Friday, April 18, 2014

Resurrection Tuesday

There's this nail in the tire of my van.  It's not a wimpy little common nail, either.  It's the giant, designed to stick in there for 20 years, roofing nail-type.

We haven't pulled it out yet, because - by some miracle of engineering - the very fact that it's in there so snugly is preventing the tire from going flat.  Once we pull it out, or once it wiggles its way into a large enough hole, whichever comes first, not only do we have to replace that single tire, but the other three as well.  {Conspiracy, I tell you!  Somebody alert the presses!}

Each and every time I get in my car, I check the front tire, just to be sure that a) the tire isn't flat and b) there hasn't been some kind of major melt down in car mechanics owing to this nail.  I'm pretty sure there's only a .00003% chance of this actually happening, but I'm reminded that I'm paranoid every time I hit a bump or go around a corner during our drive.  Because sitting on the side of the road with small children and/or hulking up and changing the van tire like some 'roided out prego body builder both seem like super fun ideas.

There is a lot of driving to do this weekend, too, since two important dates happen to coincide on the calendar this year: the first is Easter, which, incidentally happens to fall on the 15 year anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

It seems fitting, though.  "Coincidence" it may be, but somehow the fact that these two dates overlap is highly appropriate in my book.

Maybe not on the surface; Easter is supposed to be a day about family, togetherness and celebration.  On April 20th fifteen years ago, the world as I knew it was torn apart.

It was the firecrackers that alerted us that something was wrong.  I mean, really.  Who brings firecrackers to school?  But when we turned around to seek out the source of this lunch-time disturbance, it wasn't firecrackers.

It was paintball guns.  Because... that was the only explanation that made sense to our otherwise preoccupied teenage brains.  We certainly didn't go to a school where another explanation was immediately obvious.  Sure, we'd heard about school shootings in other places, but we didn't go to such a school.  Ours was safe, so the words SENIOR PRANK flashed through our minds, even as our eyes began to provide evidence otherwise.  Besides, the completely expressionless faces I watched point and fire those guns at random had to mean they weren't out to harm anyone.  After all, they were letting fire rain down upon their fellow students; surely that would evoke emotion?

Two dropped.  Hard.  I'd come to know later it was actually three, but the third one was out of my field of vision.  At least two more were already down, victims of the popping noises we'd heard initially.  But it was watching those two fall to the ground that snapped me out of my delusion: this was no senior prank.

Standing so close, we concealed ourselves by crouching behind the tire of a car.  Interestingly enough, in my mind as I recall it all these years later, the car was white.  Looking at the photo now, I see that must not have been the case.  The things I do remember are etched forever in my memory: watching a friend get shot.  Hearing the sickening thud as her thin body was impacted.  Seeing her crumple and fall.  The smoke from a pipe bomb which landed so close to me I could have thrown it back.  The explosion that somehow, miraculously, didn't touch me.  The boy who ran, clutching his bloody leg.  And the bodies.  The ones I knew lay motionless outside, even though I didn't know to whom they belonged.  The ones I feared were mounting inside the school. The ones I ran desperately, hopelessly to try and protect as soon as the shooters moved inside.

Help them was all I could think.  It filled my whole being and spurred me on.  It seems silly now to look back and remember how strongly I felt that it rested with me to sound the alarm, to call the police and get help as soon as possible.  We may not have had cell phones, but there were many phones in the school, much more easily accessed than by me sprinting half-crazed across the football field, jumping a fence and practically breaking into neighborhood houses in my desperate attempt to get!them!help! already.  It was pretty naive, but it was the only thought that filled my brain.

When I finally got to a phone, 9-1-1 was busy.  Oh the significance.

That sign read "Good Luck Band" for months.  We were supposed to be going somewhere - Kansas City? - for a competition that weekend.  We didn't exactly make it.

How much we were in the dark as we watched helplessly while the events at our school unfolded on TV.  The rumors.  The reports.  And finally - though if I recall correctly, it wasn't until a full 24 hours later - the names.

Each fell sickeningly on our hearts, every name a memory and a blow.

Isaiah.  I'd talked to him in the hall just that morning.

Cassie.  Who burned brightly with her love of God.  I'd never hear her laugh at youth group again.

