Wednesday, August 27, 2008

School Year's Resolutions

New Year Resolution - Self Deception

Yesterday, while perusing the blog of a newly-found Twitter acquaintance, I discovered her clever idea of setting School Year's Resolutions instead of those all-too-common New Year's Resolutions. How fitting that I should stumble upon her idea exactly one week before the start our own homeschool year! The new school year serves as a more accurate "reset" mark in my life than the calendar year ever could. I'm sure this will be true for as long as my homeschooling journey continues.

I've always made it a priority to dedicate each new school year to God and ask His blessing and guidance in our academic endeavors, but I have not ever written out specific goals in specific areas of my life, on which to focus throughout our school year. It's a wonderful idea and as soon as I read it I knew I would follow suit. You can check out my inspiration here on Kelly's blog, "Pass The Torch."

My list of School Year's Resolutions will be intentionally short, specific and attainable. There are countless goals I could list here but, having been around the block a few times, I realize that long lists of foggy objectives breed much more discouragement than accomplishment. I would rather my resolutions empower me as I gradually work toward measurable outcomes than harass me as I struggle not to buckle under the weight of my responsibilities.

Also of note is the idea of "failing forward." It's a concept to which I was introduced at a training seminar conducted by a former employer of mine. It basically means that, even if we fail to fully attain the goals we set forth, we will have achieved more and gone farther than we would have had we not even made the attempt. I find that comforting. This one, simple idea gives me permission to pat myself on the back and to "lay off" with the harsh self-criticism. My husband has learned it, and relayed it to me, differently. He would say it's the difference between trying to achieve happiness and happily achieving.

All prefacing statements aside, I am ready to share my 08/09 School Year's Resolutions! There are only twelve: two goals in each of six important areas.

I, Tonya_H, on this day, August Twenty-seventh, in the Year of Our Lord, Two-thousand Eight, in the presence of my beloved "Tonya's Two Cents" readers do hereby resolve...

To nurture my spiritual self

  • by entering each new day through the door of prayer.
  • by meditating daily on a Bible scripture or passage.

To nurture my relational self

  • by arranging for at least one date-night per month with Ron.
  • by continuing to attend my monthly GAP-ladies fun & fellowship meetings.

To nurture my children

  • by carving out at least 15-30 minutes, during the daytime, every week to spend enjoying one-on-one quality time with each of the four of them.
  • by calmly responding to high-stress parenting situations or else postponing my response until I can do so. (This goal is less measurable but nonetheless, very important.)

To be an effective homeschool teacher

  • by having all school work checked and recorded by each week's end.
  • by limiting my computer/phone time to no more than four 15-minute blocks of time during the school day.
To nurture my creative self

  • by posting at least one article per week at Tonya's Two Cents.
  • by keeping my journal readily accessible for recording thoughts and ideas.

To nurture my physical self

  • by continuing to work out at least three times per week.
  • by taking the nutritional "high road" more often than not by choosing healthful snack alternatives.

And there you have it! My School Year's Resolutions!

Want to join the fun? List your School Year's Resolutions in my "comments" section or write about them in your own blog and link it back to mine and Kelly's!

Writing this out has definitely been worth my $0.02!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Angels Unaware

"Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." Heb 13:1-2 NIV

Last week, while reading a blog post of a new friend, I was escorted, by way of memory, to a past event in my life. As the bittersweet memory formed itself on the horizon of my mind I was filled with awe and reminded of the goodness of our God; the absolute goodness that can encompass and indwell our lives even in the midst of terrible pain.

It was mid-to-late March of 2004 and I stood at my closet door, tears streaming down my cheeks, eyes searching, heart breaking. I had to find something I could squeeze into. I would find something, somehow and I would gather my three children and I would get out of our house. I had to. I needed to feel the sunshine on my face. I desperately needed to know that the world was still revolving, that people were still smiling... and living.

I would not wear anything maternity. I wasn't pregnant... not anymore. I'd seen it myself on the ultrasound a few days earlier.

I'd hurried in to my doctor's office clinging wildly to the hope that the bleeding was just another inexplicable pregnancy nuisance and that I was, indeed, entering into my second trimester.

I'd left her office cloaked in an ominous, dark cloud of pain tinged with disbelief. That dream, the one I thought I'd carried safely and warmly inside of me, had died.

And then, after days of phone calls and tears, prayers and more tears, I had to step back into the daylight... but not in maternity clothes. Although I'd not lost a single ounce of the new pregnancy weight I'd acquired I had to walk out of my door in my regular jeans. Better to appear to be poured into them than to be reduced to tears at an innocent inquiry about my baby; my baby who'd flown home even while I stood as the Matron of Honor at my sister's wedding the weekend before; my baby who'd had to leave without saying goodbye while I stood smiling, laughing, happy.

