Taking Life One Step At A Time

Taking Life One Step At  A Time

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Keeping Kids Occupied

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Suitcase Organization
Keeping the Car Organized
Special Tips You May Not Know

Let's be honest. Keeping kids happy means keeping your sanity. Our most recent trip included days upon days of driving. So I spent weeks upon weeks working to prepare for it. I spent way more time preparing things to keep the kids busy than I did wondering what to pack or even looking forward to our vacation time. To save you the same amount of preparation, here are some of the tried and true activities that helped us pass the time in busy peace. Our kids all pack their own backpacks with toys and activities, but it's good for mom and dad to have a few surprises waiting.

We've all seen the seek and find jars. These were super easy to make and the kids loved them. I made two that were identical. Just fill a jar with rice (plastic jars are better than glass in case little hands drop them), take pictures of little things found around the house, and place those items in the jar. Then you can print out a card with all the pictures of what the kids need to find, hot glue it to the lid of the jar, and hot glue the lid onto the jar. Be sure to glue the lid. Unless you want rice all over your car.

While we're on the subject of seek and find, if your kids are like mine seek and find books or Where's Waldo books can occupy them for hours. Seriously, hours. Well worth the price of the books.

Those of you with little ones know how excited they get about pictures of family members or things they love. My little one is particularly fascinated with fluffy animals. I purchased 2 little flip photo albums from the dollar store and filled them with pictures printed from my computer. One was all pictures of animals and the other had various items he would recognize from daily life. Things like toys, balls, toes, and foods. He loved them! And since I didn't allow him to play with them before the trip, they were completely new and exciting for him. (On a side note, it helps to actually tape the pictures inside the photo protectors so that little hands can't pull them out.)

Other cheap activities use pipe cleaners and aluminum foil. Pipe cleaners can be bent and re-bent into dozens of different things. If you give kids a variety of colors, they can stay busy for quite some time. Aluminum foil is also great for creativity. Rip off several sections of aluminum foil for each child and let them sculpt the foil into little armies, animals or other fun things. Just be sure they understand the expectation that at the end of the day the sculptures head to the trash. Otherwise you'll have aluminum foil "masterpieces" throughout your vehicle for a long time.

Traveling at nighttime can be tough. The driver needs to keep the lights off inside the vehicle, but it's hard for kids to stay occupied in the dark. The dollar store has little mini clip lights that kids can use for reading or drawing.

And I have yet to meet a kid who will object to having a few glow sticks to play with. Depending on what your kids like, you can get the sticks, the necklaces, the bracelets, or any other assortment of glowing fun. These can also be found at the dollar store for a much cheaper price than places like WalMart or Target. Besides, if you end up at a hotel without a pool, you can always throw a couple of glow sticks into the bathtub for some swimming fun in your room.

Another terrific idea for our toddler was to bring a cookie sheet and some magnetic cars. You can see by the picture how much he loved it! Some car seats have arm rests that include a space between the bottom of the arm rest and the rest of the chair. In such cases, attaching the cookie sheet to the car seat is a piece of cake. Our car seat doesn't have arm "handles" so we ended up drilling holes in the tray and then created a long strap to go around the back of his car seat. We left the cookie sheet hooked to the strap on one side (which also allowed it to hang down against the side of the car when not in use) and just hooked it to the other side of the strap when ready to use it. I picked up a few strong, round magnets at the hardware store and stuck them on the bottom of a few matchbox cars.

Be sure the bottom of the car is flat or else you'll have trouble getting the magnets to stick.

We also used other cookie sheets for our older kids. Our first grader was given a metal tin full of magnetic numbers and letters and he enjoyed spelling out various words. For older kids you can cut out pictures of facial features from magazines and laminate them. Stick magnets on the back and kids have a great time making all sorts of silly faces on their cookie sheets.