Steven.  From science class.

Corey.  My friend's brother.

KellyKyleJohn. Daniel. LaurenMatt.

Coach Sanders.  Who didn't know him?

Someone's daughter.  Someone's son.  Someone's brother or sister or friend.  Someone's father.  Blow, blow, blow.

And finally, Rachel. Dan. I would come to find out that those belonged to two of the crumpled bodies we'd left behind.  Rachel who was kind to everyone.  Who was brave and sweet and loved God.  Dan who was my age and, though I didn't know him well, a friend of a friend.  Surely, surely God wouldn't have allowed these thirteen to go.

I remember darkness for the next year.  There were moments in the sun, of course, but we all faced so much that seemed unlivable.  But somehow, we did.  We already had, and we would fight not only to regain our lives, but to make them mean something. For ourselves and for those we love who no longer have that opportunity.

This year - fifteen years later - I will celebrate Easter with two little humans who call me mom.  I will smile, laugh and feel this tiny one in my belly as it kicks and celebrates along with us.  There will be remembrance and tears.  But mostly?  There will be joy.

Wherever you are, but particularly if you are a teen: we all must face these Columbine-moments.  Your battle may not come in the form of two broken boys with guns, but not one of us gets out of this life emotionally and physically in-tact.  Whatever your personal tragedy looks like, I beg you to hold onto the fact that there can be healing around the corner.  Mourning is for the long-term, and you will never be the same, but you must hold on.  You must have the strength and courage to face your demons.  You must find acceptance, forgiveness and grace.

Healing is much like that nail in my tire.  You don't have to fix it.  You may even be able to keep driving, keep moving forward without noticing much of a difference.

For a while.

There's no getting around the fact that eventually it will rip you apart from the inside.  Sooner or later, that very real hole is going to start to show, and - probably when you least expect it - you'll find yourself stuck on the side of the road, unable to push even a single step further.

The only way to truly fix the problem is to dig in.  To face it.  To pay the cost and fix the broken pieces of your soul.  Like my car, healing fully may mean addressing not only the single damaged point, but everything else connected with it as well.  It may be hard.  It may be costly.  You may hate and resent every second of the process.

Do it anyway.  Do the work.  Find the strength.  You are worth it. 

You're never fully the same; never exactly as you were before - and part of coming to grips with tragedy means accepting that the normal you thought you knew is gone.  Forever.  The prize in all of this, then, the reason to keep going, is that you have no idea what awaits you fifteen years down the line.

When it seems the world as you know it has ended, the real journey has only just begun.  Trials are never senseless.  Life is never wasted.  The important question isn't what happened,  it's what happens next? 

We can live by example, because someone has walked the path ahead of us.  We are not bound to live in the tomb, encased by grief and sorrow and death.

We, too, can rise.  And amazing things await when we have the courage to do so.

Happy Easter, and so very much love to my entire Columbine family.  May you forever be Rebel Strong.

Monday, April 14, 2014

No cost activities to do with your preschooler, already.

So, this homeschool gig.  It hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for us this spring.  In large part due to the fact that we've all been sick about as much as we've been well since December.  I'm a strict no running, watch a lot of Caillou-type mom when the kids can't breathe without hacking up half a lung, which has definitely made our school schedule a little more spotty than I would have liked.  

We've been using this curriculum, which I really do love for several reasons: 1) it works chronologically through the Bible, complete with memory verses and fun activities to go along with each story.  I'll admit, I'm not much when it comes to the creative, project-based kinds of crafts that kids really do need to help them develop fine motor skills, creativity and problem solving.  It has been superawesomefantastic to have those laid out for me.  2) It focuses on one letter each week, going entirely out of order.  This is awesome because it gives us an entire week to focus on learning how to write the letter.  

The thing is, by about December, she outgrew it a bit.  Yes, we still follow the "guidelines" for the curriculum.  But there is emphasis on number recognition, shapes and colors, and phonics, all of which she knows.  Like, really, really well.  

So, even though I'm still following the general outline, we're also implementing other activities focusing on more kindergarten-ready skills like reading and math.  Yes, I know she just turned four.  The really great thing about homeschooling kids is that you can feed them what they're ready for, when they're ready for it.  And yes, that makes my Nerdy McTeacher brain get all tingly with excitement...

