Make Way for Breaks: Scheduling around Chronic Illness

Ah the beloved break. Spring Break, Winter Break…Summer vacation. Many of my favorite childhood memories are inextricably linked with the nostalgia of school breaks. A nostalgia that I do not want my children to miss out on even though we have the freedom to break away from the school schedules that accompany them. I love the idea of traditions that make their home within a specific break. The feeling of adventure as you look forward to days or weeks of unscheduled freedom, which is why I schedule my entire year around such breaks.

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I absolutely love that as a homeschooler I can control how we set up those breaks and how often we get to have them. I love being able to plan special breaks around family birthdays or events happening in our life. The children love knowing that if one week has been especially hard on us, there is always the option of having a slower week soon after. However, there’s another reason I love being able to schedule breaks whenever I need them at this season of my life. Quite frankly, my health demands it.

My body physically demands some kind of reprieve from the responsibilities that go along with being a homeschooler. I just cannot do it all, all of the time. It is too much for me. Trying to homeschool, keep house, volunteer, be a wife, a writer, feed my creative hungers and intellectual curiosities all while fighting my own body and it’s limitations absolutely requires that I prioritize my time. For me it is a constant battle between the chronic fatigue and body pains of fibromyalgia, the eye fatigue, headaches and migraines of IIH and the debilitating effects of seasonal depression that absolutely demand that I listen to my body and be proactive rather than reactive.

Reactions mean days in bed with no ability to meet the needs of myself, let alone my children. Which  I feel is not fair to them or my husband, who is wonderful enough to pick up my share as well as his own during those rough patches. That is not the kind of mother or wife I want to be, my own personal expectations are far too high for that. So instead of reacting to piss poor planning, I actively schedule and prioritize my time, knowing my limits and abiding by them. Knowing that I need a certain number of down days per week and not over scheduling my time. Knowing that certain situations, lightings or atmospheres trigger headaches. Knowing all of these things and above all, planning for them- which is especially hard when you also enjoy being spontaneous and adventurous.

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First things first. My first step in planning out my time is to plan out a rough yearly schedule based on the times of year that work with me and not against me. We choose to school year round in order to best accommodate my needs in this regards.

For us this looks like a year round schedule that is broken up into six terms. These terms are very loosely based and can last anywhere from six to eight weeks. At around six weeks I evaluate our current mood and condition; if all is well we go ahead for two more weeks, if not then we stop and take a week off. This way we don’t overdo things trying to just push through. However, unlike most term based schedules I make one slight distinction – we have what I call our Holiday Term and Summer Vacation built into the term system.

Our school year looks like this:

Term 1: July &August

Term 2: Sept &Oct

Term 3: Nov &Dec- Holiday term

Term 4: Jan & Feb

Term 5: Mar &Apr

Term 6: May & June – Summer Vacation

During the four regular terms we do the vast majority of our studying, we take field trips, go to plays or performances and take part in local classes. The short breaks between terms allow for little reprieves that are just right for clearing our minds from time to time. On the other hand, the two  middle terms are our big breaks. Rather than me preparing everything and laying everything out we go with what feels interesting. We follow passions and build our independent study ability because my children love learning so much that they just don’t stop, even if I tell them that we are on vacation. I still record our progress during this time but I don’t set up any requirements. I don’t ask the children to do math or copy work, we don’t read off of our scheduled readings. We do check out science books at the library (usually because someone wants to know how something works), we do go to museums, create art, watch documentaries…all things that I record through pictures, receipts and end products but any thing that happens during this time is occurring spontaneously and is done out of pure curiosity or desire.

As much as the kids love all these breaks, the best part about this schedule is that it allows me time during my hardest months to move into survival mode without affecting our overall year.

November and December are very hard months for me. My mind has a horrible time adjusting to the light changes, and the weather changes affect how my body moves as well. During these months I just cannot keep up with everything so instead I plan for my focus to shift away from schooling to things like dishes, laundry, and meals. I know that I can spend the time with my children baking and reading without worrying that I have enough written down for the reviews. The children also love the freedom to enjoy the first snows and the changes of the seasons outside without worrying about written math lessons. In addition, because it coincides with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Three Kings Day this break allows us to focus on traditions and joyful holiday fun rather than finishing up a test.

On the flip side of this May and June are my best months. The weather is perfect for spending the entire day outside. Gardens can be planted. Nearby nature preserves are full of life waiting to be explored. Most schools aren’t out yet so it is also a perfect time for a family vacation or special outings. We love having the freedom to use these months (and my extra energy) doing the things that are harder to do the rest of the year without thought to school. It also works out nicely that our last few weeks of summer vacation perfectly coincide with the schools release so that we can have fun with cousins as well.

