Friday, October 26, 2012

Grace School

"Beloved Christians, you and your children shall appear at that Judgment of Christ, and you shall give account for them to the just Judge. He will not ask you whether you have taught your children the arts or whether you have taught them to speak French, or German, or Italian, but whether you have taught them to live as Christians."  ~St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

At the heart of it all, this is what I hope to pass to my children.  This is why I wish to home school the children--so that they might freely live their faith every day with their family (Some might say you can do this all while going to school and living in the world.  But their picture of living faith is different than mine).  I pray that they learn and live the faith.

Today we finished the first quarter, of our first official year of home school.  To most, this would seem to be a small accomplishment in the grand scale of one's education.  But it's not to me.  If only everyone else could see how far we have come.  It's been a battle of wills.  It's been a trial of trust.  It's been an intimate family affair.  It has been a test of fortitude.  We have reached into the depths of our souls to justify this path.  We have fought against societal convention.  All of this we have traversed to reach this, the first official year of schooling.  

When I came to see that home schooling was the best kind of education I could give my child, it was then that it seemed this dream would never come to fruition.  I could not find a way to get my son to work consistently on minor home schooling activities as a kindergartner.  My husband thought that perhaps his personality did not lend itself to being home schooled.  My husband insisted that we would try public school while my heart still longed to teach my kids at home.  Then a friend, most sincerely, said that she would offer prayers for us.  Of course, I prayed daily about it.  Somehow in the following six months this adventure of home schooling came to pass. 

At the beginning of the quarter I gave the kids incentives to sit and learn such as candy and prizes.  I thought, my goodness these kids are going to be fat and I will be broke by the end of the year if this the only way the kids will sit for their lessons.  But, at the end of two weeks the kids had gotten into the habit of working on school lessons and they no longer asked for candy or prizes.  They simply understood that this was school time and they were going to work.  The habit had been established via conditioning. 

I am honestly so proud of my child and myself for this achievement.  He did VERY well on his quarter tests.  He's only five years old (almost six).  He's suppose to be in kindergarten, but we started him in first grade because he already could read, write, add and subtract.  He is very close to completing the next quarter in phonics and mathematics.  Every time I see him achieving in his studies I can not help taking credit in my head.  (When I was in elementary school, I am not sure how many times I actually gave teachers credit for my learning.  I am sure I will never get credit if I do not give it to myself.)

During this first quarter he was supposed to learn just the first three of the Ten Commandments, but I taught him a mnemonic device for all ten.   He was too excited about it and learned them all.  He also learned many prayers.  I bought a book on mnemonic devices for learning about the Catholic faith.  It's brilliant.  The first thing the book espouses is how can one live a faith one does not know, therefore, we must know and remember as much of the faith as we can.

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Some truths about my home school:

1. Sometimes I get impatient with my little students and show it.  I don't think this happens in schools.

2. We usually begin home school some time between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. depending on what we have to do in the day and depending on how annoying little sisters are being.  We often just have to wait until they are napping to focus.  However, this odd hour can mean Alex is munching on his lunch while working.  This is not a good combination for when I ask him to read or respond to a question and he has a mouth full of PB&J.

3. Home schooling isn't nearly as fun and magical as my reading explorations led me to believe.  "You can have a field trip whenever you want." True, but if you want consistency and completion of your work you can not really take many excursions whenever you want. "You can do art and music every day when public schools are cutting such programs."  Yeah, there is a reason they might cut those programs.  I am not saying they are not beneficial, but art supplies and instruments are crazy expensive.  Let alone the effort you have to put into it.  

4. I am wishing we were having more fuzzy moments sitting on the sofa cuddled up in blankets reading stories or doing lessons.  I am wishing there were more painting, pasting and colored tissue paper.  Alas, I have the rest of the house hold to run, a sixth month old baby who needs nursing and care among other things.  But, I hope I can do it all well enough.

5. Sometimes we miss the magic of school plays and pageants and festivals; we miss packing lunches; school friendships; we miss the precious first day of school pictures and the stories they tell when we pick them up.  No, every precious moment of their little lives is ours--the good, the bad, the in between.  I just hope that in the end that it the price we have paid is more valuable than any earthly treasure.  I just pray that our reward is eternal.

6. Kristiana has a preschool work book and she works hard on it everyday. But, let's be honest, I am only pretending to teach her, because I am really focusing on Alex.  I kind of dodge in and out of lessons with her.  Guess what? She's actually learning a lot, so maybe I ought to straighten up and start teaching her in all those fun tactile preschool ways like I did with Alex.

