My 5-year-old son scooted up close to me at the kitchen table and leaned in.

Clutching a chocolate milk, he beamed at his 3-year-old sister, Kate, who sat on my other side. I could tell by his affectionate glance at Kate that he was about to say something he was proud of.

Then he said to me:

“You know, Kate and me love rolling around on the ground in circles together. Kate is really good at rolling. And you know how my other sisters are scared to hide under the blankets and play tent? Well, Kate is never scared to hide under the blankets.”

I smiled at the sweet things 5-year-olds value about their sisters.

Then he said, “Down syndrome makes her really good at some things.”

I laughed and pulled my boy in for a hug.

We don’t talk about Kate having Down syndrome very often — but it’s something that has come up a few times: like when he asked why Kate doesn’t talk as well as her little sister or why she isn’t as good at jumping as other kids her age.

We talk about it as we try to instill empathy, patience and acceptance of others’ differences. But we’re always quick to balance it with the point that it’s just one extra unique thing (among many) that makes Kate who she is.

Kate has Down syndrome — which is very different than Kate is Down syndrome.

It is just one aspect of her beautiful, intricate design — one thing that can cause some things to be a little extra hard for her, but other things will come a little extra easy for her. It is something that affects her, not something that defines her.

When we start defining people by just an aspect of who they are, we lose their humanity. All of us may not have Down syndrome — but all of us are uniquely made where some things are extra hard for us and other things are extra easy. We all have things that others may be confused or frightened by — and things that others may be inspired by and drawn to.

A Down syndrome diagnosis in itself is only a sentence of a novel. Only a stroke of paint in a beautiful painting — a chord in a love song. It is not the full picture.

If you only know one thing about Down syndrome, know this:

It is something people have, not something people are. It is only a part of a unique, amazing human being who has incredible purpose and inestimable worth.

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I saw a bumper sticker on a 12-passenger van outside the homeschool conference convention center the other day that said:

I used to be cool.

It made me laugh.

In many ways, I can relate — but my bumper sticker lately would say: I used to be spontaneous.

I am, by nature, a bit of a Flower Child, always up for a last-minute adventure. In the past, I valued not being overly-bound by time and schedules (within reason) and enjoyed being flexible, fluid, and fun! [Insert bumper sticker: I used to be fun.]

When my oldest was an only, we’d take him out to restaurants and parties and let him stay up past “bedtime” if life suggested it.

And though that worked for awhile, slowly, child by child [and now, 4 children in 5 years], I’ve finally succumbed to the fact that the most important peace-keeper in my child-filled days is:

Keep a schedule.

Suddenly my text messages for play dates have gone from:

“We’d love to see you guys! Just let me know when is a good time and we’ll work it out!”

to

“I can do this Tuesday or Thursday between the strict windows of 10:15 and noon or 3:35 and 4:45. If the kids take naps too early or too late, it will throw off the incredibly sacred ritual of bed time and I’ll stay up too late and be grouchy tomorrow. Also, I should feed the kids at home because I spent a gazillion dollars on groceries this week. And if I take them to Chick-Fil-A, the 3-year-old will only eat fries and the 2-year-old will spill fruit all over her car seat. And at some point I’ll have to nurse the baby in a parking lot somewhere because inevitably she’ll be hungry in rush hour traffic.”

OK, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration (like I could type a text that long with toddlers at my feet) — but, it’s not too far off.

Being a mother to four has forced me to be more scheduled, focused and organized in life (which I find, in many ways, to be a good thing.) Sure, I am a bit less spontaneous for now — but Queen Schedule keeps the peace (and my sanity) and I sing her praises.

Sticking to a schedule has also helped me attain the second peace-keeper in my home:

Find time for silence.

I’ve heard it said recently that every mother to young children becomes an introvert. And though I am certainly an extrovert at heart, I have found myself basking in the beauty of a still, silent room.

It sounds like this: [................]

Ah, isn’t that nice?

This is also one reason I have taken a break from social media for a bit. [Though I still have this blog Facebook page.] I realized that true silence is more than just physical, it’s mental — free from the nonstop chatter of the world.

Opening my Facebook or Twitter feed often felt like popping in and out of a hundred conversations — and in those rare moments where I get the chance to just sit and be still (mostly nursing a baby), I’ve tried to use that time to read, answer an email or just watch the trees through the window.

But with more schedules and silence, life is far from rigid.

What I’ve found in trying to keep a better schedule and find more moments to be still is that the rest of the day can be just as chaotic, social, flexible and crazy as need be — without me breaking down into tears in the middle of the living room.

If the 5-year-old wants to build tents out of bedsheets or bake cookies — or if the little ones want to go outside and get covered in chalk and sand — or if we want to have friends over and scatter toys all over the house — or if we all just want to laze around and watch a movie in our pajamas — I am up for it.