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Now that my year is planned out (roughly), I move my focus on to my weeks and terms. Before this year my terms were based entirely on our interests at that time. I would ask the children what they were interested in and then we would explore those things together- taking every rabbit trail along the way. However, because this year is so different I’ll keep it short and sweet. First of all, because I am following a Charlotte Mason education this year, this part of my planning process is very specific to this style. I have my list of subjects and my topics within each subject for each child that I want to complete over the year. I then break that list into the four terms that I have going on during the year. Because I know that each term can last from six to eight weeks I plan for eight weeks from the get go knowing ahead of time that we may be starting the next term picking up at the unfinished end of the last one. As for subject matter…well that is a whole other post and one that relies heavily on mixing and matching what works for us based on established resources like Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Help, A Modern Charlotte Mason, Sabbath Mood, A Delectable Education, and AfterThoughts. This year I spent about a month preparing for our upcoming year but even then I only prepared down to the weekly level of each term. I stop my lesson plans at the week level specifically because I know that each week will require a different rhythm to best fit my health at that time.

 

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So, moving onto the how. How do I plan ahead regarding my day to day when I also know that I am no good at keeping schedules and when I have to plan ahead for any possible unknown flare ups? For me, it means multiple open plans. I never have just one schedule or routine, instead I have a cycle of options that fit together making up the perfect week or term or year.

For this year these are the options for my days.

  1. The out of the house day, Full Day: Basically these are the days when we leave the house. We wake up earlier than usual, we need to have planned meals for the day, outing bags need to be packed the night before, weather needs to be checked… this also means that no other schooling will occur, dinner needs to be easy and tomorrow needs to be at home because this kind of day is exhausting, for all of us.
  2. The out of the house day, part day: These are the days that include some kind of outing that is close to home and less than 3 hours long, including driving time. Piano lessons, Art class, Science class, Playdates, Nature Study, Library trips… all of these options are part of our school day and the rest of our day flows around them. Readings, math and copy work still happen although when they happen depends greatly on the schedules required by outside forces such as other people, open/close times, weather issues, etc…
  3. The home school day: This is a typical homeschool day and normally only lasts 3 hours. We wake up when we wake up and follow a basic routine, which often look like this: breakfast, readings together, math and copy work, lunch, tea time, outside time, free afternoons, tidy up, dinner and family time.
  4. The home chore day: These are the days when I just can’t stand the mess any longer and I need to deep clean. We still do math, copy work and about half of our regular readings but the focus is on our house… these days usually precede house guests and are the reason my children ask who is coming to visit when they see me pull out the cleaning supplies.
  5. The lazy day (I name this with a warm, fuzzy attachment to the term lazy, not at all a negative one): When we have had a particularly harrowing week or weekend we throw one of these days in (usually on Monday or Friday) just to help us refresh. These are usually an anything goes kind of day and we rarely get dressed on them. You will often find mommy in yoga pants, the middle girls in tee’s n shorts (regardless of the weather outside), Itty bitty running through the halls in underwear (her preferred mode of dress) and Little Man is usually in pj bottoms with a tank top (he would also prefer to be in underwear alone but alas being the only boy in a house full of girls requires that he be clothed at lest marginally). You will almost always see a slew of art supplies scattered across our living room, a stack of books beside a crumb filled tea set and more than one electronic device huddled with a blanket. Mommy’s nose is most likely firmly stuck in the pages of a book for a good portion of the day. These are our favorite days.

Mixing and matching these different kinds of days into a week , month or term allow us to focus on the atmosphere of our learning. The flow we had as unschoolers stays intact even if I now have readings or assignments that we want to finish within a specific week. I try to have at least two #3 days and no more than one #1 or #5 days per week. Most weeks we have three #2 days and two #3 days and occasionally we will have a full week of #3 days, these, though not often enough, are often what I feel are my most productive weeks.

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While certain aspects of this plan are specific to CM, it has not always been. This is the same plan that I used when I unschooled. The only difference between this schedule and our unschooling one was that our homeschool days were entirely child led and sometimes looked similar to our lazy days. I didn’t come by way of this over night either. Over the years I found our rhythm. There were seasons where I pushed too hard and crashed shortly after. There were times when I over scheduled our weeks and sometimes months, leading to an in ability to get out of bed. If you look through my past posts its easy to see where depression took over, where fatigue left me empty, where I just couldn’t handle the day to day of life. Every one of those hard or dark times was taken into consideration when I built this schedule over the last three years.

