Autumn 2019

More has gone on here than our trip to England and Wales, so it would be a shame to make it seem like that’s been the entirety of our October and November. It would be terrible if you missed Jackson’s Halloween costume when he dressed up at a retired clown.

He and his friend, Libby, trick-or-treated together again this year, and Jackson received many compliments on his costume!

Jeremy competed in another chess tournament and brought home two more trophies. Between soccer and chess, the shelves in his bedroom are filling up quickly!

In early November, we went to see Ryan Bingham at the Tennessee Theatre, which was a fancy venue for his style of music, I have to say. But that meant Corey came to visit and that’s always worthwhile!

The following weekend we took a quick trip to Chattanooga to celebrate Matt’s 41st birthday, which meant I got some time with Amy!

We became instant friends after Matt started dating her in 2000. So much of my early years of motherhood unfolded alongside Amy’s. Now, whenever we squeeze in a visit, we unload all the toils and joys of raising teenagers, which is a far cry from naptimes, midnight feedings, and what happened on the latest episode of The Backyardigans.

These three have been friends since middle and high school.

In other news, Jackson wrapped his fall session of equine therapy, and Jeremy finally got a proper haircut. I decided it was time he started seeing my stylist. His hair deserves it, after all.

Peak colors didn’t show up in East Tennessee until early November, but when they finally popped, they were bright and vibrant. I snapped this photo while on a run one foggy morning.

Lastly, we had a brief and glorious snowfall that dropped the same day as Disney+. It was a Tuesday, but it felt just like Christmas morning. Somehow we managed to do some school work.

However, I did notice that this was the first year that the boys didn’t race to play in the snow upon waking up. The last time we had a decent snowfall was January of this year. It was gorgeous, and the boys couldn’t wait to play in it. This time, however, they didn’t mention sledding or a snowball fight. They didn’t even have the curiosity to go outside and touch the flakes. It felt significant, like a piece of their childhood was over.

Maybe that won’t be the case if we get another big snowfall, something grander and long-lasting. Or maybe it means I need to suit up and go out with them.


Thanksgiving is this week, and we’re going to have a full house of family members on Thursday. For the first time in 20 years, we’re mixing sides. We’ve always taken turns – Thanksgiving with one side, Christmas with the other. We’re on the same rotation as my sister and her family, and doing it this way kept holidays fair and uncomplicated.

But as family members have passed away, and others have moved closer to us, it seems silly to keep things separated. We can all be together. We can all share the table. On Thursday, we’ll have ten people here, and I’m happy to cook for all of them.

Where in the world have I been

In my former life, blogging was an almost-every-other-day thing. I had so much to say, so much to post, so much to SHARE about our life. It was easier then, when my world was a little less public and there were fewer eyes reading the posts. I didn’t care to share (almost) everything. This site has been a scrapbook of sorts, and I remain immensely grateful for the ability to look back several years, even a decade if I want to, and catch a glimpse at where we were.

Today, however, it’s a little more complicated. I’m sensitive to the boys’ privacy, I’m careful with my own, and I want to be sure that, while I’m more selective about what I share, I am still showing you what is real and true.

That being said, here’s a quick glimpse into 2019 so far:

Jackson continues to enjoy equine therapy (aka, “Horse Hangout Hour’) and finally found the courage to trot! It was a huge hurdle for him to cross since trotting makes him feel off balance and the fear of falling off the horse entirely is real. A couple of weeks ago, after tons of encouragement, he finally did it. You can see a video here.

Yesterday, the weather was so delightful that the class rode their horses in the field next to the barn. It was a beautiful way to wrap up the winter session.

Jeremy has been enjoying success on the local chess tournament circuit. After playing chess for several years at our co-op, and finally getting a quality chess coach, he entered a few tournaments recently and has had a great time playing other students in the area. The most recent win was a team win, and since I don’t have permission to post other kiddos’ photos in this space, I’ve blurred their faces. 🙂

We are nearing that time of year when we’re tired of school and aching for summer, a level of academic fatigue that comes full circle in April. Still, I’m enjoying my role as an English teacher at our co-op and am already preparing for next year’s courses. It is still a surprise to me that I like teaching, but I also recognize that I get to teach in a space with limited restraints (unlike the traditional school system). Perhaps that’s made all the difference. Plus, it’s only once a week.

On co-op days, I’ve made a habit of using my lunch break to visit Grandpa Thomas, who moved here in January. I still can’t believe he’s here, actually. (Hi, Grandpa!) I’ve never lived in the same city as any of my grandparents, and I’m still getting used to the fact that my parents are only 45 minutes away. If you’d told me this time last year that both Grandpa and my parents would be here with us, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Finally, East Tennessee received a beating on Saturday with a record-setting 17+ inches of rainfall. By Sunday morning, entire neighborhoods and streets were underwater. Our neighborhood, mercifully, was spared any damage, but that isn’t the case for thousands of other Tennesseans. In fact, on the way home from equine therapy last night, a couple of the roads we usually take were still underwater, along with adjacent homes.

Chuck and I took time to drive the missing link Sunday afternoon and stopped by the Townsend Wye to see what the water levels looked like. The usual Class I and II rapids were easily Class III and IV on account of all the water. The area in the photo below is typically a calm pool for swimming in the summertime. Not the case this week!

