Monday, February 27, 2012

The viral guest that needs to leave

Well people, we have a most unwelcomed visitor in our home.

And no, it's not the wet, muddy, mid-sized dog that barged into my house and tore around my living room the other day.  To the elderly woman on a walk who happend upon a stray, unleashed dog:  PLEASE don't bring an animal to my porch and knock on my door to ask if its mine, allowing it to dart in and run around with its big muddy paws while I attempt to catch it.  Thank you.  :)


It's the flu. 

Not a stomach virus or anything like that, but good old fashioned influenza.





Nasty noses.

So far it's taken out Biniam, Kaitlyn, Anna, Yosef and me.

Yes, me!  Mama to seven, who had all sorts of places to be this past week but had to cancel every.single.plan.  Lunch duty at the kids' homeschool program?  RCIA?  Stations of the Cross?  Lenten retreat?  Mass?  Dinner out with a bunch of couples I adore during restaurant week?  Yep, every single thing missed.  Instead, I've been holed up in my house, blowing my nose and attempting not to move or do any more than absolutely necessary.

But wait, you say, didn't we get our flu shots like good respectable citizens?  Now please don't send me a bunch of hatemail, but I have always more or less skipped flu shots for our family.  (Except for when babies are little or when I've been pregnant...and my two daughters with Down syndrome received flu shots this year and will going forward...but the rest of us did not.)  I just have really mixed feelings about vaccines and while my kids are vaccinated for all the biggies, it still makes me uncomfortable.  But.  This is the second February in a row our family has had the flu, and I'm getting reallllllll tired of it.  Flu shots for all of us next year is what I'm thinking!  (Although if you ask me again a few months from now when I'm healthy and not feeling so awful, I might just change my mind and say it was merely the saltines talking.)

So if the blogging seems a bit sparse, friends, this is why.  We Heldts are in what I like to call "survival mode"--which amounts to a messier-than-I'd-like house and kids who are not bathing as often and lots of toast and unending cartoons.  Probably throws me out of the running for mom-of-the-year, but shoot, we're surviving! 

And I hope you all are having a lovely, flu-free February.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Putting marriage first (with children in mind)

So my husband and I are going to celebrate ten years of marriage this June. 

And you're supposed to ask "where has the time gone?", but I don't really have to, because I already kind of know.  We have seven children.  Four of them are adopted.  Three of them are biological.  I was also  pregnant two other times, but lost those precious babies to miscarriage.

It has been an action-packed almost-ten-years, to be sure.

Except for our first year of marriage when my husband took a job that moved us to beautiful Santa Barbara, meaning that I took a year off of school and settled in to our small apartment to be a wife.  I worked part time at a couple of different jobs, but mostly I was just home.

I laugh now when I look back on how I spent my time then

I read.  A lot.  I laid out by the pool.  A  lot.  I went downtown and shopped.  A lot.

We ate out, went to movies, travelled to SLO to see friends on the weekends, slept in, and were just kind of all-around bums.  For reals. 

Then on our one-year wedding anniversary, I took a pregnancy test and discovered that our first baby was on the way.

And nine months later she was born.  Things changed.

There was now a very-small-person living in our home, who required a lot of care and love.  I didn't get a full night's sleep anymore, we lived in our own home where there was no pool (and no landlord to come and fix the stuff that went wrong), and my husband was now commuting over two hours each day.  We'd still eat out on occasion, but a margarita just isn't the same when there's a screaming baby in your arms.  And movies?  Yeah, our Friday nights at the theater were over.  Even though we had never lived an extravagant lifestyle, our days of doing what we pleased when we pleased more or less vanished.  Many, many people regularly lament this transition.  They say it's the most difficult, to go from zero to one child.  We received a lot of advice and warnings all throughout my pregnancy.

Your life is going to change. 

And I can still remember one sunny Sunday afternoon when the baby was nearly due.  Kevin and I took a picnic lunch to the park, and I told him that with all the doomsday predictions, I was feeling really nervous about this whole parenting gig.  Would our relationship really fizzle out?  Would we cease to be us?  Did some magic spell fall upon married couples the moment the doctor delivered the baby that would result in 18 years of misery and I-wish-we-could-just-go-back-to-the-way-it-was-before?  I knew I loved that little baby inside me from the instant that second line showed up on the pregnancy test, so what was all the fuss about?

My calm, ever-steady (and Catholic-before-he-knew-it) husband assured me that day in the park that no, things were not going to be horrible...because this was God's idea for marriage and therefore shouldn't it be an ultimate good?

The guy was right.  (And he usually is, but don't tell him I said that.)