Last year was my first full year without a complete burnout. For me that means I found what worked. What worked was this. As of now this is the way that I can schedule things in the most productive way while also being aware of my own limitations. This is how I get everything to fit without burning myself out. I have to create blank spaces in our year. I have to schedule in room for wiggling. To put it in a nutshell, scheduling for me, is all about how I Make Way for Breaks.

Dropping the Un from our SCHOOL

Over the years I have transitioned, tweaked, mixed and done whatever was necessary to find a system that works for us. I mixed together what I loved and created a Philosophy of Education that works for us and that philosophy hasn’t changed but my methods of implementing it has.

In the beginning I tried so hard to make classical work. It was just too much all at once with kiddos that were just too young for that kind of style. I then rebounded into public school which is far more of a traditional style (or what most of us see as traditional) and that was a miserably failed experiment as well. That was when I found Unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Thomas Jefferson Ed and Montessori.

I read everything I could find on these. I immersed myself into the theories, methodologies and implementations of each one using our deschooling period as my research time. I fell in love with so many aspects of each one that I ended up even more confused than when I began; but the two that spoke the most to my fancy were Unschooling and Charlotte Mason.

  I think that’s the trap for all new homeschoolers. Overload you with information and send you on your way with a simple phrase like “you’ll find what works for your family” and leave them contemplating each and every aspect as if their child’s entire future hinges on this one decision.

Unschool your children and you’ll either have these amazingly self-directed teens that know exactly who they are and where they’re going or you’ll have a lazy, entitled brat who can’t read. Use Charlotte Mason and you’ll have a well read, nature lover with a wicked dry brush who is ready for anything college will throw at them or a burnt out teen who can’t stand the idea of one more dusty old book and doesn’t know what they want from life. Maybe I should memorize more like the classical style or spend more time outdoors like Waldorf or …

Dude, this train of thought is exhausting and debilitating!

I was so tired of trying to over analyze every single aspect (which was totally unnecessary!) that I ended up Unschooling with a pocketful of Charlotte Mason tools for when the kids said “I’m bored, what can I do now?” and it WORKED!

Honestly it still works.

It never stopped working. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I am writing this because I decided to change things up. I started last year as we added more structure to our rhythm but instead of fixing things I started to notice some behaviors or aspects that I didn’t like and that is why we are dropping the un from our school.

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I still believe in the power of respect and freedom. I still believe in building a cooperative environment where mom and child work together towards creating the kind of education that is best for the child. I still believe that the child should feel responsible for their own education. I’m also still all about spontaneous trips or rabbit trails.

But,

  1.  I’m a history nerd and I really didn’t like how haphazard their historical knowledge was being introduced. When my 7 year old asked me if Pocahontas came over on the Mayflower too, I knew that I wasn’t doing something right. When we visited Valley Forge two years before learning about George Washington and they couldn’t connect the two on their own- that was a problem for me.
  2. Electronics were playing too big of a role in all of our lives and none of us were able to self regulate- myself included. One of the tenants of unschooling is that if you let them have all that they want they will eventually not want what is bad for them and learn to self regulate. Maybe that works for some people but addictive tendencies run in my family. We have a serious history of drug abuse, alcoholism, being workaholics and generally being unable to self moderate that runs through almost every generation of both my family and my husbands. In our family this was becoming a problem.
  3. As a part of our movement towards facing underachievement I have to require that my children do certain things they don’t want to do. This is completely contrary to unschooling and completely necessary for my family. This isn’t about pushing them to do more but rather about teaching them perseverance and grit. This is something that I wasn’t forced to do and now I struggle with this absolutely necessary part of life- I want better for my children and its far easier to break a habit when your 8 than when your 18 or 28.

This is why I am officially leaving behind the method of unschooling. However, before I completely write all of this off I want also say that unschooling gets a bad rap. Below are what I see most commonly as misconceptions of unschooling:

  1. Unschooling is not UnParenting. Choosing to unschool does not mean that you stop being a child’s parent. There are varying styles of parenting found in all styles of schooling and the same goes for unschooling. It is just as easy to find a parent with bedtimes and house rules who unschools as it is to find a free range, yes parent. That said, it is also just as easy to find a free range, yes parent in classical environment. Parenting style does not dictate schooling methods. The trick here is that if you are an unschooler with rules, usually you have conversations with your child about the reasoning behind the rules and you keep the communication open and flowing. Teaching a child boundaries is just plain safe and unschoolers do this too (even if the methods vary).
  2. Unschooling does not mean that your child does nothing! An unschooled child can take a mathematics course or use a language arts curriculum- or play minecraft, read fantasy for hours, and build forts in the woods. What makes the child unschooled is that they, the child, are the ones who choose that path. If the parent says, “I think you should take this class” or “here choose between these curriculums or this class” then that is not unschooling, but if you’re at the library and your 10 year old sees a poster for a math in minecraft class and then proceeds to tell you “hey that looks fun, can I do that?”- well that is unschooling. On the flip side, if your 6 year old wants to learn french after reading Matilda and you offer a french tutor that is also unschooling.
  3. You can’t unschool part time. You’re either in or out. You can set up Montessori stations in hopes that little fingers will choose to sit and play (and eventually they will). You can lay out great books on table tops or displays silently praying that one of your children will be attracted by the illustrations that graze the front. You can have easels, paints, paper, crayons or tools out and about enticing young eyes with their shiny gleams or colorful rainbows. You can drive to the park with a lunch and watch as your child explores and adventures. You can even lay out that handwriting book and leave it there in the same spot, religiously dusting its cover over the years until the moment when the 8 year old picks it up and uses the instructions to write herself a story. Or you can join in as your child plays their third hour of Minecraft and actually ask questions so that you too understand why they love playing this so much. You can bake or cook or garden or read…but you’re either in or out. Telling your children that they must complete one lesson in each book before free time is not unschooling. Eclectic is a wonderful word, so is interest led, use those instead. You can’t school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the claim to unschool Tuesday and Thursday. This is akin to someone saying “Oh, I’m a vegan too, well except for eggs and cheese.”- No. Just No. Choosing to unschool is a lifestyle choice. It is choosing to let your child be responsible for their entire education. Not everyone likes it. Not everyone wants to live this way. And unschooling doesn’t have the copyright on freedom of exploration and interest led learning. It’s ok to choose to use curriculum on certain days and learn through life on others, but it is not unschooling.

Unschooling can be an amazing path for some children and some families. I will never regret our years unschooling because out of this stage in our journey my children learned to love asking questions and searching for answers. We will still have a place for this as we move on but things from this point on will be planned out and led more by mom. Their opinions are valued, but I will have the final say. We are all growing and moving in and out of our metamorphosis as we move towards the unknown. Choosing to use certain methods to further your philosophy is great but don’t feel tied down by them. As a wise homeschool mom who has been in the trenches far longer than I told me, “Live what you love and leave what you don’t.”

That is exactly what I am doing. I’m following what works for my family, even if that means changing things again, but as my husband says,

‘It’s all good, kids bounce anyway. They’re flexible like that.”

“Making Magic”

“Momma, close your eyes. I’m going to make Magic”

Itty Bitty stood on the grassy hill that gently sloped down from the library’s brick wall. She had just grasped an entire Dandelion puff in her tiny hand and was squeezing her teeny fist as tightly as possible.

“Ok, can I open them now?” I asked, playing along to see where this would go.

“Now Momma! Look I made Magic!” she giggled.

I opened my eyes and saw her standing there surrounded by soft lilting Dandelion seeds wishing in the slight breeze with a huge gaping grin, awestruck by the magic she had created.

At that moment an elderly gentleman passed by leaning heavily on his cane. I saw him chuckling with a gleam in his eye, entranced by my daughter.

She did it. She really did make magic. In that moment she was a master magician, bewitching the adults who happened upon her spell.

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I stood there smiling at her, after he passed by, watching the seeds float on. After a moment she skipped off to the next flower and did it again, repeating the script and game over and over.

At one point she told me that she was a pollinator. In another she bent down and hugged the ground telling me that she was hugging her shadow like Peter Pan before telling me that she is a sunshine stopper. She scoured the landscaped for fallen Dogwood flower petals telling me that she needs to explore the differences among the fallen pieces.

I had my phone in my hand the whole time. At some moments I stood there capturing the scene through the photo lens and at other not really paying attention as I texted a friend back.

I giggled when she giggled. I watched her skip and frolic over to the adjoining grassy field speckled with yellow and white Dandelion blossoms, knowing that she is my last baby to play like this out in the field.

As I watch my baby grow up,  I’ve noticed this one truth…

Learning is Magic.

Magic happens whether I plan it or not.

Magic happens when I let go and allow them to explore.

Magic happens when I step back and take MY hands off.

Learning can, and does, happen when I’m leading or introducing new things but that learning isn’t really magical. Fun yes. Joy filled yes. But magical, no.

This moment didn’t happen because I orchestrated the timing or set things up beforehand. We were in the in between. We were moving between her one on one time at the public library and picking up her siblings at piano lessons. We just happened to have a handful of extra minutes because I got cold under the AC indoors and wanted a moment to bask in the sun before rushing to the next event.

In that moment, under those circumstances, I gave her absolute freedom and in that freedom she made magic.

Making room for magic made all the difference.

It always makes the difference…

as long as I get out of the way long enough to allow it.

Broken Glass

Today I took a nap. A real nap.

