Lessons from the Brood

Photo by Nicole Arnt of Nicole Arnt Photography
Photo by Nicole Arnt of Nicole Arnt Photography
Nowadays we just don’t see many big families. It seems that most of the people I know have 2 or 3 kids. Occasionally you see a family of 4 but they are the exception. I think that is why I seem to shock people when they find out I have 6 kids.

Believe me when I tell you that they are not like the kids in the “Sound of Music”, standing in perfect, stair step order and responding to his or her own whistle tune. They are just normal kids. I am also not a super-mom. I never have been. I forget permission forms. I get frustrated when my kids conveniently “decide” to outgrown their clothes, particularly just after the “season” at the store has switched over and you can’t find a pair of winter boots to save your life. I don’t place well-balanced, appetizing meals on the table that make my kids and husband stand up and call me brilliant! We do eat meals together, at a table, but most of the time I have to make at least 2 entrees to be sure that most of them have something they like to eat and, more often than not, they still complain. I don’t take them all out with me to do groceries or to the mall. I cherish what little of my mind I have left to risk such an activity. I even lose my patience with them. I also don’t have all the answers. In fact, I hardly have any.

What I know, though, is that they are each a blessing. Completely unique but a blessing, each and every one. God has used them, more than anyone or anything else, to change and stretch me into a woman who more closely resembles His Son. I am not trying to sound like I am perfect at that either but the more time you spend with someone, the more you start to act like Him. And being the mom of 6 kids has pushed me to spend a lot of time with God. You see, I couldn’t be the mom I want to be if I didn’t. I just couldn’t.

Karissa is my oldest. She is almost 21 years old. She is a student. Not only a student, a pre-med student at a prestigious Ontario University. She excels at math and science. And she is smart, very smart. In other words, she is nothing like me! She is logical and focused. I’m, well, NOT. Whenever I need a different point of view, I just ask Karissa. Every time I have tried something different, something out of my comfort zone, she has been there to encourage me.

Karissa broke me into Motherhood. I had always loved kids, especially babies, but she was the first one that was mine. She is a typical firstborn. She is the surrogate mom whenever I am away and often even when I am not. She is far more patient with most of the kids, except for the one who is most similar to her (yes, you Eden!). She has had a passion for kids with Autism for years and it is her personal goal to work with kids full-time. I am extremely proud of her. But she can get lost in her own backyard. Her friends say that when they see a blur running across campus, it is Karissa. She is always, always late. She could go for long periods of time without calling home–except when she has a cooking question or wants a ride to come home for a visit. All in all, my life wouldn’t be the same without her. She was the first blessing I got to hold in my arms.

Josiah is our first-born son. He is almost as tall as me and is 14 years old. Josiah is a special blessing. He was diagnosed with Autism when he was 5 1/2 years old. Being Josiah’s mom has stretched me the most. He has taught me the value of a schedule. Through him I have learned about Autism, Learning Disabilities and being an advocate. From the little boy that we thought would never talk, we have a budding adolescent who won’t stop talking. He is helpful and consistent. He is polite and courteous. He has a sense of humour that other kids with Autism might not have. He even seems to understand sarcasm. He knows more about superhero movies and video games than I have ever cared to know. He has an overabundant sense of justice and he really does try to be the “big brother” and parent all the younger kids (much to their annoyance!).

Life with Josiah got really challenging just before he turned 2. He had been the easiest baby. Sleeping when he was supposed to. Eating when he should. Then he had a few seizures, ended up in the hospital and our world changed overnight. He didn’t sleep. He couldn’t focus. What words he had he lost. We went from specialist to specialist looking for answers. All the while, we struggled to parent this sweet little boy whose only solace was the flickering screen of the television. I read a lot during that season. I had a lot of time, sitting on the floor of our upstairs hall, waiting for him to go to sleep. Those were difficult days. Days when the only way through was with God. I don’t even remember if I called out to Him at the time. I just know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we wouldn’t have gotten through it without Him. God made Josiah and He knew him and He knew us. Even when no one else understood, God was there, sustaining us during difficult days.

Next in the family comes Eden. She is almost 13 years old and a teenager already. She is social and silly. She has a great group of friends and she has boundless energy. She is definitely as smart as Karissa is, but in a completely different way. While Karissa is a perfectionist who spent hours on class projects, Eden just can’t be bothered. She floats through school, rarely opening a book at home. She doesn’t really seem to care what anyone thinks either. I guess you would call her a free-spirit.

But I think she has asked more questions than all the other kids put together. She is constantly trying to figure life out. Faith. God. She is probably the most outspoken about what she believes but she has also forced me to really figure out what I believe. “Sunday School answers” don’t cut it for Eden. She also hasn’t had the luxury of believing, like so many of our kids do, that she is invincible. She knows first hand that life is fragile. We are fragile. And she worries about it A LOT. Especially late at night. When the house is quiet. Then I hear her calling out with her almost daily “I am afraid I am going to die tonight”. I confess that parenting Eden isn’t easy these days. Her world is full of insecurity. How do you answer her fears except to point her to the Source of Life? The Father who made her and has “all [her] days ordained for [her}… before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). I pray that she is learning to trust. Learning to lean. My Father has strong arms and I know He will do it–if she lets Him. I have first-hand experience.

