Laundry Basket Briefcase

As my children grow older, I’m coming to the realization that I have some regrets.  Due to being rather busy, frazzled, and absent-minded for the better part of an entire decade, I haven’t had much time to think about decisions left in the past that could have taken me down any number of different roads.  More recently, as these small windows of reflection begin to resurface, I am finding that certain regrets are starting to bubble up in my mind that I had buried a long time ago.  In fact, I didn’t always consider them regrets because they had previously been simply dreams left uncultivated.

One of these regrets is that I never finished college.  Instead of tending to my post high school education right after graduation, I wanted to break away from my hometown for a while, so I moved to Utah and California.  Being responsible for a younger sibling for the majority of my teenage years, I just needed to breathe for a bit and be responsible for only myself.  Somehow, I couldn’t manage to do this traveling the same streets and facing the same options over and over again.  I needed to see what was out there beyond the well-travelled path between my hometown in Kentucky, and Florida, the only place we ever vacationed when I was a kid.

To say that I was introduced to new things during my post high school adventures would be an understatement.  I was lucky enough – probably due in large part to the fact that my devout Christian grandparents prayed for me by the hour – to find a roommate in California who took me under his wing.  He was from out east as well and we both came from large, close-knit families.  We stuck together, becoming the best of friends; although, later we became romantically involved a little more than we should have been.  Once he took at job in the Middle East and moved, I decided I had had enough of the bigger world.

Among the things I learned on my self-imposed sabbatical was that people could be really messed up in ways I had never imagined:  parents supporting their kid’s drug habits, bosses addicted to cocaine, and cruel people who do whatever is necessary to get ahead in the world at the expense of others.  Eventually, I decided that it was time to go home where I had a mom and a dad, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and love all in one small town that I thought I would never want to return to.  I remember telling a friend of mine at the time that once I got home, I wanted to reconnect with a friend from my past whom I had always turned down when he approached me.  I had no intentions of anything more than a friendship, but just wanted the companionship of a true friend – someone who valued me for who I was.  I had no idea then that I would not only connect with that boy, but we would later marry and have children.

By the time I started college I was nearly 21 years old, and by then I was so confused as to what I wanted to do that I changed majors over and over again.  My husband graduated from school, I switched colleges, and when I was 25 we welcomed our first daughter.  There was no question about it, I would decide to drop out and take care of our family full-time.  While I have since not only taken college courses here and there, getting myself a little closer each time to graduation, I have also had two more daughters.  To say that I have put myself on the back burner is an understatement.  In fact, I have been lucky enough to even take a shower every day.

Lately, as my youngest daughter is preparing to enter kindergarten and my oldest is on the brink of being a teenager, I have been taking myself back to those decisions I made so long ago.  There is a part of me that wishes I had finished college before getting married and having children.  Nevertheless, the decisions I made are the fabric of what I have become, and there is no part of me that wishes my life to be any different than it is now.  So, what is it exactly that I regret?  Am I contradicting myself by saying that I regret what I have chosen, but that I wouldn’t want my life to be any different than it is now?  I know.  I’m just as confused.

See, it’s just that I’m only 36-years-old, but I feel like I’m approaching retirement, as if I’m already an old woman.  Life just seems to be hanging in the balance right now.  There’s nothing particularly interesting going on and nothing I particularly look forward to.  I suppose that wouldn’t be the case if I lived through my children, but I have never been that type of mother.  I like my own space and my own life aside from theirs.  I’m completely okay dropping them off here and there, encouraging them as their biggest cheerleader, but never being so invested that I can’t separate them from myself.  The problem is, I haven’t had much time to focus on what it is exactly that I need as a woman, and the sad part is, I can’t really figure out how to actually make something happen.  Going back to school isn’t so much of an option anymore.  The fact is, we are considered an upper middle class family, meaning that I don’t qualify for grants and our family contribution is much higher than what reality will allow.  Raising three children isn’t cheap.  Taking money from the budget for myself means them going without in some way, and the truth is, I had my time. It’s their time now.  I brought them into the world and they are my responsibility to take care of.  I have a choice to make and not everything is an option; although, I distinctly remember growing up learning otherwise.  It was something about being anything we wanted to be as women – this idea that we could have it all.  It was a sham.

I feel that we have been lied to as women.  We have been told that we can have it all.  We can have a career and a family, equal opportunities in the workforce, and be president of the PTO.  We can be there for our children and our bosses.  We can go back to school and still be able to get to ballet, theater, the library, help someone with math and reading, make sure our family has a nutritious homemade meal on the table, and that the laundry is getting done.  We have been lied to that we can do all of that and still have an ounce of sanity to live by.  It simply isn’t true.

The cold, hard fact is this:  WE CAN’T POSSIBLY DO IT ALL!  We have to chose something – what is most important or most necessary for our particular family – and leave the regret of our decisions in the past.  The truth of the matter is, if a woman choses to work, there is something at home that they will miss:  a baby’s first steps, her first words, reading books to her at nap time, and being present during her most productive part of the day.  If we stay at home, we don’t miss out on those things, but we miss out on personal growth aside from being a parent.

As I sit here and deal with this festering ounce of regret for choices I have made that have limited my personal growth, I know that I have to eventually bury these regrets for good, realizing and being okay with the fact that I was never able to do it all.  I had to decide what was most important and what worked best for our family at the time.  I have to be truly grateful that I even had that choice to begin with.  Many women don’t.  For us, my husband’s earning potential and growth in the workforce was properly balanced with me staying at home.  He has grown in leaps and bounds working for fortune 500 companies.  His ability from this point forward will propel him into positions he would be so much further away from had I not made the decision to be a stay-at-home parent.  His income solely has been able to grow and care for us in ways that two incomes wouldn’t have allowed.  While I’m truly grateful for this and never once take it for granted, I have to be honest when I say that there is a small part of me that is jealous over his personal growth in his career and where it has taken him.

Yesterday we took our little girls to see Paddington Bear.  As Paddington sits at the attic window looking out over London, my husband leans over and says, “I’ve been over that bridge.”

