Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Privacy, Please?

My husband is intensely private, and while I tend to let quite a bit hang out, I'm seeing the wisdom of his perspective.  He and I were raised in a church culture that was fairly anti-privacy, where people felt free to ask nosy questions in the name of spiritual accountability, and we felt obligated to share the details. While I've enjoyed the relative anonymity of moving to a new community, one small cost of making friends means losing some of that privacy.  So privacy has been on my mind a lot these days. Partly I've been thinking about it because of recent news of government surveillance, but partly because I get very little personal privacy, so I am becoming more protective of my privacy and that of my family.

I can predict with frightening accuracy just how long it will take before one of my kids comes looking for me any time I change my clothes, shower, or try to use the restroom alone: three to five seconds.  Kids who ignore me for hours suddenly all need me the second I'm without pants.  For this reason, I finally have a lock on my bedroom door, an odd detail that was overlooked by the previous owners and that I kept forgetting to remedy.  Turns out that the lock doesn't block out tattling or whining, but that's a bit much to ask, I suppose.

Online privacy has become more of a priority as well.  I have decided to take a month off from Facebook, and I don't miss it.  It aided me when I was getting established here and finding my community, but I'm finding now that it's a substitute for spending time with people, and not a very good one.  I have edited my friends list and created an "acquaintances" profile. I deleted people who disrupt my peace of mind.  My older kids are also getting to an age where it's very disconcerting to them that people seem to know a lot about them.  Fair enough, kiddos!  I can honor your privacy.  It's also been great to avoid the uncomfortable over-sharing that happens on Facebook.  I know you have that friend.  We all do.  (Please don't say it's me!).

People have been intruding into our privacy quite a bit lately as we have spent 3 months fighting off a serious case of eczema on my four-year-old daughter's skin.  Strangers will ask her "have you been crying?" or will ask me "what's the matter with her skin?"  or "OMG, is that contagious?".  I want to say, "no, but rudeness is, so I suggest you step back away from my children!"  We got many, many unsolicited suggestions on how to treat it.  Some were dangerous or downright ridiculous.  Some were helpful and reasonable.  Most we had already tried.  She went gluten free for a month.  We tried OTC creams, unguents, potions, lotions, and salves of all kinds.  No relief, poor kid!  Finally, we went for a second visit to the pediatrician and left with 5, yes FIVE, prescriptions.  And you know what?  She looks great!  My beautiful girl looks 90% better and is not waking up with terrible scratch marks all over her skin.  Maybe in time I would have found the magical allergen to avoid or the elusive cream that would have solved our problem, but for now I'm thankful that modern medicine will save my sweet child from embarrassing questions.

Living 8 feet away from neighbors to my east and west, surrounded by young kids, and living in a small-ish house with one bathroom, I am pretty sure that the most intimate day-to-day privacy is not coming any time soon, but I'm learning to appreciate the value of protecting the privacy we have.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring Fever

As the semester winds down, the weather is warming up.  It's days like this that make or break our resolve to finish the school year well.  My husband is grading around the clock, prepping exams, meeting with students who are panicked about final grades, and excavating our back yard by hand in order to create a nice patio surface out of a hilly clay mess.  I am trying to get 20 hours of observation completed at a local school, keep up with 7 credit hours of course work, homeschool our boys, take care of our little girls, and keep life running smoothly.  Yep, trying! 

It is hard.  Like high-five-your-spouse-on-the-way-out-the-door, frozen-pizza-for-dinner-Pepto-Bismol-for-dessert, my-kids-watch-too-much-Netflix HARD. 

But we're managing it.  Our house is not as neat and tidy as it was after our big organization project, but it will just take a few hours (read: days) of intensive cleaning to get it back into shape.  With sunshine and nice outdoor temperatures, I know that getting everyone outdoors as much as possible is the priority.  And so I sit up late at night, knocking out deadlines, reading until my eyes won't stay open, and thinking only as far as what I need to do tomorrow.  And little by little....it gets done. 

This is the time for easy meals and simplified routines.  Laundry gets washed and dried.  Want it put away? Go right ahead! You wore that outfit yesterday, but it doesn't have any biohazards on it?  By all means, wear it again! Lunch and dinner consist of a protein, a starch, and a veggie.  Done!  After that, we're gonna hit the bike trail with our small army of kids and parade this freak show (any family with more than 3 kids in the OV) all over the place...because they are awesome, and we just don't want to miss out on this great time in their lives! 

