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!

A letter to my boys on Inauguration Day

Dear Jeremy and Jackson,

This morning, after your math tests and vocabulary tests, and a quick lecture about staying organized, the three of us sat down to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration. You have been listening to your dad and me talk about the election for so long now, and then the three of us laid in our bed the day after the election trying to figure out how Donald Trump got elected.

I had few answers for you then, and though I found answers for you over the last few months and I now understand why so many Americans wanted a significant change in governing, I was still an anxious pacer this morning as we awaited the inauguration to begin.

Even though Donald Trump did not earn my vote, he earned the votes of people you know and love. Hillary Clinton did not earn my vote either, but she earned the votes of people you know and love. I tell you this because America is a country sprinkled with diversity, and we are blessed to have folks in our circle of influence who possess a wide range of beliefs, traditions, and cultures. This is a good thing. I hope you surround yourselves with the same diversity throughout your adult life.

I kept looking at you both as we listened to the singing of “America the Beautiful” and as various people of faith prayed at the podium. Oh how I long for you to know how truly blessed you are to live in a country with so much liberty at your fingertips. Life is hard, and it is often unfair in so many ways, but do not let those truths discourage you from always choosing what is right and just. May you not be cowards who are all talk and no action. Rather, be honorable men of action and precious little talk.

You will get angry, but you will not win over anyone with your anger. I promise you that.

You will get bitter, but you will not win over anyone with your bitterness. Trust me.

When previous presidents and their spouses took the stage, I told you who each one of them was and explained how mature and respectful it was to attend. There are many congressmen and women who did not attend as an act of protest, and they are within their right to do so. This is freedom in action. But my hope for you is that you go on to recognize this occasion as historical rather than political. Two people who disagree can still be polite to one another and honor the traditions of our country. There will be plenty of time and occasions for debate. Today was not that day.

We watched Mike Pence take the oath as Vice President, and I held my breath. Then Donald Trump stood up and walked forward for his turn. I began to cry just a little, but then as he repeated the words of promise to our nation, I wept openly. I didn’t hide my emotions from you.

Jackson, you asked me why I was crying, and I know it was because you are the epitome of a Mama’s boy. You don’t like it when I’m unhappy. Bless you! When President Trump was finished, I wiped my eyes and told you, “This is not what I wanted, but it will be fine.”

You probably don’t know what I meant, but you will understand when you are older.  Simply, our president is not God and the government is not our religion. As soon as another person, be it a movie star or a politician, or even your future spouse, takes that space on the pedestal in the deepest part of your heart, there is little room for God.

Root for people, but do not worship them. 

Jeremy, you asked why there was so much prayer, which is hard to answer because I don’t see President Trump as a particularly religious person. I told you that there are diverse faiths in this country and it is good to provide several voices on the matter, particularly when faith and politics so often become intertwined.

Please hear my heart: When people of faith speak on politics, listen to them respectfully, but consider their words carefully before you accept them as more true or less true. They are human just like you and me. You have the right to your own beliefs, which will develop as time and life experience influence you.

Speaking of, your belief system and political persuasions will likely change from one decade to the next, and that is perfectly fine. We are not meant to be the same person at 20, 30, 40, and 50.

Yet, there are a few things I believe to be true and unchanging at every moment of your lives:

First, God made you, carefully and intentionally. He loves you more than even I could hope to. I pray you never lose that knowledge.

Second, your dad and I love you. It isn’t a perfect love like God’s, but it’s an honest, unfailing love that has no conditions.

Lastly, your liberty in this country is a precious gift. It is enjoyable among those who agree with you and challenging when you’re among those who oppose you. Regardless, every American has the freedom to believe however he or she chooses, and even when the differences seem too great to bridge, I pray you will not let spite or prejudice take up root in your heart. God made you, but He made everyone else too.