All the cards, all the condolences, all the shared tears with friends and family fell short of comforting me. Nothing made it alright. I understood and appreciated all the well-meant, although sometimes trivializing, comments and I accepted them eagerly hoping they would serve as a kind of heart-balm. But my grief went untouched by them, defiantly standing its ground.

My determination drove me as I readied myself and my children for a trip to the shoe store. It was such a major undertaking. It was so much more than a short drive to buy the children the shoes they needed. It was an attempt to stand again in spite of the weight of my loss. I couldn't shake the burden off... not yet. I still needed time to wade through it, to make sense of it, to sort the hay from the stubble. But I could stuff it into a duffel bag, load it onto my back, and, like an encumbered soldier of war, wearily, yet courageously, put one foot in front of the other.

And so I did.

I arrived at the store with my three children aged eight, three and a half, and two years old. It was difficult. My mind wanted to be singular in its focus. It wanted to measure little feet, find shoes to fit them, and block out everything else. It wanted to ignore the noise of my little ones playing and straying from me. It hardly cared how many shoes they pulled off shelves and left in isles. It craved only full and simplistic absorption in the task at hand.

Nevertheless, I had to take hold of myself every few minutes and rein in my thoughts and my children. Even if I didn't feel strong enough I had to be the responsible adult. I had to be the Mom. I'd been given no leave of absence from my post, and my youngsters, the precious ones that still surrounded me, needed me fully present. I was not off duty. I would have to be among those who were healed as they went (Luke 17:14).

As I once again roused myself from my introspection I looked up to see my two-year-old round a corner and disappear from my sight followed by her sister and brother. So playful. A slight smile touched my lips as I set down a shoe box and started after them. For a moment the part of me that still recognized the blessings in my life had gotten a welcome upper-hand and longed to be as carefree as they were.

I followed them to an isle where a middle-aged woman shopped with a two-year-old little girl. The woman smiled down at my three for a moment and then looked up at me. She was asking if they were all mine. I was nodding yes and was having the impulse to happily inform her that I was expecting my fourth... but I wasn't, was I? Not anymore.

I felt the heat in my cheeks. I felt the tears coming. Just that fast the pain was fresh again. My thoughts began to shout at me. "Breathe deeply, don't cry. Not here, not now." And conversely, "Tell her everything. Let it out. Why should things go on as normal?"

Whether my conflicting thoughts and emotions played out on my face in that moment I do not know. This stranger smiled sweetly at me and began to say how blessed I'd been to have three such lovely children. That was a sentiment I'd heard repeatedly since my miscarriage from people who wanted me to focus on the "bright side" of things. They were comments that I'd known were true but that hadn't relieved my suffering.

But this was different. She didn't know. She wasn't attempting to redirect my thinking. There was real conviction behind her words. She meant what she was saying so strongly that I could feel it and I had to pay attention to it.

She had a gaze that was strangely warm and penetrating and I was drawn in. It was quite unusual. I actually felt hungry for whatever she might say next. She looked down at the child who'd come with her and explained that this little one was her daughter. She told me she and her husband had one other daughter who was an adult. They'd tried for years to have a second child but had not been able. They thought they'd never have another baby. But, amazingly, two years prior to our conversation, when their first child was grown, she'd given birth to this beautiful little girl.

She spoke about her children, and mine, with a depth that moved me. She spoke from the perspective of one who'd ventured across a painful wilderness and had, at last, arrived at a long awaited oasis. You might imagine that I'm referring to her second child as this "oasis." Not exactly, but close. Of course each child is a wondrous gift but the "oasis" she helped me find that afternoon was the recognition of each child as God's gift of love to a parent... His gift of love to me.

Though my love for my children is so great I can scarcely put it into words, in that moment God's love for me became so clear I could sense it towering above any emotion I could ever hope to experience. I suddenly understood that each of my three children was an expression of that love.

I was unable to receive comfort from the people in my life who suggested, in varying ways, that I forget about the child I lost and instead focus on the three I got to keep. In my heart it just didn't add up right. But I received tremendous comfort from a stranger who just saw my three children for the gifts of Love they are, apart from all else.

I'm sure I will never see that woman from the store again and she may never know how her kind words touched my life that day.

I never did tell her that I'd just lost a baby. I don't know why she opened up and shared with me like she did. I only know that I heard God's voice through her story, and His was the voice I needed to hear.

I will always think back on her as an angel sent by God to deliver His message to me.

...and that's my $0.02!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Unexpected Outcome

Never once had it traipsed across the landscape of my consciousness, this outlandish idea that I could educate my children at home... myself.

Why would I do that? How could I do that? Where would I start? What would it require? And, again, why would I do that?

Assuredly, those would have been the questions I would have hurled at you had you asked me, only eight short years ago, if I'd considered homeschooling.

