Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Let them be little

As the light begins to fade through the windows of my kitchen, I am often able to catch a glimpse of the sun going down behind the mountains.  Most often, I stand and watch the world as it is swallowed into night with my hands immersed in soapy water.  The sponge, soap and somebody's caked on, left over food feel like the answer to that dreaded stay at home mom question, "what did you do all day?"

My little home, full of little people, is just a gaggle of ordinary, repetitious little moments.

The dishes.  The never ending stream of laundry.  Intervening with all the gentleness I can muster in another sibling crisis.  A giant, untended pile of train parts and pieces that somehow made their way into the middle of the floor from two rooms away.  Another run to the grocery store.  Diapers, poop, and somebody's mystery body fluid.

Nobody can ever really prepare you for what it's like.

Though my hands and my feet are busy non-stop, as the day comes to a close I am forced to confront the fact that I actually did very little.  Certainly little of significance.

In the midst of all those little people, sometimes I give in to the idea that I, too, am little.  Insignificant.  Pressed in on all sides by the unending voices crying out with needs that all too often speak to me of my own inability and failure.

It would be wonderful if I was creative enough, clever enough and had enough energy to make each night the BEST! NIGHT! EVER! as my children are fond of exclaiming, but realistically?  Yeah, we're probably going to eat grilled cheese for dinner.

The thing that is so tricky, the thing that the perfectionist in me wants to rail against is letting ordinary be enough.  Letting little be BIG.

Because, really?  At the end of the day, when I look back on my journey as the mother of these children, what is it that I'm actually going to remember?  What will really matter?

Will it be how clean I kept my house?  How well-dressed and well behaved my children were?  How significant and important I was?

Or can I let go, and accept that there is beauty in the messiness of life.

Because these things - these insignificant, ordinary, little moments - are the building blocks of the rest of their lives.  

I like things cleaned up, put away and tidy.

But creativity doesn't blossom sitting still in a room.  Imagination is limited only by the size of the canvas.

Life is short.  They are little only for a beat; a breath.  And then those dirty little hands are up and grown, and instead of feeling pressed in on all sides by how full my life is, I'll find myself pressed in by the lack of noise and motion and chaos and by how very much room there is for me.

I will again have a clean house.  I will not always decorate with finger paintings and small, sticky footprints.

Let them be little.  Little is BIG.  Messes are memories.  And we only get to do this ride once.  I am privileged to get to walk with them, to be a part of their journey and watch as it unfolds before my eyes.

Not everyone has that opportunity.

Comparison really is the thief of joy.  Those feelings of insignificance, of redundancy and isolation that can creep in, particularly in this age of social media where everybody's best is on display and everybody's normal is hidden, distract us and make us miss the most important thing of all: being present for all the little stuff.  The stuff that really isn't little at all.

So even though so often it feels as if little things like dishes are my only legacy, I have to remind myself:

little is always enough.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the great homeschool panic of 2015

It's already getting to be that time again.  Can you tell?

I notice it most in the mornings.  Where I've grown accustomed to waking, even early in the morning, to bright sunshine, these days when my alarm rings I'm finding my eyes opening to light that's increasingly tinged with the pink hues of early dawn.  The air is cool and sweet in the mornings, verging on chilly despite the heat the day brings.  

We've passed the mark, that great centerpiece of summer when we can still pretend those long, lazy days will last forever.  And I know that to my core I'll always be a teacher, because the beginning of the school year looks so much more imminent on this side of July 4th.

Here's the thing: I was promised a husband on regular occasions through the end of the year.  That was the deal.  We pricked our fingers and spit in our hands and shook on it.  No more leaving in September and coming home in February.  A little regularity and predictability were more the speed.  But that isn't how things are shaking out.  Instead, I'm faced with six straight weeks without him, which ends just a few days before we'll start our school year.

Now, the changing of the tides isn't the problem here.  Although I don't love going back to the single parenting life, it was in our best interests and it will be worth it in the long run.  


The problem is that the stores are filled with brightly colored notebooks and boxes of freshly sharpened crayons.  The promise of a fresh start hangs in the air.  

And I am totally, completely, hopelessly not ready for it.

It is so difficult to find time to really sit down and plan without my husband home.  It takes quite a good chunk of time, energy, and - most of all - attention, all of which is difficult to muster when we're on our own.  

So before he left, I had a good, old-fashioned panic attack.  Full-blown, adult tantrum where I melted sloppier than ice cream in... well, July.

And when that was over, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and sat down to rebuild the fragile pieces of my crazy.