As I type this we’ve each gone back to our regular life. School is over for the week and you’ll be asking me to watch television or play video games soon. Boys, whether this election cycle had any impact on you at all, I hope you will remember this day as significant because it’s the day your homeschooling mother made you watch a boring inauguration because she believed it was the right thing to do. 

With hope and love,
Your mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I remember his. His name was Tony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Moving forward with confidence

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

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

Math time in 2011

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

Recess in 2011

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

Homeschooling in 2013

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

DC Field trip in 2014

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

DSC_0094 low res

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

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

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

A couple of firsts

The past two weekends served as firsts for Jeremy. Instead of trick-or-treating (which was a first in itself), he went on his first official deer hunt. He and Chuck have been planning this season for months. Though they didn’t come home with meat for the freezer, they had a ball together and look forward to giving it another solid try in a couple of weeks.

Jeremy's first hunt

Yesterday Jeremy joined me on a 5K, something he’s been asking to do for a while. He ran hard much of the time, only stopping to walk on a few steep hills. We took Major along since the race was pet friendly, and though I wasn’t sure how this whole event would go, but I couldn’t have planned it any better. Major got a ton of attention from the crowd and pulled me down the road like a sled dog. The three of us crossed the finish line together.

Jeremy's first fivek

Me and Jeremy at his first 5k

Now he’s asking to do an 8K. Like mother, like son!

Also, Jeremy wrapped another soccer season this weekend and Jackson had evaluations for Upward Basketball. One sport for one kid at a time.

Though the weather has been drizzly and cold, the rain held off for the Tennessee-South Carolina game on Saturday, for which Jackson and I had tickets. It was stressful and emotional and we both had panic attacks in the third and fourth quarters, but the Vols pulled out a win so we drove home happy.

Me and Jackson at the UT SC game

We have been entirely too busy lately, and even though many of our plans and obligations have been worthwhile, it will do us well to take a step back for November and December. If we don’t slow down, it will be 2016 in no time.

Why I didn’t want a daughter

I was so glad when we were given boys: the first boy in 2003, the second in 2006. Two boys meant we’d never have to deal with self-esteem issues, body image problems, and disordered eating. Sure, we’d have other stuff, but not that.

Boy, was I wrong.

Growing up a chubby kid, and then a very overweight teenager, I was pleased with my emaciated senior high school self. Not only did I drop 85 pounds through disordered eating and excessive exercise, I’d also gained some attention. Boys finally noticed me. People called me pretty. No more did I hear, “You have such a pretty face.” (Which is an insult, if you didn’t know.)

My poorly patterned lifestyle waned halfway through college. I decided not to actively destroy myself anymore. The heart palpitations ended, I stopped being anemic. There were some permanent repercussions, but nothing life threatening. Though the weight I gained back – nearly 30 pounds – was difficult for my brain to process, I just kept telling myself, “This is what’s healthy. This is okay.”

Ah, but it’s never been okay. The body dysmorphia remains. It still haunts. I manage it. 

From the first time I started thinking about motherhood, I crossed my fingers for boys. Boys don’t have body image problems. They don’t care about weight and size and the way their clothes rub against their bodies. They are not like us. They are not like girls.

When Jeremy and Jackson came along, I breathed a sigh of relief. We would dodge these demons entirely.

Only recently did I recognize the ignorance in my lopsided reasoning, and by “recently,” I mean in the last five years. As I’ve watched puberty creep onto our doorstep, I’ve been slapped into reality. Body image struggles are not exclusive to one gender. They haunt some and ignore others. Whether we had boys or girls was irrelevant.

This morning I watched a poignant video that reminded me that healthy self-esteem and body image don’t always come naturally. How we respond to our children in this arena – boys and girls alike – can shape who they become as adults. Will we engage in conversation about body image or will we be dismissive? Will we take their worries seriously or will we shrug it off as a phase? Will we watch for signs or assume there won’t be any?

There is also a balance to keep, because whether the emphasis is positive or negative, too much emphasis on physical appearance isn’t healthy. 

