Thursday, 17 August 2017

Sister Secrets...

I remember the moment Heidi was born, the shout of "It's a girl!" and just being overwhelmed with joy! We have never minded what our babies would be... The gift of the child cherished regardless of the gender, but I do remember how thrilled I was that Ava had a little sister... And the reason being that I had always imagined this... These photos... Two little girls, the best of friends. Giggling together, whispering over some silliness. 

When that baby girl was placed in my arms, I envisioned the day I would watch my two little ladies sharing friendship together. A few weeks later, when that baby girl lay in hospital, on the brink, I feared those motherly daydreams would be shattered... And yet here we are, four years later, and it is with real joy and thankfulness that I see these two really are the very best of friends. God has been so very good to us.

Watching them laughing together over some joke I am not privy to, I capture a glimpse of the young women they are becoming. Such very different characters. Chalk and cheese... One a wordsmith, the other the artist, one the night owl, the other the morning bird, one into adventures and exploring, the other into fairies and princesses. And yet so many shared loves. So many common interests. I can't wait to see their little personalities developing more, their friendship moulding and changing, their interests adapting.

Little sisters and their secrets. I'm so very glad they have each other.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Baby Tales // Four Months!

Oh this boy... this boy!

Four months old today and he has us utterly and completely besotted. He is such a little joy and delight and I am genuinely, truly loving every moment of this fourth baby. There isn't the anxiety and nervousness of being a first time mama... or even the adjustment there was with the second and third. It has just been a wonderful little babymoon and despite the intensity and exhaustion of newborns, it has felt like rest and respite in the light of all the drama there was leading up to his birth!

Elias is such a happy, jolly, contented little chap... He has his moments of course... And still hasn't got the memo about sleeping through the night more than once a week, but secretly I kind of like our middle of the night catch ups. Just me and him, in the silence.... I don't know if it's a 'last baby' thing, but I'm just allowing myself to enjoy all of it, every little detail.

It's been fun this month to see a little bit more of his personality coming through... He's little Mr Sociable and likes a good chin wag with anyone who'll listen. Not surprising giving his parentage I suppose! I also reckon he's gonna be a thrill seeker - he loves a bit of rough and tumble, a fact that his older siblings have unfortunately cottoned on to. It's hard to tell them off for being rough with him when a second glance reveals the hugest grin on his little face!

He has his own little fan club... All of his siblings love him to bits - their "Li-Li" or "Lee-lows" or "Eeyas" depending on who you talk to. He loves the attention and happily rewards them with coos and giggles and gurgles!

We love you our little Elias!
Happy four month birthday!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Our Summer in Norway // 2017 Week Two

Our second week in Norway ended with us bidding farewell to Dave's brother and his family, and these two little buddies had to part ways. Honestly, watching this little friendship was such a joy over the past 12 days. These two are such good little friends. At just turned two, there aren't really any other children that Jonas really plays with, but these two little cousins have been playing together non stop for the past couple of weeks - whether it be cats or Cowboys or just running around in circles giggling hysterically. He will miss his little friend!

This week has again threatened rain pretty much every day, but thankfully, again, hasn't seemed to amount to anything. Overcast days with sunny spells is perfectly acceptable to us after last year's fiasco (3 weeks rain, 3 days sun) so we'll take warm, dry and overcast thank you very much!

It's been another week where we've been largely based on the peninsula - tractor rides, boat trips, BBQs and trips into town...

The children are just relishing the freedom of rural Norwegian life - long, light days and plenty to do in the great outdoors. They've played house in the little cottage, built a rock home for creepy crawlies and  packed up their rowing boat ready for adventuring, swallows and amazons style. They've skimmed stones, picked wildflowers, stuffed their faces with cherries and wild raspberries and devoured enough hot dogs to feed a small army. We've loved time with Dave's brother and sister-in-law and our two little nephews and I didn't even mind getting thrashed at Bananagrams a few times!

