Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Potty Training: It's Not You, It's Them

Don't worry, this isn't your typical potty training tips post. You know me better than that. You may be at your wits end with potty training and you may want to know what you can do to just get your kid to use the damn potty already. Well, I can answer that: nothing. That's right, potty training really has nothing to do with you or me. My oldest son was potty trained at just over two. People were impressed. "Wow, how did you do that?" they would say. While I would love to bask in potty training guru glory, the truth is I didn't do anything. Sure, I bought the cute and oh so much fun to clean mini toilet, traveling potty seat, and Thomas the Tank Engine under pants. Sure, I had sticker charts and potty songs and cheerios for aiming. I asked, "Do you have to go potty?" every 3.47 seconds. None of those things are the reason my first son was potty trained at two. He was potty trained at two because that's when he happened to be ready. It was his personality. He hated being wet and as soon as I put him in pull ups he would hold it until he was on the potty. As soon as I put him in under pants he peed in them twice, got really upset about his wet pants, and we were done with diapers. I take no credit.

Fast forward four years. My youngest son just turned three. His response to "Do you have to go potty?" is always a resounding, "No!" I bought the cool and oh so fun to clean Thomas the Tank Engine potty that actually plays the theme song when used. I have potty books and songs. We have watched potty training YouTube videos. Yes, this is a thing. Apparently there's a YouTube instructional video for everything these days. I bought PAW Patrol under pants and I put an enormous sticker chart in the bathroom. I have bribed with chocolate, toys, a pony. He doesn't care. I thought maybe I would just put him in under pants. He would hate having an accident so much that he would be potty trained from that day forward. I mean, what works for one kid will automatically work for another, right? Riiigght. I don't want to get graphic but he had an accident of both varieties in his underpants and continued playing like nothing at all was amiss. Not only did my plan fail miserably, but I also had to argue with my six year old about whether or not it was against the law to throw soiled under pants in the garbage. Trust me, the risk of jail time was well worth not cleaning that underwear.

So, how's potty training going? It is very one step forward two steps back. Sometimes he'll sit on the potty and sometimes he'll run from it screaming like I am asking him to sit on broken glass. Whatever. It will happen when he's good and ready and it won't happen when I'm ready. I am suddenly channeling those Luvs commercials that show the difference between a mom's approach to he first and second kid. Here's my own personal Luvs commercial:

First kid: Gasp! "He has to get potty trained! What will the other moms think! Bring on the underwear! Put him on the potty every twenty minutes! Potty training everything!"

Second kid: "Meh, it'll happen."

Which is not to say I have not tried the same tricks with both kids, because trust me I have. So, yeah, if your kid is the Mark Zuckerberg of potty training, feel free to brag but we all know your kid was just ready early. Likewise, if your four year old thinks the toilet is a modern day torture chamber and he's rockin those pull ups while you are bombarded with stories of how your third cousin's ex boyfriend's sister's niece's kid mastered elimination communication at four months and have you tried X, Y, or Z take heart. It's not you. Your kid may not be ready or he or she might be too busy mastering something else to worry about a mundane task like using the toilet. I promise, it's not you, it's them. As an aside, please don't ask a potty training parent if they've tried (insert potty training trick here). Chances are they have. Potty training is not really a milestone and it has nothing to do with your child's intelligence. It'll happen.

Hey, no joke, while I was writing this post my three year old just made a deposit in the potty. The only thing I hadn't tried: Internet shaming! And I though I didn't hold the secret to successful potty training.....

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Diagnosis

There it was in black and white. It wasn't a surprise; in fact, it was exactly what I'd been suspecting for years. Still, on paper it looked so official, so permanent, so undeniable. Autism spectrum disorder, level one. Before the diagnostic label changed, this would have been called Aspergers disorder. Level one is now used to signify a high level of functioning. The diagnosis specified an exclusion of verbal or cognitive delays. It's all very clinical. Except it's not. It's my child.

He's the same child he was before the diagnosis, but I'm not the same parent. As one friend put it, I'm now part of a club that no one wanted to join, but if you have to join the "autism mom's group" you will find a lot of support. We came to this diagnosis after a seven hour two day psychological evaluation. I know a lot of parents with children on the spectrum can pinpoint an age where their child changed or regressed, a time when they began to notice something was a little different. I can pinpoint this time to when my child turned three. I used to joke that he bypassed the terrible twos and became totally different at three. Except it really wasn't a joke. Of course, the question even science cannot yet answer isn't why but what? What causes autism? Is it linked to the mysterious week long high fever my son contracted two weeks before his third birthday? Is it genetic, biological, or both? Is there a causal relationship between autism and vaccines or diet? I can't answer any of these questions, and if I have learned one thing through curve balls in life it's to make peace with the not knowing. It's human to want answers. When we know why something happened, it is easier to wrap our heads around it. In reality not everything has a discernible reason.

I will most likely never know the why of my son's autism, but I know the what. I know what to call the bundle of symptoms: the non stop talk about obsessive interests, the difficulty reading social cues, the separation anxiety, the sensitivity to smells and noises, the rigidity and the outbursts. More importantly, I also know the who. The part that can't be summed up on paper. The boy who insisted on using his own money to buy his brother a birthday present. The boy who is incredibly smart, who can tell you all about garbage and recycling, and more recently, Kidz Bop and Taylor Swift. The boy who is fiercely loyal to his friends and does not hesitate to stand up for a classmate being picked on. The boy who asks if we can learn about undertows in school this week. The boy who thinks more than the average person and also has an impressive degree of self awareness. Sometimes when he is still awake two or three hours after being tucked in he will tell me, "Mom, sometimes my mind gets the best of me. It's like a computer with pictures in it and the pictures keep coming up on the screen." I am glad that he can explain this. The who I knew before the diagnosis.

So what does a "label" mean, exactly? The very use of labels is controversial. Despite efforts to raise awareness, there still exists a pervasive belief that autism is nothing but the latest fad label. Awareness of the spectrum is limited. Some people have an image of autism as a kid that can't communicate at all. Some have an image of a quirky genius. Autism is both of these things and neither of these things; the autism spectrum is everything in between. The saying goes, "If you've met one person with autism then you've met one person with autism", Why the label? The diagnosis is a tool. The diagnosis tells me not only the what but the where and the how. I know where to turn for support, resources, and the therapies that will help my child and us as his parents manage his struggles and build upon his strengths. I know how to understand his beautiful mind a little better and I know how to meet his needs. Not entirely, of course. Not perfectly. But better.

We have decided to continue homeschooling, gradually increasing the hours he spends at the school he attends for homeschooled children. The teacher and administrators have already been wonderfully accommodating, intervening promptly and effectively when he was having difficulties with a classmate, allowing him to choose not to participate in recess, and allowing him to participate in the chapel with fewer children when the all school chapel was too loud and overwhelming for him. The latter two accommodations were made without me asking. The small classroom of only nine kids and the small lunchroom allow him to be more comfortable but still challenges him to function socially and within a group. He is also in an environment where his individuality and needs are respected, which is the best way for him to learn. He will also begin participation in a social skills group and take classes at the local public school. His IQ tested in the 94th percentile, so we are hoping to get him in some advanced classes that meet his need to be challenged and his comfort level. Finally, we are working on visual schedules to help him with transitions. He does best when he knows what to expect and has some control over his environment.

When he is old enough to understand we will tell him about his diagnosis, because it is nothing to hide. We never want him to feel ashamed. It will be up to us to explain what it means. He has difficulties that many people don't experience, but he also has a unique way of seeing the world. He can understand things that others cannot. He feels more deeply and thinks more intently, which means his lows may be lower but his highs will also be higher. When he's old enough I plan to have him volunteer with me one Saturday a month when I work with kids on the spectrum. I believe that God calls us to use not only our gifts but also our struggles to help others. I want him to use his unique mind to understand and reach out to other kids who might be struggling, or might not seem to fit in.

 That will be his lesson. Mine is to always trust my parenting instincts. When my son started kindergarten at five I saw him sitting in the lunchroom with his hands tightly over his ears and tears rolling down his face while kids talked over and around him. I saw the teacher carry him into the classroom kicking and screaming. I listened when he begged me not to make him keep going to that school. I listened to my instinct and to my child, not to the "experts" who told me, "Oh, Mrs. Clark, kids do this. He's fine. He'll adjust. Maybe you just need to learn to let go?" Or maybe my child is on the spectrum and cannot handle a noisy lunchroom or a crowded classroom or a long school day. I tried to tell myself it was just a phase, he was just young, things would work themselves out, but I didn't believe it. As a parent, you know your child. If you know in your gut something is going on, don't let the word "just" enter your vocabulary. You are the first expert and only advocate for your child. Trust yourself and trust your child.

