Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Journey to Homeschooling

I wrote about what led me to my decision to homeschool here but I'll recap it for any new readers. (And for all of my friends who forgot since, if you're like me, you don't remember half of what you read or hear in the first place. I blame the children for that, because, duh.)
I always thought homeschool might come into play at some point with at least one of my kids but I always thought it would be way down the road if any of them really started struggling in middle school or something. And only if I was really desperate. I wasn't exactly against homeschooling young kids but I definitely didn't think it was the best choice. I thought of all the things they'd miss out on if they didn't go to school with other kids and that always seemed more important. Plus, I loved elementary school. Well, at least through first grade. And fourth. The other years were questionable. I still don't think of it as the best choice. Just like every other area of parenting, I've learned through the years the best choice is whatever feels right for you and your kids after you've learned their individual personalities (and your own) and educated yourself on both sides of the issue. I have a difficult time with people who fall on one side or the other, thinking their side is the only option and everyone else is making a mistake. Same goes for every other hot topic, stay-at-home mom vs. working, vaccinating, breast feeding, co-sleeping, the list goes on. Let's just keep cheering each other on because we all have the same goal: raising great kids who love others and love the Lord. The rest, as they say, is just details.
I actually made the decision to homeschool Dawson for at least Kindergarten and 1st grade about two years ago, back when I read Bringing Up Boys by Dobson (good arguments, but still not convinced I wanted to give up eight hours of free childcare five days a week) and Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon. (Done. Decision made.) And since half my friends don't read books ever and just want me to recap them, I'll give you the gist. The all day classroom is not designed for a typical boy. Most girls thrive. Most boys don't. Boys at that age just can't possibly be expected to sit and focus for such long hours. They're constantly reprimanded and feel like they don't measure up. The very active ones will start to hate school and will be turned off from learning for the rest of their lives. (Sounds dramatic, but ask my husband. His response when I brought it up? "I hate learning." And its true. He never reads and has zero interest in learning something new unless it will benefit him directly.) Both books strongly urge parents to homeschool until their boys are 7 or 8. At the time, I had a baby and a very very difficult toddler so I knew homeschooling wasn't an option for Bennett starting in Kindergarten. He was also incredibly smart and I felt like he could focus for long periods of time. (Ha! Yeah....on a screen.) Well, Kindergarten went relatively well for him. I hated that he had to go all day and he definitely didn't LOVE school but it was mostly good. Well, then things started falling apart in first grade. He had trouble socially, physically (sitting still and concentrating for all the desk work) and academically. (He was ahead academically and wasn't nearly being challenged enough, despite the teacher doing everything she could.) He started crying most mornings before school and would beg me to stay home. There were many emails exchanged and meetings with his teacher and the guidance counselor last winter.
I went to a meeting for moms who were considering homeschooling back in early spring, thinking I was going with Dawson in mind. I left that meeting knowing without a doubt I needed to homeschool Bennett for second grade. The longer I sat with the decision, the more certain I was that it was the right one. We talked about it a lot and he was really excited about the idea.
Now that most kids are starting school again here in Des Moines, I've been feeling nothing but relief that I'm not sending him to public school again. Here me loud and clear on this one though. I do NOT think sending your kid to public school is the wrong decision. Quite the opposite. I think its a great decision for a lot of kids, particularly girls. I just know without a doubt its not the right decision for Bennett this year.
Am I overwhelmed? Not yet. But I probably will be as soon as all the curriculum books start arriving in the mail. I'm excited to get into a routine and get it all figured out. If I have clear direction on what needs to be done when, I can make it happen. I was a hard core BabyWise mom and my babies and I thrived on that consistent schedule. But if there's no clear direction for me, our days fall apart very quickly. The weeks we had things on the calendar this summer, like VBS or swimming lessons, went great. The weeks that were open ended were....not so great. So I think having structure, yet freedom, will be great for our family.
Since everyone seems to ask me, I'll share about curriculum I've chosen. I actually contacted the Christian school that we plan to send them to in the future (and I know that decision will become clear when the time is right) and asked what they use. I'm using most of the same stuff for Bennett so that way, if he goes there the following year, he'll already be on the same page. Literally. Its Bob Jones for English/Grammar and enVision Math. I'm going to use Handwriting Without Tears since I've heard so many great things about it. I'll pick my own books for reading and will add some history and geography in there somewhere. And social studies. I don't even know what social studies is but I'll google it or something. Do we need PE? I think we need PE. Mommy/son yoga sounds good. I've been wanting to start. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I signed him up for an after school hours Spanish class that will go for six weeks and then a Science class for four weeks after that through our community schools. I'm really excited about those. I think they'll be great supplements and also something to get him out of the house. And he told me, "I've always wanted to learn Spanish!" :) I'm not joining an official co-op since I want our schedule to be flexible and since Dawson will be in afternoon preschool. But I do have a group of moms I'll meet with at least once a month for different activities and lessons. I also had the option of reporting to a teacher throughout the year (she would do a home visit monthly) or just doing it all on my own. I opted to have a teacher come. I figured as a first timer, any extra help and direction will be beneficial. Its nice to know that I don't have to do that every year though, if I don't want to.
So here's where I ask you for any piece of advice you have for me as a first timer. I think I need to make up a bunch of busy bags for Channing, or else I'll start to rely on the tv too much. I'm not too terribly worried about him since he's my calmest boy, physically speaking. I think he'll be easily entertained with some toddler activities. Let me know if you have a perfect, not-too-sticky homemade play-doh recipe.
Cheers to a new school year. Fresh starts always feel good. But I'm not cheering for fall. Don't even say that word around here. Its still summertime. We just happen to have some schoolwork to do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trial by Fire