Which is the third peace-keeper in my home:

Be present.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that I laid in bed at night and sometimes felt guilty for not being present enough. For spending too much time doing chores or working on projects or looking at my smart phone or just generally surviving through the day. (Which with little ones, some days are like that!)

But schedules and silence have helped me be more present in those moments of sheer fun. I have a time to do laundry and a time to write and a time to focus on other things: so when I’m with the littles, I can focus on them.

It has been said that stress is caused by being in one situation when you’re wanting to do something else: i.e. instead of focusing on playing, I’m focused on how I could be doing something “more” productive [tending to those piles of dishes and laundry]. When, really, I have to remind myself: there is nothing more productive than being present with my kids.

I feel most peaceful at the end of the day when I have done my best to be present — and it’s easiest for me to be present when I have a schedule and moments of silence to support it.

Life around here is wild and wondrous. And through necessity, I am growing every day as these beautiful children grow around me.

How to keep the peace with 4 kids, ages 5 and under

I remember the sunrise the morning after Kate was born. The morning after I found out in the delivery room that she had Down syndrome.

It seemed brighter than usual, filtering in through the hospital blinds and falling upon the tray table next to my hospital bed.

My eyes stung from tears and lack of sleep. My husband was asleep on the couch in the corner of the recovery room. And sweet Kate — just hours old, was now snuggled into a UV bed in the NICU, tanning away her jaundice.

I remember the sunrise because it was a reminder that the rest of the world was still going: driving to work, stopping at Starbucks, jogging. They were going on about their lives as if nothing had changed. When for me, it felt like everything had changed. And the sunrise just illuminated that feeling.

Looking back on that feeling, I felt, in a way, like a newborn myself. The world I was now in was somewhat new; a little scary. With fresh eyes opening, I blinked at the bright light of this new place wondering what it would hold — and in many ways I wanted to go back to the familiar safe place that held me so snug just a day before.

But that’s the thing about being born (or re-born): now it’s time to live big!

And so, day after day for those first few months, I put one foot in front of the other as I learned what it meant to have a child with Down syndrome, as I learned what it meant for our future, as I learned what Kate would mean to us.

And you know, when you put one foot in front of the other for a little while, before you know it you’re walking. And then before you know it, you’re picking up a pretty good pace that turns into a full-on run. Not away from something — but toward something bigger, something better.

I remember the sunrise after Kate was born because it was a reminder that as long as we’re here, the sun will always rise to light the way.

And that often times, the very things that knock us off our feet are the same ones that teach us how to run stronger, how to breathe deeper — and how to head more purposefully toward the path that’s meant for us.

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I stumbled upon the Mary Oliver quote today, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I love that quote — so I thought it would be fun to try and answer it.

The first 100 things that came to mind:

1. Rock my babies in the soft glow of the moonlight

2. Dance with my husband in the kitchen

3. Grow a butterfly in a mason jar

4. Make homemade bread from scratch

5. Write

6. Plant a garden and make a fresh tomato salad out of it

7. Raise chickens and give away some of the eggs

8. Ride a horse through the woods

9. Serve: my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community

10. Sleep under the stars; look for constellations

11. Throw a party at sunset: wrap our backyard trees in twinkly white lights

12. Run until my legs burn and my heart soars

13. Write my husband a love poem and hide it in his work bag

14. Sleep in on a Saturday morning to be awoken by a stampede of toddlers upon my bed

15. Plant wildflowers in my front yard

16. Choose singing together over watching TV together

17. Read cookbooks

18. Paint old furniture and dress it up with new knobs

19. Watch a storm roll in from the front porch

20. Drink red wine (or margaritas on the rocks) with best friends

21. Eat chocolate chip cookie dough

22. Vacation in Mexico

23. Learn Spanish

24. Sing karaoke and pretend I can sing

25. Teach my kids how to love God, their neighbor, themselves, and life

26. Build a collection of table linens

27. Eat dinner around the diningroom table

28. Go Christmas caroling

29. Find a reason to wear a ball gown

30. Make a tree fort that my kids can hide in on summer afternoons

31. Catch a frog, name him, let him go

32. Pray without ceasing

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” – 1 Thessalonians

33. Spend less time looking at Facebook and more time looking at faces

34. Spend less time on the computer and more time in my community

35. Memorize a poem

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth” 
Robert Frost

36. Memorize scripture

37. Memorize the faces of people I love

38. Swim in the salty ocean

39. Make birthday cakes

40. Sew

41. Wrap presents

42. Know the life stories of elders in my family

43. Throw a proper tea party

44. Dig in the dirt; know the plants in my garden

45. Build forts out of bedsheets on rainy days: eat popcorn in them

46. Braid my daughters’ hair

47. Kiss my husband

48. Take pictures

49. But not too many that I miss anything

50. Serve my childrens’ grandparents who serve us so well

51. Save family heirlooms; throw away random plastic toy parts

52. Drink water

53. Spoil my friends

54. Update baby books with printed-out pictures and scribbled stories

55. Play bluegrass music on Sunday mornings, cook bacon on the skillet

56. Play dress-up

57. Play pretend

58. Play — always play

59. Appreciate today

“What day is it?” asked Winnie the Pooh
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet
“My favorite day,” said Pooh

