Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Be Where You Are

When Gracie and I head out on a walk, we never know what might happen.

As I turned to press the crosswalk signal, I saw that she was crying. 

She was a beautiful girl, maybe sixteen years old. A thick mane of dark hair piled artfully on her head. Her outfit - a black hoodie with a white graphic paired with white jeans - was fire. She carried that confident and composed vibe of a genuine it girl. But her big dark eyes were dripping with tears, and her mouth crumpled in a sob. 

In a flash, I decided to ask. 

In that same instant, I heard a small, self-righteous part of me resisting the idea, sanctimoniously arguing that this girl's problems were a private affair, and I'd be wise to mind my own business. 

Sometimes, though, that bratty voice is the one who needs to mind its own business. 

Turning to face the girl, who was now just a few feet away from me, I spoke the words on my heart.

"Are you okay?"

She was close enough now that I could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. 

She shook her head emphatically. No.

"What's wrong?" I asked, allowing my concern for her to swell up in my voice, knowing full well that this could be the wrong thing to say just as easily as it was the right thing. 

Words flew out between the gasping breaths. I could barely make out what she was saying but I gathered that she'd been hanging out with friends after school and a few wise-mouthed boys in the group had dragged her. I did my best to convey to her that I understood.

"Jerky kids?"

Yes those were the exact words that popped out my mouth. Ugh. I cringed at my own bizarre phraseology.

She nodded. And I fumbled on.

"I'm sorry. It gets easier. But I'm so sorry."

She nodded again, and kept walking. 

Gracie and I crossed the street.

But Gracie is always ready for anything, and in that way, she inspires me.

I was glad that I'd talked to this girl; thankful that I'd taken advantage of that split-second opportunity to make space for her. But I hated what I'd said.

What I'd meant to say, I reflected, was something more like this:

I'm sorry you're going through this frustrating phase of life where stupid kids say messed up things and hurt each other, far more than they realize. 

I'm sorry you don't have a trusted friend at your side right now who would wrap her arm around you, whisper some hilarious clap backs in your ear, and set you to laughing through your tears.

I'm sorry that the world can be such a cruel and ugly place. I wish I could take away your pain.

And I wish I'd said:

Life gets easier. High school can be really rough but it doesn't last forever.

As you get older, you'll have more opportunities to choose the company you keep, and you won't have to waste your time on boys with bad manners.

You deserve better. Always stick up for yourself, even if the only thing you can do is walk away.

As I followed my dog home, I agonized: Why didn't I say more to this girl? Why wasn't I more articulate? Why didn't I take the time to think before I talked, to offer more than cliched catch phrases and vague bits of wishful thinking?

I don't know. I couldn't help but feel disappointed in myself. 

* * * * *

At home, as usual, I offered my dog her dinner and sat down on the porch to watch her eat. Desperate for an interruption to my self-judgement, I flipped open my phone and began to scroll.

Three posts in, I found it.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

I let out a breath, settled back in my seat, and felt the tension fade from my shoulders.

By staying present in the moment, I'd reached out to a person in need, and that was the most important thing. The words themselves - "the rest" - had indeed followed. And if they'd felt silly, incomplete or ineffectual to me, no matter. They may have hit very different for this girl, and it was not my job to judge them.

Or myself. 

* * * * *

Reflecting back on my painful walk home, I remembered now that as I'd watched the girl walk along one side of the street, keeping pace with me on the other side, she'd pulled out her phone and began tapping. 

I'd like to think that she reached out to someone safe. Maybe her mom, or a sister, or a trustworthy bff. I hope she told them what happened, and I like to think that they responded with all the right words.

As for our chance encounter, I hope the day will come when this girl comes across someone in pain, and I hope she too will decide to respond, however her instincts dictate, in that pure and desperate moment.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

Beauty's Where You Find It

 Beauty's where you find it." -Madonna

Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache

It's everywhere that you go

You try everything you can to escape

The pain of life that you know.

In a world that has had little to offer lately in terms of romance and aesthetic excitement, I don't think I've even realized how much I've been needing something new, something different, something beautiful, something to shake me out of this Covid funk that has drained so much of the radiance from our lives.