Want an example of a simple meal?  Here's our Tuesday Taco meal:
1-2 chicken breasts baked (this can be done in advance) 
Cut the breasts into strips, fajita-style, but for younger (or picky!) kids, leave these unseasoned. 

Pepper and Bean Fajita Filling (Not a meat eater? Serve this with rice!)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red and 1 green pepper, cut in strips (frozen are fine!)
1 onion, diced
Saute the peppers and onions in a bit of oil until the onions become translucent.  Add 1T cumin, 1t chili powder, and 1/2t paprika.  Add 1t of lime juice. Add the beans and let them heat through and soften for a few minutes. Salt if needed.  Not a meat eater? Serve this with rice!

Homemade guacamole (make this while the peppers and onions cook)
1 avocado, cut in half, pit removed, insides scraped
1/4c salsa
1t lime juice
1t cumin
2T cilantro (opt)
Salt as desired
Mix this together with a fork or a stick blender, and you've got fresh guacamole!  My 4-year-old daughter gets all the ingredients out for this one because she loves some guac!

Put some shredded colby-jack, some lettuce, some whole-wheat tortillas, and some good organic blue corn chips on the table, and let everyone decide what they want on their plates.  This is a favorite meal for our family, and it's really easy to make.  I eyeball all the measurements and can have the thing ready in 30 minutes.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Home Organization Week

My post two weeks ago was about the organization urge I was experiencing with the upcoming arrival of spring when I will want to be outdoors with my kids.  Last week's absent post was a casualty of my frenzy to implement my plans.  Two weeks later, I am sitting in a clean and organized home.  I know, right? So what did we do in about one week that we couldn't do in nearly 3 years?  Well, I'll admit that it started with a tax refund!  We allocated a fair amount of this year's refund to this project because our small home has almost no storage. We have four kids and a lot going on in this house, and all my previous attempts at conquering the chaos had only been partially successful.  This time, however, I had a plan and some cash!

We took a week off of formal homeschooling and talked about budgeting, organizing, assembling furniture, cleaning, and other related life skills.  My kids were incredibly hard workers and were rewarded with special little gifts and privileges during the week. My boys are 9 and 7, and my girls are 4 and 1, so their contributions to the effort varied.  The baby spent a lot of time on my back in her carrier.  To help them take ownership of the new system, they got to choose the way their possessions would be stored.  They got to choose which toys would be put into storage in the attics off their rooms for later use.  Most helpfully, they worked with me to sort the toys and discard the broken or no longer useful pieces.

Every evening my husband and I would assemble a few of the more complicated storage systems, and during the day the kids and I would assemble the simpler ones and sort, clean, purge, and organize the clutter away.       We re-arranged bedrooms, cleaned carpets, vacuumed baseboards, installed coat hooks, made our dining room into a multi-purpose playroom and home school storage room, and put an culinary-grade wire shelf into my kitchen.

Every evening my husband would come home to an entirely different home.  Some nights it was mass chaos as we were tearing apart another room.  Some nights I was pulling styrofoam out of the toddler's mouth. Other nights he would walk in and say "wow!", and sometimes that was a good thing! We ate a lot of pizza and soup because those meals were easy.  We listened to a lot of silly music on Pandora and danced while we dusted.  This project gave our family a surprisingly pleasant week!

Rather than being mired in a sense of failure at my inability to get this project done prior to this month, I gave myself a lot of grace and reminded myself that our move to Wheeling has been a big adjustment.  We didn't really have enough money to put in this kind of storage before.  Throughout this project, I kept things light and positive for all of us and took breaks whenever things were getting overwhelming.

The change is dramatic, and the change in our family dynamic has been just as dramatic.  When the kids have places to put their things, they are more helpful when it is time to clean up.  When their environment is less chaotic, their behavior is more peaceful.  Every night we go to bed with a clean home, and everyone feels able to help maintain it.  Rather than beat myself up for not doing this sooner, I remember that I have learned a lot in these last three years, and that has brought me to the place where we could get this project done so efficiently!

Next week: Pictures and descriptions of how we pulled off a room-by-room organization in one week!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Clutter clutter everywhere!

