Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Biggest Brother

This is my Owen, eleven years ago.

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I could have never predicted that my little baby boy would become the big brother to all of this:

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I don't think that there could be a more perfect biggest brother for my children. Someone recently referred to Owen as "unflappable."  I think that is the perfect way to describe him.  At times, the house is filled with choas-everything from laughing to screaming to crying. There is rarely a dull moment around here, yet through it all, Owen remains at an even keel.  He is always ready to help out and is always respectful and dependable.

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He was there to greet baby Nash:

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He was there to welcome baby Alayna:

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He was there to snuggle baby Greyson:

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And while a brother has their special bond with all of their siblings, there is one bond that is stronger than all of the rest:  Owen and Emerson.

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Owen and Emerson are sixteen months apart.  They have been the best of friends since the very beginning.

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For two years, they each had a built-in playmate and they didn't ever want to be apart.

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They got along very well, almost always.

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As more children were added into the mix, their bond only became stronger.

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They were, and continue to be, a united front.

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I wrote last year about how strange motherhood is.  You can read about that here.

One of my most vivid memories of when Owen was a baby came the day after I was home from the hospital with him.  I had been up for almost twenty-four hours straight.  I had nursed him and changed him and burped him and rocked him and nursed him and nursed him and nursed him.  He was fine, until I would put him in his bed.  What was wrong with this kid?!  There were so many rules about pregnancy and I had read so much about labor and delivery, but no one ever tells you what to do when you're officially on your own with a newborn. I remember calling my sister and asking her to come over.  I'm pretty sure when she walked in the door, I mumbled something about me just having finished feeding him, shoved the crying baby into her arms, and collapsed into bed.  When I awoke, it was silent.  I came out of my bedroom to find that the baby was sound asleep in his bed.  Surely, my sister was a magician.  I asked her how she had accomplished this feat.  Her response?  "I just swaddled him tightly in his blanket and put him in bed," she said.  Swaddled him tightly?  WHY HAD NO ONE TOLD ME TO SWADDLE MY BABY?

As you can imagine, I learned a lot those first few months.  And then I kept learning.  I am still learning.  Does it ever stop?  I don't think so.  No one ever becomes a mother and has all of the answers.  Like they say, it really does take a village to raise a child.  And me?  I've got five children.  Five very different children who have all taught me so much.

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I imagine being a big brother-the biggest brother-is kind of like becoming a mother.  Owen didn't know that when his sister was born that he became a big brother, yet he was.  Instantly her realized that it was his job to look over her.  And the same holds true for the other children, as well.  They are all growing up, and he is the leader.  They look to him for guidance and protection.  They share secrets with him that they don't even share with mom and dad.  There is an unspoken promise that he will be there for them.  I cannot think of a better role model for my children than their biggest brother, Owen.

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Happy eleventh birthday to the boy who made me a mother.  I love you, O!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Where We Are

     "In 2000, the dot-com bubble burst, destroying $6.2 trillion in household wealth over the next two years. Five years later, the housing market crashed, and from 2007 to 2009, the value of real estate owned by U.S. households fell by nearly the same amount — $6 trillion."

The crash of the housing market did not come as a surprise to us.  Jason had been working in the home-building industry since before graduating from college, and we saw first-hand the downward spiral of not only the number of people building new houses, but also the number of people buying houses in general.  In 2008, we regretfully sold the house we had built from the ground up and bought a smaller, yet comfortable, home in our town, in anticipation of a probable layoff from Jason's job.  The house needed quite a bit of work, but we were up for the challenge.

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Family and friends offered their time and assistance, helping us to get the house and yard suitable for us.  There were hardwood floors, tile, and carpeting laid.  There was a small bathroom added.  There were roof leaks repaired. There was paint-so much paint.  By the time we were finished, the place was like new.

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Then, in July of 2009, our home got a little bit cozier with the addition of our fourth child, Alayna.

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During the remodeling of our house and my pregnancy, we slowly watched many of Jason's coworkers be laid off from his company.  We were in a perpetual state of holding our breath-it wasn't a matter of if, but a matter of when he would also be laid off.  And then, when Alayna was six weeks old, it happened. I remember that day-there was panic and anger and frustration.  Imagine being a 34 year old husband and father of four and having no job, and no possibility of finding a job in your field in the foreseeable future.

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So, a resume was updated, a suit was bought, and the search for a new job was on.  And he found one.  Maybe not exactly what he was hoping for, but it paid the bills.  Mostly.  Life went on for a few months, and then, out of nowhere, Jason got an offer he couldn't refuse.  He left for Tennessee in the spring of 2011 and I stayed with the kids to finish the school year and sell the house.

 Or so I thought.

By June, school was wrapping up and the house had not sold. We made the difficult decision to rent out our house.  We found a family, who like us were affected by the economy, and they agreed to rent the house for two years and then buy the house from us at the two year mark.


In mid-June we loaded our life into two gigantic moving trucks and moved to Tennessee.  The town we were moving to was a military town, full of people just like us-no one was actually from there.

