OMG IS IT SUMMER YET

Oh, if life had a fast forward button. I wouldn’t press it often, but I bet I’d fast forward school every year starting on April 1. Fast forwarding the last month of school sounds like a good plan to me.

Why? Because we are emotionally and mentally exhausted. We’re tired of each other. We’re bored of the schedule and routine. We don’t want to start the next unit in math or be tested on another list of vocabulary words. We certainly don’t want start the day off with negotiating terms of school work and behavior.

I’m confident every teacher and parent knows what I’m talking about here. Even though we’re mostly fresh off of spring break, our hearts aren’t in it. We’re over it, cooked and done.

I recently bought a hammock and Chuck strung it up between two trees in our back yard. Within minutes of settling inside the nylon pouch, I decided that I greatly preferred laying in the hammock over homeschooling in April. (By the way, I’m listening to season two of Serial. Are YOU?)

Hammock time

Even when the first week of May rolls around and we finish our last week of co-op, homeschooling won’t be completely over. Like last year, Jeremy will continue with math throughout the summer. There’s no way around it because he needs the extra time. Jackson will have a hefty summer reading list and I’ll likely have weekly math worksheets for him too. It won’t be a full-on break, but the daily routine will be upended and we won’t be in each other’s faces all day.

Speaking of faces, how cute is this one?

Salem in the hammock

Salem likes the hammock too.

Hurry, summer. We’re fading fast.

“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.

Field Trip: Marco Rubio Rally

A big part of our homeschooling philosophy is to talk about everything, and that includes politics. My boys are years away from voting, but that doesn’t negate them from the conversation. Chuck and I are honest about our political views and subsequent frustrations, and we try very hard to offer them objective information about what’s going on in the political arena. You will not hear us downloading hateful rhetoric into their young, impressionable brains. We tell them what we believe and acknowledge that they might grow up to believe differently from us.

Mostly, we boil everything down to the most important consideration, which is: What do you believe is the role of government?

When a friend of mine gave me the heads-up about Marco Rubio coming to town, I thought it would be a great opportunity to involve the boys in the political process. I always take them with me to vote, so why not take them to see a real, live candidate?

We showed up about 45 minutes prior to Marco Rubio’s arrival. I didn’t know what to expect at all, so we just went with the flow.

American flag

Reagan Revolution

Hillary for Prison

This sign reads, “Never Trump, because my children deserve better than a bully!”

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We secured a great spot for watching Rubio’s airplane land. Like a clown car, 20+ people disembarked from a very small aircraft, a mixture of press, campaign officials, and other folks. They must be packed like sardines in there.

(Yes, that’s Ethan standing next to Jeremy. We have a visitor for a few days!)

Watching the plane land

Finally, Rubio made his appearance.

Off the plane

To get the crowd warmed up, a trio of Tennessee Republicans gave brief speeches as their official endorsement for Marco Rubio’s nomination – Former Representative Zach Wamp, Senator Lamar Alexander, and Governor Bill Haslam:

Zach Wamp

Lamar Alexander

Governor Haslam

Haslam for Rubio

We also had prayer.

Prayer

Then it was time for Rubio to take the stage. People cheered and clapped and pulled out their phones to capture the moment.

Marco Rubio in Knoxville

Crowd

I am HAPPY to report that there was no name calling, no screaming, and no hate speech. Rubio made some choice comments about Donald Trump hiring illegal immigrants and using fear tactics in his campaign, but I expected that since he’s the front runner. Most of Rubio’s comments had to do with aligning his politics with those of Ronald Reagan’s and emphasizing how his parents moved from Cuba to the United States to live out the American Dream. They started from nothing and retired with dignity. Presuming his story is true and not sensationalized, I agree that’s part of what makes our country great.

Marco Rubio on stage

I have two favorite quotes from his speech. First, “The American Dream isn’t about how much stuff you have. It’s about having the opportunity to live the life you want.” (That made my Libertarian-leaning heart swell.)

The American Dream

Second, “When I’m president, you won’t always like my decisions, like when Tennessee plays Florida. Just don’t read my Tweets.”

Well played, sir. (The crowd yelled a resounding, “GO VOLS!”)

Technology

Overall, I was pleased with the experience. The boys were observant and curious, particularly of other parts of the event. We talked about the media presence and the role of those who were standing on stage behind Rubio. Rallies are live shows. Everyone plays a part.

Tweeting journalists

Tomorrow we’ll go to the voting booth and Tennessee will make its presidential preferences known. I wish I could say I was a die-hard fan of a candidate, but as it stands, there’s no one who truly represents my belief system as it relates to the purpose and role of government. I will vote because I can’t imagine not voting, but I wish I was passionate for a specific candidate. I admire that about those of you who will pull the lever or punch the ticket for someone you really, truly believe in.

As for Marco Rubio, I’ll leave you with Jeremy’s final assessment, which was, “He makes a very compelling argument.”

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P.S. I was on the lookout for a crew from The Circus, but I didn’t see anyone. Such a bummer! That would’ve been exciting. (If you’re not watching The Circus, you should be.)