60. Dance at weddings* (See photo below)

61. Eat lots of veggies

62. And chocolate

63. Borrow eggs from my neighbor; take them cookies just because

64. Cook for friends and use my best Crate & Barrel wine glasses

65. Go without makeup and feel beautiful

66. Get dolled up and feel beautiful

67. Just sit and watch my children play

68. Have a family motto: put it on the wall

69. Believe in God

70. Believe in purpose

71. Believe in others

72. Speak kindly

73. Promote peace in the world however I can, even if it is just to:

74. Pray

75. Smile

76. Go home and love my  family

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

77. Encourage my children to play a musical instrument so they can play for me when I’m old

78. Serve the old

79. Delight in the young

80. Make pesto out of fresh basil

81. Spend as little time as possible sorting socks

82. Travel the world, but know:

83. There’s no place like home so make it home-y.

84. Encourage someone

85. Be encouraged

86. Call my mom

87. Become proficient at:

88. Taking the seed out of the middle of an avocado with a knife

89. Distinguishing classical composers

90. And folding fitted bedsheets (or is life too short for this one?)

91. Wipe down counters in public bathrooms

“Leave everything better than you found it.” – my parents

92. Advocate for and celebrate those with Down syndrome

93. Advocate for and celebrate all life

94. Watch romantic comedies with my husband after the kids go to bed

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” — You’ve Got Mail

95. Get enough sleep, except when I:

96. Have a newborn – the greatest miracle

97. Go on a road trip; eat gummy worms

98. Be who I am meant to be

“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” — St. Catherine of Siena

99. Help my children do the same

100. Be thankful

 Dancing at my sister-in-law’s wedding, holding my baby cousin, 8 months pregnant with Kate149050_10100458827198494_8307141_69327361_4829452_n

As I shared in my last post, I went to a homeschool conference over the weekend (along with my hubby and 4-month-old).

One of my favorite talks was from mama x 19, Michelle Duggar of the TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting. Yes, nineteen. And as she says in the intro to her show: she delivered every one of them.

The Duggars get a lot of flack for many aspects of their lifestyle, but Michelle is clearly a woman who loves her children and works incredibly hard at her vocation of motherhood — and I really enjoyed hearing about her vast experience (besides the fact that I find her calm, maternal voice rather hypnotizing).

And so, I scribbled notes in the back of my green Mead Five Star notebook like a college student to reflect on later — and also, to share with you.

Some notes on parenting from the mouth of Michelle:

1. Whoever praises your child will have their heart. Michelle talked a lot about the importance of encouragement and praise, but was careful to differentiate between flattery and praise, saying: Praise acknowledges a character trait that a person has developed — whereas flattery is often an exaggeration of the truth. She believes the more we praise our children for the traits we want them to develop, the more they are eager to exhibit them.

2. If you’re feeling angry, whisper. Michelle realized that she could control her emotions and calm her frustration when she lowered her voice instead of raising it — and that it is also more effective at getting her children’s attention. She also reminded the audience that our children belong to God, saying: “These children are not my own, they are God’s. If I were a daycare teacher and these children went home at the end of the day to report about me — how would they describe my behavior to their parents?”

3. The top 3 character traits all mothers should have: love (vs. selfishness), meekness (vs. anger) and joyfulness (vs. self-pity). She elaborated on the last one saying that “happiness comes from happening” but true joy is from knowing God — no matter if the laundry piles are high and the dirty dishes are over-flowing. She also discussed the importance of having a home full of joy, saying that if a home is a not a joyful place to be, your children will be out of there as soon as possible.

4. The top 3 character traits children should work on: attentiveness (vs. unconcern), obedience (vs. willfulness) and self control (vs. self-indulgence). Michelle encourages attentiveness because she says that it is “showing the worth of a person by giving undivided concentration to his words and emotions.” [I.e. Training children to be good listeners!] She emphasizes obedience because she says, “If they won’t obey my voice, they won’t obey God’s.”

5. Our children often don’t know what we expect. Michelle encourages parents to set clear expectations and be consistent — and to also work on practicing good behavior rather than constantly correcting bad behavior. For example: if her child demands, “I’m thirsty!” Michelle gently reminds them to ask, “May I please have a drink?” and has them repeat it five times to practice it. Or if a child demands, “That’s mine!” Michelle gently reminds them to ask, “May I please have it back?” and has them practice that good behavior until it becomes a habit.

Me with Michelle and Jim Bob!

What Michelle Duggar says are the top 3 things EVERY mom should have!

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