In years past, one of the frustrations while driving has been when our kids drop their pencils and crayons. Of course, we want them to stay in their seatbelts, but it can create a long and whiny wait when they can't reach their writing tools until the next rest stop. We've tried tying pencils on to clipboards in the past, and that has worked well, but when space is an issue even a clipboard per child can feel like a space hog. And many clipboards are either too small for a regular sized piece of paper or too large to fit in a child's backpack. For this trip, I used a small zippered bag for each child. In these bags they received two mechanical pencils (so the leads didn't break and leave them useless) of a specific color, a box of new crayons, one dry erase marker, their book light for nighttime, and a small travel pack of tissues. The marker and tissues came in handy for use with their binders (explained below), and the crayons, pencils, and light eliminated the bickering caused by having to share. Plus, by giving each child a specific pencil color I knew who was missing theirs each time we unpacked the van.

The travel binders I made for the kids were tremendously helpful! Each child had a three ring binder filled with various activities and fun papers. Some papers were reusable because they were placed in page protectors and the kids were able to use their dry erase markers to write and a tissue to clean it off. This allowed them to play tic tac toe and travel bingo again and again. Other papers had coloring activities printed from the internet or copied from our own coloring books. And others were given to inspire creativity.

These papers had them creating silly faces, designing cars to get us to our destination faster, imagining what they would do with a thousand dollars, etc. I packed an extra set of papers for each binder to replace the used ones for our trip home. That way, the binders would once again be fresh and new. My favorite paper asked them to draw or write about the best part of the trip. Those papers are great for putting in the scrapbook once you return home!

Of course there are so many other things you can do. One of our children has a kindle and enjoyed several hours playing games and reading on that. A friend lent us a few leap pads and the kids were quietest when playing on those. However, with electronics, it's good to limit the amount of time the kids spend on them each day. Not only can they strain their eyes, but extended use of electronics can also contribute to motion sickness and sore necks. Electronics for toddlers are a little harder to come by, but a friend let us borrow a personal dvd player. About once a day, we'd turn on a Thomas the Tank Engine video and our 18 month old would happily pass through his fussy time of day.

Another life saver in the car was having the sense to bring a few blankets along and to keep the kids' pillows within reach. If anyone was tired enough to nap, they could do so comfortably. And the blankets were great for moderating the temperature in the car with several differing opinions being heard from the backseat.

Having a deck of cards on hand, a few travel games, and a couple of dollar store surprises keeps even a long ride manageable. With a little prep and creativity you can easily pass the hours and days peacefully ... and hopefully happily!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flash Back to the Future

I'm sitting with a sweet little cuddly boy on my lap. Today he is 19 months old and he has a new fascination with trains. Which means he loves watching Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a special treat since we rarely have the TV on, but today he needed a little mommy time. I have a cold and don't feel great, so a little snuggle time in front of the TV was a perfect option.

As he watches, I can see his adorable profile. His build, hair, and profile remind me so much of his older brother. And as I looked at his sweet face moments ago, I had a vision from days gone by of his older brother sitting and watching Thomas. Enjoying the show with the same interest, the same comfortable, chubby, snuggly little body, the big, blueberry eyes gazing intently at the television.

Today was different though, because as I gazed at my little sunshine, remembering days from years ago, I could see his big brother sitting in the background. Also watching Thomas, but now much bigger. His lanky legs span the length of the couch, he has lost all his baby fat. His hair is still unruly, but somehow it still makes him look older. His feet are so much bigger and smellier than those cute little bricks I used to kiss all day long.

I realized that when this little one on my lap reaches the age his brother is now, big brother will be 20. He'll likely be out of my house, grown, possibly even on his way to marriage! He'll have his sights set on a career, he'll be a man. And the most intense years of my influence will have passed.

I tried to imagine what our little one will be like in 10 years. But just as I can't imagine my big boy as a 20 year old, I also can't imagine my baby as a big boy of 11.

It brought to mind Psalm 90 which talks about the brevity of life, and God's eternal nature. It contains a plea for God to teach us to use our days wisely and to find joy in our work.