When all else fails and you long to be

Something better than you are today

I know a place where we can get away

It's called a dance floor and here's what it's for.

Madonna recommends the dance floor as a place to lift your spirits, and I'm not saying she's wrong, but my second-born has a different idea. Glossier - the beauty brand based on real life, as their About page reads - has just opened a new store in Seattle, and she suggests we go check it out. I normally buy my Glossier online but I've been to two of their pop-up locations, so I know I'm in for a treat. My adrenaline kicks in.

All you need is your own imagination

So use it, that's what it's for.

Go inside, for your finest inspiration

Your dreams will open the door.

The moment I step inside the Capitol Hill store, the sparks really fly. I'm suddenly intoxicated not only by the sleek spa vibe and minimalist displays of beautiful skin care and make-up products, with which shoppers are encouraged to play, but the entire space. Loaded with whimsy and bursting with charm, the interior features pink tiled archways, checkerboard floors, moss-covered boulders springing forth with space age wild-flowers and, of all the crazy Seattle-inspired things, gigantic fluorescent mushrooms.  I feel alive.

It makes no difference if you're black or white

If you're a boy or a girl

If the music's pumping, it will give you new life

You're a superstar, yes that's what you are.

Interestingly, beautifully, fluidly, Glossier embraces all skin tones, from the palest white to the richest coffee, and while the brand definitely skews female, I notice several male shoppers buying skin care as well as make-up supplies. This is much more than just a place to shop; I'm standing in a vibrantly alive and inclusive community, and I wish the whole world could feel like this.

Wanna see what I bought? 

body hero exfoliating bar | milky jelly cleanser | priming moisturize rich

balm dotcom in cherry | boy brow in blond

I dally around the tables, deliberate over my order, and then dreamily wander through the space, drinking in the details and delighting in the magical space that Glossier has made. 

This is where I find beauty.

* * * * *

Lyrics are from Vogue by Madonna.

* * * * *

Want to read about all my Glossier adventures 
and see more pics of their adorable stores? Try these:

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Mother Tahoma

On warm summer days, she calls to me, her face shining out across the miles that separate us, coaxing me to back to her loving embrace.

Her spirit is kind and gentle, no longer prone to the outbursts of her youth when lava flowed down her robes and ash flew from her crown. Now she sits quiet and serene upon her throne of Cascades, her regal face shimmering with crystalline light, benevolent and welcoming to all.

I am drawn to her as a chick runs to an outstretched wing, and she draws me in, safe and sound. Despite the fierce forces of nature I see all around me, I'm not afraid. I know she will protect me.

Her lap is spread with flowered meadows, and she watches us explore them, smiling as we discover secret treasures: tiny alpine firs, icy blue lakes, dancing butterflies, and a saucy brown marmot who rests his hands on his furry little belly and watches us walk by.

As the afternoon passes and shadows lengthen, I see her expression change to concern. It's time, she says. Darkness is gathering. She patiently guides us back to our car and watches as we buckle into our seats.

Drive safely! Come back soon! She calls as we leave. I watch in my rear view mirror to see her waving us off, smiling contentedly as we drive away. 

She knows that I'll always come back to her. 

Because she is my mother.

* * * * *

Native tribes knew this mountain mother as Tahoma which means mother of all waters. Only when white European explorers arrived was she renamed Rainier. Today, regional tribes are leading an effort to re-establish her original name, and I am purely delighted. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

My Old Army Buddy

I've always had a thing for sitting on stairs. 

Just like an old Army buddy, my childhood trauma comes to visit me.

Sometimes he stops by unannounced; other times I invite him to come spend the afternoon with me.

We sit on the concrete stoop of an old brownstone in the city. Fresh green maple leaves shade the sidewalk where children play, tossing their bikes into a heap as they pause for a game of hopscotch in the shadows. Several houses down, a handful of teenagers gather, teasing and laughing in amiable and indistinct conversation. 

A dog barks.

The postman walks by.

Sprinklers hiss and clatter on the neighbors' lawns.