 If you are a fellow autism parent, I can't tell you why your child has autism, but I can tell you why your child has you: because you are the best for them. You are the perfect person to love them, struggle with them, fight for them, guide them, and sometimes just fumble blindly through the dark with them. If autism is not a part of your life, I simply ask you to understand that there is no single picture of autism. That child in the grocery store who is too old to be acting like that might be on the spectrum. So might the cashier. By the same token, a child on the spectrum may appear to be function no differently than any other child, but this doesn't mean the diagnosis is any less legitimate. This same child may go home tonight and refuse to sleep until all of his money is counted and he had read no more or less than three chapters in his book. If you've met my son you've met an intelligent, empathetic, loyal, intuitive boy who will talk your ear off about Taylor Swift and Kidz Bop. You've also met one person with autism.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Being Instead of Doing: Holiday Happiness

The holiday season is upon us. It's that time of the year when many of us vow to make this one count, to put aside the chaos and just enjoy time spent with family and friends without getting overly complicated with gifts, decorations or elaborate celebrations. It's the vow I make every year and the one I consistently break.

I often shake my head at how early the stores get on the holiday bandwagon, putting up decorations before Halloween. Some even start in September, just after the kids start back to school. But, even though I don't want to be reminded of the winter holidays before I get a handle on fall, these months seem to fly by at an alarming rate. Once school starts, time is measured in school days that seem to be shorter than summer days. When you add in school, sports, activities, appointments, and homework, there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish it all. Now add in over a month of holiday preparation with school performances, special events, parties, clothes shopping, gift buying, baking, and cooking. Days shrink, hours fly, and many find themselves just trying to get through the holidays rather than enjoying them - often welcoming January and the end of all the fuss.

How do we find time to enjoy these next two months with a loaded calendar of obligations? I recently wrote a novel about a mother who dies tragically and comes back to her family as a ghost. She is given an opportunity to view her life - her shortcomings, and her achievements. Most importantly and sadly, she realizes her busy life got in the way of what she truly wanted.

"She was so busy doing that she wasn’t being. Too worried about the future rather than focusing on the present."

How many times are we too busy doing and not being? I often remind myself of this failure - my failure to be present in the moment, to take it all in and enjoy each minute as though it were my last. It's easy to get sucked into the everyday tasks that consume us, and when we add the holidays to our already hectic schedule, we tend to become stressed and have difficulty enjoying this time that's all about giving thanks, celebrating life, family, and the joy that each brings. 

This year I have decided I am going to work on really celebrating the holidays without the stress I have added to it in years past. I am not going to flip out if my Thanksgiving meal doesn't go as planned; I'm not going to spend countless hours shopping for unnecessary gifts while wading through packed malls with crabby, rude people. I'm not going to pack my calendar with activities that don't fill me with the spirit of the holidays or spend money just because 'tis the season! Instead, I'm going to just be this holiday season. How? Here are some tips, you may find helpful that I hope to follow:

1. If you must shop, do it early! The number one stressor for me is shopping. I get so busy the closer I get to Christmas, I don't seem to have much time to shop and eventually find myself swearing under my breath as I rummage through the picked over items less than a week before Christmas. I end up buying random shit (yes, shit) that will probably never be used or appreciated by its recipient - they needed something to unwrap so why not unwrap shit? How much money am I going to save by waiting for the sales? Is it worth crawling over people or losing time I could be reading a book by the fire or having treasured time with family or friends? Nope.

2. Bake ahead of time and enjoy! Set a day to bake some of your favorite holiday treats ahead of the rush. You can freeze them and take them out when you are ready to enjoy them. Have someone stopping by for a glass of hot spiked cider? Pull out your cookies and soak in the holiday visit. Also, stock your pantry with easy snacks you can pull out if company pays a visit. Keep some cream cheese and salsa or other perishables that have a long shelf life in the fridge for easy snacks.

3. Buy hostess gifts and wrap ahead. Have them ready "just in case" you are invited to a party or get-together. I don't usually have time to run out and get a gift each time I am invited somewhere. Having some things on hand, takes the stress out of attending these events.

4. Wrap gifts a little at a time, so you are not doing it at three in the morning! I am so guilty of waiting until the night before Christmas to wrap, not realizing how much I have to wrap and kicking myself the entire night, swearing I will not do it next year (but I do anyway!). 

5. Plan time with friends and family - those who you cherish and want to celebrate with. Many have them - the family who we don't jive with. Those who we see out of obligation - that's almost unavoidable. But make sure you spend extra time with those who make you happy and who won't give you the white glove test or don't care if you didn't get them a gift.

6. Plan fun time with your family. Take an evening to play board games, watch a special movie, bake cookies, enjoy community events. Put it on the calendar and commit to spending that time. Time with family is something you will never get back. Kids grow up, parents age and the time will come when not everyone will be able to be together. Make this time count so you never regret what you wish you would have done - just do it!

7. Take time to do something for someone less fortunate. Sponsor a family for Thanksgiving, Christmas or a holiday you celebrate. Work at a soup kitchen, collect toys for the needy, help a senior decorate their home, invite someone from the military who can't go home for the holidays to have Thanksgiving or Christmas with you. There are so many ways to share the holidays with your family and those less fortunate or lonely. This is the season of giving, and the best type of giving doesn't cost a cent. What you give, comes back and warms your heart, knowing you have touched the life of someone else.

8. Keep the house in order. Give each family member a job so the house stays in some order during the holidays. The goal is to keep it tidy enough that if someone pops in, you don't have to run around like a crazy person and clean. Have the kids pick up their things and bring them to their rooms before they go to bed, load dishwasher and run it while you sleep, keep kitchen counters clean and de-cluttered, tidy up one room that you can entertain guests. Life happens in our homes every day and we can't expect our homes to be spotless. If we spend just a few minutes every day keeping down the mess, it will be ready for those wonderful, impromptu get-togethers. 

7. STOP and listen. Listen to what this holiday season is telling you. It's probably telling you to slow down, inhale, reflect, appreciate, give thanks and just be. It won't be easy to push aside what you think you have to do, but when January comes around, knowing you made the most of the holidays by being instead of doing will be empowering and intrinsically rewarding. If only we could box and wrap the time we would traditionally spend shopping and hand it to those we love, we would have countless hours of laughter, memories and a sense of belonging beyond any monetary gift. Truly, the best gift we could ever give is time.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Suicide and Survivor's Guilt

It's October second. Suicide prevention month is over, but we need to keep the conversation going. Jan wrote and excellent and very important post on suicide awareness. I won't reiterate the signs symptoms, because she lined them out so accurately. I do want to address another aspect of the tragedy of suicide. Namely, those left behind. The survivors.

It seems as though almost everyone has been touched by suicide. Well-loved actor Robin Williams' suicide on August 11, 2014 shocked the world. Robin Williams brought joy to many people and he had a great penchant for humor. Obviously, that didn't mean he wasn't suffering. If anything positive can come from the wake of such a tragedy it's that it got people talking. It put a face to the disease. Suicide is not a moral failing, a sin, or a weakness. I have read the buzz line, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". I am going to call bullshit on that quote. Yes, obviously suicide is permanent. Death is permanent. We know that. But mental illness, the kind of soul sucking mental illness that leads to death is rarely temporary. Also, the phrase "temporary problem" minimizes the torment that the person experiences. Robin Williams was in his sixties when he lost his battle with mental illness. How many decades did he spend trying to get better before he finally couldn't do it anymore? My point is that mental illness is real and we need to stop minimizing it. The cute little anti depressant commercials with the sad egg bouncing around until it finds a ray of sunshine and smiles don't really cut it. People need to know that seeking help and, when necessary, taking prescribed medication to treat mental illness is no more shameful than watching diet and taking insulin for diabetes. To me, insinuating that mental illness is "a temporary problem" feeds into the "just get over it" mentality. Understanding that managing a mental illness and taking medication is often a life long process just like the management of any chronic illness will make it easier for people to get help, and with help there's hope.

