Autumn 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

These three have been friends since middle and high school.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Where in the world have I been

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer is in the rearview

We are fully immersed in the fall schedule – homeschool co-op classes, soccer for Jeremy, another round of equine therapy for Jack, and other extracurriculars that give us little breathing room. Jeremy worked about 20 to 25 hours a week during the summer months, but he’s back down to 10 or 12, a more manageable number. Now that he’s in high school and the demands on him are greater, time management will be the ultimate task this year. Fingers crossed. These are necessary growing pains.

Jeremy’s two greatest loves are soccer and LEGO, so he’s entirely consistent with the person he’s been from the start. He plays for a local private school along with a smattering of other homeschooled kids, including one of his best friends, which means Chuck and I are officially soccer parents. I still don’t recognize fouls, and I can’t tell you a lot about certain positions, but I’m paying attention and learning.¬†

Jackson will be back in the saddle this week for equine therapy, or Horse Hangout Hour, as he calls it, and we couldn’t be more pleased with our experience in the program.¬†

Before the summer wound down for good, we took the boys and their friends to Brickmania, a LEGO convention, in August. Jeremy and Foster melted into the crowd immediately, plenty old enough to explore and walk around on their own. Jackson and Libby stayed with Chuck and me, as they are not quite old enough to maneuver the convention center without help. (They are two peas in a pod though!) 

I love the LEGO convention, but this year’s exhibits weren’t nearly as impressive as last year’s.¬†

There were also fewer vendors, to Jeremy’s dismay, though that didn’t keep him from spending more than $100 on mini-figures and whatever else he bought. (This is where the part-time job comes in handy!)

I don’t have a single photo of Jeremy from the LEGO convention because, at almost 15, he’s over it. I could press him to stand and smile for me, but the sheer panic and embarrassment is ever-present on his face. I’m learning to leave him be and not succumb to the pressure to document everything.

This guy still poses with Mom though: 

I am busier than ever, and I’m trying to figure out whether I’m over-committed or still trying to hone my own time management skills. I wrote a ton over the summer – editing the novel and freelance writing, along with settling into a position I accepted in May as editorial coordinator of a new local magazine. Now I’m in the classroom teaching four English classes at our co-op – English for 9th and 10th grade, Composition for middle grades, Literature and Creative Writing for middle grades, and Grammar/Mechanics of Writing for upper elementary/lower middle grades. It is true when I say I love everything I’m doing, but it is also true that my brain has little down time. Gosh, has it ever?¬†

For the curious, the works I’m teaching this year are We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Divorce, The Giver, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Wonderstruck, Black Beauty, I am Malala, A Study in Scarlet, and a hefty collection of short stories from various eras, ethnicities, and genres.¬†

There is reprieve coming soon though. Chuck and I finally booked the trip we’ve been wanting to take for well more than a decade. No more waiting. Time, for all we know, is short.¬†

In the meantime, FOOTBALL SEASON IS BACK and the Packers play the Bears on Sunday. I am ready. 

Let’s hope this guy is ready too:¬†

Brewers vs. Braves: A Victory

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

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

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

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

It was HOT, HOT, HOT. 

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

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

My favorite photo from the night: 

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson turns 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson goes to Disney World

After our day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and subsequent day of rest by the pool) it was finally Jackson’s turn to go to Disney World! He’d been counting the days and the day had finally come.

My brother-in-law fixed him up with a lanyard for pin trading, which he’d already worn the night before to Disney Springs. An affinity for Donald Duck has grown in recent months so he decided to decorate his lanyard with Donald-specific pins. From what I understand, he was diligent about keeping to his goal.

A character lunch ensured he met the Fab Five – including Donald Duck!

Jackson loves fast rides, so Space Mountain was one of his favorites!

Jeremy had a hard time knowing what he was missing, but he understood it was his brother’s turn and he had already experienced Disney World with his cousins.

I love this photo of him passed out asleep with Donald Duck on his lap 

Fortunately, after getting back to our house late Friday night, our family spent Saturday with us and saved Sunday for the long drive home to Chicago. That meant there was time for Wizard Chess.