Moving forward with confidence

Our plans for the next school year are coming together and I’ve never been this confident before with homeschooling. I cannot sing higher praises of our new co-op. The people, the classes, the opportunity – they have all filled a big gap in our long-range education plan and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m especially happy with the classes offered to middle and high school students. For the first time in our homeschooling journey, I can visualize what it might look like if we homeschool through 12th grade.

When we started homeschooling in 2011, I was flying blind. All I knew was that I wanted to manage what they were learning and the speed at which they were learning. I also wanted total flexibility with our schedule.

Math time in 2011

I had a Kindergartener and a second grader. Recess happened in costume. Those were the days.

Recess in 2011

As they progressed, so did their curriculum and level of difficulty, and so did my concern over whether or not I was cut out to handle their education without outside help. We joined a local co-op our second year, but my confidence did not increase. The co-op filled a hole for socialization, classroom cooperation, and the boys learning to be underneath other authority, but as far as core education was concerned, I didn’t love it.

Homeschooling in 2013

So we left the co-op and took a break. We went a year without it, and though the boys still had plenty of socialization through sports, church, and neighborhood friends, I knew they needed something extra curriculum-wise that I could not provide. Though the new co-op was more expensive and farther away than I preferred to drive, I thought we could at least try it for a year and quit if it didn’t work out.

DC Field trip in 2014

After the first week, I had a strong hunch that we’d made the right move. Sure enough, it’s proved to be exactly what we needed – both as a homeschooling family and as individuals. We have access to classes that I could not replicate at home, taught by degreed, experienced people. We have a board of directors who apply Christian values to the program but still see the wisdom and importance in teaching traditional science. The boys have made friends and I’ve been blessed with a position on staff teaching literature and creative writing next year.

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As a big and unexpected bonus, the timing of their classes has allowed Chuck and I to have lunch together – without the boys – on a weekly basis. Friends, this has never happened before and it has been so nice.

I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that we’ll homeschool through 12th grade, but for the first time ever I feel like it’s doable, and that gives me the confidence to keep moving forward.

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.

Blog Challenge Day 15: Daily timeline

What’s the timeline of my day?

Okay, which day? We have soccer on Saturdays and volunteer work on Tuesdays and co-op on Thursdays, and weekends are unpredictable.

Every weekday in general goes something like this:

7:00 a.m. – My alarm goes off and most of the time I hit the snooze button at least twice.
7:30 – 9 a.m. – I enjoy alone time. I write, read, whatever.
9:10 a.m. – Jackson shuffles into the living room in his PJs and asks for breakfast. Sometimes his eyes are still closed. He’s also holding his boy parts because he by-passes the bathroom on the way to ask for breakfast.
9:30 a.m. – Both boys are awake and rejecting the notion of school work.

First day of school in 2014
9:35 a.m. – School work has begun, begrudgingly.
9:35 – Noon-ish – The boys work on school while I edit photos, write, or help them with lessons. We’re all in the same room. Sometimes we listen to an audio book, sometimes I play music. Sometimes it’s completely silent.
12:30 p.m. – Lunch time, give or take.
1 – 5 p.m. – The boys finish up school work and then they scatter to different activities, like basketball, reading, educational websites on the computer, whatever. This is often when I exercise, or we may go to the library, or I’ve scheduled doctor’s appointments, or we have regularly scheduled activities like weekly volunteering, our homeschool co-op, and so on. Afternoons look different depending on the day. Our activities also depend on whether Chuck is home, whether Major is being a nutcase, and whether or not I have had enough.
5:30 – 6:30 p.m. – On days Jeremy doesn’t have soccer and I don’t have meetings, this is our dinner time. I cook most of the time, and while we eat we also play BlokusBlokusWe were introduced to Blokus at Thanksgiving in Chicago last year, loved it right away, bought our own game on Black Friday, and we have played nearly every night at dinner since then. It helps us slow down and enjoy each other’s company. It’s one of my favorite things to do as a family.
7 p.m. onward – Sometimes we watch a movie together, sometimes we retreat to our own spaces. It depends on who needs to introvert and who needs times together. Sometimes there’s an after-dinner basketball game between Chuck and ten neighborhood kids.
9:30 p.m. – Bedtime for little boys on weekdays! On the weekends, they can stay up until 10 p.m.
11 p.m. – This should be bedtime, but so often it’s not. Sometimes we’re watching Jimmy Kimmel, sometimes I’m on my own and engrossed in writing, reading, or watching trash TV. This is the time of a day that I struggle with the most. Should I go to bed? Yes. Do I need the sleep? Yes. But if I go to sleep, then I miss out on that quiet time, and as soon I go to sleep, the next day is already arriving and the routine will start all over again. And that’s not always what I want.

Weekends are a toss-up. Some are super busy, others are super lazy. Much of our daily life depends on Chuck’s travel schedule, whether or not I have photo shoots or interviews, whether or not we have company, whether or not Jeremy has soccer, and whether or not the weather is cooperative.