Finally, there’s an addition to this website, but it’s not my personal work. Jackson decided he wanted to start writing book and movie reviews for tweens and teens, and I made his year by telling him I’d post them on the blog. Overjoyed, he got right to work on The Reviewing Rabbit. I assume the quality of content will improve over time, but he’s already doing a good job! He’s created a backlog of posts, and three are already live.

That being said, if there’s an age-appropriate film or book you’d like Jackson to review, please email me and I’ll pass it along to him. 🙂

Brewers vs. Braves: A Victory

We’d gone out to dinner one night this summer to one of those restaurants with TVs scattered throughout the room. Baseball, soccer, and other summertime games blared over our conversation. At one point Jackson says, “I’d love to go to a Brewers game,” and I casually, almost thoughtlessly, replied, “Well, see if they’re playing the Braves anytime soon and we’ll go.” 

Don’t you know he checked the schedule as soon as we got home, and sure enough, the Brewers were going to play Atlanta in August. 

Please know that Jackson is the only one in the family who cares two beans about baseball.

But I’d said the words and I wasn’t going to take them back.

It was HOT, HOT, HOT. 

I bought tickets for our family of four, as well as Corey, Gwen, and Alex, so we could attend the game together. This was an important decision, not only for obvious friendship reasons, but because Gwen is a baseball fan and Jackson was going to need a buddy for the game while the rest of us occupied ourselves during the 18 million hours it was going to take those guys to play nine innings. 

To say I was grateful for Gwen doesn’t even scratch the surface. We were excited as a group whenever the Brewers scored, but hells bells that was a long game and Jackson needed another baseball fan there who could keep up.

My favorite photo from the night: 

Neither Chuck, Jeremy, nor I own any baseball paraphernalia whatsoever, so we weren’t able to support Jackson with Brewers gear, but I made sure to wear a Packers shirt, a smart choice on account of all the “Go Pack!” camaraderie I experienced walking around Suntrust Park. 

Jeremy was pleased to support Atlanta United FC (thanks, Corey!).

Despite the game lasting an entire day of my life, I think we all had a good time. We bought cheap seats, which meant the sun was in our faces for the first hour or so, but once it tucked behind the ball park the temperatures were tolerable. I was grateful it didn’t rain. 

To our complete and utter delight, the Brewers pulled out a win and Jackson cried with joy. Every second of that experience was worth it. 

I’m not sure if we’ll ever make it to another MLB game unless we get air conditioned seats with a wait staff, but I’m thankful this one worked out schedule-wise AND score-wise. Happy Jack was SO HAPPY. 

Equine therapy and Jackson’s first horse show

Last fall, after Jackson finished nearly three months of occupational therapy to help with his spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and core strength, I was less than impressed with the results. He still cannot tie his shoes, and his handwriting is sad shade of chicken scratch. I didn’t anticipate three months of therapy would “fix” the specific issues he struggles with, but I expected… something. 

Needless to say, I looked for other options, and that’s how we landed on the waiting list for equine therapy. We sat on the list for months, not that they didn’t call and offer a spot to him every so often, but the options almost always conflicted with standing obligations. It wasn’t until June that he finally got started. 

The hour-long sessions are simple: 30 minutes of tack (grooming the horse, buckling the saddle and reins) plus 30 minutes of riding. After the first session, Jackson announced that he’d no longer call it “equine therapy” but instead refer to it as “Horse Hangout Hour,” or “Triple H” for short.

As the summer session wound down, the instructor started mentioning the horse show, which is essentially an opportunity for students to show parents, friends, and supporters what they’ve achieved and compete against one another with what they’ve learned. 

We got to the stables earlier than necessary on Saturday, but that afforded Jackson time to watch other competitors and adjust his expectations. He had already been told he wouldn’t be riding Otter, his usual horse, who had injured himself late last week. His replacement horse was Amigo, with whom Jackson had no experience, so this increased Jackson’s anxiety about competing.

Amigo ended up being perfectly suited for Jackson, a bit smaller than Otter, but just as amiable. He started the competition by walking through the obstacle course and finished with general equitation.

My understanding is that as he goes along in the program he’ll become more independent with the horse, eliminating the need to have handlers on either side. We’ve already signed him up for a fall session.

Jackson placed third in the obstacle course and sixth in equitation, receiving a yellow and green ribbon each, a detail he identified readily as the colors of the Green Bay Packers. 

In lieu of participating in team sports this year, we’re sticking with equine therapy – uh, I mean Horse Hangout Hour. 

Jackson turns 12

The first time Jackson asked to repaint his bedroom, which had been a shade of light blue since buying this house in 2012, I knew he wasn’t going to give up easily. It was a year ago and I kept putting him off.

Then, last month, I decided that this would make the perfect birthday gift and told him he could look forward to it. Since then he’s been counting the days! He found the perfect shade of yellow – “Jackfruit” by Behr – a bold yellow that matched most of his favorite sports teams (Green Bay Packers, South Dakota State Jackrabbits, Nashville Predators) and his Hufflepuff banner. The name of the paint was a bonus.

Chuck and I started the paint job Friday and he was sleeping in his new room by Saturday. Yellow suits him perfects. He is our Happy Jack through and through.

