I picked up my phone one morning to find I’d been tagged in a Facebook comment in a homeschool group.

Huh….What’s up?  That’s weird.

It got weirder.

The original poster had questioned, Anyone unschool older kids?

My daughter’s preschool teacher had promptly tagged me.

I just about dropped my teeth.

Unexpected milestones in life: getting tagged in an unschooling post.

Which is exactly what I replied to her teacher.  (Her response:  “Well, I know your kids are awesome, so you’re doing something right!”)

As I thought about it, it struck me:  what are we, exactly?  We are absolutely not open-and-go, curriculum-in-a-box, structured schedules with desks in a corner.  We are not School At Home.  But as I explained in my comment, we really don’t fall into the “full-fledged, hard-core unschooling tribe,” with everyone doing their own thing and following their interests 24/7.  We are VERY….relaxed and eclectic.  But we are not Unschoolers.

Do we really need these labels to define us?  Honestly, are they helpful?  Maybe, possibly, for some truly dedicated people.  (I now have the phrase “die-hard Charlotte Mason” running through my head, which I think is hilarious.)  And it does make perfect sense to say, “We use ‘Sonlight,'” or “We use ‘My Father’s World.'”

But surely there are more of us wandering around in the middle?

In label-less homeschools?

Our own homeschool has had a very gradual shift over the past five years.  This year, each of my older kids has a spiral notebook, and every Monday there’s a note inside for that week of school, telling them what their “must-do’s” are. We start slowly and ease in to the school year, but a normal, average week involves a few constants; I think of it as the “spine” that everything else hangs from, or the foundation everything else builds on. Each child reads everyday from their “book for school” (I have a book list for each child, but they choose from it what they want to read).  They each have daily math (my 11-year-old daughter is in Teaching Textbooks 6, and my 13-year-old son is working on Horizons Pre-Algebra with a tutor). Science is also daily; this is effortless with my daughter, so she’s on her own with library books/an astronomy textbook; this is NOT effortless with my son, so he’s working through Apologia Physical Science bit by bit.  They also write at least once a week (this is effortless with my son, but even my daughter is willing to do a Friday Free-Write with a good attitude).  We do other things, of course, but this is our base.  Over the course of the week I jot down anything else school-related in a long list under Monday’s note.

And that makes us…..(what kind of ?) schoolers?

Our days look different for each child.  My son is very structured. He gets up between 7-8, starts his personal morning routine, and then jumps straight into school, to “knock it out” and “get it out of the way,” so he can do what HE wants to do. (Definitely no full-on unschooling here.)  What he “wants to do” is write.  A lot.  One of his current obsessions is The Ranking of Music….he’ll listen to every album by (insert band name here) and then do mini-reviews, ranking them, best to worst. We’ve got the Beatles albums ranked, the Muse albums ranked; right now he’s working through U2.  I’ve seen him knock out a 3000+ word essay reviewing every movie in the Marvel cinematic universe (that he’s seen).  The dude loves to write.

My daughter’s day looks (ahem) a little less focused.  She’ll wander down, eventually (I let my kids sleep as late as they want–no demanding a schedule here, either); and she’ll curl up with her math book over breakfast; then take off and go play with her preschool sister for an hour and a half; then suddenly get serious and say, “No, I HAVE to do my reading now,” and work on her reading….get lunch, play piano, rearrange her room, throw in a load of laundry, read a book, and suddenly say, “OH! I forgot about science!” and go attack something science-y with a vengeance….you get the idea.

What label do I apply to all this?

We have our routines.  We also have a huge amount of freedom, and I admit that each time I hear a school bus rumble down our street, I’m a little more thankful everyday.  I’m thrilled that my girls get a chance to play and get to know each other, and not be separated for over eight hours a day.  I love that my kids can get the sleep they need, and not leave the house at the crack of dawn.  I love that they can spend so much time doing what they love, while still learning what they need, and can do it in the comfort of our own home.  My “school pictures” tend to be kids curled up in nests of blankets reading, or sitting in the large swing in the backyard with a notebook, or cuddled with a dog while they work on their math…..

