Monday, September 23, 2013

Not-Your-Grandma's Parenting Advice

We have great children.  Of course, nearly every parent you talk to will tell you the same about their children.  It's rare to find a parent who doesn't enjoy regaling friends, family, and even strangers with stories that explicate just how smart, cute, funny, and in general 'amazing' their children really are.  People without children most likely find this tiresome and at the least, annoying, and I apologize on behalf of parents everywhere.  But honestly, we can't help it.  Those cute little anecdotes and dozens of pictures taken with that horrible fake mall Santa just seem to fly out like a soapy kid down a Slip-n-Slide.  (And thanks to modern technology, you can be instantly alerted and inundated; which means creepy mall Santa picks sent right to your smartphone!)  Anyway, I digress.  

My husband and I love our kids and there's not much we'd rather be doing than spending time with them.  That being said, there are a lot of things no one told us about parenting.  As expecting or even new parents, you receive a lot of unsolicited advice.  Even the person in the checkout line in front of you will, at some point, better know how to raise your child than you.  Some advice turns out to be great.  Some is well-intentioned but outrageously impractical.  However, of all these advice-givers, not many will give you the true gems of parenthood.  The things you need not only for the big picture, but for daily survival.  So let's talk about what really happens when you become a parent.  The things no one wants to tell you about beforehand because if they did you would hide in a hole, terrified to come out lest these things they call 'children' slather you in bodily fluids and eat you alive....

Sleep when the baby sleeps.  Let's be real.  Your first few weeks at home with your newborn will be spent standing over his/her crib, bassinet, or other napping place staring intently at said newborn's chest checking for signs of life.  'Are you sure she's still breathing?? Should we poke her just in case? Oh no, wait, her chest just moved!' (And insert both parents' simultaneous exhales here.)  Never fear, this phase will pass and you will soon be able to check on the infant at 3am, find and return the pacifier to that tiny mouth, and fall back into your own bed for the next twenty minutes of uninterrupted sleep, all without ever having opened your eyes!  As an added bonus, you will also find you ARE able to function the next day on those twenty minutes of uninterrupted sleep!  Yay you!!

Bio-hazard containment.  You will quickly become accustomed to all manner of bodily fluids and functions.  At one point or another, you will accidentally ingest vomit, poop, snot, slobber, or likely, all of the above.  The first time it will be gross. You might gag or even get sick.  The second, third, fourth, get the picture?  All the times thereafter,
you will perfect what I like to call 'wet wipe efficiency.'   This is the practiced swipe of a single wet wipe to ensure all bodily fluids are removed and contained in the small pre-moistened rectangle that surely was an invention of God himself.  You will, in fact, become so proficient in this skill, you will be able to perform it without looking at your target, one-handed and backward, while driving and in a manner that will save the fluid from ever making contact with your children's clothes, thus saving their super-cute church outfit just in the nick of time.  (HINT:  It's all in the wrist.)  

Never say never. NEVER utter the words, "When I have kids, they/I/we will NEVER......"  Don't say it!  Don't even think it!  By doing so, you will be dooming yourself to the very thing you want most NOT to happen.  Trust me.  It's a dangerous road.  Before we had kids, I swore to everyone and everything that our children would NOT sleep in our bed.  No way.  Not going to happen.  Due to my horrid indiscretion in voicing this NEVER thought, my husband and I currently sleep on approximately four to five inches of bed space while our two-year-old daughter stretches sideways and/or upside down across the remaining area, snoring soundly while she uses my face as a pillow and rests her feet on my husband's ear.  (Word of warning:  Moving a child in this position is a delicate operation and needs to be undertaken with the utmost care.  If the transition is not a totally smooth one, the child will wake shrieking when her body hits the ice-cold, razor sharp, flower-patterned sheets of the dreaded toddler bed and you will be forced to endure thirty more minutes of squirming, kicking, twisting toddler before she is comfortable enough to sleep again; in your bed.)

