Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Inadequate.

You've seen the pictures in the homeschooling journals and blogs.

You know the ones I'm talking about.

The ones with the beautiful homeschool classrooms. The ones with the kids feeding the family chickens, digging in the garden. The ones with boys and girls all dressed in adorable anoraks and wellies tromping through the forest of their backyard or neighborhood woods.

Maybe you, like me, look at those pictures and feel...inadequate.

Maybe you live in an apartment with beige walls and carpet. Maybe you can't paint one entire wall with chalkboard paint. You can't wallpaper with maps. Perhaps you don't have room for a dedicated homeschool space and your school spills out into the dining room, the living room, the bedrooms.

Perhaps you don't have a huge and lovely farmhouse table at which to do all your work. Or perfectly coordinated individual desks for each one of your students, all lined up and tidy with just the right amount of papers and pencils to be picturesque and organized.

It's possible that your kitchen is hardly an example of those warm and inviting spaces for entertaining you see every time you turn on HGTV. It could be small and cramped with room for one, possibly two, but is hardly set up to serve as an extension of your classroom. Your counter space might make it difficult to spread out in a way that includes your kids, despite the fact that you long to invite them in and learn to cook some of their favorites and yours.

Maybe you don't have a garden. Or chickens. Or even a dog or a cat. Maybe because you don't want them. Maybe because you can't have them for one reason or another...no matter how much you'd like to give that experience to your kids. Maybe you can't even make a container garden on your patio because it's surrounded by brick and faces south so everything you put out there dies.

Perhaps you don't live near a park. Or a pond. Or trees. Or green space. Or the beach. Or a stream. Maybe as much as you'd love to let your kids learn to be wild and free in nature, there's just not much space to explore it where you are.

It's so easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others. Especially when there are so many pretty, pretty pictures floating around out there on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and all the other ways that we are able to share and compare. Judge and be judged. Feel superior. Feel less than.

I'm here to tell you, mama, that you are doing just fine. Whether you've got chickens or not. Whether people are telling you that your family, your home, your homeschool could be in a magazine or not.

I'm here right now to do what I'm best at: keeping. it. real.

We've been on this crazy homeschool ride for 4 years now, in 3 different houses in 2 states. And I think we are doing okay. More than okay. I think my crew is pretty freaking awesome. And they are pretty awesome despite the fact that not a single photojournalist is knocking on my door asking to chronicle the aesthetic beauty that is our homeschool.

But I think there's beauty in it anyway.

On top of the toy chest in the boys' bedroom there is a clutter of art supplies and images because long after I want him to be in bed, Shorty is up writing books and illustrating them with mixed-media collages. The mess of his creation is everywhere because, when there is no room for a proper desk in the bedroom, he improvises. And when he wants the Hot Wheels tracks out of that toy chest, his mess moves to the floor. Naturally.
Nobody's going to put this in a magazine of how to organize your kids' crap, keep a tidy house, or even how to inspire creativity in your little one. Nevertheless, he's inspired. Constantly. And often against my wishes.

Our adorable crib-turned-craft-table is usually so cluttered with projects that we can't actually do the crafts at it. Honestly, it has become a collecting place for projects. Why? Because I don't think there's possibly space enough in the whole world to keep the enormous stack of books written by the boys. Not to mention the games they have created (and prefer to the store-bought variety) and the bird feeders they are enjoying hammering away on, despite the fact that we don't actually have a yard.
I used to insist that this table to clean and available to use, but they can't even keep up with themselves and their imaginations. How can I? Now we just periodically try to sort through what belongs to whom and file away projects that I didn't realize were finished.

Our classroom is cluttered, and our table is a mess of acrylic paint stains. And I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful space for school work. It's not anything you'd ever see and think, "Yes! THAT is exactly what I want my room to look like!" However, it allows me to not be uptight and control how they are permitted to create.
 And that Red the Angry Bird pencil holder (along with his counterpart the Hulk, who is likely buried in a pile somewhere). Not my choice. It's certainly not the adorable mason jar idea that I pinned several years ago when I thought I might try to decorate. But the boys picked it. They painted it. And it makes them happy. And, really, that's more important than pretty things.

We have more books than our shelves can hold. And I love it. There is no room in this little apartment to add more shelves, so we make due with what we have. That includes this hand-me-down shelf that my dad built for my room when I was a girl. It's chipped and scuffed and drawn on. But it holds a ton of books.
So I'm unwilling to "upgrade" or even "upcycle" and try to make it fit in with some fleeting idea of what is fashionable. I'd rather read a book with the boys.

Or play a game:
We have plenty. And we play them all. Even if they aren't stored in cute matching baskets, but are instead stacked (perhaps a bit precariously) on ugly plastic shelves in the closet. Right next to an even more dangerous shelf of arts and crafts supplies.