So although I haven't moved on to a more strict curriculum (but oh, do I have dreams!  So many dreams for next year!), here are, in no particular order, some of our favorite homeschool activities.  Simple, easy additions we throw in using stuff we've already got to help those developing preschool-y skills flourish. 

Multi-sensory letter play.

Playdough is one of my all-time favorite creations.  It's useful for so many, many different things.  The thing that's great about using it to support letter building is that it turns early writing skills into a multi-sensory activity.  Hooray for engaging all parts of the brain! 

Another variation on this theme is popsicle sticks.  What letters can they build with just a few popsicle sticks?  What letters can't they build?

Another simple thing we use all the time is paint.  We looooove paint.  Painted letters, counting with paint, painting with paint because it's fun and we can... you name it, we've painted it. 

Grooming optional when homeschooling.  One of the many things I love about it.

But it's also great for reinforcing phonics lessons.  

We knew that O is one of those funky letters that makes different sounds, but look at what happens when you stamp it in different combinations with a paper towel tube!  

Salt/rice/sugar/sand tray - still one of my go-to's for letter learning.  It's a great way to introduce a shape and allow kids to practice before asking them to go at it with pencil and paper.  Rice in a baking dish works equally as well, and again, anything multi-sensory engages parts of the brain that helps translate into long-term memory.  WIN!

Math lessons with found objects.
One of the important prerequisites to math is that a child first have number sense - the recognition that one item equates to one number.  Can they accurately count items in a group?  If so, they may be ready to start grouping items using the vocabulary of math.

We learned the words for + and = and are practicing using them in a sentence.  In other words, we're learning how to say equations. 

Then, to give it concrete meaning, we counted out the equation using raisins and chocolate chips.  Because that's what I had on hand that was small and yummy.

As she ate her math snack, she had to say each equation.  2+1=3.  More important than the math?  We talked about it.  You have two chocolate chips and one raisin.  How many items do you have altogether?  Which two cups have five things in them? (3+2 and 4+1).  WOW!  There's more than one way to make five!  The talk is every bit as important as the ability to count and group.  And, also, the eating of the math problems... totally necessary to blossoming mathematicians.

Magnetic numbers and letters.
These things are genius, and way more fun than regular letters.

We use them all the time, for all sorts of things.  Initial consonant sound (change rat to pat), building words (how do you spell dog?).  Here, we were taking our math equations to the next step - solving equations without the concrete representation of raisins and chocolate chips.

It was hard.  I over-reached on this one, for the record.  Still, magnetic letters are a fun way to switch up the basics.  She loves doing it on our chalk board; a cookie sheet works wonders, too.

Stuff and glue.
Because everybody needs to work those fine motor skills.

We've done more versions of stuff and glue than I can count.  Cotton balls.  Popsicle sticks.  Cereal.  Google eyes.  Felt.  Flower petals.  Rocks.  Paper plates.  Beans. Shapes.  Color sorts.  It doesn't matter, it's all good, and this one is an end in and of itself.  Important skills are at work any time they're cutting, organizing and gluing.

On this particular day (recent, as you can guess by the eggs), she had to first cut out the small boxes of numbers, then count the eggs and glue the corresponding number in the box.  

Again, hooray for the multi-step, multi-sensory project!

Sight words. 
The easy way - through forced memorization and stickers.

I'm a big fan of this method.  Each week, I select three sight words and post them at very visible locations throughout our house: on the downstairs bathroom door, on the fridge, on her door and on the upstairs bathroom mirror.  You know, places we'll eventually have to visit (no, I see no connection between that list of important places in my home and pregnancy.  Two bathrooms and a fridge... your point being?).  It's a helpful reminder, kind of like a "password" any time we see it, to read and spell the words.

She also has a sticker book, and gets a sticker for each word when she reads it correctly.  She loves getting stickers, and it helps me keep track of the words she's already mastered and the ones she needs to keep working on.  

Again, to reinforce these I simply point to sight words she knows in books as we're reading.  Nothing fancy.  No magic tools.  Just a small investment of time to reap really, really big rewards.  It's amazing what percentage of words she can actually read in text using only a small selection of sight words.  Those babies really do pop up a lot in texts!