Indeed, Lord, grant me joy in the moments of my work as a mother. For as I am finding, those moments accumulate and pass much more quickly than I expect or desire.

Psalm 90
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men." For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-- though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years-- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us-- yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Snacks

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other posts in this travel series:
Suitcase Organization
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied

Okay, let's be honest. One of the toughest things about traveling is keeping the kids well fed and happy in the car, but not having to stop every 10 minutes for someone to use the potty. My kids drink a lot. A LOT. They are always thirsty - especially if they're bored in the car. We also have at least one child with an incredibly small bladder. We've been training our kids for quite some time now that when they first feel the urge to go, they actually have about a half hour before they really have to go. That knowledge does help when traveling. Especially in states like Nebraska or New Mexico. There's really nothing for miles and miles and miles ...

However, much as we'd like to postpone potty breaks until they are convenient, we also don't want to deprive our children of fluids. So, we have small water bottles with their names on them. These are metal and have a top that won't spill much even if dumped while open. We fill these in the morning or whenever needed and let the kids have them in the car where they sit. I know some people have the policy of no food or drink in the car, but really, water can't do too much damage. The kids are allowed to drink whenever they want so long as they understand the concept of possibly having to wait up to a half hour to find a restroom. And whenever we do find a restroom, everyone tries to go. Even mom and dad. Otherwise, someone will have to go five minutes after you get on the road again.

Not only do we allow drinks in the car, we also allow snacks. Most of our kids are old enough to clean up after themselves and those that aren't are fed by hand from one of the older kids. We try not to pack really messy snacks and always make sure we have trash recepticles on hand. And it's important to remember to empty the trash every time you stop at a gas station - especially if you have fresh fruit leftovers in the trash!

So here are some ideas for snacks:
Fresh fruit: oranges, grapes, bananas, apples, raisins, craisins ... I'd suggest keeping the grapes in a plastic container with a paper towel on the bottom. Be sure to wash them first! And with the oranges, you'll want to wait and peel them on the day you plan to eat them.

Veggies: carrot sticks, broccoli trees, cherry tomatoes. This all really just depends on what your kids are willing to eat. Celery sticks with peanut butter are also great! And peanut butter now can be bought in little individual packets! Genius!

Snacky stuff: Fruit snacks (gummies in our house), animal crackers, granola bars, cheese or pb filled crackers, pretzels - which are also great for car sickness, mini bagels, goldfish, teddy grahams or graham crackers.

Homemade goodies: Muffins, cookies, homemade granola, trail mix, energy bites.

Spoon foods: pudding, applesauce, jello, yogurt.

One of the favorite things we've done on a long trip is bring special treat bags for each new state we encounter on the way there and the way back. As soon as we cross a state, we all cheer and then everyone gets a treat. It helps to break up the trip and recognize little milestones along the way. These bags have the only candy we allow in the car. Things like smarties, reeses cups, gum (great for states with high elevations), fruit roll ups, etc. Find treats that your kids rarely get and they'll be so excited about each step of the journey.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Suitcase Organization

Often when I research things about large families, I come across tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied

If your family is planning a trip that will have you on the road for several days at a time, it really pays to be organized in your packing. Our most recent trip included up to 8 days on the road at a time - with 7 family members and no laundry service. My husband didn't want to haul in every suitcase to each hotel, so I devised a system that allowed us to stay organized and be sure to have adequate clothing for everyone.

We packed our clothing in smaller suitcases. This allowed us to fit exactly two days worth of clothes in each suitcase. The second day's clothes were packed on the bottom of the suitcase like so:

On top of the suitcase divider, we packed the first day's clothes. When repacking the suitcase the next day, I took everything out and put the dirties on the bottom and the clean clothes on the top. It worked beautifully!

Another vital trick was to label each suitcase by day. I simply used laminated index cards with the name of the days listed on the card. These were tied to each suitcase and it was a sinch for hubby to pull out the right suitcase each night as we unloaded the van.

