The week that went by too quickly

While our lifestyle affords us plenty of family time, Chuck and I don’t get a lot of time just the two of us. We have dates here and there, but it usually requires a getaway vacation to secure that good investment. Every few years, we take a trip somewhere without our boys. They give us flak for it, but eventually they’ll realize it benefits them too.

That’s why, when my sister offered to take the boys back to Chicago with them the week of July 4th, we didn’t hesitate. YES ABSOLUTELY YOU CAN HAVE THEM.

We met Becky and Jeff in Nashville at the tail end of their anniversary trip, wished them all well, and hurried out of there before anyone changed their minds.

We spent an obscene amount of money eating out. We slept in. We binged GLOW. We puttered around the house doing our own things. I repotted plants, Chuck reclined. We answered no questions from little people and reminded no one to brush his teeth or put on deodorant. We fought with no one about eating his vegetables. We did no extra laundry or dishes.

I blinked and the week was over, a time-traveling phenomenon I anticipated.

Still, everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously – us here, the boys there. They went to the movies and ate out and spent 4th of July with Jeff’s side of the family. They laughed and played and made sweet memories. They were well taken care of and I didn’t worry about any of it.

Instead of meeting halfway somewhere to get them back, Jeremy and Jackson traveled by themselves on a direct flight from Chicago to Nashville, a convenient way to get them home and I wasn’t worried about that either.

We all got the things we wanted out of that week – time to relax, time to goof around, time away from our regular responsibilities. I’m on board for making this an annual event.

With one month left of summer, I’m feeling the time crunch to finish certain things I hoped to accomplish – namely editing the second novel (following a professional developmental edit) and starting the query process again. I’ve put on another layer of steel in preparation.

I also wanted to plan for the full school year and not just the fall semester. With four classes on my plate, planning and preparation will be key to my sanity.

We have a few visitors planned for July, and I have a quick trip planned at the end of the month for my birthday. Then, summer will end and a new academic year will begin and everything will be different. I’ll be 40 years old and Jeremy will be a freshman in high school. Jackson will start seventh grade and Chuck will spend the next five months reminding me he’s still 39.

So far, this has been exactly the summer I wanted it to be – well-paced and productive, full of friends, family, and lots of reading. May it continue!

A Midday Escape

Yesterday was a bad day of school. Those days happen. Sometimes it’s on account of bad moods, other times it’s that the level of exhaustion is so high that we just can’t get it together. Yesterday was a perfect mixture of poor attitude, fatigue, and being so done with the school year that the finish line is close but not close enough.

So today, after math and French, we ran off to the mountains. Everything else could wait.

The mountains were particularly tempting to visit because it’s FINALLY warm. Maybe our month of cold snaps has passed.

Days like this are valuable to me. It’s partly why I love homeschooling — the freedom to GO and DO is too hard to resist.

After our hike we visited the Townsend Wye so the boys could skip rocks and I could sit still for a while and listen to the rushing water.

I love this place, particularly when it’s not swarming with tourists. Come late-May, this river will be full of swimmers, tubers, and kayakers and we’ll have to run off to a lesser-known spot.

But today? It was all ours.

We shared our space with the butterflies.

We lingered for a while longer, until hunger set in and everything had been explored.

We have about four more weeks of school and today seemed like exactly what we needed to re-energize our efforts. It’s the same story every April, and running off to the mountains seems to do the trick.

We also visited my father in law today, both on our way in and out of the national park since his house is on the way. If you are praying for him, please continue to do so. We are grateful for the time we have left to spend with him.

A second spring break

As homeschoolers, we do what we want. It’s glorious. It’s magnificent.

Our first spring break was spent at home, and truth be told, we still did math and reading while on hiatus from our homeschool cooperative. It wasn’t a full respite because we knew we had a second break coming – one that involved travel and excitement beyond compare.

Several years ago my sweet sister decided that she needed to take my children to Disney World since we weren’t going to. NO PROBLEM, I said, and threw some money her way. In 2015, Jeremy joined her family at Disney, and eventually, it would be Jackson’s turn.

This was his year.

On top of the Disney adventure, we decided it was also time to fork over the cash and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since it was built. Both Jeremy and Jackson are fans of the books and movies, so we’ve been counting the days until we could finally head to Orlando.

There is much to say about the experience, but in this particular post, I’ll be brief. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears, and not I’m not exaggerating. (Chuck has photographic proof, which I won’t be sharing publicly.) Since reading the first book in 2001 and seeing the final film in 2011, to watching both of my children fall in love with the series and love it as I do, going to Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley was an experience that spotlighted nearly two decades fandom. 

The impeccable detail of these two scenes left me fully satisfied, feeling like I’d actually walked into a magical world and lived there for one full day. YES, I bought a wand (Professor McGonagall’s). YES, I bought a Chocolate Frog. YES, we rode the Hogwarts Express. YES, we tried Butterbeer.

