Monday, December 31, 2012

You Fill Up My Senses

Today we celebrated my first-born’s 7th birthday, December 31, 2012. Being pregnant through the entire Christmas season gave new meaning to nearly all the Christmas songs I listened to. So much music about new life, miracles, light, life, love, family, wonder, hope.  The messages were so personal and really hit home. To this day, I cry when I hear “A child, a child, sleeping in the night, he will bring us goodness and light.” That’s exactly what my Light brought to us and brings to us every single day: goodness and light. 

The birth of my first baby brought in the New Year for all, but also was the birth a mother and father, a new life, a new everything for Rob and me. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what name we should give our son- the first grandbaby in both of our families. We had lists and books and google searches. But, then, another song “Point of Light” came into my life. I’d heard the song before, but this time, hearing it sung by a friend, was more special. I remember thinking “that’s what I want our son to be, a point of light.” Immediately I looked up names that meant Light and found the right one. It hadn’t been on any of our original lists, but when I suggested it to Rob, it was all but set in stone. And it fits. He is a Light, shining clear and full of brightness.

It wasn’t easy for me to be pregnant. Every part of my body hurt from nearly the beginning of pregnancy. I remember one day, driving in the car listening to John Denver when Annie’s Song came on. I started sobbing on the 210 freeway. The lyrics were so fitting then and they remain true today. I sang that song to him as a lullaby most nights trying to help him drift off to sleep:

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Let me lay down beside you
Let me always be with you
Come let me love you
Come love me again

Music fills up Light’s senses, too. It’s not surprising that there were so many songs that had such an impact on me when I was pregnant with him. He is a musical child. There is rhythm and song in all the things that he does. Music excites him, saddens him, interests him. He has had many many intense interests in his life, and intertwined with all of them was music.

As I’m finishing writing this, I know I haven’t captured quite how I feel. I think that’s why I’ve referenced so many songs. The music captures the emotions better than I ever could with words. Light fills up my senses more completely than the best, most emotional, most touching, most rewarding song you could possibly hear. He is like a song- my favorite song, the song that brings back memories, that makes me laugh and cry and have goosebumps all over my body. I am excited to see what this year brings for Light and for our family. One thing I know for sure, though, is that he will continue to bring us goodness and light.

Happy Birthday, Light.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Force.

My mom just told me that had anyone tried to take a picture of me 3 years ago, I would have shoved the camera somewhere unspeakable. I was so miserable being pregnant. I can’t find one single picture of me pregnant past October of 2009. She’s right, I was horribly uncomfortable; I was in pain and I was a raging lunatic irritable.

Now as I write this, I am sitting in the dark next to my “baby” who is sound asleep, listening to Christmas music and in disbelief that my “baby” is turning 3 today. At this moment, I am the exact opposite of miserable, the exact opposite of irritable. I am happier than ever. I am luckier than ever. I am Happiness’ mommy. And I am addicted to taking pictures of her. I want to capture and remember every single moment of her life. As cliché as it sounds, her life has flown by so far. And, I want to hold on to every minute of her. She is a force. Everything she does is with force and intensity and conviction. Everything. She does everything with all parts of her being. She is not a half way kind of girl. She is an all or nothing girl.

When you become a parent, no one tells you that you will grieve the baby, toddler, preschooler that you once had. Bittersweet does not even begin to capture what it feels like to watch old videos and look at pictures and wonder, “what happened?”. Where did the time go? Unlike with Light, I can’t remember when she broke her first tooth. I can’t remember when she first sat up or walked unassisted. I can hardly remember the exact hour of her birth; Rob and I are debating that tonight. I don’t know when she learned to dress herself. I don’t remember when she said her first word. I guess when you have your second child, distractions take over and you forget to write things down. But, I have pictures. I have tons of pictures.

And, I remember the exact moment when she stole my heart. She had it from the very instant I laid eyes on her. She grabbed hold with that force. Right then. Stronger than I could have imagined. And she holds onto it and she tells me how much she loves me and she tells me “I’m your girl forever.” All or nothing. And she tells me “I love you too much for you to be away from me.” All or nothing. And she tells me “I won’t EVER ever EVER be your friend again if you make me mad.” All or nothing. And she hugs me and says “Do you recognize how much I love you?” All or nothing.

This girl is a force.

