Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Lessons from 2017: extreme parenting, playing backup & fleeing the #ThomasFire

Well, we made it. Seriously, there were some touch and go moments last year, if I'm to be honest. As I haven't blogged for six months, and those six months were some of the most emotionally taxing in recent memory, I wanted to give them their due in my end of year reflection.

2017 held some high highs professionally. I learned an incredible amount last year and really pushed myself. But as much as I'd like to focus on my professional achievements this year, it was my personal life that taught me the most.

In August of 2016, I had a bit of a mom-crisis/epiphany. We had acquired our 7th kiddo earlier that year, and with adding Arial to our flock, I was going to have a kid graduating from high school every year for 5 years. Five of our seven kiddos were teenagers and the youngest two are squarely in their preteen years. John told me, "the next five years are going to suck and then our lives will look a lot different." I was pretty confident that the second part of his prediction was inevitable, but after 2017 I can tell you that his first prediction seems to be spot on. I'm sure this is no surprise to any of you, looking in from the outside and thinking, "well duh, having seven kids is hard," but I can tell you that up until 2017 is wasn't THAT bad. We have really good kids, but they unfortunately only have teenage brains and things like consequences or planning or big picture thinking? Non existent. While there are lots of parenting highlights, the biggest being officially adopting Arial, in general, 2017 will be the year I remember that parenting went next level and all I could do was hold on and do my best.

In 2016, John went back to college to get his teaching degree. It's something he had wanted to do since before we met, and even though we knew it would be hard, I pushed him to do it. And it has been hard. But neither one of us could have predicted that because of him going back to school, and taking a job last January running the STEM classes for an after school program, that he would have been hired as a full-time robotics and engineering teacher starting this past fall. Still going to school to get his degree, starting his dream job...John had a good year professionally, and I am learning how to be the supportive, behind the scenes partner in our relationship. It's actually not very comfortable for me, and sometimes I worry that I'm not very good at it, but I'm learning.

All of my work/parenting/spouse balance was thrown over the edge in November when both John and our 11 year old Sallie had surgeries (deviated septum and broken ankle, respectively). Nothing life threatening, but it reinforced for me why I didn't go into nursing. I struggled to balance taking care of my work responsibilities, taking care of my family, and taking care of myself. As we celebrated Thanksgiving and prepared for Christmas, I was looking forward to life getting back to normal. I joked, "no one is allowed to have a medical emergency for the rest of the year."

The Universe accepted my request and raised me the largest wildfire in California history.

At about 9:30 pm on December 6th, we packed our kids and dogs when the Thomas fire evacuation was announced for our house. Earlier that day, knowing that the fire was moving towards us, we had packed our irreplaceables and moved them into a safe storage spot well outside of the evacuation zone. We were fortunate we had enough warning. By the time the evacuation was announced for our house, I was already having trouble breathing from the smoke thanks to my asthmatic lungs. We had heard stories of folks in Ventura who were woken up in the middle of the night to evacuate and we just couldn't imagine wrangling all the kids and dogs if the fires were bearing down on us, so we left that night, confident that we'd be back in a day or two, hoping our home would be spared. As we walked through the house one last time before leaving, we made sure there was nothing remaining that we couldn't replace or live without. It is amazing what the imminent threat of fire does to your prioritization of things.

And here we are in 2018, almost a month later. The fires did not reach our home, but the smoke and ash have left a hazardous grime on everything that requires more cleaning and restoration services than we can do ourselves. Based on current estimations, we are hoping we can move back in by mid January.

The last few months have provided some extreme lessons.

Lessons in friendship. OMG, you really know who will be there for you when you are in the middle of a crisis. I have some amazing, amazing friends. I love them more than they may ever know.

Lessons in letting go. Letting go of "stuff," letting go of expectations. Letting go of needing to know what's going to happen next. With the letting go has come clarity. Clarity of what's important. Clarity of purpose.

That clarity, my purpose, what's important? My family. And that's what 2017 was all about, really. Putting my family first: my spouse's education and career, my kids' well-being, education, and aspirations. I've had to let go of some things in my life that I loved, because right now my focus has to be on this big, crazy family. I love them most of all.

If 2017 is any indication, John was right way back in the summer of 2016 when he said the next five years will suck. Being a parent to this many humans is hard. But it's also amazing and fun and I love the people these kids are turning out to be. One year down, four more to go...