7. We don't pretend to be perfect, but we do hope and pray for grace.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Baby Things

I caught Annie changing her babies' diapers on the changing table.  She's a good little mommy.  If I want to occupy her, I will ask her to care for her babies and she will spend time rocking them and hugging them.  She will line them all up and cover them with blankets.  She'll change their diapers and feed them bottles.  It's amazing that this all comes to her very naturally.  It is this activity of caring for the babies that makes her very calm, happy and at peace.  


I took this picture because I wanted to capture the spit bubbles running down Lucy's face. 


I put Lucy for a nap and she pulled the blanket over herself, nothing but her little foot was poking out.




About That Funny Little Girl

Kristiana has a b-i-i-i-g personality.  She always has.  When I was just newly pregnant with her, out of the blue, people would approach me and I ask me if I was pregnant.  I thought, "Wow, this baby is already making it's presence known."  An acquaintance of my husband's came up to him at his school and said, "Andrew, is your wife pregnant, because I had a dream she was."  It was so strange.

When she was a little baby, she had a way of screaming in the night that would make your hair curl.  She still does.  To this day, she still wakes and screams in the night, over the littlest thing.  But, I kept saying to my husband, you just watch, this little baby girl is going to be funny and your going to love her and have a special bond with her.  I was right.  Each night before she goes to bed my husband makes her swear an oath that she will not scream in the night.  "I, Kristiana, will not scream and cry in the night and wake everyone up, and will stay in my bed to sleep.  So help me, God."

Over the last week, I have been reminded of how funny and special she is.  One day this week she did her preschool homeschool for over five hours.  She could color pictures all day long.  She could sit and play pretend by herself carrying on conversations with herself all day.  

She hobbled around bent over holding a long toy as a walking stick and crackled her voice as though she were a very old woman.  She was good little actress.  She'll sing songs with gusto like the song from Annie, "Tomorrow."  She sings the Popeye the Sailor Man song in a scratchy Popeye voice…by she won't do it on camera. 

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And she loooves to organize things.  I do not mean she likes to pick up all her toys and put them away.  But, she does organize things--almost anything she can get her hands on.  When she dumps all the crayons out of the box to color a picture, she will line them all up in color order.


We have a basket full of kids shoes by the door.  She pulled these out of the shoe basket and while pretending they were animate she lined them all up and had them talk to each other.



Kristiana Quotes:

"I"M A TEENAGER! I'm a baaaad girl!"

"Daddy, your the strongest man in the WORRRLD!"

 "Daddy, you're reawwee strong like Popeye!" 

Mommy:  "Next Sunday we should get some fried chicken for Sunday dinner."

Kristiana: "No, we don't eat chicken on Sunday!'

Mommy: "Oh (pause), what do we eat on Sunday?"

Kristiana: "We eat caaandeee!"

As I write this she is pretending her sister's pacifier is a bird and having the pacifier fly from one side of the room into her sister's mouth.  What a creative clown.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Complications of Bunking

A few weeks ago Annie launched a rebellion--the great crib rebellion.  At two years old she does not have the sophistication of vocabulary and the ability to string sentences.  Yet Annie has sophisticated thoughts and desires…I always say that children are a lot like adults only lacking experience and discipline.  My point is that though they do not to seem to be the same as adults, they have thoughts and feelings that they will harbor into adulthood at which point they may or may not bring them to fruition in a mature manner.  There is a complete person within each child deserving the same love and respect as any adult.  I digress…

Each night after story time we would tell the kids it was time to go to bed and Annie started running for Kristiana's bed instead of her crib.  At first I thought Annie wanted bedtime company.  Annie's crib was in a separate room from our two older children.  Annie shared a room with Baby Lucy.  In part, I think Annie was seeking company and to be like the big kids.  For a week, we let the girls go to bed together in the same bed.  They played around for an hour each night until they drove us mad and Annie was totally exhausted.  Then we would put Annie back in her crib and she would fall asleep immediately.  

We moved Kristiana's bed into Annie's room and Lucy's cradle in with Alex.  (Alex goes right to sleep at night, so we knew that neither he nor Lucy would bother each other, which is unlike the two silly girls, Annie and Kristiana.)  The first night Annie and Kristiana were in the same room, Annie ended up sleeping in Kristiana's bed and Kristiana slept in the crib.  And yes, they were still silly for a long time until we were mad. 

