My Light-at-the-End-of-the-Tunnel Moment

Three years ago today, Anna posted about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel from the trenches, and this weekend, I’ve had the exact same realization that the balance has shifted in our home.

If you follow us on facebook, you might have seen my #realhousewivesofe2s update last week that mentioned we’d gotten home from vacation at 4 am (6 am in the time zone we left 15 hours before).  It was nuts, absolutely nuts, and while my husband and I felt like zombies for several days, my kids amazingly just fell back into the rhythms of home life, did schoolwork, played with their new toys, and enjoyed the unheard-of spectacle of multiple rainy days in LA.  I even had to drag them out that first afternoon to my doctor’s office, and all four of them sat quietly in the waiting room while I read Robin Hood aloud, trooped patiently into the hallway of the office while I got poked and prodded, and filed out, as sweet as you please, when I was done.

Lest you miss the point here, my kids were on the road for three weeks (right after mom and dad being incapacitated from a car accident for three weeks, right after passing around the stomach flu for a week), and they just came home and were fine.  This trip was not only our first flight without a diaper bag in a decade; it was the first time, ever, that we asked our kids to step up and carry their own load (literally, through three airports), with severely reduced sleep, and they actually came out the experience more cheerful than before.  It’s never going to be fun traveling with children, but this Christmas vacation, my kids were the easy part and the circumstances were the pain in the neck.  I would rather not ever bring four children along to my doctor’s appointments, but it’s no longer a nightmare.  I noticed the switch this weekend and am grateful for it.

Along the same lines, just as Anna said three years ago, there comes a time when your big kids are more of a net help than a net hindrance in the home.  I’ve mentioned recently that I try to have high expectations for my kids as I train and prepare them to be responsible adults, and it totally pays off. We had a good Saturday morning housecleaning push this weekend, and all four of my kids were able to do real, helpful housework.  It is now on me to make sure they keep helping me out, but knowing that they all are capable is a huge step out of the trenches for me.  It’s no longer just me (and my husband in the evenings) against the accumulated mess of four tornadoes; we’re a team of six, fighting back against dust and clutter.

What warmed my heart the most, though, was looking over as I started dinner the other night and seeing my 7 and 5 year olds curled up on the couch together, with the big sister reading the little sister one of her new Christmas books.  Later, the younger one mentioned that her big sister had read her the entire chapter book in one day because they had both gotten into the story and didn’t want to stop!  My kids are reading aloud to each other.  **happy sigh**

If you are still in the dark part of the tunnel with little ones who are not old enough to be helpful yet, hang in there.  You are making progress, no matter how slowly your days seem to pass. The hard work you’re putting into parenting your children will indeed bear fruit!  I’ll leave you with the same verse Anna did:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9 NIV

Posted in For Younger Women, Parenting | Leave a comment

Mid-Year Homeschool Retrospective

This is not a homeschool blog, but some of our readers have been asking how homeschooling is going.  After posting about my plans for this year back in August, I thought I’d give you a peek into how things are going now, rather than saving it for the end of the school year, when we’re all burned out and sick of everything!

This year, my third child started Kindergarten, and I’ve noticed a huge shift in both my responsibilities and our family dynamics.  Last year, I was able to have the two little girls entertain each other while I knocked out school with the big kids.  This year, the three year old is left without a playmate.  For the first couple months of school, I felt like I’d jumped from homeschooling two to four.  J wanted to sit at the table with us and “do school” with us all morning, too.  Her presence was an added distraction to the big kids and just made everything take longer.  I’ve played around with a few different solutions, from having the big kids take turns doing their schoolwork while the other plays with the toddler, to plugging the toddler (and the kindergartner, when she’s done) into Sesame Street for a couple of hours, to doing all the fun history/science/read aloud stuff all morning and then keeping the big kids at the table all afternoon to do their math/grammar/spelling while the little girls play.  Each option has had its pros and cons, but in general, I’ve been encouraged to note that J has learned to be more self-sufficient in her play this fall/winter.  There have been several days recently where I’m halfway through a heavy morning of schoolwork with the big kids, only to realize that I haven’t seen J since breakfast since she’s making a blanket fort or playing with duplos downstairs or sitting under the table quietly cutting up little pieces of paper for confetti.  Also, I ordered an Ivy Kids subscription for my kindergartner, and whenever we get those boxes in the mail, all three of my girls will happily spend hours and hours doing all the math/early literacy/crafty activities with little or no direction from me.  I got my son caught up in spelling at long last because the girls were busy with the Ivy Kids kit centered around Jan Brett’s The Hat the last week before Christmas break.  I’ll probably continue to use a combination of those strategies with my little one until we get a foster child this spring, at which point I have no idea what will happen!