There’s really no label for all that.

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I’ve been thinking lately of something that happened early this spring.  It was still almost cold outside–early spring–and my littlest, three years old at the time, was playing outside in a sundress that was completely inappropriate for the weather.  It was the “Mama, I want to wear my new dress” syndrome, and since I am old and finally recognize when not to pick a fight, I let her.  So she’d been outside playing, in a 45-degree mist, wearing her red, white, and blue “firecracker dress.”

She finally came in through the back door and immediately squealed with glee.  “Oooooh! Mama!  It’s warm in here!”

I burst out laughing.  “It is warm, isn’t it?  Isn’t it nice to come in and be warm and cozy?”

I can still remember how she looked at me, her eyes shining.  “It IS cozy!  This is the coziest house EVER!  I LOVE it!  Let’s NEVER MOVE!!

I had to laugh.  After twenty-one years of marriage, I’ve learned not to make a big broad statement like “we’re never moving.”  But I assured her that we’d do our best.

Last week I stumbled across a quote that finally put into words my feelings about moving; why I’m so hesitant to pack up and start over again.  Yes, me, who can happily while away an afternoon looking at houses online:  if I ever found The Perfect House, I still don’t think I could bring myself to act on it.  It just takes so much time, is the vague notion that would float through my head.  While reading Love the House You’re In, by Paige Rien, I stumbled across a little offhand comment that gave structure and definition to my haze:

It takes six months to move into a new house.  You might be sleeping in your own bed the first night you arrive, but to actually move in and find a space for everything, getting your bearings in a new space–not to mention making any improvements–takes six months.  It takes five years of diligent work to really make it yours–not finish it–but feel like yours.

Six months.  Five years.

This, of course, doesn’t count the months of un-making your current home:  removing all personal items and any source of clutter to ensure the house shows at its best for all viewings.  (Oh, the showings….three kids, two dogs, and a husband working in the basement?  Can you even imagine?)

So yes, beautiful girl, I am ready to say it:

This IS the coziest house EVER.  Let’s NEVER MOVE.

My home is fine, thank you

October 6, 2017

The comment on the Facebook post, which linked to an article on minimalism, read, “Yes, your home is too big.”

This is the kind of thing that sets me off a bit.  Firstly, they have no idea who is reading that particular post–and let’s be real, it can’t possibly be true of 100% of the people.  It’s a minimalism page.  They’re mostly preaching to the choir.

The article itself, honestly, was very thoughtful and well written.  The author was encouraging people to live smaller where they were–the article, literally, encouraged people not to move but to enjoy “less” in their current home.  One of their tips?  Close the vents in all the rooms you’re not using.

Um….???

We have no unused rooms in this house.  With a homeschooling family of five, and a husband working from home, we use this house–every inch of it.  We actually do have a few vents closed, to try to funnel air to the places that need it more (the basement, with the air conditioning on in the summer, can get downright frigid).  But there’s no room we’re “not using” in this place.

So…back to the original statement…maybe our home isn’t too big?

Our lying brains

June 14, 2017

I sat at the kitchen table at 9:30 this morning and thought with a sigh, I’ve done nothing today.

Um…wait.

Dealing with my son’s depression has led us to a lot of “that’s your brain lying to you” discussions.  I suddenly realized I could apply that lesson to me.

Okay….I must have done something this morning.  What have I done?  (Not counting coffee and quiet time first thing, because that’s not really “work….”)

I got a shower, and got dressed and got my hair done.  (I’m a mom.  That totally counts.)

I fed both dogs, got them outside, and started a load of laundry.

I ate breakfast, and hung out with my son while he ate breakfast.

I took care of my breakfast dishes and the few other dishes/recycling in the sink.