Today is our 12th anniversary. It should be filled with cards, and flowers and the anticipation of a fantastic date night out. But it isn't. I've never before anticipated a date that I know will be filled with pain instead of celebration. Things crumbled last year around this time. Jon had been hurt by me a few years prior and despite plowing forward and attempting normalcy for a couple of years, the band-aid covering his gaping wounds just wouldn't hold any longer and so began my husband's retreat to try to find healing. I remember last summer being so sure it would just be a handful of months, but here we are a year later. The pain of separation isn't much easier. I'm just more used to the feeling of it.
I've found that people can fairly easily talk about those rough patches once they're back on smooth ground. But I don't hear people talking about it when they're stuck in the middle; at least not outside their trusted circle of family and friends. But you know what's even harder than walking through the toughest time in my life? Pretending I'm not. I can't and I won't. I will not put on a mask of perfection when my heart is aching on the best days and feels like it's being ripped in two on the worst days. I sometimes want to hang a sign around my neck that says, "Tread lightly. Broken heart inside."
People often tell me I'm brave for sharing my story. I don't feel brave. I feel free. I'm free of guilt and shame. I'm free of worrying about any sort of reputation that I may or may not have. Freedom in Christ is so very real in my life. And the more I talk, the more my story is in the light and able to be used for His glory. I want others to experience that same freedom. The sin in my past is ugly. But God is already redeeming it and I think I've only seen a fraction of the redemption to come.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. -James 5:16 MSG
On this day, August 3rd, 2014, I choose joy. I have compassion and empathy for others that I didn't have a year ago. I have more grace and less judgment than I had a year ago. I have a much bigger faith than I did a year ago. And I have had far too many blessings to count this past year, particularly in the area of friendships. When I was at my loneliest, God flooded my life with incredible, deep, authentic friendships. But most importantly I have a desperate need for my Savior. There were times about six or eight months ago that I would honestly think, "God, I'm not sure I want this season to end because I don't ever want to stop needing you as desperately as I do right now." Being at your wit's end is sometimes the most beautiful place to be.
My friend once wrote a great blog post about what to do for a friend who's miscarried and I so appreciated it. (I'd link to it but I don't think it's live anymore.) So here are my tips if you have a friend walking through any sort of difficult and painful time:
Acknowledge it. Don't ignore it. If they know you know about it, ask them how they're doing. Sometimes the conversation is awkward when people ask me how I am (because I'm usually brutally honest) but I feel so incredibly loved by the people who do and sometimes hurt by the people who don't. Send a text or a card if the thought of bringing it up in person seems scary. If you're very close to them, find out their love language and meet it from time to time. You have to remember that someone in a marriage separation or recently divorced isn't receiving any sort of affection, besides from their kids. And although, I'm learning to rely on God and fully realize that He is and always will be enough, it sure does feel good to be loved by a friend. And lastly, buy them a copy of the Streams in the Desert devotional. I don't know where I'd be without it.

