The Choice

Every thing we do is based on our freedom of choice. Often times when our choices go against that of the mainstream we are questioned by friends and neighbors alike or worse judged and confronted.

As a young and engaged 20 something I remember telling people that I wanted to be a stay at home mom with four kids and that when they get into school I wanted to get my PhD in order to become a professor. I never thought that was extreme or even much different than most others my age and yet I was often met with consternation. Elder women I knew told me that four kids was far too many to handle and that with the society we live in it was not fair to the children. Women and men my age were shocked that I would want to stay at home when I was in the middle of working towards a master’s degree.

Than later, after the birth of my second and again after my third, the stress of being a stay at home mom overwhelmed me and I considered going to work while my children were young. No one told me how lonely it could be to stay at home. I was well prepared for the stress the little ones bring but not the lack of respect from outsiders, the belittlement that occurs when meeting someone new or the mental boredom that occurs when you spend all day talking about poop and pee.

For a while I tried to start a career only to have every door available shut. I choose now to be a stay at home mom, I choose not to have a career at this stage in my life and I realize that I was quitting before I had even gotten started. So here I am accepting my choice and trying to find a way to intellectually stimulate myself and raise healthy, happy kids. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to be a stay at home mom, especially as a military wife when I feel as though I’m doing it alone so much of the time. However, knowing that I’m being supported by an amazing husband who believes in the importance of a strong family foundation gives me strength to get through the harder days. Amazing friends who take me to Joann’s and Starbucks help too. Oh yea, and playgrounds with fences where I can let the kids just play while I try to read gets me through. And chocolate chip pancakes make for fun mornings with happiness spread all around! So if the saying is “Go big or go home” why not make home the place everyone wants to be?

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Fairytales and Crayons

I am a strong believer in the magic and necessity of childhood. When I play with my children we often weave in characters from fairy tales, we focus on all things make-believe and then we express ourselves with crayons, finger-paints and Letters. I have seen some of the best teachers at work and I have been lucky to call them friends. I have been blessed to have a Mother whose passion was Early Childhood education and who has passed on bits of knowledge so that my children can be blessed as well. In no way do I think that educating children is easy, nor do I think that just anyone can do it. In fact I believe that the public and private educational systems is filled with unsung heroes that do amazing work on a daily basis and that the role of a single teacher can change a child’s life. In fact I believe this so strongly that I have worked in private schools for most of my adult life either as a teacher, aide or volunteer.

As a child I experienced life through the lens of public institutions, private ones, and even as a home schooled kid. It is because of this varied background that when it came to schooling my own children I had never questioned the idea that they would attend either a public or private school and ride the big yellow bus. In fact I felt so strongly about my own homeschooling experience that I swore to everyone who knew me that my children would never be homeschooled. I would rather work nonstop in order to be able to afford a good private school than put them through what I thought homeschooling was.

I was home schooled in the early 90’s and some of the home schooled kids that I had met were weird. Although looking back some (of the not weird kids) were also my best friends. It was during the time of stereotypes when most thought that homeschoolers were socially awkward kids who didn’t quite fit in with their modern peers (with a few exceptions of course). However, it was my personal experience with home schooled adults and teens much later on as an adult that began to change my mind. In fact many of the most intelligent, most grounded and well-rounded people I have ever met were products of a home schooled education.

That and God…

Around the time of my oldest daughter’s 1st birthday and just before my sons 3rd birthday, out of nowhere I decided to just start researching the homeschooling options. I remember calling my best friend (who was home schooled and is a kindergarten teacher) , laughing insanely, and telling her that I think I might home school my kids only to have her laugh just as insanely back to me. She allowed me to go into my rant about how afraid I was to put my son into the California public school system and how with a third child on the way it just wasn’t feasible for us to pay for a private school, before she stopped me and bluntly said this has to be a God thing and if it is than start praying now.

Two years and tons of prayer and research later, I called her again (really I talk to her all the time but you know what I mean) and this time it was a different rant…

“I can’t do this, he is just too advanced and loves to learn so much I can’t put him in a kindergarten class with almost 30 kids. Even if he had you as a teacher and a great aid he is just going to get lost in a class that big. He wont fall behind but he is just like me and my husband and he will get bored and then he will turn and talk to everyone nearby and just get in trouble all the time. Than he will slowly start to lose his love of learning and he will just get frustrated. But I can’t afford a private school and all the Charter schools are really just homeschooling through the public school system. With my husband deploying and our fourth baby coming isn’t that just too much for a person to take on? There is no way I can do this”

Thank God for good friends because her words are what have helped me more than anything else…

“No, you can’t. It is too much for one person, you can’t raise four kids, put a newborn on a schedule and go through the emotional roller coaster of a deployment. But you can’t live with yourself if you settle on your son’s education either. You know where I stand on this, Kindergarten is the most important stage of a child’s life because it is in Kindergarten where a kid gains a real love for learning. A good kindergarten teacher can create a lifelong learner. Its time for you to pray hard, pray for God to give him the best teacher for him and if that teacher is you than it will be undeniable. You can do it, but if there is another way, try it.”

Two weeks later it was a conviction, not a fear. There was an absolute concreteness that had settled in me…my kids are going to be homeschooled. I talked with my husband who admitted that he would prefer to have me home teaching our children over being in the work place bringing in a second income. He also admitted that up to this point he had kept quiet because he felt that if I was going to home school our children than I would have to choose it. He did not want me to feel pressured into doing it and that due to my propensity for depression after childbirth he did not want me to feel forced into something that might overwhelm me. I love that he is so supportive of me that he allows me to come to conclusions on my own, despite his own convictions on the subject. He knew that he could not be here to help and just kept quiet.