Without a word between us, my old buddy and I breathe in the sweet summer sunshine, relax into the warm steps, and enjoy this simple feast of daily life. 

We found this old tractor on my great uncle's farm at a family reunion, 
and while my father looks on, my older brother and I pretend it's a tank. 

When we feel ready, words begin to flow, gently and carefully, as we talk about our days in the past.

During the war.

We remind each other of what those endless days were like.

Trapped at night in the silent trenches.

Tense and apprehensive, jittery with adrenaline.

Waiting for the surprise attacks.

Combat erupting in the dark.

Bullets flying, screaming through the air, ricocheting off the dirt walls.

Undermanned and outgunned.

Helpless to fight back.

Simply hoping to survive.

And begin the cycle of waiting for the next assault.

Wondering if the nightmare would ever end.

Miraculously, it did. The war ended. Peace treaties were signed, maps were redrawn, the aggressors packed up their supplies and their survivors and their arsenals and their defenses and moved on.

When it happened, we stared at each other in disbelief, my old buddy and me. We could hardly believe the danger had passed. Hours did we sit frozen in our bunker, afraid to raise our heads above the ground, straining our ears for distant sounds of incoming shells, before we could trust that the bloodshed was finally over.

Then we simply stood up and walked away. There was nothing much left for us to take. 

For the first few years after the war, the two of us clung together. The memories were still so fresh, so vivid, so terrifying that facing them alone was unthinkable. But with time, the terror slowly faded, releasing its choke hold on our psyches and preparing our souls to once again fly free.

It took a while for my life to come back into focus afterwards, but it did. And I am okay.

Now, as the fathers begin to stream down the sidewalks, swinging leather briefcases as they make the short walk from the train station; and the scents of dinner on the stove begin to drift out from kitchens up and down the street, my friend and I stand up.

It's time for him to go.

We shake hands, warmly but with an air of formality, and I step down to the sidewalk to watch him walk back up the street for a few blocks until he disappears around the corner. 

I have no idea where he lives. But it's better this way. I have deep regard for my friend and he'll always be a part of my life. But too much time together would mire both of us in the past, and that would not be good for either one of us.

No, it's better that he comes to me only now and then, when we can revisit our dark journey together as we sit in the sunshine on my stoop, my old Army buddy and me, and marvel at the miracle of life. 

* * * * *

More stories about how I work things through:

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

My Old Army Buddy

Friday, September 10, 2021

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

^ This photo reveals everything about my childhood. I both love it and hate it with all my heart. 

It all started out with a fun little game.

A few months ago, we decided to come up with family tag lines. You know, that one special phrase that each person tends to say over and over again; the instant you hear the words, you know who said them, and the tone of voice rings pitch perfect in your ears.

Took us no time at all to come up with a full set of tag lines, and we quickly came round to agreeing that we'd nailed each person perfectly.

Ok, fine (said with a heavy sigh).

ACT-ually (heavy emphasis on the first syllable).

It's just annoying (with a touch of singsong inflection).

Just wait (in response to being asked to do anything at all).

That's exciting (spoken with a touch of mild irony yet nary a trace of sarcasm).

Interestingly, each of us have been amused to admit that our appointed tag lines did truly fit us, and I am more than surprised to discover that I do indeed say my tag line on the daily, with precisely the same cadence and tone:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

Day after day after day, as I catch myself speaking these words into the universe, I begin to pay attention to the context of the situations, to the emotions behind the words.

Always it is the case that I've asked someone to help me with a small task. Far from simply expressing impatience, I realize that with these words, I am reflecting on my original request and deciding that I am better off doing the thing myself.

And in a flash, I see the problem.

* * * * *

^ Champion self-soother.

I make no secret nor celebrity of the fact that I come from a traumatized childhood. 

For the first decade of my life, my father flagrantly cheated on his marriage, provoked terrible fights with my mother, disappeared for days or even weeks at a time, and mostly ignored his children. During the second half of my childhood, he divorced my mom, moved out of state, and despite lucrative employment on the faculty at MIT, often failed to pay child support. Between the ages of ten and twenty, I saw him maybe five times.