Today quoted Robin Williams' daughter Zelda about the loss of her father: "There's no point questioning it and no point blaming anyone for it and there’s no point blaming yourself or the world or whatever the case may be because it happened and you have to continue to move and you have to continue to live and manage."  This brings me back to my original focus. Every suicide reverberates through time and space affecting many lives. A little over a month ago I was outside playing with the kids when my next door neighbor walked over in tears. She said that her 27 year old step son who she had raised from the age of 15 had shot and killed himself late the night before. Her husband had flown out to California the moment he found out about his eldest son's passing. I hugged her and told her how sorry I was to hear the news. She went on to say that he had been the happiest kid, and while he had struggled with depressive episodes on and off, he had seemed to be doing better. She said something I think many survivors can relate to, "If only he would have told us, we would have done anything to help him". I responded, "There was nothing anyone could do". I didn't know the son,but I know his suicide wasn't their fault, or the fault of the girlfriend with whom he had broken things off with just days before. Of course, I'm sure there were many triggers, but the son didn't pick up the phone and call his parents or a friend or the emergency room because in that moment he wasn't in his right state of mind. He was sick. I don't mean he was "crazy". I mean biochemically and neurologically his brain was not functioning properly. The survival instinct that drives us and keeps us safe was shut off. Autopsies of suicide victims's brains suggest the disturbance of the HPA axis and implications of serotonin 1A( 5-HT1A) and serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) In other words, brain chemistry is compromised, muting the person's instinct to persevere and survive. Combine this with life events and feeling overwhelmed  with struggles that seem anything but temporary, and you have a catalyst. A perfect storm in the brain.

My neighbor has become very quiet. He keeps to himself a lot. Does he know it's not his fault?The grief of a loved one's death is compounded when that death is a suicide. It is nothing short of torture to live with what ifs, but the best thing to do is talk about it. Help to remove the stigma. Don't be ashamed. Many people conceal the cause of a loved one's death because they don't want them to be remembered "that way" and while I don't mean to say their is a wrong way to cope, I think this only perpetuates unnecessary shame. Education and action is power. For example, geting involved in an Out of the Darkness walk to support suicide prevention research is a great way to take action and experience camaraderie.

Survivor's guilt is defined as the condition in which a person feels a sense of wrong doing when they survived an event that others did not. (survivor's guilt) If you have lost someone to suicide, it is not your fault. I know you may not believe me, but it needs to be said. Maybe you had a fight with the person or had an estranged relationship. Maybe you look back on things they said or did and wish you had reacted differently. Maybe you are angry at them. You wish you had known, but you couldn't have. Your loved one was sick and nothing you said or did, didn't say or didn't do caused them to commit suicide. We have to work to promote education on mental illness and suicide. We don't have to be ashamed. We also have to remember to take care of the survivors. As Jan mentioned, family members of suicide victims are at a higher risk for suicide.Its time to stop the shame because monsters live in the dark. It's time to come out of the darkness and take care of all those who have been touched by suicide. It's not your fault.





Friday, September 18, 2015

Suicide - I Challenge You To Make a Difference

A year ago, on September 11th, 2014, a well-liked, outgoing student from my kids school killed himself. When the notice was emailed to the parents, letting us know of the tragedy and what our kids would be facing when they entered school the next day, I was plagued by the question "why?" Why would a young man who appeared to be so happy, take his own life? Everyone who spoke of this young man said how happy he was, how he was rarely seen without a large smile on his face and how he was well liked by a significant percentage of the school population. This baffled me. What caused him to take such a drastic measure when he appeared to be just fine.

Unfortunately, we don't always get all of the answers. The answers are silenced when the person takes his or her life, leaving those in pain grasping for a reason, understanding and a release from their own guilt and unimaginable grief.

Being that September is Suicide Prevention Month, I want to touch on the signs and behaviors to look out for among your friends and family. It's easy to dismiss some of these signs and behaviors because you may think your friend or family member would never do such a thing, but that's exactly what those left in the aftermath of a suicide say. "I never thought he was capable of this," seems to be heard all too often.

Those at the highest risk of suicide are the following:

1. Teens - This is obvious. Hormones, school struggles, family dysfunction, depression. There are so many reasons why teens contemplate or commit suicide. They are going though significant body changes causing unattractive breakouts, oily hair, body odor and so on. Because of these changes, they may be the subject of bullying causing their self-esteem to plummet. They may struggle with friendships, making them feel unliked and insignificant. They may deal with stressful family situations that they keep hidden, or they could be experiencing a true clinical depression that they just don't understand.

2. Those who have suffered severe physical or emotional trauma. Perhaps a close family member dies, a crime was committed against them, or they were injured physically in an accident. Also, losing a job, a good friend or financial stability can also have a direct impact. These traumas can take people to a dark place where they feel they can't escape.

3. Those who suffer from addiction. Whether someone is addicted to drugs, alcohol or some other addiction that runs their life, it can cause them to want out with as little pain as possible. Also, drugs and alcohol take away inhibitions making it easier to act out on suicidal thoughts.

4. Those who suffer from mental illness. Whether it's depression, Bi-Polar Disorder or some other mental illness, those who suffer from it, just want the pain to go away. Medication for these different disorders is not always as scientific or precise as we would like it to be, leaving some trying multiple different medicines without significant improvement.

5. A friend or family member has committed suicide. Oddly, suicide can be contagious. It has sometimes been romanticized as well as sensationalized making it look appealing.

Some signs to be aware of:

* Feelings of hopelessness
* Inability to sleep
* Panic attacks
* Socially isolating themselves
* Feeling of being a burden
* Anger/rage

Look for these behaviors:

* Increased use of alcohol or drugs
* Looking for ways to kill themselves; talking about how they would do it
* Acting recklessly
* Isolating themselves from family and friends
* Drastic change in sleeping habits - sleeping too much or too little
* Gives away prized possessions
* Becomes aggressive
(info found on www.afsp.org)

Also, keep an eye out for those who may appear overly happy. I'm not saying that being overly happy is a behavior that leads to suicide, but it is a way for those who hurt inside to hide. Sometimes, those who seem to have it all together and seem so incredibly happy are only using that to mask the pain that is manifesting itself on the inside.

The big question is what to do if you think your loved one is suffering from some of these symptoms. It's obvious that help is needed and as soon as possible, but that may not be welcomed by the one who is suffering. If they refuse help, you need to at least keep the lines of communication open. Always guide with a gentle hand. Forcing someone to do something they don't want to do will probably only cause them to become more resistant. If they won't get help, you need to reach out and get help from a professional so they can guide you in how to handle your friend or family member. There are a number of websites and toll-free phone numbers that can help you immediately.

I am not an expert on suicide, and I encourage you to do your own research and gather your own tools for prevention. But, I must share with you some advice based on an experience I had yesterday.

I went to order my daughter some food at a local fast food restaurant and started to take a seat on the bench to wait for my order. I already had my phone in hand, ready to check out Facebook and emails when an older woman made a spectacle of herself while trying to sit down on the bench next to me. My first thought was, "please don't talk to me, please, please please!" but, of course she did. She joked about her unsteadiness and then she introduced herself, telling me to shake her hand harder, "no, squeeze harder. C'mon, you can squeeze harder!" She then complimented me on my blouse and told me how important it was to her to make sure everyone she met, knew that she noticed something nice about them. She made this her mission. She believed that too often, we ignore those around us, not even saying hello when time and space allow for it, and I have to agree. I can't tell you how many times I would look away to avoid saying hello to a stranger. After I had left, I thought about what she said, and it really resonated with me.

What if we all spent more time with our eyes open to those around us? What if we said the one thing that a person who was struggling, needed to hear? A kind compliment, a helping hand - something that says I CARE ABOUT YOU. Think back to the last time someone complimented you on something you wore - your hair, your smile or a great job you completed. Didn't it make you feel good? And what if that person was a complete stranger? Wouldn't the compliment heighten that feeling even more knowing someone who doesn't know you, noticed something special about you?

I challenge you to reach out. Try finding something special in those around you and pay homage to it. You never know when that little act could have such an enormous ripple effect and change the direction of someone's life for the better. Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference.

If you're in for the challenge, post yes in the comments. Please share your experience with us as well! I would love to hear how people reacted to your positivity!

Monday, September 14, 2015

"But What About Socialization?"

My neighbor asked, her eyes widening slightly. Ah yes, the number one question all homeschoolers get upon disclosing their status. Yes, what about socilization? We were at our annual neighborhood pig roast (because my neighborhood is cool like that) when I encountered this question, and not for the first time. Amist good food and chatting, my next door neighbor asked me how my first grader was doing in school. This is a friendly, straightforward, small talk type question. I responded that he is doing well, and oh by the way I don't know if I told you this but I am homeschooling this year. She said I hadn't told her, and what led me to this decision? I shared some of our struggles in kindergarten and some of the factors leading to our decision. Then came the question I was expecting:

"Well, you should get him back into school next year, because, you know, what about socialization?"

I looked across the blocked off street to where my six year old was digging and running around with several other neighborhood kids of varying ages. Hmm, yes, what about socialization.

I was going to make this a mad Mondays post, except I relized that this question doesn't actually make me mad. Aside from the fact that I love my neighbor and I know she has the best of intentions, I think this common question most often comes from a lack of knowledge about and exposure to homeschooling. After all, homeschooling isn't mainstream although it is becoming more common, and aren't homeschoolers just a little weird, a little, extreme, a litle rebellious?