There is much to say about how it all felt, but I know what you really want is to see photos. They’re coming. I’ve got a few things to check off my to-do list before I tackle editing them.

Chuck, Jeremy, and I returned home late Wednesday night, leaving Jackson in Orlando with my sister and her family. He still had Disney World to experience, after all. From what I’ve seen in texts and Snaps, he’s living his best life. He’s loving every minute. Two magical experiences in one week is too good to be true for an 11-year-old. 

And yet, it’s all real. 

Answering your [very personal] questions about homeschooling

When we made the decision to homeschool during the summer of 2011, it came at the tail end of a difficult time. We’d just moved back to Tennessee after a tumultuous three years in Texas. Chuck’s mother passed away, and so did our family dog, and no one seemed able to adjust to the new normal, including Jeremy, who’d been uprooted in the second half of first grade and still wasn’t able to read and write on grade level. By June, Chuck’s aunt passed away and left in our care her 50-year-old son who is physically and mentally disabled. Again, as if on cue, our lives looked very different from what we expected.

By July 2011, we were all exhausted.

We all needed the sort of rest that couldn’t be recouped on a long weekend. Public school registration was right around the corner and, by all accounts, I should’ve been preparing to send my boys to second grade and Kindergarten. Until that summer, I never considered homeschooling. In fact, when our boys were babies we lived down the street from a large homeschooling family and as much as I loved and admired them, I didn’t think homeschooling was for us. We went to church with several homeschooling families, but they didn’t influence me. It didn’t capture my appeal. Homeschooling wasn’t on the radar.

But then, in 2011, with a hearing-impaired second grader who couldn’t read and a Kindergartener on the Autism Spectrum who just started speaking full sentences, I couldn’t imagine sending them to traditional school. After talking to a local homeschooling family and doing mounds of research, we decided the 2011-2012 school year was going to happen at home. We needed the world to stop spinning and I had the power to stop it.

So, we hopped off the traditional school train and, frankly, we never hopped back on.

Here we are, entering our seventh year of homeschooling, and I remain grateful for the privilege we have to educate our boys both at home and in the world. Our co-op adds to our experience tenfold, and the freedom we have to GO and DO is something I never want to surrender.

And yet, with all of these GOOD THINGS, I am still gobsmacked at the questions and comments I get both from strangers and people who know and love us. Sometimes the remarks are bold and insensitive, and sometimes they are veiled with genuine concern.

Still, it surprises me, so this post is designed to address your concerns and hopefully settle your mind about what I’m doing with my kids.

The following questions are real questions I’ve gotten from family members, friends, church members, and total strangers we encounter in the world. My answers are the real answers I gave in the moment:

“Do they get to see other kids?”

Yes, and often. Our co-op, which is made up of hundreds of families, meets weekly. They have friends in the neighborhood and friends across town, plus sports seasons each spring and fall and weekly volunteer work. I swear they are social.

Actually, they are tired of hearing this sort of question. When our family physician asked if I’d considered sending them back to school for socialization, before I could answer him Jeremy flung his hands in the air and said, “WHY DO PEOPLE THINK WE DON’T HAVE FRIENDS?” I laughed and shook my head.

“How will they learn to get up for work if they don’t get up for school each day?”

They do get up for school each day, but it’s at 8:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Also, Jeremy just started a part-time job, and what do you know? He wakes up for it!

Furthermore, the rat race of the morning commute is something people adjust to all the time, not because they got up for school for 12 or 16 years, but because that’s what adults do. They adjust to dozens of requirements throughout their lives at any given point. Homeschooling has allowed our boys to get good rest and still adhere to general standard of daily living – get up, get dressed, and tend to your responsibilities. For what it’s worth, I think kids, in general, would benefit from a shorter school day and more time to play and rest.

“How will they learn about competition if they aren’t on a sports team?”

They’ve both played on sports teams since they were very young, though it’s been through local parks and recreation instead of the school system. Also, they’ll have the opportunity to play on local high school teams if they choose, but even still – competition isn’t solely reserved for sports. There’s competition of ideas and other achievements that are just as worthwhile. Competition happens in the co-op classroom and within their personal goal-setting. There are loads of kids in traditional school who don’t play sports, but I’m sure they experience competition in other ways.

“You’ll have to cut the apron strings sometime.”

I agree, but homeschooling doesn’t mean our apron strings are any tighter than those who send their kids to traditional school. More times than not, high schoolers who are homeschooled have more opportunity to work while in school because their hours are flexible. Additionally, homeschooling during the high school years is, in large part, self-led, so they don’t rely on Mom and Dad as much as you’d think. I’ve seen plenty of traditional high school graduates go off to college and fail miserably because they weren’t prepared on a basic level to be on their own. I won’t speak for other homeschooling families, but in our house we’ve been open and honest from the very beginning – we love you, but you can’t live here forever.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I don’t know how I do it either, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I couldn’t be around my kids all day.”