I put on a CLEAN semi trendy outfit and thought that I looked cute in my leggings, skirt and tee combo paired with boots and matching purse.

I liked my outfit. I didn’t have to worry about practicality and I didn’t need to walk half naked from room to room handling other peoples clothing emergencies, “this sock feels weird” or “where’s my left shoe” were nowhere to be heard! I chose an outfit that I liked and then I got dressed.

I had time to curl my hair and apply what passes as make up for me…basically BB cream, lipstick and eyeliner. I didn’t have to take my lipstick out of my four year olds hands and I didn’t have to explain to my daughter why I like to put eyeliner on my eyes.

After much pomp and circumstance (and several rounds of hugs and pouty faces) I left my house without children.

I went to a Starbucks not attached to a Target, alone.

I walked up to the Starbucks counter (not the drive thru) and ordered a Grande Iced Carmel Macchiato  (for the first time) without the chaos of multiple voices trying to order their own drinks in rapid succession.

I was early for my moms night out and unapologetically jammed to top 40 music, complete with expletives.

It was GLORIOUS!

Dinner with female adult conversation and Baltimore’s third year of Listen to Your Mother was, to say the least, a blessing.

I love my children and truly enjoy being with them, but friendship and nights out are a gift, a rare and well appreciated gift.

On my way home, just to maximize my time out, I walked through a bookstore until closing… by myself! I looked at the adult fiction section, I picked up some merchandise from a clearance table and I reveled in the calming smell of paper and coffee.

I know, I’m living the dream…or at least the suburban mom dream.

The children were ecstatic to see me when I finally returned. Daddy let them stay up until I came home, letting them binge watch Phineas and Ferb. They loved it. It was just as much of a treat for them as it was for me.

Then the TV turned off. Bedtime was announced. They shuffled their feet. They tried to give another three kisses before heading up the stairs. We heard shouting. We heard running feet… and then we heard breaking glass.

A beautiful day, filled with calm and refreshing quiet, ended with the shattering of glass.

Because, of course, something had to happen.

But…

It didn’t annoy me. The sound of shattering glass didn’t fill me with dread or anger. I was still calm. I was able to respond to the emotional needs of the children who had accidentally hit the glass while trying to brush their teeth. I was able to respond and not react.

For the first time ever the sound of broken glass made me smile.

It reminded me that life is unpredictable. It reminded me that life is fragile. It reminded me that life is transparent and beautiful exactly the way it is.

Because that shattering, fragile glass reminded me that Glass, like life, is made beautiful in its imperfections.brokenglassblogpost

 

Just Like… Me!?

This past fall we made the decision to let go of our Unschooling ways in favor for a more structured Charlotte Mason routine and now, half a year later, I am taking a second look at our decision. This is not what I was planning. I had glorious visions of days filled with us out in nature, surrounded by classical literature, art, and music. I had so many dreams and visions. I expected my children to love the extra reading time too but that hasn’t happened. Instead everyday has been a challenge, every assignment a battle.

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Here’s the thing, I am not convinced its the change of style causing all the havoc. I’ve been noticing a trend with my two oldest over the years that has nagged at me but not really worried me. I thought it was a phase. Maybe it still is a phase, but this new style has highlighted the issue. The issue? Underachievement!

I’m sure that part of the problem began with their perfectionism and the need to get things done right but now its morphed into a need for things to be easy. Easy things don’t present a challenge, easy things can be done without really thinking, planing or having to fail repeatedly. After all, failing is not the greatest feeling in the world … I should know, I hate failing.

 I hate failing so much that I dropped honors classes in high school because it was easier to be the smartest kid in the class in a regular class getting straight A’s without trying than it was to actually have to pay attention in class, take notes and …*gasp* study (!) to make B’s in honors! That trend followed me all the way through my undergrad years and is the dirty secret behind my 5 major changes in one semester. Actually, I didn’t learn how to study until grad school and even then it wasn’t out of necessity but rather out of intrigue for the subject matter. 

I get it, I really do. Finding out that my kids are gifted opened my eyes to my own undiagnosed giftedness. My kids are just like me! I study best when I’m fascinated by the materials. I have sensory sensitivities, I displayed asynchronous development in my younger years, I felt at ease academically in every level …all of the oddities that I struggled with in myself made so much sense when I saw them in my children through the lens of Giftedness, but this is a bit different. This is like a gifted fault that I have passed on to my children…a fault that I still struggle with!

 I still choose the easy way out. I still shoot down hard options that could be very rewarding because I’ve allowed underachievement to control some of my major life decisions in really unhealthy ways. I still am an underachiever. 

