Answering your [very personal] questions about homeschooling

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

By July 2011, we were all exhausted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they get to see other kids?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know how you do it.”

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

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

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

“Do you ever test them?”

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Summer’s Hustle and a Podcast for Tudor fans

Long before the summer started, most of July was blissfully empty. June was packed, but July wasn’t. Neither was early August. Ahead of me I had weeks of open days. Nothing was on the calendar. Surely in that time I’d get a little personal writing done and cap it off with some solid napping.

Now we’re a month from the start of school and I’m hustling to finish a stack of freelance work, prepping for a wedding I’m photographing next weekend, and giving menial level of attention to the third novel. I’d really love some free time during the week to goof off.

Oh, and see my children during the day.

And run, and cook dinner sometimes.

Sigh… How is it that summer is almost over? Even my garden is transitioning – the cucumbers are nearly done and the tomatoes are reddening. How did that happen so quickly? From pickles to salsa in the blink of an eye.

While my To Do List is lengthy, the boys are enjoying a loose summer schedule. Video games, Legos, cereal for dinner. (In between those things are chores and getting together with friends.) Jeremy even took a nap yesterday, which happens about once every other year.

While homeschooling allows us to finagle a schedule that works best for us, I try to align our calendar around the co-op’s schedule so there’s some measurable rhythm to the school year. If I had no one to nail me down, there’s no telling when we’d get started. October to February sounds good to me!

Side note – If you’re into podcasts and have an obsessive fascination with the Tudor Dynasty as I do, subscribe to Tudor, I Hardly Know Her (also available on iTunes). It’s hosted by Emily, a fellow Tudor fanatic, her husband Jeff, and their friend Garrett. It is not a boring litany of history but rather a humorous stab at recounting the sordid tales of Henry VIII, his wives, children, and other related monarchs. IT IS NOT FOR KIDS, which should tell you that there’s language and jokes best suited for mature ears and people with a sense of humor.

This series has been a delightful break from my regular politically focused podcasts, because Washington and the Mainstream Media have lost their respective minds.

 

 

Parasailing and Fishing in the Gulf

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

In no time they were hooked up and taking off.

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

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

And then, dolphins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

First Romp in the Gulf at Miramar Beach, Destin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson + ESPN Encyclopedias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Life Day Twenty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Life Day Fifteen

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

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

This is dinner time in our home.

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

I can just hear Thanksgiving dinner 20 years from now:

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

“Yeah, they teamed up against us!”

“I know! So unfair!” 

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

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

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

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

Signs of Life Day Fourteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he chose otherwise, and that is something.

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

Bypass the lawmakers and go straight to the heart

Another video surfaced this week of an African-American man being shot to his death on the street by a police officer. As expected, another round of outcries followed on social media and in real-life conversation. Shock, anger, despair. 

Obviously, I do not know what it feels like to leave my house with anything other than a general awareness of my surroundings. I do not fear that I’ll be mistaken for a criminal (even though I’ve been questioned by police, with handwriting samples and all). I do not fear that my skin color will prompt one reaction or another (even though I’ve lived in a predominantly African-American community and been told, “It’s a black thing. You don’t understand.”). My personhood a mostly a non-issue (even though I’ve been harassed by men and felt scared for my safety).

I do not fear for my boys’ lives for all the same reasons.

And yet, my African-American friends cannot say these things. Instead of situational discomfort like I mentioned above, they experience an ongoing, lifelong undercurrent of caution and fear because of systemic, institutional, and cultural racism.

First, as the wife of a former police officer, I can tell you with certainty that honorable men and women exist in law enforcement. I know them. I married one. My best friend married one. They are real and they can be trusted. Let’s be clear about that.

And yes, we can argue about the media and sensationalism and skewed reporting (much of which is commentary and not actual reporting). We can argue about criminal records and failing to follow protocol and all the nit-picky details people love to throw up to support their opinions-as-fact. We can debate whether actions are justified or not justified. Many people embrace the #BlackLivesMatter movement for its challenging directive, while just as many oppose it as a polarizing message.

There is much to argue about, but where does that get us? I could say it gets us nowhere, but that’s not true. It drives us further apart. 

Friends, I am confident now more than ever that we cannot legislate racism. We cannot make a law to prevent racial motivation (for or against a people), and we cannot rely on those in power to change the hearts of those who cause strife and death in our country.

