It has been quite a while since I have sat down at a computer and put my thoughts out there. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way. Life just got crazy and busy and a bit overwhelming the last few months of 2017. With everything going on, I was forced to let some parts of my life fall to the wayside. Unfortunately, I probably didn’t choose the best parts that I could to have to neglect. I lost my focus on this blog and Christmas Eve was the first service I’ve been to at church since September. While I have started several books, I’ve had a hard time seeing them through to the end. I’ve found myself feeling exhausted, depressed, and just “off.” Just yesterday, I thought to my self that I feel much like Alice in Wonderland. I think the Mad Hatter would agree that I have lost my “muchness.”
Today is January first, however. A new year. New beginnings. A new opportunity to reclaim my “muchness.” I’m not one to declare a lot of resolutions for New Years. I do, however, have some thoughts about the goals I want to accomplish in 2018 and just what exactly I would like this year to look like. Our 2017 experiences have definitely colored my views and goals for 2018, so I think it is only necessary that I spend some time reflecting on 2017.
2017: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
I think, like most people, our 2017 was a mix of both positive and negative experiences. Here’s a run down of the good, the bad, and the ugly of our 2017.
2017: The Good
2017 brought us a lot of family time. We were able to spend some time with our kids and extended family. Many of my most precious memories from this year revolve around the time we spent with our families. From conversations over a fire pit to weekly family dinners with our extended family, we had a lot of sweet family time.
We have been so blessed to spend lots of time with out families this year. Those memories are so much sweeter to me than anything else could possibly be. Every major holiday or event was shared with some part of our extended family. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully, wiser) I’ve come to understand more and more that all that really matters in this life is people. The people you love. The people you sow into. The people you devote your time to. The people who are there for you when you need it most. The people you are there for no matter what. Allowing my family, especially my children, the time to build and strengthen our relationships has become so much more important to me. And thanks to all the time we have spent together this year, I saw relationships blossom and dig deeper than they ever have before.
I think the relationships I have seen this evidenced the most in are my children’s relationships with my husband’s brothers. Several of his brothers are much younger than him. Closer in age to our own children than my husband. This year I have witnessed my children developing strong, loving relationships with their uncles (or funcles as they like to call themselves!). My kids beg weekly to spend the night with “the boys” at Mimi and Pop’s. They can’t wait for Sunday night dinners at Grandma Mary’s so they can see their uncles. With four of them and our oldest three, things get loud and crazy with all seven of them together. But, you know, what? Sweet memories are made. I’m so thankful to see my kids building these relationships. I thankful to know that they will always have those memories with their uncles. They will always have uncles and grandparents who support them and cheer them on through life. I’m thankful that when this family endures loss or tragedy, as every family does at some point, those kids will have each other, a strong network of extended family to lean on, to love, to comfort, to smile with, to cry with.
Another added benefit of watching our children become closer with their uncles is that Daniel and I have also become closer to them. All eight kids look forward to game night with Daniel and while I’m definitely not nearly as cool as Daniel, I have recently noticed a few of those brother-in-laws spending a bit more time talking with me and making sure to give me hugs when we all part ways. One in particular has always been a bit quiet around me but he sat and talked with me about Nerf guns, Christmas presents, Christmas morning traditions, and YouTube channels for more than half an hour last night. It also gives us the chance to be closer to our parents. Daniel and I often find ourselves spending more time with his dad and stepmom so the kids can play. Family game nights are becoming more and more commonplace around here. Having grandparents on your side that love your kids unconditionally, that you trust with your kids just as much as you trust your spouse with them, and that willingly help out when they can is one of the best gifts our parents have ever given us. Raising five kids is hard and it certainly takes a village. We try to avoid asking our parents to babysit as much as possible but we are so thankful when they do. 2017 has been a good year for family relationships for both the kids and the adults. I feel so blessed to know that our kids have aunts,uncles, and grandparents on both sides of our family who love them and support them. My heart is swelling.
