Saturday, June 29, 2013

Horizontal tree

There are quite a few things that cause people to stop in their tracks and stare at our house as they're walking down the street. (Really, they do. I've watched them.) It could just be the size and ugliness and disrepair of the outside of the house. Or it could be the ridiculous number of toys that often litter our front yard. (We currently have three big wheels and one Plasma car that are in use.) Or sometimes it is the number of children playing in the yard... there is a little person for each ride on toy and they are used a lot. But I've also seen people stop and comment (or ask to take picture) on the tree we have growing in our front yard. It used to be a regular looking tree that had a slight horizontal tilt to it. In general it's growth could have been considered vertical. Not so much anymore. It is a completely horizontal-growing tree. See what I mean...

In the past year it has been sinking lower and lower as the tree grows and the weight on the end increases. It used to high enough off the ground that we could drive the van underneath it. There also used to be a swing on it which was far enough off the ground that even big people didn't scrape their feet on the ground. And just a few months ago, I could walk under it only ducking a little bit. (This is also the tree that had the bee swarm in it a couple of years ago. It would be easier to get to these days.) No longer.

And now we know why we have seen such a large amount of movement. There are cracks in the trunk. Big cracks where you can see inside the tree. I'm afraid that our tree is not going to be with us much longer. It is making everyone a little bit sad.

We have been having some amazing thunderstorms around here this summer, usually with some pretty strong wind. My guess is that one more good wind storm and the poor old tree won't be able to support itself. I've been parking the van as far out in the driveway as I can so the tree doesn't fall on it when it does come down.

I hope I won't be posting pictures of the tree that is now laying on the ground anytime soon, but it's not looking too promising. Poor tree.

Friday, June 28, 2013

And 76 pounds of strawberries later...

All 14 of us (we were only missing J.) drove up to go strawberry picking yesterday afternoon. We had great weather and the strawberries were huge and very sweet. The fields were still pretty wet so by the time we were done everyone's feet were pretty soggy. Some people were very good at picking and others were very good at eating and some managed to do both. Since we had so many people picking we ended up with a lot of strawberries. 12 of those baskets full that you see people carrying. Guess what I'm doing for the next few days? I will be spending quality time in my kitchen processing strawberries... jam, freezing, and I'm going to try dehydrating some as well. I flip-flop back and forth between thinking, 'We have too many strawberries!" and "We don't have enough strawberries!" 

G. and L. are looking particularly twinny in these pictures and I actually had to stop and think which girl was which when I looked at them. G. started out in braids, but the car ride was hard on them and she spent the afternoon looking a bit waif-like. L.'s pony tails held up a bit better. 

So, some pictures...



G., M., P., and H.



More picking

G... if you look closely you will see a very stained mouth

TM and our guest made cookies yesterday morning before we left. Here are some of us enjoying them after having picked our berries.

And our timing couldn't have been better. We picked our berries. Then had our snack and visited the port-a-potties and got into the van. We drove around and around and around toward the exit and paid. Once we got out on the highway we saw our first raindrop. By the time we had driven a couple of minutes it was coming down in buckets. We were all very glad that we still weren't in the strawberry fields. I was particularly glad because while it would have been uncomfortable to get wet, it would have been even less fun to get stuck in the mud with the van. You can see we are parked in a grassy field, but because of the rain, the ground is fairly soft. I was a little worried driving on it when it wasn't raining, I'm not sure we would have made it afterwards.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Resorting to a book report

I have so many things that I'd like to share, but for various reasons, can't. For instance, tonight the play version of Jurassic Park, for which M. spend countless hours making dinosaurs, opens and then I can finally share pictures of the puppets. We will also be going strawberry picking soon and then I can share pictures of  that. And I need to take some pictures of H. to show the improvement in her face after two months of healing, but I haven't done that yet.

Things with hosting are going well and the 3 year old is great pals with the little girls and K, but I have decided that that is a topic about which I cannot blog. It's not for lack of interesting ideas to share, but who wants to move into someone's home and suddenly find themselves the subject of public blog fodder. Nope. Can't go there. I did pick up a book at the library yesterday called, Teach Yourself Spanish in 24 Hours. If only it were that easy, right? At least I have a step up in that Spanish is very similar to Italian and sort of similar to French, both of which I am more or less familiar with. (Or was at one time... it must all be in there somewhere.) I have a grasp of general grammatical structure, it's the vocabulary which will take some time. Hindsight being 20/20, I do wish I'd studied it in school.

And since I clearly have nothing at all so say, I thought I'd share one of the books that came home from the library with us yesterday. My habit is to roam the non-fiction shelves and grab, at random, whatever catches my eye. This way we have books to look at that cover a broad range of topics and who knows what is going to strike a child's fancy that they otherwise might not have known about? This book is called, What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. I have spent quite a bit of time looking at it already. It is fascinating. Faith D'Aluisio was also responsible for Material World (the book which photographed people around the world with their possessions outside their homes). This book does the same thing, except it shares photographs of families from around the world with all the food they eat in one week. It includes detailed lists and also costs. And when you get to the photograph of the family of Sudanese refugees living in Chad, you will be stopped in your tracks and want to weep. Never has a photograph (especially coming in the middle of such a book) made me so thankful and so heart-broken at the same time. They just have so little and we have so, so much. Find the book and take a look for yourself. But make a cup of tea and find a quiet hour first, because it's not a book that you can look at in just a few minutes.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Asking hard questions

Really? No one? I feel a bit as though I'm standing in front of a classroom saying, "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?" (And thus successfully dating myself at the same time.) I've been thinking about the question I posted yesterday for a while and here is what I've come up with.

Sometimes figuring out what is at the root of negative behavior in our children (and ourselves) is like playing detective. It's the whole 'cock-a-doodle-thing'. The presenting issue is very usually not the real problem. It also involves asking some hard questions that may be uncomfortable to answer. In a scenario with a sibling chronically not getting along with another, here are some questions I would examine. (And, even though in this story, the problem involves three boys, there is usually one ring-leader which the others are following. I would focus my attention on the instigator, because if his behavior can be changed, the others will most likely follow along.)

The first hard question I need to ask is if I am modelling the behavior myself and it my child just following me? It is quite possible that I am saying one thing, yet my actions and attitudes... impatience, annoyance, irritability, anger.. towards a child may be exactly the opposite. I see some of my worst traits being mimicked by my children far too often. But sometimes, even seeing ourselves in the mirror of our children isn't enough to give us a wake-up call. We need to be vigilant that our words and our actions and our attitudes all match each other. We need to be humble enough to acknowledge when we have blown it and have set a bad example.

The next hard question is whether or not my child has a behavior flaw that I have been turning a blind eye to? If I see one of my children constantly being irritated or picking-on a sibling, do I see that behavior only with that brother or sister, or is this something that happens with others as well? No one wants their child to be a bully and it is easy to look to the other way so as to not have to deal with it. In this case, I would look carefully at my child's other relationships to determine if this is a particular problem across the board or with this one particular sibling.

But let's say you've asked the two really hard questions and haven't found a problem, what then? Now it's time to examine your relationship with the child whose behavior troubles you. Bringing a new child, particularly an older one, into a family is extremely stressful, even if the transition is going smoothly. It is tiring. It completely changes the family dynamics. Life doesn't feel 'normal'. And life will never again feel as it did before the new child arrived. This is a lot to manage. It's difficult enough for the parents, who as adults, had some inkling (I hope) about the magnitude of change the family was going to experience, but for the children in the family it can be even harder.