With my oldest in fourth grade, I’ve felt the shift from finishing school in the morning to having to do schoolwork into the afternoon.  For me, this really has made me adjust my mindset from homemaker-who-happens-to-teach-my-kids to full-time-homeschool-teacher who has to use the same tricks working moms do to get grocery shopping, cooking, and housecleaning done.  My shopping has streamlined to Amazon Prime for all household items and the grocery store for fresh foods.  It’s not necessarily the most cost effective, but I don’t have the time to go to Target anymore (and haven’t been there in months).  I’m using the crockpot a lot, and my cooking is mostly limited to tried-and-true recipes I can do in my sleep rather than fiddling around trying something new.  My house is not very clean on a given day.

I mentioned this summer that I wanted to do more reading aloud with my kids.  That has worked with moderate success when I write it down in my lesson plans.  We’ve read three big novels together this fall, and the kids really enjoyed them.  But we’re nowhere near the hour+ a day of reading aloud that I aspire to.  When I’ve tried to start our morning with read alouds, the kids love it, but we get very little other schoolwork done.  My kids are at their best between 8-11 am, and everything after that is really a struggle.  Some days it’s worth it to read–we read The Door in the Wall in about three mornings–but some days I really feel like math and grammar and spelling matter more.  I could talk a lot more about why it’s not happening in the afternoons and evenings, but basically, I have prioritized other things (housework, my own reading/internet time/etc) over reading aloud, and I’m readjusting my priorities in the new year to enable us to read aloud more.

One other thing I’m learning about is how much my kids can do on their own.  After our car accident over Thanksgiving weekend that sent my husband and me to the ER in a helicopter, I was nearly bedridden for almost two weeks.  Just as my sore muscles and bruises healed, I got bulldozed by a horrible cold and spent an entire day unable to talk or swallow without pain.  During that time, we actually managed to get a decent amount of schoolwork done.  I mentioned that my son’s math, writing, and Latin books require minimal parent teaching–I just grade and answer questions–and we did a bit of grammar and let the spelling and French slide.  They watched David Macauley’s excellent Cathedral documentary for history and some deep-sea documentaries for science.  My 2nd grader did all of her copywork and handwriting work, I did grammar (orally) with her from bed, she practiced math flashcards, and we used a marker board to do spelling once or twice.  My kindergartner practiced handwriting and did some math activity sheets.  They listened to a lot of audiobooks and played legos.  We were in crisis mode, and I don’t think they’re in a position to educate themselves completely, but it was encouraging to know that this past month was not a total wash academically.  And when you walk away with no broken bones from an accident that should have killed you and your spouse, you’re just inclined to snuggle and read and play together, anyway.

As far as curriculum reviews go, my son HATED Sentence Composition for Elementary School.  This was super disappointing, because I love, love, loved the concept and raved about it to everyone I knew this summer.  We set it aside once his Writing and Rhetoric: Fable book came in.  He enjoys that (though the creative writing assignments take him HOURS to complete), so we’re just sticking with that for writing now.  He and I both love First Language Lessons 4.  We both find sentence diagramming fun and fascinating, and the poetry memorization assignments have been great.  We both continue to enjoy Saxon 6/5 and Beast Academy 4, and I think it helps him to have two different math books–Saxon Mon-Wed and Beast Thurs/Fri–to keep things interesting.  My failure this year was French (he hated it), so I found a local Frenchwoman who teaches beginning French classes out of her home.  The level is more geared to preschool/lower elementary, but I have all four of my kids in a private class once a week.  Their accents are lovely, they’re singing songs and learning all sorts of fun vocab, and they love French again.  My girls are using the tried-and-true curriculum I already had on hand, and Writing With Ease, First Language Lessons, and Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading just work well for us, as do Saxon math and All About Spelling.