If we really, really want to stir peace in our communities, we must talk to one another candidly and compassionately. We must confess what we don’t understand and then sit quietly while we learn. We must say to our African-American friends, “I don’t know how you feel, but I want to understand. What do you need from me?”

change-of-heart

This is how we change. We talk to one another, we empathize, we listen. We don’t have to share a feeling to validate its existence in someone else. In fact, if we continue to dismiss the deep-rooted, painful reality our African-American citizens (and friends and family) experience as over-reactions or exaggerations or isolated incidents, we only exacerbate the problem.

By the way, here are other reactions that exacerbate the problem:
– “I’m not racist. I’m colorblind. I have black friends.”
– “Racism isn’t as bad as people say. If it were, we wouldn’t have a black president.”
– “They wouldn’t get shot if they would just follow instructions.”
– “I’ve been judged for being a woman/Christian/white person/Southerner, so I know what it’s like.”

We get off on the right foot when we can honestly, openly admit, “I have no idea how you feel, and I don’t know how I’d react if I were in your shoes, but I’m by your side and I support you.” It doesn’t have to be loud or public or poetic, but it must be authentic. It must be raw. It must be rooted in the desire to connect rather than veiled in the desire to be right. 

Yes, racism is a complicated, multi-layered monster. Yes, it can go in all directions. Yes, it can be generational and rooted in the ugliest ignorance. But I believe we can beat it. I believe love can win. Oh friends, it’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable. I am convinced now more than ever that change does not start in the voting booth or with a picket sign. It doesn’t start with a Facebook update or a blog post. It starts in the heart. It’s messy and emotional, and it may require accepting that you harbor a quiet prejudice. But this is where we begin anyway. It begins by humbling ourselves enough to acknowledge when others are hurting, whether we understand it or not, and decide to grab their hands and ask, “What can I do?”

And then we listen for their response. Only when we’ve bridged this gap can we act with the hope that the tide will one day turn.

The disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years

Like many marriages, Chuck and I have had wonderful years together paired with those times when we’d like to kill one another and hide the body. We’ve been close, we’ve been distant, we’ve crawled down into the pit with one another to make it through a difficult season. We’ve seen several sides to this marriage thing and yet we’re still together by choice. Marriage, if I could describe it with just one word, is a decision.

We decide to overlook the things that annoy us.

We decide to put the other’s needs before our own.

We decide to put our marriage before the kids.

We decide to speak up when something is too important to let go.

Every day is fraught with decisions. Do I tell him I’m feeling hormonally nuts or do I let him figure it out on his own? Do I fold his laundry to be nice or just let that shit go because I have other stuff to do? Do I remind the boys that Daddy deserves the last piece of cake because he works so hard for us or do I let them split it? Or do I eat it myself? 

Every day. Decisions.

Almost 15 years

That is why I cannot wrap my brain around Chuck’s continued decision to walk in on me taking a shower. This decision, my friends, is the disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years, and it came to a head yesterday when he heard the water running and thought he’d pop into the bathroom.

Unfortunately I wasn’t in the shower just yet. I was close – fully naked, but not under water because I was doing a charcoal mask on my face while listening to a podcast.

One glance of that dark paste on my face was all it took. Chuck tore into laughter as I slammed the door and told him to bug off.

Sixteen years.

His argument: You’re my wife. You’re beautiful. I love you. It’s okay if I see you in the shower. I like to see you in the shower.

My argument: I don’t like to be seen in the shower. Nor do I like to be seen plucking, tweezing, shaving, facial-ing, coloring, or any other type of grooming. If I have to hang on to the very essence of my youth well into adulthood, THEN I’D LIKE SOME PRIVACY WHILST DOING IT.

His argument: But nudity.

My argument: But no.

Him: But.

Me: Nope.

And yet we continue.

For what it’s worth, there are a dozen other things we could be arguing about that carry far more weight than whether or not Chuck walks in on me shaving (or plucking or facial-ing or coloring or tweezing or battling my adult-onset acne with charcoal). Despite my frustration, I am pleased as punch that he still finds me attractive and weaves complicated plots to sneak a peek of me in the shower. Glory be. 

But I’m terrifically shy. I do not change clothes in front of my husband or anyone else. I have never given birth or breastfed (hey hey adoption!), so I never went through that time when you “lose all modesty” or whatever happens when women give birth. Precious few people have seen my bits. Part of it is body dysmorphia, but part of it is just shyness.

