Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Trying, on Ice


We spent President's Day ice skating.

The rink was recovering from a fire, so there wasn't much but the original walls and the ice rink left.  We sat on old bleachers and cheered for the girls as they skootched slowly by.  Ellie's friend Ruby has trained in Roller Derby, and that soon translated into a speedy, confident glide.  Ellie was awkward but willing, and little friend Kaylee was gripping the wall for dear life but not willing to quit.  It was Tessa who worried me.  She went once around the rink, white knuckled and gripping the wall, and was soon back at the bleachers with that look.  You know the look?  The one that says, this sucks, my feet hurt, you're mean for doing this to me, and I want to go home. Yeah, that one.

I tried to balance my mama response the way you balance on ice skates; not too far one way or the other, and not buckling at the ankles.  I told her I knew it was hard but that I knew it would get easier with a few more tries.  I told her she could try more, or sit with us, but that we would be staying the full time, and that if she would like to complain she was welcome to do so out in the van.

She opted to go back out on the ice.  Good choice.

The girls skated for a good 3 hours and begged to stay longer when it was time to go.  Tessa's efforts had payed off big time, and she went from wall-hugger to wind-in-her-hair, passin'-up-the-slow-pokes good.  As we walked out of the rink area to return their skates, they rode that high that only comes when you have your own shoes back on; your feet feel like heaven, walking seems slow and jarring, and your legs feel like rubber, but you know you just came as close to flying as a person can come with both feet on mother earth.

"This was so fun!  We have to come again!  I want to do this for my birthday!"  Tessa gushed, trudging along on Gumby legs.  I think it was the first time I have ever been to a rink and not also skated myself, but just watching the girls, playing with Natalie and talking to my sweetie, I had as much fun as ever.

That night before bed, Tessa said, " I am so glad that everyone was safe and no one was hurt at skating."
It was a lovely little gratitude.
I was glad,
glad for all that,
and glad that she had been willing to try.

Tessa flying by in a pink blur

Natalie's new fave toy... crinkly granola bar wrapper. 
 Take that big, expensive, name brand toy!

So pretty.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Smaller Bites

I am not great about the whole babyfood thing.  It's not that I don't like sitting in front of a highchair with a baby all bibbed-up and ready for a mush mack-down (though I actually am very anti-bib.  I don't see the point in adding one more layer to the outfit I will have to wash anyway.  If they were more like a tarp I might reconsider). Spoon feeding a baby just doesn't occur to me too often, because I tend to just start my babies out on tiny, itty-bitty morsels of food from my own plate.  I start with rice that I soften in the tips of my fingers and place in their gummy little mouths.  Then small pieces of banana and soft potato.  The tiny tips of broccoli easily follow, and before I know it, I have a baby that is eating what we are, just in smaller bites.  Sometimes I do grind it in the hand mill, but in my entire career as a mama, I have only bought two jars of baby food - prunes - for a baby with gridlock.  Why? 'cause dude, I ain't grindin' up some nasty ol' prunes.  But I digress.  You would expect no less from me.

Lately I have missed writing on my blog as often as I used to.  Life is certainly busy, and evenings are now spent working on paintings about 4 to 5 days a week.  But I think the biggest problem is that I am waiting till I have enough time to write better, more edited, and more detailed posts, and in the mean time I am missing what this blog was meant to be for me; a journal and a place to explore some creative writing.  Because, as much as I love you all coming to read my silly thoughts, I still need to record our lives for my kids to read later.  It turns out that I do it better on a computer than in a notebook.

So I'm going to try my hand at smaller bites... smaller posts, more often.  Maybe not as polished, but none the less sincere.  Hope you don't mind.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

So blessed

It was a year ago today.

My first blood clot.  My leg got stiff and then painful, and then our world sort of fell apart.  One year ago today I met Jane, and Dr. F. and many others who would care for me in the coming year.
One.  Long.  Year.

I went today for my usual blood draw to test the clotting of my blood.  Virginia took me back and asked how I was doing.  I told her of my little anniversary.  She said, "Well, you must be very grateful, I mean, well, after all that with the woman in the news."

I didn't know what she meant.  I don't watch broadcast TV or see much news.

"There's a mama that had a DVT (deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot) and it caused a pulmonary embolism and now she's brain dead.  Apparently, the family wants to let her go, but the state is keeping her on life-support to save her baby."

I tried to focus on the calender on the wall.

"Yes," I said, "we are so grateful.  I have been so blessed."  I don't remember if we talked anymore after that.  I think I told her "See you next time".