Before I began looking into homeschooling my own child, I didn't know a single person who homeschooled or who was homeschooled. I had neither positive nor negative opinions regarding benefits or drawbacks. It literally wasn't on my radar. Deciding to homeschool for me was like deciding to move to outer space. People either admired and supported me, nodded and smiled the way you would at someone who has lost touch with reality, or openly worried for my sanity hoping that this was a phase that would pass, like my college days of drinking cheap beer and wearing graphic tee shirts. Realizing I needed additional information and additional support, I sought out other homeschooling moms. Turns out, they do exists! *Channeling Santa from M&M's over played Christmas commercial.

I found some wonderful moms through the church where my son attended preschool and when I shyly asked if I could pick their brains, they set up a homeschool Q and A session over coffee. They showed me curriculum materials and shared the ins and outs of their homeschool days, even inviting me into their homes to see homeschooling in action! One mom had just finished her first year of homeschooling and she assured me that it was normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning, that when she started she felt as though she'd jumped into the middle of the ocean without a life vest. I couldn't have come up with a better analogy (although my outer space analogy was pretty bad ass). Both of these moms have first graders. I would have expected some competition among homeschooling parents. I saw the opposite. They were falling all over each other telling me how smart the other person's kid was! I am now part of their weekly social group and they welcomed me with opened arms. Both of my boys get to play with kids their own age since as it turns out they all have toddlers as well. I have found the homeschooling community to be very supportive. They believe strongly that homeschooling is best - not for every family - but for their family. Also, I think they like chatting with people on common ground. My first grader also attends a co-op eight hours a week where he learns, prays, plays, and eats with first and second graders in a smaller classroom. He also takes two elective classes at a local church on Fridays. These classes are multi level which give him a chance to work with older and younger kids. After all, how many offices or companies do you know of that segregate people by age? Learning to interact with people of all ages is definitely a useful social skill.

Aside from co-ops, cub scouts, religious education at our Catholic Church, and karate, he also sees his long time best friends often, which means I get to see my friends often. Win-win. He has known these kids since preschool or earlier, and he knows the value of maintaining long time friendships no matter where life takes you. Besides, his "girlfriend" lives just across the street and we live in a neighborhood full of kids.

Now, I don't like to make waves. I am not excited by controversy and believe it or not I hate arguing. Often times it's easier for me to smile and nod in a let's agree to disagree fashion in these situations. This was my first instinct when my neighbor asked me the socialization question. But I felt like I had to show my confidence in my decision to homeschool my son. Also, I know I can express a differing opinion politley, after all we were just two neighbors shooting the breeze at a barbeque. I told my neighbor that in traditional school socializing is limited to a forty minute lunch and recess, and then after school play or activities. I shared with her all of our activities, the wonderful, diverse people we have met, and our unwavering relationship with "old" friends. I also told her that homeschoolers are afforded far more resources than I had even imagined, and that homeschooling does not mean we sit in our house by ourselves all day every day. I mean, if that were the case I am pretty sure I would eventually resort to inviting Jehovah's Witnesses and solictors in for margaritas and adult converstion. (Both of whom are perfectly nice people, don't get me wrong.) After listening, my neighbor's gaze drifted over to my son, who was recruiting a gaggle of neighborhood kids to help him with his construction work, and ditch digging in our front yard, much to my husband's chagrin.

"Well," she responded, looking back at me, "Well, he sure does seem happy."

That's a good enough answer for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Toys That Seem Like a Good Idea But Actually Aren't

What is one of the most fun parts of having young kids? No, it's not the parent and toddler parking at the mall, although that is pretty sweet in the sub-zero weather. As a side note: owner of the two-seater sports car parked there,you are not fooling anyone. Actually now that I am thinking about it a lot of things are fun about having young kids, like having an excuse to eat ice cream in the middle of the day, the ability to play arcade games that I - I mean you secretly love without looking like a pedophile, the ability to chase the ice cream man without looking like a crazed stalker, the ability to swing on swings at the park without looking like a loser, and a chance to eat free birthday cake.

If this post has taught you anything so far it is that I am actually a child in an adult's body, but thirty-two-year-old women can't go around playing arcade games, unless we are "suffering through it" for our children. Also, I'm hungry for some cake and ice cream. Actually none of that is what I was going for but you know, I get distracted. I am really thinking about toys. No, not those kinds of toys. It is so much fun to sift through rattles and loveys while preparing a baby registry, or explore all the new gadgets while saying wistfully, "They didn't have shit like this when I was a kid". Except you say
"stuff" because, you know, your kid is with you. I am also irrationally excited when I see the retro toy section at Target. (Remember: kid in adult body.) I recently bought a wooden pull along snoopy for myse - I mean my two year old. I remember pulling my own tug a long snoopy around at his age, until our cannibalistic Lhasa Apso chewed it up.

Yep, you can find a lot of great toys out there, but I am here to warn you about the toys that seem great but actually are not. Now you can't trust yelp or any other hokey product review site for this information, because the people posting on those sites are either A), An undercover sales rep getting paid to pose as a satisfied customer (Like, I would totes give it six stars, but it only goes up to five!), or B), an actual parent who has children that LOVE the toy. What the B group doesn't tell you is how they, the parents, actually feel about the toy. I mean what kind of grinch insults classic children's toys? *Meekly raises hand in air. Hey, listen it's our money so we deserve to have an opinion about the toys we have been conned into buying outside of the opinion of little Johnny who thinks it's so much fun. A lot of these toys are classic and actually do seem great. Until you are cutting play dough out of your carpet. Which brings me to item number one:

Play Dough Remember the rubbery smell of play dough? Remember the feel of it in your hands as you rolled snakes and cut shapes? Remember the salty taste when you thought it was a good idea to eat some? No, only me? Okay, then. Play Dough is so great, it allows for creativity and the building of fine motor skills. You can make it yourself using a pound of organic peanut butter. It is in every preschool classroom. Do you know what else is in every preschool classroom? Cheap carpeting. Let's face it, no matter how many times you tell your kids to keep the play dough on the art table on the tile floor, pieces of play dough will inevitably make it into every crevice of your house. A piece will wind up on the carpet where someone will step on it with shoes on, because why not wear shoes in the house? At this point the play dough will be ground into your carpet to be removed only with scissors. Also, the "non-toxic" dye in the play dough will leave a nice stain on your carpet. If you want an excuse to buy a new throw rug, play dough is for you! Before you think I really am Scrooge, I will tell you that my kids have an entire bin of play dough and play dough sets, which they play with in the kitchen under supervision. All is well until I spend the next month sweeping up dried play dough crumbs. Oh, don't get me started on the dried play dough crumbs....

Bath Crayons I naively put this item on my son's first Christmas list. Drawing in the tub? What could be better to enhance the creativity of my future Picasso? Why not kill two birds with one stone and get clean and dirty at the same time? Besides, the crayons wash right off the walls of the bathtub just like they are designed to do, right? *Cue evil laughter of bath crayon manufacturers everywhere. If you feel so inspired after completing the task of yelling at your kid to get in the tub, scrubbing your kid, and yelling at your kid to get out of the tub that you find subsequent fulfillment in forcefully scrubbing your tub, then bath crayons are for you. My son was so creative that he not only wrote on the bathtub, but also the adjacent wall tiles and grout. No big deal, because it washes off, right? I may as well have given him a can of Benjamin Moore. The kids' bathroom looked like a greyhound bus station until a friend told me to try a combination of toothpaste and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Those things really are magic! Now the grout is only tinted slightly blue...

Bath Squirt Toys They are so cheap and cute until they start spitting tiny flecks of black mold into your nice soapy bubble bath. Mold bath, anyone? All you have to do is throw them out and replace them. Just do it on the sly because whatever fifty cent squirting duck that winds up in the garbage will suddenly be your child's very favorite bath toy, and oh, mom, can't you just clean it?

Toys That Include Microphones Giving a child a microphone is like giving the energizer bunny caffeine. They really don't need anything to amplify their natural noise level. This also applies to toys that sing, beep, or make otherwise obnoxiously loud noises. These toys will instantly be the ones your child gravitates toward. Especially when you are on the phone or trying to "rest your eyes", or fighting a migraine.

Building Sets That Brag the Inclusion of an Obscene amount of Pieces We have all seen those boxes: Includes 1,000 Pieces! The more pieces the smaller, by the way. If you A ), love to crawl around on the floor picking minuscule pieces of plastic out of your carpet for an hour each day, B), have no nerves in your feet, or C), get perverse pleasure out of building miniature Ikea furniture only with less explicit directions, then these play sets are for you! If you are thinking of buying one of these sets when it's on sale, factor in the inevitable ER bill when your toddler shoves a plastic screw up his nose. Also, good luck when your child screams, "Where is that little black triangle piece?"