This year we decided that “stuff” was taking over our lives. Our children have so many toys, games, and things. Things that are played with for a short time and then tossed aside and forgotten for months. After lots of discussion, Daniel and I decided that we wanted to focus on experiences for our children rather than things. There is a world out there that I am enamored with and I want my children to experience as much of it as possible. We decided that instead of huge birthdays and Christmases we will be gifting our children experiences from now on. Trips, adventures, and family time. We kicked this tradition off with our kids’ birthdays this year. Unfortunately, birthday budgets were not huge this year (but, we’ll get to that in a minute). We chose to do a small get together with grandparents to have cake and ice cream. We made homemade cakes together which resulted in more quality time together and more sweet memories of cooking in the kitchen with my kids.
In lieu of gifts, the kids each got to choose an activity for their birthdays. Emily really wanted to go indoor skydiving. We had a weekend set aside and were all ready to go when she came down with a tummy bug the day before. We didn’t really think indoor skydiving would be the best activity for a weak stomach so we altered our plans last minute and spent the day in a neighboring state at the aquarium with my parents and siblings. We finished the day off with dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.
Jackson chose to have a “guys’ day” with his dad and best friend. They spent the day at a local trampoline park and played laser tag. They also somehow ended up at a candy store where they spent close to $100 on candy!! A five pound gummy bear lived in my refrigerator for months!
Lauren, our little fashionista, decided that more than anything she wanted a girls’ day with me and a friend. We spent the whole day shopping and eating sweet treats. She came home with a ton of new clothes and accessories and couldn’t have been happier.
While my kids didn’t have traditional birthdays this year, they will remember those days with us much longer than a gift would have been relevant for them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the budget to allow the kids the kind of trips or activities that we would like for them to be able to choose from. We expect that to be much different this year. We plan to make trips to cities in neighboring states to visit amusement parks, water parks, and American Girl stores this year! I can’t wait to see what memories they want to make for their birthdays this year.
Speaking of birthdays…our sweet babies celebrated their FIRST birthday this year! I’m pretty sure that was the fastest year of my life. They, of course, aren’t old enough to choose a trip or an activity so we celebrated at home with our family. Their older siblings made their cakes. They put a ton of time and love into them and were so excited to see the babies smash their cakes.
I found myself also spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my kids this year as well. All of them have taken an interest in “cooking with mom.” So, we did that. A lot. Every chance we got actually. I’m so thankful that I did my best to not tell them no. Even when I had just cleaned the kitchen and knew that cooking kids would just create a big mess, we went for it any way. We made some fun memories in the kitchen this year!
When we weren’t cooking and cleaning and chasing babies, we do what any other family of seven does. We live out of our cars and spend all our time running kids around between games, rehearsals, and practices. Our kids were as active as ever this year. Soccer, baseball, swim team, and dance kept us on our toes. While in the midst of the practices I sometimes found myself just daydreaming about going straight home from work and jumping into sweats, I still enjoyed watching my kids. I’ve loved watching them develop their skills in each of their sports. Each one is unique and has different loves and seeing those loves develop has been a ton of fun! I feel so blessed to see every game, race and performance. I am also super thankful to our extended family that supports our kids and faithfully comes to as many of their events as possible.
Lots of other positive things happened in 2017. We added a new member to our family. Our new cat, Finn, adjusted seamlessly to life in our household. I finished my master’s degree. In March, I was able to knock a few more things off my bucket list and travel to Italy with some of my favorite coworkers and students. I also got to be with my mom as she experienced her first trip out of the U.S. I developed some strong relationships with some of my students and wept some bittersweet tears as I said goodbye to them at graduation in May. I got to witness so many firsts for my kids this year too. First teeth, first steps, first haircuts, first words. First day of fourth grade and second grade. Lots of good things happened in 2017 and I’m so thankful for all these moments.
One of the best things about 2017 though was watching my kids build their relationships as siblings. Our older kids welcomed these babies with open arms and became amazing big sisters and brothers to them. Our older kids played together more and maybe, just maybe, became a little bit closer. Now, don’t get me wrong. They still fight like cats and dogs all the time. I think that’s what brothers and sisters do but there were lots of sweet bonding moments between them sprinkled throughout the year.