But that’s life, right?

Family rules, according to Jackson

One of the classes Jackson is taking at our new (and wonderful!) co-op is Literature and Creative Writing. This is a topic I feel comfortable teaching at home, but Jackson has an extra creative mind so double-dipping for this subject can only benefit him.

The classes was assigned to write a paper about family rules. I only helped him with grammar and punctuation, not content. It was his own idea and choice to start the paper with humor, which I adore.

Of course I have to share it with you:

In my family, we have a lot of strange rules. Before we go to bed, we go outside and eat grass. If it’s snowing, we go out and get really, really cold rolling around without jackets! Then we go to a beehive and get bitten. Then we go in the mud and get really dirty!

No, I’m joking! A real family rule is that we are very kind to each other! Also we have table manners, because it’s rude to burp while we eat dinner. We also have an electronic time limit. On weekends we have one hour, and we have to obey our parents and do chores. Then we do school on weekdays and Fridays we take a test. We can’t talk to our parents if they are doing work. We can only watch some PG-13 movies.

If we don’t obey the rules, we are in trouble, but we always obey the rules. Sometimes, we have ice cream at night. We have no breaking anything, no attacking anyone, no arguing with school, no lying, no making the dog really crazy, no making anyone mad, and no video games on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. That is all the family rules we have here.

Field trip to the fair and museum of art

One of our neighbors had free tickets to the fair but could not use them, so we were the lucky recipients. Our schedule didn’t allow us to go when the rides were in service, but we still got to see the farm animals, a comedian, and a quick acrobatics show. We also ate a bit of fair food, which clogged our arteries on impact.

Fair food

Up up and away

At first I was eager to see the animals in the 4H division of the fair, but then I couldn’t handle it. Animals in cages make me anxious and sad, and even if I know they’re well cared for, I still don’t like it.

I really wanted to take this precious baby home with me.

Duck in a cage

Rooster in a cage

This fella was friendly, so we gave him some love.

Wooly sheep

Having never been to the fair grounds before, it was all new to the boys and perfect for exploring. We remarked at how good these ducks and geese must have it – cage-free living with all those funnel cake scraps.

Visiting geese

Once we’d walked the fair grounds we still had a bit of time before we had somewhere to be, so we stopped at the Knoxville Museum of Art for a quick go-around.

Third floor of the Knox Museum

Glacier

At first I thought this glacier piece was made of glass tile, but nope. Sequins!

Sequins

The consensus is that the upside down Mona Lisa is our favorite work. First, it’s made of individual spools of thread. Can you see them now that I’ve told you? They’re hanging on wires.

Mona upside down

Second, there’s a glass ball positioned in front of the thread that re-positions Mona right side up. By shrinking the work, the spools work together to make the image of Mona Lisa much clearer. The whole contraption is genius.

Mona right side up

Observation at the Knox Museum

Field trip to Knox Museum

Even though we lost a morning of book work, we gained time together seeing things and places we normally wouldn’t have. I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again: the best thing about homeschooling is the freedom.

Worlds Fair Park

School is in session. When is fall break?

So we started school yesterday. They moaned and complained and asked to sleep a little longer (it was 8:30). They both remarked at how hard this year will be, especially Jeremy, whose math curriculum and science class will surely challenge him. We’re back to no video games during the week and earlier bed times. Structure has been established. We’re on a makeshift roll.

And we’re only on Day 2.

In truth, it will be a challenging year. We’re in a new co-op. We have a new schedule for church stuff and soccer stuff and stuff I’m doing on campus at UT. I’m freelancing again, doing photography, training for a half marathon, and trying hard to carve out time to work on the second novel. Every single day has something we have to do. Sunday through Saturday, all with something. Some days have two things and occasionally there’s a day that has three. Having an up-to-date calendar will keep my brain in check, and saying no when I need to will keep me sane.

Accepting help when it’s offered will also keep me from running for the mountains.

suspended from homeschool

There is much to be grateful for, particularly the freedom to choose our children’s method of education, the ability to change our minds or switch direction or try something new. I don’t always love it, but I’m always thankful for the choice. 

Godspeed, home educators! May our resolve be invincible.

 

 

 

Fourth and Sixth Grade

We start the academic year on Monday so it felt proper to take some school photos. We may not have a yearbook or a sit-and-smile photography studio, but we do have the flexibility for me to say, “Go put on some nice clothes and come out in the driveway! It’s time for school pictures!”

Let’s do this.

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The Teaching of Boys

I’m slowly making my way through Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. Parts of this book are heavy to digest, but so far I’ve found it helpful.

Wild ThingsThe book is broken down into three parts. The first is called The Way of the Boy, in which the authors break down boys by age and describe where they are developmentally. For example, they call boys ages 2 to 4 “Explorers” and boys ages 9 to 12 as “Individuals.” The lumping together of age groups helps to define whether the boy is in a bout of curiosity and extreme energy versus a time of real reflection and grappling with his own identity. I found most of the descriptions (so far) to be mostly accurate for Jeremy and semi-accurate for Jackson.