Toy Food I know, what could be wrong with plastic food? Isn't it great for pretend play? Yes, yes it is. The reason young kids love pretend play is that the lines between fantasy and reality are still blurred. You child will lick and bite the plastic slice of pizza before forcefully offering it to you. Of course this will occur after he has resurrected the cat hair covered toy from underneath the couch.

Toys That Need A Team of Mechanics To Assemble These toys are usually great once they are put together. Just make sure you have your team assembled and no fewer than seven screw drivers handy. You'll need tools, too! These types of toys are especially useful on Christmas morning when everyone is overstimulated and wants the kitchen set up NOW!

Dolls That Pee and Poop Okay, I don't have girls so I can't speak to this one from experience, but just why? A real baby that pees and poops wasn't exciting enough? Besides, dolls are creepy. Think Chucky sans potty training. No thanks.

What are some toys that your kids love and you love to hate? You can tell us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Do You Suffer From FEELHAPERG?

On Friday, my husband, daughters and I moved my son into his college dorm. On Sunday, we said our goodbyes and walked away. I have been preparing for this day since the moment he was born, or at least I thought I was. But, no matter how much you prepare yourself for that day when you say your last goodbye and part ways, it will be emotional beyond what you ever imagined possible.

Sadness is not what I feel, although my tears may have indicated as such. I am not sad that he is leaving the nest and going on without me. Just like a momma bird, pushing her fledgling out of the nest and hoping it doesn't fall, I too, hope for that same result. My husband and I have nurtured him for eighteen years with as much love, attention and education as we were able to provide. We  have hopefully armed him with compassion, strong morals and values, a great sense of self-worth, a keen desire to absorb and devour an education not offered to all and, of course, survival skills when life becomes challenging. All of those things create the wings from which to fly.

But what is it that I feel? It's all so confusing and new. If I think of my emotions as colors, each one has an assigned color. Sadness would probably be blue, happy would be yellow, angry would be red, proud would be purple, and so on. Most often, I can associate with just one emotion or color, but now, I have so many emotions, that they all spilled and mixed and created a new color. It's a mix of pride, fear, happiness, envy, excitement, relief, eagerness, gratitude, amazement, and Love.

PRIDE: When a child completes certain milestones it's only natural to be proud of his/her accomplishments. I was so proud of my son when he crossed the stage and received his diploma. While we had some hiccups along his school journey, he persevered and made it. His struggles made the walk across the stage mean so much more than just getting a diploma, it meant he (we) survived the uphill marathon that ADD can create and we all came out fairly unscathed. Then came the college acceptance letters - schools that wanted our son to be a part of what they offered. He had a few choices but knew exactly where he needed to be. I am so proud of his hard work, for the young man he has become and for his choice of college. My heart swells with pride.

FEAR: Did I do enough? Teach him enough? Prepare him enough? Love him enough? Was there something I missed that could cause him to fail? Will he be safe? Will he make bad decisions? All these questions keep a sense of fear within me. Bad things can happen while away from my protective care, yes. And I can tell myself that he will be fine, but there will always be a feeling of fear because I am not there to protect him.

HAPPINESS: How can I not be happy for him?! He's going off to college! I am truly happy for him.

EXCITEMENT: I am also excited for him. A new chapter in his life has just begun. There are so many possibilities to explore, so many choices to make, so many new people to meet and forge friendships with. He's also moving to a completely different climate with actual weather that includes snow and rain!

ENVY: After strolling on his campus, I began to get a little envious of him. I loved college, and being on campus brought me back to those carefree days full of activities, people, camaraderie, and a sense of community and school spirit. Just being on campus put a little extra pep in my step with all its energy. I said more than once, how nice it would be to go back in time and experience some of my college days again.

RELIEF: Yes, I am relieved he's away at college. I don't think I could handle having him at home while taking college courses. I would feel as though I would need to micromanage him, and that would create a negative experience in our home and at school. He needs to take control of his education now. Other than paying for it, his education is completely in his hands and now I only have to micromanage two kids instead of three!

EAGERNESS: I am eager to see how he does away from home. I can only assume he will do great things. I can't wait to hear his excitement about people he has met, interesting classes he is taking and fun groups he joins. I am eager to see him shine and succeed and to grow into a self-sufficient, well rounded, educated man.

GRATITUDE: There is so much to be grateful for, and I owe it all to the Big Guy upstairs, God. I was given the gift to be my son's mother. God entrusted him to me and my husband to nurture, and while it has not always been easy, it has been a journey I would take over and over again. I am also grateful for the wonderful schools he attended, the teachers who inspired him, his caring and supportive friends, his extended family, and the opportunities he has had to see the world. I am also grateful for the fantastic university he is attending and them expressing their gratitude to us, the parents, for entrusting our son into their care.

AMAZEMENT: I am truly amazed at my son. When I held him in my arms after he was born, I couldn't even imagine what he would be like in eighteen years. It seemed so far away, with so many bridges to cross and milemarkers to pass. I wondered what he would look like and act like. I wondered if he would be super smart like his dad, or face challenges like his mom. I wondered if he would be into sports or music or technology, if he would be a leader or a follower. There was so much to wonder back then. But now, I know and am amazed at how amazing he truly is and how each step he took in his eighteen years has formed him into who he is today.

LOVE: I love him, plain and simple. No matter what choices he makes, good or bad, I will always love him with all of my heart.

So, with all of these emotions running through me, there is not a way to really say how I feel without going into great detail with each emotion. I decided to create my own emotion by creating a new word using the first letter of each emotion and arranging it to my liking. I first came up with flagherpee, but that sounded like what someone at a doctor's office would say when you are giving a urine sample. Nope, that would not work. Then I came up with feegraphel, refhapglee or feelhagper, but those didn't do it for me. Finally, I got it. FEELHAPERG! It's perfect! I feel happy and erg at the same time! I have created a new name for my emotions, so now, when someone asks me how I feel about my son being away at college I can say, "I'm feelhaperg about it."

If you need to share my new emotion, feel free. I am certain I'm not the only one experiencing feelhaperg. If you suffer from feelhaperg, please share in the comments!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I Want To Murder Mrs. Antbottom

I have a confession to make. I am suffering from homicidal ideation. I want to commit murder. Although I couldn't really do it, I find myself fantasizing about murdering this lady often. How would she go? Maybe a bus "accident"? Or maybe she would just happen to eat a bad apple? I certainly wouldn't stab her with a pencil, that would be too obvious. I'd have to make it look like an accident. I am not a violent person, but sometimes I feel like this woman has got to go. She never stops talking. Her voice is high pitched. She's an erratic driver. Sometimes I just can't stand the bitch.

The weird thing is, I know one day I will miss Mrs. Antbottom. When she is gone I'll remember her fondly and I'll smile. She's kind of like a eccentric old Aunt; you cringe when you hear that she will be present at a family gathering, but once she's gone for good you kind of wish you had appreciated her while she was still around.

Such is the phenomenon of engaging in pretend play with our children. We feel guilty admitting it, but we don't always love role playing for hours on end, especially when we are being fed lines like an understudy. Pretend play is essential for cognitive and social emotional development and it really is a relatively short phase of childhood. We know that, so we encourage it, at times looking on in amusement while our kids create their own worlds, and at other times becoming a play mate, morphing in to a character in the game. I find more often than not, I am the play mate, and I find more often than I would like to admit, thirty minutes on the floor playing Mrs. Antbottom has me feeling slightly antsy. My mind wanders and then it wanders to dark places. What is wrong with me that I am not, you know, enjoying every moment? What is wrong with me that I have a quirky wonderful, smart, creative kid and sometimes I would rather not play with him? What's wrong with me quite frankly, is that I am an adult.

Since I am an avid blog reader and also have friends in real life, I know that I am not alone. We as parents, have a cemented idea of what we SHOULD be doing. These ideas come from a lot of sources - social media, the latest pop psychology study, people in our lives, and most often our own internal dialogue. Play is important. We are our children's first playmates and first teachers. Should we play with them? Sure. Should we expect ourselves to be bubbling over with genuine excitement when we hear the words, "Can you play with me?" I would say this falls under the unrealistic expectations category.

This brings me back to Mrs. Antbottom. I created Mrs. Antbottom around this time last year in an attempt to ease my son's apprehension about starting kindergarten. Mrs. Antbottom is a jolly, energetic teacher who tirelessly answers questions. Mrs. Antbottom also talks in a high pitched squeaky voice and takes her class on many enriching field trips to factories, fire houses, airports, amusement parks, and houses all built by the great Mr. Aiden. Mrs. Antbottom's students are precocious inquisitive little monsters. They ask a lot of questions and they often need to be corrected. I play the parts of both Mrs. Antbottom and the students. There is a whole script involved and it only varies slightly from day to day. What started out as a story morphed into a game. This game is great because it allows for a lot of old fashioned on the floor imaginative play. It also allows for role playing and social stories. It's cute, and I am sure we will both remember our Mrs. Antbottom game fondly.