I walked through the hall pressing my thumb into the cotton ball taped to the crook of my arm.  I walked fast as tears filled my eyes, like they are now as I think back on it.  I got to the van and drove home through a few more tears.  Needing to be mothered, and Francine not picking up, I called Ruth, who doula-ed me long distance as I made my way home.  I mean, of course I knew I was okay, but having heard that story, having spent the past few days reviewing in my mind all that has happened, and having a close friend lose her sweet baby this week, all spiraled into the perfect emotional storm.

Walking into the house, Guy saw my cry-face (tear streaks and puffy eyes, and rudolf nose).  I told him.  He held me.  I cried a little more.  "We were very blessed," he said, "Not just blessed, we saw miracles."  And then he held me some more.

When I think about how often we were held during that time I am so truly grateful.  We were held by God, by loved ones, by excellent caregivers, by dear friends, and by untold numbers of strangers.  We were held in prayer, in thought, and in hand, as so many participated in the day-to-day upkeep of our spirits and our family needs.

This afternoon Adam found the little olive wood cups filled with shells from the Red Sea that Ruth's mama, Marta, brought back from the Holy Land.  I showed them to Kathy and told her how Marta had been praying for me at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem while I was in the middle of it all.  What a sweet reminder, all those tiny shells, all of the prayers.  What a blessing.

I know that we will face challenges in the future.  We have not reached some magical difficulty-deductible.  There have been and will be more, but I know that God knows our family, and yours, because we are all part of His family.  I know the comfort and peace that come amid the tempest.

Whatever your storm, whatever your trial or challenge, Heaven knows you.  You are loved.  God will not waste your pain.  Peace, peace, be still.

I am a blessed woman.  So blessed.  And so are you.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear FTM

Dear First-Time Mama,

I saw your struggling on Sunday a few weeks back.  You were battling with a little walker, one that was in full blown explorer mode during a Grown-up sit-down-and-act-reverent meeting.  With tears of frustration you wandered the halls, lamenting that there seemed no point in even being there.  I tried to offer some encouragement, but I was being called into another grown-ups meeting of my own, for one of my not-so-little boys.  He was being given a new responsibility and I was to be there for support, like I wanted to be there for you.

Being a "first timer" is not very fair.  You are a mama in a time that is less information highway and more information geyser, blasting out facts and opinions dressed as twins, and drenching you.  Every fool, wanna be and meanie, every professional and every wackadoo has staked out a parcel of cyber-turf, and finding an answer that fits is like shopping for a bra online - they look good on other women but will they really feel good when you try them out yourself? Floating your problem out into that ocean may steer your tender new-mama heart into shark infested waters. Commenters hide behind waves of anonymity, free to boldly criticize in a way they never would dare to a sister or friend, or a stranger to their face for that matter.  They extol borrowed wisdom from who-knows-where with out even fully understanding it themselves, and of course neglect to site their sources.

Now, I am the first person to turn to the World Wide Wonder that is the web when I am at a loss, and after 17 years on this pregnancy and parenting train I have learned what to ignore or laugh at, and what to truly consider.  And, I am first-timing it myself - balancing precariously on the tight rope of teenage-tending for the first time.  I have never been the mama of a 16 year old, and I imagine that I have the same white-knuckled expression on my face when I deal with my big boys that you, FTM, have on yours a lot of the time.  But going on 6 times of mom-ing little ones, I have a little that I can share.  Here she blows:

*  You were chosen by God to raise THIS child at THIS time in the world.  Those are some pretty great references.  I would trust them.  Others may have ideas for you, but other than you yourself, the only other authority that matters is the one from above.  Before you make a big change, ask your Father.  He knows what you should do.

*  You probably won't ruin them.  You will screw up, it is true.  You may yell when you swore you wouldn't. You may not be Job in the patience department (although if you read Job, neither was he sometimes.  He didn't turn his back on God, but he let fly with some hefty complainin' here and there!).  The most important thing you can do is to apologize to them when you mess up.  Let them see you correcting your mistakes, and you will have taught them the greater lesson.

*  Ask for real live help from real live people who you know and respect, and whose children are models of what you would love your kids to be like.  Stay away from nameless, faceless forums.  Have a few mamas who you can call upon as your Mothering Mentors, and rely on them in those rough moments when you are on the edge of the cliffs of insanity.  I have no less than six, and I call them for each of the qualities that they excel in when I am in need of coaching.  My sister, Kori, is my go-to-gal for handling the really chaotic times when the needs of one child collide with those of many others (I remember calling to ask, "What do you do when a sick toddler wants you to hold them all day?"  Mother of only 8 at the time - now 11 -said, "You hold 'em.")  For balancing the needs of my children with the needs of other people in my life I call Ruth.  For reading the hearts of my children, I call Francine.  For sickness, Claudette.  Each person that I rely on has a special talent, and I am grateful that I can lean on them in times of need (Come to think of it, I have way more than six!).

