It took having six kids to realize a few things…

I don’t pretend to have this parenting thing figured out by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d like to think that as my kids grow, so do I. If not, we all suffer, right? Sometimes growth is fun, and sometimes it’s painful, I will admit. Along the way, I’ve been made aware of my mistakes in my youth, my misguided attempts to “do it right,” and the glimpses of hope that somehow, despite my many imperfections, our kids will turn out OK.

I think having six kids over ten years has done quite a bit for my naturally uptight nature. For one thing (and I still struggle with this!), I’ve come to realize that I won’t have a house that makes the cover of Martha Stewart’s magazines. Or even be allowed to be a house where Martha Stewart’s magazine can even be displayed. But that’s really, really OK. I may be tempted to complain that my kitchen floor is only clean for about thirty minutes every so often, but the reason it’s that way is because I get to see my kids every day, all day. I get to. Even when they drive me crazy, and I drive them crazy (and I would be crazy to think that I didn’t!), I love having my kids around.

That’s not to say it’s not an awesome responsibility that sometimes threatens to crush me with its weight, but I’m relying on the One who called us to homeschool our herd. It definitely is a one day at a time mentality. Sometimes even hour by hour!

As the kids get older, though (and me too; what a bummer….), I’d like to think age is giving me some wisdom and perspective. I’d like to think that I can enjoy the day-to-day a little more. Maybe it’s more like how Jim Gaffigan, the hilarious and astute comedian, described it: “The fact of the matter is, when you’re the youngest of a big family, by the time you’re a teenager, your parents are insane.”

By my calculations, we must be halfway to insane!

So…what made me think such deep thoughts, you may ask? It all started with me catching Brendan playing with water in the kitchen sink. Here’s the picture I took after he walked away:

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Such a simple thing. Instead of placing his plate in the sink after he finished his lunch, he balanced it between the two sinks and then proceeded to drip water into it in an attempt to see how much he could add before it tipped over. My first instinct when I saw him “playing in the water” was to jump on him and spout out some altruism about how expensive water is and how it can make such a mess. But in an instant, I caught myself, and realized that he was sort of conducting his own scientific experiment. Even if the plate toppled, the water was surely going to spill into the sink, the designated area for water in the kitchen. Duh. He was intense and at eye level with the plate, and for once, I just let him do it. He continued to drip drops into the plate until his curiosity led him to something else, and the moment was gone. It wasn’t rocket science; just a simple test that I could have so easily squashed had I not listened to that quick and quiet catch.

There is still so much to learn as a parent. I can’t make my kids be what I want them to be–or thought I wanted them to be, but I want to learn to help them be the best person they already are. God made them to be a unique and individual being, and I want to be respectful of that creation. Even if that creation sometimes makes me crazy, there are only six people in the entire world (so far) that get to call me Mom, and that’s pretty darn amazing.

So, if that means letting them get dirty–or wet–or wear mismatched clothes and socks, isn’t that OK? As the days begin to fly by faster and faster, I realize they they are also numbered. Before too long they’ll be too old to be here anymore…every day. As tough as some days may be, I don’t even want to think about the change that lies ahead. For today, we will spend our time balancing plates over a sink of dirty dishes, because the dishes will wait…the kids are growing…and I’m trying not to blink.

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An excited bundle of nerves

Tomorrow will be the first day of the fifth three day parent practicum I’ve attended since joining a Classical Conversations campus with my family in 2009. Over the course of the three days, the morning session speaker will address a large crowd of homeschool parents and encourage them in their journey. Normally I eat up this kind of stuff, but tomorrow morning I think I’ll be quite distracted. In the afternoon sessions, the large group breaks up into smaller groups of training sessions for tutors of the different age levels and parents, and this will be my second year to act as a tutor trainer. A fellow tutor and I will hold a class of 15-20 tutors and help prepare them for the year ahead: from the big picture to the details of our morning routine. It’s a three-day, nine hour training, and we’ve been preparing for weeks.

I’m nervous! Never in a million light years would I have foreseen myself standing up in front of a group of anyone, let alone my peers and speaking for any length of time. But over the years, that has become more and more a regular occurrence. It began with childbirth classes, which was a small venue. Still, when I started that I was way out of my comfort zone but felt so strongly about the material and the education that I pushed past my insecurities. I’m so glad. And now it’s transitioned to the homeschool arena I suppose, and I feel equally passionate about classical education and our community. So I will once again step out of my comfortable zone of sitting several rows back and listening to others, and hopefully be a servant leader to other tutors, both new and experienced.