Once I was out of the shower and dressed (a finished product), I confronted my dearest love in his recliner. The closer I got, the more he tried to choke down his laughter. I sat down across from him and he was full-on snickering.

You have to stop.

But you’re my wife.

And so on, and so on. Yes, it was funny. Yes, I looked a fright with a charcoal face. Yes, I’m flattered that he loves me so.

But. 

If we are still fighting about this in another 16 years, then our marriage will be a success. It will mean that we still act like teenagers and still chase each other around the house. It will mean we still care about what the other person thinks. Our marriage will still be made up of all the little decisions we make each day, and Chuck will still choose to surprise me in the shower.

Hey, it could be worse. It could be that he doesn’t want to see me naked.

anniversary-shot-2

Wherein I prepare my heart for the next phase

I have never been the mother who says things like, “Time slow down!” or “My babies are growing up too fast!” Not once have I felt like time was spinning at an unnatural pace. Part of that has to do with my personality, but I also recognize that our life is set up in a way that allows me oodles of time with my kids. We are together every day, all day. I’m not missing anything.

And yet, Jeremy turns 13 years old next week. As in, there will be a teenager living in this house next week. As in, I’m going to be the mom of a teenager NEXT WEEK.

Excuse me, what? 

I’m still not saying “Time slow down!” or “My babies are growing up too fast!” but instead I’m saying, “How in the world did this happen?”

Jeremy has been reminding us of his impending age for months with comments like, “In three years I’ll be driving,” and “In five years I’ll be graduating from high school,” and “Come on, can’t I stay up later? I’m practically a teenager.”

Can I start school early

Bit by bit, we’ve been letting out the reins. In fact, Chuck had been wanting to re-watch Stranger Things, and knowing that some of Jeremy’s peers watched it, I suggested, “Hey, why not watch it with Jeremy?” Yes, there’s language, yes, it’s startling, but… baby steps.

Furthermore, since he’s about to have the word “teen” in his age, he’s eligible to attend dances and social events hosted by our homeschool co-op. It’s something we’ve already talked about – how to ask a girl to a dance, whether or not to even ask a girl but instead go with friends, how girls are just as nervous about being asked as boys are nervous about doing the asking. These are conversations I knew were coming, but still.

Today we were at the orthodontist, and while we sat in the waiting room a light flickered directly above us. It jolted us from our book reading so I teased, “Maybe that’s Will in the Upside Down?” a reference to Stranger Things. Jeremy looked at me wide-eyed, then laughed, shaking his head, “Don’t joke about that!” I like that we had this between us, a banter that was above Jackson’s understanding. In that moment I liked that I had an older child to joke about something PG-13.

It’s all gonna be fine. I’m probably going to cry a little on September 8th, but it will be fine.

But man. This face…

Jeremy April 2008

 

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!

A Father’s Day Poem to my Husband, even though I don’t read, write, or enjoy poetry

I’m not a poet
And you’ll quickly know it
But I thought I’d give it a whirl

Because my husband is great
And it’s never too late
To give thanks from his favorite girl

Chuck naps 1996

Little did I know
That a long time ago
We’d start an adventure together

It’s been a great ride
And I cannot deny
We’ve had good and hard times to weather

Burying chuck chuck and andrew at the zoo

As a team we keep going
Because the love keeps on flowing
And there’s no where else I’d rather be

Than right next to him
Through thick and through thin
As we raise these boys faithfully

chuck and J1 after c's race Chuck and Jackson May October 2012

Twenty years as a couple
Might lend itself to trouble
Especially with two boys in tow

But we keep things light
And resolve each fight
Because there’s one solid thing that we know

Chuck and Jeremy 1-4-15 Chuck and Jeremy at the Air and Space

It’s that life can get messy
Which makes everyone stressy
So you need a good match for your heart

That’s what I found
When this man came around
Both together and when we’re apart

chuck and jeremy on the hill chuck and jeremy play video games

He shines as a dad
And only sometimes makes me mad
When he wrestles with the boys too roughly

But get over it, I will
Because time doesn’t stand still
And the boys will be gone so abruptly

Chuck and the Boys Canoeing Jeremy and Chuck in the one day blizzard

So, Babe, enjoy your day
In rest or in play
And know that I love you dearly

This road would be lonely
Without my one and only
I mean that, whole hearted and sincerely

My favorite three boys

Boys on the beach

Jennie Creates an Attitude Adjustment

We’re a month into summer and something is wrong. I’m moody, irritated, and wishing electronics didn’t exist. I’ve been moping around the house disappointed, watching trash TV and eating chips from the bag, even though I couldn’t nail down exactly what I’ve been disappointed about.

