large family,  motherhood,  school

Kids at school, kids at home

I have had the distinct pleasure – spoken without too much irony – of having my big kids home for spring break this week. When I glanced at the school calendar late last week and realized that I’d misappropriated spring break to the first week of April, horror dawned in slow rolling waves over my psyche as I flipped through my Google calendar and beheld the 302334 doctor, dentist, professional, and personal appointments I’d unintentionally scheduled.

Now a few days into a rigorous schedule of dragging all five children on most of these errands, I’ve had time to appreciate how much they’ve matured in the past year or so. Or perhaps how much I’ve matured? It mostly boils down to, I think, having a couple kids who can buckle themselves in and out of the car. Game changer.

Still, I don’t mind that school starts up again on Monday. Not one little bit. And I have perhaps been busying myself clicking through listings of free and low cost summer activities, registering for swimming lessons, and generally spilling some ink onto the 12 weeks of summer stretching out ahead of us in the not too distant future. This week has been a brisk wake up call in a few categories:

How much they eat. It is truly shocking. I don’t fear college fees (because I think higher education is poised for a meltdown/restructuring that all of my kids will benefit from, and also hope to have a priest, a plumber, an electrician, a stylist, etc etc in the family) but I DO fear the line-item totalling I do each month as I scan through our checking account and note how much we spent at Trader Joe’s. IT IS SHOCKING. VV shocking. I’ll start out the week with $200 worth of groceries in the fridge feeling confident that meals are planned and lunches are ready to be packed with aplomb, but come Thursday the fridge looks like we’re all practicing intermittent fasting and we have plowed through 4 loaves of gluten free bread, and that cardboard IS NOT CHEAP. (GF bread, Kerrygold butter and Lavazza espresso beans are our big splurge items in this house.)

Horrified, I begin the cycle of checking fridge, freezer, pantry, repeat, wondering how we went through 5 containers of deli ham (Luke) 4 loaves of bread (also Luke) and 3 pints of cherry tomatoes (ONCE AGAIN LUKE). The pantry is roughly bare, save for 3 boxes of bean-based breakfast cereals which my snobbish offspring will not eat, even though breakfast puffs made of brown rice and lentils are both gluten free AND penitential.

How much energy they have, (and how many hours there are in a day without naps.)

Having little kids home with you 24/7 is exhausting. Full stop. I’ll never be as tired as I was when my oldest three were little. However, there is something precious about the sacred stretch of 1-3 pm when you have all little kids (or big kids in school) and the world is your freaking oyster. Got laundry to do? Not anymore, you don’t. A book chapter or six to read? Treat yo self. Want to each lunch in silent, introverted bliss? Nobody will stop you.

I miss those nap times, I truly do. Next year Luke will be in school with the big kids on Mondays and Tuesdays, leaving Zelie and I home by ourselves twice a week, and I’m already salivating over those 4-5 uninterrupted hours of bliss.

In the meantime, I’m making meals, sweeping floors, driving people to appointments and applying bandaids and stern lectures (okay, screaming) all around, giving helpful reminders about not putting your fingers in certain places and also public urination.

I look forward to 9 pm every night when all are asleep, feigning or otherwise, so that I can, um, also go to sleep. I was chronically exhausted when the kids were little, but also dying for some alone time so I tended to burn the midnight oil. Now I’m dog tired from physical and emotional labor and old enough (smart enough?) to know that most nights another hour of sleep will refresh me far more than an hour with my Kindle.

Screentime is best used as a carrot and not a stick. My kids are less likely to respond to my vague threats of “no more episodes” if they’ve already binged half a season of Rescue Bots in a morning. Since giving up shows for Lent, we’ve seen a 400% increase in good attitudes, destructive but endearing creativity, and time spent outside. No comment on sibling relations having either improved or deteriorated.

When screentime is a non-option, my kids tend to be more compliant and creative. When I shock them by offering an episode of something on Formed or throw a Hail Mary and put on an entire Disney movie while trying to do something on a professional level, they respond with eager joy instead of jaded eye rolls.

I also find it serves as a powerful motivator to finishing chores, behaving like a human being, etc, and therefore I’m wise to reserve it for end of day purposes.

