Who is in Charge Here?

Facebook status from January 20, 2015: If you have a moment, could you say a quick prayer for me and mine today? There’s just a lot of little things that are adding up to a BIG pile of stress and discouragement right now. Thank you.

…I don’t remember everything that was piling up just then, but I distinctly remember at some point during that week sitting in the middle of the driveway, as the snow blower had gotten away from me AGAIN, worrying about being late for yet another doctor’s appointment to check on the little trouble maker who was already kicking me noticably at 22 weeks, and telling God, “I can’t do this…I don’t know how on Earth I’m supposed to be there for Jamie who is six hours away and adjusting to a new job, keep schooling and supporting Livie who was in meltdown mode CONSTANTLY due to all the upheaval, get the house ready for market, find another one, pack up, etc. etc. etc. while following the restrictions I was supposed to be on while carrying my baby boy… Something. Has. To. Give… NOW, PLEASE!”

Less than a week later, I was in preterm labor… And JJ arrived… And I was no longer on restriction (the nurses thought it was crazy how fast I bounced back), but I was now spending six to eight hours a day in NICU, plus HOURS pumping to provide milk for him when he was ready, plus everything that was previously on my list… And watching my little boy fight for his life, outside too soon.

The guilt about killed me. I blamed myself. I apologized to JJ and to God for complaining… And then hit me: peace. Complete, overwhelming peace. I was never supposed to be able to get pregnant, but I had. I was never supposed to be able to carry to viability, but I had, just barely, but still… If this was because I had asked God for help, He would bring us through this, whatever the outcome.

So I sat by the incubator day after day, quoting Job 1:21 to myself over and over, as I learned how everything worked, listened during rounds, and soaked in every moment with my little guy. When I left each day, I cried the whole way home and then got to work. We got the house ready, and sold. I let go of many of my hopes for cleaning out prior to moving and got things ready. I stayed in touch with Jamie and, I think strangely, having JJ in the hospital helped to ground him, too. Olivia did homeschool in the NICU with the doctors and nurses helping her with her work and the March of Dimes rep constantly restocking the book cart for her, and she was so focused on JJ that she didn’t worry about herself as much.

We got moved, JJ was transferred to Virginia, came home, and things were crazy… But I’ve never again felt as hopeless and helpless as I did before his birth. Why? I think because now I get it, finally: I’m not in charge. All those little sometimes trite phrases we hear as Christians are true: “if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it”, “Praise Him in the storm”, “let go and let God” and so on. Would I be as confident of this if JJ hadn’t made it? I don’t know… But I like to think I would, because the peace arrived long before he was into double digits for chance of survival.

I’m still a bit of a control freak, but I’m trying to step back and live in “now” with my kids and my husband. Do I have multiple contingencies planned for all four of us for the next twenty years still? Yeah, but every time a door closes, I handle it better now, because it’s not MY plan that matters. 😉



“Why is it called homeschooling if we’re always in the car?”

I saw a t-shirt with this phrase on it at the last HEAV convention and cracked up. This is so true for many of the homeschool families I know.

As the new school year kicks off, my social media and blog feed has been PLASTERED with pictures of perfectly planned out curricula, perfectly organized school rooms, and children happily sitting at the kitchen table or desk working away on their first assignments of the year.While these images are still the common conception of homeschooling, the reality for my family and many others is something VERY different.

Just to give you an idea of how little time at home is involved in our homeschool, here’s a rough sketch of my daughter’s scheduled time out for the upcoming semester:

Monday: 815am-415pm

Tuesday: 1215pm-230pm

Wednesday: 130pm-830pm

Thursday: 845am-230pm

Friday: nothing scheduled

And bear in mind this is just the standing appointments and classes! That doesn’t include doctors, field trips, time at the gym, etc. So how do we “homeschool” if we’re never HOME?!?

Simply put, we live in the minivan. 😉 Among the sippy cups, take out containers, and toys that compromise much of the persistent mess in my van you will also find CDs of audio books and songs to help with memory work, piles of library books, and bags of school work, dry erase board, and flashcards.

Because so many of our appointments are spread out, we have a lot of down time between scheduled events and these are the moments when we “do school”. Sometimes it’s in the library, sometimes at a park, and sometimes in a parking lot as we skarf down a burger, but it is rarely sitting around the table at home, keeping to a specific schedule.

Homeschooling, at it’s core, isn’t about religion, or politics, or making your kids smarter, or protecting then from the world. Homeschooling is about CHOICE. Homeschooling is about you chosing the BEST way for YOUR kids to learn and meet their goals. For some it’s a very structured life where you rarely leave the house, and that is perfectly fine! But don’t beat yourself up if your homeschool journey bears no resemblance to the picture perfect image of a homeschool family. The chaotic, messy, constantly on the run variety is just as valid if that is what works for YOUR family.

So, to all my fellow van-schooling moms, as we head into another crazy, on the run, “I know your math test is in here somewhere… Check under the seat” year, I salute you from the Starbucks drive thru! Our kids will be ok, too, because we are doing what works for THEM.