I suggested to my husband that perhaps we should bunk the girls so that Annie had her own bed and they would be less silly because they would be on different levels.  It was clear we need to provide Annie a bed.  I went on a mad spree selling things around the house, raising funds for the new sleeping arrangement.  With funds raised, we investigated bunk bed options and finally ordered a bunk.  

It finally arrived and next came the task of putting it together.  Well…It was total madness.  

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We put it together at the end of our day, when Andrew came home from work and yet before dinner.  Yes, we were tired and hungry.  So we were a little grumpy.  We opened the boxes and of course the children all piled into the girls tiny room and immediately started tearing up packing materials all over the house, they grabbed pieces of the the bunk and tools and wanted to "help."  Anyone who knows little children knows that they are no help at all, but so sincere about their intentions.  It was so aggravating.  We tried to pacify them with a movie, but it was to no avail.  They were too excited and curious about what was happening.  We tried to patiently include them.  It was a sure test of virtues.  To make matters worse the instructions were the type that are only pictures, and there were many small parts to the beds.  The instructions pretended like all the parts should be labeled with stickers.  Three of the 30 some pieces were labeled.  We were busy flipping parts in all directions trying to figure out in which order and direction they ought to be constructed and all the while saying, "No, no, child don't touch that…Bring that here…Where did you put that…Oh, don't knock that over."   And the room was not big enough to construct the two beds.  Yet we had to construct it in the room, because we would not be able to get it through the door fully constructed.  We had to build the second bunk on top of the bottom, which is not recommended.

We finally had it 90% constructed and realized the holes that were drilled for the ladder were on the other side of the bed.  You would think we should have seen that the holes were not right from the beginning, but it was not obvious until were trying to attach the piece, and again the instructions were only pictures. We questioned, should drill new holes, should we deconstruct the bed and put it together so the holes lined up right?  We stood scratching our heads for a moment, discussing the mistake and chiding the children for climbing on the unfinished bed, when a light bulb illuminated above my husband's head.  We did not need to deconstruct or drill new holes.  We only needed to flip top bunk around 180 degrees and then the holes matched up.  It was a moment of hilarity when the daunting prospect of deconstructing the bed lifted.  

After three hours it was finished!  (Late dinner for mom and dad.)  

Bunking has been the perfect solution to the sleeping situation.  The girls are happy to have their new beds.  Annie sleeps well for her naps and at night time.  This is, of course, the sophisticated desire she was trying to communicate to us for which she had no words.  She wanted her own big girl bed and a big sister to share her room.  

No, I could not get any pictures of the kids behaving, or not being silly on the bed.  Fortunately, this is the only time they have been silly so far, because we have been insistent about not playing on the bed.


I could not get Annie to stop climbing over the edge.  The first night, 15 minutes after bed time she climbed over the side and fell to the floor, knocked the wind out of herself and has not tried it since.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

7 Early Mommyhood Mistakes - Wisdom for New Parents

1. Strollers Galore! I had a friend who had me convinced that I needed a different kind of stroller for every occasion.  Yeah, it's nice to have a jogging stroller for running; an umbrella stroller for darting through airports; a stroller that matches the carseat; double stroller for many kids; a sit-n-stand stroller for little kids and bigger kids.  The list goes on and on.  I had one of each and enjoyed their many uses.  But when it came down to it, I could not justify having any of them except the one that opens and close one-handed.  I sold them all except for the first one gifted to me--a Graco that opens and closes one handed.

A mom only needs one good stroller.  A jogging stroller should not be considered an essential even if one is a runner, because one does not get as good a workout while pushing it.  So push the baby around the block with the one good stroller and then go for good workout run sans bebe.

Let's say you have two kids to get around the block.  Put one in ring sling or on you back in a backpack carrier or mai tai.  Women around the world do not own strollers--they wear their children in all sorts of baby wearing devices, but a stroller is unheard of.  Do invest in a good baby wearing device.  They're expensive and not all of them are right for you.  Before you buy one, borrow one from a friend and try it for a week.  Find out what works for you.

2. Travel Light - All hotels have baby beds available upon request.  We took a pack-n-play to New York City once.  We were staying with a friend.  Guess where the baby slept?  In our bed.  We lugged a pack-n-play through subways and buses late at night and it went unused during the visit!  What a disaster.  Since then we have depended on borrowing baby beds from friends or hotels.  We have pack-n-plays stored at each set of grandparents home.  They were purchased for $40 each, but they can be purchased for $20 or less at yard sales.  We have not been sorry about the baby sleeping situation since.

