  My husband can’t keep up with these conversations and by the time he sits down to read them, he has 50 unread messages and most of them are inside jokes or personal insults aimed lovingly at each other.  He waits for me to tell him the important parts.

But there is a distinct understanding that you are going to carry your load.  That you are going to uphold your end of the bargain.  And you expect everyone else to do that too.  And again, you’ve made your expectations clear so there is no confusion.  I think I’m starting to repeat myself.

And so, when I was still very young (after I was in my I’m-going-to-be-a-nun phase and right before my I’d-rather-remove-my-own-ovaries-with-a-spoon phase) I decided that I was going to have a big family.  I knew that these were lessons my kids needed to learn and that I wouldn’t teach them as well as a house full of people would teach them.

And I’ve discovered something since then.  I don’t have to fill my house with my own children to make them learn this.  I can fill my house with my brothers and sisters and their children and they can learn the same lessons.  The more my house is full – of ANYONE – the more my children learn about people and how to handle them.

That said, we are expecting #5 in August.  Yay to full houses!  (We NEVER forget to count our Luna.  Even though she doesn’t get to fill our house physically, she fills our house emotionally and losing her taught us and our kids just as much as having her would.)