We celebrated Jackson’s 12th birthday as a family on Sunday since Monday was packed full of work obligations for Chuck and an all-day soccer camp for Jeremy. On request we had burgers for dinner and Paula Deen’s Gooey Butter Cake for dessert. He opened a few gifts from us and a couple from my parents, and then we went to the lake to fish for a while. It had been a busy weekend of busting our tails inside and outside the house – painting, pulling weeds, moving river rocks, and sweating bullets. To end the weekend on the water, even for an hour, was just the slow-paced family time we needed.

Yesterday was Jackson’s official birthday, which he spent with me in the morning and his sweet friend Libby in the afternoon.

I took the pair to a trampoline park in town, then out for lunch and ice cream.

They jumped for nearly an hour, then they retreated to a spot to talk and catch up, as they’d not seen each other in a couple of weeks.

By the evening more presents had come in the mail and Jackson enjoyed a couple of well-wishing phone calls from family members. The perks of spreading his birthday over a weekend meant there were several days of celebrating, not just the one.

Last night I showed Jackson all of the Facebook posts and comments directed his way, a gesture that brought literal tears to his eyes. He feels everything so deeply, so while some kids may not care one way or another if people wish them well online or in text, Jackson absorbs it. He said, “I feel so special,” to which I replied, “You are so special!” 

Thanks to all who took a moment to send him love. He feels it! 

Anniversary week and fall break

Our anniversary fell on a Saturday this year, and while last year’s anniversary celebration was bigger and better, this year was just as sweet. There was no trip, no big event to signify No. 17, no big gifts or hurrahs. Just a lazy day at home and a lovely dinner in town, just the two of us. Contentment means life is good wherever you are.

Our anniversary kicked off fall break, so the week has been punctuated by long runs (me), hunting (Chuck and Jeremy), and lots of sleeping in and reading (Jackson).

Yesterday we went to Dollywood, the one thing we said we’d do over fall break. We had season passes in 2011, and I’m pretty sure we took the boys again in 2012 or 2013, but my memory fails me so I can’t be sure. Regardless, it’s been a minute since we’ve been to Dollywood.

Much like our experience last summer at Hershey Park, we rode a few coasters together, then the old people bowed out. Jeremy and Jackson love riding roller coasters together, which is a gift to these two parents. Have at it, boys. Have at it.

As the day wore down and the crowds increased, we ran into Jimmy and the kids (Lesli arrived later, but we missed her!). Since Jimmy was flying solo for a couple of hours, we stepped in as co-pilots for a few rides.

Be still my heart when Catherine, the sweet, shy introvert who takes her time with people, insisted I ride a kiddie coaster with her! Foolish to resist, I agreed enthusiastically and off we went to stand in line. She instructed me on how to hold her close on the ride – just like Mama does – and even held her arms in the air on the last go around. I’ve been around this little one since birth, since she eagle-eyed me in the hospital: 

Now she snaps pictures with me willingly, not shy, not reserved, and I couldn’t be happier:

The other thing I’ve done over fall break is clean out the boys’ closets and dressers. They are blessed with so many hand-me-downs that I haven’t bought clothes for them in years. After sorting through the many things I found underneath Jackson’s bed, I held my breath at this last little gem – a note from Jeremy to Jackson, many years old now:

It is a sweet reminder that while we may be in a rough season of picking and prodding, there is love there. Thank goodness, y’all, because 11 and 14 are tough ages. I’ll take every reminder I can get.

That time Jackson got a high five from Peyton Manning

It was a beautiful day for college football. Jackson and I were on campus to volunteer at the UKirk house (the Presbyterian Campus Ministry where I serve on the board of directors). We intended to skip over to Peyton Manning Pass, the road that leads directly to Neyland Stadium, to participate in the Vol Walk. We’ve done this several times before. Jackson loves to see the football players, and I love the Pride of the Southland Band. It’s win-win.

However, on Saturday, the Vol Walk seemed extra packed. Sure, it was the Tennessee-Georgia game day, and that’s a big rivalry. But, wow. It was crowded.

The crowd is hard to manage as a tall person, but it is painfully challenging for an 11-year-old. Fortunately, after locating an older woman who I hoped was a grandmother, and therefore understanding, I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if Jackson could stand next to her as the football team walked by. She smiled and said yes and took Jackson into her care. I stood several rows of people behind them. I didn’t need the front row experience, but I wanted it for my son.

Soon the band was playing Rocky Top, and we all looked up the street awaiting the team’s walk towards Neyland. There was yelling and whistling, and the crowd grew with excitement. The Volunteer mascot whooshed by, which meant the team was next.

But the team wasn’t next, at least not yet.

I saw Phillip Fulmer first and Peyton Manning second, and then my heart jumped into my throat because Jackson was about to get a high-five from the Greatest Of All Time.

I wish I could post a photo of the moment when the high-five occurred, but I was wedged behind a tall man who was working on getting his own high-five, so I only caught the second before and the moment after.

If you look directly above the iPhone, you’ll see Jackson’s little hand. Right above him is Peyton Manning. Jackson was next in line.

In a split second, it was over.

The football team was right behind him, so Jackson went on to high-five every player he could.

When the Vol Walk was over, Jackson and I scurried out of the crowd to fully assess WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

“Did Peyton Manning give you a high-five?”

“YES. OH, MY GOODNESS. I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“NO, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT EITHER.”