I told one of my youngest kids, Sarina, today that she was a package deal. Her 6 1/2 year old mind didn’t really get it until I explained that we were expecting to have one baby when we found out we were going to have 2. Nathan is Sarina’s twin brother and they are as different as day and night. Sarina is very proud to have a twin brother. Nathan likes to pretend that he doesn’t know her (at least at school!).

Nathan is all boy in a way that Josiah never was. He is okay with having a dirty face. In fact, he prefers it that way. He loves video games. He gets in trouble for drawing pictures of guns in school. He is also very shy. He doesn’t like people fussing over him but he always gives me a kiss when I ask him for one. He doesn’t want to grow up. He rushes in after school to find “Beary”, his babyhood bedtime toy and to suck his thumb. He would never admit it to the boys at school though. He is very proud. He also throws the loudest temper tantrums when he is frustrated. He is like his sisters though. He could find videos on YouTube to watch before he could read words. He sometimes takes a little longer to figure something out but he gets it. Just don’t ask him to tie his shoes. Of all the kids, Nathan would be the easiest to lose. I should know. We did it. Once. When he was three, on a busy Sunday afternoon at Costco. I have never felt so panicked in my whole life. I don’t think it took long to find him. It felt like an eternity. He hasn’t cared for Costco much since. I can hardly blame him.

His twin sister, Sarina, is my shadow. Except when Karissa is home. Then she leaves me for the duration of the visit but she always comes back. We won’t be losing her. She is far too careful. She holds my hand the tightest when we are out. I had to hold her hand in her grade 1 line at school every day last year. Her classmates seemed to accept me as a tall grade 1 student. Her dad wouldn’t. I guess I have a soft-spot for her because she and her brother are my last babies. She struggles in school but she is persistent. She learned to ride her bike before Nathan though I think we held on longer. And she has learned to tie her shoes. She did it over and over again until she had it. Some might call her stubborn. I may even have, on occasion. But she is sweet. She watched a YouTube video about a little girl who cut her hair for cancer and Sarina had to do the same. She told our hairdresser to do it even before she and I had talked about it. But really, how could I refuse her. She even took it into a local salon where they make wigs for kids but she was too shy to talk to the man who took it. We were proud of her, regardless.

This double-blessing from God was the last thing I expected the day I went in for my ultrasound but they have been the reason that I got out of bed on some mornings when it would have been easier to hibernate from the pain. I never thought that they would be the driving force they have become. Isn’t it so like God to give us what we need even before we know we need it. I needed them. Thank-you, Father God.

When people ask me about my kids I usually rattle off the kids I’ve already talked about and they have lost track of how many that is. I may have already lost you. I saved one for the last. She is not the best. She is not the youngest. She is the one, though, that I miss the most. When all the others are all around, making their usual noise, her silence is the one that is the most deafening. Arlynne. My second daughter.

She was different. Just like her name. Arlynne. A relative told me she had an “old soul”. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that she packed a lot of living in 16 years. She wasn’t book smart like Karissa or inquisitive like Eden. She wasn’t as persistent as Sarina. She was friendly. Out-going. She had a brilliant smile and a laugh that still rings in my memory. She truly cared about people. She reached out. And she loved God. Enough to do whatever she felt He wanted her to do. Enough to leave her family for a whole summer.

Arlynne wasn’t always like that. We had a terrible 18 months in her life. A time when the younger kids didn’t want to be at home with her. When my husband wanted her out of our home. When my dad, who loved her so much, agreed with Pete. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let her go. She very briefly left, over a Christmas break when none of us could take the pressure anymore but we had her back. I had to have her back. It might not seem like she was that difficult a child. She would swear at us. Sneak alcohol. Yell. Scream. Cry. But those were very bad days. Sad days. Days when I needed God more than anything.

She needed Him too. And she found Him. A different God than she had known in the past. He wasn’t the God that children pray their wishes to. She found her Creator God who could lift her out of the pit she was in and put her feet on solid ground. The Father God who knew all about her past and wanted to be the father that she thought she didn’t have. Her Saviour who she longed to serve with all her might.

So she served. She spent 3 of her last 4 school holidays on missions trips. She lead a Bible study at our home. She taught Sunday School to a bunch of little kids. She loved. She loved us again. There were wounds that she and I both regret. A consequence of sin that became a scar to reminds us of the gaping wound that was there. But those last few months became a picture of transformation. The transforming power of God. His Grace-filled ability to take the mess we have made of our lives and turn it into something beautiful. Arlynne was someone beautiful. Maybe not to everyone. But to me. And I know she was to her Father God.

The temptation is, I guess, to turn a child we have lost too soon into a saint. I can’t do that with Arlynne. The change in her is the most beautiful part of her story. Denying that would deny all that God has done through her and because of her.

I am a mom of 6. I am not perfect. I stumble and fall. I make a mess. I can’t be the mom I want to be to the blessings He has given me. But God is still here. He is renewing me every day. He is turning me into the woman He created me to be. He holds me up.

And I pray that He will be glorified through me.

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