They all have really strong feelings about each other, good and bad. Our neighbors probably think we are lunatics based on the screaming + pictures of Jesus all over the walls.

It’s a confusing playlist, I’ll admit. One moment everyone is bouncing idyllically on the trampoline, the next minute the hose is on and there is mayhem and not infrequently, blood.

Having everyone home and playing outside (read: not at school or staring at a screen) is a level of volume that I was not prepared for. Was Luke mute last summer? Was I still in a postpartum stupor? I do not know. But I cringe constantly throughout the day as someone screams in a truly blood curdling scream that someone did something to someone, wondering if today is the day the fire department is going to come.

Our neighborhood is mostly retired folks whose hearing is, I pray, sub optimal. The few kids on our block either live at my house during daylight hours or sit inside like vampires, shying away in fright when they are greeted by a fellow human. In other words, all the noise is coming from us, and it is a lot of noise. A lot.

As much as I enjoy this time together, in other words, I will not mind one bit when that school bell rings again on Monday morning. Until then I’ll be chugging all the LaCroix (another budget busting indulgence to get me through spring break) and thanking God for not giving me the grace to home school.

32 Comments

  • Rosie

    I wish you could hear how loud my kids are outside, it would probably make you feel a lot better about yours 😉 When even the other big-family-homeschool-moms tell you (in the nicest possible way) that, “Wow! Your kids really *are* loud!” it’s pretty vindicating!

  • Eva

    HA, that last line.

    We discontinued our Netflix, because they would take turns choosing the garbagiest garbage, and their overall behaviour change has been in-cred-ible. And they play together because… well there is no one else and Mom is boring. And like you said, when I give them a chance to choose 1 of the 3 shoes on Prime Video Canada (or Formed), they are ecstatic.

  • Rebecca

    I read Jen Fulwhiler’s husband wore noise canceling headphones around the house, I’m serisouly considering them. No. Really. Seriously. Haha! ages 5,3,2 and 5 months here and what the French would call a tre petite home 😉

    • Samantha

      My husband does this!! He also has a pack of little ear plugs from amazon that dim the level, but don’t cancel it out completely, so he can vary whatever works for the particular occasion. After 7 kids, I literally think I have some hearing loss from the perpetual noise so I’m considering jumping on board the ear plug train!

    • Christine

      Ha! My husband started wearing ear plugs around the house. He can still hear what’s going on, but it helps his ears (and sanity! 🙂

  • jeanette

    I heard that breakfast puffs made of brown rice and lentils causes aggressiveness in children. Kidding. Do they like oatmeal? It’s cheap and very good for them. Stir in berries, chopped peaches, applesauce, cinnamon, nuts, raisins, whatever…and once in awhile surprise them by topping it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (breaking the myth that you can’t eat ice cream for breakfast, which somehow makes it exciting to them). Watch it melt and get creamy as they eat it with the nice warm oatmeal. Have fun.

  • Francine

    We recently moved and the houses on the opposite side of the street from us back up to a golf course. I can only pray that that’s far enough away, because my five are not quiet, either. I don’t know how many times I’ve told my husband I need noise-canceling headphones!

  • Nicole

    Yes, the NOISe. The baby doesn’t flinch at almost anything loud because the base level is always SO.LOUD….and this is from 3 little girls (granted 2 of them are redheads, so…).

  • Lili

    I feel like we live parallel lives. 5 kids, 10, 7, 5, 3, and 8 months. I love my littles and LOVE when they nap. It feels like hitting lottery jackpot when they all nap at the same time 🙌🏻. Your honesty and candidness/candidity (?) makes me feel less crazy while trying to raise these Jesus-loving, gospel-spreading, eating machine little disciples. The struggle and decibel level is real! So thank you!

  • Kelli

    I only have 2 kiddos and their noise level is unbelievable! My 5 year old daughter is an actress-in-training so her tantrums are so over the top I am amazed that CPS has not knocked on my door. I love your “screaming + pictures of Jesus on the wall” comment. That is a day in my life. And it’s not just the kids screaming. This mom needs to practice using her inside voice. I love your blog. Thank you for helping me feel a lil less of a horrible mom!