The second part is called The Mind of a Boy and it’s currently the section I’m reading. Here the authors discuss how a boy’s brain works, having different learning styles from girls, educational challenges, and how to handle disappointment. It’s important to note that the authors don’t say, “All boys are this way, and all girls are that way.” They use terms like generally, most, many, etc. There are always exceptions and I’ve found many exceptions to be true with Jackson, particularly the part where they talk about boys excelling in spatial challenges. (Spatial awareness is an area where Jackson struggles tremendously.)

The third part is titled The Heart of a Boy and it’s this section that I’m terrified to read, particularly as it pertains to rites of passage, the specific roles mothers and fathers play in a boy’s upbringing, and all the hot topics that scare me to death. I don’t even have to list them because y’all know what they are.

But back to The Mind of a Boy. I’m meditating on this subject specifically because we are about to start the school year. This is what I read this morning:

The model of education that has been in place for the past one hundred years or so is known as compulsory schooling. If you do some research into the history of education, you will find that the compulsory model was birthed out of the Industrial Revolution. The academic calendar and the very structure of school (length of day, amount of time spent in class, etc.) were designed as a means of fashioning great factory workers, not students. They weren’t designed with the cognitive and emotional development of kids in mind. And they certainly weren’t designed to correlate with the developing brains of boys. If they had been, physical education would happen four times a day, and boys would be at school only three or four days a week for four or five hours at a time. Boys would spend the other days engaged in apprenticeships or internships, learning and utilizing skills. (emphasis mine)

Please know the paragraph that follows offers suggestions on how to work with your child’s educator and school administration and is not a lecture about homeschooling. I have yet to come across any information about homeschooling but have found lots of advice for parents on working with their son’s teacher, offering supplemental instruction to boost their son’s strengths, and so on.

But, as a homeschooling mom, I completely resonate with this paragraph about compulsory schooling. Our school week is set up so that we have four days of instruction followed by one day of testing (math and vocabulary). And by “day,” I mean about four hours, and not four hours straight. We start, then stop, they go outside, we start again, then stop, they goof off, etc. School work happens all over the place – they change rooms, go outside, stretch out in the middle of the living room floor, sit at the kitchen table, lay on their beds, etc. The testing on Fridays lasts about thirty minutes and then we paint or watch a documentary or do something else outside of a textbook. When they get attitudes, they either need to eat, run laps outside, or get some alone time in their own space.

So far, it works really well, and the insight from this book suggests that we’re headed in the right direction when it comes to cultivating sharp minds. THAT DOES NOT MEAN that I think boys in the traditional school experience will not excel in their own ways. I’m merely referencing my own children and their development. I absolutely do not want to portray some image that what we’re doing is right and what everyone is doing is wrong. Let’s be clear on that.


Here are other random bits I’ve underlined in the book:

Boys ages 5-8:

“Unfortunately most early childhood educational environments are not designed to help boys succeed… Much of the current research on boys and school recommends that boys wait to start first grade until they are six and a half. There’s a real maturity lag in young boys in this stage, compared to girls, and this is an obstacle to boys having a successful school experience in the early elementary years.”

“We can’t emphasize enough how important routine is for boys at this stage of their development. They behave and learn best by repetition and consistency.”

Boys ages 9-12:

“For those who care for boys, this can be a season of grieving as we watch the last remaining evidence of their childhood begin to pass away.”

“Feelings like sadness, hurt, fear, and loneliness are all expressed as anger.”

“Throughout their middle school years, boys get better and better about disguising their feelings and denying their emotional and spiritual sensitivity.”

“He wants to make his mark on the world and to discover who he is as a man. In order to do this, he needs to find ways to stand out from his peers and separate from his parents.”

“Because of a boy’s tendency to experiment at this stage, it’s also a time when his caregivers must increase their level of observation.”

“You want to stay ahead of the changes that are coming. He needs for puberty to put in a physical and spiritual context.”

All ages:

“We cannot nurture a boy’s brain and shame him at the same time.”

“As boys develop, they learn primarily in three ways: visually, spatially, and experimentally. Schools, on the other hand, are mostly auditory, sedentary, and intellectual.”

“If you’ve ever asked a boy (or a man) what he’s thinking about and he said, “Nothing,” odds are he was telling the truth.”


I could go on, but at that point I might as well photocopy the whole book and post it here. If you are raising boys and you’re feeling troubled by one or more issues specific to boyhood, I recommend Wild Things. Although, please know this book is written from a Christian’s point of view so at the core of nurturing a boy’s heart is some level of spirituality. It’s not overly weighted, but it’s something you should know up front.

This isn’t a full review since I have about 150 pages to go. I’m not at all excited about reading the parts on sexuality.

Not. At. All.

But I press onward.

I’m not that homeschooling mom.

Please know that this post is not a commentary on Josh Duggar, Josh Duggar’s history with molestation, TLC’s decisions about its programing, or anything remotely religious, political, or cultural. About those matters, I have no input.