This went on several more times because we had no idea Peyton Manning was going to be there. Jackson had already met Phillip Fulmer, and he had a wonderful random run-in with Josh Dobbs (where hugs were exchanged), but a high-five from Peyton Manning was never on the radar. I quickly set him down on a stone wall and said, “We have to capture this moment.”

On the way back to the UKirk house I received a text from a friend saying Brett Favre was also on campus that day. Since I didn’t know about it beforehand, we missed an opportunity to meet him and get an autograph. I can’t even tell you how bummed I was about that.

And yet, the feeling of disappointment didn’t linger because Jackson was flying high and the smile on his face was quite enough.

BrickUniverse LEGO Convention

When word got out that a LEGO convention was coming to Knoxville, Jeremy insisted we attend. As if there was any doubt! We love LEGOs in this house. It’s one of the few things I enjoy playing alongside my boys, as well as the LEGO video games (LEGO Harry Potter, LEGO Marvel, etc.). We bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale, so it was a long summer countdown to the last weekend in August.

The first section of displays were cityscapes, impressive constructions that required hundreds of hours of concentration. Here’s Chicago:

LEGO County Fair and concert:

 

I love that the professional LEGO builders have a sense of humor. Always look for the hidden gems in every display. For example, this looks like a regular LEGO town:

But the Avengers are always watching:

Apparently Princess Leia and Darth Vader have an office above Starbucks:

LEGO Mardi Gras:

Emmet and Wyldstyle at Mardi Gras:

C3PO and R2D2 in a standoff at Mardi Gras:

Any Lady Gaga fans out there?

Jeremy was particularly in awe of the ginormous, eight-story Death Star:

However, the vendor Jeremy and his friends were most looking forward to seeing was BrickMania, a group who builds and sells custom historical scenes, vehicles, ships, and other paraphernalia. Here is their version of the USS Nicholas:

Of course, they also have a sense of humor:

Here were my favorites:

1980s LEGO Minifigures!

Jeremy and Foster participated in a building contest where they were given a mishmash of random LEGO bricks and told to construct a house. A younger kiddo won their round, to which they replied, “That was rigged! They let the little kid win cause he was cute.”

For those uninterested in competition, there were dozens of tables scattered throughout the room with loose bricks for building:

All the kids had a great time! They even let me snap a group photo on the way out:

Until next time!

 

 

Friday in Nashville

Jeremy woke up with an unsettled stomach Friday morning, so despite the mound of food on his plate below, he didn’t eat much of it. Whatever stomach bug he had lasted throughout the day and into the weekend. Fortunately he kept his spirits up and we enjoyed Day Two in Nashville.

These boys love hotel breakfast!

First on the agenda was a quick stop at Vanderbilt to see the final stadium on Jackson’s list. He particularly loved the Barnes and Noble around the corner that had a large collection of Commodore goodies, where he bought himself a t-shirt.

Next was a quick look at the Parthenon:

Finally it was Jeremy’s turn to enjoy something specifically for him – The LEGO Store. It was the only time throughout the whole weekend when Jeremy wasn’t playful or talking. He got very quiet and serious while among the LEGO bricks. He had a strategy in mind and wanted to the make the most of his spending money. (Funny how that happens when it’s their own money!)

The last thing we had planned was a walk around The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s family home and resting place. Though Chuck had been to The Hermitage as a kid, the rest of us have never been.

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the house, which is a crying shame. I was so tempted to cheat, but I definitely would’ve been caught and the boys would’ve never let me forget it.

By far my favorite part was the garden:

Andrew and his wife, Rachel, are buried in the garden.

Directly next to theirs is the grave of Uncle Alfred, Jackson’s personal servant, who’d been enslaved by the Jackson family since birth. After Emancipation, Alfred returned to the family farm as a tenant farmer and even purchased some furniture from the Jackson home. He died at 99, and per his request, he was buried next to the Jacksons.

The final part of our Hermitage experience was to watch a reenactment of a duel and a retelling of the famous duel between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson. The host did a fabulous job of explaining the gentlemanly art of a duel – that it’s not a brawl or fight or spur-of-the-moment scuffle in the street. Rather, it’s an organized confrontation designed to preserve honor and dignity.

Unfortunately a thunderstorm hit before shots were fired, so the duel (and its audience) promptly moved into the education center.

The rain continued throughout the afternoon, which made the drive home less enjoyable, but for the most part we had a great two days in Nashville and feel well-prepared to start the school year. This is our last week of summer, and though we don’t have anything planned, we intend to make the most of it.

Miller Camp for Boys 2017

Last summer Jake came to stay with us, and this summer it only felt right to have him here again. Jake belongs to Matt and Amy, our besties from Chattanooga, whom we’ve parented alongside from the beginning. Jeremy and Grace were born two months apart,  then came Jake two years later and Jackson a year after that. These kiddos don’t see each other often, but you wouldn’t know it. As soon as we’re together, it’s like we never moved away.

We picked up Jake on a Tuesday night and returned him Friday, but in those four short days, they accomplished a lot. It all started Tuesday evening with Jake introducing us to the strangest movie I’ve seen in a long time: Trolls.

I don’t know what to say about Trolls other than it’s completely weird. The music was fun, and the cloud guy was funny, but otherwise, I’m at a loss. The kids enjoyed it, which is all that matters!