Strangely, little girl me managed all this turmoil with remarkable calm and self-direction. From the tender age of three or four, when I first became aware of the fights, I was determined to show my father that I did not need his help to make something of myself. Even though I was terrified of his outbursts, I positively refused to give him the satisfaction of falling apart. I learned very quickly to internalize my fears - hello, reoccurring dreams about being chased by a towering, angry bear - and keep a cool exterior for all to see. 

Along the way, I learned all too well that no one was going to take care of me - dad was busy cheating, mom was trying to cope with her own trauma, all the other adults in my life were either fooled by my self-sufficiency act or too busy to notice me. I did indeed learn to do things completely on my own.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.  

Once I graduated from college and landed in adult life, I looked my childhood trauma straight in the eyeballs, and dealt with it. I knew none of it was my fault - I'd always known that - and I knew I'd done all that I could to lift my life up and infuse it with dignity and purpose and honor, as much as any 21-year-old possibly can. And I felt pretty darn good about myself.

Years passed. Life moved on. I worked through forgiving my dad for being such a terrible father and all-around self-serving individual. In my thirties, I gave him a chance to show me that he'd changed; he quickly proved that he hadn't. So I forgave him for that too, and made my peace with our fatally flawed relationship. 

Yes, I did. I made my peace with my bad dad and the trauma he'd caused me. I learned to let that familiar pain sit next to me, close enough for me to see it and remember it, but not ever let it become a part of me again. I comforted the little girl who had faced those terrible nights, holding her close and smoothing her hair, assuring her that she'd done everything she could to right the wrongs she'd seen. And I made damn sure that I raised my daughters in a home where parents did not fight.

Decades later, I would have told you that my childhood trauma was healed. My parents are both gone now, and the end of their lives brought me to another, higher plateau of acceptance and forgiveness. They did the best that they could, and that's all anyone can ask of their parents. I hold no ill will.

But then this happened:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

And I realize I'm still in the soup.

* * * * *

^ Don't tell Dr. Freud, but I still have that teddy bear. 

A bit of Google heavy lifting is required to nail down the exact term, but I know that this brand of extreme self-sufficiency is not necessarily a good thing. 

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style that develops during early childhood. It tends to occur with children who do not experience sensitive responses to their needs or distress. Children with an avoidant attachment style may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

So I accept, once again, that I did indeed suffer childhood trauma, and that traces of that pain are sill with me. 

Will always be with me.

And that's okay. I've worked through my trauma before and I can work through it again. 

I think about ringing my therapist, whom I visit from time to time, to ask her help in this process. Then again, I'm pretty sure I know what her advice would be, so I feel a surge of confidence that I can walk this next leg of my journey on my own. 

But then I laugh, because my solution so perfectly mirrors my problem. 

Never mind. I'll do it myself. 

* * * * *

More stories about how I work things through:

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

My Old Army Buddy

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

On Speaking Up

For the past few years, my world has been closing down until it's become pretty much just Gracie and me, sharing our thoughts together. And I think it's time that changed. 

Too long, 

this pain has split me 

in two.

Wanting to express myself

to speak my mind with clarity

to take a stand on what matters.

But these days, honesty comes at a cost.

The world has fractured into two halves

as different as night from day.

And the people in my life 

Who stand across the divide

Don't always like what I have to say.

Many have cut me off.

Now I find myself in wounded silence.

Afraid to take a stand, 

Afraid to further offend.

But this is not who I am.

I need to find my voice again

And the courage to use it wisely.

Oh, I will speak up with kindness

I have no wish to wield words as a blade

To slice us further into Us and Them

But speak I must.

So even if you disagree with me

I hope that we can heal.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Big Banner Family

 When I was growing up, long before The Brady Bunch became a thing, I read a book called Cheaper By The Dozen and began what turned out to be a longstanding fascination with big families. 

And I mean really big. 

Back the 1980s, I well remember an afternoon at the office when all work on our audit team ground to a halt as we listened in utter fascination to a co-worker named Dan O'Keefe describe his big family life. Dan's widower father had married a widowed woman and instantly created a blended family of 21 kids. My mind reeled with the delightful insanity of that kind of chaos, and we eagerly peppered him with questions about how a family even operates at that level.