It would have been impossible for us to fit two days of 7 sets of clothes PLUS PJs in each suitcase. Instead, I used a separate bag for all PJs. My kids tend to get things dirty quickly, so I packed 1 pair of PJs for every two days. For the baby, I packed a few extras just in case. Mom and Dad needed less, but we were still able to fit all PJs in one bag to be brought in each night. As the PJs became dirty, we simply shifted them to the bottom of the bag and put fresh ones on top for the next night. And yes, go ahead and label the bag "PJs" so that you know exactly which bag to bring in each night.

We were also planning on attending church while on the road. We used another bag to only hold fancy clothes. Of course, they needed ironing the night before use, but it was easy to find them. Our last labeled bag of clothing was for seasonal items. Because we were going from winter weather to summer and back again, we had to pack sweatshirts AND shorts. These items went in a separate bag so we knew where to find them when needed, but they didn't have to be pulled out of the van at every stop.

It is important absolutely necessary to keep a separate bag of one change of clean clothes for everyone somewhere accessible in the van. These should not be counted as actual travel clothes, but rather an extra set for emergencies. Having dealt with throw up, pee, and lot of spills I can tell you that this bag is essential to happy travel!! Pack extras for babies who may have a blow out and for toddlers who are more likely to spill. Even if you are a parent with a stomach of steel, you never know when you'll get gross while traveling with kids. It's important to keep a change of clothes for yourself in this bag as well.

If you're headed to a destination where you can swim (which would include most hotels), you'll want to keep your swim stuff separate so you can grab it quickly and bring it into the hotel. We love using the Large Utility Tote from Thirty One for our swim stuff. In fact, our suits and towels stay in it year round and whenever we're off to have some water fun, we simply grab the bag and know that everything we need is there. If you fold your towels carefully, you can fit up to ten stacked on one side of the bag. In the leftover space, fold the swimsuits and coverups, pack some swim diapers, and don't forget the sunscreen. Thirty One even sells covers for these bags now, so you don't have to worry about stuff falling out. Win win!

(In the top picture, our swim bag is the one on the bottom right with the big flowers.)

The last item you'll need is not a suitcase, but may be even more important than the clothes you pack. Keep a throw up bucket on hand in the car. Be sure it's within reach of Mom and Dad and pack it with a roll of paper towels, some wet wipes, a water bottle and trash bags. The trash bags are essential to have for clean up. And you'll want more than one bag. You may need one for clothes and one for trash. You can either buy a little bucket to be used for this purpose or turn a gallon milk jug into one. Cut around the mouth of the milk jug and halfway down the front, leaving the handle in tact. These are the buckets I grew up traveling with. Free, disposable, and handy.

I can't promise that following these tips will make everything easy on your trip, but it will make packing, unpacking, and repacking each day sooo much easier. Happy travels!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Keeping the Car Organized

Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Suitcase Organization
Keeping Kids Occupied

Trash cans
You'll want to have trash cans within reach of everyone. With younger children this will minimize the mess of passing items forward or back in the van. It also keeps mom and dad from being needed constantly whenever food is being consumed - which in turn allows you to focus on driving. And it helps the kids take responsibility for the vehicle's cleanliness. We used square utility totes from Thirty One lined with plastic bags, but even just a small trash can would do.

Utilize under the seat storage!
With a big family, you need every spare inch of space! Don't forget about the storage under seats. Even if your seats are low to the floor, you can still find small things that will fit underneath. If your van is like ours, you can fit larger items underneath your seats. This is a great area to store things you won't need to access frequently but still need for the trip. And underneath the front passenger seat is a perfect place to put that first aid kit that you'll invariably need.