Heading into the season of Lent next week, I am once again faced with an overwhelming desire to remove the clutter from my life.  This urge to do some spring cleaning always hits me early, especially when the store ads post beautiful storage and exercise items, tempting me with an image of health and organization.  We have had so much change in this last year, and we are struggling to get our bearings. In addition, my grandmother passed away recently, leaving a home packed with decades of random items of varying value and usefulness, but mostly stuff that is destined for the dumpster. I don't want the clutter to take over, and it has me thinking about other clutter in my life.

There is clutter in my diet because comfort food is my preference when I'm tired and stressed and my depression and anxiety are getting the upper hand.  There is clutter in my diet because carbohydrates are so immediately available and so immediately satiating. The downside is that I have physical baggage from this mindless noshing.  My body is tired, my joints are sore, and my anxiety was out of control thanks to too much coffee.   My husband recently lost nearly 40 pounds and has set an excellent example for our family that diet and exercise can be life-changing! It's time to clean things up! I have started with cutting the coffee and have found myself better able to manage my anxiety.  It's time to think ahead and have the right food ready when I'm in need of sustenance. I do that for the rest of my family, but I often let myself down.

There is clutter in my spiritual life that I am all the more aware of as I begin preparing for the Lenten season of fasting and self-reflection.  This time set aside for spiritual development always leaves me feeling spiritually recharged and ready for the rest of the gray days of early spring at home with small children.  I want to make the most of this time by setting aside daily time for contemplation and prayer.

There is clutter in my house because I live in a 100 year old 1000 square foot house with little to no usable storage space.  I'm trying to do far too many things with too many people for this space.  I have small people who pick up items and deposit them in the most ridiculous places, and I have bigger people who don't put things away because there just isn't an intuitive place to put them! It's time to take a break from the homeschooling, an early spring break, and make my house look like an IKEA showroom.  I can't think of a better thing to do with our tax refund.  As I am writing this, my 3 year old daughter just dumped 3 bins of organized toys, so adequate storage cannot come soon enough!

All these forms of clutter lead to cluttered thinking (or maybe they're signs of it!).  I long for the day when I will be able to finish a thought and remember everything that I am supposed to.  I'm hoping that successes in my diet and exercise routine, in my home organization, and in my spiritual life will lead to increased clarity of thought...at least until the next major change in our lives!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To the Mother of One Small Child

When I am out and about with my brood of four, I'm typically just trying to remain calm and keep everyone in line.  I know that to the mother of one little bitty child, my very active and very loud 9 and 7 year old boys look like an threatening juggernaut of masculine energy.  They feel that way to me sometimes too, especially when they're engaging in exciting play with my 3 and 1 year old daughters.  It's possible that in a few years, the same energy and behavior won't feel so threatening to you because your own sweet child will be closer to that age.

Please remember that my children are as precious to me as your child is to you.  I haven't trained them to be loud or to careen around like runaway freight trains.  In fact, I have worked hard to reinforce quiet and gentle play.  And most of the time, it has worked.  However, when we go out in public, they sometimes get overly excited for a bit before they settle in.  Other days, they have a lot of frustration to work off, and that's why we have left the house in the first place.  For me to insist on quiet and gentle play at all times would be to deny the basic nature of boys and to betray my children's trust in me.  I would have to crush their spirits and would only drive misbehavior underground, leading to deceitfulness and sneakiness.

Because you haven't been doing this mom thing quite as long as I have, I'm going to inform you about an important rule of the mom world:  Don't yell at strangers' kids.  If my kid bothers your kid, ask him to play nicely.  No big whoop.  If my kid is really out of line, pick up your kid if you feel he/she is in danger (which is probably not the case, but I know big kids can seem threatening).  Come find me, and I will likely rain down consequences on my kid.  For reals.  However, if you shout at my kid or at me, I'm going to assume that you're crazy.  Why, you ask?  Because it is crazy to yell at other people's kids.  Be the grown up.  I promise that I will be one too, that I will have a serious talk with my kid, that my kid will lose privileges even if it was accidental, and that my kid will play more cautiously for the duration, or we will leave.