If you are a parent, especially if you have a son, take seven minutes and watch this video. May it serve as a reminder that insecurity can plague every single one of us.

Might we choose our words carefully.

How not to raise a Josh Duggar

When the first news about Josh Duggar broke earlier this year, I was rapt with curiosity. Questions swirled and surfaced. What makes an older sibling experiment sexually on his younger siblings? What key elements of upbringing were missing from his childhood? What conversations were either had or not had that left him feeling like inappropriately touching his sisters was the most accessible form of experimentation? Was there an emotional void? Psychological imbalance? Genetic predisposition? Is he just bad?

Lest we wag our fingers at people like Josh Duggar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, or former President Bill Clinton (ahem), we must remember that we all screw up. We all manifest our shortcomings by acting out in specific ways. The only difference between us and them is that they are public figures, which does not warrant a free pass for us to lose our minds with criticism.

Instead of raising my eyebrows in condemnation, I turn my attention inward, into my own home, where we have been charged to raise two healthy, productive, respectful men in a world where so much is stacked against them. 

As a parent, I’m hesitant to blame Josh Duggar’s parents. We’re all doing what we think is best for our children, so I have a hard time believing that Jim Bob and Michelle chose their specific path of sexual education knowing in the back of their minds, “Hey, I think this could totally screw up our kids, but let’s forge ahead anyway!”

No, it couldn’t have been like that.

And now it looks like Josh Duggar didn’t reconcile his sexual curiosities in adolescence after all. While he might have made some attempts to walk the straight and narrow and marry his wife with the best of intentions, he’s fallen short again and, again, it has to do with whatever jumbled mess is inside his head about sexuality. He is clearly still grappling with whatever went awry years ago, and honestly, how he and his wife handle their mess is none of my business. Actually, I don’t even care.

The bottom line is this – how can I make sure my own boys do not grow up with such insecurity and misinformation that they philander themselves all over the place?

To start, Chuck and I agree that talking about sex with our boys is not single discussion. It’s a collaboration of conversations that go on indefinitely. We’ve already had candid discussions with Jeremy and we’ll continue having them as necessary. We seek to answer his questions honestly with appropriate language and in keeping with what we view as standard, acceptable behavior in this household.

As far as what “standard, acceptable behaviors” are, we fall somewhere between the Duggars and the Kardashians.

Second, sex cannot be taboo, and that’s a hard concept for me to grasp. We all recoil when we think about saying certain words in front of our kids, but how else will they learn to respect and honor this physical and emotional act of expression? We can’t shut down, we can’t shoo them away, we can’t save that conversation for another time. For the love of all things holy, we cannot leave it to the health teacher. If kids don’t get this information from us, they’ll get it elsewhere.


Case in point: On the way home from something earlier this week, Jeremy and I were alone in the car when he starts a conversation about sex. He doesn’t say the word, but I knew what he was getting at and I wasn’t going to let shame slip in where sex should be.

Jeremy: Have we had “The Talk?”

Me: Yes. Don’t you remember?

J: Well yeah, but [neighborhood kid] says they’re gonna have “The Talk” in health class this year and he’s dreading it.

Me: Yeah, they do that in school. They separate the boys and girls and talk about puberty.

J: Is that what “The Talk” is?

Me: You know what it is. Just say it.

J: I don’t want to say it.

Me: It’s not a bad thing. Don’t be ashamed. Just say it.

J: Ugh.

Me: The minute you start thinking you can’t say the word it becomes this secretly bad thing and it’s not. Just say it.

J: SEX! Okay? “The Talk” is about sex.

I died a little but pressed on.

Me: See? Be confident in your knowledge. And remember this doesn’t mean you are responsible for spreading the news around the neighborhood. That’s up to your friends’ parents. But in our house? Don’t be ashamed.