And now to that hard one that my friend struggled with.

*What is the point of going to church when neither you, nor your small child, seem to be getting anything out of it?  Well, the nice thing about church is that it is usually very repetitive, reviewing the same basic principals over and over through the years.  It is one of the reasons some folks judge church-going to be a waste of time, since we don't learn "new" things all the time.  Well, everything that you do know was once "new" to you, and it will be to your child, too, from the time they can understand language, whether they seem to be listening or not.

 I will never forget the time I was reading to Ethan as he spun around on his heal, looking at a book and singing a song.  I scolded that he wasn't listening, and he countered by repeating back the last two sentences I had read to him.  They are listening.  They hear bits and snatches.  If your family culture includes going to a house of worship, your children will learn over time in little doses how to act and what is expected.  And because you have had this as a part of your life for years, you will also hear and understand in bits and snatches, calling back to your memory the concepts of faith that you already hold in your heart.

Go.  You will see the people you love there.  You will feel uplifted by the spirit of community there.  You will be blessed for your efforts.  You will be teaching your child your family culture through your example.

And if nothing else, I will get to see you there, and I always enjoy that.

Now, this makes me think of a few things that I think are important, even if they don't apply to my particular FTM friend yet.  It couldn't hurt to mention them, cuz the very predictable thing about wee ones is that they grow up and begin making us crazy.  Here are a few thoughts for the years when sitting through church has become second nature.

*  Think long term.  A temper tantrum in a 2 year old is normal, in a 4 year old is annoying, in a 14 year old is obnoxious and in a 24 year old is ridiculous.  Your responses will come back around for better or for worse in the future.  I know its tempting to just buy the Sponge Bob thingy that lights up, spins around and shoots candy out its butt to preserve the peace until you are out of the check out line, but I promise, having a teen pitch a fit over a new cell phone (when they have the skills to argue Judge Judy under the table), or a young adult over financial assistance, is much worse.

*  While we're on the subject, PLEASE let your kids experience their consequences when they are young.  Don't bail them out.  If they take a handful of fishy crackers that doesn't belong to them, it is a great opportunity for them to learn about honesty, and far cheaper than the lesson they would learn by stealing a pack of gum at age 7, which is a cheaper lesson still than the one that is learned by stealing a car at 18. (Think your kid would NEVER do any of that?  Well, let me know when the next flight leaves for that fantasy island.  I'll join you)  Everything that your kids need to learn has a cheap version, and an expensive one.  Spare them the pain now and you set them up for much greater pain later.

  *  Get the heck outta your helicopter.  You don't have a licence, and you are going to rob your kids the opportunity of having practice at problem solving before becoming a grown up.  Don't rush in at play group and solve a battle between two toddlers over a toy.  Don't hurry to the coach to ask that your kid be made forward.  Don't swoop in to the classroom to ask teacher that your kid go to the party that they have been excluded from because of not doing their work.  Remember that scene in Finding Nemo when Squirt, the little turtle, falls out of the East Austrailian Current into the ocean alone, and Marlin reacts to try to save him?  His father, Crush, holds Marlin back saying, "Whoa.  Kill the motor, dude.  Let us see what Squirt does flying solo."  Squirt is fine, and your squirt will be, too.


My favorite parenting philosophy is Parenting with Love and Logic , and I use it in tandem with the philosophies of Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education

Monday, February 10, 2014

Six degrees of separation

Sharpie in hand, I sat carefully labeling little tags in adorable little borrowed baby girl clothes.  Ruth's little Autumn has outgrown them, and though Baby Gabe won't require pink tights any time soon, Ruth would like them back.  That's not to say she is planning another child.  It's not to say she isn't.  Who knows?  It's not about the future, it's about the past, and all the memories that those little clothes hold.

I totally get it.  I have a little box of clothes that I can't part with. There have been other clothes that have moved along, but to get to the point when they finally move along they must go through a process.  The levels or degrees, if you will.  Degrees of separation.

They are as follows:

First degree - I push them to the back of the drawer.  This degree is one delusion short of denial.  Maybe my baby will shrink and need them!

Second degree - I put them in a tote in the garage.  This gives the illusion that I have taken care of them.  I like illusions.  I have built my fragile grip on sanity out of them.  There is a subset of this degree I have stumbled upon.  Instead of a garage tote, a few of these items are filling my emotional needs as the outerwear on his stuffed animals, because fur on a fake dog is not enough, he needs a cute little monkey shirt as well.