The first step was getting my stuff together.  I'll use that old flight attendant analogy about putting the oxygen mask on myself before assisting littles - there wasn't much I could do for anybody else until I'd figured out what the year looks like for me.

Can I just tell you how very, very glad I was when I found this planner?  I was literally in the process of (poorly) making my own - this is so much better!!

I have never been one to keep a digital calendar.  Not when I worked, and certainly not now that I'm home.  I am what you might call "old fashioned."  I like paper.  I like pens.  I like making lists so that I can cross things off.  Gel pens.  3 ring binders.  Highlighters.  Divider tabs.

Seriously, stop me, I could just go on.

The good news is, should disaster or zombie apocalypse strike and the world be left without basic necessities of power or iPad, my schedule will still run, all color-coordinated and precise and untroubled by the fact that all the agenda keeping is entirely unnecessary, what with the ruin of civilization.  

I may or may not have control issues.  Sometimes I get crazy and schedule things in pencil.  Shhhh... I won't tell if you won't.  

I printed the files out at home, Casey helped me add the personalization, and then I simply had it bound at our local office supply store.  Just to top off my planner-nerd fabulousness, I added these wonderful tabs.  Oh yes.  That's organization level: expert.

The pretty planner high gave me enough momentum to tackle that actual issue at hand: school.  That thing my master's degree was supposed to help prepare me for.

I already knew that we would continue in Classical Conversations.  Last year, we used very little outside of the curriculum.  We did lots of reading on subjects related to American history.  We practiced handwriting using history sentences, and did science notebooking.  We skip counted for math and we read some more.  Although we practiced sight words and did math as the mood struck us, there was no additional formal curriculum. 

I knew that I wanted to change that this year.  We needed a math curriculum, and reading.  We needed more scheduled and regular science, art and music.  We needed something to help introduce Logan to the wonderful world of school.

Here's where we landed:

I had already purchased All About Reading, which is a phonics program that I absolutely adore.  Probably largely because when I taught remedial phonics at 8th grade, we used a program that was nearly identically.  I know the brain science behind it is as good as it gets, and as an added bonus, it just feels familiar.

Math.  Not surprisingly for an English teacher, I struggled with a math curriculum.  I think I've probably been holding her back on the math front.  We should have invested in an actual curriculum (rather than the piecemeal practice I had been doing).  At the time, I didn't want to overwhelm her, but in hindsight I think she was probably ready for it.  I looked heavily into Right Start Math, and I really like the idea of it.  The whole premise is a bit different than my own understanding, though, and I wasn't sure I could commit to teaching that way.  Just out of curiosity, I purchased the Horizons kindergarten math book back in April, and Leah has done wonderfully with it.  In fact - as if I needed this to add to my mommy guilt - she didn't even do the second book.  She already knows the material, so we're jumping right into the first grade books next year.

I found some really cool art activity books that I think will keep us going for the year.  They're "in the style of" activities where we can draw inspiration from the masters.

The little ones are from this series, which tells the story of a few great artists while detailing their famous works.  I'm really excited to break into these!

We're keeping science and music on the simple side.  She'll get both once a week at our community day, so we'll do an additional 30 minutes each once per week.  I'm not feeling pressured to delve into "formal" science or music curricula with my five year old, so I'm simply relying on Pinterest to give me something somewhat-related to our science memory work.  Between the internet and Pinterest, I have a pretty good start compiling simple 30 minute music lessons as well.  She's also going back for another year of ballet and tap, and we're keeping our fingers crossed that this will be the year we can begin piano lessons. (Step 1: get a piano.)  Yeah, that oughta be enough...

My approach with Logan is definitely more simplistic.  He will just be three when we start the school year, so we are combining a Montessori approach with this amazing curriculum which Leah and I did two years ago.

I'm not entirely sure where he falls on the "readiness" scale for actual preschool - which is completely fine - but he does like to sit with us at the table while we do school.  The goal is to spend the first hour or so of the day reading, singing, playing and doing activities and just see what sticks.  I know he'll get there in his own time, and I'm excited to see which activities pique his interest.

The other thing I've created for him is a series of Busy Boxes to help give him something to do so that I can work more directly with Sister.

Each one has several activities: a puzzle, games, figurines, something sensory-related, fine-motor skill practice, counting activities, building toys, books and more.

 He is big enough to pull out one of these boxes, take it apart, play with it independently for about 30 minutes, and put it all back.

I love them.  The best part is that the vast majority of these activities came from the dollar store.  And also: Target.  $1 section = pure ah-ma-zing.