Happy Birthday, Happiness. You are my girl forever.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How We Homeschool

I thought today I might write something a little more descriptive about what homeschooling looks like in our family.  I’ve come to learn that for each family homeschooling means something very different and very few families do it exactly the same way.  I think a lot of “how” a family homeschools has a lot to do with “why” a family homeschools. For us, specifically, we home school because Light has very different academic needs than most other 6 year olds. Along with those different academic needs, he also has some asynchrony in his development, meaning that he is not at the same level across the board. In some ways, he is 6 going on 4, especially when he is upset, anxious, nervous, mad, scared or with large groups of people. But, in some areas, he is 6 going on 25. It just did not seem possible to find a school that could accommodate his asynchrony — challenge him where he needs it and have patience with him when he needs it.  So, we’ve decided the best place to meet his needs is at home.

Light is also a kid who doesn’t like to be told what to learn, how to learn it or when to learn it. He has insatiable curiosity in some areas, yet in some very basic academic areas, he has very little interest. It is nearly impossible to motivate him to practice something that he doesn’t find meaningful. This has an impact on how we handle homeschooling as well. We can’t push him to do things that are not inherently interesting to him without having a huge amount of things available to him that he wants to do.

So, we don’t have a boxed curriculum that is Grade 1 or 2 or whatever. We have pieced together a variety of things from a variety of places and have put together a program that seems to be working for us for now.  Here is the nitty gritty of what we have:

·      Scholastic Grade 4 workbook
·      Spectrum Math Grade 2
·      Spectrum Science Grade 3
·      Spectrum Language Arts Grade 3
·      Science Fusion Curriculum Grade 2
·      Geometry Text Grade 10
·      The Story of the World and Activity Books
·      Chester Comix for primarily American History/Government
·      The Cartoon History of the Universe
·      A chemistry activity set for up to age 10
·      Too many novels and non-fiction books to count. All of various reading levels.
·      Online games: DragonBox+ for some math work, BBC typing game
·      Many games and puzzles
·      Arts and Crafts
·      Piano lessons
·      Karate class
·      Tennis lessons
·      Cub scouts
·      Private tutor/educational specialist 2 hours per week
·      Various documentaries on his current interests

We don’t do all of these things everyday. We don’t assign days for Language Arts/Math/History, etc.  We don’t do “school” from 9-3. We are working on a rhythm to our day. I would say, though, that on average, we spend about 3 hours per day actively doing structured school. 1-2 of those hours are during naptime for Happiness. The rest of the structured school happens in smaller sections throughout the day, or when Rob gets home from work.

In the car, we do a lot of talking. Yesterday we talked about synonyms, homonyms, antonyms, palindromes, etc.  We do math equations in the car. When we grocery shop, we talk about nutrition. We live learning.  Or, we learn living. Either way.

For Light, learning is a critical component to his day, well his life actually, but it can’t be all structured or all my idea. So, I suggest ideas and provide interesting outings, activities, books and games.  He is involved in daily tasks and helping to run the house. He loves to cook for himself and to bake. We need to do more of that.

I resonate with the ideas of unschooling very much. 
And, I love the educational ideas of Sir Ken Robinson

But, my need to be in control or have some sort of way to assess learning prevents me from embracing it whole-heartedly. So, we may go a few days without any type of structured school and then I get panicked, so we have to get out a workbook! I am hoping to let go of more of that need to control and really follow the interests of my children and see where that takes us. I think as long as I can make sure that Light has mastered grade level standards for his age, I can relax and go with his flow. But, sometimes he needs a little push to get motivated.

Unschooling to me is maintaining that intrinsic desire to learn. That innate curiosity that babies have, young children have, that we as adults had and hopefully still have. It is not grounded in extrinsic rewards or validation. The satisfaction comes from the learning itself. These ideas are wonderful and I try to embrace them when it comes to homeschooling. That’s why it pained me so very much to implement a “reward sticker chart” for Light to use to earn Dungeons and Dragons figures. Remember when I wrote that it was hard for him to do anything that wasn’t his idea? It was hard for him to care to take the time to learn the basics? Well, he got a sticker for each workbook page of “basics” he did. Once he reached 15 he earned a figure. It pains me even more to report that it worked. Yep. He cruised through 30 pages of 4th grade work in order to earn a figure. Well, he cruised through the first 15 pages. Then 10 pages and the last 5 pages were less motivating. I’m curious to see if the stickers continue to work.

My primary concern right now is finding social outlets for him. He is going through a major separation anxiety phase and so dropping him off for classes or leaving him with friends is very difficult. He is with friends during karate and cub scouts, but we are having very few play dates. He doesn’t get invited places; he wouldn’t go anyway. He likes people. He gets overwhelmed with more than one friend at a time. He just started talking about his birthday party this year. He says he just wants a family party. I can understand that, but it also makes me sad for him. He was completely stressed out at his birthday party last year. All of the kids from his kindergarten class came, plus siblings and more friends. I’m finding this to be a tricky area for us. He’s very content to stay home or go to a museum and then come home. He doesn’t seem to miss the after school play times, but it’s so important.  Anyway, I’m working on that. His academics will be fine no matter what. But, we need to focus on his heart and his social well-being.