2017: The Bad and the Ugly
While we did see a lot of good in 2017, we had our fair share of the bad and the ugly. While I think it’s important that I acknowledge that this year was hard for us in a lot of ways, I don’t want to spend too much energy on the negative so I’ll combine the bad and the ugly! Ha!
I spent much of 2017 battling postpartum depression after the birth of Harrison and Katherine. This was not something I had experienced after the births of Emily or Jackson and Lauren. Harrison and Katherine were born at the end of August and within just a few weeks, I knew something was wrong with me. I spent most of Labor Day in a dark room rocking my week old babies while I cried. I spent days telling Daniel that I just wanted to sleep and not wake up. Daniel was as amazing and supportive as anyone who knows him would expect him to be. He got me into my doctor and started on an antidepressant a few weeks after Harrison and Katherine were born. The medication helped but I still struggled for quite a while. I spent the first half of 2017 struggling with this. I weaned myself off the medication over summer break. I really don’t have a valid reason for why I thought I no longer needed it but I didn’t want to be “that mom” anymore. Sometimes, I’m not sure if stopping my medication at that time was the best choice. Sometimes I still have dark days and wonder if things would feel better to me if I were still taking them. I still find myself overwhelmingly sad and dwelling on the things and people I have lost in my life the past two years. My heart still aches often and I find myself working more and adding more to plate to keep myself distracted. I know that I haven’t been a very good anything (friend, wife, mother) this year. I’ve skipped things and events that I know I shouldn’t. I’ve avoid social situations and get-togethers more often than I have attended them. Baby cuddles were often the only thing that got me through this year. Regardless, at this point, my light days much outnumber my dark and things are definitely better than they were on January 1, 2017 but I often feel like I will struggle with this for the rest of my life.
Financially, 2017 was a very rough year for us. Most of our financial strain was carried over from 2016. When Katherine and Harrison were born I had two options for maternity leave. I could use all my sick days and still get paid or I could forego ten weeks of pay. I couldn’t fathom using all of my sick days with five young kids in public schools and childcare facilities. I was confident that someone would get the flu or a stomach virus would rampant through our house and I would desperately need those sick days so I made the decision to just not be paid while I was on maternity leave and save my sick days. In order for there to be a check to take insurance and taxes out while I was off work. the decision was made to just lower my contract by ten weeks pay for the year. That way I would still have a check each month to cover my insurance and taxes but it would be a lower amount for the entire year that my contract covered. Well, ten weeks pay is a very significant amount of money and I saw my monthly checks drop by over $1,000. Since my contract is a year long, it means that our monthly take home pay was also short by $1,000 a month for an entire year. We were fine with that and understood that. We felt it was the best decision for our family and it turned out to be good one. The babies have had RSV, flu, and pneumonia and I have needed those sick days. I’m so grateful that I didn’t use them all on my maternity leave even if bringing home more than $1,000 less a month for an entire year was rough. Enrollment was down at UAFS and as adjunct, Daniel didn’t teach any courses this year which also cut our monthly cash flow significantly.
With our cash flow cut by over $1,000 money was tight but we felt the squeeze even more when the bills from the babies’ birth started rolling in. Even over a year later, we still owe several thousand dollars for the birth of our twins. To make matters worse, three weeks after their birth, our middle daughter cut her stomach open on a carpenter staple. She lost consciousness and we rushed her to the hospital. Her emergency room visit and sutures cost us several thousand (paid in full two weeks ago!). On top of the hospital bills and cut cash flow, we added the expenses of having newborns. Diapers, wipes, childcare (which is over half my pay check), and a new position for Daniel at work that requires him to travel left our savings account completely depleted. The first of the 2017 brought three cases of the flu for our older kids. It, of course, hit on a Sunday when the only thing open was an urgent care clinic. With newborns in the house, we made the decision to take them in to get a prescription for Tamiflu. Each prescription cost us $100 to fill. $300 for Tamiflu. I was further shocked a couple of months later when I got a bill for $250 a piece for their flu test and appointment at the urgent care clinic. One bout of flu last February cost us over $1,000 even with our insurance! And people are shocked when those living in poverty chose to forego medical care!