This post is about homeschooling, more specifically the homeschooling haters who’ve linked homeschooling as an isolation-based catalyst for pedophilia, incest, and other acts of criminal behavior inside the home.


Let’s start with the obvious: Homeschooling looks different in every household. Some families are lax, some are rigid. Some are religiously motivated, some aren’t. Some boast educational superiority, some don’t. And there are a thousand variations in between.

To the outsider, homeschooling is a natural curiosity. I can’t count the times I’ve been told, “I could never do that! I’d go nuts!” To which I usually reply, “Some days I feel nuts, other days not so much.”

People wonder what we do all day, how I interact with my boys regarding their school work, if they have to take standardized tests (because how else could I measure their intellect?), and whether or not they are socialized (that one makes me beat my head against a brick wall). Those who know us personally don’t ask these questions because they know my boys, they understand the boys’ educational challenges, they understand our family dynamic and know the normalcy we live out each day.

For the record, my kids play Minecraft, they argue, get dirty, ask hard questions, use their manners, resist vegetables, love the beach, get in trouble, ask for forgiveness, are friends with the neighborhood kids, play sports, love LEGOs, et cetera. Chuck and I watch R-rated movies, love all types of music, have tattoos, prefer the outdoors, read books, enjoy traveling, and we are doing this parenting thing the best way we know how. We have pets, we love football, we take pride in a well-groomed yard.

So yeah, we’re totally normal. Just like you. I also hate the word normal because what does that mean anyway?

Too cool

 

Most of the time, I’m not bothered by nonsense on social media. I used to get rattled by blanket statements and political rants, but I censor my eyes now. It’s not worth the blood pressure medicine.

But when the Duggar story broke, all kinds of crazy exploded about homeschooling on Twitter and I felt my skin get hot. Within a few days, I was hyper-checking social media to see who was offending me. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in that crazy camp.

Dear Twitter

Okay, so I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t making it up that homeschoolers – as a whole – were catching flack. I didn’t respond to a single Tweet because I didn’t want to start something that would never really finish amicably. People have their ideas and their love for labeling is just too strong.

But this space is mine, this blog, this cathartic place where I document bits of our life, like a journal. Some of you read because we’re related or acquainted, some of you because you’re just curious. My interaction with you is mostly minimal, which is totally fine because I don’t write for reaction. I write to unload.

We aren’t the Duggars. We’re not even close. We aren’t the hippie commune people either. Not even close. We’re in the middle, on another plane, in a different area altogether. We homeschool because I like addressing both boys’ specific needs. I like our discussions and the freedom we have to decide whether we want to study weather patterns or the food chain. I like that we can take longer with fractions if we need to. I really like keeping our own calendar.

So much of this feels like common sense, but I can totally see where some people are uneasy with the idea of not going to traditional school. On the surface, it feels rebellious. It feels alternative and restrictive. Homeschooling sounds like the perfect breeding ground for creating incompetent, gullible adults from impressionable, vulnerable children. By homeschooling, we indoctrinate, right? By homeschooling, we control.

Let me say – I wish I had better control in this house. Did I mention my oldest is nearing puberty? Whoa boy.

Unless there are credible statistics to prove the point, I fail to believe that homeschooling is directly correlated to crimes inside the home. Children don’t need to be kept at home for educational purposes to be molested, beaten, starved, or abused. That happens everywhere, in all sorts of family dynamics, in every kind of setting. Everywhere. Homeschooling does not incite crime. Sickness does. 

You know what I’m saying here, right? Psychological imbalance, distorted and irrational thinking, impulsivity and a lack of empathy. That kind of sick. People molest and abuse because they are sick. Some can be helped, but I swear that some can’t. Where Josh Duggar falls on that spectrum, I have no clue. I sorta don’t care.

Even if you want to draw that line from the Duggar’s conservative curriculum to say, “See? Josh was taught that women’s bodies are meant for men and sin can be prayed away” or whatever, that still doesn’t allow for the lumping together of homeschoolers as captive audience for home-based crimes. Even if your home state doesn’t have strict homeschooling laws, that line just can’t be drawn. Crazy happens everywhere. 

All of this being said, I’m completely curious to know what the Duggars will say Wednesday night during their first public interview. SO CURIOUS. No doubt people will pounce on them all over again and say whatever stings the most. I’ll have my eye on the anti-homeschooling Tweets. I might even send out this link, if only to cauterize the hate.

Okay. I’m feeling better now. This post was more cathartic than I thought it would be.

I call summer break!

It’s been a tough semester, particularly for Jeremy. While he’s sharp, curious, and extremely intuitive, he has to work extra hard in certain subjects and fifth grade was a difficult year. He finished all of his subjects this week except math and we agreed (it was more like a truce) that he would continue working on math throughout the summer. One page per day, every weekday. All summer privileges still apply – swimming, video games, sleeping in, and so on. But first, math.

In the end, I think it’s better this way. Without a lull between academic years there won’t be a week or two of refresher. No digging up old worksheets or playing “let’s remember everything you did three months ago.”