  • Cecilia Haugen

    Jenny, I totally sympathize and relate, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop laughing. Thank you so much – your blog brightened my morning, as is always the case.. My 5 are 22, 20, 18, 16 & 13 & they are STILL unbelievably loud. My 18 & 16 year old are boys and the amount of food they eat is staggering. Even ten years ago the amount they ate was staggering, but now that they’re 6’01” and 5’10” it’s like the eating never stops. Add an ethereal-looking 13 year old daughter who nevertheless eats like a longshoreman, and, well, it’s nearly impossible to keep anything edible in the house. I buy what I still (even after all this time) think is going to be an adequate amount of food for at least a few days, and a day and a half later, it’s gone.

  • Marie

    Love your thoughts on higher education, they sum up mine!
    Also, not sure God gave me the grace to homeschool either, but we are not blessed with a Classical Catholic option like yours, so we plug away!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Yep, I’m sure I’d have to dig up the grace if our school closed or the financially aid dried up. God bless you!

  • Marie

    Love your thoughts on higher education, they sum up mine!
    Also, not sure God have me the grace to homeschool either, but we are not blessed with a Classical Catholic option like yours, so we plug away anyway!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Brooklyn by Sherwin Williams (bonus:Home Depot or Lowes will dupe any SW color using their generic brand if you bring them the code/name)

  • Katie

    “I don’t fear college fees (because I think higher education is poised for a meltdown/restructuring that all of my kids will benefit from, and also hope to have a priest, a plumber, an electrician, a stylist, etc etc in the family).” lol YES.

    • Gema

      This may not happen as soon as she thinks. I honestly very much doubt it will happen during her children’s lifetime. I’d give it another 100 years or so before universities either become obsolete or undergo a major restructuring.

      But whatever helps her sleep at night. I am deeply disappointed with the education system (I graduated a few months ago), but it all depends on where you go. Most universities have fallen, but some still honor classical ideals on which they were built. Honestly, the point of a university should be to learn truth and cultivate a love of learning. If professors aren’t guiding us, then it’s up to the student to search out truth herself. The library is a good place to start, and I mean university libraries because there you can find the best of western civilization. Ivy League libraries are heaven. So many authentic documents. So much knowledge. Ultimately, the individual is responsible for her own learning. Enough hand-holding.

  • Remi Lessore

    Dare I invite you to look forward to their adolescence?
    Of our 8 we had, for a while, 4 adolescents and a ten and 6 year old (she wasn’t loud but she could bite) at home.
    The weekly household expenditure was about £400.
    And yet God still provided holidays by the intercessions and interventions of kind relatives.
    An old fashioned word on discipline:
    You younger parents need not fear isolating troublesome kids when they disturb the peaceful coexistence of others, or even physical sanctions – There is a big difference between a judicious slap or two and abuse, .
    All this talk of earplugs bothers me. If you can’t stand the sound of your kids, and isolate yourselves from it, you do not moderate or socialise their behaviour and you impose it in the neighbourhood.
    It is your job to correct as well as nurture and it is arguable that these are indivisible…. And correction needs to be firm or it is ineffectual.

    • Lacy

      Why don’t I just discipline them? Gee, I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you for finally pointing that out to me! Your theoretical observations really make my actual experience and wisdom gained in motherhood pale in comparison. We should all take more advice from non-moms in their 20’s.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I think earplugs are a very sound option indeed around 4 pm most days. No judgement here! There’s only so much correction and redirection you can provide in a 12 hour workday, after all. And some kids do come out noiser than others. I can personally attest to that: we have both quiet and bombastic varietals.

  • Jenny G

    “Our neighbors probably think we are lunatics based on the screaming + pictures of Jesus all over the walls.”
    So, SO hilarious. I often wonder about this juxtaposition of Jesus and maniacal screeching in our home too (same spread w 5 kids, oldest turns 8 tomorrow and youngest is 8 wks). I could never have put it this wittily though, and so appreciate the laughs to pepper the postpartum haze.

  • Liz

    Thanks for writing this, Jenny! It’s so spot-on; I love my three young kids but also thank God every day for the gift of schools. The days can be long, but I always try to keep my eye on the long-term prize. Someday they’ll be best friends and our Thanksgiving table will be full.