I feel like Elias has moved out of newborn zone and into baby zone since we've been here...he's just totally chunked up, is acing his head control and just such a happy little chappy. I am just absolutely relishing every minute of this fourth time round. He is just such a gorgeous cheery little bundle!

And my big three... Oh my big three are growing up!

These girls of mine... Shovelling handfuls of wild raspberries into berry-stained mouths. Isn't that what childhood is for?

One of my highlights this week was a BBQ down at the fjord with the family... Amazing food, incredible views and little cousins playing happily together. At the end of the meal we captured some pictures of Dave's parents with all the grandchildren. It's a definite photo for the mantelpiece!

Now on to week three!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Sun-Days, Fun-Days // Siblings in August

I've come to accept that we're significant years away from getting a siblings shot where everyone is smiling nicely, hair out of their face and looking at the camera, but I feel OK with that, because in all honesty? A picture like that wouldn't be faithful to real life right now. Life is a little crazy, and hairstyles are sometimes a little on the wild side!

This little sibling crew are having a wonderful time here in Norway. The summer always seems to bring the girls closer together. I love that they have their own little friendship, their own games and secrets. I sat with them on the steps leading up to the cottage the other day and we just chatted life... Playground politics, school life, their thoughts about things, and half way through I suddenly realised I was having real deep and meaningfuls with my little girls. The toddler conversation is long gone, and connecting with them and hearing about bits of their lives that I'm not a part of was bittersweet. My girls are growing up, they are no longer so reliant and dependent, and yet they were openly and happily sharing all these little intricacies of their away-from-home lives with me which was both humbling and precious. I hope they will always feel able to talk with me about anything and everything.

Our boys are still absolutely and utterly dependent in the most delicious way... They keep me grounded and rooted and humbled in my parenting. Elias is absolutely delightful and I am loving every second of the baby phase fourth time round. We all agree he is ridiculously cute, and charming us all with endless smiles and coos and giggles, but small babies are nonetheless intense. Three hourly feeds and midnight wake up calls are still a daily reality. But I am enjoying it... Every second... The intensity, the constancy... even the exhaustion, because I know the probability is I won't be doing this again, and I don't want to look back and wish I'd savoured it just that little bit more. No regrets.

Jonas is a typical two-year-old loveable rogue. He is pushing every boundary in sight and at times it can feel relentless. Each of our children have been so different in the toddler years, and I feel like each time I'm back to square one and having to figure out how to parent this type of toddler. He loves the sound of his own voice, and a firm "no" from Dave or myself is often met with a retaliative cry, pointed finger and angry faced "No!!!!" in return. He seems to find discipline funny a lot of the time, and often will ask for a trip to the stairs (something our girls always hated!) , so we're figuring out consequences that work for him and gearing up for round three of the toddler years. I've enjoyed the six month breather between Heidi exiting and Jonas entering the 'fun phase'. Let the games commence!

The dynamics seem to be ever changing as the children grow, as the boys become more involved in the 'play' and as our little three adapt to being a four! It is wonderful to watch the little pairings unfold, but mostly I love it most when they're all together. People often think (and very often say) we're mad for having four so close together (our eldest is not yet six), but honestly? I wouldn't have it any other way... I'm so excited for all the adventures I'm going to have with this little crew...

Our little siblings in August...

The Siblings Project - Dear Beautiful

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Establishing Family Culture // Cultivating Sibling Relationships

Friendships in our own home, to be deep and true and heart-satisfying, must be formed by the patient knitting of soul to soul and the growing of life into life, just as in other friendships
- J.R.Miller -

Its every parents desire, isn't it? The moment that pregnancy test signals a sibling is on the way, a dream is formed. Images of little ones playing in happy harmony, sharing experiences, giggling at bedtime, laughing over in-jokes and forging friendships that last a lifetime. This is the hope of mothers and fathers around the world, and yet, all too often, the reality is far from it. Bickering and selfishness can dominate, siblings flit in and out of the home, preferring time with friends to their brothers and sisters, and words are more often cruel than they are kind.

As a parent looking on, inter-sibling strife can feel heartbreaking.