Once we came to the agreement, he looked relieved. The pressure was off and he didn’t feel like his school year was going to extend into July. Math continues even with summer at our door step.

It's summer 2015

In addition to math, both boys will be reading, but that goes without saying, right?

Hello Summer! Let’s have some fun.

Oh Fifth Grade Math! Is it summer yet?

This was me yesterday trying to teach Jeremy how to find the area and circumference of a circle:

Annoyed rocket

(I love Rocket Raccoon.)

We are three units away from being done with fifth grade math, and sure enough, we’ve reached a point where we need to slow down. I am SO TEMPTED to say, “Oh, we’ll just tackle this next year,” but that would be to no one’s benefit. With math, we must reach mastery. Since one principle builds on the next, we can’t skip, glaze over, and give excuse.

So we press on. Pi times radius squared.

In other news, Jackson is sick. That doesn’t sound like news, but it is in this family. Jackson hasn’t been sick since 2013 when he had a fever for about a day. Before then, I don’t remember the last time he was sick. Judging by the congestion and coughing (and absence of fever), I’m thinking it’s allergy-related. He looks puny, despite is ever-present cheerful disposition, so I’ve extended a little grace with his school work. He’s nearly done, so at this point, what’s a few more days?

Once both boys complete their school work for the year and mornings are back to being mine, I’ll start writing novel No. 2. There is still more research to do, but the characters have been clawing at my brain with dialogue. They are ready to talk and I’ve been hushing them for several months. I’ve made notes here and there, but nothing has been concrete. The characters are getting impatient, which in turn makes me anxious, so hopefully by June I can start releasing them through my fingertips.

If that doesn’t sound nuts, then I don’t know what does.

Is school over yet?

We are barely hanging in there, and by “we,” I mean Jeremy and me. Jackson is skating through his remaining third grade work, which now consists of vocabulary and creative writing. He will be done by Mother’s Day weekend.

Jeremy, on the other hand, has had a tough year, so the pace at which he’s worked varied depending on the subject and lesson. Fractions have caused most of his discomfort and – frankly – I’m tired of them too. We have four units left and I’m at the point where I’d pay someone to come tackle those units for me.

It’s not his fault. Fractions are hard. Sure, attitudes could be better (his AND mine), but fractions are just hard. We’re all pining for summer so the thought of another full month of school makes me (and him) want to cry. In fact, we have cried, but that’s another post.

My desk looks like it’s the end of the school year – a mishmash of unrelated items that have found their way to me. Flash cards of the presidents, a tooth, a fortune… It’s time for a hardy clean-out and shredding, a signal that the school year is ending and I don’t have to grade anything, assign anything, or think about fractions for a long while.

random mess

I imagine school teachers feel like I do – overwhelmed with papers, faces, and whiny voices. Everyone wants to be done with each other. We want to clean out our desks and cubbies and toss the junk. We want to say goodbye to the schedule and enjoy the putting away of notebooks and pencils for a few months. We want sunshine and sleeping in and goofing off.

Godspeed, everyone. We’re nearly there.

Ice, then snow, then cabin fever

What a week. Lost power, restored power, ice, ice, more ice. No internet, a quickie blizzard, serious cabin fever.

It’s been mostly fun for the boys since they could gather with the neighborhood kids and enjoy all the hills and slippery surfaces. The neighborhood kids were out of school all week but I was the mean mom who made her kids do school four out of the five days. It wasn’t without major pouting and arguing, which resulted in a day’s worth of grounding and restriction and more sulking. Homeschooled kids can do school in their PJs and sleep in and take a lot of breaks, but they don’t get snow days. This is not new information, so when I reminded them that they would at least do math and vocabulary, they lost their minds.

Did I mention cabin fever?

The ground is still frozen at single-digit degrees and there are solid sheets of ice where the afternoon sun doesn’t reach. We are eternally grateful that our power loss was short-lived and we didn’t lose the two weeks worth of groceries that I’d just purchased. We are also grateful for the gas fireplace that kept us warm in the dark.

Since our internet has been restored, we’ve felt a wave of rejuvenation and feel like no winter weather can keep us down. God bless the creator of WiFi.

Frozen grass

Ice storm 2015

Up the hill

Sledding

Jack on the sled

Tractor pull

Tractor pull2

Skating in the driveway

Quick blizzard

Major in the snow

TBT December 2010, when I was important

I recently agreed to serve on two unrelated committees and realized I needed to unearth my old day planner to stay organized. I knew exactly where it was – thrown into a Rubbermaid container, my personal archive of Amarillo Magazines. I didn’t want leave my job as the features writer and editor. I didn’t want to leave Michele or remove myself from the community that so graciously welcomed me. I didn’t want to leave a position that made me feel important.

I found the day planner in the exact state I left it on December 17, 2010, my last day.

TBT December calendar 2010

Back story: We moved to Amarillo in December 2008 for Chuck’s new job and I landed a position at the city magazine in February 2009. Career-wise, we were golden. In every other area of life, we were miserable. Chuck’s mother had just been diagnosed with brain cancer, Jackson was entering early intervention because he wasn’t speaking, and our “Life is an Adventure!” attitude tanked by the end of the first month when we realized how badly we missed the mountains. The high plains, with its wide open spaces and vast horizons, felt suffocating.