I’m sorry to hear that. The boys get on my nerves too sometimes, but in homeschooling attitude is everything. As long as our attitudes are good, homeschooling is a breeze. Plus, I’ve noticed that all the moms who say this to me are the same moms who say they’re kids are growing up too fast. That’s not a feeling I’ve experienced, and I think it’s because I’ve been alongside them at every stage.

“Do you ever test them?”

Yes and no. Yes, they take weekly math and vocabulary tests. No, they don’t take standardized testing. Yes, they have quizzes and tests in some of their co-op classes. No, we don’t make up grades based on our love for our kids. Yes, they’ll take SAT and ACT prep courses just like every other high schooler, but no, we aren’t worrying about those things right now. I’m required to turn in grades to our umbrella school so they have official transcripts, and testing helps procure those grades.

“Are you going really going to homeschool them in high school?”

Yes, I really am. At least, that’s the plan. Anything can happen to alter the plan, but barring no major life changes, yes, we’ll continue homeschooling throughout high school. I can’t imagine sending them to traditional school at this point, particularly since many of the hard classes that I don’t want to teach are available at the co-op. For example, last year Jeremy took Life Science with Dissection. I was so pleased that he was able to dissect sharks and snakes and whatnot at the co-op and not in my kitchen. Also at co-op is Calculus, Biology, and dual enrollment courses with one of our local community college. So yeah, we’re good to go.

I appreciate your concern. Really, I do. But think about it – what if I asked you, “Are you really going to send your kids to public school?”  How would you respond?

Wait, never mind. I’d never ask you a question like that.

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.

Thursday in Nashville

We decided to take the boys on one last hurrah before school starts, so we went to Nashville for two days after my birthday.  Jackson has been asking to see stadiums, and Jeremy has had a hole burning in his wallet for the LEGO store at Opry Mills, so Nashville made a lot of sense.

We left Thursday morning and drove straight to Tennessee Tech. None of us have an affiliation to Tennessee Tech, but they have a stadium and that’s all that mattered.

Then we swung down to my alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, where the gates to Floyd Stadium were wide open.

Jackson was so happy to touch the turf.

He used an old, unused iPhone to take his own pictures.

On we went to Nashville and checked into the hotel. Chuck secured a strange but spacious corner room that had one heck of a view.

After dropping off our bags we walked across the street to the Tennessee State Museum – a three-floor smattering of detailed exhibits completely free to the public.

18th Century medical advice:

Early journalism:

John Sevier:

William Blount:

Old Andrew Jackson:

Scary doll that comes alive at night and wanders the museum:

The only evidence that Chuck and I were on this trip:

The Battle of Chickamauga:

City money:

Stunning portrait of Ida B. Wells:

(More on Ida here.)

We stayed at the museum until it closed and then walked a few blocks to Puckett’s for dinner. If you’re ever in Nashville (or Franklin, or Chattanooga, or Murfreesboro, or Columbia), eat there. It’s delish!

From there, all we had to do was let the boys experience Broadway, which gave Jackson access to Bridgestone Arena and Nissan Stadium.

We capped off the night with swimming in the hotel pool, followed by checkers and chess on the patio.

After a few episodes of Shark Tank, we zonked out and went fast to sleep. I’d like to report that it was a perfect night’s sleep in comfortable hotel beds, but Jeremy got bit by a stomach bug and woke us up early with many trips to the restroom. While he was able to carry on with Friday activities, he didn’t feel 100% until sometime over the weekend.

Friday in Nashville.

Swimming at the Townsend Wye

Yesterday we took advantage of beautiful weather and went to the Townsend Wye, a popular swimming hole just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Jackson was at basketball camp, so Mom and I took Jeremy, Jacob, and Owen for a dip.

The mountain water was chilly, something locals understand but Chicagoans don’t.

There were serious reservations about swimming, particularly on Owen’s part. He spent much of the morning saying he wasn’t going to have fun at the river, that he didn’t want to go, but we reassured him that he WOULD have fun and that it would be worth it.

Once they got used to the temperature, they opened up to the possibility of cliff jumping. Jeremy went first.

Jacob watched others jump in – even dive in – so he stood on the edge until he was mentally ready.

Even Owen jumped! The kid who said he wasn’t going to have fun JUMPED OFF A BOULDER.

Then Jacob started diving.

They swam for an hour or so, until their bodies were sufficiently numb.

Here’s a side view of Jacob diving into the Little River.

Jeremy and Owen swam across the river to a little island to explore and skip rocks.

I am most proud of Owen! He was nervous and in a negative head space about swimming in a cold river, but I swear he had a good time once he went for it!

Despite the temperatures, the water was crystal clear and perfect for swimming.