And speaking of listening to others, during tomorrow’s morning session, I may have to ask someone for notes. I have the feeling that I’ll be nervously flipping through my slides and notes, trying to feel extra prepared for when it’s time to start.

What a fantastic–and simple!!–idea!

Last year was my first opportunity to act as a tutor trainer for Classical Conversations, the homeschool community we have been a part of since 2009.  (For more information about CC, please click here for a thorough explanation.)  Although it took many hours of preparation, I enjoyed the chance to share my experiences and the CC vision with other tutors immensely, and it was a springboard for my own preparation for the year ahead.  One of the biggest discoveries I made while searching for new memory work ideas was something called “The Big G”–a chart that makes learning liquid volume equivalents a breeze.   Seriously, when I stumbled upon this, I was inordinately excited about it.   Talk about the perfect teaching tool: it’s visual, it’s easily replicated by the child, and in keeping with the classical model for educating our children, they can begin with a blank sheet of paper and quickly draw the big G as a reminder of the equivalents they’ve learned.  So what does this little bit of genius look like, you might wonder?  Here’s my NOT artistically bent rendering of “The Big G” for your viewing pleasure (with maybe a few chortles thrown in…):

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OK, so I warned you.  No artistic (or medical) training here, but that’s part of the beauty of this.  Anyone can draw it.  We need to teach our students that there are:

8 oz in 1 cup

2 cups in 1 pint

2 pints in 1 quart

4 quarts in 1 gallon

This picture does ALL of that!  What you probably cannot see is the eight little teeny dots inside the Cs that stand for the ounces.  Genius.

And lest you think I was all alone in my excitement for this teaching tool, when I unfurled it to my group of tutors, they all properly “oohed” and “aaahed” over it like I’d hoped they would, snapping pictures of it with their phones.  At least I think it was for them to use in their classrooms.  I don’t *think* it was for proof that I really can only draw flies.  But maybe…

In any case, rock on, Big G.  I love you.

“Are all those YOURS?!”

Without wanting to discourage anyone from having kids–because children are a blessing beyond all others–I will say that life in a full house is probably nothing like I could have ever expected. Then again, what can you possibly expect from six kids? Perhaps it was ignorant bliss as we added one, then another, then a third, and then more, more, more to think it would be anything *but* crazy. Truth is, I never stopped to think about it, really. I mean, at one point, we had four children: the youngest was the newest of newborn (as in, he came home from the hospital that day) and the oldest had turned five one short month earlier. No one can really prepare you for that. The best they can do is feebly exclaim, “Grab something heavy and HOLD ON!! You might just make it if you survive the first six weeks!!! GOTTA GO!!!” followed by a hasty exit to their own, quieter house.

I have called that my Midway, my turning point, that newborn period with baby #4. We had found a house we couldn’t walk away from in August, moved in the last week of September, and still had unpacked boxes when baby arrived in early November. I remember feeling such helplessness as I looked at my “living room” (really, there was no living going on in that room; it was the ‘avert eyes and quickly pass by’ room), wondering when that room was going to transform from a warehouse. With the short winter days (in those days, I don’t recall having 60 degree days in December like we do now), I felt like the older kids and I went a little stir crazy being stuck in the house except for those joyous days when I had the car and got to take all four of them grocery shopping, strategically planning to leave the second the baby had been fed, burped, and changed, so that we could actually get through the shopping list before the next feeding rolled around. Oh, the days of dragging–er, accompanying, sorry–four kids (or more!) to the store. I recall if it was shopping day, by the time I got the groceries into the cart, assured one of the boys that they actually wouldn’t die if they didn’t bring home candy that day, took the groceries out of the cart and onto the checkout belt, put the bags of groceries back into the cart, took the full cart and tired kids to the car, emptied the cart and filled up the trunk with the bags, transported aforementioned items and people home, carried the bags out of the car and into the house once we arrived home, and put away the groceries, I was shocked to find that I was pretty much useless the rest of the day. Why? It was only grocery shopping, by the way! HA.