“Oh, yeah.  Well, I go up and down our stairs like 400 times a day and I go to Target at least once a week.  So there!”  We both laughed.

“I would rather be at home with you than in London,” he replied.

Jokingly, but with a slight tinge of honesty I said, “You’re ridiculous.  I would rather be alone on that bridge in London than at home any day.”  And the truth of the matter is, that is exactly how I feel.  I would love to just for a little while take a business trip to Chicago or London.  I would love to be around grown-ups all day and make decisions that go beyond turkey sandwiches and peanut butter.  I would rather drive to work listening to NPR than listening to people argue in the backseat over being ten minutes late to swim class.  However, this is just…life.  It is what it is in all of its imperfect glory.  It’s the culmination of decisions I have made and the path I have chosen.  I can’t regret any of it.  There’s no turning back.

Surely many people now will say, “Go for it!  Finish school!  It’s never too late.  You can do it!”  Guess what?  I have already swallowed the hard pill.  I know for sure that I simply cannot do it all.  I have to make a decision, I have to be grateful for that fact that I have that decision to make in the first place, and I know that the decision to put the needs of our family first will always be what I will chose.  I need to make sure our bills are paid on time, our kids are being cared for, and that our house is livable and comfortable.  For us, it means one person in the workforce and the other taking care of matters at home.  Financially, it makes the most sense with my husband carrying his briefcase out of the door each day while I clean drops of concreted oatmeal off of the countertop.

Right now I find myself in a bit of a funk.  I read and study often, never willing to let myself stop growing in any way, shape, or form.  I take care of my health, stay up to date on what is nutritionally best for not only myself, but also my family.  I know my children, guide them, and work in unison with my husband to make the best decisions based on our specific needs.  I have to be okay with the fact that I am an intelligent, capable woman who on paper has less markable skills than Napoleon Dynamite.  I have to be okay with the fact that going up and down the stairs with a basket of laundry instead of a briefcase holds more meaning and purpose for my life than my selfish side wants to admit to.  When it comes down to it, when I decided to bring people into the world, my time to invest fully in myself was over.  I had my time and now it’s theirs, and by the time they grow up and leave home, I’ll be well into my life, so much so that it wouldn’t make much sense to invest in college and work for a short number of years before my husband retires and we seek opportunities together.

For now, I’ll wait.  Some day in the far, far future, maybe I’ll get to walk over the London Bridge.  It may be when I’m in my 60’s, it definitely won’t be on a business trip, and I will probably – if the good Lord allows – be there with my husband who will have been there several times before me, but nevertheless, I will enjoy it all the same.  I can’t have it all, but I can appreciate that compromise is the gift that getting by day to day hinges upon.  Life isn’t about having it all; it’s about making choices.  It’s about being okay with where we are and trying our hardest along the way not to let our regrets get the best of us.

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A Put-Together, Disheveled Mess of A Woman

To be completely honest, I enjoy life when my husband is on a business trip.  Granted, he doesn’t go on them very often, and he is never gone for more than a week, but still.  There is something about having the house all to myself at night – putting the girls to bed then not having to speak to anyone.  I can read a book without interruptions, watch whatever I want on television, hog all of the pillows, and sleep in the center of the bed (at least until the 5-year-old climbs into bed with me in the wee hours of the morning).  This might not sound like much, but to a woman who spends 99.9% of her time surrounded by other people, the solitude turns our bedroom into my own private island post bedtime routines.

This past week my husband has spent a few days in Chicago, leaving me to manage after school activities on my own.  This sounds simple enough until you consider the fact that I also homeschool the kids, meaning that by 3 pm I’m typically a over-caffeinated basket case with children who never seem to chose activities within close proximity to each other.  This leaves someone vulnerable to missing practice when only one parent-mobile is in operation.

Last night swim practice got the axe over ballet, and simply because ballet is much more expensive.  After a completely full day, which had involved a field trip downtown to see a play, we were all a little frazzled.  Most moms – the ones who have it all together, which I do NOT – would have been prepared by planning accordingly considering that not only was the field trip downtown, but so was ballet class.  The thought crossed my mind in Lala Land that I should have packed a nutritious lunch, snacks, ballet clothing, and bun-making accessories ahead of time, meaning that we would have made just one trip downtown yesterday.  Me…me?  No.  Of course that didn’t happen.  See, I envy the moms who occupy Lala Land.  They are the ones who homeschool with smiles on their faces and would never dream of threatening to send their kids back to school 400 times a day like I do.  I’m pretty sure they wake up with a full-face of perfectly applied make-up and daytime hair.  Those moms are a different breed and we don’t even remotely swim in the same gene pool.  There are several variations of mom that spans from put-together to disheveled, and I suppose I hit somewhere different along that line depending on the day, the hour, my mood, the weather, and how much I care.  We have pajama days, days where I’m demanding everyone put on daytime clothing, and days when I would rather crawl into a cave than start the day.

By the time dinnertime rolled around last night, we had been from home to downtown to home to run an errand in our hometown back to home and then back downtown.  Needless to say, by 5 pm I was operating in survival mode.  Although my outward appearance on this particular day would have given me approval for residence on Lala Land, a brain scan would have more properly placed me into a mental institution.  I wonder how many other homeschooling moms who look put together are in the same boat.  Obviously appearances can be deceiving, but I always assume that I alone occupy a space in between normal and getting-ready-to-jump-off-a-bridge.  I’m fairly certain that I no longer even have adrenal glands in my body.  They have shriveled up and forsaken me saying, ‘Screw you, woman!  I have given all I have and all you do is take and take and take!’

As the girls and I made our way down the congested, rush hour city streets from the only store in the city that sells the ballet tights we needed (they were out of stock and any other mom would have called before driving all of the way there) to Panera, I gripped the wheel with both hands as I feverishly reminded the kids to be perfectly quiet and still because otherwise I would certainly sideswipe a city bus or hit a careless, naieve college kid as she travelled the crosswalks in that I-have-my-whole-life-ahead-of-me stupor.  Not to mention that I was driving my husbands SUV in favor of the minivan, which added to my nervousness.  My husband is a kind and generous man, but driving his car is like driving your husband’s man-cave.  My husband doesn’t have a real man-cave, so in a house full of women, his car is his get away.  We have to be extra careful to neither leave trash in the cup holders, or run over pedestrians.  We also have to be sure to park his car in the back of every parking lot to avoid the inevitable dings left behind when careless drivers and passengers open their car doors.  However, this isn’t an option when parking anywhere downtown considering that parking is tight if you are even lucky enough to find a spot.