And this is what I think we tend to forget. We tend to forget that not only have we turned our lives and the life of the new child upside-down, but we have also turned our other children's lives upside-down as well. They can experience a whole host of feelings... anger that life isn't like it was, fear that this new family is never going to feel right, embarrassment over what their friends will think about their new brother or sister (and this is particularly true if the new child has any physical or emotional special needs), fatigue, jealousy over how much time his or her parents are spending with the new child, as well as excitement and happiness. It's all mixed together in one great big huge roiling cocktail of emotion. Think about how well you function when your emotions are all stirred up. It's often difficult to manage life, much less be pleasant and patient and understanding. And we're adults who (supposedly) have a better grip on our emotions than our children do. A child can be completely overpowered by them and often negative behaviors are the result.

Now this is not to give a pass to poor behavior; even in the midst of big emotions we are still called to not be unkind. It does give us some insight and understanding, though, as to what is going on inside of our children. Often our children just need us in the midst of all the chaos that comes with a new child. (And this is true whether the new child is a biological sibling coming home from the hospital or an older child joining family though adoption.) Our children need us to spend time with them, assure them we still love them, give them permission to voice their feelings, even (especially) the negative ones in a safe environment, give them hope that things will feel normal again. We need to be honest that sometimes this is difficult for us, too, and that what everyone is feeling is not wrong, but a normal outcome of a major change. We also need to help our children name what they are feeling, because often they don't even know themselves. It just feels bad and they don't know why.

The last question is to ask whether I have really prayed about this particular situation? Have I prayed about it with my children? Very often, I either forget that I should pray or think I can handle something and that I don't need to or both. Very often. I still like to think I have everything under control. (Ha!) Very often God has to remind me that I don't. Did I mention this happens very often? More and more in my crazy life I find myself just handing things to God. It's pretty much, "I have no idea what to do about this or even how to begin. This is Yours. You take care of it. I'll do the best I can, but You'll have to handle the rest." And then (and this is key) give myself permission to let it go. Do you have any idea how freeing this is? That whole letting go-thing? (Letting go does not mean that I ignore the problem, just that I can trust God to handle the problem in his own ways and times.)  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have let something go, but it is a wonderful thing to think, "My Father's going to take care of this, I don't have to." It leaves a whole lot of room for joy. And joy in a parent is a healthy thing for the whole family. I don't think I need to spell out why.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reader question

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a reader asking if I had any advice about how to navigate an issue connected with older child adoption which had come up. I am extremely short on time this morning, so I am going to do things backwards than I had planned. I'll post a summary of the question and you all can chime in with your wisdom, and then tomorrow, when I have a bit more time, I'll share some thoughts and ideas.

Basically, the situation is...

There is a group of older children and a group of younger children with the new child age-wise being in the older half. But, due to various issues with adjusting and ability, he doesn't always act as the older children expect. The younger group is more accommodating to him and so that's where he 'hangs out'. The older children are not quite as accepting and their interactions are not so positive. This mother would love to hear ideas about how to encourage her older children to be more accepting... understanding, patient, etc. with their new son. 

Ready? Go!

See you here tomorrow. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy (belated) 10th birthday, D.!

We celebrated D.'s birthday last night. He chose steak salad for dinner and strawberry pie for dessert. Because my birthday candle collection is becoming truly pathetic, P. was holding a '1' candle and another candle to sort of represent 10. (Remember, we have to hold candles around here because everyone picks pie and it is very difficult to put candles in pie.)

The other candle happened to be a relighting one, so they played with that for a while.

And then it was time for presents. My birthday wrapping supplies are perhaps even more pathetic than my birthday candle supplies. TM helped wrap, but eventually decided to just put everything into a gift bag because we had no tape and only Christmas wrapping paper.

But the outside doesn't matter so much when you're really excited about the new Lego set you are getting. (Thanks to generous grandparents.)

And there were other gifts, too. A game, a collection of new audio stories, and the promise of an Asterix book, which is yet to arrive. (Boy, is there something about D.'s face in this picture that strongly resembles B. The baby photos of each boy are very similar [I sometimes need to check the name on the back], but then as they each grew up, I wasn't as aware of the similarity, but I see it here.)

D. is one of my very people oriented children. He is interested in others and has a very tender heart. He's one of the people that everyone seems to know. D. is also an amazing reader and I wouldn't be surprised if he has the auditory version of a photographic memory. (Is there a word for that?) Pretty much, he can hear things once and can repeat them nearly verbatim. It is a skill that sometimes his siblings do not quite appreciate as he likes to recount things that he's listened to. He may also have a photographic memory... or close to... because he will do this with books as well. It's actually pretty amazing.

Happy birthday my dear boy. I love you very, very much!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My life is a farce

The campers all arrived last night in varying states of health. Evidently a stomach flu was making its way around the camp and D. succumbed just before getting in the car to come home (at least J. had a heads' up and was able to lay in appropriate supplies... which were needed) and B. spent more time than he wanted in the bathroom last night. It seems to be a 24 hour thing, though, because D. is up and back to his old perky self again. J. and TM had a good time together, though a very soggy one. No rock climbing for them first because of the rain and then because the rocks were too wet. (And I feel really badly for J. because he feels about rock climbing the way I feel about horses.) There is a pile of luggage containing laundry I'm sure I don't really want to touch in the front hall which needs to be tackled this morning. But everyone is home and that makes me happy.

I caught a little bit of a radio show yesterday morning as I was getting dressed and the question was asked, "What kind of literature genre would describe your life?" And truly the only thing I could come up with was farce. Why do I say this? If you've read this blog for any length of time, I certainly hope you don't have to ask. But, maybe some of these items will help to convince you if you are still unsure.

  • When I was at our local big box store last week buying essentials such as paper towels and toilet paper, I saw two large pieces of cardboard just lying on the floor. If you live with a cardboard obsessed child like I do, you don't pass by a piece of cardboard without examining it and this cardboard was particularly nice, big, flat, and with no printing. "Perfect for dinosaurs!" I think to myself and pick it up. But it is so large it doesn't fit in the cart so I sort of balance it through the rest of the store, but it makes a complete blind spot on my right side so I have to push the cart while walking like Frankenstein so as to not run into anyone. 
  • I think at some point, when the machines in our life have given up trying to do us in, the house will just collapse and take care of us for them. Why? Because the amount of small screws I find about the house is enormous. Where do they all come from?! I used to save them. Carefully. Because they must have come out of somewhere and screws generally hold things together. It seemed important to replace them. But I can never find where they come from. So now I throw them out. And some day everything will collapse because the important screws holding it all together are gone.
  • I have twin four year olds.
  • And a labrador puppy.
  • The level on ESL-speak (that kind of speech you use when talking with someone who is not fluent in your language) has risen significantly. First, H. is still learning and I find holes all the time which means at any given moment I need to stop and give a 15-20 minute language lessons to clarify and teach more vocabulary. Frustratingly, it always seems to be words that we use everyday. (Remember I am not patient by nature.) I think it's because when she first came home her brain stored things more inefficiently than it does now and things learned earlier are not accessible. Plus, the young mother here speaks Spanish and a little English. I don't speak Spanish, but I speak a little itty-bitty bit of Italian which in many ways is extremely similar. It is an interesting language concoction we have going on around here.
  • I also bet that none of you have to worry about a large scale T-Rex jumping out at you when are you least suspecting it, either. Yesterday, M. called me to come and see something, so I blithely leave my room to head to hers. I knew it was probably something to do with dinosaurs, but I really wasn't expecting a large T-Rex opening it's mouth right in front of me when I left the room. It was... startling. I did eventually catch my breath. 
Farce. We could probably be a highly popular entertainment venue if we could figure out how to sell tickets and arrange the seating.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A little June craziness

As some of you know, we here in the Big Ugly House like to smoosh all of our celebrations into just a couple of months. It's more efficient. June is the big winner with 6 birthdays and 1 anniversary. And we are right in the middle of a three-day extravaganza. Yesterday was D.'s 10th birthday (I'll do a birthday post for him next week after we celebrate... he's been at church camp this week). Today is J.'s birthday, but we'll celebrate that later as well. More on why in a moment. And tomorrow is our 22nd anniversary and I don't know if we will do anything to celebrate it or not. Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle.