On our way home we picked up Major from his boarding camp and brought home a very sleepy puppy.

The Nascar Speedpark

On Monday we drove to the Nascar Speedpark in Pigeon Forge and paid an obscene amount of money for the boys to drive race cars until dark. They loved it, and I was particularly glad that Jackson was able to drive a few tracks by himself.

Jackson rode alongside Chuck on a faster track…

…which meant going a lot faster than he would’ve on his own.

Midday we took a quick detour to Gatlinburg so Jacob could get a few donuts at the Donut Friar, his mother’s favorite sweet spot in town. She is in Real Germany this week, so we went to Faux Germany for about 20 minutes.

If you recall, Gatlinburg suffered a massive loss after forest fires spread through the area in November 2016. It looked like most of the surrounding ranges were touched by fire, but I was encouraged to see bright green spots of growth from this spring.

After a quick walk in Gatlinburg, we went back to the Nascar Speedpark for round two of racing and stayed until 11 p.m. Right away Chuck and Jacob drove on the one track that requires a driver’s license. So glad these two get to pal around together.

Mom and Chuck left about an hour before the boys and I did, so I made sure it was documented that Mom and I were there!

We had a great time, and every boy was exhausted the morning after. Today we’ll head to the river to play, and still on the list is canoeing and Splash Country. They keep me young!

Parasailing and Fishing in the Gulf

After two full days on the beach we ventured into town so the boys could go parasailing. At first they acted nervous, like what they were about to do was dangerous, but then I reminded them that last summer they rode nearly every roller coaster at Hershey Park with no fear whatsoever.

In no time they were hooked up and taking off.

The boys felt much better about parasailing once Chuck got a last-minute invite to join them at no extra cost.

I’ve been parasailing before. Actually, Chuck and I went parasailing back when we were teenagers. Since I had my camera, I was happy to stay in the boat and document their experience.

And then, dolphins!

Wednesday was our last full day in the area and Chuck had yet to fish, which was the one thing he wanted to do. Originally the boys and I set up our spot on Navarre Beach, where I laid reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and the boys went off to swim, but the lure of pier activity was too great. Within a half hour both boys had joined Chuck on the pier and I laid in the sand finishing my book (which was fantastic).

It may look like the boys were bored, but they weren’t. They were busy counting sea turtles.

By the time we left Navarre Beach, they’d seen somewhere in the double digits.

Our vacation in Destin was exactly what we needed – lots of relaxation, a couple of fun activities, and, most importantly of all, time together. The Gulf was breathtaking, and it bolstered Jeremy’s continued interest in marine science. Honestly, when he wasn’t eating, sleeping, or parasailing, he was exploring.

Jeremy had a hard time saying goodbye to the water, especially since I don’t know if we’ll return this calendar year. On our way out of town we stopped at the last pier before turning northward. We got out of the car for one last look. This place is so easy on the eyes.

Luckily for me, there was one more thing to look forward to: The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery. More on that tomorrow.

 

First Romp in the Gulf at Miramar Beach, Destin

Our life feels crazy sometimes, but after nearly a decade into Chuck’s job, I’ve learned to go with the flow. Our original plans for family vacation didn’t involve Destin, and then the back-up plan to Destin didn’t include Chuck. All the whiplash in the planning phase came to a head two days before our planned departure.

Long story short, we spent four days at Miramar Beach in Destin and it was perfect.

The boys had never been to the Gulf of Mexico, but they knew the water would be bluer and clearer than the Atlantic.

Jeremy, our ocean-loving son, couldn’t believe it.

It was chilly on Sunday night, and the wind was steady, but that was no deterrent for two eager boys ready to swim and explore.

They were so happy. Instantly. All at once. They, too, have learned to live at the whim of our unpredictable schedule, not knowing how one thing or another may pan out. But at this moment, with feet in the sand and bodies in the water, they were happy.

We had an hour or so until sundown, but that was fine since we had days of bright sun ahead.

The next morning we reserved a set of chairs with plenty of shade and planned to spend the entire day on the beach. It was a Monday morning. We had nowhere to be and nothing to do. The water was calm and clear.

The perk of traveling before schools are out for the summer is having a lot of space to ourselves. Homeschooling for the win!

Jeremy brought a collection of jars and containers to gather specimens and whatever Gulf treasures he found.

This was our view at lunch… We suffered through it.

We spent a little bit of time in the touristy areas of Destin, but not a ton because the beach was so perfect. Whenever we were around water, this was Jeremy:

We were thankful for the weather, thankful for the thin crowd, and thankful we could all be together.

And we still had a few days to go. More pictures later!

Crawling to summer

This is how the school day begins:

Crawling from the bed to the floor in the school room. Lounging until the last minute. Taking advantage of Mom’s fatigue because I don’t want to start school either.

Let’s start at 9. No, 9:30. Okay, 10.