Our little kitchen is always cluttered. It's half food prep area and half science lab, with a little bit of dumping ground thrown in for good measure.
My coffee may be next to the butterfly habitat, and there may not be much room for helping hands in the kitchen, but we do what we can. And so far, nobody has eaten a chrysalis by mistake.

We have no yard. No garden. There are never any wild critters roaming by our window. The view is pretty dismal, actually. There's no way to play soccer, ride bikes, fly a kite, take a hike, or really much of anything without packing up in the car and making a day of it. So that doesn't happen daily.
But we make it work. We get outside. We are active. We are adventurous. We just have to be deliberate about it.

Sure, sometimes I daydream about having a homeschool space that looks like this:
This:

Or this:

Or easy access to experiences like this:

and this:

But I am coming to learn that it is not the room, the location, the decorations, or even the natural habitat that make this whole homeschooling gig worthwhile. It is giving my children the space to discover who they are and the equipping them to thrive during these precious, fleeting years...even if that space looks like this:
I promise you, they will grow.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

If I've been giving you the cold shoulder...

Hello there, old friend. I never tire of this view. Simple. Beautiful. Home. 
Let's not discuss whether or not this picture was snapped from a moving vehicle while crossing the Poplar Street Bridge. We all know that construction plus rush hour means nobody was really moving anywhere very quickly anyway. 

And it's not like my T-Rex arm was doing me much good on the steering wheel. It might as well be put to good use elsewhere, right?

I thought so.

There's another view that is becoming all too familiar to me. This one, however, does grow old.
Hello there, neurologists of Wash U. Nice to see you again. Please, feel free to poke me with needles, prod my arm and shoulder, manipulate my body to move in ways that it doesn't want to, and zap me with electricity. It's always a pleasure to spend an entire day with you.
If you missed the original post and want to read how this dino-riffic journey began with a nerve sheath tumor you can do so here. For those who already know or just want to get on with it, here we go. 

After a full day with the super special specialist neurosurgeon and her team, shuffling between offices and doctors and therapists and technicians, it was decided that things with my nerves were looking good. Both the supra scapular and axillary nerves (the two we were concerned about) appear to be connected and slowly re-enervating. If I were having this problem 5 years ago, I am told, they would have said "Hooray! Congratulations! No nerve surgery needed!" However, it being 2017, there is one surgery that might "open up space" in my deltoid for faster healing.

This visit uncovered another problem, though, that will have to be dealt with before we can make any decisions on this new surgery.

Apparently I am now suffering from adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder.

Big words, I learned, for "frozen shoulder."
So off to another specialist it was. And I couldn't just see any specialist. It needed to be an orthopedic specialist who does shoulders and only shoulders. I get to do that in my beloved Lou, too, since the current city doesn't have the right kind of special specialists. 

I was re-diagnosed with a frozen shoulder and told that I am going to get two steroid injections followed by 6 weeks of intense physical therapy and stretching, stretching, stretching.

Of course, these special people are hard to get appointments with, so I can't get the injections for another 2 weeks. Instead of dinner and roses for Valentine's Day, I get to have a needle stuck deep into my shoulder socket. Twice.💝 Then back to the Sunflower State for therapy and back to the Lou again to see if I can move enough to talk about whether the surgery is needed or not. 

Back and Forth. Back and Forth. Why has no one invented a teleporter yet?

Recovery can take anywhere from months to years.

In the meantime I'll just keep rocking my side pony...
...and reading my Walt Whitman.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Ordinary

Today was pajamas and mismatched socks. Long baths and hot cups of coffee. Today was Harry Potter and Star Wars and board games and donuts.
Today was reading books and cuddling and making slow motion videos and laughing until we cried.
Today was puzzling until our puzzlers were sore, then taking a break for a bit and puzzling some more.
Today was arguing and losing our tempers and having hurt feelings. And getting over it and having a good time with each other anyway.

Today was perfectly ordinary and lovely. Today was homeschooling. Today was family.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Chaos

Christmas has got me like...

For some reason, I feel like time is moving at twice its normal pace this Advent season. I can't explain why, but everything feels hectic and more complicated than usual. As a result, I've been feeling frustrated more than I'd like to admit.

Despite all that, we have been managing to have some pretty amazing days and spending quality family time together. Check out what we were up to the first 2 weeks here.

Sunday the 11th started out with a dead battery thanks to one badly aimed thrust of my T-Rex arm. Our attempts to jump start it only lead to the anti-theft alarm to sound endlessly, much to our neighbors' dismay. Our fun was not thwarted, though, and we got a new battery installed just in time to go ice skating. Despite a few blisters, the boys loved it.
And to top off the fun, the hubby was handed 4 box seats to see the local hockey team play that afternoon! So the kids enjoyed watching their first ever hockey game and $80 worth of pretzels. Yikes.