Today is the pick-up day for all the people at church camp and someone needs to be there at 6 pm to bring them all home. It is a slightly awkward time, and so J. hatched a great plan. He has been working on doing things with TM to continue to build their relationship and TM really loves to camp. So, J. decided to take him on a quick one night camping trip and then pick-up the others on the way home.

Then we needed to tell TM. We knew we couldn't just spring it on him at the last minute. Surprises are just not a good thing... even good ones. But, with his exceptionally high anxiety level, we didn't want to tell him too soon, because that was just more time to worry about the whole thing. The key was Pop Tarts. TM loves Pop Tarts and I don't usually buy them. The exception is if we are going to be travelling because they are an easy snack and treat for in the car. When TM saw the Pop Tarts in the pantry he knew something was up and asked what they were for. I'm not above using treats and bribes in their place, so used the potential treat to explain the plan to TM. Well, it started out as:

TM: Why do we have Pop Tarts?
Me: Well, I have a surprise for you. Do you want me to tell you now?
TM: No!
TM: Yes!
TM: I don't want to!
TM: Yes!
Me: Daddy thought it would be fun for you and he to go camping tomorrow night and then pick-up everyone from church camp. The Pop Tarts are for if you go.
TM: I don't want to go!
TM: Where would we camp?
TM: Do we get to bring all the Pop Tarts?
TM: Do I have to?
Me: It would just be for a night and then you and Daddy will hike and rock climb at Devil's Lake. You like to camp.
TM: I don't like rock climbing!
TM: Lake? Can we swim?
Me: Yes, there is a lake and I think you can swim in it. You can bring your suit.
TM: Do we have to bring a tent? I have a tarp and I made my own tent. I want to use that.
TM: I don't want to go.
TM: Where would we eat?
TM: Can we have a fire?
TM: We don't have to leave any Pop Tarts at home?
TM: Why do I have to?
TM: Can't K. come to?
TM: Can we camp in the woods?

Etc. Etc. Etc.

I actually thought it all went rather well. And for the 30 hours or so leading up to the actual departure, TM had very little anxiety about the whole thing. Instead he was full of plans. It was all very pleasant. But I've learned not to count my chickens before they've hatched, so didn't really relax until TM was in the van and the van was backing out of the driveway. Five minutes before they left, TM comes up to me and says, "I don't know if I should go or not." Inside my head the robot from Lost in Space was beeping, "Warning! Danger Will Robinson!" Outside my head, I smiled and said, "Of course you should go. You'll have fun and you can tell me all about it when you get back," then gently ushered him to the front of the house. It was a definite 'here's your hat, what's your hurry?' moment. I knew once he was in the car we were home free. And that's what happened. They got in the van and left. I love anti-climatic stories, don't you?

So for the day it's me and the preschoolers and our guest and her little ones. I predict a lot of playing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Muscles I had forgotten I had

I am just a little bit sore today. All over. And why is this? Well, A. is away being a counselor at church camp, and yesterday was her and P.'s riding lesson. So I did what every horse-obsessed 47-year-old woman who hasn't been on a horse in over 20 years would do, I took her lesson. And there were a couple of moments I thought I was going to die from fatigue and I loved every minute of it.

For those of you who have never really ridden. It uses just about every muscle in your body. Not only are my legs sore, but my back and upper arms and shoulders are also sore. It is particularly good for core muscles and I'm a little sore around the abdomen as well. It is quite a work-out and I realize that at heart I am a slug, mainly because I HATE exercising for exercising's sake. And this is how I know how much I love horses and riding. It hurts to move, but I would get back on a horse today if I could.

Getting back up on a horse after 20 years is not quite the same thing as getting back on a bicycle. It took a little while to feel comfortable and to slowly have things come back to me. It had stopped being automatic and I kept thinking how many things there were to keep track of. I was actually happy to have been given the horse that they put beginning riders on... I knew that there would be few unexpected surprises from that quarter.

If you are not horse-obsessed, I'm impressed that you've made it this far and I will stop myself from going on and on... which I am fully capable of doing. But I really do have an ulterior motive in sharing this, and it's to talk about dreams. Those really crazy, pie-in-sky, things you like to imagine, but can't ever think about them coming true dreams. I have more than a couple of these and one of mine involves horses. (You're surprised, I know.) But being on a horse again, and watching my girls learn to ride has given me a new one.

I think riding horses has huge benefits for people. It is terrific exercise, it has the side-to-side activate both parts of your brain cross-patterning benefits, you are working with an animal, and learning to control that animal humanely builds confidence. It is no wonder that equine therapy can boast such great results. How cool would it be to run a barn that offers this therapy?

But since I have no experience actually owning horses, no money or land to do so, and no experience with actual equine therapy... well, perhaps this is just an easy justification for owning horses. You think?
Don't forget to pray for Brandi, who is still waiting for a family. She doesn't have access to anything but a crib at the moment, forget about something as unique as equine therapy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The non-emergency emergency room visit due to the not-so-safety glass mishap

Well, I have to say all of this mechanical malfunctioning around here is growing a bit tiresome. It would almost be laughable... if it were happening to someone else.

The next installment in the saga of When Machines Hate You...

The day had been going fine. People were playing happily, I had made it to the grocery store, and next on my list was to put everyone in the van and return the Harris loan box to the museum, stopping by the Vietnamese market on the way. (Now what happens next may have been God's way of saving me from my own stupidity of thinking I could run these two errands with 9 children in tow with four of them under 5 years of age including one infant.) Before we could head out, we needed to install two more car seats, bring the total of car seats to five, with every bench having a five-point harness seat in it. Since M. was home and she is good at this type of thing, she moved and installed them all for me while I did things like make sure everyone was dressed and had gone to the potty and combed hair. I was finishing up and she was finishing up and so she slams the side van door closed. And the safety glass on that window completely shatters. There was glass everywhere, including all over M.'s hands and forearms. They glistened in the sun because of the amount of glass. Her first reaction was to brush it off, but when she did so, it embedded the glass a bit and it started to bleed.

Now, here is where we come to the day's logic puzzle.

  1. I have one vehicle available to me, but it is now surrounded by broken glass and an empty window frame, so it's not really drive-able at the moment. 
  2. We check with a neighbor, who also happens to be a pediatrician, and she thinks we should really take M. to the ER to have the glass removed. 
  3. Even if I had a car I couldn't go because everyone else in the house is below the age of 13 and I would have to bring them with me. See #1.
What to do?