After accepting the gift of a Christian life and lifestyle around the time of my first child's birth the only sensible option, in my mind, was private, Christian schooling. The fact that my church of the time had (and still has) a very well respected and well established Christian school only helped cement this notion in my mind.

I didn't actually disagree with homeschooling. I had just never ventured that far away from mainstream thinking regarding childhood education. I grew up in public school and had never in my youth even considered that, under different circumstances, I might have been educated differently. That's just the way things were. That being the case, I felt my aspirations to give my children private, Christian educations were lofty, indeed!

Never mind giving them private, Christian educations MYSELF! And,
truly, it never came to mind.

That was, until three-quarters of the way through T-Rex's Kindergarten year, when Ron was unexpectedly let out of an agreement by the small, struggling company for which he worked at the time... two-weeks before the birth of Butterfly. We were paying for that pricey, kindergarten-sized, private, Christian education month-to-month as it was. And, though the school offered to defer our payments temporarily, until we were once again employed, we opted to take T-Rex out of the school. Being in debt to our church was not a prospect that appealed to either one of us!

It was a difficult decision.

T-Rex would finish out the month of February, which we'd already paid for, and then, with my 22-month-old and two-week-old daughters in my arms, I would begin to... homeschool???

Neither Ron or I was sure this was a good idea but we'd already ruled out public school after our experience with T-Rex's public K4 "education," and had no other options (aside from renting T-Rex to a circus).

So... with a Boppy pillow, a potty chair, a box of kleenex (for wiping away my cascade of tears), and my three "oh-so-dependant" children always within arms-reach I began to homeschool.

I could detail here for you some of the ins and outs of teaching beginning reading, writing, and arithmetic with one baby at my breast and another wrapped around my ankle, but that will have to be another blog post for another day.

The objective of this article is to tell you about the miracle that somehow weaved itself into the fabric of our lives despite the mounting diapers, the un-synchronized nap schedules, the potty accidents, the repeatedly interrupted homeschool lessons, and the constant company of all my young ones.

Somehow, unbelievably I discovered I still liked my oldest child... a lot!

You're shocked, I'm sure, that I would make such a candid statement but it's, nonetheless, the truth. At some point along the time-line of T-Rex's young life I'd unknowingly bought into the idea that I was supposed to eagerly await the onset of his daily departure; that sending a child off to school would mark the beginning of a lighter, easier SAHM-life for me.

But what I'd failed to notice was that between the rigid schedule, the washing and re-washing of school uniforms, the drop-offs and pick-ups, the push to sell the fund-raisers, the field-trip chaperoning, monthly snack obligation, the difficulty getting him moving in the morning, the grumpy-sleepy, fussy boy that came home to me, and the money it cost us for these privileges, my life had become more complicated... so much less enjoyable. And, worse than all else, the emotional connection I held with my sweet, darling boy had waned.

I never knew it until I got it back.

Once again he could sleep until his precious, growing body awakened naturally, pleasantly. Once again he was my lovely, eager, bright-eyed boy. Once again I was happy to spend my days snuggling, reading, learning, (and, okay... nursing, potty-training, and cooking) with all of my children "at my heels."

And he thrived!

I thrived!

Our family thrived!

If I had ever thought I was the involved parent during those first three-quarters of his kindergarten year (and I did) then I was mistaken. I had, very briefly and very unknowingly, taken a huge step towards uninvolvement. It was revealed by, among other things, the depth of search required in every K5 subject to find exactly what he'd learned, what he'd completely not understood, and where to start teaching him.

So... as I reflect on what have I gained as this same child of mine prepares to begin his eighth year of homeschooling and the 7th grade... I'd have to say I gained him... and Seashell... and Butterfly... and L'il Bear!

My husband and I, for this all-too-short stretch of time, hold our children's hearts and minds,

and as for them... they hold ours!

...and that's just my $0.02!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Back Talk!

Back talk. Talking back. Getting smart. Smart mouthing. Contradicting. Mouthing off. Answering back. Giving lip.

It really doesn't matter what you call it. All moms know what it is... and all moms (I suspect)have a distaste for it. But I, being but one mom of sound mind and body (mostly), believe I have had a brain hurricane (really big brainstorm) this afternoon regarding this problem!

Let me start by explaining. With my oldest child quickly approaching the milestone of his thirteenth birthday I have run head-first into this brick wall repeatedly. Whether it should be attributed to newly awakened hormones, temporary childhood insanity, or the idea that my son believes I have done an excellent job with his home education, I cannot say. What I can say is that the dear boy has happened upon a tendency to think he knows just a wee bit more than I do in several areas and sometimes unwisely chooses to vocalize this belief.

This, coupled with the fact that he occasionally feels he should point out areas where I have been "unfair" (code-word for not allowing his will to prevail), has created quite the dilemma for me.

I wish it were as easy as saying, "Never back-talk me. Never! End of discussion." But, truly, it isn't so simple.