That said, sometimes when I hear the words, "Can we play Mrs. Antbottom now?" I wonder if I could get away with murder. I know, terrible, right? June Cleaver never grew tired of engaging in pretend play with her children. Probably because she never did it. She was too busy baking muffins while her kids played outside with tin cans. So, it is tough for me to admit it, but sometimes I want to murder Mrs. Antbottom. I won't though because I know one day when I don't expect it, she'll pack up her Lincoln logs and lesson plans and drive her big plastic school bus away for the last time, her high pitched voice forever silenced. Sometimes it's hard to imagine, but I know when this day comes I will miss Mrs. Antbottom. I will want her to come back and visit but she won't.

I won't murder Mrs. Antbottom. I'll enjoy her while she's here and I when I really just can't enjoy that bubbly old hag, I'll tolerate her. Besides, I look terrible in orange.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friday Funnies: Post-it Pleas

Is it just my house or do dirty dishes seem to magically appear just seconds after you have cleaned up the ones before them? I have actually turned around to throw something in the trash after cleaning up the dishes and found a new dish on the countertop! And those little buggers are sneaky as they quietly retreat from the room before I am even aware they were ever there. It's so frustrating to feel as though your job is never done.

Yesterday, my eleven-year-old experienced the same frustration. She had unloaded the dishwasher and put the dirty dishes from the sink into the newly emptied machine. I have to say, I didn't ask her to do this. For some reason, she was switched with some alien creature that looks just like her but must be programmed to be a domestic diva. After she was done, she decided to vacuum (uh, I'm not kidding, she got out the vacuum and actually vacuumed!). When she finished vacuuming, she went back to the kitchen, only to find more dishes on the counter. "Who did this?" she yelled. "Who is too lazy to put their own dishes in the dishwasher?" She caught her brother and told him to rinse his dishes and put them in the dishwasher while she stood there and watched him do it. I couldn't help but smile in amusement. The next time I entered the kitchen this is what was on the counter by the dishwasher:

I loved her note. I loved it so much, I decided to write my own to post around the house. I haven't finished yet, but here are just a few of mine:
I'm sure there will be more to add to this collection! Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Will My Kids Ever Like Each Other?

It's the little things that make my heart sing, especially when it comes to my children. Let's just say my kids are not Facebook kids. They don't sit around the fire singing Kumbaya while they braid each other's hair and offer words of encouragement or affirmations to one another. Nope. My kids will, instead, engage in a pissing contest of who has it worse or who can roll their eyes the furthest while they listen to the other talk. It's painful as a parent to watch such behavior when the whole reason to have more than one was to give them family to love. I suppose when you put an eighteen-year-old video junkie with a girlfriend, a sixteen-year-old girl who is more cynical than complementary and an eleven-year-old who only wants to be acknowledged that she exists to her older siblings and will get that acknowledgement by positive or negative force, it can create quite a bit of tension in the family.

Well, today was one of those Kumbaya moments that I will forever cement in my brain as a small step for sibling-kind. It happened before I even rolled myself out of bed. From my room, I heard the sound of the front door close followed by a car exiting the driveway. Maybe my son was heading to his girlfriend's house? Maybe he was heading to the bank to cash his checks (uh, wait, it's too early for the bank), where on earth was he going this early in the morning? I decided to investigate. I threw on my robe and walked upstairs - yes he was gone, but so were the girls. Someone must have kidnaped the girls!! I grabbed my phone and sent a text to my one of my daughters asking where they were. They actually all went out to breakfast, WITH EACH OTHER!

Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe, back in the dark recesses of their being, there is a part of them that realizes how lucky they are to have each other and that they truly do love each other. I do see glimpses from time to time of their love for one another, but I wish it were more prevalent - on a day to day basis. No matter how many times I remind them to treat each other with respect, it seems to fall on deaf ears...or does it?

I thought back to when I was a kid - my only sibling was, and still is, five and a half years older than me (yes, that half is and has always been important). I was (and I am sure she can attest to this) the annoying little sister. We seemed to fight a lot. I even remember spitting at her! She was so lucky because she was able to to more things than I could (because she was older, of course). She was always cooler, hanging with friends, going to dances and driving. I remember how she would rest her left arm on the window frame of the car as she drove around like she was showing off, and I would get so jealous. It was hard being the baby sister. But I also remember the times we laughed until our sides hurt. I remember sitting in the back of the closed cab pickup truck, as we drove to our grandparent's on a snowy day for Christmas and sliding into a ditch, clinging to each other. We loved each other; we just didn't always show it.

So what does this mean for my kids? I think their love for each other is growing, like a stubborn tree. It has its good years and its difficult ones. Each phase of their journey through life is different and can probably never align perfectly to have sibling bliss, but it can have moments of harmony among the chaos.

If your children struggle to keep the peace, here are some things you can try:

1.  If they're not killing each other, try to stay out of it and allow them to work it out on their own. Too often, as parents, we just want to keep the peace. But stopping them from talking it (or shouting it) out, doesn't help them learn how to work things out on their own. They will be much better problem solvers as they get older if they are given the opportunity to work things out at home without being prompted or stopped altogether.

2.  Separate them if it gets physical. Give them time alone to think about what happened and how they can resolve it peacefully. This also gives you, the parent, time to think of how you will help them resolve this problem without getting too emotional or drawn-in to their ploys.

3. Establish house rules and consequences.  If you have already created rules and consequences, you are ahead of the game. However, you must enforce them. Sometimes all kids need are defined boundaries they know will be enforced to keep their behavior in line.

4. Make each child feel important. Birth order does encourage some rivalry between siblings - it's pretty much a proven fact. The younger children are jealous of the older children because they get to do so many cool things. The older children are jealous of the younger children because they get to do things at an earlier age, etc. None of my children feels I treat them equally, and they're correct, I don't. I expect more mature behavior from my sixteen-year-old than my eleven-year-old.  I also allow my older children more freedom which makes my little one feel left out. But what's important here, is to build up the importance of their age and their accomplishments. Making them feel unique within the family helps them see their place and helps them feel important.

5.  Praise your children when you like what you see. It's so easy for parents to point out what their kids do wrong which only feeds low self-esteem. I have caught myself more times than I would like to admit, pointing out the negatives of their behavior. But what I have found, is when I commend them for a nice comment or gesture, they eat it up like candy. They love to hear how thoughtful they were to take their sister's or brother's dish to the sink or how kind it was to complement their sibling on their singing or the cute outfit they were wearing. If we focus on finding these gestures and giving them kudos for their positive interaction, they will want to do it again and again. After a while, they will find it easier to compliment than ridicule each other.

Peace and harmony among siblings is not always going to happen unless you are a Facebook family. Kids will fight. Heck, anyone who lives with another human being for an extended period of time, especially if they didn't have a choice, will not always see eye to eye. Why do you think your parents tried to talk you out of rooming with your best friend in college?! After a while, even the most even-tempered people can become frustrated and irritable.

I would like to think that this morning, I was given a small glimpse into the potential of my children's future relationships with one another. I can only hope they will grow closer as they mature and that the one thing I asked of them will be granted - to love one another and to be there for each other through the good and the bad. I gifted them with siblings, I just hope they realize what a true gift it really is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day One

* Written on Monday, August 3, 2015

I have been preparing for months for this day. Really, the entire past year has been leading up to this day. The momentous start of kindergarten, Aiden's difficulty adjusting, the sounds and smells of the lunchroom, the crying, the teasing, the patronizing staff, the school social worker. All of this followed by moving schools, shorter days, rebuilding confidence, doing extra work at home, research, school tours, and prayer. I am reminded of one of my favorite bible verses:

"While from behind a voice shall sound in your ear, 'This is the way, walk in it.'"  -Isaiah 30:10

I didn't choose homeschooling, it choose me, as hokey as that may sound. I never thought about homeschooling one way or another, until I had to find another way for my son. I didn't really want to homeschool, but it kept coming back, nudging me. As we struggled to find the best place for our son for this school year I prayed for guidance. But I had already been told what to do.

So here we are, day one. The previous months have been spent researching curriculum, buying books, meeting other homeschooling parents and picking their brains (God bless their patience) and jotting lesson plans in a notebook. The previous weeks have been spent turning the loft playroom into a classroom, although half of it remains filled with toys, coloring books, and busy boxes for Elliott. My husband went to Ikea with me on a Saturday without batting an eye. He put together the bookshelf we picked out and he spent the weekend helping me move baby toys to the basement and our chalkboard/dry erase easel upstairs. He has been on the fence about homeschooling. Like me, he never had exposure to it and just took for granted that our kids would go to a traditional Catholic school like their parents did. Despite his misgivings, he has agreed to give it a shot. He is supporting me and for this I am grateful, because aside from lots of coffee I need support on this venture.