Pack music you can all stand
This is sooo important! With younger kids it's easy to pack a bunch of toddler songs. Trust me, you'll go crazy if that's all you listen to for days on end! Likewise, if your teens like a certain genre of music that just grates on your nerves, either get the teen an ipod, or find a compromise by listening to some of their music and some of yours. One of the great things about vehicles these days is that you can set the music to play mostly in the front or back of the car.

For those without ipods, remember that a smart phone can also store music and typically will have a headphone jack. This can allow parents to listen to their own stuff on the phone while having kid music on in the car. And if you want some great kid music that most parents can stand check out Go Fish. Their harmonies are terrific and the music is fun.

Bin for cords
I can't take credit for thinking this one up, but it's a lifesaver. Grab a shoebox sized plastic bin at the dollar store and use it to keep all cords for electronics contained in one place. It's easy to grab as you head into a hotel for the night, and it allows you to find the cord you need quickly and easily.

Label suitcases

We tried this on our recent trip and it was incredibly useful! Before packing I laminated index cards that had days listed on them. I then used ribbon to tie these onto the suitcases so we knew which bags were needed for which nights. It made unpacking the car each night so much easier and massively decreased my husband's frustration at having to bring in unnecessary suitcases.

Keep food organized and dole out snacks by day instead of prepping all before the trip

I'll be honest, this sounds great. But if you're on the road for a long time, it's a little harder to stay motivated. But for our first week, we did really well with this. We brought lots of fruit, veggies, and snacks with us. But instead of peeling all oranges before leaving the house, we just peeled them on the day we planned to eat them. Once peeled, we put them in their own container and then doled them out as needed in the car. Same with the grapes, apples, cheese sticks, goldfish, etc. We had a large bin full of snack items, a bin with bread and other lunch items, one with paper goods and a few knives, and a large cooler filled with drinks and refrigerated items. Instead of trying to access each bin in the middle of a drive, we just prepped things before leaving in the morning and then were set for the day.

Try to keep like items together - clothes, activities, snacks. Certain things must be in reach of the parents, others can hang out in the back
Suitcases just aren't needed while driving. Neither are swim gear, cots, sleeping bags, etc. However, you will need to access toys, activities, food items, trash recepticles, etc. Make sure your throw up bucket is also accessible! Doing whatever you can to have necessary items within reach will greatly decrease the amount of stops you have to make and the frustration level of mom and dad.

Use a grabber to get things to kids in the back

If you have a van, chances are you can't always reach your children. When handing out food, toys, tissues, etc., it's very helpful to have a grabber. These can often be found at toy shops and novelty stores. We've had ours for years and still love it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Large Family Car Travel Tips: Special Tips You May Not Know

Often when I research things for large families, I come across tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!

Other travel posts in this series:
Keeping the Car Organized
Suitcase Organization
Keeping Kids Occupied

Expect the unexpected!
From switching hotels because of filth, to driving extra hours in a day, to massive sightseeing plans obliterated by a snowstorm ... you have to be ready to roll with the punches when traveling as a family. We've had so much go wrong over our years of roadtrips, but most of it has created fun and lasting memories. We've had a few ER visits, a cartop carrier fly off the van on the highway, detours that lasted hours, traffic jams, horrible illness, car troubles that had us walking a mile with a baby to the nearest hotel in the middle of the night, and much, much more. When you are able to look at the situation calmly you'll make better decisions and be able to lead your family in a much more gentle way. No trip will go exactly as planned or hoped, so expect to have a few bumps on the road and pray that you can laugh at it in the days to come.

Plan kid activities in chunks
We've found that giving kids chunks of time to do things makes the day go faster. For two hours, have them play with the stuff in their backpacks. Then get out a snack and an activity that will last an hour or so. Next stop for lunch. After that, a movie can take up the next two hours while any babies nap. Continue the day in this way, and you'll find the kids are happier. Not only does it remind you to keep food in their bellies, but it also forces you to stop every few hours to get out new activities. Breaks for stretching and bathroom visits will keep the whole family in a better mood.