Make friends with clutter.  Cleaning is something I do on a daily/weekly basis, depending on the chore at hand.  De-cluttering is a rusty skill remembered from a time when I didn't own any Thomas trains and there was no baby-doll play food picnic held in my kitchen every day.  There's a large difference in clean and clutter-free.  Find it, understand it, and make peace with it.  In our house, clean dishes, laundry, and toilets ALWAYS supersede floors free of kid-litter (books, dolls, cars, trains, and pirate accessories).  On the other hand, keep in mind some clutter is dangerous and should always be attended to before lights-out.  Prime example:  Legos.  Legos are great toys and provide my son and husband with hours of enjoyable time together.  However, a stray Lego in the kitchen floor after dark will sprout Ginsu knife blades and shards of glass. 

Home-economics anyone? All those things you thought you 'couldn't' do before you had kids (i.e. cooking, baking, sewing, and any other domestic achievement you had no interest in)?  Yeah, you'll wake up one day and find you've learned to do them all.  At the same time.  And when your kids are grown, I expect you'll actually have time to enjoy doing them.  In the meantime, you have the next twenty years or so to perfect your skills.  The product of the countless hours you will spend in the kitchen, covered in flour and sweating profusely. The hours spent poring over cookbooks and sewing machine manuals and wondering in the end why the hat you're sewing for the baby doll has parsley sewn into the hem and the chicken breasts smell like Pledge.  And then one day, years from now, you'll be a super-cool grandma who not only can whip up some awesome chocolate chip cookies, but can sew a pair of shoes at the same time!

Most importantly, and in spite of everything I've listed above, you will love your child more than your own life.  There will be times when you won't be sure you have what it takes to parent them.  There will be times you will feel like you don't have any more patience, understanding, or even sanity left to face the remaining hours of the day.  There will be days you may not like your children very much (you will feel this especially as you navigate a shopping trip with a smart-mouthed kindergartener) and days you feel like a failure (days like when the Easter Bunny left the goodies under mommy and daddy's bed instead of in the baskets).  But you will always love them.  You may not realize it until they are asleep at night (still and quiet go along way toward nurturing good feelings), but parenting is one looong labor of love.  Our kids demand a lot from us (namely candy, just five more minutes of TV, apple juice, candy).  And though we know better than to give them everything they want, we can always give them what they need; love.  In His infinite wisdom, God tells us, "Love suffers long...bears all things...endures all things."  And when you're mopping up the third cup of hot chocolate spilled in a day or desperately searching for the Poison Control hotline number because your daughter might or might not have ingested nail polish, you're going to want to remember this tidbit of advice:

Love never fails.       