Donald Duck pin success!

Thank you, Becky, Jeff, Jacob, and Owen, for taking Jackson to Disney World! To use his words, the trip was MAGICAL. (And thanks for all the cell phone pics!)

That time Jackson got a high five from Peyton Manning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a split second, it was over.

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

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

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

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

“I can’t believe it!”

“NO, I CAN’T BELIEVE IT EITHER.”

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

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

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

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.

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.

Thanksgiving 2016

My goal for Thanksgiving was simple: Keep it low key. Even though I cooked the full meal and didn’t skimp on the menu, the rest of Thanksgiving was simple and laid back. My sister and her family came into town, we shopped, she helped in the kitchen, and we saw a movie. Things just flowed along, and I didn’t bring out my camera once, evident by the poor quality photo of our¬†dinner, complete with catching Jackson mid-blink.

thanksgiving-dinner-2016

I wanted to enjoy myself, so that meant keeping plans to a minimum. It worked, too, because we had a lovely few days together.

When Jeremy and Owen weren’t gaming, they were enjoying their mounds of Pokemon cards.

pokemon-explosion

Jacob DROVE me to get donuts. I wasn’t nervous at all because he’s an excellent driver. It was weird though, because it’s Jacob. He was just born a few years ago, right?

jacob-drives-me-to-get-donuts

Jackson used his money to buy another pillow pet – this time, he chose a West Virginia Mountaineer. I was pleased!

wv-pillow-pet

And Jeremy finally saved enough money to buy an iPod Touch. He’s been waiting nearly two years for this moment.

jeremys-new-ipod

In hindsight it might have been nice to set up the tripod and capture a full family photo with all eight of us, but I really liked keeping my duties to a minimum. Maybe next time ūüôā

becky-and-me-at-thanksgiving

First Week of School

The first week of school was near perfect – great attitudes, excitement over co-op classes, the blissful return to routine. We were all smiles last week.

First day of co-op

Today is a different story though. I don’t feel well, and neither does Jackson, and Jeremy has been reminded just how hard math can be. He also doesn’t love that middle school has more required work than elementary school. When Jackson wraps up for the day, Jeremy still has a few more subjects to go.

Man, life is hard.

With sports¬†and activities at church picking up, it is more apparent than ever the need to encourage stillness in our home. We need time away from screens and people and noise. We need to close our eyes and rest so that we’re prepared for the next big thing. We must say no to things so we can do our best with what we’ve said yes to, an exceptionally hard lesson to teach two busy boys.

Can you tell that I’ve been missing the abbey? Because I am.

The Start of Fifth and Seventh Grade

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

Fifth and Seventh Grade

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

Brothers August 2016

Jackson, Age 10

Jackson age 10

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

ESPN encyclopedia reader

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

Jackson August 2016

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

Jackson fifth grade

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

Jeremy, Age Almost 13

Jeremy August 2016

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

Jeremy age almost-13

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

Still loves legos

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

Soccer lover

Jeremy seventh grade

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

Forever competitive

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

I feel like we hit the jackpot with these two.

Love them

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

Salem interrupts

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

Come here. Sit down and look at me.

I do this often. I’ll be playing around with my camera, figuring stuff out, and suddenly I need a face in front of me. I’ll call a child, whoever is closest, and he’ll stare at the lens. I click, adjust, click, readjust. My handsome¬†boys, the¬†test models.

Jackson in mid-June 2016

Two things about this I love:

First, I always have updated photos of them. Not just blurry phone pictures, but real, detailed, up-close images of what they look like RIGHT NOW. Every freckle, every inch of peach fuzz. This is Jackson at ten years and ten days old. This is Jeremy at twelve years, nine months, and twelve days old.

Jeremy in mid-June 2016

The second thing I love is that while I fiddle with aperture and shutter speed, we talk. We talk about random stuff, like Pokemon cards, football stadiums, swimming with friends. Though neither avoids conversation with me (yet), this is a time and space when we have each other’s full attention. I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me. Though there is a camera between us, we have eye contact.