I pulled into Panera’s lot, carefully circling the parking area twice before deciding amongst the few available spots which one provided the most space for opening and closing doors, and reminded the girls not to open the doors prematurely as I pulled in and backed out, pulled in and backed out, and pulled in and backed out the proper number of times to ensure I was in the best spot possible between the neighboring cars to prevent the slightest chance of a car ding.  If I had been in my van, I would have simply pulled into the lot and chosen the one that was big enough to wedge the barge in, reminding the girls upon exiting not to knock out any of the toys, paper, or books that carpet the floorboards.

Once situated in our spot, I took a deep breath, quickly fixed my hair, and got the kids out of the car.  I told them to remember to behave because we were downtown and the restaurant seemed full of college kids and people wearing business suits, meaning that they wouldn’t take kindly to frazzled mothers and her triple brood.  Of course it didn’t work out that way.  I sent my ballerina into the bathroom to put her leotard and ripped tights on underneath her clothing while arguing at the counter with my preschooler over whether or not she could have chocolate milk with her dinner.  Then there is my oldest child who, while on the cusp of being a teenager, perceives herself to be on the cusp of adulthood, thus she is in this constant dilemma when eating out over whether or not to order from the kids or adults menu.  As the cashier waited for her to make up her mind over the vast expansion of new choices available to her, I tried to make her selection easier.

“You like grilled cheese.  Get the half and half grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.”

She responds in an embarrassed tone of voice, “MOM, it’s called two and two, not half and half.”  She nervously looked around her at the people in line who must have been thinking,  ‘How could she?  What an idiot calling it that, and in front of her young daughters!’

“Whatever it’s called.  Who cares!  Just order something.”  I looked down at my phone.  We had exactly 30 minutes to get our food, eat, get a bun in the ballerina’s hair, and get to ballet school.

I’m sure I was a confusing specimen to the young, obviously childless and obviously not married college kid behind the register.  On the outside I looked completely put together, like perhaps I had just come from working a full day in my corner office doing something important and impressive, but once my mouth opened and my eyes darted around the menu and at my children like a deranged bird, it seemed I must have broken out of the hospital, stolen these children, ripped of a Banana Republic, and was trying to move in and out before the police caught up with me.  “Good luck,” she told me as she handed me the change.

“Thanks,” I responded.  All the while thinking that she has no idea what the next ten years of her life would bring.  She might not remember me 10 minutes from leaving her register, but there is a good chance the memory of me will resurface when she is in her late thirties and responsible for not only her schedule, but the schedules of four other people while driving around in a car that you need to treat as though it belongs in a plastic bubble instead of on the street like all of the other normal cars.  I really should have driven the van.

We sat down, we ate quickly, and I debated for a moment whether or not it was okay to put a bun in my kid’s hair at the table in the middle of a restaurant.  I have never heard otherwise.  I mean, I know the basics.

Things not to do at the dinner table:

1.  Blow your nose

2.  Burp

3.  Fart

4.  Use crude language

5.  Pick your teeth, nose, or ears

Nope.  No rules about putting up ballet buns that I have ever heard of.

As the girls finished up and joked around with one another, I looked around to scope out the surroundings, trying to assess the likelihood that I would end up on someone’s Facebook page or You Tube.

‘Just witnessed a mom putting bun in kid’s hair at the table in Panera.  Can you say GRODY?’

We had exactly fifteen minutes until ballet class started.  I took my chances.  I pulled out the bobby pins, the brush, and a pony tail holder and proceeded while ordering my oldest daughter to take our dishes and trash to the bins.

‘Just witnessed a mom ordering her child to labor over throwing away entire family’s trash all by herself while she put a bun in her kids hair AT THE TABLE!  I will never do that when I’m a mom.’  

‘She just handed her smallest kid a cell phone to occupy her while she put up a bun and sent her oldest child to dispose of everyone’s trash and dishes.’  

Surely these people know that my oldest child is on the cusp of adulthood because she is, but only when it’s convenient to my needs as a mom.  Surely they know that my preschooler is likely to end up in the parking lot if I don’t keep her occupied for five minutes.  Surely they know that I’m putting up a bun because my middle daughter probably has dyslexia so we homeschool her, have brought her reading level up two grades in less than a full school year, and invest in ballet classes in the most prestigious ballet school in the city!

Once it was all said and done, we got to ballet class only ten minutes late while managing to keep the preschooler alive and the oldest child only mildly embarrassed.  Win-win!

What was it I said up there about loving it when my husband goes away on business?  Did I mention that it’s much easier to say that the day when he returns home?  I can’t help but to think of the awesome moms out there who send their husbands to war, managing their households on their own for over a year’s time.  Some of them even homeschool multiple children.  They probably don’t care if they look disheveled or put together because their minds are occupied with real worries.  They probably could care less what people think if they let their oldest child step in as an adult to clear the dinner table in a restaurant, or if they have to put up a ballet bun at the table.  Me?  Well, I suppose I’m a total wiener who looks put together on the outside, is a complete disorganized mess on the inside, and obviously I care too much about what people think as I circle parking lots, mess up the Panera menu, and dodge pedestrians.  I suppose I’m just a put-together, disshevled mess of a woman.  That’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things.  I could still be a naive college kid thinking that I knew more than everyone else about how to solve the world’s problems.  Even worse, I could be an adult who thinks that way.  You definitely swallow your pride when you realize that not only do you have a hard time solving your own problems, but there is a very good chance that you never will.  That’s okay.  That realm of having it all together is already occupied by Lala Land inhabitants, and things can get a little too predictable over there for me.  I like to keep things exciting.  Obviously!