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The job was predicted to last 3-5 years, the weather was fabulous, the schools were great, and Nashville was 40 minutes away.  It was perfect.

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Until it wasn't.

 It seemed almost as soon as we were settled in Tennessee, we received word that the job was shutting down-they were out of money and soon everyone would be out of their jobs.  I had to give up all of this?  My heart was broken.  Then, when I learned that we'd be living in Ohio, I was downright upset.  Ohio?  Really?  Yes, it was true.  Again, Jason left in the spring and I stayed while I packed the house and the kids finished their school year.  And just like that, our time in Tennessee was over.


Finding a house in Ohio proved to be much more difficult than we had anticipated.  We ultimately ended up about an hour from Jason's home office, in a house we chose based strictly on school district.  Other than that, we were going in blind.

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The blindness didn't last long, though.  Although we were in a very large community compared to where we had lived previously, we were embraced.  The kids made instant friends and our neighbors were fabulous.  We changed gears from Nashville honkey-tonks to Amish farms and tractor pulls.

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In November, 2012, we welcomed our fifth child, Nash, into our family.

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Life was good.  The kids were settled into their routines, they were all involved in various sports, and we were less than five hours from our family in Michigan.  I still wasn't that fond of telling people I lived in Ohio, but I made some great friends there-moms, runners, and my twitter gang.

At the two year mark, our tenants informed us that they needed a little more time before they could buy our house back in Michigan.  We negotiated an agreement, taking into account that they had added a dog into their family, which I was not happy about.  But they were going to buy the house, right?  I wasn't THAT worried about it.

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In May, 2014, Jason received word that a job opening had become available back in Michigan.  He had had his eye on it for a couple of years, and decided to go after the position.  We didn't tell anyone of our plans, in case it didn't work out.  Around that same time, we discovered that our tenants were not going to be able to buy the house we had been renting to them, and they were not willing to move out.  We knew that in order to buy a home in Michigan, we had to sell that one, so we started the eviction process.  We had heard horror stories about evictions lasting for months and months, and had no idea what to expect.  After several trips to Michigan for job interviews and court appearances, it became clear that our tenants would be out of our house at the same time that we would be needing a place to live.  We considered painting and carpeting the house and selling it, but that was not to be...

We had been gone for three years, and what we came back to was not our home.  What we came back to was unfathomable. We came back to a war zone.  We came back to dog pee and feces in every room, permanent marker decorating the brick fireplace, holes punched through almost every window screen, melted wax on windowsills, holes punched through doors, cabinet doors falling off, mouse feces and live mice, fruit flies, a leaky kitchen sink that had been ignored for months, making the house smell musty and moldy, a broken refrigerator filled with so much garbage that the door wouldn't close, a broken dishwasher, a cracked microwave, an oven filled with charcoal briquettes, baseboards chewed by dogs, carpet cut out and replaced with non-matching carpet, holes in the drywall, things stuck to the ceilings, a deck filled with crock pots of old food, and enough trash inside the house to fill a dumpster the size of our driveway.

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The yard was filled with trash and kids toys and hadn't been mowed in months.  The trees and shrubs and weeds hadn't been touched since we left.  The barn doors were falling off and the barn itself was filled with roofing and construction materials.

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It was clear that we would not be moving in. Our kids were so excited to see where they would be living, and we couldn't even let them in the front door.  This house was not livable.  This house was the house you see on television and think that it only happens to other people.  We were now those "other people."  All of the things you hope will never happen to YOU, happened to US.  We had no choice but to stay with family while we somehow made this wreck our home again.

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Even the kids were exhausted from the hard labor.

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With less than three weeks before the start of the school year, time was of the essence.  You've seen the home makeover shows, right?  Well, we found ourselves right in the middle of one, minus the camera crew.  Friends and family graciously volunteered their time.  They showed up with chainsaws and shovels and paintbrushes and mops and sponges and willing hands.  We also hired people do to the things we couldn't or that time did not allow.  In two weeks, this place went from ruins to almost new again.  No surface was untouched.  The place was gutted from basement to attic and cleaned and bleached and we started over.  New carpet, new tile, new paint, new appliances, new light fixtures, new cabinets, new screens, new locks.  Everything was repaired.  The mice and fruit flies were taken care of.  The yard was given a minor overhaul and the shed doors were rebuilt.

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Two weeks, dozens of people, thousands of dollars, and we had our home back-better than ever.

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School started, with four of our kids in three different schools, and new friends were made. I have reconnected with the friends I had moved away from three years ago, and Jason is doing well at his new job.  We've even got a good store of wood for our fireplace this winter.  At this point, it's almost like we never left.

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Except for one thing: the memories.  The warm Tennessee nights spent in Nashville or at the local winery with friends, the mountains I hiked with Alayna on my back, the birth of our youngest son in Ohio, the fun we had watching the kids sled in our backyard, the trips to our favorite Amish farm, and all of the incredible people we met along the way, who are not forgotten.   

I don't know if we will be here forever, but right now, we are happy with where we are.

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