I’m not sure how much longer they’ll let me use them for test models, and if I had to guess, I think Jeremy will jump ship first. But for now, I will continue. Every month or so, every couple of weeks, I’ll sit them down on the edge of my bed, outside on the porch, wherever, and say, “Come here. Sit down and look at me.”

And it will be worth it.

Jackson turns 10

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

Make a wish

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

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

Jimmy's football cards

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

Four square

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

The same goes for reading sports encyclopedias.

Encyclopedias and helmets

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

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

Happy Jack at 10

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

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

Major won't look at the camera

Throwback to when we met Jackson

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

The first time we saw Jackson

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

TBT to June 11

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

Throwback to Recess in 2012

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

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

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

Iron Man in second grade

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

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

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

Recess

Backstage at the Orange and White Game

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

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

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

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

Fan Day 2016

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

Going on the field

Two brace faces on the field

SEC Pylon

Press box at Neyland

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

Time to practice

College footballs

Peyton Manning hall

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

Tim Priest

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

Jack in the press box

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

Jeremy in the press box

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

Navy Seals

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

Steve Spurrier

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

Smokey and the gang

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

Gray is no touch

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

Orange and White

Orange and White at Neyland

Smokey in the checkerboard

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

Stats sheet

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

Statisticians

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

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

“Sometimes my brain turns sideways.”

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

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

“Are you sure?”

Jackson discerns cubic volume

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

Typical homeschool day

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

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

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

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

And now, he thinks he’s an alien.

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

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

Our Basketball Star

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

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

Upward basketball

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

Defense

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

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

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

He shoots

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

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

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

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

He scores

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

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

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

They win

Allow me a moment to gush

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

Packers fan

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

This is what he wrote:

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

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

Jackson's eyes

Yeah, I think so too.¬† ÔÄĄ

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.

Be careful what you wish for

Yesterday afternoon Chuck and I consulted our schedules and realized that lately we’ve not had much time to breathe. We’re over-committed, over-obligated, and, as a result, autumn has nearly passed us by. We also lamented about not having enough time together as a couple, which is a recurring issue considering his travel schedule and our lack of regular childcare.

We had plans to have lunch¬†with my dad and go grocery shopping, but I had a meeting in the evening so we’d try to spend time together Thursday or Friday, or whenever we could manage it. We need more time together, we agreed, and we would make a solid effort to achieve it.

After lunch with Dad, we stopped by Kohls. Chuck took Jeremy, I took Jackson, and we split up to browse. Minutes later, as I caught a glimpse of¬†Jackson talking, I saw it: the wire from his top row of braces was gone. I leaned in to his face, grabbed his chin, and said, “Where is that wire?”

His eyes bulged, then welled with tears. I pulled it out, he said. Last night, in bed.

“Tell me exactly what happened.”

He fumbled with his words and searched for an explanation. He was embarrassed and knew he’d upset me. He’s always been a kid who fiddled with his mouth – chewing on things, biting his nails, etc. I knew having braces would be a challenge, and we’ve already had to change the course of his ortho plan because he pulled out wires from the roof of his mouth last month. I was sure he wouldn’t pull out braces.

But he did, and so I asked, “Where’s the wire?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. Where is it?”

He patted his belly.

“WHAT?”

“I swallowed it.” With that, he burst into a frenzy of tears.

Then I asked the most useless question a parent can ask a child, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”

To which he answered, “I don’t know!”

What proceeded were multiple phone calls to the orthodontist, our primary care physician, and a nearby medical center that had a radiology department in its quick care clinic, along with lots of pacing in the jeans department at Kohls.

After filling out paperwork, we sat in the waiting room of the medical center in a state of disbelief that this was how our afternoon turned out. We would go on to get caught in rush hour traffic, I would miss my meeting, and we would need to buy laxatives to help Jackson pass the wire. Knowing all of this, I leaned over to my husband, who was still stewing, and whispered, “At least we’re spending time together.”

Oh how I wish I’d captured the look on his face. In lieu of that photo, here’s a picture of the wire traveling through Jackson’s intestinal tract:

Jackson swallows a wire

Never a dull moment. Never ever.