Because after six hours of labor Anna Elisabeth came into the world, and heck yeah she changed our lives.  We had to become less selfish.  More giving.  Less vain.  More loving.  There was less time to argue, to count faults against one another, to dwell on the past and on the future.  Our relationship overall actually improved.  And it was good before.  But it got better.

Now nearly ten years in, we have seven children.  Each of them a tremendous blessing, but I'm not gonna lie:  this has been a hard phase for me.  I have three kids in diapers.  One doesn't walk or really talk.  Two of them are two-year-olds.  One doesn't speak much English.  We've faced three heart surgeries in the past few months.  Our oldest is only eight.  My first-graders are still learning to read.  I homeschool. 

While I don't want you to get me wrong, because honestly my life is really, really full and sweet, it's also been hard since we brought our daughters home in September.  Because we're not saints or superheroes or really patient, special people--we're just us, and not so different from you.  We're human.

And so being where we're at in life, we don't get out for date nights often.  We don't take fancy trips by ourselves or do much by ourselves, period.  From the outside looking in we're probably kind of, um, boring.  There's a lot of talk out there about putting your marriage first, and that's good because the marriage relationship is really the number one most important component of being a good parent.

But what does it really mean to put your husband or wife first?  It can't be an apples-to-apples time thing because my husband's at work all day (we need to eat and all that), and I'm with the kids, and then he comes home and we're both somewhat busy with the kids until they go to bed.  And because we believe that God created marriages to be fruitful and to bring forth life, certainly the answer is not to take the kids out of the equation altogether.

My personal opinion is that anything that makes us more holy, more selfless, more loving and more kind has the potential to make our marriage better.  Not worse. 

And when I'm tempted to feel discouraged or dream about what life must be like for people who don't have two two-year-olds, I try to remind myself that my brief existence on this earth is not supposed to be all about pleasure, leisure, and the easy road.  My sanctity, my holiness, my becoming like Jesus and one day joining Him in Heaven is this life's pursuit.  And yes I read a lot of CS Lewis out by the pool in 2002, but changing mountains of diapers and caring for sick little ones has taught me far more than a book ever could about service and sacrifice.

I think about this too when my mind drifts to the future.  Because I have two children with Down syndrome who may very well live with us as adults.  I really don't know.  But there's definitely the chance that our nest will never technically be empty.  A stranger recently asked if that "scared" me (awkward questions much?) and I told her that no, it does not.  No I don't know how it will look or play out, but I'm not particularly afraid.  True, Kevin and I may never be the retirees who travel the world in a small, fancy car, but should we really be aspiring to that anyway?  We'll have each other, we'll have our children, we'll have our life that God has given us.  And I love my daughters so why would I be devastated if they lived with me?  Plus, hopefully after that many years together, my husband and I will have an even deeper, more Christ-centered and joy-filled relationship than we do now.

So can I put my husband and marriage first with seven kids underfoot?  Or with two adult children living at home?  Or with whatever situation is currently presenting itself?  I say, you bet.  It's not an either/or, but a balancing act, a daily grind of life and give and take and self-sacrifice and charity.  It's connection and attention to one another and that pesky self-giving.  Occasional date nights are good, but the marriage must ultimately be sustained in the day-to-day.  That's not always easy, but it's not supposed to be.

This is why, when I remember those early days of being married, I actually laugh.  The solitude, the quiet, the hours of uninterrupted reading, the evenings playing tennis together or seeing the latest was really kind of fun!  If I could go back and live it for a day, I totally would.  But I would not go back for good.    In part because I love my kids, but also because in spite of having all the time in the world, I really wasn't very good at putting my husband and marriage first.  It often takes having children--and being forced to change and make sacrifices and face the reality of life--for that.  God made it that way.  And that's why when I hear people speak of how darn hard it is to put your marriage first when you have small children, and speak of these children as if they are the enemy, I want to shout "NO!  I mean it is hard, YES, but our kids are not the problem.  Our sin and love of self, that is the problem.  But this marriage thing and the children that result?  All of that is a really good thing and part of our vocation, the path that God will use to produce love and holiness and faith in our lives."

And this is why nearly ten years in, in spite of our houseful of noisy kids, I still believe our marriage can come first.  And if there's a problem, it's because we need to regain our footing and better practice virtue...or sometimes just be patient, if it simply happens to be a difficult season in our relationship.  There will surely be trials, but that's just life--and even if your kids disappeared today that stuff would still be hard.  Plus then you wouldn't be united in purpose by these precious souls given to you by God, who created marriage with children in mind. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday {#31}

1.)  Feels good to be blogging again, but it's challenging finding the right time to do it.  Somehow attempting to write while my big kids are peppering me with math questions and my little kids are distributing cheerios about the house is just not a good idea. 