Dan's answers, as I recall, involved a whole lot of chili and spaghetti dinners and color-coded toothbrushes. And get this - the family bought two houses, one across the street from the other, in order to give everyone a place to sleep. 

I admire the creativity that big-family parents bring to the table. 

So it's been with great delight and growing curiosity that I've watched as my friend, Tami, and her husband, Tyler, have been building a big family for themselves. With this summer's arrival of little Ivie, they are up to nine kids; the oldest clocks in at thirteen years old.

Certainly, big families are not for everyone. But Tami and Tyler simply love raising kids and enjoy every minute of their big family life, handling the challenges with considerable grace and good humor. Always eager to learn more about big family life from the pros, I asked Tami to share her story with us. 

Here is our lightly edited conversation, along with a handful of photos of the delightful Banner brood. 

* * * * *

From left to right:
Cameron holding Morgan
Cassidy | grey sweater
Hunter holding Ivie
Saige | light blue ruffles
Hailey | navy flowers
Maci | red top
Scarlett | brown dress

Please introduce us to your family and tell us a little something about what makes each person unique.

Tyler and I have been together for seventeen years, I am 34 and Tyler is 35, we have been married for fourteen years last month. We have nine kids, the oldest being 13 and the youngest being 6 weeks.

Cameron, 13, enjoys tinkering and woodworking. He creates bows, swords, and shields for all the kids in our house and even a couple of the neighborhood kids; they all come together and act out make-believe mystical stories about their Viking days. Cameron also designs custom armory.

Hailey, 10, spends her days in the garden maintaining the beds, picking produce, and talking to the flowers.  She ends up at the chicken coop with her basket full of bugs, produce, and clover, and spends hours reading to the hens, cuddling them, and waiting patiently for eggs. Hailey usually has a younger sister in tow who eagerly carries the basket and picks up bugs. Hailey also enjoys bringing in the garden produce to see what kind of meal she can put together.

Hunter, 9, is a thrill-seeking adventurous one who asks for forgiveness over permission. He loves to read between his adventures and will spend hours creating creatures and scenes with Lego. He's always trying to tag along with his big brother.

Cassidy, 7, is very passionate about learning to cook and bake. She’s the first one to offer to help with anything that’s needed and has a personality that is beaming with love, but she will stand her ground for herself and her siblings, and loves them more then words can describe.

Scarlett, 5, loves to pick flowers for everyone and always has a dandelion and clover bouquet in hand, usually decorated with a few chicken feathers she finds around the yard. She is a big goof and will do anything to make you laugh.

Saige, almost 4, is very reserved and quiet. She would prefer a quiet moment reading a book or playing Playmobil with Scarlett than partaking in anything loud.

Maci, 2, is the spitfire of the family. She flies by the seat of her pants in everything she does. She has some of the best conversations with you and sometimes her thoughts are faster then her mouth. She is full of compliments but also has no problem telling you the food you made is “yuck.” She is a hoot!

Morgan, 1, knows he’s one of the youngest and he will take it for all it’s worth. He isn’t much for cuddling but would rather be standing on tables, sitting on the back of the couch, or trying to sneak through a baby gate to fly up the stairs…and then screaming for someone to help him back down.

Ivie is 6 weeks, and the kids are smitten with her. Someone is always asking to hold her or to rock her to sleep. She is a very mellow baby that loves snuggles and sleeps so well.
Saige may normally be reserved and quiet, but this shot proves that she also has plenty of spunk. 

Describe a typical day at your house.

The kids usually wake up anywhere from 7 to 9 a.m. with Morgan waking up about 11. First thing, the kids get the chickens out of their coop, feed the dog, guinea pigs, and cat, and then get breakfast going while I clean up a bit or sit with Ivie. They are all over the place after that, playing upstairs or outside, tending to the garden, or working on one of the projects we have going for the slightly dated house we moved into last year. 