I might have mentioned in the past that we’re homeschooling through a charter school that gives us $2600 per child each year to spend on their education.  To homeschool purists, we are not homeschooling, we are legally enrolled in a public charter school.  Practically, however, I select and order all of their curriculum and do 100% of the teaching, meeting once a month with a wonderful, likeminded veteran homeschool mom who works with our charter; I give her a work sample (a math quiz or a geography map or a handwriting page) and discuss our progress, and she signs off on my spending requests, making sure I’m using my funds for education, not something else (though at my kids’ ages, practically everything is educational).  Usually she just encourages me and shares wisdom from her 18 years of experience.  My son has to waste two mornings a year taking the state (common core alligned) testing in the spring, but last year he got “above grade level” in all areas, he now has experience taking standardized tests, and it literally affected nothing else in how I choose to educate.  I still use some Christian curriculum (Bible, some history, and Latin), I just have to pay for that myself.  They pay for the rest of our curriculum and supplies as well as French, art, and ballet classes, museum memberships, educational subscription boxes (Little Passports, Raddish Kids, Ivy Kids), and educational field trips (we’re going to Legoland next month).  This is an option only in California and a couple other states, and we will enthusiastically continue to homeschool this way unless something radically changes in how the government oversees our charter.  We have homeschooled on our own before (in California, you do that by legally declaring yourself a private school) and it worked fine.  Some of you were telling me it sounded too good to be true (and I thought so, too!), but three semesters in, I have yet to find a catch.

Today I hung out with a homeschool friend who is expecting another baby, and we both agreed that while sending our big kids off to school sometimes sounds like it would give us a break, the fact of the matter is that it’s just easier for us at this stage to not have to worry about getting kids dressed and out the door at 7:30, packing lunches, getting homework done while making dinner, etc, etc.  Life is full and crazy in our homes, but it’s the kind of full and crazy that we like.

So there it is–a mid-year report card on our homeschool progress!  If you’re a homeschooler, I’d loved to hear what is working and not working for you this year.  If you’re considering homeschooling and/or have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email (emily@everythingtosomeone.com).

Posted in Homeschooling | Leave a comment

What a Child Can Do at a Given Age

One of the after effects of a serious car accident, much like breaking my foot a year and a half ago, is that I’ve had lots of time to observe the practical results of my parenting decisions.  When I couldn’t walk for two months, my kids stepped up and took on a lot of personal responsibility for housework, self care, and taking care of the toddler.  This time around, I’ve been pretty discouraged by how much I unthinkingly do for my children, cruelly enabling them to not do it themselves.  We’ve regressed!  So here’s a reminder for me (and anyone else who is feeling overwhelmed by all they do for their kids) of what kids in our family’s age range can and should be able to do for themselves.

Age 3-4 (**realizing that some of these are hard to do when overtired**)

  • Dress herself in appropriate clothing (long sleeves/play clothes/church clothes/pjs) as directed by me
  • Put on shoes herself
  • Come when called (in house/at playground/at church nursery/etc)–our family standard is that we “obey right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart,” and this is definitely a work in progress at our house.
  • Unload silverware and kid items from dishwasher every morning (we keep all our plastic kid cups/plates/bowls in a low drawer so that even the little ones can reach them)
  • Load dishes directly into dishwasher or cup back in fridge at the end of a meal
  • Put away art supplies such as construction paper, crayons, colored pencils, in designated bins.
  • Put away books on shelves with their spines facing out
  • Put away dolls, legos, duplos, blocks, trains, etc in designated bins when done playing with them
  • Get into carseat right away and buckle top part by herself
  • Help herself to easy-to-eat snacks such as cheese sticks, bananas, cuties, baby carrots
  • Fold clean washcloths and put in bathroom cabinet, fold dishcloths and put in kitchen drawer
  • Put dirty clothes directly into the dirty clothes basket in the laundry room
  • Put clean clothes away in proper drawers, as long as someone else has done the folding
  • Organize family shoes into our storage cubbies in the hall closet

Age 5-6

  • All of the above
  • Brush her own teeth after breakfast
  • Brush own hair and put it into a pony tail (I honestly had no idea she could do this–it was a revelation a few weeks ago when she came up to me with her hair done…with four of us girls in the house, all with long hair, this is a huge time suck every morning!)
  • Set table, as long as the grown-up dishes are handed down from the tall cabinets
  • Dust shelves using fleece dusting rag
  • Organize random toy mess into appropriate places
  • Get into carseat/booster as soon as she gets into the car and buckle herself up
  • Make toast or sandwiches with pre-cut bread (we primarily eat homemade, and she has had to get stitches for using knives, so the big kids or I still have to slice it for her)
  • Pour milk without spilling
  • Fold cloth napkins (which we use instead of paper) and put away in proper drawer
  • Sort clean clothes into piles by child in order to be folded
  • Hang up clean dresses
  • Bathe self except hair