Aiden does not begin class at his homeschool school until August 31, at which time he will attend eight hours a week. For now, we are getting acclimated to our classroom and working on math, reading, writing, and spelling. The first day at Mom's School of Hard Knox was a success. It was also my first time teaching math. Saying that math is not my strong suit would be an understatement. I remember learning about Heaven and hell in Catholic school. I pictured hell as being chained to a school desk having to complete long division worksheets for all of eternity. Now my version of hell would have more to do with never ending piles of laundry and an absence of coffee, chocolate, and beer, but I digress. Ever since I purchased the Alpha version of Math U See from Sonlight, I have been teaching myself to teach. Fortunately, this curriculum comes with a student book and a corresponding teacher's manual, complete with numbered week by week lessons. Today I introduced the concept of places - hundreds, tens, and units - a concept that I had all but forgotten having learned it twenty some years ago.

I learned a little about teaching math and a lot about how my "student" learns. He is very eager to learn and catches on quickly, but he is also a perfectionist and does not want to try if he thinks he'll get the answer wrong. I assured him that I would never be upset about a wrong answer, but only if he didn't try. We would have no need for school if we were born knowing everything. I also reminded him that I would be learning with him to a certain extent, after all I am not a teacher by trade. I have the utmost respect for those who are; I admire anyone with the stamina and knowledge to lesson plan and teach a whole classroom full of different learning styles and behaviors. Aiden picked up the concepts quickly and we had time for our math game - building hundreds, tens, and units houses. First we had to color and cut out the number cards. Elliott was scribbling away right there with us, sans pants since we are potty training. More on that later, but hey, where else can students come to class without pants? Don't answer that.

After math, Aiden was eager to play more math games on his leap pad. We had lunch and did writing - Aiden's least favorite. He balked a little at the writing, but with a little encouragement we were able to review the proper way to hold a pencil and form letters from top to bottom and left to right. Yeah, I am pretty sure I have been gripping the pencil and forming letters incorrectly my whole life. See, you can teach an old mom new tricks.

We ended the day with a prayer and the best and worst parts of our day. Predictably, Aiden liked numbers the best and writing the worst. In this way he is definitely more like his father, but hey, it might be best not to have more than one writer in the same family. We can be kind of quirky. Except for Jan of course. Wink wink.

Day one is complete, and truth be told it went better than I expected. Now, don't worry, I know my year of homeschooling won't be all rainbow shitting unicorns. I am a realist. I know that we will have battles and tears and chocolate eating and days where we don't get shit done. After all, it's me we're talking about. But I also know if I am prepared for these things we can get through them. I know it will be incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. Kind of like parenting, huh? Elliott also filled his potty chart today so all in all I'd say it was a win.

Not all days are like this one; in fact it seems like too many are not. So this post really isn't about homeschooling. This post is not meant to be in any way boastful or persuasive. I have documented the days where everything seems to go wrong, and I have to keep track of a day that just worked. After all, I want to have it in writing to prove to myself it actually happened. You know, some say the unicorn is more than just a mythical creature...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Random Thoughts Thursday: Recent Questions and Comments of a Six Year Old Boy

"Mom, why do you sit down to pee?"
A better question might be, when will I learn to lock the bathroom door?

"Mom, why did Office Max and Wicked Good go up to Heaven?"
Referring to a store and cafe that used to be in the strip mall across from our house and have closed.

"Mom, do you know the number to Waste Management? Can't you just look it up on the internet?"
If I have a moment to sit on the computer that is the first thing I want to do.

"We need a garbage can that says our city on it! Our garbage can doesn't say our city on it! Can we get a city garbage can?! I am going to save my money for a city garbage can."
This one is every day. He counts his money every night. Some six year old boys save their money for games or toys. Mine is saving his for a garbage can.

"Mom, I have fifty dollars, so I need two more tens to get to seventy and then I can buy a garbage can. I asked God for two more ten dollars; why isn't he giving them to me yet?"
I don't know, but next time you ask Him can you also ask how my Lexus is coming along? There must be a back up in the delivery center....

"Hey Mom, did you every watch a two year old before Elliott?"
"Yes, Aiden, you were a two year old once, four years ago in fact."
"Okay, but did you ever watch a two year old before me?"
"Yes, I used to babysit two year old twins when I was in college."
"Do you think those kids who you babysat could still be LIVING TODAY?"
Apparently I'm a dinosaur and the two year old children for whom I nannied in my college days are in their nineties.

"Hey, Mom, how come every time we come to Fifth Avenue the light turns red?"
I have asked myself this question many times.

"Hey, Mom, how come we're always late for everything?"
I can think of two reasons and they're both in this car. Also, the light on Fifth Avenue.

"Mom, how many minutes late are we today?"

"Mom, is dinner ready, yet? How about now? How about now?"
No, sorry, it still hasn't learned to cook itself.

"Mom, can we have a play date on August 2nd?"
I don't even know what we're doing tomorrow.

"Mom, how come Elliott is two?"
He was born two years ago.

"Mom, how do babies get out of tummies?"
The doctor performs a magic trick.

"Mom, did you call Waste Management yet?"

"Mom, why are you sitting down?"
I am pretending to search for the number for Waste Management.

"Mom, I heard you tell Alex's mom that when you are in the car by yourself you listen to music with inappropriate words. What are the words? Tell me."
"I am not going to tell you. They are grown up words just like coffee is a grown up drink."
Funny how he can't here me when I tell him to clean up, yet this he heard this while riding his bike down the sidewalk.

"Mom, if we wanted to run in the sprinkler and we didn't have a sprinkler, what would you say?"
"I'd say, 'we don't have a sprinkler'."
"Then do you think we'd cry?"
"THEN what would you say?"
"Let's not focus on hypothetical crying."
"What's that mean?"
"Crying that isn't really happening."
"Okay, WAAH WAAH! Elliott, cry!"

"Hey Mom, guess what?"
"You're the best mom in the whole world."
Aww, and to think I was almost getting tired of answering questions. What better to hear at the end of a long day? And they said it was a thankless job....

Friday, July 17, 2015

Funny Fridays: Guys, This One's for You

A woman awoke during the night to find that her husband was not in bed. She put on her robe and went downstairs. He was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of him. He appeared to be in deep thought, just staring at the wall.

She saw him wipe a tear from his eye and take a sip of his coffee.

"What's the matter, Dear? Why are you down here  at this time of night?" she asked.

"Do you remember twenty years ago when we were dating and you were only sixteen?" he asked.

"Yes, I do," she replied.

"Do you remeber when your father caught us in the back seat of my car kissing?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Do you remember when he shoved that shotgun in my face and said, 'Either you marry my daughter or spend twenty years in jail'?"

"Yes, I do," she said.

He wiped another tear from his cheek and said,
"You know..... I would have goten out today."

From: jokes.christiansunite.com

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Random Thoughts Thursday: Random Thoughts When Insomnia Strikes

The other day my friend and I were discussing the odd phenomenon of being completely, uselessly, paralytically exhausted and yet not being able to sleep. We were hoping to crack the code on why this happens, but our insomnia is still a mystery. Insomnia would actually be useful if I could get my ass out of bed and accomplish something. Is their really any greater waste of time than lying in bed from 10:30 (Oh, I'll go to bed early!) until 3:30 A.M. simultaneously wide awake and exhausted into paralysis? True story. This is my frustrating paradox. I can't sleep to save my life so I lie there with my eyes closed listening to whatever crap is on TV at that time of night (think bad reality shows meet infomercials). Yes, yes, I know having screens on triggers the brain to be awake blah blah blah. The other problem with insomnia is that it's really boring, which brings me to my next question: if I can't sleep, why don't I get up and use my quiet house to DO something? Well, I think about it, but although I can't sleep I am really tired and I think I will fall asleep ANY MINUTE. Actually, I think many random thoughts during my hours of insomnia, so hey what better topic for a Random Thoughts Thursday post? See, I am using my insomnia productively. Here are just a few thoughts I had the other night while attempting to sleep.

I am going to bed early tonight. Finally I won't be tired tomorrow. I will wake up refreshed.

I am so tired. I bet I'll fall asleep right away.

I better make sure my alarm is set, just in case Elliott decides to do something drastic like sleep past 6:00 A.M.

I can't believe I thought Vacation Bible School started at 9:30. I totally would have been on time today if it had started at 9:30. Oh well, I'll be on time tomorrow. Although, I should set realistic expectations to avoid setting myself up for failure. I'll shoot for five minutes late.