There you have it.  A few very simple and effective activities we hope you can utilize with your preschooler.  And, if you have anything to add that you love, we'd LOVE to hear it!  Jump in - the greatest resource we have is each other!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Parenting Paradigm Shift: Embracing the What-Ifs

There is no doubt: one of the most difficult things to do is modify behavior.

There's a reason that countless resources exist, whether in the form of books, college courses, self-help courses with any multitude of strategies and perspectives on raising children.  Because, the truth is that for each and every one of us, we all spend our adult lives analyzing the way that we were raised.  Nobody gets out of this without a little therapy. Freudian formal or over Starbucks with a girlfriend, we all end up laying on the proverbial couch over the relationships, habits, norms and values we were brought up with.

One of the things that is most troubling to me, though, as I try to define for my children what their "normal" will look like, is how very easy it is for the world to undo the lessons I am working so diligently to deliver.  Those values that I'm working so hard to model and reinforce are easily overridden by the hundreds of messages they are receiving simply as a byproduct as they go about their day.

It certainly plays into my decision to homeschool.  I've watched kids cry about wearing a certain type of pant to school because "the girls at school don't like pants like this."  You'd think this message came from my 8th graders, right?  I wish.  This was from kindergartners.  I've listened to second graders talk about Miley Cyrus (not those adorable Hannah Montana years, either) and all the images that conjures up.  At the age of four, Barbies have become the top "get" as presents, and, though I know it flies in the face of little girl "tradition," I'm just not sure what redeeming value that particular toy has.  At the end of the day, it just doesn't fit in with the values we're working so hard to help instill in our children.

 So, for our kids, we've made a very intentional executive decision: Embrace the what-ifs.

What if, from the time that child is tiny, we fed him or her exclusively with positive messages?  I am not suggesting parenting without limits - quite the opposite - but positive messages in the form of music, modeling, books, toys, movies, TV shows, other parents and, yes, other children.  What if we surround our children with an array of age-appropriate, well-vetted imagery, speech and actions that nurture their spirits, character, and souls?

What if we cast off that which is negative, limit that which is neutral, and seek out only that which gives voice to the value and potential of our children?

What if we stand between our children and the idea that the status quo is acceptable, even best, as a yardstick for what goes into developing our children?  What if we reject the notion that, since everyone else is doing it, strength in numbers somehow equates to raising compassionate, joyful and engaged offspring?

What if we approach parenthood not only as a major milestone in our own lives, but as an intentional, inspired launching pad for our little beloveds?

If there is one thing I am discovering as a mother, it is that God has entrusted me with the high honor to speak identity into my children.  Not to say that they are empty vessels who wait on me to breathe life into them; clearly they are their own beings with amazing personalities, strengths, ideas and preferences all their own.  Every mother knows how difficult it is to force a child to eat a food he or she doesn't like, or to argue a point with a toddler who has made up his or her own mind on an issue.  They are willful, independent beings right from the start!

Still, the ability we have been given as mothers to influence, touch, guide and develop our children cannot be overstated, nor should it be undervalued.  We are not to simply sit on the sidelines as our children grow - particularly when they are small and willing to embrace the lessons and wisdom we have to offer.

If you've ever tried to speak with someone about sheltering your children, the responses are as mixed and varied as your audience.  In some ways, the idea of "sheltering" has become a veritable bad parenting buzz-word, equated with unhealthy, awkward children who will undoubtedly grow into adults who melt at life's simplest challenge.

Done well, this could not be further from the truth.

The goal of sheltering is not to keep them from the world, but to better equip them to enter a world full of tough choices.  To arm them with self-confidence, Godly knowledge and discernment.  To help them know where their parents stand on difficult, controversial issues - and more importantly, why we feel that way - and give them roots to make their own choices out of wisdom.  To gift them the opportunity to develop their own character, skills and minds as individuals and give them lots of practice making choices while the stakes are small so that they are ready to function in our much larger world of pressures, choices and consequences.