Emily has always had seasonal allergies but when she moved to a new school last year, the skin around her eyes began to break out severely. I tried everything I knew to clear them up to no avail. I finally took her to pediatrician and begged for a referral to an allergist. By summer we were going through expensive allergy testing that our insurance covered very little of. Emily tested positive to tons of allergens including cats, horses, most molds, trees, and grasses, dust, and milk. With this new knowledge, her doctor prescribed her a plethora of medications. She has three separate creams that she has to use daily to keep the skin around her eyes clear. We have fought and fought with our insurance company and they refuse to cover the cost of those medications. One of them is $400 a fill and the other is $600 a fill.Our insurance denies coverage of the medications because they want us to use an inexpensive steroid cream to treat her breakouts which is unfortunately not safe to apply around her eyes. We do our best to use the creams sparingly and make them last but they are the only things clearing her up so Daniel and I are determined to do what it takes to help her. She is also taking Zyrtec, Singular, and Flonase daily in addition to weekly allergy shots. At this point, we haven’t seen much of a difference for her yet. Her doctor would like to continue the allergy shots for a full year before we make the decision on whether or not they are benefiting her in any way so we are plugging away and paying the weekly cost of all those allergy medications and shots for now.
We are also still paying two mortgages. We had hoped to sell our first house by this time but a lack of time and funds to make some repairs has left us still paying two mortgages. With all the financial stress, bills have gotten behind and we had several very rough months. My contract renewed in August for my normal “non-maternity leave” pay. Things are slowly getting better. We’re getting caught up and slowly making some headway with all those medical bills and student loans. Even with four months of regular pay, we still aren’t “there.” We’re hoping to be back on track and beginning to replenish our savings in the next month or so! Thank goodness!
I’ve also struggled a lot this year with mom guilt and the feeling of being trapped. I am so grateful for the daycare our babies go to. They love our babies and take amazing care of them but I still constantly feel terrible for not being home with Harrison and Katherine. I was a stay-at-home for the oldest three until they were almost ready for kindergarten. I hate that I’m not home with these babies like I was for the older kids. I hate that I pay over half my check for someone else to rock my babies to sleep. I find myself desperately wanting to go back to being a stay-at-home mom even though I know it isn’t financially feasible until we sell our first house and get all those darn medical bills paid for. Emily has often expressed a desire to be home schooled as well. I think this has something to do with her allergies and her eyes being broke out. Ten years old is a tough time anyway and having an ailment that is expressed physically on your face doesn’t make these pre-teen years any easier. I hate that I can’t pull her out and home school her while we figure out these allergies. I hate that I am trapped by a paycheck and can’t be there for my babies, all five of them, the way I want to be. The mom guilt struggle for us working mom is real, ya’ll.
Most days I enjoy my job. I’ve found this school year to be the hardest one yet for me though. I’m emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted many days. After five years of teaching though, I think this is par for the course for teachers to feel this way. Combine teacher exhaustion with mom guilt and I often find myself wondering if I can do this for another 24 years until I can retire. I have no immediate plans to leave the school I work for or the field of education. I don’t even have five or ten year plans to do so but I do feel like I’m struggling in my career right now. I leave work most days feeling like I am a terrible teacher, like I’m not meant to do this work. I don’t feel like I’m good enough or that I do enough or reach enough students. Most days I feel completely inadequate as teacher. I spend a great deal of time trying to convince myself that each year older my babies get the easier this will be, the less guilty I will feel, and the less trapped by my job I will feel. Regardless, this has been a very real struggle for me this year.