Why am I still awake? I'll turn on Mystery Diagnosis. I'm so glad we switched from Dish to Comcast. Now we get all these great channels. I'll always have something to listen to to help me fall asleep. Our security system was a down grade, but look at all of these channels! Priorities.

Wow, I have at least two of these symptoms. I wonder if I have a rare genetic blood disorder like this guy.

I really need to get those thank you cards out.

Mystery Diagnosis is over and I'm still awake. I wonder if I should use this time to write. No, I'll be tired in the morning if I don't get some sleep. I'll just lie still and I'll be asleep soon.

Teen Mom is on? I didn't even know this show was on anymore. Wow, and I though I didn't have my shit together. At least my husband and I don't fight over text messages. WTF? How can this girl's fiance afford to give her a vacation to Saint Thomas Island for her birthday? Weren't they just bitching about not being able to afford formula? What's with the priorities? It's almost like downgrading a security system in favor of more TV channels.

I am so embaressed that I just watched that show.

I am still awake, maybe I should fold the laundry.

Why am I always thinking about laundry? I think it is a medical fact that thinking about laundry exacerbates insomnia.

I wonder if Elliott is going to sleep through the night tonight. This is like Murphy's Law. He is sleeping and I can't.

Damn, it's midnight already. I wonder if anyone else is still awake. I really want to text someone. But then if they are sleeping and they have one of those obnoxious notification sounds like birds chirping, I will wake them up and then they  will probably think I am a needy weirdo for texting them at midnight to see if they are awake. Then they will want to back away from the friendship. They will make friends with the cool, put together mom at the gym and tell her about their lame, needy ex-friend. Pretty soon I will be blacklisted by all suburban moms.

My friends wouldn't do that. But still, I shouldn't wake them up.

I still haven't signed Aiden up for swim lessons and it's mid July. what kind of mom am I? Although in my defense the weather has been crappy. Maybe I should sign him up for indoor swim lessons and call it a day. Although they cost more money, and what is summer for if not outdoor swim lessons? I should check the ten day forecast and go from there.

Maybe I should use my quiet time to write. If I'm not asleep after this rerun of Supernanny I'll write.

Listen Joe Frost, this mom is doing the best she can utilizing the naughty spot! I actully think the main problem is calling it a naughty spot. That just doesn't sound right. Let's stick with time out. I don't know how it is in Britain, but around these parts "naughty spot" has a different connotation.

One sheep, two sheep, three sheep. Does this ever actually work?

I am going to be tired tomorrow. Although, if I fall asleep now I could still get six hours. That's not bad. Ready set sleep!

Okay, Supernanny is over and I'm still awake. I have so many ideas for blog posts, which one should I write? I am really tired now, I bet I will fall asleep.

Five hundred channels and nothing to watch? What, people don't watch TV at 2:00 A.M. The only thing on is infomercials and Sex Sent Me To The ER. Decisions decisions.

Why would someone pay three hundred dollars for a vacuum steam mop combo?

Hmm, this vacuum steam mop combo does a lot. It even picks up pet hair.

I really need to vacuum the couch.

I am going to be tired tomorow. Actually today since it is after 3:00 A.M. Oh well, I'll just go to be early tomorrow night...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What My Two Year Old Teaches Me

I am emerging from the summer time suck long enough to pound out a blog post (I hope). As many of you know my two-year-old broke his first metatarsal (bone above the big toe joint) on Father's Day weekend. How did he break it, you ask? I have written previously about his penchant for climbing things and his lack of fear, so you would probably guess that he jumped off of something. It would also be reasonable to guess that he was injured at the kiddie gym where we held his brother's party and where he was actually allowed to jump on a trampoline and dive into a foam pit. These would be reasonable hypothesis, but they would be wrong. He broke his toe by tripping and falling over his own two feet. Landing on his hands and knees. In the kitchen. And I was hoping he didn't inherit the klutz gene from my side of the family. This gene really does exist. If you don't believe me try going on a hike with my family.

In any case, when the injury occurred it didn't look like much, until he tried to stand up and was unable to put weight on his foot. He continued crying about the pain and saying that he wanted "toe off". I knew something was wrong since he usually brushes off injuries as soon as they occur. As I got ready to take him to urgent care (because these things NEVER happen during regular doctors' office hours) my husband said, and I quote, "I don't think you need to take him in. I mean, it's a twisted ankle. It will be fine." He gently reminded me that I tend to be a hypochondriac by proxy and I gently reminded him that I have accurately diagnosed my children with pink eye and ear infections. Off to urgent care we went. After x-rays, they immobilized the foot with a double ace wrap and told me to keep him off of it until we could see the orthopedic specialist on Monday morning. You might think this would be problematic with an active two-year-old, but the next day his toe swelled up and turned bluish; he had no desire to put weight on it. While we felt sorry for him and bemoaned the occurrence of such a random accident had to occur and what if he was in a cast all summer, Elliott adapted to the situation by crawling and scooting around the house happily playing with his trucks. I think it is pertinent to add that I did NOT say "I told you so" to my husband. At least not out loud. Meanwhile, Aiden was jealous of his brother's "cool cast" and wanted to know if he could have a turn. Honestly, kids get jealous of the weirdest things. 

Fortunately, the orthopedic specialist did not have to cast Elliott's foot, but he traded his ace bandage in for a boot that he has to wear for 3 to four weeks at all times other than bathing. She warned me that it may take him some time to want to walk on it. As predicted, for the first day he wanted to be carried or crawled everywhere. By the second day he realized he could stand on his new boot and by the end of the second day he was back to running. It sounds like we are living with a pirate in high heels. Drag....clunk drag...clunk. Aiden asked if he could wear the ace bandage on his foot since Elliott had the super cool boot (I mean, how unfair, right?) but I told him that people might start to wonder about me if I was carting around two kids with immobilized feet at the same time. 

This is our first experience with broken bones, and with two boys it probably won't be the last. I was relieved that the treatment was easier than expected, and I was also reminded that we should all think more like toddlers. I am not saying we should start throwing tantrums about having to wear a shirt (not that that happened). But Elliott never lets anything get him down. Life threw a broken bone his way and he thought, "Okay, let's see how I can work with this". Well, more likely he thought, "I want that truck and I am going to get it," and, "This heavy boot is excellent for stomping on things that get in my way. Like toes." Regardless, he didn't waste time feeling sorry for himself or letting a pesky broken bone get in his way. Often when we are out and about people will say, "Awww, what happened to his poor little foot?" as Elliott runs past them, laughing. He doesn't feel the least bit sorry for himself.Then again, maybe they just wish they had a cool boot. I know Aiden does.

As parents, we are always talking and thinking about the thing we teach our kids. After all, we are their first and best teachers. But what we may not often realize is that they can be our best teachers, too. Elliott sees the world through a completely un-jaded lens. I strive to do what comes naturally to him, to take what life throws at me, adapt to it, and run with it. But it's easy to get stuck in a rut. It's easy to feel like when it rains it pours and not be able to see the rainbow. We all struggle with this. My children constantly teach me to live today, to splash in the muddy puddles and worry about cleaning up later. They constantly teach me things I don't know for lack of paying attention. Things like: grasshoppers make cool pets, a baby bunny hopping through the yard never gets less exciting, you never know when you might be recruited for an a capella career, so practice often, and road construction can be cool. Today I am trying to be more like Elliott (again minus the tantrums and toilet aversion). When we were at the pet store this morning he caught sight of some mice running around  and around in their wheel. He stopped at the glass tank to watch, and was soon in hysterics over their antics. I suppressed the urge to tell him to come on, and squatted down to watch with him. Two mice were running their hearts out in this metal wheel while one free loader clung to the metal rungs and held on while he was spun upside down. It was pretty amusing. What was I in a hurry for anyway? On the drive back we ran into a traffic jam due to a lane being closed on a major road. A road that I had taken to avoid the construction on another major road, incidentally. I thought, "Fuck this fucking construction!" Yes, that's how I talk in my own head. Out loud I said, "Look at the dump trucks Elliott? Isn't that cool?" Elliott was way ahead of me, his eyes glued to the machines doing who knows what to the road. He made sure to say hi to all the trucks and tell them to have a nice day. Finally, when we came home for lunch I decided to sit at the table while Elliott ate his grilled cheese sandwich and chicken (because he couldn't decide on just one) and read him the book he had asked me to read instead of rushing to clean up the dishes (really, where are they going?).

Of course, I can only strive to think like a toddler. Unfortunately we adults have been jaded by life. Sometimes it takes a little person to teach us that we can take what life throws at us. And that accountants aren't medical professionals. 
Elliott rockin his groovy boot
Displaying 20150708_103750.jpg