Well, you call your good friend to see what she is doing and she comes over with a car. I secretly (or not so secretly) hope that she thinks it would be more interesting to sit in the ER waiting room rather than stay home with a herd of children. She chooses the children, so I take M. to the ER. It is now about 3:30 and because of the lack of possibility of death from her injuries, we are figuring we'll be lucky to get home before bedtime.

I'll spare you the details of the 2 1/2 hours we spent in the ER, except to save you a similar wait if you ever happen to find yourself in the same situation. (Though since these things seem to only happen to me, that shouldn't really be a worry for you.) The solution to the glass problem was actually fairly simple. Once we were called back, the ER tech had M. hold her arms under running water for a half hour while the bits of glass were slowly washed away. That's it. Why oh why couldn't they have just sent us back home when they saw what was wrong and tell us to do that there? I really just needed the information. Sigh.

The only funny part of the afternoon was when the ER doctor (at least that is what he was supposed to be, we have our suspicions) made his very brief (and no doubt very expensive) visit to the room. All the time we had been there, everyone had been telling us that M. shouldn't rub her hands or arms because they didn't want the glass to be rubbed in any more than it was. Well, when Mr. Dr. comes in, his instructions are to rub vigorously, a lot, to get all that glass out. If hands weren't doing it, then use a washcloth and scrub, scrub, scrub. All done in a sort of stand-up comedy routine manner. He then leaves. M. and I look at each other, probably with our jaws hanging open it was so odd. M. then says, "Do you remember that Psych episode where Shawn Spencer is at a hospital and he dresses up in a doctor's coat and puts a stethoscope around his neck and starts to walk into rooms and dispense whatever medical wisdom he can make up?" Yeah.

So where do we stand at the moment? I am van-less. We need to call the insurance company and see what we need to do to get the window fixed. I can't vacuum the glass out of the van because the outlet where I would plug the vacuum in is in the garage whose door broke a week or so ago and it won't open. (Need to get someone here to look at that.) There is glass all over the grass and I have no idea how to clean that up. You can't exactly vacuum the ground (and I can't vacuum anything anyway, so it doesn't matter... let's just not talk about the whole vacuum situation in general, shall we?) The Harris loan box will be late because I have no car and no time to return it today. And there are no prawn chips in the house.

It all could have been worse. M. could have been injured to a far greater extent had she been standing any closer to the van. There were no children on that side when the glass shattered. I have good friends who are willing to drop everything and loan me vehicles.

Oh, and I don't think I ever gave you an update on the roof and the hole in the ceiling. Well, the good news is it wasn't the roof. There seems to be a leak in the air conditioner compressor which is in the attic. Is that better or worse? I have no idea. I do know that our air conditioning has been off since we discovered it and that's been OK since we have been having a very mild summer. At least we had been, the forecast for the weekend is not filling me with joy. 

You know, it's not really the children who are the problem. When people say, "I don't know how you do it?" I'm not sure what they think I'm doing, but it's really not that difficult. The machines, though... The machines which are supposed to make my life easier... they are the things which very well may positively push me over the brink of sanity.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mixing it up

Well, last night wasn't too bad. The baby went to sleep at 11, woke up at 2 am (conveniently timed with one of the little girls needing to be covered up), went back to sleep until 5 am, and slept through my alarm going off. (That would be the baby sleeping through it, not me.) I'll probably make it through the day.

On Sunday we all drove up to church camp and dropped off D., our sole camper this week. B. and A. are counselors this year, but they had gone up the day before. I have discovered that even one person being gone changes the family dynamics a bit, and three being gone changes them a whole lot. It is always interesting to see the new combinations of interaction that happen which are often very different from when everyone is home.

So the people at home this week are M., P., TM, H., K., G., and L., plus the two temporary little ones. Not much has changed for H. and the three littles. They often all play together and that has continued, adding in the little three year old. It is watching M., P., and TM that I have found interesting. (There's a link on my sidebar to a 'cast of characters' for everyone who is muttering under their breath that they can't keep my whole initial system straight.)

M. has been buried in her room for a couple of weeks under piles of cardboard, wire, and hot glue furiously making very large dinosaur puppets. This is for the same theater that put on a stage version of Jurassic Park last year. They are remounting it at the end of the month and M. was invited back to create the dinosaurs. Well, dress rehearsals are very quickly approaching and there are more and bigger and better (a truly major jump forward in construction) dinosaurs this year, so M. is starting to feel the crunch. Even to the extent of letting her siblings help her out. Something they have been begging to do for a while, so they were more than happy to spend an hour or two painting giant dinosaurs with their base layer of black paint. (Some of the dinosaurs are done, but the director has forbidden anyone to post pictures of them until the show opens. You have no idea how difficult this has been for me. First, they are very cool and second, it would be such an easy blog post.) And, P. and TM painted together very good-naturedly for the whole time. Since M. then had a big chunk of work being done it freed her up to do more construction, which in turn gave her time to head to the beach for a while. Which she did with P. and TM accompanying her. I love those positive interactions. Love, love, love.

The other thing about having people gone, particularly older ones, is that it creates a vacuum into which the younger ones step. P. in particular has risen to the challenge of being one of the few oldest around here in pretty significant ways. Yesterday, after the new children arrived, P. really took the three year old under her wing and really became his special person. This was so wonderful to witness. Normally A. is the first to leap into the mothering role, probably would have done this, but without A. here, it allowed P. to play that role. And she did it wonderfully. P. also is great with babies and helped give the baby the rest of her bottle at one point when I needed to do something else. TM also did his stint with holding the baby and it nearly made me cry to see him so calm and nurturing to that little being.

And for you mothers out there with trauma-affected children, I have left the best story for last. TM had been calm all day. This was not something I was expecting or prepared for because I was sure that the addition of two children and their obvious distress at having to say good-by to their mother at the end of the day would trigger... something. Instead, there was calm helpfulness. But the best was at the end of the day, after having watched a movie with M. and P., he comes to me, says, "I'm going to bed now," and then throws his arms around me to hug me. A hug that he initiated. A hug that did not involve him turning so his back was pressing against me instead of his front. I almost looked around for the Pod People to see what they had done with my son. Who knows what today will bring, but boy, am I going to cherish yesterday and remember it when the roller coaster is on a particularly hilly bit.
And a little bit of bloggy advertising for a young friend. The homeschooled daughter of a good friend of mine, and a former member of our history co-op, has started a blog about books and reading and literature. She has done such a good job with it that I wanted to share it with you. So, go check out Ravens and Writing Desks... and support this talented high school writer.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teaching reading

The children arrive this morning with their mother gradually joining us over the next days and weeks. Since I'm pretty sure I'm not getting much sleep the next two nights as the baby makes the transition to new caregivers, I thought I would write a post with some content because who knows when you will see that again?

Last night I finished reading the book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, by Donalyn Miller. I really loved this book even though the intended audience were traditional school teachers, mainly because I share the author's love of books and reading and sharing that joy with children. And I loved her reading about her journey of how she shares that joy with the children who pass through her classroom. What I found particularly striking is that in reading her descriptions of how she 'teaches' reading is that where she has landed is what many of us homeschoolers do with books and reading and our children. I will elaborate, but first some background.