Age 7-8

  • All of the above
  • Tie own shoes (we just seem to have velcro or slip-ons until this age, so shoelaces are a late-learned skill at our house)
  • Dress self in weather-appropriate clothing without being told; wear appropriate combos (still working on this one with my print-on-print loving girl!)
  • Floss and brush teeth at night
  • Bathe including hair, wash and rinse out sisters’ hair
  • Fix breakfasts not involving boiling water for little sisters
  • Fetch and put away food while I’m cooking (eg, knows her way around the pantry) and unload groceries to appropriate places
  • At grocery store, help me get produce (often in the fruit aisle, I’ll have her pick up apples while I’m getting the bananas, etc)
  • Crack eggs without getting the shell into what we’re making
  • Microwave leftovers without help
  • Wipe up spills on floor
  • Cut bread for sandwiches/toast, help little sisters with breakfast/lunch
  • Fold and put away clean clothes
  • Read to younger siblings when I need them occupied (eg, when I’m doing schoolwork with big brother)
  • change diapers (Yay!  No diapers have needed to be changed in our house for a couple of months now!)
  • Take younger sibling to the bathroom if we’re out at a park (they don’t need help any more, I just want them to have a buddy in public bathrooms)
  • Switch clothes from washer to dryer and pull out of dryer when done
  • Sweep kitchen floor (multiple times a day)
  • Collect trash all over house and replace trash bags
  • Vacuum rugs and empty roomba when we’ve run that
  • Wipe down bathroom surfaces with clorox wipes for quick clean before company comes
  • Navigate around the children’s account on the computer to pull up audiobooks/music so that I don’t have to drop what I’m doing to do it

Age 9-10

  • All of the above
  • Do the boiling water part of breakfasts (oatmeal/tea) for mom/sisters/self
  • Pack our lunches (make sandwiches, wash up apples, fill up water bottles, etc) when we’re going to be out for the day
  • Wipe down kitchen counters and table after cooking/eating
  • Make macaroni and cheese or other stovetop lunches
  • At the grocery store, go off and pick up specific items for me while the girls and I are getting other items–note that this only works well at a place like Sprouts where I can see across the store.  I would not send him off on his own at Costco!
  • Read schoolwork directions to one sister while I’m doing schoolwork to the other, lead sisters through CBS (Community Bible Study) homework by reading the passage and telling them how to spell big words in the answers, usually while I’m getting other schoolwork ready
  • Do math and writing on his own, just needing me to check work or help when stumped.
  • Sort and start a load of laundry (then transfer to dryer, take out, fold, put away)
  • Take out trash and recycling to our community dumpster (we don’t have individual trash pick-up, so this isn’t on a certain day)
  • Scrub or mop kitchen floor as needed
  • Scour toilets, clean bathroom, scrub tub/shower as needed
  • Vacuum out car with shop vac
  • Buckle youngest sister into her carseat and check that it’s appropriately tight; unbuckle her before getting out of the car
  • Put away bike and outside toys in the evening when all the neighbor kids are coming inside for dinner — this is a huge struggle for us!
  • keep room tidy and organized (ha!)

 

As you can see, I obviously expect the responsibility to grow with age.  There is a LOT of training at 2-3 that gets many of the skills going.  Do these sound like reasonable expectations for you, or are they too lenient?  What other important skills am I missing here?  Or if your kids are past this stage, what did you do right to help your kids learn these skills?

Posted in Parenting, Practical Housekeeping | 4 Comments

Society Needs Stay-at-Home Moms!

This blog usually focuses on how important a stay-at-home mother is to her own family, but today I want to talk about how necessary we stay-at-home moms are to our communities. Fairly often, when the topic of my vocation comes up with other professional women, they’ll tell me that they believe stay-at-home moms are important and necessary.  I always felt like this came with a bit of condescension, because it’s obviously not important enough for them to do it themselves.  This past month, however, a car accident and its aftermath made me realize anew the importance of having stay-at-home mom friends in times of crisis.

On Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I were driving home from a date when we were side swiped by a reckless driver and knocked across the median into oncoming traffic, where we had a head-on collision with two cars.  The culprit fled the scene, but there were no fatalities, thank the Lord.  One of the other drivers and both of us had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital with a trauma ER as a precaution because crashes as bad as ours usually produce concussions and other internal injuries.  I spent over five hours in a neck brace on a back board, getting x-rays, a CT-scan of my neck and brain, an ultrasound of my abdomen and heart to check for internal bleeding, and extensive bloodwork.  Amazingly, my husband and I were released that night with no major injuries save the whiplash and extensive bruising, and we saw the other woman sitting up in her room as we left, looking pretty good, considering.  It was one of the most terrifying evenings of my life, and we are so, so grateful to be alive.

We have wonderful neighbors (who all work outside the home), and they truly were helpful over the weekend, especially my friends who drove all the way into LA at midnight to pick us up from the hospital and my next-door neighbor who came over when our babysitter had to leave and stayed the night with my kids until we got home.  Another neighbor called me from the grocery store the next day and brought me milk and eggs, and all of them told me to let them know ANYTHING I needed help with.  I felt so cared for throughout the weekend.  Then the work week started, my husband had to go back to work (in much pain, but without children), and I was home alone with four children and whiplash so bad I couldn’t turn my head or bend over, but no one around here was home to help me.  Thankfully, my sahm friend Sarah drove 30 minutes over from our old town with her boys to spend the day taking care of my kids, made us tacos for lunch, baked up my overripe bananas into muffins, washed my dishes, ran my dishwasher, and generally kept me sane, all on her little guy’s birthday!  My working friends here wanted to help me, but Sarah was the one who actually had the flexibility to do so when I needed it. Later that week, I really needed to get to the DMV (30 minutes away) to get a new driver’s license (mine having disappeared somewhere between the accident and the ER), but even after texting everyone around here, I couldn’t piece together someone to drive me over to the DMV, sit with me for 1-2 hours, and drive back, PLUS friends/babysitters to watch my kids while I did all that.  Eventually, after two days of trying to make something work, my husband had to take the day off, we dropped the kids off at our Community Bible Study, and he took me to the DMV, I waited over an hour, and we got back just in the knick of time to pick the kids up at the end of CBS, and headed home, totally exhausted.  What an ordeal it was, and how simple it would have been if I’d just had two SAHM friends around here–one to watch all the kids, and the other to run me to the DMV.  Just two available friends would have made a world of difference to me.

In the past two weeks of recovery, many friends have offered their help, and one of the blessings in suffering like this is finding out how many good friends we have here.  But it has struck me just how much the need for help doesn’t fit conveniently into after-work hours.  When I need groceries, I need them before 5 pm, because I have little people who can’t wait until 7 to eat.  If I need help running errands such as DMV and doctor’s appointments, those are all in the 8-5 window.  It’s not that my working friends wouldn’t want to help me; they simply are limited in when and how they can.  Just like kids’ needs not being limited to evenings and weekends, emergencies–a car accident, a preschooler sticking a bead in her ear, a baby falling out of her crib, a miscarriage, a husband getting appendicitis when the baby is 10 days old, me slipping in the shower and re-breaking my foot while my husband is out of town–happen at the most inconvenient times.  And homemakers are the ones who can most easily be there as back-up.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never minded being the go-to emergency contact for my friends’ kids.  I’ve never had to pick up a friend’s sick child from school myself, but I know other homeschool moms who have. One friend told me years ago that her middle schooler hated after-school care so much that she was praying to find a friend with a stay-at-home mom so that she could go home with her instead of staying to be teased until her own parents could pick her up, and if I’d lived in the same town, I would have volunteered my own home.  Homemakers are the core volunteers in schools (room moms, field trip chaperones), in churches (Bible study leaders, the children’s program volunteers who care for my kids while I go to Bible study, the ladies who decorate for Christmas and organize church functions), and in the community (monitoring elections, doing mercy ministry, staffing crisis pregnancy centers, delivering Meals on Wheels, beautifying the city properties, mentoring foster youth).  And think about the safety that comes when an adult is at home during the day in a neighborhood (remember those Neighborhood Watch signs from childhood?), and even the blessing of homemade food at a right-after-work potluck (this is my special gift to all the other members of our community group this year).  The list could go on and on.  If nurturing the next generation wasn’t enough to make you feel significant, what about living a lifestyle that enables you to be there for your community when no one else can be?  Society needs us, fellow stay-at-home moms!

Posted in Importance of Mothers | 4 Comments
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