Drink those fluids!
Don't allow yourself to become dehydrated so you can avoid bathroom breaks. Your body needs the fluid to keep you going - especially lots of water! Water will even help with those swollen hands and feet that come from salty take out food and long hours of sitting. Bathroom breaks don't have to be long, but they need to happen. Plus, a little fresh air and stretching will help your brain stay alert as you drive.

Laundry in hotels
Personally I haven't had to take advantage of this service. But it's good to know about just in case. When in a pinch, many hotels will allow their guests to use the laundry services for a fee. The fee and policies will vary by hotel, but if you've had a child get sick in the car, this is a great option to avoid a late-night run to the laundromat.

Check food policies
Did you know that some hotels don't offer a complimentary breakfast? And some will include a complimentary dinner with your stay! We love staying at the Drury Inn. Not only do they give you a hot breakfast each morning, but they also have a dinner option in the evening. The hotel puts out hot foods - simple fare such has hot dogs, nachos, baked potatoes - and you can feed your family for FREE! (Well, it's really in the hotel cost, but it feels free.) They also have a complimentary drink for each adult and beverages for all hotel guests. And popcorn. Not to mention that we've always found the Drury to have excellent service and cleanliness.

AAA and hotel points
Perhaps you don't have AAA. I would argue that it's worth getting even just for one long road trip. Why? Most hotels and sightseeing places will offer a discount for AAA members. You can also request trip tickets from AAA to help you plan your journey. These are brochures that tell all about the areas you hope to visit. Lastly, God forbid you get stranded on the road! But if you do, AAA will pay for itself by coming to the rescue. We arrived in one city and had no clue what to do. We stopped by the local AAA office and received a bag full of ideas. Sooo helpful!

In regards to the hotel points ... some hotel chains offer credit cards that allow you to book within their company and earn points toward a free hotel stay. We got the Choice Hotels card for our recent trip and looked online to find which hotels in each location were within that company. For the most part we were very happy with the hotels, and the one time we weren't we received a full refund after canceling our reservation. The card also helped us to find some great deals online for hotels in this chain - a must for a family as big as ours which requires two rooms each night.
And after 5-6 nights, we earned a free stay at our next hotel. Totally worth it!

Kids just don't handle trips the way adults do. Adults can push through for hours on end in the car. For us, it's easy to rationalize fewer stops by getting to the end goal faster. For kids, it's different. They aren't watching the miles tick by. They are agonizing as the minutes seem to pass slower and slower! Letting them out to run and stretch every couple of hours will actually HELP your travel. When our kids get tired of being in the car, they begin making up reasons to stop: I don't feel well, I need to go potty, my legs are cramping. In the end, we have found that stopping at regular intervals allows us to reach our destination more quickly than if we just power through and end up with lots of made-up excuses toward the end of the trip.

Check the toll road rules.
If driving through Illinois, get an IPass. Otherwise, it'll cost you double if you pay cash at each tollway. The Ipass also works in states that use the EZPass - which seems to be used most in the Midwest and East Coast.

Army cots and sleeping bags
Having a couple of army cots is not only helpful for guests at home and camping in summer, but are also great in hotel rooms. They cost little, take up little space in the car (can usually fit under seats), only require a sleeping bag and pillow, and work beautifully in hotel rooms. If kids tend to argue about bedspace when sharing a bed, these are a life saver! Or if you have a large family like ours. :)

Remember to keep social security numbers on hand
There is a chance you'll run into medical issues while traveling. During our most recent trip, our littlest had a run in with a rusty nail. Because I didn't have his social security number on hand, I was unable to access his records online to see if he needed a tetanus shot. Our doctor's office was closed and it was a huge hassle to figure out whether or not we needed to visit an urgent care facility. Just remember to NOT put names with the numbers. We keep ours written on a small piece of paper in a special spot and have a code to remember which number belongs to which child. Just be careful! If those numbers are ever found and matched with names, it could spell big trouble for you!

Friday, March 1, 2013

People are Watching ...