Only this morning did I realize what’s been bothering me, and I’m ashamed to say it’s nothing new: Simply, expectation met reality. 

This basic equation sums up every level of disappointment one can have. You expect something to be one way, then it turns out another.

For example:

Expectation: By June, I thought I would’ve spent more time working on my novel.
Reality: In the month of May, I only worked on it twice.

Expectation: I thought the boys would spend most of the day outside with neighborhood friends.
Reality: One set of kids is out of town for several weeks, the second set of kids has a series of sports commitments, and the third set of kids spends most days with their grandparents. That leaves Jeremy and Jackson with only each other.  And what happens when two siblings have been around each other so much that they are on each other’s last nerve? Mom becomes a hostage negotiator.

DSC_0103 low res

Expectation: With more free time, I thought I’d be back to running five or six miles, maybe more, by mid-June.
Reality: It’s too damn hot. I ran four miles on the treadmill the other night. It was fine, I guess…

Expectation: Lots of photo sessions, lots of fun!
Reality: My 2009 iMac is starting to run slow and it makes me panic. Uploading and editing photos gives me physical and emotional anxiety. I have no backup plan to replace hardware or programs if this computer chokes and dies tomorrow. Now that I’ve released this negativity into the Internet, I’ve jinxed myself and the computer will for sure die.

Expectation: Lots of freelance work, extra money!
Reality: Writing doesn’t pay well. It will never pay well. And if I’m working on freelance, I’m not working on the novel. Catch 22.

Expectation: Without school work to worry about, the boys will be footloose and fancy free with all the time in the world to play.
Reality: Their default setting is video games. I hate it. Two hours a day still feels like too much time with the screen. It is my least favorite conversation to have with them and we have it every single day. 

See, none of this is innately bad. No one is sick, no one hurt. We are blessed with opportunity, freedom, and choice. ALL GOOD. And yet, I’ve let high expectations override common sense and stir me into discontent.

Which brings me to this morning. I checked myself at the bedside: Life is good, but dang, girl, lower your expectations. Brothers will fight, freelance work will always be tedious, and it will be hot until mid-September. Playing extra video games in the summer will not kill the children. If the computer dies, you cancel photo sessions. Will you be upset? Yes. Will you cry? Probably. Will it be the end of things? No. You aren’t the breadwinner here.

And by God, do the yoga. You always feel better after the yoga.

deepen flow yoga

Which is what I did. I made some phone calls and then did half an hour of yoga (click on the photo above to watch the sequence). Refreshed, I washed my face and emerged from the bedroom ready to start the day with a different attitude. As I type, I am actively trying to push aside the disappointment and focus on the good. THERE IS MUCH GOOD TO FOCUS ON, and if I can continue to dwell in this space, then summer won’t be so bad after all.

Also, more of this please. #PubNight

Night at the pub

A Week of Yes

It’s spring break, friends! Can I get an amen?

We aren’t at the beach, we aren’t on a cruise. We aren’t across the country on a Rocky Mountain excursion. Those things would be nice, but we have summer plans and other plans, so spring break is simply that – a break. It’s a break from school and early bedtimes and formal meals. Ultimately it’s a break from routine, and there is no better way to break the routine than with a sleepover.

We have three extra boys in the house tonight. They played outside, ate junk food, played outside some more, and now they’re burning their eyeballs on electronics. The laughter is fantastic. I’m saying yes to ALL THE THINGS because that’s what a break is all about.

Playing outside

Tablets

I forced them to bathe, but I’ve insisted upon precious little. Yes to cookies, yes to chips. Yes, you all can sleep in the living room.

Xbox time

Even without the sleepover, I’m saying yes to extras. I bought sugary breakfast cereal and let them have Sprite with their lunch. They can play Minecraft first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon. Fruity Cheerios before bed? Yes, yes, yes.

When poor attitudes materialize, all it takes is a gentle reminder that toilets always need cleaning, bedtimes can be restored, and electronics can be unplugged. Miraculously, they straighten right up.