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why We Homeschool

We're a homeschooling family.  I've read several articles and books recently touting the 'renaissance' homeschooling seems to be enjoying.  I don't know if that is actually the case, or if homeschoolers (like us) are simply choosing to be a little more vocal about their choice to learn at home.  There are literally billions of different reasons families might choose homeschooling.  Some cite religious reasons, some have safety concerns, and some simply aren't satisfied with what local schools have to offer. For our family, homeschooling was something we spent a lot of time researching, discussing, and weighing before deciding to commit.  My husband is a product of private school, and I am a far less traditional cross-breed.  (Call me an educational 'mutt' if you will.)  I am a partial product of public school, homeschooling, and a miraculous program called "Dual Enrollment" where I had the chance to complete college courses for high school credit.  I went on to earn a degree in education, with the intention of teaching in the public school system (even though things didn't quite work out that way).  Needless to say, our educational backgrounds gave us a slightly different perspective when it came time to choose a path for our children's education.  The decision was made slightly more interesting for us when we realized our son was 'advanced' for his age and that our daughter had some special needs that would have to be addressed while planning her education.  And while there are pros and cons of any decision, homeschooling was the path that was the best choice and fit for us as a family.
My son's first sentence, written and illustrated at age four.
We enjoy being able to take a vested, personal approach to our children's learning.  We love that we can provide education that is absolutely individualized to their intellectual, emotional, and social needs and abilities.  Our son is doing math above his 'grade-level,' and working his way through phonics and reading using real, interesting literature, not a mass-produced textbook.  He thrives on routine and structure and counts the days until library story time and his play-date with friends each week.  My daughter has occupational therapy once a week and speech therapy three times weekly.  She also has some sensory and social issues we are able to monitor and address more thoroughly (I believe) at home than in a school-setting.  Homeschooling also allows us to 'bring it with us.'  My daughter's therapy mornings find my son and I camped out in the clinic's waiting room, reading a book, working on math, or playing a word game.  At home, we structure things (I highly recommend the investment of a cheap kitchen timer!) so that they have time to do activities together, such as Play-Doh or block building, and then time for individual work.  This enables me to spend time with each of them, working with my daughter on her apraxia flashcards, or doing a reading lesson with my son.  It is not always simple or easy.  There are many days when things don't go as planned and we have to get creative.  Some lessons work beautifully; some flop.  Some days my daughter cooperates and lets my son work without interruption; some days are just one looong interruption, with a little work squeezed in between.
Mama said there'd be days like this...
 Homeschooling is not for everyone.  My husband and I happen to love it and have a mutual passion for it.  Your house may not think or feel the same way.  Homeschooling may not be of interest to you or it may not be a possibility for you.  And that's okay.  There are great ways to stay involved in your children's education, even if you don't choose to do ALL their schooling at home.  And even though homeschooling is what works best for us on many levels, things are not always smooth-sailing.  At times, I really feel the added stress of not only having a mountain of laundry to tackle and dinner to get ready, but lesson plans to make, supplies to get ready, and record-keeping to complete.  There are times when we look at our budget and wonder if we wouldn't be doing ourselves a favor if both of us worked, instead of scraping to make ends meet for the sake of me and the kids' staying home.  However, at the end of the day, we know we've made the right choice.  Homeschooling just works for us.  It brings us together as a family, requires us to work together, and opens each of us to sharing our interests and knowledge (I have no idea how the landing gear on a plane works; go ask Daddy!).  I believe we are a happier, healthier family because of homeschooling. 

Unfortunately, we've already encountered those who seem to believe our children will be 'odd' and unsocialized; ultimately unable to function in the "real" world because of their lack of traditional classroom education.  Our answer to them goes something like this:
This is his "I'm so excited I found a turtle" face!
Our children are being educated in the "real" world each day.  Each trip to the library, grocery store, hiking trail, or bank is an opportunity for them to learn what kind of place the world is.  Their social encounters range from play-dates at the park with children of various ages, to conversations with adults in the store checkout line or a keeper at the zoo.  My kids learn values, morals, and ethics from their daily interactions and experiences, rather than from a worksheet or because they received an award for doing so.  They are intrinsically motivated to learn for the sheer joy of finding out something new and exciting.  Their idea of a vacation is a trip to visit an art museum or aquarium where they can continue to gain knowledge about things they love and the world around them.  To me, this doesn't sound odd, unsocialized, or unable to function.  It sounds rather like the kind of adult I strive to be daily.  And THAT is why we homeschool.  My message in all of this is not to try to 'convert' you all to become homeschoolers.  It is to encourage you to do what's right for your family and for your children, even if it may be the more difficult path or the road less traveled.  Trust me, the payoff is amazing. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

5 o'clock Somewhere

Ahhh, 5 o'clock.  Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet sang a song about it.  Dolly Parton was in a movie about it. (Come on, admit it; you've watched "9 to 5" at least once!)  5 o'clock is that mystical time of day when workers kick up their heels and head out on the town for some good timin' fun.  The banks close (well, some of them still do), evening officially begins, and people everywhere breathe deep sighs of relief as they leave the office and head for some place quiet and restful...  Or at least, that's what I'm told other people do.