How many more pages in math? Okay, just do two. Take your time. Yes, go on the front porch. It’s a beautiful morning. Yes, you can finish that later. Go play basketball and listen to your audiobook. I’ll be in the garden.

The day is so lovely! Go play outside.

We’re in the hardest part of the school year. Summer is RIGHT THERE. We can almost touch it. Lazy days of sleeping in and goofing off are within arm’s reach. It’s immensely difficult to stay focused, and while I grant the boys (and myself) a lot of slack, I can’t let us slip too far because we’ll only regret it in August.

But man oh man, how I’d love to just slack… slack like Salem on an afternoon nap.

We will finish the school year in two weeks and check the boxes for fifth and seventh grade. I will wrap up my first year of teaching at our co-op, which has been light years better than I anticipated. (I prepared to struggle. I did not prepare to love these kids as much as I do.)

Our plans for the summer are minimal since I am fiercely protective of our time. With school on hiatus, I’ll have more time to devote to writing fiction, which I’ve missed. There’s soccer camp and a wedding to photograph and time with my nephews. I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Amarillo to see Michele. There are other things I’d like to do or the boys want to do, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, though, we are crawling. Inching. Looking into the bright light at the end of this short tunnel.

See you soon, summer. We’ve missed you.

 

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.

Signs of Life Days Twenty-Four through Twenty-Six

We’ve gotten hawkish with our weekends. Protective, limiting, careful. We’ve skipped church more often than ever because we need sleep, time, a break. I don’t mind it one bit.

This weekend was no exception. I slept, I ran, I read. I prepped for class next week. We went out to dinner on Saturday night, but that was our only public viewing as a family. Otherwise, we laid low and it was wonderful.

My front porch posse:

How is this a Sign of Life? Because there is nothing more life-affirming than rooting down deep with my family and tying heart-strings with my children. We had family dinner every day. We watched The Force Awakens with Jeremy and played basketball with Jackson. Chuck and I went on a walk, just the two of us. We teased and laughed and talked about vacation plans this summer.

These are restorative weekends, the kind of days when our expectations are so low because there’s no reason to think too hard.

Abigail Van Buren, better known as Dear Abby, said, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” There is truth here, and while I know there are no guarantees about where Jeremy and Jackson will end up in life, or how our efforts will play a role, these efforts in particular won’t be wasted.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Three

It’s that time – that glorious not-too-hot, not-to-cold time of year when I am happy to sit on the front porch all day long with a beverage and a book. As soon as we got home this afternoon, we all went outside to take in the fresh air and sunshine.

Spring arrived early, and it’s probably a jinx to say it’s Spring at all. This is Tennessee, so we could still have a deep freeze in late March.

Today, though, it was all sunshine, and that means the front yard is back in business.

This is a Sign of Life for parents of active kids. They’re outside, they’re getting sweaty, they’re fighting over whether or not it was a touchdown. The dog is barking, the cat is napping, and I am playing referee from the front porch. We are like this for months, until it is too hot, too humid, and the mosquitos take over the land.

And we don’t come in until it’s dark. I love it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Twenty-One

I love the comfort and calm of our routine. It grounds me, rejuvenates me, and reminds me that the life we’ve chosen is right for us. What we do is not always what others would do, and yet, that’s the beauty of it. We’ve crafted a specific style of life that isn’t for everyone, but it’s for us.

It is a blessing to say, “This wasn’t what I’ve resorted to. This isn’t what I’ve been told to do. This isn’t what I was given. I choose it every day in its entirety.” 

And what is it, exactly? What’s this thing we’ve created?

It’s not just homeschooling, because that can look a thousand different ways depending on the household. It’s not just our family rules about electronics or the internet, or our standards about what food we eat and beverages we drink. It’s not that we put our marriage before the kids or that we put a high emphasis on balanced wellness. It’s not where we live or don’t live. It isn’t our involvement in church, or that we go to church at all. It isn’t about what we believe politically or socially, or what we’re involved in or not involved in.

It’s ALL OF IT. It’s every decision we make each day that pushes us towards the goal of making this the best life possible.

Sometimes it’s the tiniest decision – like separating the boys while the do school work. They have their individual spaces with little distraction. I can talk to them singly rather than making everything a group conversation. The house is quieter this way, so they can concentrate. Also, we all need some space from one another once in a while. This seemingly insignificant decision makes for a smoother morning, which helps create a more amiable afternoon, and if I’m lucky, it might even overflow into a peaceable evening. 

Sometimes the decision is big, like saying no to something one of the boys wants to be involved in because the time commitment is too much. Or the cost is too high, or the schedule is unreasonable, or one boy is already involved in something and we prefer they take turns so the family isn’t pulled in two directions. It’s hard saying no, but sometimes saying no to one child means saying yes to the entire family.

