The first week of September we welcomed two new little girls into our house while their mother was sent overseas for a training mission. It was past Christmas before I had a moment to collect my thoughts on this adventure. The six weeks the girls were going to be living with us morphed into nine followed by several more weeks of work-day babysitting. In fact, Christmas week was the first week we spent without our two little guests. Unless you have shared your home with children not you own, or been a mother to seven, or lived in Seoul, Korea, I don’t think I can explain fully what these past months have been like, but I will try to give you a little picture.
The girls bunked in Elliana’s room. We took Elliana’s toy chest and stuck it in a hallway, and used the space to fit a toddler bed for two year old Monica. Five year old Dyamond slept in Elliana’s bunk and Elliana moved up into Kylie’s bed since Kylie is in Texas for the school year. In order to fit two extra wardrobes we put a small plastic dresser in Elliana’s closet.
Sleeping in was never an option with a two year old house guest. So, rather than a battle to get myself out of bed each morning my first challenge of the day became doing my chores quietly enough that I could have the bathrooms cleaned, and the morning’s housework done before a sweet but heavy two year old took up her place on my hip.
By 6:00am everyone was up and there was a bit of a circus trying to make sure they were all dressed in clean clothes that actually belonged to them. (At one point our seven year old wore his fifteen year old brother’s jeans for a day, but that’s another story.) The usual morning chores of clean rooms and person hygiene became challenging with a median age of about five years old. Eventually, though, we got to breakfast, where every chair was full plus two kids perching on stools at the corners. During breakfast I rushed around passing out medications and pulling curls into ponytails, untill finally, we were ready for school.
Homeschooling this year has already been challenging because it is the first year we are homeschooling our 15 year old son and he has some learning challenges. Add a two and five year old and it became a herculean effort to get through all subjects, correct all attitudes and misconceptions, and maintain a positive learning environment for the four hours of our school day. Just try to picture it- a teenager stands by the table holding the list of his day’s assignments, “I can’t do this math- it’s too hard. You never teach me anything!” Fail to deal with him fast enough and he will sneak off to his room to read all morning. At the table Dallas is reading quietly while waiting for instructions on his assignments, David is shredding his cursive page because he thinks it is too hard, and a few seats away Dyamond trying to get Elliana’s attention by scribbling over the letters she just carefully crafted for handwriting. Monica is either on my hip trying to grab my pen, or on the floor drawing on everything she can reach. This might be our school day any number of days. Now, it is true that praise must be given where praise is due. Although it felt to me like school was four straight hours of pulling a freight train, it was not due to a lack of individual effort. All of our kids gave great effort despite the distractions and Dyamond quickly learned to be content joining us or playing with her toys on a blanket. Even Monica was reasonably corralled between riding on my hip and playing with activity trays on the floor. The kids did all their best; it was just a hard way to do school for two months.
At lunch time each day we went down to the playground and enjoyed the sunshine. Then we used Monica’s naptime to try to finish up what schoolwork had been neglected. Once she was up, we had the adventure of trying to get groceries or errands done. This was made trickier by the fact that with our two guests we had too many people to fit in our van, plus Monica had no car seat. We were also too many people to fit in a taxi, so we bused everywhere. The bus schedule is not very dependable or convenient, so there were many times we had to run for the bus, or wait an hour in a bus stop before we could go home. Again the kids did their best to follow directions and we honed it down to a science, but it is still challenging to load five kids, a stroller, and a week’s worth of groceries onto a bus while it idles at the curb, or to then carry all that from the bus stop to our apartment building once we got home. I got to be an expert at snapping the stroller open or closed with one hand while holding a sometimes sleeping Monica with the other.
On top of the daily complications of having six kids in a foreign city I began leading a Girl Scout troop soon after the girls arrived. I carted our supplies to meetings in Monica’s stroller and ran the meetings with her on my hip or underfoot. Fortunately, Dyamond was old enough to join in like the other girl scouts.
Hardest of all, though, after a few weeks of being hostess extraordinaire and enjoying the extra company five year old Elliana began to feel replaced. She became clingy, didn’t want to share her toys anymore and wore a princess dress everywhere. When that didn’t fix the hurt she began to have huge, uncontrollable fits any time anywhere. Imagine any of the scenes of daily life I have described then insert her lying on the floor screaming, throwing anything she can reach and saying things like “I wish I was dead! I’m going to jump out a window!” Or picture her just turning and running from the family as fast as she can oblivious of traffic. No daily stress could have broken me down like the fear of watching my little girl hurt like that.
I describe all this not to say how hard things have been. There is no doubt in my mind that all these challenges are nothing weighted next to a single one of Dyamond’s smiles as I sang her “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at bedtime, or next to the joy of watching my children love and care for Monica. My head is filled with a hundred memories that I treasure- all the kids dancing as Kenny plays worship songs on his guitar, Monica folding her hands and bowing her head to say her first prayer, or hundreds of recipes crafted with Dyamond’s hands beside mine. I am so glad and honored that their mother entrusted them to us, and continues to as we babysit them. This time is somethings I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I tell you about all this because I want to tell you what I learned. At the end of such an experience it is all too easy to look back and see the ways I failed. I could have been more patient, kept things more structured and peaceful. I can feel like God gave me a test and I failed. Fortunately, God knows my thoughts, and on our last Sunday with the girls He sent a dear pastor friend to deliver me this message. “Trials are the classroom, not the test. Consider it joy when things are hard because God is giving you a new classroom- a new course- a new chance to learn about God or to grow. The steps toward learning from trials are simply to pray and then trust God and be a peace in the midst of them.” For this reason most of all I am grateful that my friend trusted us with her girls and that God saw fit to put me in an apartment in the sky with a ton of kids and ton of challenges. Someone else could have done it better, I can’t say I rocked this, but I know how to trust God better now. I know what peace feels like in the midst of a family whirlwind. I know that everything in this adventure was His plan, and He will use it in my family, and in Dyamond and Monica’s hearts, in a way that is going to amaze me when I can I look down on the big picture. I’m just so glad I got have this adventure!