Since than I have done lots of research, I have started to do small projects with the kids when energy permits and I have spent more time reading than watching tv (all of which only convicts me further). My extended family as been extremely supportive, my friends are gems and the kids are already getting excited about doing school! I am still trying to figure out if we will join a local home school organization or if we will home school through the local charter school. We have decided on using a Classical approach (it just fits so well with my academic background that all the money spent on a Bachelors and Masters wont go to waste!) and I love that I can focus on the things I love and am passionate about to my kids through their subjects. I love that even in 1st grade it looks at history chronologically, geography in its entirety, science is based on the scientific method (it’s not words in a book but questions and answers in real life), math focuses on building strong foundations not on abstracts and reading/handwriting is the foundation of it all. I absolutely love that my children will learn Spanish, Latin and Greek as well as logic, debate and public speaking. It’s a process I intend to chronicle on this blog…mostly because at the end of the day, with a husband deployed, I will need someone to decompress to or rant to…whichever works.

Eat your Food!!

It’s the plight of parents everywhere, how many times do you have to tell your toddler or preschooler to stop playing and just “Eat your food!” I can’t even begin to count how many blogs I have seen that focus on feeding these little picky eaters healthy food in fun ways. However, in a society filled with concerns over childhood obesity I have an entirely different issue, my kids are too small. So for me it’s not just an issue of getting them to eat healthy food but eating it in larger amounts and with higher calories. Also unlike most parents who have no medical needs to fulfill, I cannot fight the picky attitudes by withholding meals until they are ready to eat what I offer.

Not all of my kids are so small that this is an impossibility, but as anyone who has multiple little ones knows if one kid gets something all of them had better get it or mutiny is close at hand. Even though my girls are healthy they are on the low ends of the charts and my son has had to see a specialist after the pediatrician showed concern over his lack of growth. So here I am with one more issue on my plate. Struggling with feeding my kids in a manner that is healthy but also high enough in calories to make a difference in their weight. The problem that I run up against the most is that the minute I make an ordinary dish, like a bowl of oatmeal, high calorie, by using half and half or instant dry milk, it fills up that tiny stomach so much that they than refuse to eat any snacks and instead push-off all meals until lunch!

So instead of eating more they are eating less and it is beyond frustrating. Add to this their complete lack of interest in vegetables, including root veggies like potatoes, and meal planning becomes a huge pain in the neck! Luckily after seeing a Pediatric Endocrinologist (who ruled out any serious medical reasons and chalked it up to genetics passed through their father’s side) we have been given a few tips that seem to work.

1. Feed them what they want when they are hungry within reason. I know this sounds like a no brainer but when my four-year old comes out of his bedroom at 1130 pm asking for Oatmeal and the kitchen is finally clean and we are heading to bed does not always end with an automatic “sure”. Or when Lunch or dinner is only 15-20 minutes away…these usually lead to a “wait just a few more minutes” because a snack that close to a meal means there will be little eaten. However, I draw the line when my son comes asking for Oreos at 715 am, sorry Charlie but that’s not going to fly as a breakfast option…ever. Ask me for Pancakes and eggs for dinner…no problem as long as they asked before I started cooking, the chicken can wait in the fridge.

2. Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed with whole milk. For about three years we gave each kid a Pediasure once per day with their breakfasts and it broke our bank! My parents often helped out and would come over for visits bearing 2-3 bunches of what my kids call pink milk (strawberry and berry were their favorites) but it was still far more than a family of five can afford on one military income. I had heard from some friends that our insurance might cover the drinks if we asked our pediatrician since it was recommended to us…they didn’t. However, what they did do was give us a much more affordable alternative. Now my son drinks three glasses of the milkshake a day and my daughters share a packet. Surprisingly, these shakes do not limit their appetites but instead strengthen them and leave them asking for a snack when complete.

3. Add high calorie/ high fat substitutes for recipe bases. For example if a recipe calls for milk I substitute whole milk for half and half or if possible I will add avocados to a recipe. I have read other sites that recommend giving smaller kids extra butter, or mounds of cheese on things like oatmeal but I cannot in good conscience create eating habits in my children that can cause heart disease or high cholesterol, both of which already run in our family. Instead I have increased the calories and fats according to the pediatricians recommendations. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to lose baby weight when more than half of your family needs to eat calorie rich foods?)

4. Serve more meals per day. This one has to be the hardest of all of the changes we have tried to make and I have to admit that we still haven’t made it a full part of our routine. It is so hard to try to fit extra snacks/meals in between the main ones because most time I offer and the kids refuse or because we are out and about or my son is in preschool. There are a few snacks that they will take anytime I offer: Fresh and Easy’s Organic Cheddar Pirate’s Treasure (it taste like White Cheddar popcorn but its a rice/corn hybrid so even my youngest can munch without the choking hazard), Mott’s Fruit snacks/Mott’s Medleys (made with fruit juice) are used as a special treat in our house due to the high sugar content, pretzels and whole grain goldfish. Each Snack is accompanied by fresh fruit (its the most healthy thing they eat in large quantities) and I try to add in cheese or yogurt but after a bite or two it is usually pushed away (except with our youngest who is a yogurt eating machine). Most days I am lucky if I can fit in one snack in a day.

Its a daily issue in my house, we have tried eating without the tv and that doesn’t make a difference. Lately I have combined our afternoon story time with the eating of lunch. They ask questions about the stories, add anecdotes while I read, try to jump ahead of me and read the words coming up but it is so much easier to close a book and remind them to keep eating with real results if there is some kind of incentive. If we are just sitting at the table than every movement becomes a joke, every word a distraction and there is nothing to help them get excited about eating when there is so much more to do away from the table. and so we trudge on in this fight that will hopefully one day fade, maybe one day my kids will tell me “mom we need to eat our food”…a girl can dream, right?