Several years ago Chuck and I agreed we wouldn’t run circles around the schedule, and we’ve done well to stick to it. After all, we can’t be together all the time, all four of us, so making the family a priority is, well, a priority.

Today we learned that a soccer opportunity won’t pan out for Jeremy this season, so it’s back to Parks and Rec for him. This isn’t bad news, but it’s disappointing, especially to him. It was enough of a disappointment for me to consider whether or not there is a reason to rearrange everything:

If he was in traditional public school, he could just join the soccer team there…

But if he was in traditional public school, our entire life would upend…

He could still try out for the local county team we’re zoned for as a homeschooler, but that’s a can of worms I’m not ready to open yet…  

So, it looks like we’ll just sit in this disappointment for a moment and then point to all the reasons why it’s okay. Other opportunities will come along, so let’s be optimistic. We can’t control everything, but for the things we can control, we do so diligently and with intention.

Because this is the only life we have, we can’t waste it on being too busy.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Days Seventeen through Twenty

When Friday morning rolled around and I’d finished a laundry list of things to do, including laundry, I hibernated in my bedroom for two hours awaiting my best friend and her family to arrive. I was going into a weekend with house guests and their four-month-old puppy. For an introvert and lover of all things neat and tidy, I needed a little bit of time to prepare mentally.

That may sound terrible, like I don’t enjoy having company, but that isn’t true at all. I love hospitality and I certainly love hosting people who are important to me, but I need to ready my brain for a house to be in disarray, for extra mess in the kitchen, for an increase in overall noise. Throw in a puppy and we’ve got a busy household. Because I love these people and their dog, it’s a no-brainer! It just means I need a minute.

Corey, Gwen, Alex, and four-month-old Wrigley showed up late Friday night. In my animal-loving fantasies, I anticipated Major and Wrigley running circles around each other, spending hours in the backyard, and wearing each other out, and out-snoring each other in marathon napping sessions.

Nope. That’s not at all what happened. Despite Wrigley’s attempts, Major wasn’t having it. It’s like he knew Wrigley was a Georgia dog, and in this Tennessee house, this wasn’t okay. While Wrigley puttered around the house, Major secluded himself to my bedroom and whined. This might be the closest they got to one another.

His loss! Wrigley Chubb is a sweetie pie.

We all went to the dog park and Greenway on Sunday afternoon so both dogs and both 13-year-olds could get out some energy. Jackson wore his Georgia Bulldogs hat in solidarity.

That’s Jeremy (on the bike) and Alex (on the skateboard) and Major following them inside the dog park. Poor fella wanted to run alongside them.

Our families have strong ties to one another, so anytime we can plug in and make memories, it’s worth it. Though Major didn’t make the family photo (he was hiding in the bedroom), Salem was a big boy and suffered through it. He kept his eye on Wrigley the whole time.

Before they headed back to Atlanta this morning, we had one more visitor to welcome. My family lived in Atlanta from 1990 to 1993, and while Corey’s friendship is one I’ve kept since living there, my sister has hung on to a few friendships as well. Andre was like a big brother to me. In fact, all of my sister’s friends treated me like I was their little sister. I felt special, loved, included, all of it. This is where social media has been a blessing to people like my sister and me – it’s enabled us to keep tabs on folks from everywhere we’ve lived.

So when I read a Facebook update from Andre saying he was going to Gatlinburg for the weekend, I jumped on it. COME SEE ME! What’s it been – 18 years? More? I don’t even remember.

Of course, this means he knew Corey too, because she was always at our house and we all went to the same high school. They were seniors, we were freshman.

How does this happen exactly? To go decades without being in touch and then see someone again and it feels like no time has passed? Or even if you realize time has passed, it just doesn’t matter.

Sitting next to Andre on the couch in my grown-up living room, in a home I share with my husband and children, it was all I could to not act like a 14-year-old girl and talk about how special I felt riding around in his red Chevrolet Tracker. He was so sweet to me, and I never forgot it.

This is the stuff that makes life GOOD and worthwhile. Deep and abiding relationships, making memories with people you love, loyalty that spans decades…

And puppies. We cannot forget the goodness of puppies.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Fifteen

When the day is as ordinary as today was, finding goodness can be challenging. I had little interaction with the outside world. School went along this morning as usual. I watched a bit of news, wrote a story, sorted through emails. Nothing extraordinary happened, and if nothing extraordinary happens for the rest of the evening, Wednesday will close out as a forgettable day. 

Yet when 6:30 p.m. rolled around, I felt a sudden rush of gratitude. My husband and children gathered into the kitchen. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli were placed on mismatched plates. The nightly game of Blokus began, and Salem took his place on the table as Overlord.

This is dinner time in our home.

My introverted, sentimental self loves these enclosed moments, when it’s just the four of us (or six, if you count the pets). Our dinner routine is important to me. It is a big deposit in the childhood memory banks of my boys.