Wednesday brought a few hours of pool time with another favorite family of ours. The weather was perfect!

We brought home with us another of Jeremy’s friends, which meant I was outnumbered four to one. The boys exhausted themselves in the heat outside, cooled off inside with video games, and stayed up late that night with a board game marathon. The next morning, they made themselves breakfast and cleaned up afterward.

On Thursday Jake was a good sport and suffered alongside me at the boys’ orthodontic appointments. He and Jeremy worked on card tricks in the waiting room.

We wrapped up Jake’s visit with more board games. This time, I joined them in a two-hour Monopoly session.

We should’ve planned for a longer stay, and honestly, we should’ve had Grace with us. When I look at this photo, she is glaringly absent.

I continue to be thankful for the friendships we’ve maintained since our earliest days as a couple. It means our kids are growing up with friends who are more like family. It means our tribe of people is rooted in loyalty and love. I will never forget when Matt and Amy told us they were pregnant with Grace, and then came Jake, and soon we had this squad of four beautiful children who played together seamlessly.

These two were the sweet pair from birth to Kindergarten.

Excuse me while I go mourn the early years.

Oh, and the Miller Camp for Boys 2017 continues next week when my nephews arrive. Woohoo!

Jackson turns 11

Jackson has been counting down to his eleventh birthday since the calendar turned to 2017. It’s fair to say he is obsessed with it, even beyond the general obsession kids feel about their birthdays. Yes, it’s about gifts and special food and all the extra attention, but it’s about that deeper feeling – that you are so well-loved that an entire day is designed to celebrate YOU.

Instead of a big party, which we did last year for his tenth, we kept it low-key and all in the family. He chose an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen (his request) and I made egg salad sandwiches for dinner (again, his request). We also watched Stranger Things over the course of three days (fast-forwarding through the mature bits with teen romance!) because turning eleven on June 11 meant he was old enough to see what all the fuss was about. (He loved it!)

Then we made him search the house and yard for his gifts (yes, his request).

We are a Packers family, yet, here we are:

There’s also a Steelers jersey in our house now, courtesy of my parents! Blasphemy!

Yet, Jackson loved it all. Just look at his face when he discovered a pair of Hufflepuff socks –

And a Hufflepuff house banner –

And a Bucks jersey –

That’s the sign of a happy little heart.

Later in the day we enjoyed a visit from Chuck’s dad and a FaceTime session with my parents.

I also read all the well wishes people sent through social media and texts, which brought a huge smile to his face. Thanks to everyone who took the time to tell him Happy Birthday. You warmed his heart and mine.

 

Jackson + ESPN Encyclopedias

If you know Jackson, then you know he’s a ferocious reader. This fact alone is a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d type eight years ago when our toddler screamed instead of talked, or even six years ago when our four year old spoke gibberish. Early intervention and a couple of fabulous teachers in Amarillo, Texas, were life changers. (Thank you Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Kathy!)

Jackson learned to talk and eventually read, two skills in which he continues to excel. Add in his love of sports and ease at which he understands math and we may have a budding statistician in our midst. (One can hope and encourage!)

Two years ago, Jackson and I went to the library, a favorite hobby we share, and wandered to the back rows where the oversized books are shelved. There we found the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.

Mind blown. At least, for Jackson it was mind-blowing. It is a five-pound, 1600-page book of numbers and historical stories from every college football program in the country. We checked it out and he spent hours each day poring over the text. When it was time to return the book, we renewed it. This went on for a year.

Then last year, for his tenth birthday, I bought him his own copy. I also found the college basketball encyclopedia, giving him more than 3,500 pages of stats to memorize.

Yesterday, as I sat on the orange couch in my purple library, where he sits each day for school and to read, I noticed the basketball encyclopedia opened to the Virginia Military Institute. This is where he left off the day before.

Gosh. So boring, right? I mean. GEEZ.

But look at how loved those pages are? So worn and soft. He’s been reading these books for months and months, always sharing random facts that he learns, information from colleges I’ve never heard of, stats from fifty years ago or more. Last night we went on a walk while Jeremy was at soccer practice and he rattled off a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (and their subsequent stats), which I didn’t even realize he knew existed. 

I don’t get it, but I love that he loves it. I love that he’s fixated on the details because it shows a great capacity for interpreting information. I love that he takes these books anywhere he knows he’ll be bored, such as a waiting room or at church.

Jackson is my misunderstood child, the one with quirks and curious habits. He flaps his arms and snaps his fingers, and his brain gets stuck on something to the point of obsession. But, he’s sharp and bright. He’s affectionate and tender. His smile and laugh are infectious. He excels in ways I didn’t think were possible, which makes the ways he struggles easier to endure. I don’t know where Jackson will end up in life, but we’ll continue to nurture this interest he has. We’re nearly two years in, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down.

The Start of Fifth and Seventh Grade

We started school today, and afterward I took a two-hour nap. I love homeschooling.

Fifth and Seventh Grade

The boys are in fifth and seventh grade at The Miller School for Boys, which means this is our sixth year of homeschooling. NEVER EVER DID I THINK we’d be a homeschooling family. Sometimes, I’m still surprised that this is what we’re doing.

Brothers August 2016

Jackson, Age 10

Jackson age 10

Our fifth grader is all sports, all the time. He loves wearing football jerseys and reading his ESPN Encyclopedias.