2018: Reclaiming My Muchness
With so many aspects of 2017 putting some long term problems on us, I have found myself more stressed than I should be. I have been short with my kids and husband more often than is acceptable. I have allowed myself to deal with stress in unhealthy ways such as neglecting to eat or drink more than a cup of coffee a day and grinding my teeth at night which recently resulted in a broken tooth and a strong suggestion from my dentist that I get a new prescription mouth guard ($565!! and insurance won’t cover it…of course) to avoid further broken teeth. I have neglected to do the things that are relaxing and therapeutic for me, such as blogging and reading. (I only read 17 books in 2017!?! How is that even possible?) I’ve lost my “muchness.”
While I’m not one to make resolutions, I do want to see some things change for us in 2018. First, I need to recover my “muchness.” I want to spend more time reading and doing the things I enjoy. While most people are making resolutions to lose weight and improve their physical health, my mental health is very much my focus this year. I want to find more light days than dark days this year. I want to sleep more. Relax more. Slow down more. Find me again. I want to find the happy me and let go of the stressed me.
Financially, I want to get back on track which we are on the way to doing. The last few months of 2017, Daniel and I were blessed with an opportunity with a wonderful company online. We both began teaching online ESL classes in the early morning before work or in the late evenings after our kids in our bed. With the pay at $20 an hour, we have been able to easily bring home over $1,000 a month extra just working a few hours a day. We’re on track with our schedules in January to bring more than $2,000 extra home this month. This is such a blessing for us. It is allowing us to pay off those medical bills, catch up on the bills that fell behind, line our savings account, and pay for the trips we have planned for this year. I also went back to my old retail job at Old Navy last year. I did so for a couple of reasons. I needed to keep myself busy and I really LOVE retail (seriously!!). The discount helps out with clothing five children and the extra money has helped make ends meet and help pay for birthdays and Christmas. I plan to continue working there. I’m not sure if I will ever leave Old Navy again even if I’m only working a day or two a week. I love the job and I love the company. Between Old Navy and our online ESL gig, I would like to be able to fully replace my teaching salary by June. While I have no plans to leave my teaching job, I want the security of knowing that if I needed to stay home with my kids that I could. I don’t want to ever feel trapped by a job or paycheck again. So for now that money from my side jobs are filling that savings account and paying for travel but if I ever needed to quit teaching, I would have the means to do so. Creating multiples streams of income is very important to me this year. I like and need the freedom of that.
Daniel and I have been together for 15 years and married for 12 of those. In that time period, we have never traveled farther together than about six hours from our home. We didn’t go on a honeymoon and vacations haven’t been a priority thanks to four college degrees and five children. I have been to several countries and he has traveled all over the U.S. for work during our marriage but we never go anywhere together. This is the year that we are going to change that. Daniel and I will be taking our first international trip together this year as well as our first real vacation together. No kids. Just Daniel and I. We’ve worked so hard and for so long that we need a break more than anyone could probably ever guess. The stress of 2017 has definitely put a toll on our marriage but we’ve been committed to keeping it together. I can’t wait to get away with him for just a bit and see the world with him and remember, for just a few days, what it feels like to be us.
Travel is also going to be a focus for our children as well. We want to show our children the world and with our side jobs we finally feel like we are bringing in enough extra to start venturing a bit further with our kids.
I also want to tell my kids “no” a bit less. When they beg to make slime, I’m going to let them. I’ll deal with the mess later. When they want to go to a movie, we will go. When they want to play a game, we will play. Maybe we will even get around to starting that YouTube channel the older ones have been begging to start for the last six months. My heart has broken the past few months as I’ve watched my last babies transition into toddlerhood. I’m constantly plagued by the guilt that I haven’t been enough or done enough with my kids. I’ve worried that I’m not there enough for them, that my relationship with my kids is not good enough or strong enough. So this year, I want to do more and be more for my kids. Watching them grow and knowing they won’t need me soon is bittersweet and heartbreaking for me. I can’t get these years back so I want to pour everything I have into them.
So here’s to 2018, the year we reestablish our financial security, read more, travel more, relax more, and love our kids and family even more deeply.