5 o'clock at our house usually looks more like this:


5 o'clock is the time of day that finds my youngest and only daughter, whose digestive system seems to run on "Early Bird Special" time, making irrational food demands such as "Waffle!" or most recently; "Notha one off dwop!"  Roughly translated that means, "Give me another cough drop or I'll rip things off the walls and throw the barstools across the kitchen!"  (Yes, that seriously happens.  For a slightly built two-year-old she harbors surprising amounts of brute strength.  It's rather like watching The Hulk rip out of his clothes and turn green.  Disturbing, yet you can't look away.)

                                                                       Hulk smash.

5 o'clock is the time of day my eldest and only son decides he REALLY NEEDS to play a computer game, because he's only had like two and half minutes to play the computer all week!  (The five-year-old part of me sometimes shouts, "NOT TRUE!")  5 o'clock is also his cue to 'remember' that he 'forgot' to do all of his chores, then subsequently have a meltdown because he doesn't have TIME to do them now, he's busy playing Curious George games and he CAN'T pause them, he doesn't know HOW!!

                                                              Chores?  What chores?!?

What am I doing at 5 o'clock you ask?  Oh, I'm that blur in the background flitting back and forth between trying not to burn whatever is on the stove, herding children and dogs out of the kitchen so they don't burn on the stove, picking up the pretend kitchen paraphernalia that it was necessary for the children to get out so they could 'cook' dinner but forgot to pick up when it was done (plastic play knives can really hurt when you step on them in bare feet).  I am the one sweeping up that pile of crusty stuff in the corner, scooping the Thomas trains back in the basket, wiping that ever-naked rear end, and putting the dog out because she was sitting on the kitchen table yet again...

                                       What do you mean I'm not SUPPOSED to be up here?

Sometimes, I take a time-out from all that hard work to save a baby doll that mysteriously got stuck in a tree.

Other times, I pause, take a deep breath, and say a quiet prayer that goes like this, "Serenity now, serenity now, serenity now," because someone (I won't say who) decided 5 o'clock is much too late to eat dinner and they MUST HAVE SNACK NOW.

It's okay, don't apologize.  You probably didn't see me.  I was moving pretty fast.  Because 5 o'clock is my time of day to realize I haven't actually sat down all day and I forgot to eat lunch.  It's the time of day when I use every last ounce of my willpower to keep from making that ever-tempting and oh-so alluring second pot of coffee.  It's the time I usually shout to no one in particular, "WHY IS THIS FLOOR SO STICKY AGAIN?!?!"  Then I pointedly ask my beautiful daughter where she hid the mop this time, go into the back yard, wrestle it away from the dogs, remember I haven't fed the dogs, throw the dogs some food, then realize someone dumped the dogs' water out in the back doorway, get the dogs some water, come back in the laundry room, realize the laundry in the washer needs to be switched to the dryer, switch said laundry, put the white clothes in the washer (and make a mental note to come back and put the bleach in later - HA!).  At this point, I stop and stare bemusedly at the mop in my hand, trying to figure out why I have it.  During this 30 second interlude of quiet puzzlement, I hear a sizzling sound.  Dinner.  I put the mop down, step through the sticky stuff, check the pan on the stove that is now making ominous hissing noises. (Chicken breasts always hiss when they're good and done; didn't you know that?!)  Tell the kids dinner is ready and no, it's not waffles and cough drops.  No it's not hot dogs or baloney either.  Sit down and eat it anyway and we DO NOT throw rice.  We DO NOT let the dog eat off of our plate.  We EAT the chicken, not put it in other people's drinks!

By this time, an hour or more has passed and Daddy has called to say he's on his way home.  (Insert sigh of relief here.)  I'd raise my glass to all of you who are living it up at 5 o'clock (I picture you in a sunny place, drinking something fruity), but my glass of milk is covered in cough drop slobber and it's collected a few 'floaters', which look suspiciously like chicken, so I think I'll take a pass this time.

However, after dinner is over, baths are finished (that's a story for another day), and Daddy is FINALLY home...this is my reward:  

  And 9 times out of 10, I all but forget about 5 o'clock...that is, until tomorrow.

 You want my advice for the 5 o'clocks in life? See the humor.  Savor the moment.  And know there will be times that require a second pot of coffee.