No, he’s not “all better”

29 months ago next week, I gave birth to my amazing little cuddly, non-stop, spitfire of a son at 23 weeks. 104 days later we came home from NICU, and 11 months after that we finally returned the oxygen equipment to the home health company. So people see my bright, active, inquisitive 2 year old and assume he’s “all better”, and “he’s not a micro preemie anymore”. They’re wrong. 

As I sit here with our household on quarantine, again, staring at the shelf full of prescriptions with his name on then, I’m reminded of this fact. The challenges that come with being born early don’t disappear when you get to come home, or when you’re finally off medical support, or once you get caught up on all your milestones. They are with you for years, if not your entire life. 

Last week  we went to a funeral for a family member, and saw lots of relatives and friends, all of whom seemed healthy. But my little guy doesn’t have a normal immune system, and it’s possible he never will. So while getting picked up, and receiving hugs and kisses from those who love him, he picked up not one, but TWO illnesses. Those who infected him probably didn’t even know they were carrying the bugs. 

So what? Kids get sick, right? They’re down for a few days, they build antibodies, they bounce back, and you go on with your lives, right? Well, no, not necessarily, if your kid is a micro preemie. 

Micro preemies don’t generally build antibodies as well as “term babies” (which is part of a whole other discussion over why we need others to vaccinate as well, not just us) and they are often slower to bounce back. Also, many micro preemies are WAY behind on growth, sometime dangerously so all the way into grade school. 

Because of all this,  while a healthy, chunky toddler can get sick for a week and you can’t even tell, when a micro preemie toddler gets sick, it’s probably two weeks or more before they are back to full health and during that time they don’t grow well. This adds up after a while, compounding weight gain and growth issues. 

So, if I seem testy when you see us after yet another round of illness that had kept us away longer than makes sense to you, and someone comments about him being “so big” or “all better”, know that I’m not mad at you. I’m just thinking on all of these issues and worrying that we didn’t stay in long enough, that he’ll pick up every virus in a 5 mile radius, and trying to figure out how we’re going to catch back up, again, THIS time…

Bathroom Musings

When I was young, like 6, 7, 8 years old, my dad used to disappear into his bathroom for what seemed like HOURS. Obviously it wasn’t actually, but, as I’m sure you’re all aware, the under 10 crowd lives inside a temporal paradox. 5 minutes equals 5 hours when the person whose attention you want is occupied, but “just 1 more minute” equals at least 25 when we want them to put their toys away, go to bed, etc.

Anyway, I thought something was seriously wrong with my dad because he took so long in the bathroom that it warranted keeping a whole stack of books and magazines available. As I am now much closer to 40 than 10 and have a toddler and a teenager, I now understand: the bathroom is, quite simply, the only door in the house you can lock without causing undue consternation from your children and spouse. 

AND so, as I sit here on the side of the tub, writing my first blog post in months, hiding from my children for just FIVE MINUTES, I now understand the REAL purpose of a large, spacious master bath: it’s not just the bathroom, it’s the only sanctuary in the house.  So I’m now drooling over a soaking tub (room to spread out papers and books for lesson plans), large double vanity with makeup mirror and stool  (well lit desk for writing), and towel warmer (snuggly blankets for settling in with a novel). A girl can dream, right?

… and the banging on the door has begun.  Time’s up!

*Also, I want to apologize, dad, for all those times I banged on the door, and thank you for not throttling me as a result. 😉

**I don’t think I did that to mom as much since, as best I can recall,  she rarely got to go to the bathroom alone until I was older thanks to my sisters. 

Homeschooling Jargon 101

Ok, so you’re thinking about homeschooling, and Dear Sweet Dictionary! There’s a whole other language to learn! 😉 Don’t panic. I’m going to boil it down, define briefly what the major schools are (while ignoring the more obscure ones), explain what a homeschool might look like for each method, and take it from there. Look out, wall of text incoming.

Traditional: traditional homeschooling is basically “school at home”: You have textbooks for each individual topic, workbooks, tests, etc. This is often where families start when they begin homeschooling because they are trying to emulate the public school learning style at home. This can be effective because of the highly structured nature, both for the kids and the parents, where lesson plans are pre-written, and many teacher guides look like “Now say this…if they ask A, read this. If they ask B, read this”. The disadvantages are that it is the most expensive route to go, the most work for parents (you’d think it would be easier, but there is a LOT of grading and prep work), and it’s generally not much fun for the kids.

Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason believed in teaching kids by real-life situations and “living books”. Living books are narratives and stories that create a passion for the subject instead of dry encyclopedia-style textbooks. Think reading “Little House on the Prairie” vs. the history book chapter on pioneers. 😉 As far as real-life situations, think nature walks, visits to historical sites, and art museums instead of textbooks and worksheets. Students show what they know not by tests, but by discussion and storytelling. Think “Johnny, mom says you read a neat story about a king today, can you tell me about it?” instead of “Here’s your quiz on Henry VIII, make sure to answer in complete sentences.”