In education terms, we would call it "front loading."  Without getting too technical, it means to spend a great deal of time pre-teaching the skills we know our learners will need to use independently later on.  In fact, most of what we do as teachers isn't conveying knowledge or facts, but investing up front in the "big ideas" that will carry them through the lesson, then refining processes and providing feedback so that when students are ready to grapple with the subject independently, they have the greatest chance at success.

The idea, then, for raising children, is to identify the characteristics and behaviors we would hope to see from our children and spend time investing in those while they are little.  To surround them with a world that supports and reinforces those values while we can, and gradually release them, with guidance and feedback, into young adults who make their own independent decisions.

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." 
Proverbs 22:5

It's not about protecting them from failure.  Failure is our greatest ally in making wise choices.  It's not about protecting them from pain, since some things you can only learn through experience, pain and loss.  It is about asking two questions: who can our children become if they are allowed to focus on becoming the best version of themselves, and what do they need from us in order to get there?  Not for the purpose of engendering selfishness or vanity or entitlement, but because when they embrace the best version of themselves, when they know who they are and why they're here, they have the most to give back to the world.  

Where they take it is ultimately up to them, and the issues they'll confront over coffee (I pray it's just coffee and not more intensive therapy!) will undoubtedly be their own.  For my part, though, I'm content to err on the side of caution.  It's alright with me that when my four year old hears "Don't Stop Believin'" on the radio, she confidently informs me that she likes the song because it's about God.  That she found it odd when, at a dinner with our friends recently, they didn't pray before their meal.  That she calmly informs other children that they need to use kind words and gentle hands. At four, this is the "normal" I have prepped her for.

And I'm cool with that.  

It doesn't mean we will be perfect.  It doesn't mean our children will be.  But what if we keep trying?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Three books I've read lately

Someday, I'll again put reading at the top of my list of things to do.

In case you were wondering, I have a degree in reading.  A Master's in how to help others do it.  I only bring up this overly-pretentious pedigree because I also have to shamefully admit that I totally stink at reading.  In the temporal sense, not the literal one; I can read as you may have concluded by the fact that I'm writing - usually they go hand in hand - I just kinda don't.

I've read for work.  I've read the baby books.  Our kids are seriously well versed in Fancy Nancy, Seuss and all things Eric Carle.  Reading for me, though?  Just for fun?  A book I chose for no other reason than I felt like reading it... I hear people still do that in some remote and backwards parts of the country.  I miss reading desperately, and yet it's one of those things that never quite makes it into my list of daily priorities.

I'm trying to remedy that, at least a little.  I'm not revolutionizing anything, but I did set a few literary-type goals for myself in 2014.  You can see I'm not trying for a marathon, just a quick little sprint to dip my toes back in the water before the baby comes.  I've made it through three of five books I set out to read - not nothing, considering the number of books I read for pleasure last year was exactly zero!

Review: Slow to start, and lacking the story arch I anticipated.  Lots of dates, lots of names, lots of art I had to Google in order to place.  BUT ALSO... AMAZING.  I do believe that somehow the men and women of the past were simply made of stronger stuff than I care to ever have to face.  Sometimes, history is better than fiction.

Review: With all the wonderful, creative YA fiction out right now, this one registers as white noise.  Among the ranks of the post-apocalyptic, dystopian-future fiction that has taken off in the last three years, this one starts cleverly enough.  Unfortunately, for me the characters fell flat and the plot was a bit too predictable in its attempt at the standard, earth-shattering Ender's Game, "Katniss, there is no District 12" plot-twist department.  This hasn't been done before, exactly, and yet the whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew what was coming. 

Review: Written by a trio of siblings, this book reads not only as a "how to " manual for positive sibling relationships, but also an answer to the question, "why bother?"  It is a wonderful, Biblical take with very practical wisdom, written in a way that gives enormous credit to the maturity, spirit and self-efficacy of children.  The only drawback for me at this juncture was that it will be much more useful when my own children are ready to internalize the message!  I'll have to remember to get it again in a few years.

I may need to up my list a little, because, though I'm satisfied with my progress, I also realize that I could be reading more if I weren't wasting my down time waiting for library books to come in.  Like right now.

So while I'm waiting... what have you read lately?  Suggestion me!

I changed my font at