And by most standards, my kids were good shoppers. We practiced role playing before shopping so they would know not to touch everything they saw. “Look with your eyes, not with your hands,” was my go-to phrase to remind them. For a short while, I cut out the pictures of the things we needed and glued them to a shopping list so my non-readers could still help me. We didn’t have meltdowns, although there were times when I wondered if one of them was going to escalate to that point. A loud “NO!” here or there I can handle; it’s the all-out throwing one’s self around and hollering like you’ve lost a limb in Aisle 9 that I just can’t go along with. (Thankfully I think it took having a redhead for us to have one of those. That redhead, she’s pushed a lot of envelopes in her young life. Good thing she’s cute.) Even with the relatively good behavior, it’s just difficult to shop and stay on track when there is almost a constant stream of “Look at that!” or “MOM!! We NEEEEEEED this!” or my favorite: “But it’s on saaaaAAAAaaale!!! You like that, right?!” I’m easily distracted as it is, so even with a list, these little helpers could really set me off track. Amazingly, the shopping got completed and we had food to eat.

And I slept goooood at night.

I distinctly remember one night at dinner, when baby #4 was probably between four and six months old, having a surreal moment where time appeared to stop, all Matrix-style. I looked at Todd and tried really hard to communicate with just my eyes. “I don’t know if I can even consider having any more of these little creatures around our house,” I wanted him to see from my stare. In reality, he glanced over at me and probably said, “Can you pass the salt and pepper?” Is it OK for me to admit that?  I really thought I couldn’t handle even one more thing, let alone another baby.  I’m so glad, though, that it was a passing thought borne out of probable exhaustion and overwhelm. It did not last long.

Then we had #5. And #6. He really didn’t catch the meaning of that glance, huh? HA. Our family was meant for more than four! Despite the detractors and rude comments regarding our burgeoning family size, I am so glad we kept on keeping on.

And with the arrival of #5, I felt we had crossed some unspoken threshold. I’m not sure if there is documentation on the subject, but in our experience, it became the phenomenon of “what’s one more?” in many areas. Laundry is crazy with six people. What’s one more? Cooking for six people requires larger portions. What’s one more? (apparently a lot, as our four boys are g-r-o-w-i-n-g!) By six, I felt a little like the Jim Gaffigan joke that he tells about his parents going slightly crazy after the sixth child. “Our first child was named after a relative….our sixth child was named after a sandwich I liked…” Maybe we’re not crazy yet, but there are days when I feel that it must be right around the corner.

There are many things I have had to give up in order to mother a large family, but they may not be the first things that come to mind. I never felt slighted because I had to give up a potential career–being a homeschooling mom has been the hardest work I’ve ever done and would personally classify as a career (though it’s missing the almighty W-2 to “prove” it). No, the things I’m talking about are….different.  I have had to give up the notion of a Martha Stewart home, and although I’m not sure I would have ever chosen to have that kind of home, not sticking to my kitchen floor every now and again has to be a nice feeling. (I’ve heard it is from others, anyway.)  There is also this constant struggle between my dream and my reality that all blankets will be folded, throw pillows will sit on the couch and not be…well, thrown, and shoes will be put in the shoe basket as soon as they come off of a foot.  NOT HAPPENING.  Blankets seem to unfold and fling themselves upon the ground multiple times a day, as if to mock me.  Don’t get me started on little scraps of paper that magically appear all over the floor and clothes from little (and big!) bodies that remain in the shape that they fell off the wearers’ forms. Those are the things I’ve had to work on adjusting my attitude. There is paint chipped out of the walls in various places, most likely as the result of a Nerf gun war gone awry or wrestling boys who learned the hard way about Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Hey, Mom! The wall was my outside force!! It acted upon me!! And stopped me from moving in a straight line at a constant speed!” (Yeah, they would be my outside force if they ever actually said that. And then I would fall over.)  And, yes, the bathrooms. Oh, the bathrooms. It is truly a dirty little secret that I’m slowly realizing many other moms with boys have. The bathroom. It’s like pee physically canNOT make it to the toilet water at a percentage over .0003 with any consistency. I may just consider it my highest accomplishment if one day, I walk into that bathroom and am not knocked over by the smell. That smell. (For those of you with clean bathrooms, feel free to insert your condescension here. I once felt that I could keep all things clean all the time. Maybe one day in the far future, I will have that clean bathroom again, but it will mean that my boys no longer live here, and that makes my heart hurt.)

Don’t forget the dream of having a clean kitchen floor for more than 2.7 minutes.   I think it takes longer to dry after I clean it than it actually stays clean.