Classical Education: Classical education focuses on teaching students to learn and think for themselves. There are three stages: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Don’t get scared, they’re just big words for simple ideas which I’ll explain with the example of learning about God. The grammar stage is the idea of learning the terms and ideas of a concept: who, what, when, where (memorizing Jesus Loves Me  and a slew of “bible stories” as a small child). Most programs focus on this level through elementary. Dialectic is the questioning stage where you begin to really research, study, and question EVERYTHING: WHY and HOW (If God loves us, why evil/pain/etc.) This is generally associated with the upper elementary and middle school years (Can I get an AMEN from the “If my kid makes it past this stage it’ll be a miracle” crowd?). Rhetoric is where it all comes together and communication is the main focus, arguing effectively and teaching what you know in a reasoned and persuasive manner (you’ve come to terms with God and are starting to share Him with others through discussion or teaching classes). There are lots of curriculum, “traditional” structured, “Charlotte Mason” focused, or “unit studies” that support this methodology. We’re using Classical primarily at our house now.

Montessori: Montessori method is mainly for younger kids, though some take it on through upper elementary, and even high school (though I personally can’t see how). The emphasis is on letting children develop at their own pace, with “errorless learning” (there is no “wrong” or “failed”, just discovery). Montessori emphasizes simplicity, well-organized teaching materials brought out in careful rotation, minimal or NO screen time, wooden toys instead of plastic, etc. There’s a lot to be said for Montessori principles for the smallest learners (think toddlers and preschool kids), especially with much of the emerging research on neuro-development in toddlers, but to truly “Do Montessori” it’s a lot of deliberation and work, prepping learning stations, cycling out toys and projects to encourage development in various topics, etc. That being said, it would be really easy to find some Montessori ideas on pinterest to help keep the Littles in your family constructively occupied while the Bigs “do school”.

Unit studies: Unit studies are bundles focused on one topic that go in depth, touching on lots of subjects. Think “Little House on the Prairie” but instead of just reading the book you’re looking at maps of their journey, actually trying to make butter, reading about the laws and policies that encouraged westward expansion, doing copywork of favorite passages and spelling tests with words they don’t recognize. These can be excellent for making use of a child’s own interests and passions and expanding their knowledge in related fields. (Hmmm…can we think of a way to use an interest family history to, oh, say, study European geography/history/immigration policies/languages/etc.?) While some families use unit studies as the focus of their education, most use them as supplemental when a child is really asking about a topic. Instead of saying, “that’s nice dear” when they bring you a weird picture of Egyptian mummies, download a unit study and go pick up some books from the library. 😉

Unschooling: AKA “natural”, “interest-led”, or “child-led” learning. Unschoolers learn from everyday life experiences and do not use school schedules or formal lessons. They simply pursue their interests and curiosity, and acquire the skills they need along the way in order to feed their own desire to learn. The pros: lots of time to really become experts in their fields of interest. Cons: state assessment results aren’t generally going to be pretty and a kid has to be driven to learn. I know some really successful unschooling families, but these kids are wired different, as are their extraordinary mommas. 🙂

I’m not really going to bother with Thomas Jefferson and Waldorf since they’re honestly kind of obscure, really short version: leadership focused.

Eclectic Homeschooling: the reality for most homeschool families: we use a little from this method, a little from that, borrow what we like from one theory and ignore what doesn’t work for us, picking the best of each for OUR family and our kids’ unique personalities and needs. 😉 No, you do not have to “pick a method” in order to homeschool, but having an awareness of the various methods, and which ones more closely align with your priorities can help you sort through the sea of options and information to find a useful and usable collection of resources for your homeschool.




Homeschooling: Where do I start?

So you are considering homeschooling? That’s so exciting! The freedom it gives you to give your kids what they need is amazing. 🙂 And I’m REALLY excited to help you sort out what might work for you all.

First off, there is no wrong way to homeschool as long as your kids are learning. 🙂 There IS a “wrong” way for your family though. :-/ Each family has different needs, different schedules, different organizational methods, different priorities. It has taken us 4 years and oh-good-gracious-how-much-have-I-spent multiple tries to find the best fit for us, but we’ve now got a program that should see us through till our 1 year old is ready for college. 😉

Since there are dozens of curriculum/blogs/etc. out there, I suggest both parents in the household to complete the quiz below. I have taken A LOT of these goofy quizzes, but this one does a pretty good job of nailing down where you fall philosophically about schooling. From there you can begin to rule out a lot of options, and if there’s a big disparity between your answers and your spouses, it gives you somewhere to start a discussion…because, trust me, if you’re not on the same page, this isn’t going to work. :-p

So, take a few minutes, work through the questions (but don’t over think them) and then copy your full results for each of you to look back on as you work through this process. 🙂 I know it seems silly, but it really will help narrow the field of possibilities. 😉


Homeschooling How To….sort of…

The following series on homeschooling started as a conversation with a friend who was interested in homeschooling her kids but didn’t know how to begin. As we exchanged emails, and I mentioned it to other friends, more people wanted to see what I had come up with. I’ve adapted our conversations into more general terms, usable for a wider audience. DISCLAIMER: These are just based on my observations and experiences. Take it or leave it as you see fit, and let me know if you have any questions. 😉 Without further ado, my attempt at “Intro to Homeschooling!”