My mother-in-law is a wonderful woman. She was widowed almost 19 years ago and came to live with us over eleven years ago after she had a series of strokes that left her deaf in one ear, diminished hearing in her other ear and with short term memory problems. She has lived a life of service and hard work for her family, church, community and neighbors and is a woman of virtue and integrity. Since she is a woman who has no problem speaking her mind, I was worried when she first came to live with us that she would bluntly tell me what I was doing wrong but that hasn’t happened and she has kept her criticism to herself, and instead has expressed her gratitude for us. When she would come into the dining room for dinner she always took her hearing aid out because we are a noisy group, but no criticism. If she ever saw me doing something she felt could have been done better a different way, I never heard about it. She fell almost 4 years ago when walking about in her room and has been bed ridden since. She’s 97 and has wondered out loud “what’s it going to take to kill me?” and she has also wondered what good she is possibly doing in the world while being in bed. This is the closest she comes to complaining and usually ends with “well, it doesn’t do any good to complain so I might as well not worry about it.” Her attitude is amazing considering that she’s had to endure a lot of physical pain that comes with a failing body and the personal indignities of being bed bound. It’s obvious that she wants to die and because she has a firm faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ she knows she’ll be with her husband and family again in the next world. But, in spite of her wanting to die, not renewing her pace maker battery 4 years ago and having congestive heart failure, she lives on. She wonders what good she is doing in the world where as I can see the good. Through the years whenever my children needed someone to talk to there was always grandma with a listening ear. Many times I would walk by her room and see one of my daughters lying on her bed talking with her and that daughter always left knowing grandma had confidence in her and that she loved her. She taught my girls how to mend, crochet hats and told them stories of their ancestors. She helped my daughter with Down Syndrome learn how to read. I had made flash cards with words on them and she spent hours going over the words and listening to her read from books, always with a positive word for my daughter’s efforts. This daughter is a great reader thanks in a large part to grandma. She watched Disney movies over and over because that’s what my youngest daughter wanted to do. Even though her presence in our home has been nothing but positive, she’s not perfect and that’s given us opportunity to talk about how even a really good person still has things to work on in her life and we keep trying to be better no matter how old we are. This has also given our family opportunity to talk about being tolerant and understanding with others weaknesses. She’s taught my children about faith, counseled them to make good choices and been their cheer leader in their endeavors. Especially in the last 4 years she’s modeled gratitude and optimism, and given us the opportunity to serve her, always with a thank you. My children have seen us helping her and have helped her too, and have learned that family is important and that you take care of each other, even if it’s not convenient. Because of her we are better as individuals and as a family.
You can imagine that with eight children it was often noisy and stressful at our house. None of my children were quiet, laid back people and they learned to talk louder than the other person in the family talking in hopes that they would be heard above the crowd. Often when I would be dealing with one child I would have 2-4 other children trying to talk to me at the same time. I did try to explain many times to them the concept of waiting for their turn to talk to me, of how it actually took longer to help their brother of sister because they were talking to me too and so they ended up waiting longer, and just the politeness not talking to others until they were finished with what they were doing. That being said, my children always thought that what they needed or wanted to talk to me about was more important than what their brother or sister could possibly have wanted to talk about (gratefully they have grown out of that illusion). Even though it got better when they became adults, we’re still a noisy group. Often it was very stressful in trying to handle the needs of so many people and some serious problems but I learned a technique that helped me in those situations and in other hard to handle things. I would stop and ask myself in the midst of the problem if I was doing the best I could. If the answer was yes then somehow just stopping to take the mental check helped me to de-escalate and I was able to handle the situation much more calmly. If the answer was no, and I always knew instantly if I was doing the best I could, then I would take a deep breath and think about what I could do differently to regroup and then go forward, and the amazing thing is this only took a few seconds to do. Sometimes I needed to apologize and sometimes I needed to get rid of the extraneous distractions to focus better on the problem. Sometimes there was no immediate solution but I was able to handle it better because of my little stop/check technique.
The first several years of our marriage my husband and I had very little money and had to watch our spending very carefully. I found that when I went shopping I often saw things I liked and wanted to buy and if I bought them, and we really didn’t have the money for it, I was stressed and not happy. The solution for me was to not go to the store except when absolutely necessary and then to only buy just what I needed and get out quickly. By staying out of stores I didn’t see all the cute things I wanted to buy for my children or home and then didn’t feel badly that I couldn’t afford them. Peace of mind by being financially solvent and responsible far out weighed the momentary pleasure of buying something cute.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter I wondered how I could ever love another child as much as I loved my first. After she was born I quickly found out that my ability to love increased and it wasn’t an issue. When I was pregnant with my third child I wondered how I could ever love a boy as much as I loved my girls, and of course he was born and I found out that I was worried for nothing. I loved him just as much as my girls. After that I quit worrying about it and never wondered again if I had the capacity to love another child coming into our home and lives. In thinking about it I realized that love is like a lit candle that when I light another candle the first candle is not diminished at all in it’s flame and ability to give light, and the second candle’s flame is just as strong. No matter how many candles I light the original and subsequent flames are not diminished and together the candles create even more light.