ESPN encyclopedia reader

Football loverAn avid reader of all things, he spends a lot of his free time on the couch or front porch with a book. This year he’ll play flag football and participate in a younger youth group at church that uses Harry Potter-inspired curriculum. Jackson hopes he’ll be sorted into the Hufflepuff House.

Jackson August 2016

He’s still as cheerful and smiley as ever, always happy to chat with anyone about sports and share his random bits of statistical knowledge.

Jackson fifth grade

This year Jackson is taking Geography, Science Survey, Language Arts, Reading Comprehension, P.E., and Bible. Today he started fractions and reading The One and Only Ivan.

Jeremy, Age Almost 13

Jeremy August 2016

Our middle schooler wakes up every morning hoping he’s actually 30 years old and living either in a big city as a head chef or on the pacific coast as a marine biologist. When he realizes he’s still a kid who lives with his parents, he forges ahead with anticipation. Super mature and thoughtful, Jeremy is an old soul who loves to be with people. He’s in youth at church, still enjoying soccer, and carries a very heavy backpack to co-op.

Jeremy age almost-13

Be still my heart, he still loves to play with Legos. 

Still loves legos

This will likely be his last year playing soccer with Parks and Rec. He’s ready for stiffer competition.

Soccer lover

Jeremy seventh grade

Jeremy has a heart for animals, something he and I share, as well as a deep curiosity and desire to understand God. Sometimes I want to peek into the future to see where this guy ends up because he could go ten different directions and succeed.

Forever competitive

This year Jeremy is taking pre-algebra, French, Physical Science, Mock Congress, World History (specifically the Middle Ages), and the MARS Project. He’s also in my Literature and Creative Writing class at co-op. (We’ll see how that goes!) Today he started reading Wonder.

I feel like we hit the jackpot with these two.

Love them

Finally, a word from our mascot, who didn’t care that we were trying to take photos…

Salem interrupts

Cheers to a productive school year and happy attitudes every morning!

The Miller Camp for Boys

Miller Camp for Boys

This week marks the start of The Miller Camp for Boys, which is my way of bookmarking two weeks of having house guests from out of town. From August to May, we are The Miller School for Boys, so this makes total sense in my brain.

Our first camper is Jake, the son of our best friends in Chattanooga, folks we’ve known and loved before any of us were married. When we see each other, it’s usually both families getting together, with all for kids in a lump sum – Grace and Jake, Jeremy and Jackson – but this is a house for boys, and while I’d love to take Grace to Ulta and spend a fortune, she’d be terrifically bored the rest of the time.

So Jake is here and the boys have been going non-stop since he arrived last night – playing outside, group video gaming, and board games during down time. They are hardly stopping to eat. We plan to see The Secret Life of Pets and either get to a swimming pool or creek for cooling off. We’ll get pizza one night and I might let them loose with the water hose. Whatever we do, it’s wonderful to have Jake here so we can continue making deposits in this long-distance friendship.

Plus, it’s really fun to walk around saying, “Jake, from State Farm,” to which Jeremy replies, “She sounds hideous.”

Boys of summer

Also, it doesn’t hurt to have another face around the house to split the tension between Jeremy and Jackson. Those two? They could use some space from one another. #brothers

Jackson turns 10

For Jackson’s birthday, we kept it simple but special. Three dear families joined us for a light dinner followed by cake and presents. The kids played, the adults talked, and Major was mostly well-behaved.

Make a wish

The thing most of you might not grasp about Jackson is that he doesn’t fully understand the reciprocity of friendship. Relationships in general are hard for him. He doesn’t understand inference or sarcasm; he doesn’t know when someone is being genuine or fake. He doesn’t always know how to relay his own emotions effectively. Jackson takes everything and everyone at face value, which means he lacks discernment in almost every area.

Big 10 helmetsAnd yet, he is happy, happy, happy most the time. Blissful oblivion is a real thing. Jackson is always the first to smile and hug someone and be a friend, whatever that means in his world.

Jimmy's football cards

We work on it with him – trying to teach him what it means to care about someone, how to show love and receive love, and always be ready to forgive. Jackson has a temper, a rage that can be disconcerting at times, but we’ve come to understand that it’s because he’s always on high alert. Temperament-wise, Jackson hovers at a 9, so it doesn’t take much to reach 10 and then tumble right over the edge.

Four square

In the above photo our guests were playing a game they created while Jackson sat on the concrete to sort his miniature football helmets. He was content not to be included because sorting the helmets was far more interesting than interacting with everyone else.

The same goes for reading sports encyclopedias.

Encyclopedias and helmets

And yet, he loves these people. He gets excited to see them. He misses them when it’s been a while. Jackson craves real connection just like the rest of us, though he processes it and perceives it in a unique way. I am grateful to have folks in the fold who understand him.

At ten years old, Jackson is a gem. He puts a smile on my face everyday with his optimism, his infectious laugh, and his love for life. I tell him all the time, “You are exactly the one I wanted.”

Happy Jack at 10

Happy Tenth Birthday, Jack Rabbit. We love you loads.

(Sidebar: Major never looks at the camera. What a turd.)