Classical Conversations will round out the rest.  Leah will get history, science, English grammar, Latin, math (facts and vocabulary) and geography.  We will continue to do writing and copy work that is focused on one or two of each week's memory work to kill two birds with one stone.

The last piece was pulling it all together - physically speaking.  It is amazing how much STUFF a person needs to homeschool.  I've kept it pretty simple - AND I've only had one child until now!

We recently bought this awesome dresser from IKEA, and I'm slightly embarrassed to tell you that I've filled at least half of it.

We don't currently have a homeschool room; all of our work is done at the kitchen table.  I suppose it's not ideal, but at least for the time being, it really works for us. The hope is - at some point in the future when circumstance necessitates - we will eventually turn the nursery into a school room.

But, you know... probably not for a while.  I rather have my heart set on using it for a few more years.

So there we are!  Phew!  Even getting it all down in one place makes my heart begin to flutter.  Mostly in a good way.  My teacher senses start tingling, and I have to look for a phone booth to transform from regular old mom into SUPERMOM: TEACHER EXTRAORDINAIRE!!!

And... also there is heart fluttering because - whew.  Mama's got her work cut out for her.  Mama's gonna need a really big cup of coffee.

We are definitely going to enjoy the next month or so, and then... oh it's go time!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The sixth Fourth

So, last year on the Fourth of July, I was pretty sure I was going into labor.  And we were buying a car.  Which takes forever on a good day, but if you're pretty sure you're in labor, it takes forever like that kid in  The Sandlot would say:  FO-R-EV-ERRRRRRR.....

As it happens, I just had a stomach bug (which I'll spare you the details of, because EWW).  We did not do anything festive that day, unless you think laying in bed contracting every 6 minutes is festive.  If you do, well, I was ALLLL over that.

This year, though, we had to do better.

So we packed it all up and went to celebrate America's birthday with some old friends, who have since moved to Grand Lake.

It was probably a good sign for our trip that we saw these beautiful elk, right off the side of the road, as we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Aren't they gorgeous?  I'm not zoomed in, either.  This herd was right there, crossing the road and stopping traffic in front of us.  It was cool.

The first night we were there, we enjoyed dinner and ice cream by boat, and the kids had an awesome time running around, playing and enjoying each other.

The next day was extremely busy.  We began the day with a Fourth of July parade.

Two families, seven children between us.  It was fun and busy!

That's a smile, I swear.  A VERY excited one!

Leah and Logan both love service men and women.  When they see a military man, fireman or policeman, they always should "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!" at the top of their lungs.  Well... I was pretty sure their heads were going to explode during this parade!

Sweet Logan was so happy, he could hardly contain himself.  There were tons of fire trucks and candy... basically all the things in life that make him the happiest.

It was so sweet, too, to watch the responses of our service men and women to the kids.  I don't think they are accustomed to hearing people say thank you, which is really a shame.  They were surprised and grateful to hear it, and it was definitely one of those proud mommy moments that my children so freely offer their gratitude.

The noise was a little much for her at first, but even Miss Livvy came around and enjoyed herself.

Next up was a trip to the lake.  Oh man, is this the mountain life!

I was so proud of my big girl!  She got out on the tube like it was nothing.

I think she was a little nervous, but her excitement was enough to overcome the nerves.  For the record, there's nothing to strap her in here, she just had to hold on all on her own.

And they didn't hold back!  She had a great time.

And my sweet Logan is SUCH an encourager.  He clapped and cheered for Sis, although he was not quite ready to try the tube himself, though I did get him to sit in the tube briefly for a photo.

He did, however, jump in and swim in that chilly lake as if it were no big deal!  Those swim lessons were put to excellent use!

Miss Livvy Joy was not a big fan of the boat.

Largely, I suspect, because of that life vest.  And the wind in her face.  And the fact that she hadn't had enough sleep.  And, you know... because life is hard when you're a baby!

Even I got in on the action before the day was over.  Something I haven't done since probably high school, and it was such a blast!

By the time I got to take my turn, we were losing the kiddos.  It had been a very long and busy day, and even the best things in the world can wear you out.

So it was time to head back and call it a day - at least on the boating front.  Especially since we still had fireworks to watch!

We definitely pushed the envelope of what we typically do.  I am so schedule oriented; to pretty much disregard everyone's sleep needs and schedule is not in my usual repertoire.  The fireworks didn't even begin until 9:30, and by the time we made it back to the car to drive home it was after 11.  The kids fell asleep as soon as they hit their car seats, which was a good thing because we didn't actually pull in to our house until about 2 a.m.

It was such a wonderful trip, though!  Worth every second, and so fun to spend time with good friends.

I changed my font at