But then again, the things I’ve had to give up are far smaller in comparison to the benefits we have received in our journey so far.  Despite the exasperation of every bedtime feeling like a sleepover in the boys’ room (“PLEASE SETTLE DOWN AND STOP YOUR TOMFOOLERY!!!”  These are the same kids that may have been at each other’s throats up until the moment of bedtime, but as soon as they’re tucked in for the night, they become the best of friends and giggle and cause trouble back there like they haven’t seen each other in years.   Baffling.  Oft times exasperating to the nth degree.),  every bedtime includes hugs times six.  I love you’s times six.

We’ve had the joy of lots of laughter in every room in the house–even if it means the troops are scheming for mischief.   The sound of feet pitter pattering (and galloping and scampering loudly) through the house is almost constant–even if it means those feet just came in from the muddy outside and transported said outside inside and onto my kitchen floor.   Surveying our full dinner table and the memories we’ve created there most nights are ones you can’t buy in a store.  Most nights I try to take mental pictures so I can remember forever.   Watching them grow (one of them taller than me and almost taller than Todd!) and mature from babies to children to teenagers is a humbling experience.   Realizing that they have been chosen for our family is a responsibility that sometimes all but crushes me, and yet I’m so grateful that out of all the possible moms and dads in the history of the world, God saw fit to bless us with these six.   They are amazing.   We have a serious job of doing our very best to raise them to be responsible adults who contribute to society and bring glory to God.   It’s not easy, and we don’t get time off (except that one day in 2009;  I think we took a day off in 2009.  It wasn’t pretty and the memory of the aftermath still lingers…), but it’s a bit like the Peace Corps’ motto:  The toughest job you’ll ever love.

I love these kids, even with their faults.   Lord knows I still have a multitude of them.   But we’re doing this life together, and for that, I’m forever humbled and grateful.

Now….about that bathroom…..

 

Back to the daily grind…

The first Monday after a holiday weekend is rough.  As in, “is that my alarm I hear alREADY?!” rough.  The kids even tried to overthrow me and get at least another day of laziness out of the deal, but it was not to be.   If we’re going to take an honest Christmas break, we need to work hard until that time.   I can’t say I’m not severely tempted to just throw in the towel as well and call it a year, but alas, I have to be the adult.   Adults have to oftentimes do things they don’t really care to do.

Like laundry.

Or cleaning baseboards.

And grocery shopping.

Because….among other things, we do have to eat.

So, even though maybe none of us wanted to get back into the swing of things, we did after a sleepy breakfast and slow moving start.   I guess we ended our day better than we started.  Hey, they all can’t be days to write home about, right?

In semi-related news, when I first woke up this morning, I was thinking about blogging, and got the bright idea to continue writing daily for the month of December.  When else do I get somewhat of a break from school?  There would probably be no better opportunity (except for the summer, but that’s when we spend a lot of time outside and at the pool! Who needs to blog about that every day?!) that I could think of than now.

Then my mind promptly went blank.  As in vacant, empty, vacuous.   There’s nothing to talk about today; what makes me think there’ll be something to share tomorrow?  I haven’t made any new and exciting recipes (although I did go looking in my cookbooks in a flash of bad judgement, thinking I could just post something and pass it off as something I’ve tried).   No such luck.

So as we close this Monday night, perhaps the kids will have a restful night’s sleep, and we will as well.  Perhaps we’ll all wake up early tomorrow, ready to tackle our day with motivation and direction!  Weather permitting, I’ll get a writing idea as well.

Thank goodness the coffeemaker timer is already set and ready to go…. I think I’m going to need all the help I can get!

Thanksgiving break is a beautiful thing…

We made it to Thanksgiving break. What a relief! For a few days, we get to do what we each enjoy (not that we don’t “enjoy” school, but who doesn’t like a break every now and again?) In any case, for me, ‘what we enjoy’ includes baking and making things in the kitchen! So far today we made two loaves of pumpkin cranberry bread and pumpkin chocolate chip bread. (The cranberry recipe is at the bottom of this post) Our day began today with a trip to the budget salon for boy haircuts, a stop at the grocery to pick up the last minute items I forgot earlier in the week, and a jaunt at the library to check out two dozen books. Hopefully the gaggle of library books will not migrate from our house before they are due back. After our morning errands, it was time to hunker down in the kitchen…and make a gigantic mess. Thankfully, we got the bread baked and also prepared ingredients for tomorrow’s menu items. After that, all that was left was to clean up the wake we had left.