My life does not look at all what I imagined it would right now. I can't say yet that I wouldn't change it, although some parts I definitely would. But I trust that I'll be able to say that a few years from now. I just couldn't produce spiritual growth like this on my own terms if I tried. And I know its not in vain. I want to be used on this Earth for the kingdom. And if my broken and redeemed past and broken and someday redeemed marriage will ultimately bring Him glory, then I will continue to praise Him for this storm. My God is big. And He's got this.
Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite Streams in the Desert devos, because I can't ever quote that book enough:
We are to honor the Lord in the trial--in the very thing that afflicts us. And although there are examples where God did not allow His saints to even feel the fire, usually the fire causes pain.
It is precisely there, in the heat of the fire, we are to glorify Him. We do this by exercising perfect faith in His goodness and love that has permitted this trial to come upon us. Even more, we are to believe that out of the fire will arise something more worthy of praise to Him than had we never experienced it.
A person has only as much faith as he shows in times of trouble. The three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace came out just as they went in--
except for the ropes that had bound them. How often God removes our shackles in the furnace of affliction!
This is the way Christians should come out of the furnace of fiery trials--liberated from their shackles but untouched by the flames.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Behind the Camera

This summer I've had the opportunity to do several photo sessions for friends. I love every minute of it. I don't get nervous anymore and always leave feeling completely energized. I love this creative outlet. I love getting out of the house for a couple of hours and making kids giggle. I do charge for my time but I don't charge very much and I generally leave it up to the family to pay me what is a comfortable amount for them. I realize I have a whole lot to learn still, so if you're a professional, please know that I know these aren't technically perfect by any means. But I love having something to learn about and grow and develop in at this stage of my life. It's so fulfilling and satisfying when so many days with young children can feel a bit monotonous.
I love shooting this family. I don't know many other people that are as full of joy as my friend Katie. She brings me laughter and encourages me every time I'm with her. Theirs was the first "real" photo shoot I ever did a couple of years ago. I barely even knew how to work my camera in Auto mode then. Its fun to compare my progress. (I also reeeeally liked the filters in those days. ;)

They were announcing their adoption, a little boy from China, so we shot some with a globe. Of course I started crying when she told me because adoption always makes me cry these days.

 Little girls are SO much fun to take pictures of!
I did this next session for an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years. We didn't have any sunshine and the thunder was threatening but I think we got some good ones despite the cloudy weather. I loved my friend's blue dress against the green. 

This little girl cracked me up. Classic first-born; very serious and very worried about everyone's safety at all times. It was fun to try to coax a giggle from her.
This next shoot was for a friend's little boy's first birthday. One year old boys are just as challenging to shoot as you might imagine. It was pouring rain all day so we were pretty limited to the front porch. I've learned not to wear nice clothes on shoots because I had no choice but to be right down on the wet, muddy porch. There are all sorts of things about photography that I wouldn't have anticipated! Like how sore my legs are the next day from all the crouching. We shot family photos and then I stayed and photographed the party. 

The funny thing was, he never even ate any of the cake. He just played in it. Big brother came in to make sure it didn't go to waste.

This last newborn session was crazy hard but so much fun. My friend's boys are exactly like mine. In other words, sitting still for pictures isn't their idea of fun. Wrestling, punching and making fart noises, is, however, their idea of fun. Thankfully I have a whole lot of practice getting little boys to follow my instructions and to crack a smile. I really loved working with them because I just felt right at home. The newborn, however, was totally not having any of it. It took a really long time to get him to stop screaming his head off every time we laid him down. Lesson learned. Newborn shoots take a whole lot of patience. And time. (And these are completely unedited, straight out of the camera. I just need to crop a few before I give them back.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Just keep swimming