We have received many varied reactions to our family over the years. Some people smile and say how blessed we are to have so many children. Others look at us with horror and give a litany of excuses of why they wouldn't dare have more than one or two kids. We're used to it and it rarely fazes us anymore. But this trip and specifically the reactions we have received in California have surprised us.

A lot of people have been quite negative in their comments to us. One woman boldly ordered that I had better not be working outside the home. I agree, but not for the reasons she apparently thought important. To her it was the work load of having this many kids that was daunting. For me it's the eternally significant task of being around to teach and train them.

We have had people stare open-mouthed and even point at us as we unloaded from the van at rest stops and parks. Many, many people have asked about my pregnancy and the sex of this baby - only to express extreme disappointment and condolences because we're having another boy. We're not disappointed and we'd prefer congratulations. This is another precious life given to us.

The most shocking rudeness came as we waited for the elevator in a hotel. An elderly lady was also waiting to use the elevator. When she saw us, she blatantly informed us that she'd rather not ride on the elevator with us. No one else was waiting, it was just our family and her, and the elevator could have easily held twice that many people. Josh and I bit back a few choice words and agreed to wait while she took the elevator alone to her floor. (And this was after she had already yelled at David who kindly helped her push the button when she couldn't get it to light up.) We then tried to explain to our bewildered children what had just happened. Frankly, I don't think we understand it!

But in with the bad, there has also been some good. Many couples have stopped to count as we file past. Sometimes, they get a big grin and tell us how wonderfully blessed we are. We always smile, heartily agree, and thank them. We have received several comments on the good behavior and helpfulness of our children. That always makes our hearts glow! And we received one comment that really caused us to stop and think.

We were eating dinner in a buffet-style restaurant. We had all gotten our food and were enjoying the meal when a family walked by on their way out. The husband and wife stopped next to where Josh and I sat and said, "Your kids are so well behaved! You must be religious."

It took us a few moments to recover from that statement. No stranger has ever made the jump from good kids to faith-based training before. Josh thanked them and told them that he is a pastor and we enjoyed a nice conversation with them for several minutes. We didn't exchange names or much information, but their comment has stuck with me and caused me to think about the reactions our family receives and how we ought to respond.

There are three things that come to mind as I reflect on the varied comments our family receives:

1. People really are watching. It may seem that you move in obscurity. It may seem that nobody is noticing you. But even strangers see you. Whether out of curiosity or boredom, self-pride or admiration, people do watch and make judgments. Many of those people-watchers are willing to share their opinions of you as well - solicited or not. Be sure that you are acting in a way that reflects well on who you are because opinions are made in the space of seconds.

2. Those who don't want to listen, won't. We recently had a conversation with someone who specifically asked where we are from. We informed her that we had driven from Wisconsin. In the next sentence, she instead identified us as being from Utah. Even after being corrected a few times, she continued to talk of the "fact" that we hailed from Utah. Apparently a family this large must be Mormon! People who have made up their minds are often unwilling to listen. Just move on.

3. Given that people are watching and often ready to share opinions, be ready with your response. Sometimes you'll be thrown a curve-ball like we were as we waited for the elevator. But many comments are repeats. For those, your response is likely the only chance you'll get to reflect what you believe. As a Christian, my response either represents Christ well or has the power to do damage. Be gracious, be slow to judge, point to the One from whom all blessings flow. For us, most comments are directly related to family size. We expect people to say things like, "Wow! How do you survive with that many kids?" or "Don't you know what causes that?!" The latter is my personal favorite. Josh and I have started responding with a sly grin, a knowing nod, and a "Mmm hmmm". That usually shuts them up. But for questions that deserve an answer, we try to think carefully before responding. Sure, we have bad days with our kids and sometimes people catch us on those rough days. But we are still thankful for the opportunity to raise them, know them, and influence them. Our response to comments rude or kind should reflect our thankfulness - not our rough day.

1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.