This Week of Yes is important because our day-to-day life is fairly rigid when it comes to all the things I mentioned above. We don’t allow video games on school days or sleeping anywhere else but their beds. We eat mostly healthy and have dinner at the table each night as a family. Structure and boundaries are important, but so is letting loose.

Besides, after a few days of indulging like this, my boys self-regulate and put themselves to bed early, choose healthy snacks over sugar, and even tire of screen time. It’s a process I love to watch. We binge, then we retract.

Side note: I am currently stowed away in the bedroom watching election returns and listening to season two of the Serial Podcast. Thank goodness I made cookies today because self-medicating is a must.

“Sometimes my brain turns sideways.”

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

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

“Are you sure?”

Jackson discerns cubic volume

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

Typical homeschool day

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

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

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

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

And now, he thinks he’s an alien.

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

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

Our Basketball Star

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

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

Upward basketball

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

Defense

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

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

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

He shoots

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

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

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

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

He scores

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

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

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

They win

Allow me a moment to gush

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

Packers fan

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

This is what he wrote:

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

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

Jackson's eyes

Yeah, I think so too. 

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

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.

 

 

23 Facts about Chuck (according to the kids)

We couldn’t leave out Dad, could we? (Read 23 Questions about Me here.)

23 questions about Dad

1. What is something Dad always says to you? 
J1: Do your best. Do it right the first time.
J2: Be responsible and mature.

2. What makes Dad happy?
J1: When he sees me actually trying.
J2: When we spend time together.

3. What makes Dad sad?
J1: When he tells us to try and we’re really not trying.
J2: Being on trips for a while.

4. How does Dad make you laugh?
J1: There’s a lot of ways. When he makes fun of us or Mom and we know it’s actually funny.
J2: He tells jokes. They make me crack up.

5. What was Dad like as a child?
J1: Curly blonde hair. That’s all I know.
J2: Hmm. He was smart, maybe?

6. How old is Dad?
J1: 35, I think.
J2: 36

7. How tall is Dad?
J1: Six one.
J2: Six foot three maybe?

8. What is his favorite thing to do?
J1: Go down to his workshop and make something. Like how you run on the treadmill to get your anger out? He does that and it makes him happy.
J2: Watch TV.

9. What does your dad do when you’re not around?
J1: Plays his video game.
J2: Goes on trips and works.

10. If Dad becomes famous, what will it be for?
J1: Singing. He thinks he’s the best singer, but I doubt that. Maybe he’d have his own home improvement show.
J2: He’ll be an athlete because he’s really good at sports. But not baseball or hockey.

11. What is your dad really good at?
J1: Encouraging me, even when I don’t think I can do something.
J2: Football.

12. What is your dad not very good at?
J1: Complimenting the cat.
J2: Nothing really. He’s good at everything.

13. What does your dad do for a job?
J1: He a federal agent.
J2: He works as an agent.

14.What is your dad’s favorite food?
J1: Shepherd’s Pie
J2: Hamburgers

15.What makes you proud of your dad?
J1: He gets all the money for our family and we wouldn’t be around without him.
J2: I’m proud of him for his job. He’s really good at it.

16. If your dad were a character, who would he be?
J1: Sherlock Holmes
J2: James Bond

17. What do you and your dad do together?
J1: Play soccer and basketball. Toss the football. A lot of things that have to do with sports. And play chess.
J2: We do sports and a bunch of other stuff.

18. How are you and your dad the same?
J1: We both want to get better at what we do.
J2: Well, we’re both good at sports and we’re funny, especially me.

19. How are you and your dad different?
J1: When I do something, I don’t always complete it. But when Dad does something, he doesn’t stop until he’s done.
J2: He’s way much stronger. He’s bigger than me too.

20. How do you know your dad loves you?
J1: He provides everything for me.
J2: Well, because I love him.

21. What does your dad like most about your mom?
J1: She has a good sense of humor. And she’s older than him.
J2: That she loves him, of course. He likes her cooking and her taste in men.

22. Where is your dad’s favorite place to go?
J1: I never thought about that. Camping?
J2: A fast food restaurant.

23. How old was your dad when you were born?
J1: He was 23. Get it? Get the joke? He was 23 and you were 24. Ha!
J2: 30? I really don’t know.