We have been a family of seven for so long. Now that there are just six of us in the house, it seems like we have to rethink how we do everything. This would have happened whether S left suddenly or not (eventually), but now that we are faced with this situation as it is, there are a lot of things that just seem both harder and easier, as well as different.
Tonight is our usual "date night" for C and I. But we have relied on S to watch her siblings for us when we go out. She gets paid, of course, but we pay the family rate. So I don't even know what real-life babysitters charge these days, nor do I know any who would be strong and patient enough to take on the likes of these other four kids.
So tonight, we brought two kids with us and left two home to care for themselves (and paid them in frozen yogurt that we brought for them on our way back home). We were only gone a couple of hours and they have stayed alone on previous occasions, so this was not absurd. It was just different. And it meant having two kids on our date -- which sort of negates the whole point of a date.
This is not a long-term solution, but for tonight, we still had a nice dinner out and having fewer kids with us meant that it was a little quieter. So in a way, it was a break of sorts.
Earlier today, I took our four kids and our four nieces to the lake. It's L's birthday today! So I wanted to do something fun to celebrate it. We'll have her special extended family dinner here on Sunday, but today is the official day and her mom was working, so I did what I could to help her have a good day celebrating.
Anyway, on the ride to the lake, little E kept calling out over and over for S. It was heart breaking and I kept telling her she wasn't here. But E loves her oldest cousin, S, and at not quite two, she doesn't understand that S has gone away. She almost always came with us to the lake and today, she was not there.
We are also expecting a lot more from H this week. He was second in line and we have prepared him for years that he would be the oldest child in the house at some point. This role is important in our family. This role of "oldest" means that you have more responsibility, but also more privileges. It has some nice perks, but we expect the oldest to remember the example they are demonstrating to the other kids. We need our oldest child to be a leader and the link between the parents and the other kids to smooth communication.
The role of "oldest" (both C and I were "oldest" till we moved out) does come with a lot of pressure and expectation, but I feel there is so much learned from being the oldest child that has benefited me in my life as an adult. I want all of our kids to learn the role of oldest, if possible. I know it gets tricky when O gets older, not having younger siblings, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The other day, I requested (firmly) that H clean up the boys' bathroom upstairs. The wounds of his sister's departure are still fresh around here and we have all had many unmotivated moments since she left. In his grief, he cried out that he couldn't do it. He didn't want the responsibility of being oldest and he couldn't face that grossest room in our house that day.
H has cleaned the boys' bathroom on many occasions and he does a fair job of it. However, that particular day, the gravity of being the oldest suddenly sunk in and he was immobilized.
I am so proud of him though for contacting one of his mentor-friends at that moment (a guy about 20, I think, who H really looks up to and has our approval to be the "big brother" H really needs at times). Instead of giving up and getting angry, H called him up and talked about what was going through his mind. I happened to pick up the phone during their conversation and when I realized who was on it, I listened for a few minutes to hear the advice he gave our son.
And this guy is awesome, let me tell you. He really heard what H was saying and feeling and advised him in such an amazing, thoughtful, biblical way. I'm so glad he's in our lives. But after the call was over (and no, I did not listen to all of it), H promptly went up and cleaned the bathroom. He came and apologized to me for freaking out and told me he wants to make us proud of him and he's going to try harder to be a good role model for the younger kids. I just hugged him so hard in that moment.
I'm so proud of him. I guess the thing is that I've always seen that firstborn personality in him, so I knew he'd take to it just fine. But it took being forced into the role to see him really owning that and caring about being more responsible.
He's been trying really hard ever since that day. I see it. When I can, I reward it.
Additionally, there are probably 15-20 times a day when little spark memories of S come to my mind. Like when I'm driving and S always offered to clean my sunglasses for me. Or when I was delegating jobs to kids and I had to reassign jobs that S always did best to other kids. Or when C goes out to bring home sushi as a treat and she would always go with him so they could have a few moments to talk on the drive and there at the restaurant.
Even loading up in the car is tricky now. S always got the front seat and now seat locations are being redefined.
But there is some relief in her absence, too. The kids are evenly numbered now. There seems to be less fighting amongst the siblings as each day goes by. I have one less child to "police" on things like what is on television or what websites are being visited. I have one less child to appease when suggesting things for meals or activities we might do for a day.
These do not mean I don't miss our girl. It does mean that there is hope that adaptation is possible. We can continue moving forward even if a chunk of our family has decided (at least temporarily) not to be a part of that progress.
In the meantime, we continue praying for her safety and that she has wisdom in her daily choices. The kids have really taken the reins of this practice and are anxious to lead mealtime prayers so they can be the one who remembered to pray for her today.
We do miss her, but the Lord has shown us that His grace is sufficient and where there are holes in our lives, He moves to fill them up with blessing.
Moments in my day aren't all this clarified and optimistic, but the Lord is at work in me. I'm trying to pay attention to the lessons He has for me. Thank you for your patience as I write about our experiences here in this process and dwell on it more than some of my readers would probably like. I still have other stuff to say -- this is just predominantly what's on my mind at the moment.