At the end of the day, our children are sinful, just as their parents, and therefore the harmonious little home bubble we imagined was never going to be the reality. Siblings fight... It's an important developmental occurrence, and yet one question has hovered over much of my thought life since I became a mother for the second time...

How can we help create an environment that cultivates strong sibling bonds? Is it simply a case of nature - in which case I am powerless to help, or is there an element of nurture... the opportunity to purposefully nurture my little brother and sister gang, to encourage an environment of care and true friendship?

It is very early days for us; our little sibling brood range from (almost) 6 years to 3 months, so I am by no means an expert on this issue. For that wisdom, I look to wise Mamas who have gone before, who's children have grown up and flown the nest and love each other dearly. 

And yet, I have become increasingly convinced that I can help to create an environment which helps my children to establish caring friendships with one another, and in the spirit of hoping to glean advice and wisdom from others, I thought I'd share where I'm at...

1. Pray specifics
At the end of the day, though our children have been entrusted to us to teach, and train and raise, ultimately they are in the Lords hands, and there is no formula for producing well-rounded children. It is not a case of 'do this, and your children will be best friends'. I've been convinced that, as is always the case with everything, the best course of action is to pray... We must pray proactively, and pray specifics. We need to pray for sibling conflict and rivalry, pray for the individual struggles of children, pray for present trials and future possibilities. Pray for hearts to be changed and the gospel to take root. This is the most obvious thing to do, and yet it's the one I'm so slow to learn! Why is that?! If we really want deep, loving friendships between our children, we must first commit those relationships to the Lord.

2. Give them time
For our children to establish genuine friendships, we need to give them plenty of time together. Rushing our children out to school, extra curricular activities and weekend hobbies presents them with wonderful opportunities, but leaves them with very little time in the family home, and by default very little time together. I have found that long periods of absence harms our children's relationships and long hours of nothing to do stuck together seems to do them the world of good! It seems counter-intuitive (they are bickering lots, surely separation is best?!) but somehow long, open hours forces them to find some entertainment for themselves and usually ends up in the best kinds of play. As with any relationship,when time is invested, the relationship is more likely to flourish; when siblings live like passing ships, irritation and misunderstanding are more likely to thrive.

3. Refer to each other as friends
We have always purposefully encouraged our children to refer to each other as their best friends. There is something about the statement of this fact that seems to help them to recognise when they have taken each other for granted, or hurt each other in some way. Using the language of friendship is something we want to be familiar and comfortable for them, so that they use it freely and openly with each other.

4. Make opportunities to share what they love about each other
My children have no problem recognising each other's faults. Sibling fault-finding seems to come to them instinctively... And so it seems necessary to train them to recognise each other's gifts. A couple of years ago, we spent an evening meal, sharing what we loved and appreciated about each family member. It was a really precious time, and the pictures and words were stuck on our patio door for many months. But to be honest, this kind of family conversation should be happening much more frequently than every other year. Are we encouraging our little ones to celebrate each other's successes, recognise what the others are good at and take joy in each other?

5. Enlist each other's help
Being Mama to four can feel often like I'm being batted around to constant cries from different little people; "Mama, can you open this", "Mama! Come here!", "Mama, help me!"... It can feel pretty intense and pretty relentless. One of the joys of siblings, though, is that they can help each other, and I'm increasingly convinced that actively encouraging them to be the ones to step in and help is not only good for my sanity, but also for their friendships. When an older sister can read a story, or help get a toy down, or a younger brother can go and get a needed item for them, they are learning not only to be helpful, but also to be there for each other. My hope is that by encouraging them to support each other in the small daily tasks, they will learn to be there for each other in the bigger trials of life as they grow up.

6. Promote a sense of responsibility for one another
One of the ways we have sought to actively forge positive relationships between our girls and their younger brothers is for them to take responsibility for them, and help to take care of them. As Jonas has grown, I have seen him begin to pick up some of these characteristics, and he is now fiercely protective of all his siblings (something we're currently working on managing!) Though we perhaps don't want him to go into sibling protection overdrive when someone so much as looks at Elias, we are keen for the children to look out for each other. Encouraging responsibility and a sense of belonging is one way of promoting this.