  • Remi Lessore

    Hi Gema,
    Your common sense is surprising.
    I would caution you though on a couple of things.
    1. Just my opinion.
    Though, as you say, the Virgin Mary was a special one she was still subject to the temptations of other women. We might think that Jesus was not the type of naughty child to drive his parents to distraction with noise – but we can see from his early teen reaction to their worry when he disappears on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, – what? didn’t you know I’d be discussing my father’s affairs (what a thing to say to Joseph!) that his consciousness of others was not fully developed. So it is quite possible that he could be difficult for normal people to get on with. – in fact he annoys them (us?) to the point of murder, doesn’t he? – Hence the crucifixion.
    The difference between Mary and other mothers would have been that she did not give in to anger and tumble into resentment or alienation (i.e. earplugs).
    2. Point of Church Teaching.
    The church has been around for a long time and it is an attitude of humility and intelligence to give her the benefit of your doubts when engaging in her teaching.
    There are very sound natural, psychological, philosophical and theological and reasons for the church teaching on birth control.
    i. a) Natural family planning is as reliable as artificial methods – IF/WHEN couples are continent and respectful of each other.
    b) The failure of artificial methods is the main reason for the abortion epidemic.
    c) Natural methods teach couples a holistic approach to their bodies and to each other’s.
    d) They are ecological and do not pump oestrogens into the environmnet or employ practical abortificients such as the coil or the morning-after pill.
    e) They treat children as a blessing to be planned for rather than as a disease against which we need medication.
    f) The Church’s teaching is that another human is another being in the Image of God – we find God in others and avoiding this Other which is a baby for whom we have responsibility is a way of avoiding God.
    g) In giving new life we realise an aspect of our nature which is collaboration with God in his ongoing creation of the world.
    h) Couples – young couples in particular, but NOT only, – have a libido and an attraction for each other. Thank God for that and the joy which sex can be. But it can tend towards selfishness and self-sufficiency and this brings a whole world of trouble into the internal relationship of the couple and into the couple’s interaction with the world.
    Babies are entirely selfish and dependent and the change of focus of the couple from the interaction of two people to the possible exclusion of the world, and even of each other, to focus on this little dependent being is a salvific change. Rather than self-sufficiency we learn and relearn, and relearn again (because God makes allowance for our slowness) that Joy and Meaning are to be found beyond the boundaries of our gratification (the physical pleasure, peace and quiet, etc. which the baby can disrupt).
    Babies drag us away from the fiction that men and women are entirely socially conditioned beings, and back into the physical Truth that men are to provide for the mother and child and that the child is nurtured by the person best qualified by millenia of evolution (and His Wise Creation) for this job.
    i) And this is not to sideline sexual relationships. The communion of the couple includes their sexual relationship and the periodic continence and abstention and then the real and beautiful gratification of the couple’s desires for each other. And this communion is essential in the father’s relationship with the children, which grows gradually as he socialises the kids and allows them to leave utter dependence on their mothers.

    I can recommend two books which explain these things better than I can. One is: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1871997.Natural_Birth_Control_Made_Simple
    and the other is: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Waters-Eden-Mystery-Aryeh-Kaplan/dp/1879016087
    The second one is Jewish and is also interesting from the point of theological evolution, but talks strongly of the God-Given beauty of motherhood and of fertility.

    Finally on fertility, all this does not mean we are called to breed like rabbits. There are serious reasons for limiting family size which are more noble and God-oriented than the hedonism which society preaches… but the naughtiness of children is not one of those reasons. That is our responsibility to moderate.

    And on that naughtiness, and back to your common sense:
    Yes. Lay boundaries. Teach truth by enforcing them – there is little worse than parents who say, Do/don ‘t do this or that and then ignore their kids when the rule is broken.
    Remember that those boundaries are LOVE – and that sometimes they may be flexible. We are not automatons.
    And listen to each other and to the Mother Church. If you do not obey, then your kids will learn disobedience from you.

  • Lisa

    ahahaha my kiddos are so loud too! My 3 year old operates at full volume allll the time. My mom frequently comments on the noise level of our home… but then I go over to her house, and it’s TOO quiet! It seems so empty! Seriously makes me realize that I’ll miss all of the high-pitched squeals and stories told at full volume… but maybe not the tantrums 😂

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