I have so many ideas that constantly flow through my mind:

-possible websites that could help homeschoolers search through the millions of free and cheap resources that are already online (I’ve had this one for the past four years!),

– creating a History curriculum that looks at interactions world wide through a billiard ball effect over time (this one I’ve had festering since my teaching days back in 2005!)…

 I’ve had these ideas and the means to make them possible for years but I just haven’t even started one of them. Part of it is fear of failure, part of it is wondering if I have the credentials to be taken seriously once they are finished, part of it is wondering if they are just crazy ideas that don’t matter, and part of it is just laziness because all of them require determination and effort. 

Finding giftedness in yourself after noticing it in your children can be a wonderful link bonding the two generations in a special way. Knowing that your children’s quirks are just like yours adds to the level of understanding and compassion that as a parent is really necessary for your everyday peace, but not every quirk is one you wanted to pass down.

So now I face a new challenge.

 How do I face underachievement in its beginning stages with my young children when I have spent years running from it in myself? 

A challenge of this magnitude is usually one that I would try to avoid. I know this is going to be tough. I know that I may not succeed with my first idea. I know that the stakes are high. I know all of this, but if I am going to help any of them face their own underachievement, then I need to face my own. I don’t know if I need to tweak our style again. I don’t know if I need to put more of an emphasis on the child led aspects that we used to hold to with only some subjects being mandated by Mom. I don’t know what I need to do!

 I didn’t write this post with the intention of tackling how to fix underachievement among gifted students. This post is a part of the GHF Blog Hop: Recognizing Giftedness in Our Children and Ourselves because  sometimes recognizing giftedness is recognizing the sides of giftedness that we may not want to admit to, especially in ourselves. After all, the first step towards fixing anything is admitting that there is something that needs to be fixed. It is sometimes realizing that I can’t say “your child…” to my husband jokingly because this time, they are Just Like …Me!?

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Making the Jones’ Sigh

Never fails, ever. I take the children out and about during the day to run errands between piano lessons and Library visits or for whatever reason and the sheer size of my brood brings at least one comment. The comments themselves are not always negative, nor are they always condescending. Sometimes it’s the sigh of recognition from a grandma who misses the days that have long gone by, sometimes its the unfulfilled wish from a woman who wants children but cannot have them for whatever reason and every once in a while it’s an exclamation of joy from an adult who grew up in a large family and sees a younger version of themselves in us as we pass by. I don’t mind the comments, even the rude ones.  Having a larger family was always one of my dreams. I planned to have four children and I planned them all to be less than two years apart, it’s what I wanted and so I take the comments as a part of this chosen lifestyle.

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However, what always surprises me is the sigh that comes along with the mention of homeschooling. Our area has a huge community of homeschoolers. There are homeschoolers from every walk of life in this area,  if you can name them, I’m sure we can find at least a few of them somewhere around here. I am so close to both Washington DC and Baltimore that we end up being in a mixing pot, culturally, socially, religiously… and I love it, yet homeschoolers still get sighs while out and about. Again this isn’t a positive or negative sigh. This is very much along the lines of the large family sigh with one exception. Everyone feels bad for me.

“Don’t you ever just need a break?” Is a question I am asked repeatedly. “With such a large family and homeschooling, when do you get time for you?” is usually the runner up followed by, “I just don’t have that kind of patience.”

To answer the most asked question, yes, yes I do need a break and yes I do make the time for me, just like any other mom- homeschooler or not and I do not have a patience super power. My patience runs thin, and often, but here’s the really weird thing. The more time I spend with my kids, the more I like them.

Don’t get me wrong, they know how to push every single button. They know which nerves are frazzled and exactly how to push me over the edge, but they also have a pretty hilarious sense of humor. We have inside jokes that pop up in the most inconvenient of times. They like the same things I like, probably because of some healthy geek conditioning, but still, it’s there.

I get them and they get me; over excitabilities, quirks, oddities and all. Patience running out or not, I still enjoy being with the little ones who who make me yell, cry and laugh until my sides hurt every day. We built a lifestyle that we love and we love sharing it with each other, even if that means spending bad days separated in bedrooms surrounded by books.

Being with my children everyday is an adventure. One minute my kids are helpful and kind, the next minute they are running in twenty different directions while screaming at each other and then they have a moment of curious exploration filled with intense discussion followed by a completely boneheaded decision that leaves me questioning their genetics (it must come from their father…or their uncle…but never me, right?). Being with them all day everyday makes me want to simultaneously spend everyday out of my house doing fun things and everyday hiding under my blankets.

Somedays I do wish for that break in the day that would allow me to run to the grocery store with only one child. Sometimes. Most times though, I don’t even compare. I don’t even consider the other option because I love the bonds and life we have created.