2.)  What is the deal with my four-year-old daughter Kaitlyn insisting that she never, ever sleeps?  "But Mommy saw you sleeping last night!" I'll inform her, only to be assured that she was simply resting her eyes.  I've never seen a kid so indignant about something so clearly not true!  That girl

3.)  I have a love-hate relationship with naps.  Do you?  I took one a few days ago and woke up feeling groggy and with a headache, ugh!  You'd think I'd learn and just plain give up on naps for good, but every now and again I fall prey to the temptation.

4.)  I was asked a couple of days ago by a professional when I was planning to integrate two-year-old Tigist into the public school system.  Where to even begin?  Sigh.

5.)  We are swiftly approaching our first Lent as Catholics--kind of exciting.  I love the Liturgical year and all its seasons.  So, so good for my soul.

6.)  I had the chance to have dinner with some girlfriends on Wednesday night, and am going out for dessert with some other girlfriends on Monday night.  Time with dear friends is precious.  Love!

7.)  Maybe it's because it's February, but I start pretty much every day being slightly burned out on homeschooling.  As in, I sort of want to just crawl back into bed and pretend my children are away for the day being yelled at herded taught by somebody else.  BUT, once we get going and read our saint story and do the day's math and read a History chapter or two, I find myself renewed and actually excited about what we do here each day.  Perspective is everything, no?


Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Catechism for kids

As a homeschooling mom, I love hearing what other homeschoolers are using for curriculum.  There are so.many.choices. available, and it can be more than a bit overwhelming sifting through products and books and methods.

So I like to occasionally share what we're doing in case it would be of interest to somebody else. 

And today I want to tell you that I am LOVING The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism!  I ordered it a month or so ago, and am going through it with my 8-year-old daughter in preparation for her First Communion (!) this May.  There are dozens of questions (all based on the Baltimore Catechism) with answers for the child to memorize, sweet vintage pictures (the book was first published in 1963), and information about each question.  It lays an EXCELLENT foundation and covers all the basics. 

Of course now you might be wondering if catechesis is even necessary for children, if they really need to know anything beyond the song "Jesus Loves Me" and the Bible verse John 3:16.  For me personally, however, I want my children to not only experience the love of Jesus but to also know their faith.  To know what they believe and why and what the Church has always taught.  A good solid foundation is just really important to our family, and I find that this particular catechism is just what I've been looking for.

And I'm sure we can all agree that children have an amazing capacity for learning and for absorbing information.  They understand so much more than we give them credit for, and it is actually super humbling to know that what I teach them is received as truth.  I take my kids' spiritual formation quite seriously, and really?  It's one of the main reasons we homeschool at all!

I don't want my child becoming an adult who looks back and has no clue what the Church teaches about sin, Heaven, the Bible, or the divinity of Jesus.  They (like the rest of us) will be bombarded with information throughout their lifetime and will encounter--and be in relationship with--people with varying ideas about all of those things.  I suppose I could leave them to navigate those waters alone, but that's certainly not God's intention for families.  It makes sense that faith and truth and knowledge should be passed down from generation to generation.  Yes children may eventually reject the faith of their youth, but we parents can at least try to provide the tools necessary for them to live a faith-filled, virtuous life.

So if you're looking for a good children's catechism, I highly recommend this one.  So simple, easy to use, and gives a great overview of the Sacraments and the faith.  If I can get each of my children complete this book and commit the answers to memory, I think they'll be off to a great start!

***I am NOT being paid by the publishing company to endorse this product, nor did I receive a free copy to review--I just really love it.  But if they want to pay me, I won't say no.  :)      

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Do you think Mekdes loves her brothers?  :)

Yesterday was, of course, our culture's annual nod to all things love.  Reading about St. Valentine to my children, I was struck by the fact that this man's deep love for God (and for man) directly led to his imprisonment and beheading.  And I don't have to tell you that this type of love runs far deeper than conversation hearts and flowers and a night out at a fancy restaurant.

Love is really kind of interesting.  And I actually feel as if I've learned quite a bit about love (that I didn't know before) since my daughter Mekdes arrived home in September.  I find myself challenged and honestly rather intrigued by, well, her ability to give and receive love-without-condition.

The above photo was taken on New Year's Eve, right before we left for Mass (anticipated feast of Mary the Mother of God). 

Roughly three weeks after her open heart surgery, though you'd never know it.

See Mekdes smiles a lot.  Even though she's a kid who, quite frankly, has a lot of things in her life that are less than smile-worthy.  At least, that's how it seems from the outside looking in.

I consider myself an optimist, I really do.  But if I'm honest I'm far more driven by circumstances than I'd like to be.  My daughter on the other hand is not.  She is confident, self-assured, and maybe more than anything she believes she is valuable and worthy of love.