Major won't look at the camera

Throwback to when we met Jackson

To say we had little time to prepare for Jackson’s arrival would be an understatement. We found out about his impending birth and potential adoption on Saturday, June 10. He was born on Sunday, June 11, and we saw him for the first time through the nursery window that afternoon around 5 p.m. He was 16 hours old. He wasn’t legally ours yet, but in my heart, he was mine all mine.

The first time we saw Jackson

It wasn’t until Monday afternoon, June 12, that I got to hold him and kiss him and call him by his name.

TBT to June 11

Over an unsuspecting weekend in mid-June 2006, we became a family of four. Adoption is the coolest thing ever.

Throwback to Recess in 2012

Last night, as the boys and I said goodnight to one another, Jackson asked if he could wear his Star-Lord costume to co-op. It’s the last day, he said. It would be so cool.

I really, really wanted to say yes. I nearly did. But logistically, especially for P.E. class, it doesn’t make sense. Instead, I told him, you can wear it to Jeremy’s soccer game. His face lit up, he smiled. That would suffice.

As they trotted off to bed, memories flooded to my mind of Jackson spending nearly four years in costume. Iron Man, Captain American, Thor, myriad Star Wars characters…

Iron Man in second grade

The last superhero costume we bought for him was Star-Lord, circa 2014, so it’s probably the only one that still fits. After all, Jackson made a significant shift in interest this year. He is all sports, all the time.

I admit that I’m a little sad to see this phase fade away. Dressing up for make believe is the essence of childhood. It embraces possibility in the best way. Yes, you can do anything. Yes, you can be anyone. Yes, the world is at your fingertips. 

Below is one of my favorite photos of all time. It was taken in February 2012, the second semester of our first year as homeschoolers. Jackson was a kindergartener, Jeremy was in second grade, and this, my friends, was recess.

Recess

Backstage at the Orange and White Game

A few weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to us for Jackson to meet the University of Tennessee, Knoxville statisticians – the guys who keep track of every yard, every punt, every point for the home football games – a career possibility that Chuck and I have encouraged for Jackson. He’s an excellent math student and has an unquenchable passion for sports. When Jackson realized that a real person was responsible for those recording numbers, all those tiny details that he loves to read and memorize, he latched on to the idea of becoming a statistician.

So, did he want to meet the UT Vols statistician? ABSOLUTELY YES.

Better still, would you like to meet him at the Orange and White Game and sit in the press box and learn all about being a statistician?

There were no words, just one huge smile and eyes that welled with tears. A definite YES. 

Fan Day 2016

Charles Child has been keeping the Vols’ stats for three decades, and in recent years he’s been joined by his son, Brian, and son-in-law, David. We met them a couple of hours before kick-off to get a tour of the press box and the field.

Going on the field

Two brace faces on the field

SEC Pylon

Press box at Neyland

We watched the players practice and saw what the stands look like from the ground level. The stadium wasn’t full like it normally is on game day, but it was still impressive.

Time to practice

College footballs

Peyton Manning hall

We met Tim Priest, the familiar voice of the Vol Radio Network and former Tennessee player coached by Doug Dickey.

Tim Priest

We ate lunch and enjoyed ice cream and took our seats in the press box as Charles, Brian, and David readied themselves for the game. They were generous to give the boys plenty of media guides and record sheets – piles of information for Jackson to study.

Jack in the press box

Jeremy and I aren’t stats people, but we enjoyed the special treatment nonetheless.

Jeremy in the press box

Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, kicked off the game by landing on the field. It was beautiful! (Here’s a video.)

Navy Seals

Steve Spurrier received the Neyland Award, a short ceremony that received both cheers and jeers. (More cheers, though.)

Steve Spurrier

Then my favorite – Smokey – took the field and the game was officially on the clock.

Smokey and the gang

They team was split into orange and white, but there were a handful of players in gray. Why? Because gray meant “Do Not Touch.”

Gray is no touch

Of course, it wasn’t a regular game but rather a scrimmage. A “let’s show them how we’re doing” sort of game. The view from the press box was great.

Orange and White

Orange and White at Neyland

Smokey in the checkerboard

It wasn’t just about the perks. We learned all about how serious the statistician’s work is, how folks from ESPN hover over them on game days to get all the numbers to all the stations. Though the stats wind up computerized, they keep official records the old-fashioned way – pencil and paper.

Stats sheet

While the game is going, all excitement and frustration is tabled. They are record-keeping, not rooting. Aside from high-level math, this is the hurdle Jackson will have to jump. He kept mostly quiet during the scrimmage, but that wouldn’t be the case in a real game. This is the kid who asked to leave the Tennessee-Arkansas game early last year because he was getting too emotional and knew he was going to blow.

Statisticians

On the way home on Saturday, Jackson said that the whole experience had been a dream come true. He didn’t stop smiling the entire day, and while most of us wouldn’t care about the mounds of stats and records, Jackson has been reading them at length and regurgitating random facts like revelations.

So many times I’ve looked at the face of this sweet child and wondered, “Where will you end up? Where will you go? What will you do?” Perhaps those questions got answered on Saturday.

“Sometimes my brain turns sideways.”

For several weeks, maybe even more than a month, Jackson has been asking me the same curious question: “Mom, do you think I’m an alien?”

“No,” I reply. “I don’t think you’re alien.”

“Are you sure?”

Jackson discerns cubic volume

The first few times he asked me this I shrugged it off as playful. He’s a unique guy, so he thinks of unique stuff.