Lunch rolls around and after eating, we pitch in to get some clean-up done while the three babies go down for a 2- to 4-hour nap. The older kids will then work on their projects that they don’t want the little ones getting their fingers into and/or go outside. Tyler comes home about 4 or 4:30 p.m.; I get dinner started and once it's ready, the kids will come inside and the babies wake up just before we eat together. 

We talk about things we have done and go over what our favorite part of the day was. After clean-up, the kids are back outside for a couple more hours before we get ready for bed. Tyler and I usually talk about our day after everyone is asleep and plan for upcoming activities or talk about different ideas we should try with the kids.
Mama bird Hailey gathers up one of her little chicks.

An interesting thing about being the mom of a large family is that you’ve also had the experience, albeit temporarily, of being the mom of an only child, of two kids, of three, and so on. Tell us about how your experience as a mom of a few kids differs from your experience of the mom of many. 

With the first couple kids, I was so worried about doing everything the way society said it should be done. It took me a while to realize that neither Tyler or I wanted to do things normally and wanted something totally different than what most families do. It’s taken many years to get to where we are now, lots of trial and error, moves around the country, lifestyle changes, and we are still working on what we can do to not only make today better but set the kids up for their future too.

I’ve come to learn that it’s best for the kids to learn some things on their own. The joy and achievement on their face when they finally figure something out is priceless; their confidence is boosted with realizing that they don’t always need someone to tell them how to do something or to even just do it for them, that they can succeed with having a positive mindset.
Scarlett's smile is positively contagious. Also, I like her stick. 

How do you organize daily routines like meals, baths, and bedtime?


Breakfast and lunch are made by the kids. Breakfast is hardy: oatmeal, flapjacks, all different kinds of eggs, quiche, peanut butter toast, and occasional cereal. Lunch varies from day to day and is usually a creation from one of the kids: PB&J, soup and sandwiches (we call them sloup and slammies - I think it was Saige that called them that and it just stuck) bean burritos, "health bowls" which are three or four different produces, nuts, crackers, a rolled up turkey and cheese. 

Dinner is a bit bigger and made by me or one of the kids if they request something they have a craving for: casseroles of all sorts, instant pot meals, a lot of chili and soups during the cold months, piled high nachos, taco bar, veggie burgers. Every meal has at least two different fruits or vegetables - it's a requirement. 

Baths: For the younger ones I’ll have them lined up in the shower (usually need to do two rounds of this) I’ll help them wash their hair and they wash the rest of themselves, hose them off with the detachable shower head (which I have learned is a requirement for having children and all of their messes), then we fill up the tub for them to play. This is every few days or so, and more often as necessary. 

Bedtime is done by Tyler. One or two kids first go into the laundry room (which we converted into a massive dressing room) to get jammies on, then those kids then go into the bathroom next-door where there's a drawer with a basket for each kid's bathroom items. Once they are done, they head upstairs where they can play quietly or read on their bed while they wait for the rest of the kids to come up. We cycle them through the laundry room, to the bathroom, then up to bed all within an hour or so.
Fourth-born Cassidy is the youngest of the "big" kids.

What do you wish parents of small families could understand about being parents in a large family?


There's really not THAT much difference between having a couple kids to a whole van load. You need a bigger pan to cook in or a longer table but all kids have the same needs and it’s all about time management and realizing it just takes a bit longer for a larger family to get the same tasks done.
And Maci is the oldest of the "babies."

How does your husband handle his role as a father of a big family? Does he do anything in particular to adapt to his job of parenting for nine?

Funny enough, when we first were together, we always planned on two kids. Over the years, we realized we didn’t want the typical 2.5 kids, overworked parents, a fancy house, and the latest gizmos. With the arrival of each baby we both learned the desires we wanted were different than traditional families, Tyler has encouraged me more and more over the years to express what I want from him as a spouse and father, as well as what I want our family dynamic to look like. He has flourished as a father and takes his role seriously as we are putting the next generation of humans out there and we want them to not only be a positive contribution to society but we want them to be happy with the lifestyle they may choose. 