The 12th brought us a fun evening of (not homemade) cookies and all of our favorite holiday story books cuddled up together in the living room. The kitty even joined us for the fun. This day gave me all the warm fuzzies.

On the 13th we painted a Christmas lights masterpiece, went on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt, and incorporated a little Bingo into the mix. We got changed into our PJs, put on our Santa hats, grabbed some burgers at the drive-thru and headed out and about. We found so many amazing displays!



December 14th was our day to assemble care bags for the homeless and load up the car. The boys always insist that we spend some time driving around specifically searching for people in need to kick start our bag giving. The highlight of the night for me was to see an immediate need met, as a young girl immediately opened up her bag and put on the gloves we gave her.

On the 15th we said "Meowy Christmas!" and headed off to the pet shop, where they were collecting donations for a local shelter. N picked out a dog toy and some dog food. W and L each picked a cat toy and a huge bag of litter. I'm proud of their hearts for all creatures. While we were at it, we bought a few special treats and toys for the Iz and got her a stocking for the first time in her 14 years.

She's so excited.

Friday the 16th was gingerbread day! We made ninjabread men, built a gingerbread house, and decorated ugly sweaters. We had a messy lot of fun, and my heart was a full.


The boys really like icing. Can you tell?
Poor Hansel looks like he's coughing up some blood. Guess they didn't push the witch into her oven soon enough.


December 17th was The Muppets Christmas Carol and playing in the snow. We don't see much snow here, so this was quite a treat in our Santa hats and rain boots. When it got too cold, we warmed up with some cocoa and the movie.
 We even painted our very own blizzard with gouache and hot glue!

This was our last week of trying to fit in all the things. That is, having a regular school day plus the Advent activities. I'm really hoping that the more relaxed pace of this last week helps me feel less stressed out and focus my heart a little bit more on the birth of Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Two Weeks of Advent


Somehow the Advent season always sneaks up on me. I think I am going to be prepared for all of its wonderful craziness. And yet, every year, November 30th rolls around and I realize that somewhere, hidden in the boxes of holiday decor is the wooden Advent calendar. The one with all those neat little doors to open and reveal a family activity for the day. The tradition I, in a moment of insanity, started several years ago. So long ago that the children cannot remember a Christmas without it.

There is one problem, though. And it's YUGE.

Each and every one of those 25 little doors is empty.

And so for the first few days of December, I am scrambling to plan the entire month and stuff festive little slips of paper into those doors while no one is looking.

I've got to confess that it causes me a bit of anxiety.

This year has been no different. I got busy. I got stressed. But somehow, I haven't yet missed a day.

On December 1st, the halls were decked and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We had to improvise a bit and make our own fireplace this year. It came out pretty cute.




On December 2nd, we went to the Nature Center for their "Jingle Owl the Way" party. For some reason, this is the only picture I took from that evening. I guess that means we were having too much fun to be bothered. You'd never know it from the looks of the faces of these two bell ringers, though!

December 3rd was Daddy's Thanksgiving. He got sick and all our plans for actual Thanksgiving were messed up. I don't mind a second round of turkey, yams, and pie, though!

On December 4th we learned about Christmas traditions in different countries. W picked China and liked the idea of Christmas karaoke (this is the first evidence I have seen of my genetics having any influence on this kid). N chose Australia and loved the fact that Santa has to trade his reindeer for 6 white boomers (kangaroos). L wanted to learn about Italy. He thought la befana the Christmas witch was a funny part of their traditions.

December 5th was a great night for hot chocolate, snacks, movies, and a living room campout.

On the 6th we enjoyed a concert put on by the local symphony orchestra, attempting to bring a little culture to our day. Some of us liked the listening bits, while others preferred the sing-along portion. One sweet boy was disappointed that "Rudolph" was not among the selected songs this year.

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day a day late this year with our tradition of Veggie Tales St. Nick and packing shoeboxes online for Operation Christmas Child. This year each boy also got to design and make a wreath inspired by Santa Claus.

December 8th was Gift Wrapping Day!

On the 9th we tossed together some quick costumes and went to the bookstore for Harry Potter's Yule Ball. Professors Trelawney and Dumbledore had a blast with Draco Malfoy, Hedwig, and Dudley Dursley.

The 10th was a day to continue the tradition of a new ornament for the tree every year. Instead of buying them, though, we grabbed a needle and thread and made them! The end result was pretty amazing. Thanks to Red Ted Art for the inspiration.


And now in the blink of an eye, we are on the first day of the 3rd week. And the chaos continues.

I'm excited to see what the next 2 weeks bring. Already all my careful planning has been trashed. One mistake by my t-rex arm led to a completely dead car battery this morning, missed church, and possibly a disappointing change of plans for the rest of the day if no vehicle is available.

Oh well. Christmas is not supposed to be about how many cool crafts and activities I can fill our month with. Perhaps this is just a reminder to me to relax, slow down, and breathe in the moments.
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