While I hated every minute of that conversation, I also loved it. I feel like it was right, and no matter how uncomfortable right makes me, I have to do it. Too much is at stake.

This brings me to the third thing we have decided to teach our kids about sex, or rather, about the nature of sex. Privacy is not the same as secrecy. Privacy creates a space of respect and responsibility while secrecy produces feelings of shame and stigma. We talk about sex with parameters because it’s a private subject, not because it produces shame and humiliation.

Honestly, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. I know fully that everything can go to crap at any point, so I’m not claiming that we’ve got this subject mastered. Heck, we’ve only just begun down this is a long, strange, scary road. At any time my boys could be exposed to something at a friend’s house. They could skillfully hack our parental controls. They could rummage through our movie collection and find something that has five seconds of exhilaration. They could do something I haven’t even thought of yet.

All of you with teenagers and college students are saying, “JUST WAIT AND SEE.” I hear you, parents. I hear you, and I welcome your advice and experience and support.

As I await all hell to break loose, my hope and prayer is that our home remains a place of conversation, and even if we don’t have all the answers, I strive to stand in the confidence that we’re doing our best.

Of course, maybe that’s what the Duggars thought they were doing with Josh.

The Teaching of Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Boys ages 5-8:

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

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

Boys ages 9-12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

All ages:

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

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

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


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

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

Not. At. All.

But I press onward.

Nature Love

We’ve settled into a summer routine of sorts. Math drills in the morning, then chores, then sporadic times of electronics and playing outside. Meals whenever. I’m saying yes more than I’m saying no, which seems like a fair deal for summer break.

I woke up yesterday morning itching to go outside, so we loaded up and drove to a nearby nature center for hiking and exploring.

nature hike

Bertha Elizabeth

cemetery from the 1800s

paddle boarding

Whenever we reached an overlook, even Major was curious.

over the edge

taking his dog for a walk

quarry reflection

Cooling off

The hike was longer than the boys expected, but reaching the quarry at the end was worth it. Major especially enjoyed the water break.

No videos games all summer.

Do you know how badly I want to say that? SO BADLY.

I understand that we live in a high-tech world and there are lots of cool stuff out there. I concede that video games are fun and Minecraft is God’s gift to young minds. I know how cool it is to have all the gadgets.

But.

I cringe when they ask for more time or another turn or an extra turn or some other version of asking for more electronics, and when I deny them more time (or any time) then I am the recipient of eye rolling, petitioning, appealing, stomping, crying, pouting, and so on. It’s a delight.

summer is here

Granted, let me give the boys some credit. Jeremy loves to play outside with friends, and given the opportunity, he would spend 12+ hours running around the yard with them. Jackson isn’t such a fan of the outdoors, but he’s a ferocious reader and could lounge on the couch all day with a good book. Going to the pool and taking Major to the dog park are always activities they love. So yes, there are other things that occupy their brains.

But.

When it comes to electronics, they morph into these whiny creatures that stab me with their angry eyes and weigh me down with their “that’s not fair” mentality. Then they say, “But YOU’RE on the computer, why can’t I be on the computer?” to which I answer, “I’m PAYING BILLS! You want to take over? Have at it.”

This cannot be our summer. It CANNOT. That being said, I also refuse to bulk up our schedule with activities in order to avoid the confrontation of video games and time on the computer. We need to devise a plan and stick to it.

Parents, what are your rules for electronics? Hourly cap on video games? Required activities before video games are an option? Loss of electronics as the first consequence for discipline? I’m open to suggestions because I truly want my kids to have the best of both worlds – an active summer outside with friends and creativity and imagination, plus the perks of compelling technology. Where is that happy medium?

Are my kids normal? (a checklist)

*Please note that this blog post is about parenting, so that means there’s foul language in it.

Motherhood looks only a fraction of what I thought it would look like. Oh, I knew there would be bursting-heart moments of unexplainable joy and pride. I knew there would be mama-bear scary moments of fear and protection. I knew there’d be busy days and dull days and days that never seem to end, so help me God.

But then there’s all this other stuff I didn’t anticipate: Academic and social challenges, personality clashes, unforeseen habits, conversations I never thought I’d have, and the complete LACK of RESPECT for proper organization.

And body odor. Particularly boy body odor.

More so, there’s the emotional tug of always wondering if you’re doing the right thing, making the right decision, or being any sort of mother these boys need me to be. 

Real Mother's Day 2013
Mother’s Day 2013

Today, while transferring little boy laundry from the washer to the dryer, I contemplated a myriad of things about my specific parenting experience and whether or not my children are like most children.

Here’s a quick run-down of questions I’ve pondered. Do tell me if I’m all alone here:

1. Do all siblings fight over the most nit-picky shit in all the free world?

2. Do all children ask for candy every single solitary day of their lives, even when the parent explains that “treats aren’t treats if you have them every day”?

3. Are all children blind to the dirt under their fingernails and raging body odor, and subsequently, is their bath water incapable of removing them?

4. Do all children complain at meal time and bed time? Do they not realize that EATING AND SLEEPING ARE TWO OF THE MOST PLEASURABLE THINGS OF LIFE?

5. Do all children have an intrusive sixth sense, specifically designed to interrupt phone conversations, lengthy bathroom visits, and any sort of at-home work that requires concentration, since that seems to be their prime time for unimportant interruptions?

6. Do all children lose socks, books, pencils, papers, shirts, stuffed animals, LEGOs, shin guards, swim goggles, toothbrushes, toothpaste caps, and underwear on a DAILY – no, HOURLY BASIS?

7. Do all children negotiate for fewer school assignments, only one bite of peas, a later bedtime, one more television show, no bath tonight, for the music to be turned up, for the music to be turned off, for pizza for dinner AGAIN, for Sprite – or better yet, ROOT BEER instead of water, for dessert, for more money but no chores, for a new toy today (and then a new toy tomorrow), for more privileges, for better privileges, and to be treated like an adult at 11 years old?

8. Do all children have eighteen thousand urgent and necessary questions at the exact moment of bedtime?

9. Do all children stuff dirty clothes in every possible location in their bedrooms EXCEPT the dirty clothes hamper, which is located directly next to their dresser?

And finally,

10. Do all children make life one adventure after another, challenging you daily to be better, stronger, smarter, and more loving, adding flavor to a bland world and opening your eyes to how much life there is to live?

Did I hear a yes? Oh good. I guess that means my children are normal.

Whew.

TBT: The old morning routine

I didn’t intend to be a stay-at-home mom, much less a homeschooling stay-at-home mom, but stranger things have happened. Eight years ago, these two were my daily companions:

TBT January 2007

Obviously, they are still my daily companions, but their faces and needs have changed greatly over time and they continue to challenge me in every way possible. When I see photos like this I’m reminded of the sweetest parts of having little ones – and a tiny piece of me yearns to have it again.

But then I snap out of it because having a baby at this stage of life would cause a crack in the Earth. Did you know it was at our age now that Chuck’s parents spontaneously got pregnant with him after being told they couldn’t have children?

Yeah, we’re taking steps to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Jackson’s response to my door post:

Due to a particularly rough Thursday morning last week, I posted a note to my door. Jackson made his own note for his door. Despite his cheekiness, I found this completely hilarious. Jack's postTranslated: If my door is closed then do not enter or you can enter if you are bleeding or on fire or if Iron Man sends me a package. 

♥ Best six year old in the world ♥

Posted

After spending 20 minutes cleaning up dog vomit and wrangling the barking beast in his cone of shame, I crated Major so I could take a shower and start my Thursday morning all over again. Jackson was playing in Webkinz World on the computer and Jeremy was in his room studying for an Astronomy test. Everyone was in his place.