Third degree - I loan them to a good friend, but I might want them back (this is the degree wherein lie Ruth's baby girl clothes).  The idea of the loan is that I am storing them AT YOUR HOUSE.  Now I feel really good, because I am keeping them, but I have freed up garage space for other important things like the broken washer and the two unused filing cabinets.

Fourth degree - I give them to a really good friend, someone I like; nay, love.  Not any ol' pal will do.  This has to be a woman I know will take care of the darling duds (I was really proud of myself when I got to this degree with Jonah's old clothes, but I will admit some stayed in Second Degree, subset dog shirt.)

Fifth degree - I give them to someone I know.  Now we are getting down to the stuff my kid never really looked cute in.  Well, lets face it, my kid looked cute in everything, but there are those items that lost their sparkle, figuratively and, well, literally.  All those shiny bits tend to come off in the wash.  I'm not saying they're crap or anything, but I probably don't have a cute "I remember when" story attached to them.

Sixth degree - I give them to charity.  My favorite charity, of course.  Because somehow we can micromanage even the things we give away.  Unlike most people, I have been known to repair items before they go into the donation bag; tack a hem, sew on a button.  I try to get stains out of little collars, and then I get sucked back in to the viscous power they hold, as I imagine myself feeding a wee-one who sits on a round bottom and with a gummy-grin, lets strained carrots spill from little pink lips onto the collar of that very outfit (in my vision I am a size six and my hair blows gently, even though we are indoors.  Also, the part of me is played by Sandra Bullock and probably includes a catchy pop song sing-along where I dance around the kitchen.  Aaaaaaaanyway...).  Now I have a fab, albeit fabricated memory with the stained, 1992 hand-me-down-from-my-sister, sailor suit! How can I possibly give it away?!?!

Back to a tote in the Second Degree.  That's okay.  It's in good company.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Little Lady

There have been days
when I swear
I am watching her grow
before my very eyes

 sprouting taller 
like waterlilies opening, reaching fast
 as the sun peeks over the edge 
of their little pond.

And flower she is
and flower she does

and though most days
she is still the girl that plays in the doll house

Sometimes I see wisdom open behind her eyes
as wings that unfold
not yet knowing the lift and soar
but soon to know that
and so much more

I hold her in my gaze
willing her to fix in time 
to stay...
stay in that place
that lets her measure her beauty in freckles.

I know better than to ask
that she stay
forever at the edge of womanhood

but, perhaps that those eyes
filled with possibility
never empty. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Oh, Nellie! It's Soap Box Time Again!

Lunch for "Mom!" made by the girls 

I grounded my girls from school.  For two days.  You heard me!  Grounded!  How can I get away with that?  Well, because we homeschool, that's how.  The How is a minor detail though.  What matters here is the Why.  But before I get to that, first you have to muck through the foam from my soap box.  Buckle up, Buttercup.

 Few conversations illicit as many opinions as Homeschooling.  Oh, there's the whole Baby-in-the-bed topic, and the Nursing-a-toddler and Homebirth (guilty on all three counts, 15 counts if you consider me a repeat offender), but those are the topics that fall under the "You-do-what-you-want-with-your-baby,-ya-loonie!" clause, which most folks leave alone.  They figure if they turn a blind eye for a year or two, you'll get over it or at least stop having kids, making it all go away.  But when you Homeschool, you have to either grow a very thick skin, or go underground.  If you say the word "Unschooling" in public, folks imagine that your kids spend their days in fur loin cloths, chest pounding with filthy fists.  Certainly the only reading they must get is from cereal boxes and comic books, and if they are lucky, a little science during Shark Week.  I don't claim to be an Unschooler, but looking at it through the goggles of Public School it might seem that I am.

In order to understand HOW homeschool works in our house, you would have to detach yourself from a few long-held beliefs:

1.  Children must be taught on a daily schedule
2. Children must be taught specific things at specific ages
3.  Children must be taught by an adult
4.  Children must be tested to make sure they are learning

Now, I get it, you might accept that there are indeed a few (very few) exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, even most homeschooling families buy-in to one or more of the above statements.  But humor me for a moment; what if these beliefs you have held since the day you first smelled the aroma of chalk dust mingled with hot black-top and tatter-tots are wrong?  What if the best way for a child to learn is not currently being practiced in public schools?  (Gasp!  Did she really say that??? How dare she!!!).  Now, I am not saying that the way I do things is "the right way" (that's what we homeschoolers say to the rest of the world, but that is a lie.  We totally believe that it IS the right way, for us at least).  So if you can suspend your belief in the "Educational System" for a moment, and hear me out, the school grounding I mentioned earlier will seem a lot less like neglect and a lot more like calculated reasoning with an expectation of high return.