That in and of itself is a miracle, when you consider that her birth mother opted not to parent her (but kept her other three siblings), most everyone approved to adopt a girl of her age passed her by because she has an extra chromosome, and she spent years in an orphanage watching the vast majority of toddlers go home to their new families.

Yet somehow her heart remains intact.  One of the first things that actually struck me about my little girl was that she not only wanted a family, she believed she should have one.  A mom and a dad?  Well of course!  Brothers and sisters?  Yes, please!

I will always, always believe that Down syndrome has been a gift to my daughter.  God has worked through the 21st chromosome to give her a strong character, a fierce sense of hope, and a joy-filled spirit.  Don't think it's because she's somehow less intelligent and thus oblivious to what is going on around her. 

Nope, it's not really about that.

It is about how, at a pre-op appointment, while the surgeon and anesthesiologist were discussing all the things that can go dreadfully wrong during a four year old's open-heart surgery, she got down on her knees, crossed herself, and began to pray.

It's how she values relationships, her family and friends, above all else.  Maybe it's because she spent so long without those things. 

It's how she loves.

So when she's laying in CICU, a mere 24 hours after the surgery of her life, and her concerned brothers and sisters approach her bedside, her face lights up as she attempts to extend a hand.  "Don't worry, I'm okay, it's all gonna be fine", she would have said if she could have spoken.

It's her passion for pizza, her delight in the simplest of things, the way she nurtures her little sisters and chases after her older ones.

Mekdes is a dear, dear soul who knows how to love.  I know that in some ways she is fragile, but in others, she's far stronger and braver than I could ever hope to be.  God is doing a mighty work in and with her life and this is something that I regularly ponder and think about, because I just have this sense that God has a lot for me to learn and glean there. 

There were two feast days in particular this past December where I found myself especially thankful for God's provision for my two new daughters.  Both were concerning Mary, Jesus' mother.  I reflected at Mass on both of those days that Our Lady (who of course knows what it is to be a mother and love as a mother loves) was surely praying for my daughters in Heaven--and shoot, that's kind of awesome.  As someone who comes from a faith tradition which does not pay Mary much heed, it has been a beautiful awakening to see her as a mother not only to Jesus but to the Church, and to all of us as well.  How blessed we are to have her prayers and love!

And so these were my reflections and thoughts on this particular Valentine's Day.  My own personal view of love has certainly been stretched and changed with the addition of each new child to our family, but especially so by my beautiful daughter Mekdes.  To know her is to know you are loved by her, and that is really rather remarkable.  I know, I know, that her sweet heart was protected and looked after by Jesus and His mother Mary all those years.  So instead of becoming hardened, Mekdes became determined.  Instead of growing discouraged, she grew in love

Beauty for ashes, in the most literal of senses. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy V-Day

How on earth has it been so long since I last posted?  I've obviously fallen out of my usual blogging/emailing routine.

Of course I've been busy with having my parents here, and this is just plain shaping up to be a crazy month in general.  Lots of things going on, all of them good, but not a whole lot of time left for reflecting or writing.

I can say that I have at least been spending a little time each day reading, and just finished the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Who was, you know, kind of amazing.  Less time on Facebook and blogs means more time spent reading the words of remarkable people devoted to following Jesus.  It's good for the soul.

At any rate, I'm still here and I have most definitely not abandoned my dear, poor corner of the world-wide-web.  I'm still planning on answering some questions about the Catholic faith soon, and I hope to get back to  posting regularly, in general.  Meanwhile daily life remains a combination of homeschooling, keeping house, prepping meals, and trying to keep my children from driving their grandparents insane.  :)

And it's Valentine's Day today!  So, happy feast day of Saint Valentine.  He was a priest martyred for his faith in the year 269, and is the patron saint of (among other things) happy marriages, bee keepers, and epilepsy.  Today I'll read about him to the kids, and hopefully come up with a simple related liturgical activity/craft/baking project.  I do love these amazing heroes of our Faith!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A big Colorado welcome

There has been a bit of a countdown this past month, as you can see in this chart that my daughter made.

Today is the day that my mom and dad arrive in Colorado, for good!

We are all kinds of thrilled that they sold their home in California, and will be living nearby once again. 

The kids are of course BESIDE themselves.  They ADORE all four of their grandparents, and to have a set living in the same state makes them just plain giddy.

And we may or may not be giddy for the prospect of, ahem, free babysitting.  Which is, you know, hard to come by when you have seven kids.  Date night, here we come!  :)

So welcome to Colorado, Mom and Dad!  You'll know you've reached our house when you see the big welcoming party cheering out on the lawn with signs and assorted trash coloring pages for you.  :)

(And, any of our other California friends and family are HIGHLY encouraged to make the move as well.  We won't even make you watch our kids.) 


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