Diapers can be bought when you arrive.  Just take enough diapers to get to where you are going.  But, do take double clothing for children and self.  I traveled with Annie when she was 5 months old and she pooped her way through 3 outfits and two of mom's shirts while we waited to board our plane.  It was a little ridiculous.  But fortunately, I had packed all my clothes and her clothes in my carry-on.    

Don't travel with too many toys and distractions.  Kids are fascinated with traveling itself.  Help them to see the interesting things.  If all else fails, sing.  As parents, we need to brush up on all the old nursery songs.  They really do calm and entertain children.  My dad had a song called, "The Dirty Bird Picnic" (that's what we all called it; it's really the Tennessee Bird Walk), which he sang on every car trip.  We continued to delight in it even in our teens. (See below the song - you just have to imagine and Australian man singing. It was much funnier.)

Kids always get sick and out of sorts while traveling, so why aggravate the travel by loading yourself down with stuff. 

3. In the Care of Others -  My first two kids were in daycare for the first few years of their lives.  I was constantly miserable over this.  I was miserable that I hardly saw my children and was missing them growing from babies into toddlers.  Further, my children did not consistently have the same caretakers.  Let's face it, the caretakers make a low wage for a demanding job.  Of course there is going to be a high turnover.  In turn, this meant that while they sort of cared about my child, they could leave him in an instant and not care in the least about the emotional loss he incurred.  

My kids were also constantly sick and suffered irreparable damage to their health because they were so sick in the first year of life.  I missed a lot of work as well to care for them.  It hardly made sense to have me working except for the fact that I was the main breadwinner.

I was stressed.  The kids were stressed. My husband was stressed, because we were all stressed!  

Be honest.  It's an unnatural situation.  Nature intends for the young to be cared for by their parents.  This gives the offspring the best chance at survival and normalcy.  All sorts of reasons can be made to justify children being in the care of others, but in the end it really would be better to live without fine clothes, the finest food and the newest gadgets in order to have one parent at home.  It really would be best in order that the virtues of the family be preserved.  

It's our society that has normalized this convention of daycare, childcare, preschool.  Throughout history women have always worked, but it used to be that our children were alongside us as we worked.  It was in the industrial revolution that we lost our children.  Take them back.  Bring them home.  Hold them close.  Instill them with good values for the good of all.  Be brave and raise your children yourself.  I do not mean see them for a few waking hours a day and call it parenting.  I mean dare to be with them, teaching them and role modeling for them EVERY WAKING HOUR, in every precious and not so precious moment.  You have only ONE chance to raise your children--do not miss it.  Do not regret not having spent more time with them when they were under your roof. Though we have healed, I still regret the three and half years my children spent in daycare

4. Teaching Too Early - It's never too early to teach really, but subject matter and expectations of the child should be age appropriate.  I was eager to teach my son and he was eager to learn, but either my expectations of him were too much, or his expectations of himself were too high, and he never trusted me until one day he learned something useful.  This all seems crazy now, but we had lots of battles over learning.  He would always come to me wanting me to teach him something and then when I would teach him he would think I was wrong; or he would wander off before he had learned anything; or he would do it wrong and be mad at himself for not being perfect; or he would be mad at me for telling him to be patient and do it right.  I would expect him to attain suitable proficiency in whatever I taught him and he did not always agree.

Further the kids want me to play with them ALL THE TIME.  Playing with them often means coming up with games and crafts, puzzles and so forth.  It's exhausting.  What it comes down to is that they want me to entertain them, which I just see as an opportunity to teach them in fun ways.  But also, they need to learn to be creative on their own and imagine their own fun and games.  This is something I can not teach them.  They must develop the skill of creative play on their own.

In the end, I believe all my battles largely had to do with age and maturity.  So, play games, teach, do preschool workbooks, even do flashcard drills.  But, do not expect too much from yourself or the tot.  Do not turn it into battles, because it will likely all work itself out with maturity.  It also has to do a lot with personality.  So do not be afraid to explore the child's personality as you teach.