I remember this, and probably you do, too, and Ms. Miller describes it when she talks about how reading is usually taught. There are several things that happen... spending an entire semester on just one or two books, many lessons having to do with the book but that don't involve reading it, and classroom reading where children take turns reading out loud. (This was my particular pet-peeve. Being a very fast reader, I wouldn't follow along but read ahead and be done with the page long before the class reached it. The trick was to be able to find where we were when my turn was coming up next. It taught me a lot of things, but absolutely nothing about reading.) None of these strategies create children who love to read and read voluntarily. Actually, it is my opinion that if people set about to create a method to make children despise reading with every ounce of their being, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

And perhaps creating non-readers really is the agenda. I'm not trying to go all conspiracy theorist on you, but you've got to wonder when you read quotes such as this:

"In 2000, the National Reading Panel left independent reading off their recommendations for improving reading instruction, stating, 'The Panel was unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvement in reading achievement.' (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000, pp. 12-13)"

Ms. Miller then goes on to say, "It puzzles me that an initiative with the purpose of improving students' reading achievement leaves out independent, free-choice reading. Stephen Krashen, respected researcher, activist, and author of The Power of Reading, identifies fifty-one studies that prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program. Krashen found that students' motivation and interest in reading is higher when they get the opportunity to read in school." And actually, anyone who stops to think about it for longer than a minute or two, could figure out the more you do something, the easier it becomes... even reading. Especially reading. If a child is only reading two or three books a year, and they are books that are not compelling to that child, how on earth will that child ever have the skill or interest to do more?

And this is why Ms. Miller is actually a homeschooler at heart. She recreates in her classroom what we (and many other homeschoolers I know) do in the course of living our lives. First, she allows her children time to read whatever they want in class. She makes time for it. We homeschoolers have a lot of time for reading, but instead of her half an hour, I have children who routinely spend one to two hours a day reading. Second the reading is free choice. Ours is as well. I will occasionally require certain books to be read, but more often than not, it is what my children want to read. Third, she actively seeks out books her students will enjoy and recommends them. I do the same thing. I am constantly recommending books to my children, keeping my ears open for things that will interest them, talk to them about books. Books are a part of life around here, you can't help talking about them. Fourth, she takes her students to the library often and helps them to learn how to find things to read. Well, I have written enough about our library visits for you to know that we do that a lot. My children view libraries as places to find interesting things and are excited about going. Fifth, she models the enjoyment of reading for her students. Most homeschoolers are also book lovers. In fact, dealing with the amount of books in the house is a constant joking problem often discussed when homeschoolers get together. We take very seriously Cicero's quote, "A room without books is like a body without a soul."

As excited as I was to find a teacher who is making a difference in the reading lives of her students, I was also incredibly saddened. Read this paragraph from the end of the book;

"I want more for my students than this nonreading state. I want them to feel that reading is a pursuit in which they continue to learn and receive solace and joy throughout their life. I want what English Journal editor and columnist Chris Crowe wants for his own children when he begs, 'I'd like just once, to have one of them stagger into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and late for breakfast, because of staying up all night to finish a novel. I'd love to see them curled up on the couch rereading a favorite book. I would go to my grave a contented old man if once before I die, and before my kids grow up, if I could hear one of my children talking excitedly to a friend about a book just finished.' This entreaty was not an admonishment directed toward his children or a missive from an expert; this was a dad pleading with his children's teachers to encourage his kids to read."

I read this and wanted to scream and cry all at the same time. I'm sure you can figure out why, I've written about institutionalized parent-abdication before. Please, if you are a parent with a child in a traditional school, I strongly encourage you to read this book. And if you are a homeschooler, I would encourage you to do so also, especially if you are tempted by any number of curricula which aim at 'teaching' reading, but have the capacity to suck the soul out of even the best book.
I have a new article up at Heart of the Matter on Encouraging and Discovering Your Child's Interests.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Happy 4th birthday G. and L. and Happy 18th Birthday, B.!

Today is our triple birthday of B., G., and L. We celebrated last night because B. and A. leave today to be counselors at church camp. Here are some of the many pictures taken.

 We did presents first since the peach pie was still really hot. Here are the three birthday people.

L. (on left) and G. on their new slumber bags.

Now for these next pictures, had I known what was going to happen, I would have had someone take video as well. You all know that L. loves Superman, right? Well, with the new movie coming out, there are a lot of Superman items in the stores, so I thought L. would enjoy having a small Superman doll. Boy was a I right. In the next three pictures, you must also imagine a child so overcome with excitement that she has lost all power of speech. All she could do was to make one long continuous sound something along the lines of, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee....." This went on until she has the actual figure in her hand.

Seeing Superman (and the noise beginning)

sound continues

A. is taking Superman out of his packaging. Note L.'s arms (she is still making the noise).

Ahhh, Superman. 

G. got Sully from the new Monsters movie. (She does like him, the picture just didn't catch her smile.)

B. received his presents from us a couple of months ago. Grow lights aren't much good after the growing season has begun. He also really wanted an miniature orange tree which he has been nurturing for the past couple of months. Don't worry, his grandparents gave him a very nice gift.

A. and P. gave the little girls ponies.

And then the noise began again when L. saw the present from Grammy and Grandpa. She has become something of a sports buff (don't ask me how) and is routinely dressing up in her 'basketball' outfit. So her grandparents got her a basketball hoop. Cue the eeeeeeeeeeee noise.

G. got a new plasma car from Grammy and Grandpa. She loves it.

And then the pies were cool enough to eat. So we sang (three times) and blew out candles. I actually had a '4' candle for the little girls.


G. waiting for her turn.


And she blew the candle out!

I didn't have an '18' candle, so J. held a match. B. wasn't terribly amused.

But he put up with it.

Superman was hiding under her other clothes. (And their hair was done earlier, as usual, they took out the hairbands.)


Just cute.

So Happy Birthday, my darling and adored children. I love all three of you very, very much. It is a bit much for you all to be getting so old and all at the same time, though.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Life is never dull around here

Everything is still a little bit up in the air and probably won't be finalized until the weekend, but if I wait until Monday to tell you what is going on, it will be not as helpful to ask for the items I will need to borrow. That's all very cryptic and mysterious isn't it?

I have blogged about Safe Families before. Our good friends, the H-S family have been hosting two little ones for the past month. For various reasons, they will be unable to continue to care for them starting next week, so everyone has been working on figuring out what is best for the children and their mother. Well, between Safe Families, the H-S family, Su Casa (the shelter the mother is living in... from my brief contact with them a truly phenomenal place), and the mother, it looks as though we are the best choice. And the way that works (because you all know our family size is a huge issue for many people) is that it is also looking as though the mother will be moving in, possibly in stages, as well. So, for a little while it seems we will be filling every seat in our van.

Obviously, there is a whole lot about this that I cannot share. It is not my story and I want to be VERY careful about others privacy. But it all looks pretty God arranged. We have the room and the time, we have already had some contact with the children so we are not strangers, and we have unique experience in dealing with various mental health concerns. Plus, we have hosted a mother and her child during the summer time already, though under quite different circumstances. Other than say yes, we haven't done anything... even fight the large family ruling... but it has happened. It seems. Nothing has been signed yet and we still have another meeting or so. It's a good thing I gave up on trying to plan things a long time ago.

I'm sharing all of this with you for several reasons. First, as you remember, I gave away every single baby thing I had. And it hurt to do it and now I'm really regretting it on top of everything else. I am going to need to borrow some things. So, my local friends, do any of you have a baby swing I can borrow for a while? One of the children is 3 months old (1 month old adjusted age) and the other just turned 3 years old. (G. and L. think he is soooo cute, because he is so much littler than they are. In their own little world.) I have a crib-sized mattress for the little boy, but having a toddler bed to put it on would be great. And crib sheets would also be welcome. It would be a loan only, so I could return them when we are done. Please call me at home if you have any of these items. Thank you!

My next reason is to urge you, really, really urge you to become a Safe Family. They are located in more states then Illinois. If you go to the website there is an interactive map that you can use to see if Safe Families operates in your state. The need is great. And some of the placements are very short term. Some are as short as a couple of days to watch a child while the child's mother is in the hospital having a baby and has no one to care for her older child. Surely just about everyone could do that couldn't they? It takes a little while to become approved and have the necessary clearances done, so if you start now then you can be helping that much sooner. There is also a huge need for families who are willing to take more than one child. There are many sibling groups that come through and they are nearly always separated because there are so few families willing to take more than one child. It adds to the children's distress to be separated from their siblings. What can you do to help? This is a wonderful way to actively play a part in family preservation.

And my last reason is just to give everyone a heads up that life could get a little crazy around here for a while. I have no idea how much time I will have for posting or, if you know me personally, how many functioning brain cells I will have. Memory is not a strong suit around here on good days, and I'm pretty sure a baby will not help the situation. I know I can type one-handed and nurse a baby (I've done it), but there is no way to type while bottle-feeding a baby. I just have no idea what to expect.

So thank you all for your prayers. And while I cannot share the mother's story, God knows what she needs, so please add her to your prayer list.

Now to get ready to celebrate three birthdays tonight. Never dull, I tell you.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Parenting a little differently

One of the comments left on yesterday's post asked a question that I felt really needed to be answered in a post. It's an important question and one that I have certainly asked myself. The gist of the question is, "Does parenting a child in the way I described yesterday, cause them to learn it is OK to misbehave?" That is, if I ignore some of the behaviors I see in TM, does that somehow communicate to him that it is OK to act that way? And once again, had you asked me 7 years ago, my answer would be very different from what it is now. It is all part of that humbling experience.

I think the authors of the book, The Explosive Child, explain it best. Pretty much, a child does the best that he can. Due to the way his brain has been wired, being flexible, changing plans, making transitions are things that are VERY difficult for that child to do. His brain is literally unable to cope and that is when we see behaviors we would rather not. We would not expect a child who is dyslexic to learn to read faster than they are able; the ability to change, transition, and be flexible are tasks that are difficult for this child's brain to accomplish. And then when you add a layer of trauma over the whole thing it makes it that much more difficult. Children who have experienced and internalized trauma spend much of their existence trying to avoid, at all costs, feeling that pain associated with that trauma. Anything is better than feeling that pain. Raging, disassociating, talking, talking, talking are all things used to block out any thoughts of the pain. I have watched my son allow himself to feel grief and then purposefully bring himself to raging because it is just too painful to go there. He would rather rage than hurt. And allowing himself to let people get close is scary because he knows that hurt that follows must be just around the corner. Even if it won't.

Now imagine a time in your life when you were really worried and concerned about something. The type of thing that really overshadows all of your thoughts and colors your days. It is difficult not to think about the thing you are worried about. It is difficult to enjoy the things you usually enjoy because you find yourself constantly thinking about the thing you are worried about. And perhaps it is just me (but I hope it's not), but if I am extremely worried about something, I am not necessarily the nicest person in the world. I can find myself saying things and acting ways that are a little self-centered and not very nice. I have not done it purposefully, but because my brain is filled with worry, it happens. I believe that this is how a child affected by trauma feels all the time. Except that they don't even know what they are worried about. They feel the emotion, but have no name for it. And for some, it has been with them for so long it is how they think life is. They can't remember feeling any differently.

Go back to you when you are extremely worried and perhaps said something in a rude or brusque manner to your spouse. Does it help in that moment for your spouse to lose his or her temper and shout at you for not behaving kindly? Or does it help if your spouse ignores the comment and instead looks you in the eye, gives you a hug, and expresses sorrow over your worry? I'm sure you play out each scenario in your head without my help and find it very simple to figure out which you would choose. Later, if the second scenario is chosen, your spouse could even mention that it felt a little hurtful when you said the unkind words because emotional support was provided before based on what was really going on.

This is exactly what we are doing when we parent our children from hard places. We are dealing with the problem at the root and not what is presenting itself. A friend of mine who has a daughter with similar issues as TM told a story that made me laugh. (OK, it wasn't real laughter, but more along the lines of "at least I'm not the only one and this time I'm glad it was you" sort of laughter.) A sibling said, "Cock-a Doodle-Doo" which prompted a major meltdown for the daughter. While trying to discover what went on, all the daughter could say was, "He said, 'Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!'" as if that explained everything. Now we all know what was going on was not about the rooster noise; there was something else happening that probably she wasn't even sure of. The phrase, "Cock-a-Doodle-Doo" has become a useful family code word for remembering that what we are seeing really isn't the whole story.

Every time we respond with love and grace to our children, they learn millimeter by millimeter that we can be trusted. Trusted to understand them and love them. Trusted not to react and fly off the handle. Trusted to be the solid ground that they so desperately need, even if they don't know it. This is not to say we let our son get away with whatever he pleases. We do talk about using kind words, being careful with our own and other's possessions, thinking before acting. We do ask that words be repeated respectfully. But we do this in calm moments or if the situation seems like a normal child-rearing situation. It is no use at all to try to instruct an already disregulated child on respect and obedience. You just end up sounding like the adults on the old Charlie Brown cartoons... wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. I've learned to save my breath. Usually.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Positive interactions

A while back, when it became clear exactly how far south things had gone with my traumatized boy, I made a conscious decision. My goal for my interactions with him was to have as many positive ones as possible. Because of the way trauma affects children, it was very simple for him to take any situation and make it negative. People suffering from trauma want to make others feel as yucky as they do. It doesn't help them feel any better, but misery does love company. And unless you, as a parent, are consciously working against it, it is so easy to join in the negativity.

Obviously this is not good, because no one wants to live with constant negativity, but there is another reason as well. Brain science has shown that the things we do repeatedly make paths in our brains. The more we do something, the bigger and stronger the path. (Obviously this is not a technical description of the process.) This is why habits are so difficult to break; the brain must be rewired to make it happen. Thus, every time the traumatized child responds negatively to a person and the person responds negatively in return, a path is reinforced... even for the parent. I knew this and decided I needed to change my part of the equation. I had to address my part in our little negativity dance.

I will be the first to say this is a work in progress, but I have seen progress. The non-reacting-thing is really difficult. It means that the parent needs to set aside what they really, really want to do and act very differently. It means feeling as though you are setting aside your needs and feelings (those would be the not-so-terribly grown-up ones of 'getting what you deserve' and 'everything should be easy for me') and doing the hard thing of offering love where it doesn't seem to be returned.