Let's assume the best of each other, okay?  I'm going to assume that you are out to enjoy a pleasant time with the most precious gift in your life.  I'm sure you're a good mom.  By the way, your kid is cute.  Please assume the same about me.  My kids are precious to me, I'm a good mom, and I really need a trip out of the house.  Tell me my kids are cute, and I probably won't be able to refrain from wholehearted agreement!  Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt, okay mommas of little ones?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Long post about why I've fallen off the face of the earth :)

So the homeschooling bug didn't just bite.  It took my leg off!  In September Ian started to have frequent tantrums and to utter threats when he felt cornered.  Thanks to an environment of zero tolerance, I started to get almost daily calls, and the anxiety for him and for me was really detrimental to our family life. Things were escalating to the point that I felt that he might be expelled since he does not have a 504 plan or IEP in force.  I decided that any place that brings out the very worst in my kid is not the place for my kid.  That place was definitely our local elementary school!

We had always been rather culture shocked by the atmosphere of the school.  The academic pace was fine, but the pointless homework and finding out that they were wasting time at school watching non-academic movies upset me. The passive aggressive notes from teachers indicating that we were not involved parents really upset me!  I am a very hands-on momma, but my kids require a lot of hands!

The constant emphasis on something to buy or something to raise money for also caused undue pressure on us.  We don't believe in selling at church, and we aren't about to bother neighbors or co-workers with catalogs of overpriced crap.  The frequent parties (that we were asked to bring stuff for) were so incongruous to the atmosphere of constant disapproval and discipline.  Ian had one good teacher for 2nd grade, the best teacher I've ever met.  However, his first grade teacher was marginal.  Aidan had an acceptable kindergarten teacher, but his first grade teacher was awful. Common methods for handling minor behavior issues or irresponsibility included losing tokens for a crappy school store in the distant future and losing recess time.  Kids with hyperactivity and impulsivity issues will not really learn from losing a privilege in the distant future, and the last thing you want to do with kids like this is take away their time to blow off steam.  Really, it's basic childhood development!

When Ian was a first grader in 2010, we had him tested for giftedness.  He tested extremely high in some areas but tested so low in working memory that it skewed his scores.  The teacher took the opportunity during this IEP meeting to dump all kinds of issues on me that she had never mentioned before.  I paid over $1000 trying to figure out what was wrong with my child that he had such a low performing working memory.  Turns out it was just anxiety.  They didn't test for compliance.  Another example of poor professionalism! It was fine that he didn't get into the gifted program because it was ONE HOUR per week.  Whoop de doo!  I told the first grade teacher in that meeting that the results confirmed my feeling that I should homeschool him.  She warned that it would only make him more socially awkward and make it harder to re-enter school later.  I listened because I was so overwhelmed by our move to Wheeling, a recent 2nd degree burn to my entire right thigh, and a mix-up at WJU that resulted in us having no money for Christmas that year.

Dealing with the principal was a whole other matter. He was completely unengaged in the IEP meeting, like a bored kid in church. Since I began having trouble with the school, I suddenly heard all these reports that he is a well-known womanizer who cheated on his wife, broke up his family, and now trolls the bars asking out every woman he meets, including many women that I know personally.  Rumors, maybe, but this is not the kind of person I want my kids to be around.  When I spoke with a professional who works with children in the area, her advice was to wear a low-cut shirt when dealing with him.  I looked around at the PTA and saw why he let them do what they wanted.  They were his type!

I also heard from other education professionals and from social workers that the man is clueless and that he is very unprofessional.  I saw this first hand.  He ignored letters I sent him about my concerns.  He blew off any criticism that I expressed in meetings.  He demanded that we meet in person (a huge inconvenience with four kids) when a phone conversation would have sufficed.  He has abdicated all responsibility to the unqualified members of the PTA, entrusting most of the routine mass communication to them.  He claims that he can't make many policy changes "because it was like this before I got here".  Show some leadership!  He seems baffled by routine discipline issues that I deal with every day. When I pointed out that he has a hand-picked demographic of involved and educated parents with financial means, he dismissed this and claimed that the school's performance is really due to their superior teaching.  (See paragraph C!).

In Ian's second grade year, his behavior was generally fine, and I never had a call from the school. His teacher and I were able to communicate very well via email, but her classroom management was spectacular, and she didn't let things escalate.  The first month of 3rd grade I had 1 or 2 calls per week.  It was the change in teachers that undid any progress Ian had made.  I recently got a message that I had missed in September, hidden deep in my voicemail.  The teacher was calling and ORDERING me to REPORT (used that word twice!) to the office first thing the next morning.  Good thing I missed that call! That was the day I pulled him from school.