I wrestled the patio umbrella/patio table back into proper position after the thunderstorm that blew through this morning.

I made an appointment to get my recall-issues car in to be repaired.  (That, in itself, involved an unfortunate amount of time online, plus a trip to the car to get the registration with the VIN number/replace the registration with the VIN number.  Go me for putting things back.)

I made a fresh pot of coffee and prepped some half-caf in my coffee canister.

I flipped the laundry and started a new load.

I did a quick sweep of the kitchen floor (since the new load was dog towels and I stirred up fur everywhere).

I dealt with a dirty pull-up.  (Yes, she’s four.  Prayers appreciated.)

I got my littlest breakfast and sat with both my girls while they ate breakfast.

And that, that moment of sitting, of (gasp!) sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying being with my girls, that is when my lying brain snuck in to feed me garbage.  She’s having fun!  NOW!

For once, I’m not buying it.

PS And now I’ve written a blog post.  So there, you lying brain.

Times change

March 24, 2017

Recently I found this draft I wrote three years ago:

I was snuggled with my littlest, before bedtime, when I noticed something odd.  Her bedroom is–by far–the smallest bedroom in the house.  It’s also the most awkward to furnish, because in addition to being small (it’s something like 9’x10′), one wall holds three doors:  the door into the room and a double-door on the closet.  But as I sat and rocked the baby, I realized that her room felt spacious.  Maybe not as roomy as her sister’s (whose room is ridiculously large), but it felt open and clear.

That’s because, of course, she isn’t even a year old yet and doesn’t have any “stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong, that closet is quite full of clothes waiting to be grown into; almost the entire top shelf is devoted to 12-18 month clothing that she’s creeping towards daily.  She has “stuff.”  But wow…all her room has in it is a crib, a changing table (with baskets for the clothes she’s currently wearing), a rocking chair and a small side table.  That’s it.  It’s absolutely refreshing.

I wish my other kids–especially my son–would “get it.”  That even a room that tiny can feel large if it’s not crammed with stuff.  My oldest often complains about how small his room is, when in reality it’s not bad; it’s just full.  He’s also the poster-boy for posters; when we moved here we devoted one wall to all his artwork, arranged carefully all together.  Now he’s old enough to get the thumbtacks for himself and his room is becoming a fire hazard.  I keep trying to explain to him that his room isn’t small, it’s crowded.  I think it might have started sinking in when family began to ask him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he didn’t want any more Legos because he didn’t know where he would put them.  That’s a pretty big step for my little Lego fiend.

The problem is that everything is held in comparison to middle girl’s room, which is HUGE.  It’s the one at the veeeery end of the hall, over the garage, and it’s almost as big as the garage.  (The square footage of her bedroom is actually bigger than the master bedroom; it’s 12’x18′.)  Her space veers back and forth between completely trashed and amazingly clean; the older she gets the more into decorating she is and the more “fixy” she is about her space.  To her credit, her large room usually feels large because she’s kept it fairly picked up.

I’m sure that someday, as the baby gets older, she’ll probably want a room as big as her sister’s, too.  I’ll take the smaller space any day.  Especially one as clean and simple as the nursery is now.  In a few years, little one will start accumulating stuff and putting her own mark on everything, the way her siblings have.  I hope she learns to appreciate the beauty of less.

So here we are, three years later.  The room is actually much the same, though we moved in a chest-of-drawers to replace the outgrown changing table.  We also moved the side table out, and a small “crib” in, to hold her stuffed animals.  (I would say it was a doll bed, but it was actually built by my great-grandfather for my mother when she was born.)  The closet has even been cleared out, and all her “to grow into” clothing (now size 6 to 10, the best of the best from older sister) is hanging up instead of piled on the upper shelf.

The only part of her room that gets regularly out-of-hand is her bed, since she wants ALL her stuffed animals in bed with her.  Oh, and her library books.  And sometimes a box of Kleenex.  (You get the idea.)  Sometimes when I tuck her in at night I tease her about where she’s going to fit, and she will cheerfully inform me, “It’s okay, Mama!  There’s a spot right here!”  And sure enough, there’s just enough space for her little head to lay on her pillow.

My son has come a long way, too.  Apparently around age ten or eleven there’s a seismic shift in attitude about stuff, and things that once were overwhelmingly sentimental now just seem babyish.  (I’m seeing it happen with my eleven-year-old daughter now.)  His room looks consistently better, with the occasional “wow, I have too many books” issue.

Interesting what three years can do.

First-world problems

March 15, 2017

Our pantry is not my favorite thing about this house. I hold to the theory that pantries should not be deeper than they are wide.  Ours is definitely deeper than wide, which results in things disappearing back into the dark abyss fairly frequently.  I hit on the solution (and it is still, honestly, a good one) of using baskets as “drawers” for most items, and two nice wooden trays (inherited from my grandfather) as “pull-out shelves.”

This plan has worked really well….until we overloaded one of the trays with canned goods and broke the tiny plastic bracket holding up the shelf.  It really wasn’t a problem; I’d just use a tiny wooden dowel rod to replace the bracket and we’d be set.

Except the piece of plastic was still lodged in the hole. 

No problem….I’ll just move the shelf up a notch.

Except there was a piece of plastic broken off in that hole, as well.  

I’m not proud of how this story ends.  (At one point, my sweet husband asked if he could do anything to help, and I might have said, through clenched teeth,  “Yeah!  You can buy me a new house!”)  One thirty-minute real-life Tetris game later, the pantry was entirely rearranged and usable again.

Because we had so much food.

I still think about that.  We had so much food we broke the pantry.  How blessed are we?

Now we’ve just finished a washing machine meltdown.  I noticed back in January that it seemed to have the hiccups:  it would hit a point in the wash cycle where it would circle back and start all over again.  Once I caught it, I’d just turn the whole thing off and start it over on the drain/spin cycle and call it good.  Eventually I called a repairman, who came out and informed me it was working fine for him.  (Apparently the “let’s do a quick run through of the cycles” doesn’t trigger the problem.)  We bought a warranty to ensure that when it acted up again, everything would be covered.  The load I put in after the repairman left didn’t work.  Sigh.

Two days later (now that the warranty is actually activated….) I scheduled another repair, four days out.  When that repairman showed up, he had to order the part.  The actual repair is then scheduled for eight days later.  (Are you doing the math here?)

In the meantime, the washer went from quirky to dying.  The hiccups settled into an “I don’t do drain/spin” no matter how many times I put it through the cycle (though for awhile, the third time was the charm….).  The tub would empty, but I was hand-wringing clothes before I put them in the dryer, and I hung the exceptionally soggy items outside over the deck rails.  (One factoid they don’t mention about minimalism:  when you have fewer clothes, they HAVE TO BE WASHED, or you will RUN OUT OF CLOTHES.)

The grand finale to the washer story is best told in numbers:  one month, seven appointments, (six where someone actually showed up), two new computer boards, three “recalibrations,” and one–ONE!!–blessed replaced “shifter,” and all is well.  (Might that have been the problem the entire time?  We’ll never know.)

Yet again, how blessed are we?  I have a washing machine that I’ve been able to depend on painlessly since 2012.  I finally, finally have a working washer again and no longer have to think about laundry.

First-world problems.  I’ll deal.

 

Why I left Facebook

February 19, 2017

Last Thanksgiving I decided I was pulling the plug on Facebook for awhile.  The holidays were underway and I thought, for my own sanity’s sake, that I didn’t really want to see all the picture-perfect photos of everyone’s picture-perfect celebrations when there were still occasional days in our house where my child’s depression won, and everyone would fall apart, like a domino run, one after the other.  Obviously, the election played a part in my decision, too, but at the time my choice was less politically motivated and more out of self-care.  I had enough on my plate without having my nose rubbed in everyone else’s apparent happiness.  Our days were improving, and I wanted to enjoy that to the fullest, instead of getting pulled into the comparison trap.

I still logged in once each morning to clean up notifications and to check the “Your Memories on Facebook” page.  As a homeschooling mama, I belong to a ridiculous number of groups, who are always hosting a ridiculous number of events; I did feel the need to check in occasionally there.  And as someone who tends to use FB to chronicle the fairly mundane day-to-day life taking place under our roof, the memories were wonderful to look through and laugh at and sometimes share with the kids (and to remind myself that happiness wasn’t always this tenuous).

No news feed.  No sorting by most recent.  No so-and-so liked this or so-and-so shared this or random ads for….why would you think I’d want an ad for this?

Can I tell you something?  It’s been really pleasant.

Fast-forward to now, about three months later.  As I’m reading in Psalms, I come across verse 14 in Psalm 34:  “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  I stopped to really consider those words, and it occurred to me that they summed up what had been happening over this past accumulation of weeks.

Depart from evil.  No, I’m not saying Facebook is evil.  But the feelings that get stirred up in me, from the political posts or the comments or the “shares” that haven’t been fact-checked; or the envy that crops up when I see someone else doing or getting something wonderful…..those feelings can be pretty ugly.  And I’ve been gradually leaving those behind.

Do good.  Guess what?  When you aren’t sitting and scrolling through your news feed constantly, you can get more done.  Add that to how much better I feel since I’ve left, and more of what is “getting done” is full of good.  (Please also note:  “getting done,” with a three-year-old in the house, sometimes looks like “playing kitty dollhouse.” That’s allowed.  I’m not talking about business productivity here.)

Seek peace and pursue it.  That’s exactly why I left in the first place.  Facebook did nothing to help my peace.  All it did, in various ways, was stir up stress and anxiousness in me.  It’s not in the business of creating peace; that’s not its job.  (Now, that’s an interesting question: what exactly is its job?)  Turning away from it has helped increase my peace dramatically, and allowed me to pursue things that contribute to peace even more.

Let’s be honest….now more than ever we are a people in need of peace.

 

 

I love our house.  God blessed us with a home that has met needs we didn’t even know we were going to have when we moved in.  It has been flexible enough to allow my husband to work from home, and still had space enough to welcome our third child.  Somehow its four walls managed to expand and allow two foster children to move in, and now it’s relaxed back down to contain a more comfortable three-kids-and-two-dogs family. But I admit to stalking houses not even a mile south of us.

Mere blocks away there are houses that back up onto a forested creek.  I’ve said, repeatedly, “I love our house….if I could only pick it up and set it down in the middle of the woods!”  (Which is, frankly, ridiculous.  Part of the appeal of this house when we bought it was the yard full of mature trees.)

But if you drive home “the back way” there are rows of homes surrounded by trees, with no real backyard neighbors but the creek.  A range of homes, too:  yes, there are a few cul-de-sacs of high-end pricey ones we could never afford, but there are also some really reasonable ones that we could.  If, by chance, we ever decided to move again.  And yes, I was frequently stalking those houses, thinking about moving.  (Because now that things have settled down, let’s stir things up, right?)

It turned out that our Sunday School class’s annual Super Bowl party was in one of those houses.  This couple was newer to our class, and when the address was sent out I almost burst out laughing:  we’re practically neighbors!  (Truly:  my husband and son walked home that night.)  I was going to get a little taste of what it might be like to live in one of Those Houses.  I wondered if I’d end up envious.  Or maybe if I’d end up with a lead on a potential home for sale?

Instead, I ended up with a near panic-attack.  A truly beautiful home, with a small, scenic backyard…that dropped off sharply into the creek.  My evening was mostly spent keeping tabs on the three-year-old:  Where’s the baby?*  Is she back outside?  I need to go check.  Wait. No.  She’s here.  Where is she now?  I think she’s downstairs.  Maybe I need to check?  There she is. Etc.

For three hours.

I joked with my husband later how glad I was that we had that experience.  I could just see us, led on by my glorious rustic imaginings of barefoot big kids playing in the woods and wading in the creek, moving into one of those homes, and then immediately being hit by the reality of a three-year-old who doesn’t swim.  Oh, my word….what have we done?

I hereby choose to shift my focus onto gratefulness:  for a home that I love, for a (relatively) large yard the kids and dogs enjoy, and for the fact that when my youngest wanders out back unattended I don’t think twice.

 

*Yes, we still refer to her as “the baby.”  I think it has to do with the age difference in the kids:  we have “the bigs” and we have “the baby.”  Please bear with me…surely at some point we’ll decide on a new nickname.

Bedtime

February 10, 2017

It started very innocently….a few comments here and there.  Eleven-year-old daughter wasn’t really a fan of her loft bed.

The immediate backpedaling always went: “But I love the desk space!”  She really did love the huge expanse of tabletop underneath.  It’s the bump-your-head-on-the-ceiling bed she didn’t care for.

We’d changed from her regular bed to the loft bed when she was sharing a room with her foster sister.  (There was a while, back in 2014, when I truly felt like there was no problem IKEA couldn’t solve.)  Her double bed–part of the furniture set that I inherited from my grandmother when I was a little girl–was much too large to fit in a room with yet another twin bed besides.  She has an exceptionally large bedroom, but not that large.  Eventually our fosters moved out and moved on, but the loft bed stayed.  Great storage. Great desk.  And, yeah, there was a bed up there, too.

A few weeks ago my daughter was sick.  She was up in the middle of the night vomiting, and once she hobbled back to her room I asked if she’d like me to just make her up a bed on the floor….because who wants to climb a ladder when you want to puke?  She’s always been the Queen of the Blankets, so we had enough to make her up a comfy “mattress,” with some left over to tuck her up.  She slept there the entire next day (poor kid) and then the next few nights.

And then the next few weeks.

And then today the fateful words:  “Mama, could we move my mattress to the floor?”

Deep breath.  “Would you consider selling your loft bed?”

“YES!”

I’m conflicted.  There’s a piece of me wanting to beat myself up for wasting money on the thing; because it feels like wasted money.  Why did we buy it if we’re just going to turn around and sell it, 2 1/2 years later?  But that bed was used–I would almost say necessary–for the time we had it.  When we had two girls in that room, it even gave them each their own desk….and a heck of a lot more floor space.  We couldn’t predict the future; we didn’t know that she wouldn’t be sharing a room indefinitely.  And now, it is no longer serving its purpose here:  it’s more of a problem than a solution.  It’s time to let go.

Wow, does she have her work cut out for her.  We won’t sell it until she’s figured out what to do with all her Stuff:  Books, stuffed animals, and Legos all made their home in that thing.  She’s upstairs right now, though, with a big box (which she requested, “for all the stuff I’m going to get rid of….”) and with her mattress moved to the floor (“Look!  Now I kind of have a window seat!”).  I wish her luck.  Now I have to go shop for mattresses.

(Quick update:  “You know, when I really go through my stuffed animals, I only have ten left!”  Now THAT’S progress.)

 

Rainy Mondays

April 19, 2016

These are my favorite mornings to be a homeschooling family.

No one wants to move very quickly anyway:  first off, it’s Monday, and secondly, it’s gray and dreary and drizzly……

And guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t have to Go.  We don’t have to Rush and Get Out the Door.  I can sit in the chair in our bedroom and snuggle the almost-not-two-year-old-anymore and spend a good long time reading.  (Mr. Putter.  Again.)  The older kids can stumble out of bed terribly close to the start of our school day and eat their breakfast, groggy, in their pajamas, while we begin our morning together.  Slowly.

 

Isn’t that part of pursuing “enough?”  Knowing when to be slow?