7. See conflict as an opportunity for learning
Conflict will happen... To deny this is to live outside of reality. Our girls are very close - they really are the best of friends, and yet they can absolutely fight like cat and dog! Though sometimes it feels relentless, conflict is good. It is here, in the safety of secure family relationships, that our children can learn how to resolve conflict - how to compromise - how to forgive. My children are small, so I still have an active part to play in most conflict resolution. The 'let them sort it out themselves' model only really works if children have been taught how to be empathetic, how to see things from others perspectives and have been given the tools to resolve conflict... At 5,4,2 and 3 months, I'm not sure we're there yet! Training in this area is hard slog... But I'm hoping it will be worth it!

8. Model it!
This is perhaps the most challenging of all! How are Dave and I modelling this in our behaviour and reactions? If I speak harsh words to him, or do not vocally and verbally thank him for all he does for our family - if I refuse to help him, or don't invest time in him, how can I expect our children to do any different? The old adage speaks volumes... "Actions speak louder than words"... Oh! How challenging that is!

So that's where I'm at... A few thoughts on cultivating sibling relationships... Some questions for you? How do you seek to invest in the sibling relationships of your little people? Have you noticed any cause and effect of sibling harmony or sibling strife? 

For those with older children... Do you have anything to share? Things that worked? Or anything you'd do differently?

Please share your wisdom!!

And in the meantime, some resources that I found super helpful...
* This podcast on Sibling Relationships by the At Home girls
* The chapter "Brothers and Sisters" in J.R.Miller's "The Home Beautiful"

Monday, 7 August 2017

Our Summer in Norway // 2017 Week One

The first few days of our trip to Norway have been a whirlwind ths year! Catching up with friends and family has been wonderful and the children have lived in a little sociable bubble these past few days. There have been different children to play with every day,  and hearing our girls chattering away with their little Norwegian friends makes me so thankful once again that we went down this multilingual route. Summers are always a reminder that it's worth it.

Jonas, it feels like, is experiencing Norway for the first time. Although this is actually his third trip, it's the first time he's actually old enough to appreciate the sights and the sounds and the people! Driving the tractor with his Great-Aunt Margrete has definitely been the highlight for him so far, and splashing around in the fjord comes in at a close second!

We spent the day with dear friends at one of our favourite little haunts on Thursday. Pretty coloured boathouses line the fjord, and worn paths meander up through the trees. Behind you lies the fjord, stretching out in deep blue to the foot of the mountains and lapping at the shore line merrily. It is one of the most beautiful little corners of the earth, and we make sure, without doubt, that we return there every year.

The children chattered away, gathering leaves and wildflowers, running ahead to see what they could discover...

And then they discovered the ice cave. A cave reaching down deep into the ground which was freezing cold. Our little adventurers were off to explore... clambering down, down, down cold rock, the tunnel getting ever narrower. Fearless. I'm not going to lie when I say I was a bit relieved when Ava climbed back out again. 

Here's one little person who I'm not going to be letting clamber down deep, dark icy tunnels any time soon...

Elias is thoroughly enjoying his first trip to Norway, and is eating, sleeping, smiling and giggling the days  away! He's such a little sweetie, and is chubbing up by the day. Our little bear is no longer such a tiny little button!

The children are having a wonderful time with cousins and second-cousins galore! Nearly all the family return back to the peninsula at some point over the summer, so there are visitors every week most years! Uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, great uncles and great aunts. It is wonderful!

And lovely Swedish family members who bring delicious cake are always popular! (Thank you Cecilia!)

The weather report has forewarned rain all day every day, and yet the joy of fjordlife, is that more often than not, the weather doesn't listen to the weather report! It has rained every night, but for the most part we've had dry and sunshine during the day!

Who knows what the weather will do this week, but either way, we're having a whale of a time!