Still, we made do. I loved every part of my job, Jackson started talking and learning to read, and Jeremy loved his school, his teachers, and our church. However, Chuck, who traveled nearly non-stop, was quietly burdened by his inability to help care for his mother, and by the end of 2009, we knew our life in Amarillo was going to be cut short. By July 2010, our house was back on the market and Chuck was moving back to Tennessee. The boys and I stayed in Texas to await the sale of our house. We entered a geographical separation that ended up lasting eight months.

Our dog passed away in August 2010, followed by Chuck’s mom in October. I told Michele I needed to resign by December, even if our house hadn’t sold, mainly because the emotional and physical load I was carrying was too much. We spent Christmas with Chuck’s family in Santa Fe because a traditional Christmas was out of the question. Brenda was gone, our house had not sold. No one was in the mood. We rallied around one another in a beautiful city and enjoyed the snow.

I flipped through my day planner recalling our two years in Amarillo. So much good for me happened there, even though it was hard on our family. The day Chuck picked me up from work on my last day, I slipped into the car with my box of stuff and said, “I hope it’s worth it.”

Let me assure you: It’s been worth it. Though I miss feeling important in a professional way, I know what I’m doing now is just as meaningful. I’m not conducting interviews nor writing all the content for an entire magazine. I’m not helping on photo shoots or brainstorming with one of my favorite people. I’m not logging miles on the car, not proofing pages, not racing from one appointment to the next.

Instead, I’m teaching Jeremy fractions, showing Jackson how use proper punctuation, and taking them to volunteer opportunities on a weekly basis. I’m writing a second novel and keeping my fingers crossed for the first one. I’m taking photographs of lovely people. I completed a graduate degree and am looking for another race to run, lucky number thirteen. I manage this household, cook from scratch, and play hide and seek.

That’s all important too.

After a bout of reminiscing, I took out the old calendar and notes from the day planner – all of 2009 and 2010 – and threw them in the trash. It’s time to use that binder for something else and reconcile that even though my life looks very different now than it did five years ago, I’m no less valuable. 

Remind me of this next time I’m folding eight million loads of laundry.

Chromosomes and Adoption: Not my favorite Science lesson

The subject of our boys’ adoptions come up rarely, so rarely that we all forget that that’s how we became a family. It’s a non-issue most of the time, and when it is an issue, it’s only a remark, like “I wonder if I’ll ever meet my birth mom/birth dad,” to which we respond with, “When it comes time for that, we’ll be right there with you.”

Every once in a while I’m caught off guard and don’t have a Standard Adoption Response on the tip of my tongue. That happened this morning and I’m still trying to figure out what to do about it.

Jeremy’s learning about blood and bones and what makes up our bodies, so it should’ve occurred to me that we’d eventually make our way to chromosomes. We were reading about blood cells and then all of a sudden wound up here:

Chromosomes and Adoption

It’s meant to be a fun experiment to see how a child could’ve looked with alternative traits from his parents, but all I saw was a BIG RED STOP SIGN. It would be cruel to have him fill in information about Chuck and me, knowing that none of our physical traits were passed down to our children. It would be more cruel to fill in his birth mother’s physical traits and leave the birth father’s blank, a reminder that someone didn’t take interest in his existence.

I didn’t have an answer at the ready, so – on the fly and in a panic – I turned the page and muffled something like, “Oh we’ll come back to that.” 

This must be dealt with. Jeremy needs to learn about chromosomes and blood type and do that graph thing where you figure out the probability of eye color, but I’ll have to get my words sorted out beforehand. I’ll have to find a way to celebrate his reddish hair, freckles, and long eyelashes even though we aren’t sure where they came from. Jackson too, with his zigzag hairline, tan skin, and eyes that smile.  So far, I think we’ve done a stellar job of reinforcing how much they were wanted and prayed for and how their adoptions fell perfectly into place for both our family and their birth families. Neither child, to my knowledge or intuition, feels short-changed or discarded. But this sort of Science lesson flies right in their faces and reminds them, “Oh yeah. I don’t have this information. It doesn’t apply to me.”

Maybe I’m not giving Jeremy and Jackson enough credit here. Just this afternoon I overheard Jeremy tell his brother, “I bet I could play soccer against ninth graders. I have soccer in my blood.” A true statement, I might add. His biological mother and half-brother are soccer pros and I have no doubt Jeremy is like them. Likewise, he favors his biological aunt in the same wonderful way Jacob favors me. Jackson, too, shares the same bright smile as his birth mother. Their childhood photos are incredibly similar.

Even with all of these parallels we’ve drawn, I still feel a need to patch holes, to pull them in a suffocating Mom hug and say, “IT’S ALL FINE! WE’RE ALL FINE HERE!” But then they’ll roll their eyes and tell me to calm down and that I’m making a big deal out of nothing.

UGH. Why does it all feel so HEAVY?