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My Short Sap Fest

My advice for what it’s worth: I don’t recommend looking at middle and high schools while listening to Ben Howard on iTunes radio. It’s like the sad, bawling scenes from a movie when a mother rewinds her child’s life in her mind, resurfacing memories of her as a baby, now growing closer to being a teenager. It makes matters even worse when you consider the fact that your youngest child is going into kindergarten. With that said, I see the silver lining in this being that we have SO many memories. It’s only been 11 years and there is SO much there already. So much goodness. So much time.

We have had such a wonky experience over the years, but they are ours and they are lovely. I wouldn’t change a thing, especially if it would alter the outcome which has resulted in really authentic, good-hearted, and smart kids.  I’m almost embarrassed when I tell people how much we have bounced around, doing whatever works best when need be, but simply because our experience veers so much from the well-beaten path.  Nevertheless, we remained vigilant that we were doing what was best, and looking back, we did just that.

Tomorrow my oldest child turns 11-years-old.  Since her birth we have lived in three cities, two states, and she has attended three different schools, including a mix of homeschooling in between.  I suppose to be fair I should mention that we haven’t moved since she started kindergarten.  We just chose the wrong neighborhood, the wrong school district, and if I could recall the number of times I have cried about those unfortunate choices I would be here typing all day.  The more time has pressed on, bringing us to now – a time when we have to consider consistency in a school community and when lessons that will benefit her throughout her academic career are possibly better taught outside of our home by qualified teachers in a strong school – I don’t regret the unfortunate location of our home in the slightest simply because it has given us the gift of time, awareness, and   connection.  It has grown us into a close-knit family.  It has allowed us to learn lessons beyond the books and has given us connections beyond the norm in regard to typical American families and lifestyles.  Sure, our experience is a little weird compared to most, but it is ours.  It’s been an awesome ride so far.

There are some bright things to consider with my youngest going to kindergarten.  From her 5-year-old perspective, she is really looking forward to it, and she will love it.  She talks about “going to kindergarten” a lot.  I have to remind her that sweet Ms. Rosi, her preschool teacher, won’t be her teacher in kindergarten.  She will have to move to another school – a school for big kids.  She gets a puzzled look on her face.  She isn’t ready to imagine that just yet.  We usually end the conversation there.

And then there is Anne – sweet Anne – the forgotten middle child in the middle of the middle of things.  Going into the 4th grade next year isn’t anything particularly monumental.  We don’t create mountains out of molehills, so I know I might seem like an unloving mother; however, I can’t quite explain the excitement this particular child feels when she accomplishes something new and something she can claim as her very own.  Being in the middle gives her a little extra insight, a little something special.  In two years we will make a great big deal out of her moving onto new things.  For now, we will remind her that she is extra special because Jane is a big sister, Molly is a little sister, but she is a big and a little sister.  Being in the middle has its perks.

These have been some crazy years.  Honestly, my kids aren’t the best.  I admire kids who sit perfectly still in Mass, kids who behave in the grocery store, and kids who are quiet in restaurants.  My kids are loud and busy.  They are always in the middle of every single conversation.  They are curious.  Interested.  Alive.  They drive me nuts 99% of the time, but they are such cool little individuals.

OK…now to change the channel on iTunes Radio.  Maybe I should play the Beastie Boys and angrily clean the house.  After all, we have taken PTO from schoolwork today to clean the house.  It is THAT bad around here, and it is incredibly common for PTO cleaning days to exist when you homeschool your children under your roof during the winter months.  Things get REALLY, really unorganized and messy very quickly.  The piles of paper cutouts, rough drafts, and laundry are threatening to suffocate us all.  Onward to tackle those things.

Oh, and finally…this kid:  She turns 11 tomorrow!

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It happens quickly. Embrace it. It’s the only time you will have with them while they are little. Know who they are. Cherish them. Don’t look back and regret not taking advantage of the time.

Embracing Now

My middle child drives me nuts.  I mean, they all drive me nuts individually in their own little way, then all together when they combine their efforts, but with the middle child, it’s different.

My youngest drives me nuts with her physical energy.  She moves so quickly from one thing to the next, and not just with her short 5-year-old attention span, but in the entire way she moves.  You can’t hold her between the hours of 9 am and 8 pm.  She will claw, crawl, and bounce all over the place.  Holding her through Mass is like trying to hold onto a moody cat in a large crowd, with its ears turned back and back arched high.  She doesn’t have attention, or focus problems.  She isn’t anything out of the ordinary when it comes to being a disciplined preschooler.  She is just so very five, which means she has a keen talent for one minute being sweet and gentle, then the next displaying the characteristics of a rabid animal tossing and turing in a fit of rage over silly things like not having another Gogurt.  Or not being able to wear a Batman t-shirt to church.  Or not being able to go outside in shorts and a tank top in 30* weather.  After three children, these are things that I simply step over, and I mean literally.  Unlike my firstborn whose setback in her short ten years on this earth has been learning that she isn’t the center of the universe (which she obviously was until she had siblings), we simply remove our screaming 5-year-old from the room, place her into another one, and shut the door.  She gets over herself very quickly.  I will admit that this is harder for me than it is for her.  Look at this face:

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Our oldest daughter drives me nuts for the reasons stated above, but of course now in a 10-year-old kind of way.  Her self-centeredness isn’t as overly obnoxious as it used to be.  In fact, the older she gets, the more she gains in understanding.  She is becoming more humble, patient, and kind, which I am grateful for.  This is the same child who has significantly challenged us when it comes to academics.  I won’t go into details, using dirty words like “gifted”.  (I don’t believe it is a dirty word, but I have been through this before and you learn as you go.  To the people who don’t really understand what giftedness encompasses, they take the word “gifted” and equate it to things like owning a Mercedes or a multi-million dollar house.  “Look at poor so-and-so with her bright kid…wah, wah, wah.”  It’s impossible to explain it.  When you come across another parent with a highly gifted kid you sympathize, “I get it.  I know,” but you leave it at that.  It’s not worth explaining the difference in gifted and status symbols.  It’s not even remotely the same thing.)