I love that I can take my kids to the aquarium in the middle of the day when no one else is there. I love that we can spend two hours in a library reading aloud from a myriad of genres in the most comfortable chairs because no one else is there. I love that I can take them into Washington DC and let them run ahead of me in a large museum because its the middle of January, freezing outside, and very few people are walking around. I love that we can do neat indoor field trips (like museums, galleries, plays, aquariums or orchestra shows) all winter, spend hours (3-5) outside in wild nature when the average temp is in the 60’s, take summer break while our friends and family are off in June and then spend the unbearably hot/humid summer/fall doing school inside. I love how easily I can change our schedule to fit the needs of our family, either because the stress is just too much and we need a brain break or because their cousin is moving and we want to spend extra time with them before they leave.

Being the person that helps them through the frustration and gets them to that a-ha moment is totally worth being the person that hears them cry about not getting it. Hours a day of repeating the same thing over and over is worth it that first time they finally do it on their own (clear off the table when you leave!) and seeing them understand something that I’ve never even discussed with them before always blows my mind. “Leave your (fill in the blank) alone!” might as well be recorded since I am a repeat repeater, and it makes me feel batty but it gets easier the longer you do it, or at least it did with me. What was excruciatingly difficult when my oldest was three is only mildly annoying to me now.

I don’t need a break from that, and when I do, I claim my vacation days and we veg out and watch way too much tv, or at least they do while I get lost in a book. Another thing I’ve learned to just accept.

When people gave me that pity sigh I used to sigh in commiseration, but something switched inside of me. I now realize that this isn’t a “poor you” situation. I recognize that my choice is different, but I don’t feel like I’m loosing anything. I think we are building a pretty awesome childhood for our children. In fact there are times where I don’t think I’ve come far enough. I wonder if I should let them roam free in the woods, or go to town with real tools but talk myself out of that because of social conventions that are still drilled into me. I would love to get off the grid a bit more and give the children even more freedom out of doors but we are too suburban for that. Our county doesn’t even allow for goats or lambs in the back yard, a fact that I hope to find a loop hole around…and maybe then we will make the Jones’ sigh some more.

 

The Year of Uncertainty: Looking back on 2015

The year of 2015 is coming to a close and as I sit and reflect over everything that has happened over the past twelve months I have come to the realization that this past year has been one of never ending tests on my faith and an excruciatingly large amount of unknown.  So much uncertainty has plagued the past year and in turn so much change has occurred over such a short year and in that same time so much growth has happened unbeknownst to those of us in the midst of the trials .

As a family we are a tiny bit stronger than we were last December and as a woman I am a tiny bit braver than I was this time last year.

the year of uncertainty

Going into 2015 we still had no confirmation as to our ongoing position with the Marine Corps. There was still every possibility that they would reject our request for early retirement. We had no idea whether we would be retiring in the area or whether we would be given orders to move to a new area.

We had five months left on our apartment lease but only two months to decide if we were going to stay in that tiny (for our family) apartment or leave. If we stayed it would be another year long lease and rent was rising by several hundred dollars per month. If we left we could find a better deal but how long would we be there? Orders could show up and require us to move out at any time, and while we always sign a military clause I would never want to subject a family to an unexpected loss of renters. We could buy if we knew that the Corps was releasing us but we had absolutely no savings for a deposit and no idea what was affordable because there still wasn’t a job lined up.

Oh yeah, then there was the whole job issue. There were possibilities of jobs, there were companies offering contract positions that sounded great but none of them would start an official hiring process without an official retirement date. See the circularness of this situation?

2015 was already full of uncertainty and it had only just begun.

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In mid February we returned that intention to move out slip to the apartment complex before we received the yes on our retirement. We had no backup plan, unless you count moving back on base and spending more than we could afford a month on housing just to have a place to live as backup. By the end of February we received the yes for the Retirement. We had to move out of our apartment by May 1 and we still had no job lined up. After talking to co-workers who had been in similar situations, the consensus was that buying a house on active duty is infinitely easier than buying one when you’re just starting out at a new job. So the look for a house began and surprisingly we were pre-approved for enough to actually get a decent, if not older home in our area. Still, everything was up in the air and nothing in our lives had any sense of certainty.

School took on the same air of uncertainty. The children knew we were living in limbo. We were all stressed out. We unschooled more than anything else, and it worked far more than I honestly thought it would. The girls started showing more of their giftedness. Little Miss became more inquisitive than ever before, Curly Que picked up everything at light speed and there was never enough information. Itty Bitty demanded even more constant attention and information but her usually great sleeping habits stopped being great. She stopped napping most days, even though her mood needed it, and she would not go to sleep at night, not of her own free will. She would move until she literally dropped, and that was rarely ever in her bed.