I think this is the longest I've been away from this space. It makes me a little sad. You can blame it partly on the Braverman family who's keeping me company most nights via Netflix and partly on sheer exhaustion and mental fogginess. And I've gotten so far behind, I don't even know where to begin. It's kinda like when my house gets so messy I tend to just do nothing, which helps zero times. And by nothing I mean wander around aimlessly and occasionally throw an article of clothing from the pile on the bed to the pile on the floor and maybe toss a random Lego toward the other pile of random Legos. Focus and drive are not things that come easily to me. Take right now for instance. Am I talking about blogging? Parenting? Cleaning my house? I have no idea.
Moving right along. (As if we were actually going anywhere.) This phase of my life is called Survival. With a capital S. I hate survival mode and the guilt it induces, particularly since this survival mode has been going on for the better part of a year. When does it stop being survival mode and turn into just all around crappy parenting? Don't answer that. Or do, if you were ever in survival mode for a full year. You see, I have a lot of things working against me. An incredibly difficult season of marriage (we're working towards normalcy but it's a slow process), a husband who travels approximately a third of the time, living by a public pond with my three monkeys (ie: they can't ever go out to play alone.), a very very active and impulsive seven year old, a four year old who's recently reverted to very difficult behaviors and a two year old who cries. A LOT. But! And it's a big but. I have something far greater working for me. And that is the power of Jesus Christ. If I didn't have his grace and hope, I would surely be in a loony bin by now. Or there's a strong chance one or more of my children would not still be alive. (I kid. I think.) So I keep on plugging along, clinging to the hope that He will pull me through. And receiving so many blessings along the way from sweet friends He's recently placed in my life. I want to love like some of my friends have shown love to me.
I have several things I want to blog about-- Bennett's 7th birthday, my first solo road-trip with all three boys to my parents' in Memphis, 4th of July...but for now I'll just throw a few cute pics up here and call it a blog post. These are unedited, straight out of the camera, because it's past midnight (per usual) and I'm just going for finished, not perfection.
Bennett has always been tough to reign in due to his extremely high level of activity and lack of focus. (Wonder where he got that?) But he's always been my easiest emotionally. Up through year five, he was pretty much always happy (besides that torturous transition into being three years old). Not much could get him down. The boy exudes joy. But year six and now seven have brought lots of pouting and grouchiness and sometimes outright tantrums. Its so hard because you just want to yell at him, "Your life will never get easier than this right here. EVER. So quit pouting and enjoy every blasted minute of it!" But that probably wouldn't be very effective. So I make it a priority to end the day reading aloud to him, just him and me. It tends to redeem whatever went wrong and the day ends on a really good note. That hopefully outweighs all the other sour notes.
We were making a lot of ground with Dawson's behavior but it has severely reverted lately. Its exhausting and heartbreaking and sometimes I fee like calling my husband and asking him to quit his job so he doesn't have to travel anymore. But then somehow I make it to bedtime again and the quiet night air refreshes my spirit. 
Last night before bed he said, "How do the sun and moon go up and down and up and down and get to China?" I had him repeat his question a couple of times and then did my best to explain how the moon gets to China.  
Oh, my sweet baby Channing Jude. How does one tiny human person evoke such extreme emotions in such a short span? I go from steam coming out the ears, cursing in my brain one minute to giving you butterfly kisses over and over the next minute wherever you ask me to (I always laugh when you want one in your hair). You scream the loudest and you giggle the hardest. You are such a mystery to me still, with your extreme stubbornness, your cautious and shy nature and your tender heart. I'm hoping that the more you learn to speak, the less you'll feel the need to scream and cry. My saving grace is that, unlike your brothers at that age, you haven't learned to climb out of your crib yet. I'm keeping you in there as long as possible. But the bad news is, you're nearly ready to drop your nap since some days you don't fall asleep at all and you're having a really hard time falling asleep at night. 

I'm not sure the point of this late night ramble but to say I'm here. Surviving. Breathing deep most of the time and asking for forgiveness when I don't. The moment I take my eyes off of Jesus is the moment I feel like I'm drowning. I'll end with this quote from my Streams in the Desert devotional I keep re-reading, hoping it'll sink in fully at some point: