Wednesday, August 27, 2014

School Daze: A Quick and Hazy Recap of 2013-2014

When you're a homeschooler, you choose your start date for the year.  Some choose based on a date on the calendar (e.g. after Labor Day).  Some begin as swim lessons or family camping expeditions come to an end.  Others of us receive signs.  

Literally.  My daughter handed me a sign.  I received the above sign mid-July.  As usual, I wasn't prepared.  (I had this crazy, sparkly, rose-colored vision of cleaning and organizing the house before the start of school.  However, we were still firmly planted in we're-not-sleeping-through-the-night-but-decided-to-paint-two-rooms-and-not-clean-up-our-mess-because-we're-dorks-who-mistook-ourselves-for-superheroes territory.)  But, I'm a firm believer in following the enthusiasm, and not getting in my kid's way when she's trying to bring about a good thing.  So, the first Monday in August, I gathered my crew around the dining room table.  I told them that we were beginning school.  I told them that while I had all of our new materials, technically, I wasn't ready.  I issued a warning: things would change as I got more organized and figured things out.  Then, I handed them each a mug swelling with steam.  What I lack in organization, I make up for in hot chocolate.  

Today, we have over a dozen days of school under our belts.  The house is still not organized, and with a baby who sleeps three hours one day and only forty minutes the next, neither are we.  But we're attacking our days with enthusiasm, and our fair share of chocolate.  

Before we dive into the field trips, projects, and our hopes for this year, here's a brief recap of our 2013-2014 school year.  In pictures:

(School picture day.  We met up with friends at a local park for a little photo session.  In my typical disorganized rush, I forgot to make a "first day of first grade" sign.  Luckily, we had just gone on a field trip hiking through an old quarry where we had picked up fossils and this big rock as a souvenir.  I grabbed the rock, some paint, and a brush and constructed Audrey's makeshift sign in the parking lot of the park.  I love when a make-do mistake becomes a perfect reminder of time well spent.)

I like to begin and end each year with a special field trip.  We began our 2013-2014 school year with a drive out to Conner Prairie (Jason in tow) to the one-room school house to find out how kids got their school on 1836-style. 

(Indiana Jim's Reptile Experience)

We ended the year by celebrating with some of Audrey's favorite creatures: snakes (and some other reptiles at a local library hosting Indiana Jim's Reptile Experience).  

(Rhythm Discovery Center)

But, in between, we made some noise.

(Nathan holding a magnifying glass and piece of rock used for a geology streak test, while wearing his trusty duck-taped rain boots.)

Looked beneath the surface.

(A weather experiment in progress.  Fill ball jar with hot water and let sit a minute.  Pour out water, leaving an inch standing in jar.  Place a colander of ice on top.  Cool ice meets warm air, and wah-lah: condensation and fog.)

Let things start brewing.

(Homeschool Program at Indianapolis Museum of Art in honor of Bees and National Public Gardens Day)

Got our neurons buzzing.

 (Gingerbread house contest at Conner Prairie)


 (Gingerbread homeschool Christmas party with  friends.  This is Audrey's creation.)

Applied what we learned.

 (Another picture from school picture day. 2013-2014 was the year of dresses with boots.)

Created our own style.

(A butterfly we watched metamorphosis from a caterpillar.  You can see the chrysalis at the bottom of the picture.) 


(Planting azaleas at IMA National Public Gardens Day.)

And grew.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I'm Not Sick...

Jason spent last week working in the United Kingdom.  We had been blessed with a really long stint of no travel on his part, and frankly, we were both out of practice.  He forgot his razor and cell phone with the international calling plan.  I forgot how to put older children to bed on my own while nursing an infant, and thus, faced a child rebellion (prisoner of war: me) his first two nights away.

What I did remember was the penchant for tears that dropping Jason off at the departures gates elicits from my children.  I was prepared.  I had a container of ice cream in the freezer and sugar cones in the pantry that I planned to serve - for dinner.  I had a movie and popcorn planned for dessert.  A fun getaway was set up for Monday.  I was prepared to dull their pain with distraction.

I forgot about the Daddy's Traveling Addendum to Murphy's Law.  It goes a little like this: If Jason is traveling (especially to a location where it would be impossible to travel back the same day), something will go wrong to interfere with my well-laid plans.  A car battery will die in a parking lot with an infant tow (London), we'll end up in the ER (twice: once for Nathan - San Francisco; once for me - Germany?), I will end up digging a three-foot deep trench in January when a pipe breaks (Japan), or one to three of us will end up vomiting (too many occurrences to remember all of Jason's locations).  I should know better than to make plans.  I should really know better than to tell the children I've made them.  Someone in this family isn't very smart.  She might be writing this blog.

The night before our getaway, Jack got sick.  We had to postpone our plans.  Suddenly, the kids (especially the one who knows how long a week-long business trip is) had new pains needing dulled.  Naturally, the worst thing about your little brother being sick (and canceling your plans), is that your mother won't allow you to invite friends over to your house.  Not even for a tea party.  Not even if you dress up like Pippi Longstocking in preparation for a tea party.

Luckily, she'll let you have your own.  She'll lend you a tablecloth and a cinnamon shaker to use as a vase. (She'll have flash forwards of rehearsal dinners yet to come as she watches her sons set up the picnic table in the backyard.)  She'll trick you into eating your apples and slices of turkey by arranging them as parts of a butterfly on a plate.  (And, by telling you that you can't have the blueberry muffins you just made if you don't eat your butterfly.)  She'll give you full reign over the muffins.  When you tell your little brother that he's too sick to add some sugar on top, he'll say, "I'm not sick.  I'm amazing!"

He'll be right.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Perfect, The Good, and The China Fairy: A Week (or Several) in Review, of Sorts


A few Saturdays ago, Audrey and I had a tearful (hers) discussion as I combed her hair following her bath.  Her friend, China Fairy, had been in an accident while running and no longer had two legs.  Audrey worried about her value and kept mentioning things her friend could no longer do.  Accidents happen, I told her.  Sometimes, limbs are lost.  Someone doesn't lose their beauty with the loss of a limb.  You don't lose your value just because you lose something.  You're still a child of God no matter the sum of your parts. 

It's not a conversation I thought I'd be having with my seven-year-old - about a "Barbie".  I don't even like Barbies.  But, this one was special.  Jason had brought it home from China, which made her irreplaceable.  So, like any mother who doesn't know when to quit, we had a talk about amputees and the fact that when unexpected things happen, you just have to continue doing the things you want to do, whether you think you can or not.

Luckily, the rest of us are faring better than China Fairy, the only things we've lost being sleep (the adults), attention (the children), and teeth (Audrey).  But, I've found myself lingering on that bath time conversation and the point of doing those things you want to do, whether you think you can or not.  Writing blog posts is one of those things I want to do, but often feel that I can't.  It's low on the priority list.  At the end of each day, I think the computer will still be there tomorrow, and if not, I won't feel sad about having missed out on this phase of its life because I chose to prioritize five someone elses. I also have a habit of (as my husband phrases it) "letting the perfect get in the way of the good."  I want to post chronologically.  I have a hard time writing a blog post introducing the not-so-new-baby when I've yet to write the end-of-the-school-year wrap up or a summary of Jack's third birthday.  Blog posts are passing me by.  I'm beginning to feel like a candidate for Hoarders if they had a Hoarders of the Mind edition: too many thoughts, too little organization and letting go of said thoughts.   

But then, China Fairy lost her leg and I began giving pep talks that I'm not living up to.  And folks, I can't continue to be plagued by thoughts of a Barbie, even if the broad did come from China.  So, here's my blog post: the imperfect, discombobulated good that I'm capable of today (take that, Barbie).  

(For those of you not in the habit of keeping up, a couple of side notes:
1.  Audrey is 7 1/2, Nathan is 4 1/2, and Jack is 3.
2.  You will notice references to a child named Ethan.  He is our third son, born in May.  I had planned on introducing him to you properly with a blog post all his own.  Someday, he'll tell his therapist that his brothers were introduced with their own posts, while he was introduced as a mere footnote.  I will attempt to defend myself by telling him that he was not introduced in a footnote, he was introduced in a parenthesis.  Footnotes are stodgy: parentheses are mysterious.  Chicks will dig it.  He will mail me his therapy bill.  His counselor will use us as a case study for her latest book.  It will be chock-full of footnotes.  I digress.)


I don't remember where we were walking, but it had just rained.  Audrey had on a pair of pink, everyday, slip on shoes. "Mom, this is the first time you've permitted me to walk through water in my church shoes."  

At seven, she's figured out the proper use of the word permitted.  She has yet to figure out which shoes are "church shoes" and which ones are shoes of desperation when her mother can't find any other pairs.

"Nate, if you're going to live with me and run a farm, you're going to have to stop eating bananas."  (Upon discussing their future plans to open an, apparently, banana-free farm together.  Audrey used to love bananas.  She no longer does.)

Audrey couldn't find her shoes.  I had told her to put them in the closet.  She hadn't.  I told her she couldn't ride her bike until she found them.  She still hadn't found them when I told her I had to go to the post office.  "Look in the post office for my shoes!"

A morning conversation:

Audrey: Did they still use wagons to get around when you were little?
Me: No.
Audrey: They had cars?
Me: Yes.
Audrey: Had airplanes been invented?
Me: Yes.
Audrey: What hadn't been invented?
Me: The Internet.
Audrey: What's the Internet?

Audrey asked if I had ever tried to get a book published.  I told her about a Glimmer Train writing contest that I had submitted a story for that won third place, garnering a few lines of print in their Fall 2005 edition.  She got very excited.  "Everyone on the world reads magazines, so I bet everyone on the world has read your story," she said.

I explained that this was most likely not the case.  (I also began contemplating why we say "in the world" instead of "on the world".)  A few moments later she said, "I want to publish a book.  There's just one problem: I don't want to do the work."

Audrey lost a tooth on July 7th.  While getting ready for bed and stashing it beneath her pillow, she told Jason she had something to tell him about what she had read about the Tooth Fairy in a book.  "It's not really a Tooth Fairy," Audrey said.  Jason braced himself.  "It's a Tooth Witch."

The next morning, she told me that she sometimes wonders if the Tooth Fairy is parents.  She said, "No one believes in fairies, but suddenly, it's the Tooth Fairy and they believe.  But I don't know what the parents would do with the teeth.  Throw them in the trash?"

Then, she told me that sometimes she can hear us talking at night and we talk louder as it gets later.
"What do we say?" I asked.
"It just sounds like mumbling."
"What do you think we talk about?"

She lost another tooth July 10th during a slumber party with her brothers.  She came downstairs all smiles, holding up the tooth.  "I'm so lucky.  Nate boxed me in the mouth!"

We were having a side of edamame at dinner.

Jason: (looking at me) Are soybeans good for you?
Me: It depends on who you talk to.
Audrey: Well, we're talking to you.

We had a little slumber party at my parents' house with one of my nephews in attendance.  The boys had been playing with foam swords, running through the backyard, between the pine trees, around the garden, and into the woods.  A favorite play area had been the wood pile.  I didn't think much of this until Audrey came running in to tell me that the boys had dismantled my dad's neatly piled stacks of wood.  The kids came in for the evening and my mom began giving them baths.  When it was Audrey's turn, she asked about the wood pile.  She asked if Audrey had participated moving the logs.  Audrey hesitated.  "If you did, we need to make sure we get you washed off, because there was poison oak on some of those logs," my mom told her.

"Well," Audrey began, "I was a volunteer.  When I saw them, they looked like they were having so much fun, so I volunteered to help them."  (But no, she was absolutely not a participant, just a volunteer.)


Excruciatingly long backstory: On January 24th, the kids began building a castle in the kitchen.  I didn't think much of it, because projects of this sort crop up in just about every room of our house, everyday.  The castle, on the very sturdy footing of our hardwood floors, grew quickly.  Jack, wanting to to be in the thick of building as much as anyone, ran for the bathroom step stool.  He placed it next to the castle.  He climbed up.  He leaned to add something to the castle.  He slipped.  He screamed.  And he didn't stop.  He didn't stop screaming when I ran to check on him.  He didn't stop screaming when I told him that the elbow he landed on would stop hurting soon.  He didn't stop screaming when I scooped him up and laid him down on the couch, and when I covered him with a blanket, he kept his arm underneath it and refused to move it.  Jason was on his way home from work, so I waited with Jack, thinking that having spent a childhood playing football Jason would be able to tell if something was dislocated (the worst case scenario that popped in my mind).  By the time Jason got home, thirty minutes later, I had given up hope that Jack would stop screaming.  Jason scooped Jack up, settled him in his car seat, and drove him to the hospital.  He called me a few hours later to tell me they were being transported by ambulance to the local children's hospital, where Jack would undergo surgery for a broken elbow.  Jack spent several weeks in a cast and was afraid to move his elbow for several more after the cast was removed.

Current story:
Nate: (at lunch) Remember that time we built a castle with boxes and Jack fell off the stool and broke his arm?
Audrey: Yes.
Nate: Let's do that again.  (Turns to Jack) But this time, Jack, we don't need your help.

The kids had been up late, so I was surprised to see Nathan up at 7 a.m.  "Why are you up, honey?" I asked.

"I just wanted to see you."

Nathan: When are we going to have pot pie?
Me: I'll have to get the stuff this weekend and we can have it next week.  Do you want pot pie?
Nathan: Yeah.  I want pot pie for Halloween.
Me: Halloween is far away.  Do you know that?
Nathan: I know.  It will give us a long time to get the stuff.  (Bless him.)

I have a habit of trying to get the kids ready for events without telling them about said event in case we have to bail at the last second due to an inconsolable baby, or a broken elbow, or a lost shoe, or a diaper blow out, or a dead battery, or a sudden fever, or a tornado warning, or a lost key - you get the idea.  I was taking the kids to an event at a local park, but I hadn't told them about it.  What I told them was that they needed to get sunscreen on.  They wanted to know why.  "Because you're going outside," I said.

"Are we being too crazy? " Nathan asked.
"Do you need to feed Ethan and pump?"
"Do you need some time by yourself?"

Jason is trying to cut back on his soda intake (one 24-oz. bottle a day).  The last time he went shopping, he brought home 12-ounce bottles instead of his usual 24-ounce ones.  Nathan found one in the refrigerator.  "Soda for kids!"

We were having tacos for dinner.  Each child likes to top his/hers with different fixings.  Nathan was preparing his.  "Just give me a handpile of tomatoes."

Audrey was telling Jason about a book she had been reading, in the excited state she reserves for literature (and soccer, and minecraft, and parties).  "I love you, Audrey," he said.

"Audrey, I love butter," Nathan said.

Nate was the first, and only kid up.  He toasted us a bagel to share, spread it with cream cheese, set it on the table, and pushed two chairs close together.  He asked me to get him a vitamin.  I did.  He asked where my vitamins were.  I explained that I take my vitamins at night.  Then, I snuck into the pantry to grab a dark chocolate chip.  I sat back down at the table.  "You smell like chocolate," he said.  "Is that your vitamin?"

Yes.  Yes, son, and I take them all the live-long day.

I had just wrapped Nate in a towel following his bath.
Me: Do you want me to put lotion on you?
Nathan: Yes, but not on my wee-wee.
Me: I wasn't going to put it on your wee-wee.
Nathan: Do people usually put it on their wee-wees?
Me: I don't think so.
Nathan: Yeah, it probably wouldn't be appropriate.
Me: Probably not.
Nathan: Yeah, I've been thinking that for years.

Nate and I had the rare opportunity of going by ourselves to get his haircut.  We were taking advantage by catching up with one another in the car.  "Mom, what do you want to be when you grow up?"


"I accidentally like all of you guys."  (Announced to the room at large.)

Date unknown
Other than water guns, we don't have toy guns in the house (Technically, Jason has a Nerf gun hidden in the closet so he doesn't have to share or have the foam bullets ripped apart.  It used to be kept at the office, back when they had cubicles, for all of his gun fighting needs.  At work).  The boys have remedied their lack of toy guns by creating guns out of any materials they can find, namely Legos and K'nex blocks.  Jack had made such a gun one afternoon.  He sauntered over to Jason with the gun and pointed it at him.  "I will not kill you," he said.  "My gun will kill you."

"I want to be a superhero when I grow up.  I want to be Batman!"

Jason offered to run by the store and asked for my grocery list.  I told him to get fruit, but I wasn't sure what kind.  I explained that I needed "Audrey fruit."  I also explained that I have no idea what that means anymore.  Audrey used to love bananas.  Now, she refuses to be in the same room with a naked banana.  Once that puppy is peeled, sitting next to her on her brother's plate, she takes off with her plate to the dining room table - destination: party of one.  She used to love grapes, apples, and oranges.  She would eat pineapple, cherries that didn't come in a jar, and try blackberries.  But lately, we're down to three options, the Audrey trifecta: raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries (with dried cranberries tossed in when those options aren't available).

Typically, she's forced to eat a few bites of a fruit she'd rather not have before moving on to something else she'd rather eat.  But there's something about a mama surviving on five hours or less of sleep a night that causes her to simplify (and by simplify, I mean eliminate as much whining and table hopping as possible).  She starts to buy just the foods she knows won't repulse the children.  So when Jason asked what fruit to buy, I said, "I don't know, maybe try peaches?  Maybe Audrey will like those."

The kids were in the kitchen with us.  Jason turned to Audrey.  He explained that the fruit fuss was going to stop.  The glory days of mama making one snack to satisfy her and one to satisfy the boys was over.  We were returning to our normal policy.  If I served something she didn't like, she didn't have to eat it, but she just wasn't eating.  "I don't know what game you think you're playing, but we're not going to play that game," he said.

"We're playing hide 'n seek," said Jack.


Luckily for China Fairy, the man-in-residence here is a good Barbie surgeon and popped her wayward leg back into place.  She's good for several more miles.  As for the rest of us, we're good, too.  We're not perfect, and neither is this blog.  It took me a week (with interruptions like dropping Jason off at the airport, a sick kid, a get-away to the grandparents, lots of boo-boos to kiss and tears over missing Daddy to wipe away, and a field trip to the Indianapolis Children's Museum) just to get it typed up.  But it's here, and it feels good, especially the part where I get to put Barbie out of my mind.  That part is just perfect.