I can just hear Thanksgiving dinner 20 years from now:

“Remember when we played that board game every night at dinner and Mom and Dad always won?”

“Yeah, they teamed up against us!”

“I know! So unfair!” 

But they’ll laugh and tease us and know full well that they won plenty of times, particularly into the second year when their strategy skills improved. They will remember sitting at the table together, with Salem giving us the side-eye and waiting for his own dinner. They’ll remember how I cooked more often than not and that I loved the spontaneous baking of cookies that happened when I was in a happy mood. 

I hope they will look back at family dinner and recall it as actually was: a priority. 

This is my life, and while some days are uneventful and mundane, I am thankful for it. This is stuff is so simple, but oh, it is so good.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Fourteen

For the last four years my boys have participated in a volunteer program at our church that provides a hot meal once a week to anyone who’s hungry for food and fellowship. I’ve only mentioned it once before because advertising efforts in this way is unbecoming. They don’t need a spotlight.

However, earlier last year, their efforts moved from setting tables to actually serving food, and Jeremy’s best buddy, Foster, joined the ranks. Short of illness, they are there each week as waiters, conversationalists, and clean-up crew.

Last night could’ve been a night to stay home, not because someone was sick or out of town, but because it was Foster’s birthday. Surely staying home with cake and presents is more desirable.

And yet, he chose otherwise. He still wanted to fulfill his commitment to serving the community and being faithful to the task. 

As the driver and fellow server alongside Jackson, the four of us went on to a Valentine’s Day-inspired event and served dinner to those who were hungry.

This act of selflessness speaks volumes to me. It would’ve completely fine, completely understandable, to not serve on his birthday, to stay home with his family and enjoy the perks of turning thirteen. I wouldn’t have faulted him for it.

But he chose otherwise, and that is something.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved – from the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same. Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

Escape after the 2016 Election

I spent Tuesday binging on Netflix (“River” is an excellent show). After seeing Tweets and texts that told me Trump might win, I turned on the television a little before midnight. By 4 a.m., I forced myself to go to sleep.

That’s hard to do when you’re in shock.

The shock wasn’t because I wanted Hillary to win, but rather, I’d resigned to the fact that she would win. I’d been preparing for it because there was no way Trump, or the candidate I wrote in, would win. Like so many others, I believed the media.

This is how we started homeschooling on Wednesday morning – watching the news and answering questions.

homeschooling-after-the-election

By Wednesday afternoon I’d already cried, gotten angry, gotten sad, and read dozens of articles. I processed.

By Thursday I’d centered my brain enough to meet a friend for coffee to talk about this stuff and teach my class at the homeschool co-op.

By Friday I was back to feeling like we were in an alternate reality, as well as being irritated by the violent protests that were being covered ad nauseam on the news. I texted Chuck, who was out of town, that I wanted to unplug on Saturday. Forget football (gasp!) and escape.

So we did.

We drove to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line near Erwin, TN, where the Appalachian Trails crosses Unaka Mountain. Chuck’s been here before and had been wanting to take us there. Though we’d missed the peak colors, and much of East Tennessee is under a cloud of smoke from wildfires, the scenery was just what my soul needed.

beauty-spot

shadows-on-the-at

Not a cloud in the sky means lots of sun in the eyes:

sunny-face

three-favorite-men

home-base

throwing-rocks

The non-fishermen:

me-and-jackrabbit

traipse

Chuck in his happy place:

chuck-in-his-happy-place

autumn-burst autumn-yellow fungi evergreen

heads-up

Protecting us from wild animals who want to eat us:

jack-the-protector

collection-of-trees

Creepers gonna creep…

creepers-gonna-creep

This smile tells me we made the right call.

pure-happy

When people ask, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” you tell them that they are loved, that family is first, and that life will go on. Sometimes that’s all you can say and it’s enough.

When Donald Trump says he doesn’t know those women, I believe him.

Upon hearing or seeing something outrageous from a presidential candidate, I do what everyone else does: I vent to like-minded people so my outrage is effectively validated.

The second thing I do is look at the comment/action/gesture through the lens of a woman raising two boys. Then I translate that comment/action/gesture into a teaching point – what can I do as a mother to ensure my boys do not end up like that.

Which is why I paid close attention to the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. I heard the sound bites, I watched the cringing video from Access Hollywood, and I digested an obscene amount of commentary from both sides.

I also unearthed myriad articles about Bill Clinton’s sexual assault history – because let’s be fair here, all accusers deserve a voice – and reviewed lists of politicians who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct while in office (and those lists are lengthy). When it comes to unwarranted groping, flirting, touching without consent, and using offensive language, sexual assault and misconduct knows no political party affiliation.

When Donald Trump says he doesn’t even know these women – his accusers – I believe him. I believe he has no memory of groping a woman on a flight in the 80s. I believe he has no memory of trying to kiss a receptionist in Trump Tower. I believe he has no memory of walking into a dressing room full of disrobed pageant queens.