In practical terms, this means doing a lot of translating in my head. The boy said this, but deep down he really means something else. I will respond to the something else. It means that if I am truly incapable of responding in a positive way, I will leave the scene before I say anything to escalate the situation. Needing to refill my coffee cup provides a handy excuse. (I could never give up coffee at this point in my parenting, or I would need to find another reasons to excuse myself.) It means being sure I am smiling at my child, even though habit and experience have prepped me to be angry. It means I offer physical touch as much as possible, but keeping it to levels he can tolerate... a brush on the arm, a pat on the head, a quick and passing hug, and sometimes I can even sneak in a kiss on the cheek. It means making jokes and trying to get him to laugh. This last one surprised me. Not surprised that it is something I should be doing, but at his reaction to my doing it. Evidently laughing with someone indicates a deeper, thus frightening, relationship. When I do joke around, sometimes he will join in, but sometimes I will see him purposefully pull away. A shared joke can feel too intimate. And at that point I have another chance to have a positive interaction, because it can feel hurtful for someone to pull away when you were reaching out. I can choose to continue to smile and leave it instead of acting hurt. In better moments, we can then (briefly) talk about why that behavior might make someone feel badly. It's all about timing and finding the right moment to address things. Rarely is that moment at the moment of hurt.

This way of parenting is tiring. Instead of reacting on auto-pilot, as we do so much of the time, I have to make conscious decisions. And often these decisions require great effort to make happen. There is a reason we have quiet time around here.

Not only do I need to be concerned about my own interactions with the boy, but since his tendency is to burn any bridge he happens upon, I have been working to facilitate positive interactions between siblings as well. Sometimes I am able to create them, sometimes I can help something along that has already started, and sometimes I can just enjoy the scene of positive interactions that appear before me. Such as this little game playing scenario that happened yesterday afternoon.

TM had created his own game (which involved a lot of voluntary writing!) and asked K. to play it with him. And they managed to play it together without unkind words on one boy's part or horrible whining on the other's. Sometimes I think I am so focused on the negative that I don't pay close enough attention to the good stuff. So I took some pictures.

Here's the game board with dice, markers, and cards to turn over.

It was one heaping dose of good brain connections being formed right here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dratted alarm clock

But not for the reason that you think, I bet. No, it's because it only randomly works, and today was not one of the mornings it chose to function. Without an alarm, I just do not wake up. And I can't just make my whole morning shift just a little later because I am in the middle of my week of driving to the eye doctor. Two children down, four to go, plus various other appointment. Even the dog.

I have a question for all of you though. Feel free to comment and then others will have something interesting to read because they aren't finding it here this morning. Have any of you read or heard about the book (or the author) Beyond Smarter: Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change by Reuven Feuerstain, Rafael Feuerstein, and Louis Falk. It sounds fascinating, something that could be very helpful to my population of children, and a brain book that I've never read.

And my library (and all the surrounding libraries) don't have it. And I hate to buy books if I can avoid it. So, have you read it? Is it worth it? Interesting? Or more specifically, is it worth spending $27 on?

Monday, June 10, 2013

The requisite post-convention post, plus a little letter to curriculum publishers

My speaking gig went well... I think. People came. I communicated information. The audience laughed at my jokes. (A bit. I think everyone was pretty tired having spent the day listening to people talk at them.) And then I was free to enjoy the rest of the convention without worry that people would think I was the most boring thing since they last watched paint drying.

For me, the best part of going to the state homeschooling convention is having a break and spending time with friends. Oh, and doing a little shopping at the vendor hall. It was a fruitful endeavor because not only did I pick-up the books various people needed for the fall, I also created a plan for what we would study together. It looks as though we'll focus on Ancient Rome and marine science. When I ran it by the intended audience, they all thought it sounded interesting, too.

All of this leads me to the real point of this post. After having looked at a lot of curricula over the years and used it myself and talked with other people, I have a really important suggestion for publishers who market curricula to homeschoolers. Please, please, please would all of you lose the grade numbers on your students books? I bet if you would make this one simple change, you would sell more of your product.

I don't know about you, but my children do not learn everything at the same rate. For some, their strength is in words and they move quickly through language based subjects. Math, though is another story. Let's just say, some do not zip through their math books. I have a couple of others for whom this is flipped. But not one of them is learning everything at exactly the same pace. Consequently, none of them work through a certain grade level's set of curriculum at the same rate either. The majority of my children are using books from various different grade levels at any given time.

For some reason, perhaps because I have said the grade level doesn't matter enough times, they all seem OK with this. But I've spoken with many parents for whom this is a major issue for their children. That little number on the front of the book communicates a whole lot to the child and sometimes the child doesn't like what it says. For some children, if the number is not large enough, they feel they are stupid or slow or something is wrong with them. It makes it difficult for the parent to put the child in the book they need because of everything that little number is yelling.

This is nuts because the beauty of homeschooling is that it is so easy to tailor a child's education to how they learn. That means if you have a child who loves math and is good at it, that child is not stuck in his or her supposed grade level. They can move as fast as they want and can handle. It also means that a child who learns best by a lot of practice and repetition (and often this is more practice and repetition than the typical textbook provides) can get what they need to actually learn something before moving on. I have done several different books with a child on a certain concept before moving on just so they could learn it.

But the curriculum companies (who very often are selling the same product to schools), don't really seem to get how homeschoolers work. They are stuck in the grade level mentality instead of the mastery mentality. And they label all their books accordingly. I spent some time this past weekend encouraging friends to buy what their child needed and then invest in stickers to cover the offending number. Those grade numbers and hang-up even intelligent parents, too. (Those of us who went to public school for our education still have moments of needing to unschool ourselves.)

I understand the need to order a curriculum so that a teacher can know what order the books go in. It also makes it easier to compare curriculum across publishers (and they really do differ widely). I'm not saying that the grade numbers need to go completely, just from the students books. Here are a couple of suggestions. It would be easy enough to use any other symbol to indicate level... letters, shapes, dots, etc. It would also be easy enough to publish a sheet indicating what each of those symbols mean. If a parent is smart enough to teach their child, they can handle interpreting symbols. Even letters do not communicate quite the same thing that grade numbers do. Letters merely indicate order.

One story to finish with. When I was teaching many more piano students than I do now, every once in a while there would be one student for whom learning to read music was a struggle. Very often I would need to take that student through the basics several times and in different ways before everything clicked. Now, for the most part, children are OK with starting again with a new series once, but a third time can be demoralizing. And sometimes there was a child who really did need a third time. There was one method publisher who had a truly bizarre way of indicating the level of its teaching books. There were many small books and each one has a number so that by the time a child was in a traditional level 2, the number on these books was something like 12. And there were certain moments in my teaching career where I gave great thanks to this publisher because here was a method I could use for another time through learning to read music and the child had no idea how to compare it with what they had already done.

We don't mean to communicate so much with a little number, but we very often do. Children do compare themselves with others whether we like it or not. This would be one small idea that could serve everyone well. And really, when it boils right down to it, what does grade level really mean anyway? It tells us a child's age, but not who that child is. His strengths and weaknesses. Her likes and dislikes. We don't need to herd our children into age-segregated classrooms, so I wish that the curriculum publishers would stop acting as though we do.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

More large family joy

But first I have to share a picture with you.