While wrapping up the kitchen activities, I heard Chloe singing a mix of Christmas songs and the timeline song.  I had to at least ask if she’d let me record her singing a bit of it.  To my surprise, she said yes.  Before she could change her mind, Patrick started the music and I started recording.

*Warning*  Worldviews will begin to diverge, like two roads in a yellow wood.  As if homeschooling weren’t enough to cause us to take the road less traveled, we also took another fork within that road into classical Christian education.  One of the best descriptions I have read can be found here.

At five years old, Chloe is the perfect example (though she’s DEFINITELY not alone) that children at this age love to memorize.  They are really excellent at it!  Because we are a classical education family, the young years are spent learning the grammar.  This is not to say we spend all our time learning English, but the grammar of things.  They are learning “just the facts.”   Of course her mind is not sophisticated enough to debate what caused the Punic Wars or why Japan chose isolationism.  She is not interested.  But she likes to sing (ohhh, does she like to sing) and has learned so many facts through her early years of school.  For now, she is hanging what we call pegs.  The pegs of information will go into her brain and hopefully stay there, so that as she grows and matures, and becomes ready to receive more information, she will have the pegs to jump start from.   Her older brothers are learning the same material as she is, but they are more able to not only learn, for example, the parts of a flower, but draw a flower and label its parts or learn what each part does for the flower.    It is a system that has worked for us and our family as we strive to educate our children.

So all that is prelude to Chloe’s first timeline recording.  She needs a bit of prompting here and there (by me, so please excuse the hideous voice) and Patrick, who isn’t even studying the timeline anymore.  Both he and Hannah are beyond the early stages of this program, but they have both impressed me by what they can recite.  Listening to it all the time will kind of do that anyone.   (You can ask my kids.  I play it a LOT.)   In any case, she’s also just so cute singing it!  She just turned five a few weeks ago and we all just can’t get over her.   I hope you can understand most of what she says (it’s rather humorous when she doesn’t quite remember the words, yet still keeps the beat with a few “hmmms” and “lalalas.”).  All in all, it’s not bad for a few months of learning.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

3 c. flour
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
3 eggs
2 c canned pumpkin
1 c canola oil
2/3 c sugar

2/3 c packed brown sugar
3 t vanilla
1 c dried cranberries

Combine dry ingredients. Set aside. Combine eggs, pumpkin, oil, sugars, and vanilla. Stir well. Stir in dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Pour into two greased 8×4 loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 50-55 min. Cool 10 min. before removing from pans.

Keeping it real

So today wasn’t the best of days around here.  All politics aside, it was a perfect storm kind of day.  A couple kids are under the weather, so the morning started off slowly.  I started off slowly this morning.  While recovering from surgery, mornings were a lot more relaxed around here, and sleeping in is one bad habit that seems to be established after nothing more than two days in a row.   It is my dream to jump out of bed every morning before 6 AM, but….so far, not yet.  (Maybe I’ll catch the daylight savings time change in March and try then….)

In any case, it was a day where my kids decided to forget everything we’ve ever studied…EVER.  Andrew suddenly had no recollection of how to borrow in subtraction or what the short vowels sounded like.  (No Mother of the Year Awards handed out for responses to those, I can assure you).  Other craziness ensues with any given subject from any given student.   (The oldest is all but independent, though, so I have no complaints about her.  Actually, she also washed the sheets and blankets for our bed today, so I have nothing but gratitude for her!)

When people say, “I don’t know how you do it,”  I have a guilty wave wash over me.  What if they knew how I sometimes did it?  That I was more or less like a crazy person sometimes who may or may not have showered that day? I admire those who never get upset, who can always keep a level head and give a measured response.  Truth is, I’m not one of them, but I’m trying.  There are days when I get so exasperated, the best thing for me to do is leave the room.  I had serious doubts repeatedly today that I can even do this job.  How could I possibly think I could homeschool six children and prepare them for life outside our home?  If they can’t remember their phonics rules, how will they grasp the *really* important stuff?  Am I completely failing them and keeping them from their potential?

But life is full of “hard things” to do, and this is certainly one of them.  And tomorrow is another day, full of new mercies (thankfully).   Maybe I’ll get up earlier.

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