Our middle daughter will be turning 9-years-old this April, and in a lot of ways, she is my easiest kid to raise.  She is pretty calm, mostly quiet, and compliant as long as she is feeling loved and appreciated.  If that feeling of love becomes threatened in any way, she quickly turns on you and the level of drama rises to unprecedented levels.  She has a keen memory and will resurface ever single parenting failure since her birth.  The only solution is to coerce her into her room for a time of reflection, which mostly ends peacefully.  During her time she always writes a terribly misspelled, but beautifully printed note with backwards b’s and d’s, then slips it under her door.  They typically go something like this:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

Im not lovd.  Im a crubby kid.  Im going to run away.  You won’t need my anymor decase everyone hates me.  Im not sorry.  You will be happy when Im not here.

Your Crubby Kid

We don’t turn these mishaps and twisted sentiments into an episode of the Waltons.  Fuzzy-feeling music doesn’t play while we shed tears over our daughter’s hurting heart.  We mostly fold up the letter, put it on the table, and wait for her to come to her senses.  It doesn’t take too long.  Eventually we hear a sweet, transformed voice at the top of the stairs.  “Mommy, I’m sorry.  Can I come down now?”  We give her a hug.  We say, “I love you.”  We talk about the problem, what was learned, and life goes on.  I always save her little notes of despair, placing them into the desk drawer to use for future spelling and grammar lessons.  They do come in handy.

Most conflicts with my middle child arise from schoolwork.  She isn’t necessarily lazy; she’s a dawdler.  She isn’t stupid; she daydreams and loses focus if something doesn’t interest her.  This year we chose to use a unit studies, literature-based curriculum, which works out beautifully if she is interested in the particular concept we are studying, but if she isn’t interested, it’s easily the most miserable three weeks of my life – much more miserable than the miserable time before that one…or the one before that one…or the one before that one.  But all in all, we have had some really great weeks where she has been engaged and excited to learn.  We are learning together.  For example, the most important lesson I have learned thus far is that we will never pursue a full-curriculum of unit studies ever again.

In all seriousness, homeschooling is a daunting task to take on, but there are so many good moments that surprisingly make the bad moments seem like tiny little mishaps not worth much consideration.  In between some bad hours, or bad days, we have a really good time together.  I am getting to know my kids in an intimate way instead of merely rushing them off from place to place to place.  I know what they love and what they don’t; what bores them to death and what makes them come alive; what their desires are for themselves and roads they wish not to go down; their fears and their curiosities.

Next year will be a hard pill to swallow in some ways and a huge relief in others.  Our oldest child will be entering the 6th grade – middle school.  Elementary school is fairly simple.  With good lesson plans, a schedule, frequently refreshed art materials, a stack of books, paper, and a strong math curriculum, it’s pretty impossible to screw things up.  In these early years, it is important to build a strong foundation, and there are some benefits to homeschooling that heavily outweigh the drawbacks.  Homeschooled children have more time to spend investigating their surroundings, moving at their own pace, and not having to worry about preparing for a battery of tests to measure their teacher, school, district, and state.  They have insurmountable freedoms that even the most prestigious private school can’t provide.  They have the freedom to just be who they are without any outside pressures to perform according to someone else’s standards.  There’s a certain peace about a young school-aged child who can sleep in in the morning, wake slowly, take the time to eat a healthy breakfast, and dress themselves.  They can take a few moments to read their latest library books before diving into their schoolwork for the day, and if it takes an hour to do math one day and fifteen minutes to do it the next, that’s OK, as long as the child is learning, engaged, and making progress.

While I have a child coming into kindergarten next year and look forward to her possibly entering our homeschool (this is a decision that is still very much up in the air), I have my oldest child who will be moving outside of it.  We have had to play the system with elementary school, trying different avenues and doing whatever worked best at the moment, which has more-or-less been a method of survival for educating a gifted child on a budget.  While I love the fact that she has been able to develop into her own unique person outside of the social stigmas most other children have to grow up within, I know that the time is drawing near that she needs to start preparing for more – a life that does rely heavily on schedules, tests, and meeting the expectations of a teacher who didn’t give birth to her.  Eventually we want her to successfully attend high school and then college, which seems absurd to think about with a 5th grader, but time moves quickly.  The lessons she is learning now will impact her for a lifetime.  There is a nervousness about wanting to keep her little, pure, and innocent to a world that moves too fast and expects too much, but it’s a reality that we can’t ignore.  We have to give her the opportunity to adjust and grow into it before she leaves our home for good some day, while she is still under our roof, care, and watchful eye.

For our middle child, she still has at least two years left with me, next year homeschooling alongside a younger sibling, and having the opportunity to be the big kid in the household for eight hours a day.  Her needs are a little different than our oldest, and homeschooling has allowed me to grow in appreciation for the things she brings to the table that are completely unique to just her.  She communicates ideas on the peripheral, which gives me a heck of a time trying to ask her comprehension questions following a reading.  For example, the answer to a question a few days ago was “the park”, but instead of simply answering with that, she explained it in a huge, never-ending, breathless rambling of words that “the children went to the place where there are slides and there were swings and they got on the teeter-totter and we have one here where we feed the ducks and walk over the bridge”.  YES, BUT WHAT IS THAT THING CALLED for crying out loud! 

Reading with her has been a challenge since day one.  She came into it on her own and much more slowly than most other children, but nevertheless, she has gone in a single year from reading at a middle 2nd grade level to reading 5th grade level books.  And as time goes on, we evolve together when it comes to tactics that will make our school day run more smoothly.  We bounce ideas off of each other – things we can apply in the future that will help her to become more fully engaged with what she is learning.  This past weekend we were at Barnes and Noble, and I had done what I normally do when looking for books.  I will take the children with me to make my selections before taking them back into the children’s section where I sit at a table to review my books while they look through the toys and books that spark their interests.  Anne came up to me with a book about Martin Luther King.  She informed me that she doesn’t really like reading books with cartoon characters.  I asked, “What do you mean?  You don’t like books with illustrations on the front?”

“Well, no.  Not like that.  You know, the characters are drawn.”

Still puzzled, I looked at her, trying to figure out exactly what she was saying.  “You mean that you like books with photographs on the cover?”

“No.  Not like that.  I like books that are real.  I don’t like fiction books.”

“Oh!  You like nonfiction…like this book you’re holding.”

“Yep!”

She handed me the book.  I looked at the back cover, and while we hadn’t planned on the girls getting a new book this particular trip, I decided that I could spare $7 even though I was sure this book would sit on her shelf amongst the other books she had picked out and never finished.  I had come to the conclusion that this kid wasn’t destined to become an avid reader.  She loves math and science, but reading and writing are not her favorite subjects.  However, there are times when she will surprise me, and typically when I least expect it.  It will be like pulling teeth to get her to write a simple three sentence journal entry, but later in the day she will bring me a ten page well-written play.  She will complain over reading a simple book that is below grade-level, then will polish off a book three grade levels ahead with no problem.  Take the Martin Luther King book for instance.  We bought the book, she brought it home, and it sat on the kitchen counter for two days.  Last night she decided to crack it open and half an hour later brought the 100+ page book to me.  “Here, I finished this one, and tomorrow I am going to read the one I got in my stocking for Christmas about Marie Currie.”  And she did.  She woke up this morning and read the entire book in one sitting.

As we move through our last semester together, my oldest and my middle daughter homeschooling under my roof, I will try to take each day a step at a time.  While conflicts arise that get the best of me – I yell and throw fits like any good stressed-out mother with too much to do – I realize that the time we have now is a gift that I must embrace.  While one moment I can be crying that no one is getting along, a few moments later I can find joy in the laughter that comes from the girls being together at the kitchen table playing a board game.

There are so many materials out there when it comes to things like parenting and homeschooling, and often these materials all conflict with one another.  Do we let the baby cry it out, or do we pick him up to remind him that he is loved?  Do we send our child to school where they come home crying every single day, or do we bring them home into a productive environment?  Is it the right time to hold them back, or to let them spread their wings to see if they can fly?  The answers to these questions are as individual as each family…as each parent…as each child.  At the end of the day, it’s what makes us who we are, through the good times and the bad, through the things that draw us closer together and the annoyances that drive us to seek solitude under our own roof.  Nevertheless, at the center of everything…always…is family and home.  It’s a place where our children can come for as long as necessary to seek the tenderness they need to grow in their own right, but it is also the place they must eventually and carefully be guided away from so that they can step out into a world that is more harsh and less understanding, where they must learn to stand on their own two feet.  Time moves swiftly and our children are growing and changing so quickly from one season to the next.  No matter how much they drive me crazy one minute and melt my heart the next, and no matter how many times they make me reach my threshold which quickly turns me from a peaceful and understanding woman to a bawling, uncomposed mess the next, I will cherish this whole big, crazy idea of bringing my kids home when something didn’t quite work out, cracking open books at the dining room table instead of in a classroom.  I have none other to thank than my oldest who has driven me nuts with her self-absorbed and unquenched desire to learn quickly, my emotional and passionate middle child who uses an abundance of words to describe simple things, and my physically exuberant youngest who can take any single moment and turn it into a marathon.

Life is short.  Too short.  If we don’t take the time while our children are little to step off the grid, throw away the parenting books, and live life with purpose – teaching our children to do the same – we will miss out on the reward of living life with intention and we will miss out on the opportunity to learn about who our children truly are.  One day these little children will grow bigger, they will step out of our door, and God knows we will want to have given them plenty of reasons during all of that time we were gifted with them to make them want to keep coming back home.

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Some Random Stuff about Remotes…and God…and Running…and My Lack of Being Able to Come up with a Better Title

My technological deprivation has come full circle.  My almost 11-year-old is officially coaching me on using devices and/or remote controls amongst other things.  I have to call her into the room to put the TV into Apple TV, DVD, or regular TV mode, which is done through some flicking of the buttons on the back of the flatscreen.  Forget even trying to find a remote.  Apparently they have been done away with in favor of remote control apps.  The rest of the family simply logs into the iPad as a master control for damn near everything electronics while I am still fumbling with one of three remote controls.  For me, it’s foreign to do it any other way.  Perhaps some day, way down the road, when I’m old enough for the daytime AARP and Colonial Penn commercials and I have “my shows” I watch on a regular basis, I’ll take the time to figure it out, but for now, it’s not worth the five minutes it would take to reprogram my brain.  Although, I can feel the rush to catch up starting to burn.  For example, my husband drives a souped-up Jeep that comes with screens instead of a variety of buttons.  When I need to adjust the heat, the music, or navigate (forget that), I just stare at the screen in awe.  What the hell?  It’s a good thing that 99.9% of the time when I am driving his car, I also have a kid with me.  If they are good for anything it’s definitely helping me figure these things out.

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In my last blog I mentioned not having a New Year’s resolution.  Nope.  I still don’t believe in them so don’t start thinking this is one of those.  IT’S TOTALLY NOT, OK!  Since my being able to run again (after an injury…I won’t go there…read older posts) seemed to coordinate perfectly with Jackson’s extended holiday PTO from work, he has started running with me.  Prior to now, I didn’t enjoy him coming along very much.  Not that I was fast by any means, but I was faster than him and could go so much farther.  Plus, I didn’t like to talk much.  I’m more of a plug-into-music-and-run girl.  Things have changed after 8 months, and I suppose I’m just glad to be back out there, even if I have no music and suddenly a keen sense for noticing random things on the street, on homes, and in the horizon that I never notice were there before.  This is probably beneficial to me, especially considering my unfortunate past with pot holes and sticks.  For instance, for the last three weeks there has been an abandoned condom on the street in the same exact place.  For a while it was really dirty from car tires running over it, but after the rain, it looks clean again.  I want so badly to kick it to the side, or get a stick and move it out of my line of sight.  Then I realize that whomever it is that lives in that house must know that condom is there.  I mean, I don’t know.  I would notice it in front of my house, but I doubt I would pick it up either.  I would just stare at it every time I went to get the paper or the mail – hoping and praying that it would be magically carried off by a car tire, a stray animal, or a runner who couldn’t to run past it one more time.  I imagine if it is there for much longer, I will just take a different route and avoid that street all together.  That condom is the porno version of the Stinky Cheese.  I’m not touching it.

Jackson and I, under extreme stress as of late, have poured over what we are doing wrong compared with what we have done in the past that perhaps gave life more of a sense of joy despite the mundane ins and outs of daily life.  I mean, really, we aren’t really doing anything any differently, and we have been in much more difficult times.  Financially we have things together, our kids seem to be growing up normally despite my constant worry that I will mess up horribly as a mother, and time wise, we seem to have more chances to get out by ourselves than ever before.  We no longer have kids in diapers.  Boogers don’t have to be wiped before they are picked by their original owners.  For the most part, our kids can all bathe themselves, the oldest two are even able to wash their own hair.  We don’t even have to make a fuss over bedtime anymore.  We sort of say, “Go to bed.  Lights out.”  And it just…happens.  It’s sort of like the Twilight Zone of parenting.  I keep waiting for something to happen, but perhaps this is just the calm before the storm.  God gives you a break before the stage when a boyfriend with a nose ring and loud bass system shows up at your door to take your daughter on a date.  I hope by then Jackson takes a fancy to shotguns he likes to clean on the kitchen table.  I don’t imagine that will ever happen.  Perhaps there’s an app on the iPad for that?

I’m grateful for now and will soak up every minute of it.  I love homeschooling the girls, even though it drives me nuts when they fight like sisters do.  Things feel comfortable and secure for the most part.  But still there is this unrest.  I feel as though I am short tempered and anxious.  At times I feel just plain rotten.  Much of this could have something to do with an extended period of not being able to run.  It could have to do with the fact that we promised ourselves six years ago that we would move into a better school district by the time our oldest entered middle school, and that time is quickly approaching.  However, the most prevalent thing that has culminated over the past few months especially is our detachment from our faith and God.  It’s not like we did it on purpose.  We didn’t question our beliefs in any way.  We just became complacent.  We would miss and Sunday here and a Sunday there.  Forget holy days of obligation (is that a proper noun?).  We just sort of made ourselves go to Mass here and there, sometimes even visiting other churches purely for a convenience factor.  Something we have discuss quite heavily the past few weeks is our absence of joy in the absence of following our faith.  Without it, life seems void of any real purpose, and with that, you do start to feel as if you are drifting endlessly, often forgetting to take notice and be grateful for the blessings surrounding you.  I don’t want that.  I have done that before.  It’s old news.  Not surprisingly, I felt exactly the same way as I do now.  At least the answer is easy:  Go to Mass.  Every Sunday.  Read.  Pray.  Together as a family.  Make God the focal point.  Not the children, the soccer game, moving, school books, or finances.  With God, things seem to fall into place.  It’s not magic.  Jesus doesn’t have a pouch of fairy dust He sprinkles on our worries.  It’s the grace He, and only He, gives us to get through every single day.  His grace helps us trust more, love more, scream less, and forgive.  Without His grace, it doesn’t matter how successful we are in life, it will feel empty and pointless.

We have vowed (but I still won’t call it a New Year’s resolution since we started two weeks prior to January) to tend more carefully to our spiritual life together as a family.  Jackson and I have vowed to stick together in our journey of health.  I often get a little obsessive about running.  In times past we might run together, but I would get frustrated with taking it easy and building slowly.  Before I knew it I was out running for hours on Saturday mornings instead of being together with my family.  This time I have decided to do things a little differently.  One thing I want for my husband for the future is good health, and as intelligent and determined of a man he is, he doesn’t seem to have to will-power to stick with things when it comes taking care of his health.  So, I am making no big plans.  I’m not out running trying to gain speed and distance in a remarkable feat.  Instead, I’m taking it easy, jogging a bit with the girls and with Jackson, and always with our crazy dog who seems to be enjoying hitting the streets with me more than anyone.

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On the plus side, I’m finding that running with Jackson is sort of the peace we need together.  We can step out of our roles as parents in a different way, taking our mini dates on the road a few times a week.  It gives us a chance to talk, to zone out, to laugh, and I’m not going to lie:  there is something about running with my husband that I find extremely hot.  Especially with this boss, rugged mini-beard he has grown over Christmas.

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This year will bring new changes as we head for new destinations.  No matter what, if we remember to keep our focus on God, centering our lives around living for His glory and receiving His grace, we will find the internal joy and peace we seem to not be able to live without.  365 days a year.  52 Sundays.  I’m in.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s January 1st, 2015.  It’s very first day of yet another year, even though it still seems like 2014, and it sort of still is until we all return to work and school and schedules.  I for one am ready for it.  To me, Monday January 5, 2015  will technically be the very first day of the new year because that is when my husband goes back to work, and when the girls and I start our Spring semester of school.

How many of you are thinking differently?  Today is THE day.  It’s THE day you’re going to start losing 20 pounds.  It’s THE day you’re going to start reading more.  It’s THE day you’re going to start paying more attention to your kids.  Perhaps, THE day you’re going to give up Facebook…or, wait, never mind.  Save that last one for Lent.  Lord knows the Santas have disappeared, the hearts of Valentine’s Day are already bombarding us, and after that…well…here comes the Easter Bunny.

For some reason I feel that the way I see things is completely isolated to just my mind and understanding of things, but I’m always curious to share these types of things to see if anyone else might have had the same bits and pieces of this-that-or-the-other programmed into their mind at one point, or another.  Take for instance, the way I see the year within my mind.  Literally.  When you say a particular date out of any month or year, I visualize it in my head along an oval-shaped calendar.  At the very top you have January and December.  It moves in a counter clockwise direction for each month of the year where December meets back to January and you start the revolution all over again.  I often wonder if my kindergarten class, or one of the daycares I was in (I can’t particularly remember if I was ever in one.  I think I was once.) had the calendar up on the wall somewhere and taught us using this model.  Here’s what it looks like in my head:

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So, here we are in my mind at the tip top of another year where we will slowly fall into Spring, then Summer, then Fall, and back up to Winter.  Somewhere in there (I will spare you the details) you have little added features on my calendar of running, biking, and hiking – weather appropriate activities – and school books, times to take it easy, and times to freak out making sure you get it all done.  Either way…there you go.  A bit of information about me you probably didn’t need to know, but you’re reading this blog, right?  I share a LOT of information on my blog.  It keeps me…sane, like running and an occasional glass of wine..  At least that is what I like to tell myself.

I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions.  It’s not that I’m lazy, or lacking goals.  I just don’t trust them.  People who start to make their way back up during the excitement of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years tend to have this notion that as soon as we turn the clocks over and we start a new counter-clockwise revolution, that everything suddenly changes.  It’s a new beginning.  Suddenly we will have magically acquired the discipline and will-power we were lacking just 24 hours ago to lose that 20 pounds we have been meaning to get around to.  But I have some disappointing news:  That’s just not how it happens, and let me tell you why that is so.  Because I’m a smart ass who knows everything, right?  I’m not a doctor or anything, but I do have some experience in this area, so I do have that going for me.

Making big changes in life requires not the click of the seconds on a clock suddenly ticking into a new year, rather it takes habit forming and habit breaking.  You have to resist temptations, replace them with new ones, and old habits die hard.  This is why gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of a new year, but why the attendance drops drastically after the first weeks and months.  People don’t realize that it’s not about a new beginning, it’s about taking a good, long, hard took in the mirror and making a deal with yourself without the bells, whistles, fireworks, or ball drops.  What is it that you want to change, but even further, where is the root of the problem and how can you work on those issues in order to change what is on the surface?  Whatever the issue is that you need to work on, guess what, there is no magic pill, shake, drink, book, etc. that will help you get there.  It’s just you – that person looking back in the mirror.  It’s a commitment you make to yourself.  Are you worth it?  Be realistic.  Because the truth is, knowing that you are is what keeps you committed to yourself, every single hour, of every single day through the entire year.  And it’s hard.  Temptations will be there.  You have to ask yourself, “Am I stronger than this?  Or am I going to end up making this year like the last one and the one before that?”

What gets me at this time of the year are all of the products people buy into that promise them a magic way to meet their goals.  There is SO much of it that it’s confusing, and it’s leading people to believe that their will-power is too weak on its own.  Without this shake…without this particular exercise program…without this devotional…I can’t do this on my own.  Maybe you need the support of someone, or something, but when it comes down to it, it’s just you and you alone.  It’s the value you put into yourself and your own willingness to step up to the plate and do something positive for yourself.

So, if your goal this year is to lose 20 pounds, I can tell you exactly what you need:  a hat, a coat, a pair of good walking shoes, and the willingness to get out every single day and move your body.  You also have to pay attention to what you’re putting into your mouth.  You need proper nutrition to fuel your body, but you also have to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients.  An apple and a cupcake are both carbs that contain sugars.  One is a whole food, the other is not.  Obviously, when you need something sweet, grab the apple not the cupcake.  When your body needs protein, don’t go for the hamburger in the drive thru at Burger King.  Buy some high quality, grass-fed lean beef from he grocery store, pat them out yourself, and cook them at home.  French fries are not a vegetable and drinking more diet soda than water will not help your body in any way whatsoever.  In fact, the sugar substitutes will slow down your metabolism, making it even harder for you to shed the pounds.  Make sure you’re eating enough vegetables and with a variety of colors.  Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats:  raw nuts, healthy oils (coconut, olive), cheese, hummus, but make sure you’re eating these things in moderation.  Check the labels, take into consideration the serving size, and portion out your food accordingly.  Watch for empty calories (sweets or alcohol), which are okay to have from time to time, but too much will pack on the pounds quickly and easily.

And remember always, weight loss is about calories in/calories out.  I don’t care how much information is out there that says this isn’t true.  It is.  If you are consuming too much and not exercising enough, guess what, you’re going to gain weight.  If you’re not consuming enough, guess what, you’re ruining your metabolism – your body’s furnace for burning that unwanted stored fat – and you’re going to not only have a hard time losing weight, you will also begin to start gaining it much more easily than ever before once you stop sticking to the very restricted calorie count that your body can’t function on for very long.

Lastly, just MOVE!  That’s all you have to do.  In the beginning, if all you can do is lace up your shoes and walk around the block, do that, but do it every single day.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to go farther and you’ll be able to do it more quickly.  Your body will build up endurance and strength.  You might even find that you LOVE it.  You might decide to start trying to jog – perhaps even run a 5k – but start slowly.  Do what you can.  If you start out trying to go from zero to sixty in the first week, you will burn out, become disappointed, and fail.  Take it one step at a time and start with small, attainable goals.

Look, this doesn’t take anything magical like a particular program, shake, drink, etc.  It just doesn’t.  For some, this helps them, sure.  They buy into a product, it works for them, they become involved – whether it be through endorsing the product or signing up underneath a pyramid scheme to sell it – and they convince others to do the same.  But, honestly, come on.  You don’t really NEED THAT particular thing.  The only thing that you need that those people have is the will-power, the determination, the courage, and the self-esteem to get out there and know that you are important enough to yourself and to the people you love to take care of your health.  And who knows, you may impact others along the way.  When someone asks you, “How did you do that?”  You can respond, “because I’m a badass.”  It won’t have to be because you had this product or that – some magic ingredient that helped you along the way.  It will be because you made the decision to love and value yourself enough to make it happen.

And I’ve got news for you:

You don’t have to do this all in one day.  January 1st isn’t a magic pill.  March 15th isn’t a magic pill.  Aunt Suzie’s fat-busting hooch isn’t a magic pill.  Your magic moment is when you decide that you’re ready.  And furthermore, you have to make each and every hour of every single day the decision to have a new resolution for yourself.  It’s not something that happens overnight.  It’s something that happens every day over the course of the week, then the month, then the year, then the years.  It happens because you get rid of old habits and form newer, healthier ones.  You can do it.  Just start and then don’t stop, but along the way, even if you slip up, don’t consider yourself a failure.  Just get right back up immediately and keep moving on.  Good luck!

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