I hold to the idea that children need to learn to properly and respectfully articulate dissenting opinions. I believe it is an invaluable skill that must be first nurtured at home. But, for the love of sanity, NOT every time I issue any sort of directive!

I also hold strongly to my commitment to listen to what my children want or need to say to me. I want them completely settled in the knowledge that I (and their father) will hear them out. But again, appropriate lines MUST be drawn!

As a result of my mindset on these issues I have had the unfortunate experience of being sucked into long and exhausting debates over issues that should have been settled with a simple "No, you may not," or "Yes, I still want you to do that."

So... how do you handle these situations? How do you respect your child's need to further explain a situation you may not fully understand and allow him or her to point out factors you may not have considered? And how do you teach when to, and when not to, employ these techniques of respectful rebuttal? Those have been my ongoing questions.

And, alas, I have stumbled upon at least one answer to these problems quite accidentally. No doubt it was Our Father who placed this little rock of revelation directly in my path where I'd be sure to trip over it. :-)

This morning I took a half-hour to myself to read the second chapter of a little gem of a book called "Any Child Can Write," by Harvey S. Wiener. I had had this book on my wish list for quite some time as it was highly recommended by someone whose opinion I value. Finally I purchased it. So far it has lived up to my expectations.

In the second chapter the author explains many practical, easy, and fun ideas for getting young children writing and reading painlessly. After reading it I left a message on the chalkboard for my six-year-old to decipher. On Fridays she is my "dinner helper" and she is always excited about it. I wrote, "Today Butterfly is my dinner helper! Yay! for Butterfly! Yay! for me!" (For those of you who don't already know, I use fictitious names for my children in this blog.)

She sounded out the words with enthusiasm because she recognized her name and knew it was a mystical message just for her! But I digress...

As I showered later, I thought about all of the author's suggestions and my mind began churning fueled by thoughts of writing practice that wouldn't even seem like "school work" to my children. Then I thought about my oldest. How could I tailor this to fit him? What could he write? About what does he have plenty to say?

And then it hit me! As memories of journaling about my own mother's "unfairness" came rushing out of the shower head, I had an epiphany. T-Rex (my oldest's blogname) could write about all of my unfairness! In those moments when I feel any further discussion on his part is bordering on disrespectful, redundant, or unnecessary I will instruct him to write down every point that he feels warrants my attention and to say no more about it verbally. He will be motivated to write (most likely quite a bit) because of his desire to be heard out.

The next day I will instruct him to read what he has written and decide to 1) throw the whole thing away, or keep it for his own private journal, because he no longer feels he should press the issue, 2) cross out all the points he feels are disrespectful or no longer of concern and present a revised version or 3) give it to me "as is" with the understanding that any perceived disrespect will be dealt with.

This kills so many birds with one stone it should be illegal! He will have to organize his thoughts into sensible sentences and (dare I say) whole paragraphs. He will have an appropriate outlet for his angry feelings. And, he will have time to calm down and reflect. Lastly, he can re-read his own view point and take back anything he may have regretted saying, had he said it.


I'm in Homeschool Mom heaven!

Well... now I've got to go re-wet my hair so I can blow dry it. I put it off to type this little article.

Bye for now...

Oh, yeah... and that's my $0.02!!!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

School Days, School Days... Good Old Golden Rule Days...

It's almost that time of year again for my family and, though I am still dragging my proverbial feet about a start date, I have to admit I am beginning to get excited about the coming school year.

I am amazed at the early school start dates in my part of the world! There are public and private school kiddos marching off to school on August 11th, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! That's gotta be like heresy or blasphemy or some equally heinous insult to reason. Everyone knows that school starts in the Fall! (Now I know there are year-rounders out there who would have a thing or two to say to me about that, but remember... I get to decide whether or not to publish your comments, so be nice).

I won't go so far as to say we should wait until the calendar literally marks the beginning of Autumn. I just hold strongly to the belief that August was made for bathing suits, watermelon, ice cream, and my birthday! This is no time for suiting up our young ones in jeans and backpacks and trotting them off to the bus stop.

Not to mention that, at least in my part of the country, August is known for its tiresome parade of 100-degree, sultry, summer days. I cannot imagine the money the schools would save in cooling costs by waiting until a more humane month to begin school!

That being said... I rest my case. We will most likely begin here at Cherith Christian (yes, our homeschool actually has a name!) after Labor Day. And if any of you are prone to believe that the biggest reason for this decision is because we did not finish last school year until the very end of June... I sheepishly say to you, "you are correct." I shall not tell a lie.

And now, lest you look down upon my late finish and subsequent late start, let me bedazzle you with a little-known fact: Cherith is a term from the Bible which means "a place of seperation in God's provision." ...and that is exactly how I see our homeschool!

and that's my $0.02!