It can get crazy around here, especially being a stay at home mum that doesn’t have a daily drive to and from work - a commute to a job outside the home inevitably puts you in a different setting and mindset with a chance to decompress on the way home. Tyler makes sure I get a smaller break when he gets home from work each day and one day every week to go out by myself to get errands done and take a breather for myself.

His challenges me to be a better person. Sometimes I’ll go into a situation fighting and not wanting to budge, but he seems to know me better then I do and I can’t thank him enough for being my biggest supporter and an absolutely amazing father.
Hailey and Ivie, the oldest and youngest of the girls. 

Not only do you parent a big family, but you’ve also made the decision to homeschool. Tell us about your reasons for choosing that lifestyle, and how you manage to weave learning activities into your basic daily routine.

We did everything in our power to get Cameron into one of the top public schools in the state back when he was ready to start kindergarten. I helped in the classroom one or two times a week, was involved with the PTA, and partook in as many after-school activities as I could. I went to college for early childhood education so it was a passion of mine to help cultivate the little minds of the future generations. 

In kindergarten,there was a lot of “book work” for the kids and evaluation to see how well they could read and write, and Cameron was behind his peers in reading and writing. The end of kindergarten came around and the teacher told me if he couldn’t learn a set amount of reading and writing, he wouldn’t be able to move on to first grade. Cameron and I worked really hard and he was able to pass those tasks to move on. First grade, I was just as involved in the classroom but there was one particular day that hit me really hard and still breaks my heart. It was the end of the day, the rest of the class had finished up their worksheet and were packing their bags to go home, Cameron still wasn’t done and was flustered with the commotion. He quickly got through the worksheet, hurried to get his bag and while he was cramming his folder in  his bag, he sat down at his chair and cried. I could tell he was just so overwhelmed with needing to hurry his work and get his bag together and the commotion from the rest of the class. That was the beginning of where we knew we needed a lifestyle change and homeschooling was part of that.

Over the years we have tried public school online and more set book work, but over the last couple years we have come to love the idea of unschooling. We see the importance of the kids learning about themselves, their surroundings, and relationships first over traditional public school curriculum. We feel the kids being more self-aware, being in the right mindset, and learning to think on their own will put them in a better position to learn those more academic skills when they are ready. It took years filled with many conversations between Tyler and me, countless hours of what ifs, research, skepticism from all different directions, and crying because I wasn’t sure if they would fall behind their peers and get teased because of it. 

I see a difference in the way the kids learn now. The daily tasks of writing lists, letters to friends, cooking and talking help the older kids learn what’s needed for them to graduate high school and potentially college and beyond. I don’t see them stressed to know a skill by a certain age; they know they will learn it when they are ready. I am far more concerned about the values and mindset they are cultivating for their lives as an adults.
Hunter. A man of action. 

For the past 13 years, you’ve always had a baby in the house. How has welcoming a newborn and adapting to each new baby’s needs evolved as your family has grown?

The first three kids were the hardest, but once the older kids established a bit of independence, they've been able to help more with daily needs or even with the baby. There is always someone to help a little one reach for a snack or give a refill to their cup. With Babies #3 through #8, Tyler has had either a 6- or 18-week full-paid paternity leave. With that time, I was able to rest and get baby and me into somewhat of a routine before he went back to work. 

Now, with #9, Tyler had to go back to work after 5 days…it was a hot mess trying to figure out our new routine again, more snacks and bowls of cereal were consumed as meals than I care to admit. But we seem to be back on track-ish now that Ivie is almost 2 months old and I feel a bit more physically able to take control of the house.
Cameron and Morgan, the oldest and youngest of the boys. 

I can imagine that when your whole family is out in public together, you must get some interesting comments from passersby. Do you have any funny stories to share?

We honestly all haven’t been out together in years, now that I think about it. It does come up when I’m out with just a couple kids though that we have more kids at home and 99% of the time the comment is “Wow, you have your hands full,” followed by “Do they all have the same dad?” and then “Are you done?”in the tone of Please say yes

We do occasionally run into someone who has a large family and their conversations always make me smile. They say what number they are in the line-up and that they loved being a part of a large family, that there was always someone to play with and someone to talk with, even as an adult. If I run into parents of a large family, they are so humble and you can see it's genuine in their eyes when they tell you the best part is when the kids come around for gatherings and that it’s the best feeling in the world to see the people they have created grown up and living a happy life.
Finally, Cassidy gets a turn with Ivie. 