Here are the ideas I ask you to use to temporarily replace those listed above:

1.  Children must be given opportunities to learn mingled with daily life, when ever that best fits into the day and week; learning happens all the time, any time.  

2.  There is no ideal age that should be waited for to learn anything.  End of story.  Yeah, yeah, I know about the studies, but since our current system is ignoring those studies, so must I for a moment.  Indeed, math is apparently best taught to young adults  (hmmm, not 6 year olds?  Imagine!).  What I mean here is inclusive, not exclusive.  If a 6 year old WANTS to learn geometry, he should get to, and not be told to wait till high school!  Desire drives learning.

3.  When adults provide a supportive environment, children become their own teachers most of the time.  They also learn a ton from each other, and from watching your example of self education.  When they are further on in their learning, it is appropriate for them to have mentors, but that is pretty far down the line.

4.  There is no way in the world to quantify what a child who is given free range over his own education has learned.  Give it up.  You can measure information gathered, but not the knowledge and wisdom acquired for the use of that information.

Here are a few other important ideas to help you get my drift:

The problem is that "we" (you know, as in We the People) have it all backwards.  We try like mad to cram knowledge into little heads starting as young as age 3, during what are called the "formative years".  There is so much emphasis on academics that there is little time to teach our children the core values that our society is swiftly and tragically losing a grip on; things like honesty, integrity, the ability to see a need and fill it, excellent work ethic, empathy, true charity, and so on.  It is during the early years when these most important life lessons are taught, or missed.  If we wait until a child is already coming apart at the seams to try to instill values in him, say, age 12 and up, we have pretty much MISSED OUR CHANCE.  It is then that we struggle against the call of media, social pressures and hormone drive, trying to remind the child of the values we wished we had instilled a little better before now. 

So as a homeschooling family, my main focus for my children - my first goal- is to teach Character.  We talk daily about, and do things to work on the following:

- The difference between right and wrong, 
good and bad, true and false

 - The value of work

- The value of play

- How to fill the needs of people younger, smaller, or more helpless

And I am not kidding when I say that I believe these are the skills that will be the most valuable to my children in their lives.  They certainly are in mine.  That is not to say that academics are not of tremendous worth, but academics can be easily learned by an individual with such a strong foundation.  

(Geez, when is she going to get to the part where she grounded her kids from school?)
Right now.

The girls were being FIVE STAR BRATS.  They were squabbling and even hitting, they were yelling and demanding and tantruming (oh, yes.  Evil, I tell you).  So I said...

"Wow.  This is so sad.  Clearly we have been not been focusing enough energy on our core values.  This is certainly not the way I want my children to grow up behaving in the world.  Obviously, you two are not ready for the privilege of school.   It looks like we need to take a break from school and get back to working on Character.  We will spend the day working, and we will work every day until I see that you are really ready for school."

(Okay, I probably didn't sound quite that noble, but that was the gist)

"NO!!!!!!!!!"  they cried!  "We want to do school!!!!" they bellowed.

"No, I am really sorry.  I can't let you do that.  I would not be doing my job well if I let you go out into the world with that kind of attitude.  It stops today."

They cried honest-to-goodness tears.  Oh, and they worked.  I worked right along side them.  They learned the skill of scrubbing out a toilet with a pumice stone.  They learned how to fix the drain stopper, and how to look around the room and notice things like dust on the light fixture, and then take care of it.  They learned how to clean out under a sink and re-paper the shelf.  There was learning going on, for sure, and it went deep.

Sadly, we had to take two days for the girls to get the point, but they got it.  And if they forget, I imagine all I will have to do to remind them will be to ask them if we should take a day off of school for more Character building. 

This is not the end of this post, though (I know, shut up already, right?), because I feel like you need to know about the next day.  They were so excited to get back to school.  "Can I do math mom?"  "Can we do states?"  "Can I read?"  "Will you read us an extra chapter, please?"

And each time I said "sure" you would have thought I had said they could have ice cream for dinner.  Because, you see, they VALUED it.  It became a coveted privilege, not a dreaded expectation.  It doesn't hurt that I allow them to choose what they will study.  As long as they are working on something, it's all good with me.  Am I worried that they are not learning enough?  

The other day Tessa demonstrated that she knows all 50 states by shape, frontwards and backwards.  Its her thing these days.  Ellie figured out how to put a bed together without any instructions, and has been teaching Tessa how to cook french toast, and can recognize the Brazilian flag, among about two dozen others.  

Am I worried?
Only that I will get in the way.