Instead of teaching or battles, work on trust and discipline with young'uns.  It pays off later.  I do not mean be a drill sergeant and make your kids walk around the house doing chores and minding you.  But teach routine, hygiene, manners and so forth, and do it like a "broken record."  It does not register with them until the 4,000th time you have told them.  What's that old saying, "Patience is a virtue."  Yeah, that one was invented by parents for parents and then they decided to tell the kids about it too. ;-)

5. Babes in the Bed - I had my babies in my bed from newborn.  It started with our first.  The only way we had peace was having him in our bed.  It was lovely.  Until it wasn't.  It eventually got to a point where no one was comfortable and we were all waking each other up.  We tried the various methods of getting a child to sleep--crying, gnashing of teeth, holding, rocking, nursing.  All of it. We tried everything.  We were to the letter about each method, because we were desperate to make it work.  No one was sleeping through.  Finally with our son, around 18 months old, started sleeping through the night and has been a marvelous sleeper since.  But, that was after a year of staying in his room and holding him down (gently) in bed until he fell asleep.  Then if he woke up, he was back in our bed, because there was nothing in the world, but mom, that would get him back to sleep.  With our other two girls in our bed we had similar problems.  In fact, our four year old daughter has never slept through the night.  She still wakes up nightly and wants in our bed.  Our two year old only suddenly started sleeping through the night in her own bed when the new baby was born. She was 19 months old.  SO WITH THE NEW BABY, we decided that we were going to commit to not having her in our bed, because it was a situation that no longer worked for us.  She was in a bassinet beside our bed for the first three months.  She started spontaneously sleeping through the night at two and a half months and now at five months she sleeps in the kids' room and sleeps through the night.  The lesson we have learned is a well-rested parent can be a better parent, spouse and worker during the waking hours.  So help those babies sleep and do whatever it takes.

6. Not Resting Enough After Birth - I have responsibilities just like anyone.  Not to mention, that I like to be useful.  Sometimes you cannot shirk your duties even when you need to stop and heal.  However, after childbirth it is good to be both useful and know when to rest.  The problem is that the energy and wellness ebb and flow during the first couple months after a child is born.  Some moments you feel you must do and others you need to cocoon and rest.  So, if you find yourself in an ebb after childbirth, ask for, nay, demand help.  I always think/desire to be more capable than I am and suffer in the wake. 

7.  Pray - It's a mistake if you don't.  I have prayed a lot during my motherhood.  I cannot imagine motherhood without a prayer upon my lips every moment of every day.  This job is sooo hard.  It's harder than anything I have ever done.  I could not survive without the daily grace I receive from God.  As I spent endless hours trying to put my over anxious and asthma prone, son to bed, I said the "Hail Mary" over and over.  I said the "Jesus Prayer" over and over through all my pregnancies.   I pray a lot to become a holy mother and that I might influence holiness in my children and that they might choose it for themselves.  Pray for guidance; pray for fortitude.  Pray for it all.  Pray!  Christ is in our midst!

The Madonna in Sorrow

Monday, October 8, 2012

Baby Update

Little Lucy is five months old now.  She is still so smiley and cuddly.  Each morning when I go get her from her bed, she kicks her little legs and giggles at the sight of me.  It's the most adorable thing.  Waking Lucy is the best part of my day.  I pick her up and she hugs my neck and snuggles up to me for a nurse.  She has a long morning nurse since she sleeps so well at night.  In the afternoon, she is extremely fussy and we think it's because she wants another long nurse then as well, but I am usually busy making dinner or doing chores.  I can only nurse her for a short time.  So once again, I am going to have to reorganize myself to accommodate the baby.  I think I will start prepping dinner during home school.

I am trying to cherish each moment with her, because they are only babies for a moment.  I feel like they only have this purity, joy, wonderment for a day and then it is lost forever.  They become just like the rest of us.  The world is not new anymore.  She rolls her tongue around her mouth and chews on it with her naked gums in total awe of her own tongue, enjoying it and exploring it.  It's things like that that only a baby can make special.

"TOES! I have toes! They taste so good! Nom, nom, nom."



"Good morning, MOMMY!!! Did you bring me breakfast!"

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She's still so little. I wish she would never grow older.  I think she looks like an Eloise Wilkins baby.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Icon Writing With Kids - Moses and the Ten Commandments

In this week's home school lesson we learned about the Ten Commandments.  Therefore, we wrote the Ten Commandments icon.  What is there to be said about the Ten Commandments?  There is a lot to teach a child about what constitutes a violation of these commandments.  But, I think the most important lesson of this week is "The Lord spoke these words," (Ex 20:1).  It is important for a child to know that not only are these the rules, but that they are given to us from God.   This is the conduct the Lord, God, expects of him.  This is what it takes to obey God.

Kristiana has become my little icon protege.  While Alex participates here and there.  She is eager to study.  She request page after page of coloring, lessons and worksheets.  She is so proud of herself.  I would have had her paint this one, but Annie, our two year old was not napping and I did not want to get out paints while she was around.  Alex was sick with strep throat (ick).

Here are the girls working on this week's icon:


Moses of the Rainbow Robes - Kristiana was pretty proud of the many color robe