This is a picture of the combined 25 children of our family, the H-S family, and the P. family. (If you are actually counting children, you will see that there are only 24 actual bodies, but P21 on the right hand end is holding an iPad on which, via facetime, is the oldest H-S daughter who lives on the west coast.) They are all in age order, [click on the link... really... it has a similar past photo from 4 years ago] so the age range is 30 down to 3. (Well make that 3 and 11/12ths because those little girls have birthdays coming very, very soon.) Now that so many of these ever-growing-older children are off to college, being able to have them all together happens very infrequently these days. We had to take advantage of it. They like to humor us, so they all agreed to stand in a line for many pictures. Sorry it's so small, but you have to stand really far back to get this many people in one photograph. (Remember you can click on the picture to make it bigger. I am particularly fond of the interaction between K. and P5 who remain best-buddies.)

I love this picture for two reasons. The first is that these children (and their parents) are our very, very good friends. I've known the P. family for 17 years and I've known the H-S family for 15 years. I have known a very good portion of these children since the day they were born.

The second reason I love this picture is that it captures, for me, one of the single best, most joyful reasons for having a large family... and one I didn't mention yesterday. That would be in a large family, you many ages all at the same time. I can hold and cuddle and laugh with my little three year olds yet I can have grown-up discussions with my oldest. I can be a little sad that B. is about to head for college, but my arms are not empty. (We just won't go into how much I dread telling G. and L. about B.'s plans for the fall. They are not going to understand and will miss him terribly.) There is something about having little children around that helps the older ones not take themselves quite so seriously.

It is a joy to get to enjoy each age. And I know I've said it before, but as a parent, with later children you relax and enjoy them more. You just do. I have talked with enough parents to know this. Yes, you enjoy your firsts, but it is all so new. Each stage is new. With the first two or three you are still pretty much figuring things out as you go along all the way up to grown children. It's a little different with the later ones. You are more relaxed. You can just enjoy them for who they are. You know, really know, exactly how fast it goes. Sure, some of them will throw you a curve ball and you'll be back to the figuring out phase, but even then, your confidence is higher. You've seen how much a child grows and matures over the years and it is a little easier to hold out that little bit of hope you need to get you through. I have found that with each child, my joy in raising them has increased.

And yes that joy outweighs any inconveniences... laundry, cooking, driving large vans. things breaking. Because you know much of that is going to happen regardless of how many children you have. (Well, maybe not driving large vans.) Life happens. Many children just bring more laughter to add to its soundtrack.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The joys of a large family

Since yesterday's post was not-so-optimistic, I thought I should balance the scale by writing about what are some of the joys of raising a large family. In my opinion, these outweigh any negatives... even negatives involving appliances.

  • There is always someone to play with. With enough people around there is usually someone who is willing to play the desired game. There are enough people to play hide-and-seek or sardines or games requiring more than two players. There are enough people to act out Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There are enough people to both turn and jump a jump rope.
  • Intense parental energy is spread over a wider audience. My older children in particular see this as a huge benefit. One child rarely gets complete and focused parental energy for an extended period of time. It gives a child a little room to be themselves and try things for themselves. The few times we have eaten dinner with just one child, the child tends to get a deer-in-the-headlights look about them and starts to feel just a little too under the microscope.
  • Dinner (or breakfast or lunch) conversation is lively and entertaining. If one person doesn't feel like talking, it doesn't equal an uncomfortably silent table. There are always several others who are willing to take up the conversational slack. 
  • Watching the different ages interact is great fun. There are very few things sweeter than seeing one's teenaged son hold a baby sibling. It gives the older children of the family a realistic sense of what each childhood stage is like; they have no illusions over the work of a baby or the stubbornness of a toddler. But they also know the corresponding joys of what each of these stages bring as well. The younger children have the benefit of having so many more people to love and care for them. I see this so much in G. and L.'s attitude toward life. They are happy and joyful little girls (most of the time) mainly because they feel so safe and loved, feelings that have developed by having so many people around them who love and care for them. There is always someone nearby to put on a band-aid.
  • There are more people to cheer your successes. I remember the day K. learned to ride his bike. When he got back to our front yard, nearly all his brothers and sisters were out cheering for him. There are also more people to stand up for you and more people to cry along with you.
  • Sharing and cooperativeness becomes a way of life. There is no one person in the family who operates under the impression that they are the single most important person in the universe. And if they do happen to have the misconception, there is always someone else around to help correct that idea. (Future college roommates can thank me.)
  • Life is just fun. Usually. It's like a party all the time with so many people around. Of course, if you also have a family of introverts like I do, you also need to plan in downtime so the party can continue to be fun. You also learn that one person's bad mood (unless it's the mom's) doesn't have to wreck the party. 
  • When a baby joins the family there are more people to hold him, babies in large families are rarely left to sit in a corner on their own. There is a lot of human contact and love.
  • There are more hands to hold, more arms to hug, more ideas to share, more people to help out, more people to sing Happy Birthday. And more love. Much more love. 
And I'll leave you with a really good God story. Not more than an hour after I hit publish on yesterday's post, the phone rang. On the other end was a friend who had a washer and dryer in her garage and they wanted to give them to us. It made me cry. Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Appliances and the large family

I have thought of another thing that could be considered a negative for having a large family. The very much shortened life span of appliances. I have decided that there is planned obsolescence built-in to appliances and that after so many uses, they just break regardless of how old they are. And if you have many children the appliances get used a lot more than in a smaller family.

I don't think we are particularly hard on our appliances. We try to treat them with respect and not abuse them, but we do use them a lot. But even with respect, they are dropping like flies. Plus they must have all gotten together at some time late at night and made some type of suicide pact with each other because it is looking as though they are all going to go belly up at the same time.

The details? Two days ago the washer stopped working. It won't spin. Of course the only way to find this out is to go down to the basement to move the laundry to the dryer only to discover very wet clothes inside the washer. This would also be the washer that has a leak so that J., in order to prolong it's life a little longer, has jury rigged and truly extraordinary water-diversion system to keep the motor dry and the washer running. The dishwashers (yes, that would be two of them) are not really washers any longer so much as very fancy dish dryers. They have not washed a dirty dish in months, but yet I still load them up and run them using vinegar for the disinfecting properties and to dry them. The vacuum quit a little bit ago, so in desperation to do something about the rugs and carpets, we bought a very inexpensive one. Well, you get what you pay for, since I have had to put the belt on its track twice now. I can just tell it will have the appliance life expectancy equivalent to a fruit fly. The freezer door handle is looking really, really iffy. As in, the next time someone opens it to get something it will come off in their hands. I'm not sure how we'll open the freezer at that point and J. cannot figure out how the company expects the handle to be replaced. It looks as thought the entire freezer will need to be dismantled in order to do so. The toilet handle in the children's bathroom, where it attaches to the mechanism inside the tank snapper off yesterday. J. was able to fix that with some of M.'s Gorilla Glue. (That girl loves all sorts of glue and has quite a collection.) And somewhere around the boiler there was a leak that J. stopped, but still needs to be really fixed.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

But how's this for an offer?

Hey, appliance manufacturers! You say your products are heavy-duty with a long life, but I can't tell you the last time I have actually believed that statement. Why don't you send me some models of your strongest appliances to try out and I'll let you know if they're really heavy-duty or not. And if they are, I will praise your product all over this blog? If your appliances can survive in my home with our built-in heavy use for a reasonable length of time, I think then you can truly say they are 'heavy duty'. What have you got to lose?

And I could really use a washing machine and dishwasher. Oh, and a vacuum.

And the hole in the ceiling fixed wouldn't be bad either.
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