Upon getting out of the shower I heard frantic banging on the bedroom door. Great, I thought. The dog pulled out his stitches, or Jackson has a nosebleed, or there’s someone at the door, or…

I wrapped a towel around me and hollered to the little person who was banging on the door.

“What’s the matter?” I yell, dripping wet on the bedroom carpet, frantically trying to dry off.

“Can I play on marvelkids.com?” Jack yells back through the closed door.

“Are you kidding me?”

“No! I really want to!” he yells back.

“I thought something was wrong since you were about to knock down my door!” I say. “It scared me half to death!”

“But it was really important!” he insists.

Officially posted:
Bedroom door sign

Overpriced Toys for Sale

Jeremy has been talking a lot about earning money, asking where money goes after you’ve earned it, and wondering how much things really cost. Though this has much to do with his vibrant curiosity, it also has to do with wanting to buy more Star Wars action figures and Legos.

He has approached Chuck and I separately with these questions and as far as I know we’re on the same page with our answers. Our boys don’t get an allowance for existing, nor do they get paid for doing everyday chores within their skill level and capacity (i.e., putting their own dirty clothes in the laundry basket is a given). However, we are happy to award the boys for going above and beyond what’s already expected. For example, Jeremy spent a solid hour in the front yard rearranging landscaping rocks per my request and I was happy to pay him for the labor.

More recently, however, he’s been talking about selling old toys to earn money, which is fine with me because I’m always happy to ditch clutter. In the car the other day we chatted casually – or at least I thought it was casual chatting – about selling his toys. The boys disappeared into their rooms when we got home while Chuck and I lounged on the back patio with the pets. Half an hour later, I find them on the curb in the front yard with a make-shift yard sale of hilariously over-priced toys. Chuck and I tried hard to maintain composure and be proud of their entrepreneurial spirit, but boy do they need a lesson in pricing!

(Jeremy is wearing his clown costume to help attract attention to the sale.)

Boys Yard Sale

Toys for Sale

Anyone care for a Buzz Lightyear and Woody? Only $16!Overpriced Buzz

Wooden pull

I was shocked to see Jackson’s Spiderman mask in the sale! He loves to wear costumes, so when I asked why he wanted to sell his mask (for $15, no less), he said it had a hole in it and couldn’t wear it anymore. The poor boy looked truly sad to part ways with the mask but he did so for the greater good of padding his brother’s bank account. Spidey mask

 

 

Bacon and Pancakes

I bought a small bag of conversation hearts and made little Valentines for the boys with construction paper. Last night I laid out their tokens thoughtfully and sweetly, as if they cared that everything was symmetrically displayed on the kitchen table. All my perfectionist nonsense went into showing my children that I love them.

But how can I really show the boys that they are special to me? Bacon and pancakes.

And Legos.

BaconHeart-shaped pancakes

Lego Chima

Happy Valentine's Day

A Dresser for the Mature Man

Since moving to the new house in May, I’ve been checking thrift stores regularly in search of a new dresser for Jeremy. Each boy has a dresser from Ikea, which means it looks great but it’s not built for long-term use by a boy. Plus, as Jeremy’s clothes have gotten bigger, the shallow drawers fell useless.

Finally, with cash in hand, I found an old dresser in good shape at the Habitat ReStore for only $35. Score! It was actually Jeremy who found it tucked away in a corner and he was immediately interested in the large mirror attached to the top of it. After a good cleaning, it was ready to use. Last night, as we were designating drawers for pajamas, shorts, and pants, Jeremy says, “I really like this dresser. It’s very mature.”

Oh really? 

This is his new buzz word and I’m using it to my full advantage. He’ll remark, “I think I’m more mature than those kids,” or “I’m excited to turn nine and become more mature.” Of course, I turn that right around when he’s acting out and say, “Jeremy, this isn’t very mature behavior.” It works marvelously.

Anyway, here’s the desk. And yes, that is Ironman you see playing with my very mature nine-year-old.