I couldn’t stand being in the apartment any longer and we spent almost everyday out and about. We lived out school. We went to the free DC museums several times a month. We went to every $8 performance I could get my hands on just so that we would have an activity to get us out of the cramped apartment. The snow and freezing temperatures didn’t matter, I just couldn’t stand the uncertainty that I associated with the apartment any longer.

We spent whole days going from one wildlife refuge to another, warming up in the library or over fast food. Our diet was as all over the place as our life. The children and I were always just trying to get from one day to the next, all of us were just trying to get from one day to the next.

jochristmas

Then in May everything fell into place. First the house, then the job and we felt a sense of relief. We thought the rest of the year would be a breeze after that but we never even considered that I could be the one to break down next. My headaches were debilitating and I could not focus my eyes when the sun was up. I went to the optometrist because I had only ever had migraines related to needing a new prescription. Nothing was wrong with my prescription but the double vision worried the ancient man in the lab coat who smelled of moth balls and peppermint. He gave me a referral for an ophthalmologist, which I took to the base clinic and set up a referral.

If your acquainted with military healthcare than you know that a referral can take anywhere from a week to several months to set up. My referral was sent to Bethesda/Walter Reed, the busiest hospital in the military healthcare system. The referral process took a month and it was another month after that when the first available appointment was set up. As I waited the double vision began to go away and the headaches came and went with the weather. I almost cancelled the appointment but the urging of close friends nudged me ahead. Im glad I didn’t since that appointment landed me in the hospital for a week of testing and an ongoing relationship with the neurology department.

Then we found out that everything was changing with our extended family as well. My brother and his family started the process for becoming missionaries. My grandparents moved out of the house they had lived in since I was in high school, and bought a condo in a senior community. My father changed jobs and is still trying to sell his house. My brother in law moved cross country and the other brother in law started a whole new career.

Everything in our life was changing so drastically, and so quickly. Unschooling wasn’t working anymore. By the time that the new school year started my kiddos just couldn’t handle the unknown anymore. My son, especially, just shut down. He couldn’t remember why he walked into a room anymore. He forgot simple tasks. He forgot things that had always been routine before, because the routine had disappeared. Unschooling wasn’t working because we had no constant framework to work within any longer. Too much had changed. We all needed to have some consistency, especially this guy.

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I wasn’t doing well either. My headaches still came regularly. My vision was better but now I could/can predict the weather based on the level of my headaches. Staying inside because of headaches was fueling my yearly depression. I felt a new story erupting from somewhere in my head and I desperately wanted to get it on paper before it disappeared again. My need to paint grew stronger and my desire to read conflicted daily with my heads aching protests to the small print. Usually this is when we take a fall break from school, but we couldn’t this year. We needed the structure. We needed the consistency so I forced my creativity to work in the sidelines.

I tried my best to be more intentional about our schooling. I planned ahead, I read out loud daily, I bought a math curriculum and looked into reading ones. I just didn’t have the ability to continue doing everything from scratch when my head was bouncing between splitting and pounding headaches every few days.  We still only schooled for half of the day, the rest was left open for masterly inactivity and pursuing of passions, but it still feels foreign to me. The children are thriving under the structure, I’m barely keeping my head above water but I’m not drowning. I’m getting better with each new day.

I am exhausted. From it all. From the year. Exhausted, but stronger and happier, even after everything that has happened.

This last week of December is my vacation. The children are watching more television that I would normally be ok with. They are playing amongst themselves and I have retreated to worlds of fantasy. I have read more books this past week than I have all year. I’ve allowed myself time to recuperate. This year I gave the children a real winter break and we are relishing every moment of it. 

I wish I could say that I know what will happen in 2016, but I don’t. Im still being held in the grasp of the Year of Uncertainty. 2016 is a mystery to me.   I don’t know whats lying ahead. I’m still trying to break free of our day to day existence. I am still looking for the joy in every moment, still finding the blessings in the every day but I couldn’t even begin to tell you what to expect from us in the next month- let alone a whole year.

us

Itty Bitty has been hinting towards a desire to learn how to read. Curly Que wants to learn how to build things. Little Miss has grown into dolls and sewing. Little Man has lost himself, he’s the oldest and understood the most of what’s going on and needs gentle guidance to find his way back. My husband has expressed an interest in possibly going back to school. I am just trying to learn how to deal with near constant headaches as a part of my normal. We now have family living in Spain and an itch to travel… but nothing is certain. If anything, this past year has taught us how to roll with the punches, keep the faith and like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just Keep Swimming!”

Goodbye 2015, Bring it on 2016!