But then I realized he was serious. He wasn’t trying to make me laugh or excuse goofy behavior.

“Do YOU think you’re an alien?” I finally ask.

“Yes, I think so,” he says quite seriously.

“Why?”

“Because sometimes my brain turns sideways,” he says. “Or upside down. Sometimes it just leaves my head.” 

It’s not pretend, it’s not imagination. He’s trying to figure out how his brain works.

Typical homeschool day

Interestingly, he doesn’t say these things with distress or even mild frustration. He’s matter-of-fact, as if he’s saying, “Sometimes I eat a ham and cheese sandwich, but other times, I eat turkey.” He is making observations and relaying the information to me.

As a person, I find this fascinating. He is finally trying to discern why he is the way he is. I love the language he’s using. I love that he’s so verbal and honest. I love that it’s not holding him back.

As a mother, I feel the pull to say more, to comfort, but I’m the one who doesn’t have the words. What does it feel like for your brain to turn sideways? I have no clue.

I told my friends this weekend that I struggle with Jackson’s diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Attention Deficit? Oh for sure. He’s textbook. But ASD? I don’t know. For all the boxes we can check for ASD, there are a dozen that don’t get checked. He’s verbal, affectionate, compassionate, academically strong, and somewhat athletic. No, he can’t tie his shoes or understand inference or manage his emotions on that fast-swinging pendulum. He’s terrifically impulsive. He has no natural fear of people or places, making him the most vulnerable kid on the playground. He flaps his arms when he’s excited and goes into a violent rage when provoked.

And now, he thinks he’s an alien.

For what it’s worth, the ASD label doesn’t matter much to me since our life is not set up in a way for it to affect our education plan or way of living. However, learning how his brain works is of the utmost importance. Since we want to raise a child who grows up to be a mature, responsible, and productive young man, we have to do whatever we can to prepare him.

That means, when his brain turns sideways, we help him figure out how to turn it right side up.

Our Basketball Star

Jackson is playing Upward Basketball this season. Not only is his team doing very well and he’s enjoying himself, but he’s done a great job handling the wide range of emotions involved with playing team sports. So far, so good.

(He’s the kiddo in the dark red shoes in the foreground.)

Upward basketball

Competition is hard for any kid, but for Jackson, whose emotions swing fast on a long pendulum, the high of winning and the low of losing keeps his temperament bubbling at the surface.

Defense

One of the best ways it’s been explained to me is this: We all operate at different emotional levels from one to ten. When we’re calm and chill, we’re around a two or three. Some of us need lots of stress (good or bad) to push us to a five, seven, nine, etc. Some of us don’t need very much at all to lose our temper. Some of us who are more high-strung may operate all the time around a five or six, always waiting for something to happen and living in the tension of thinking doom is right around the corner. Some of us are so cool and collected that we hardly ever reach a ten.

For Jackson, he functions at a nine almost all the time. Good or bad, happy or sad, his emotions are always RIGHT THERE.

That is Jackson with the ball – No. 11 – shooting.

He shoots

He scored, by the way. He’s scored a couple of times so far this season and it’s given Chuck and I the greatest joy to see him succeed in that way.

But more so, we’ve been so pleased to see how he’s interacted with his teammates, how he’s handled a loss (lots of tears, but he managed!), and how eager he’s been to try harder.

Upward has been good for him because the program is designed to encourage the best parts of team sports – camaraderie, good sportsmanship, effort, and everyone gets the same amount of play time regardless of skill.

They won this particular game, as you can tell by his face. So far this season they are 3-1.

He scores

Sometimes I think back to how Jackson was at one and a half years old, the first time I considered that something might be different about him. Then at two, when he screamed and thrashed and couldn’t communicate with us. By three he’d established self-soothing habits and was enrolled in early intervention to help him learn how to talk.

By four we could finally understand him and by five he was learning how to read. Even then, with so much progress, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up – and frankly I still don’t know. How can we ever really know where our children will land after we’ve done all we can for them?

Jackson is smart, so loving, and eager to make a happy moment with others. Upward has been great for him, so I see him playing more sports with them in the future.

They win

Allow me a moment to gush

Normally, when prompted to write a few sentences to display his understanding of grammar and punctuation, Jackson writes about football. He used to write about Marvel (ah, the good old days!) or some other obsession of the moment, but the last year or two has been all about football.

Packers fan

Imagine my delight when I discovered that one of last week’s assignments on commas and clauses centered around us and not Aaron Rodgers  or Cam Newton. He was supposed to write four sentences about “someone you admire,” beginning at least two of the sentences with after, when, while, before, although, if, and so on.

This is what he wrote:

  1. Before I loved my mom, I was not even born yet, but I came in 2006 and loved her.
  2. I think my mom is cool, funny, smart, and a good cook.
  3. If I could love two people, I would choose my mom and dad.
  4. Mom and Dad are the two best Moms and Dads in the world.

So what if the last sentence doesn’t have a comma in it. AREN’T THOSE THE MOST FABULOUS FOUR SENTENCES EVER?

Jackson's eyes

Yeah, I think so too.  

P.S. For those concerned about the wire Jackson swallowed on Veteran’s Day, all is well. A follow-up X-Ray this morning showed that the “foreign body” had passed.