Why do I believe him? Because when you don’t respect women, when “bro culture” allows this behavior with no real consequence, when women remain too afraid to speak up and defend themselves, sexual assault and misconduct become as commonplace as ordering from a menu, as normal as a handshake, as unforgettable as turning right on red.

He has no memory of these women because they were nothing to him.

Are there outliers? Sure. Some women might be eager for the spotlight. Some might be embellishing, and some might be outright lying. However, we’ve seen enough video and heard enough soundbites to apply context clues. We know enough about Trump’s megalomania to discern that he doesn’t have a record of respecting women.

That being said, let me tell you something: I remember the name of the boy who snapped my bra strap in sixth grade. You remember that time, don’t you? That awkward age when the relationship between boys and girls shifted into some weird, gray area because girls became physically interesting and boys started testing boundaries. We, as young women, hungry for attention and uncertain of the source of our worth, let a slew of things happen… hands on knees, the intentional elbow brush against breasts in the school hallway, the slip of a hand from between the shoulder blades to the low back to the behind… It meant a boy liked you, or perhaps sensed your low self-esteem and capitalized on it, even when the actions and comments were uncomfortable. We lacked the courage to speak up, to push them away, or to tell them, in the most colorful words, to bug off.

I guarantee you that the boy who snapped my bra strap doesn’t remember doing so. None of the boys who tried to look up my skirt remember doing so. I’m almost certain that the boy who I had to push away from me and lock the door and continually say through the peephole, “Go away,” because he wouldn’t take no for an answer doesn’t even remember my name.

But I remember his. His name was Tony.

It was Billy who ran up to me on the playground in sixth grade and snapped my bra strap, and he was also the one who made fun of the girls who weren’t developed enough to wear one.

There are three more names I’d like to mention, but now isn’t the time, and this isn’t the place.

I have sat through hour-long interviews where the man I’m interviewing looks back and forth, back and forth between my eyes and my chest, and I’ve said nothing. More recently I’ve felt uncomfortable in casual conversation with a certain man – who knows I’m married – whose compliments go too far, and I’ve said nothing. (Don’t worry. Chuck knows who he is.)

As recent as on the flight to Key West, a man gripped my hips and shifted past me in the narrow aisle on the way to the bathroom, so intrusive that the front of his pants rubbed against the back of my pants while I was bending over to pick up my carry-on bag. A simple tap on the shoulder and “excuse me” would’ve sufficed. But I said nothing.

Lest you think I see women as victims, I can assure you – we have responsibilities too. We can discuss the innate power girls and women know they have in their sexuality. We can acknowledge when girls and women have used their sexuality to persuade and sway the decision or action of a man. We can recognize when a girl or woman has positioned herself in harm’s way. Men and women alike play The Game.

But that is different and separate from the ongoing and underlying behavior acceptable in boys that lay a foundation for a lifetime of sexual misconduct and disrespect.

To be exact, as long as snapping bra straps and trying to look up skirts and stealing kisses and catcalling and unsolicited flirting is accepted as “boys will be boys,” [some] men will continue to see women as a perpetual playground. It starts early. It starts when they’re very young. It’s in this arena, the one I’m in with my ten and thirteen-year-old, where I must be different, be bold. It is now that I tighten my view and look directly at my boys and consider, “What else can I teach them? What else must they know?

Case in point: On the way home from our homeschool co-op yesterday Jeremy told me that one of the boys in his circle of friends accepts dares each week. When I asked what the dare of the day was, he said, “To go put his arm around a girl.”

“That is not okay,” I told him. “Do not ever put your hands on a girl without her permission.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s fine to give a friend a hug or a high five or whatever, but don’t ever throw your arm around a girl, or touch her in any way, as part of a dare or means to show off. She is not a toy.”

“Okay,” he said. “But I wasn’t the one –”

“I know you weren’t the one, but I need to you to understand girls aren’t to be treated like that. That girl wouldn’t have known she was part of a dare. She would’ve walked away with an entirely different interpretation, and she wouldn’t have known there was a bunch of boys laughing at her expense.”

Am I overreacting? Maybe. Maybe this is just how boys and girls figure things out. But since I’ve been on the receiving end of dares, teasing, harassing, catcalling, and other behaviors that chiseled away at my self-worth, I believe it’s important to tell my boys what’s okay and what’s not. I correct inappropriate comments and interject a woman’s perspective so the boys understand that words can have just as much power as actions. Motherhood is my ultimate calling and charge, so I take each step of it seriously.

So yeah. I believe Donald Trump doesn’t know those women. I believe there are plenty of men who don’t realize they’re offending women and acting inappropriately. And I wonder if it’s because we aren’t diligent enough in the earliest years when we have the most power to shape our boys into honorable men.