I had just started leading a 6 week walking program and a semester of 6 credit hours that included 60 hours of observation, so this was NOT the time to begin homeschooling.  Except that I had no other option.  Putting Ian in another school right away would only lead to more frustration and acting out.  I accepted this challenge to do what was right for my child and trusted that God would give me the strength and wisdom to do what I needed to do each day.

And it worked!  Ian has become much more calm and reasonable.  We hiked through the local park, Ian guiding Mara, and Ella on my back.  We played and learned and enjoyed peaceful days....until Aidan came home each day.

He would explode into the house, tired, cranky, and annoyed with life.  He would fight me for two hours each day to complete his homework. I would get notes from his teacher asking me to work with him on his math skills, but there was no time to do so! I would think about various homeschool activities, only to have to scrub them because they would interfere with being home for Aidan's bus drop off time.  We had some of the benefits and  homeschooling and of traditional school AND all of the drawbacks.  Aidan came down with bronchitis in October and never went back to school when he got better in the middle of the month.  We did a trial run of homeschooling while he was sick, and he loved it!  I realized that he had matured enough and our relationship had grown enough for us to spend all day together.  It just felt right to have him home and not have this persistent low-level annoyance of having the school dictating priorities to us and intruding into our family life.

Now we spend two or three hours a day doing direct instruction and seat work, which is NOTHING like the drama we would have doing homework after a long day at school.  Then we read in the afternoon, go on fun outings, play, watch documentaries, scour the library for new ideas, play at the gym at my husband's university, and enjoy our time together.  Aidan excels in reading and language, and his math fluency is improving slowly.  I know it will click one day!  Ian is working on multiplication with answers in the tens of thousands, along with decimals, fractions, and percentages.  He'll be ready for pre-algebra next year.  His class at school is learning multiplication.  Ian is reading on a 9th grade level (lexile around 1000), and he read The Hobbit this semester and enjoyed it very much! I assign math and language activities based on their needs and abilities, and they choose science and social studies themes for the quarter.  It has really been a lot of fun!

Of course, on top of all of this I've been working on those 6 credit hours!  I managed to limp along with my work all semester and ended up with a 4.0 thanks to my family's support!  I live school all day long, and I'm learning so much about how children learn by spending all day with mine.

Behavior issues are dramatically decreased at home and away from home.  They're like different kids!  Our whole family dynamic is SO much more positive!  Is this ideal for our family?  Yes and no.  It is the right thing for right now.  I don't have time to spend with friends and recharge my momma batteries as much, but I am surrounded by a lot of support.  I'm feeling so blessed that God had been preparing me for this over the last few years!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Taking the Long View

My husband and I differ dramatically in our outlook about life and family in one particular way. He assumes that it's okay that things are kind of miserable sometimes. When things aren't going smoothly, I am convinced that they can be vastly improved with a new strategy or organizational overhaul. That...and sheer force of will. We WILL be happy, everybody!!!! Can you tell I'm a firstborn?

The good news is that I'm generally right. It's usually a simple change in strategy, and we're back on track until the next pile of crazy presents itself, which it will, sooner or later. And we generally are happy. So why do I mention my husband's sometimes bleaker perspective on family life? I think it's worth thinking about because it has a positive side. His lower expectations are a real saving grace for me on the hard days. His priorities are that everyone is loved, fed, and safe that day. Anything beyond that is just gravy.

Does this mean we don't have bigger plans and expectations for our brood of four? No, definitely not! It's more that our perspectives together allow us to take a long view of things. I'm at home for now doing the daily routine of wiping noses and bottoms, but I dream of more for them and for myself professionally. My husband is out there doing the job he was made to do, and at the end of every long day (and aren't they ALL long days?), he just wants to know that everyone is taken care of and happy.

This long view allows us to see that the Star Wars figurine that a kid worked for this summer is totally worth it now that he knows his multiplication tables. He doesn't need all of the series, and he's thrilled with the one that he earned. A vacation every year just isn't going to happen, but it's worth taking one every few years to make some special memories. The rest of our travel budget? Visiting grandparents in Indiana and Pennsylvania on alternating holidays. Not a vacation, but source of special memories as well! With the long view, we know that a vacation will happen, but we're not going to only have meaningful family time at some distant point in the future. The key I'm finding is not to let the daily toil wear us down, to offer our parenting partner a nap or time away from the kids, to find peace and joy in the little moments in life, to give sacrificially for the kids and for each other, because all together, that's what makes up the long view.