School update and a book review

We’ve begun our second week of school and if the boys keep at this pace we’ll be finished by March. Not really, but they are zooming through the first few units of math. Things will slow down when we hit fractions and multiplication hard core. Jackson dances around saying, “Multiplication is easy peasy,” but he’s only started with zeros and ones. I’m letting him enjoy the little victories.

As for my school, I’m loving it. Genre writing is the perfect class to take while finishing the novel for my capstone. Right now we’re reading a brainless romance novel, but next on the list is Gone, Baby, Gone. It won’t be a fresh read since I’ve seen the movie, but I expect it to be good.

The Girl You Left BehindSpeaking of books, prior to the start of the fall semester I finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me a few weeks ago when I asked friends on Facebook to suggest their current favorite reads. The story is a lively mix of historical and contemporary fiction that revolves around the portrait of a French woman, titled appropriately The Girl You Left Behind.

The book begins with Sophie Lefèvre, who runs a hotel in a small French town in 1916 during the German occupation. Her husband, Édouard, is away fighting in the war but has left his wife with a sweet reminder of their love for one another – an informal yet irresistible portrait he painted of her. The painting is all well and good until the German Kommandant takes notice of it. Subsequently, Sophie and the Kommandant become uncomfortably intertwined.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years and The Girl You Left Behind hangs in Liv Halston’s house, a comforting yet cruel reminder of her dead husband who bought the portrait for her as a wedding gift. Liv is in a pit of mourning and complacency when she is threatened with losing the portrait on account of restitution.

Though there’s a bit of predictability with how the book will end, the mystery is all about discovering how the portrait went from hanging on a hotel wall in 1916 France to an unrelated widow’s home in London a century later. There’s also a some suspense when it comes to finding out what happened to Sophie, who disappeared the same time as her portrait.

Overall the book was an enjoyable read and it was the first I’ve read from Jojo Moyes. Her writing is fluid and descriptive, and even though a few of things I suspected early on came true, my attention was kept until the final page because the unfolding of the portrait’s story was so interesting.

In other news, is it autumn yet?


 

First Day of School

The day started with pancakes and avoidance.

Jackson starts 3rd grade

After a modest amount of pouting, I showed the boys their curriculum and we got to work. Major and Salem joined us, per usual.

Major on the first day of school

Salem on the first day of schoolAttitudes were mostly good, and as I’ve learned from previous years, attitude is everything, mine included.

This will be my last semester of graduate school, but also the most exciting. In addition to a genre writing course, I’m working on my capstone project – the novel. The semester will be difficult but I’m not worried. For some strange reason, my anxiety is at bay and I’m not fretting. It’s not even a medically-induced calm. I just feel good about it all.

However, I totally reserve the right to freak out and get anxious if I want to.

Cheers to a great year! ♥

TBT: January 2007

Just look at these two. Jeremy was three and Jackson was seven months. TBT January 2007There are many things I miss about that that time – the sweetness, the discovery, the giggles. I even miss cloth diapering and making baby food.

Yet, while I hear many moms wishing time would slow down and how their kids are growing so fast, I keep wondering why I don’t feel the same way. Sure, there are moments when I look at Jeremy and think, “You are so grown up, so mature. You’ll be going off to college in minutes,” or I look at Jackson and think, “Everything you’ve just written is in perfect grammar, and there was a time when I wasn’t even sure you’d talk.”

But those moments aren’t overwhelmingly frequent, and for the most part, I’m not wishing for time to slow down or thinking this has all gone so fast. It’s been just right. 

Do I feel this way because the three of us are together all the time? I’m here for mornings, afternoons, and evenings, for school stuff and sports stuff, and I only miss those things if I’m the one who’s gone somewhere. I missed them when I was in Santa Fe and when Chuck and I went on an anniversary trip last year. Sometimes I choose to miss them on a random afternoon when my introverted nature needs a few hours alone.

Otherwise, I rarely miss anything. Rarely, hardly ever, and maybe that’s why I don’t feel like time has escaped me.

It’s a curious thing, this life we’ve created. When we became parents, I didn’t have a single thought about homeschooling or freelancing or writing a novel or even living where we live, but now I don’t wish for anything else. Some days are snapshots of perfection and other days I’m living in the bell jar, but on the whole, this life is grand and it’s a great privilege to be with these boys at every stage.

We’ll probably take a back-to-school photo on Monday, but we’ll probably be in our pajamas. Then we’ll start a new school year with fractions, creative writing, and going to co-op again. And then, a few years from now, I’ll look back at the photo and remember this time just as it was – a season of exploration, curiosity, and growth.

Maybe then I’ll think time has gone by too fast and I’ll wish for their elementary years again. Though I hope not, because living in the moment means soaking up enough experiences that you are fulfilled, like you can move forward to the next stage and not feel cheated.

So far, I don’t feel cheated. Time hasn’t been stolen from me, nor has it moved too fast. Each day has arrived and ended on schedule, giving me enough moments to savor and memories to cherish. This must be what contentment feels like.