How do you manage house work: laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, even keeping the toys picked up?

Well, it never ends - I'll tell you that! We used to do set chores but that created a bunch of fuss and stress for everyone with doing the same chore everyday. We recently switched to the kids just needing to keep their rooms tidy and if I need help with something, I’ll ask and the kids are more then happy to pitch in. So much less eye rolling and complaining from the kids that way. 

Groceries: I'll do an order pick up when need be and Tyler will pick that up on his way home from work, and then we toss in a Costco/Trader Joe's trip once a month. 

Clean up: We try to implement the whole “pick up when you’re done so we can move on to the next activity” but that’s always tough with toddlers so I'll usually just ask someone to pick up the living room a couple times a day. I must add that having fewer toys is definitely a key factor in how easy that is - think less quantity/more quality toys and things won’t get near as messy.
Toothless. But still smiling. 

What aspects of the typical American two-income, 2.5 kids, family lifestyle have you decided to let go of and what new traditions have you started for your big family?

I’d say we let go close to all of it. That was a tough one to break as it’s pretty much ingrained into society to have the best of the best and that material items are important. We have found we enjoy the Scandinavian lifestyle the most, being a part of nature, less clutter, family time, get-togethers with friends, and simple daily activities are more beneficial to oneself and their well-being.

For birthdays, we do sprinkle flapjacks and the kids pick out their dinner and dessert. The kids get one gift from us on their birthday, and gifts from a few relatives; we make a list on Amazon for the kids of what they are into to help the relatives keep up with their ever-changing interests. It’s not about the gifts that are given but how the day is spent. 

Christmas is pretty much the same thing. Even if the poor tree looks like it’s going to be swallowed by gifts, it’s just one from us, something from the relatives, and then in their stockings there are a few needs, a piece of dark chocolate, and an orange. We focus more on the food we are making together and the family we are spending time with, so we try to find a new recipe (usually from Norway or England for our heritage) to make for holiday gatherings. The dish will come with a backstory on how it’s important for that culture and the meaning behind the tradition. We pick and choose which dishes we like and want to continue with as our family tradition.
Morgan gets an early lesson in applied physics. 

What are the pros and cons of having a big family?

Pros: Constant love, hugs, and snuggles. Always a helping hand for myself or a sibling. There’s always someone to play with. Kids learn more about empathy, compassion, and different types of personalities. You definitely get your money's worth with passing down gear and clothing. Someone is always laughing. Kids learn to be more independent early on. The little stuff doesn’t bother you as much, as you’ve becomes more “seasoned” to the bumps in the road. 

Cons: “Family package deals” don’t usually include more than three or four kids. There isn’t usual a quiet space (you need to make sure you make it a priority to make one though). The witching hour will make your eye twitch. When you go through a pandemic-induced toilet paper shortage and actually need it (groceries too). There are freaking socks and broken crayons EVERYWHERE!!
A quiet moment with a pretty rock. 

How do you find one-on-one time with each kid during the course of each day? Is that something you do intentionally or do you find that those moments occur naturally?

It’s nice that the babies all sleep about the same time so the older kids and I will work on a project, or cook together. When the older kids go outside, the younger ones will have time with us. We also have a night each week where each kid (#1 through #6) gets to stay up an extra hour or two with Tyler and me to either get out of the house for a bit by themselves, talk, or to just take a breather without any of the other kids around.
Just another happy day for the big Banner family.

What do you wish more people could understand about big families?

I guess you could say living with a large family is a lifestyle. There have to be two parents completely involved to make it work well. I know we are different from a typical family but when you really see and get to know a large family you will see the immense amount of love that is in the walls of the home. For me personally, it puts you in a different mindset and gets you thinking more about what life is really about and what you can do to be a better mum, a better wife, and a better person.

Thanks, Tami!