So, our week looks something like this:
Monday: Tennis
Tuesday: Piano and Cub Scouts
Wednesday: Karate
Thursday: Educational Specialist
Friday: Open

We have something scheduled everyday except Friday.  Rob and I go to a SENG parent group on Tuesday mornings for the next 6 weeks. 

On Thursday morning we see an educational specialist, for lack of a better term. He deserves his very own post. That will come next.  But, on those days, I don’t ask for much more structured time from him because he is pretty tired afterward.

Both Light and Happiness have a lot of freedom and flexibility in their days. I ask for piano practice a few times during the week. Happiness isn’t in any classes, yet, but dance is in her near future.

Light spends his free time organizing books, reading, talking about roller coasters and playing with his Dungeons and Dragons figures. Or doing geometry and hanging out with me.

Happiness spends her free time playing princess, reading books, talking, painting her body and hanging out with me.

I spend my free time…  Oops, that was some wishful thinking.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Blast Off"

The kids and I just took an impromptu trip back to Wisconsin for a family reunion. Light is a seasoned traveler and does really well with the security procedures, all the waiting and is okay when he has to sit across the aisle from me. Happiness is getting to be an expert at it too, although she is not a big fan of the “blast off” as both of my kids have independently coined the take-off.  

Travelling alone with two small children requires a great deal of endurance and patience. Most of all, though, it requires a sense of humor and excellent problem solving skills. You must be prepared for things to happen. Things like waiting in line to board the plane and your 2 year old yells “I have to pooooop and I can’t wait!” Or as soon as said 2 year old falls asleep on the plane, your 6 year old yells across the aisle “Mommy I have to poop” (and it echoes through the entire cabin on the plane ‘poop poop poop poop’).

One might think that traveling with a 6 year old would be the easy part and the 2 year old would be more challenging. The trouble with that thinking happens when said 6 year old doesn’t want to sit alone in his seat while I take Happiness to the bathroom and he won’t stand outside the bathroom either. So, imagine 3 people crammed into the airplane potty. Talk about space invaders!

And, poor Light. He always seems to come down with something when we fly. So of course the day we are scheduled to leave, he gets a fever. He’s a trooper, so with Advil in his system, we are on our way. He has the chills on the plane and it’s super cold anyway on this particular flight. I have him wrapped in blankets and he’s sipping his drink when “POW” Happiness kicks and his iced drink spills ALL OVER HIS LAP!!  Light has a scream like no other kid in the world. It is ear piercing and intense. Everyone on the plane heard this one! Poor poor guy. It’s uncomfortable to get spilled on in general, but with a fever and I have no extra clothes for him, so it’s even worse! Time to get creative. Luckily he is wearing underwear today. So, I take off his pants and turn his underwear on backwards and tuck his t-shirt into the front of his pants. This way the wet spot is at the front so he can sit on his bottom and the t-shirt is semi-protecting his skin from the wet at the front. Then I wrapped a couple of extra blankets around him. Lesson learned- Light will also travel with an extra set of clothes in his carry-on from now on.

Happiness almost always sleeps for some part of the travel day. It’s great except when she falls asleep with only 20 minutes left in the flight because that means I have to carry her in the Ergo carrier, carry her little back pack, my big backpack and usually Light’s backpack, especially if we are in a hurry or we have to go super far between gates, which is almost always.

Our flight home was quite turbulent much to the dismay of Happiness and the pleasure of Light, who is quite interested in roller coasters. This time at least he was yelling “Wheeee, it’s like a roller coaster ride” instead of what he yelled 2 years ago when we experienced a similar level of turbulence: “We’re gonna crash.” Remember how I mentioned before that he has an ear-piercing scream? Yep, he can really yell and everyone around heard him that time, too!

He is also of an age where he has started asking questions about why everyone has to take their shoes off to go through security. Why is their security anyway? Why can’t anyone walk with us right up to the gate? Why can’t Grandma and Grandpa be waiting for us right when we get off the plane? Why can’t we leave our bags sitting right here for a minute while we go look out the window? Lots of questions that I wish I didn’t have to answer.

So after trying to nurse a 2.5 year old discreetly on an airplane, wearing a fanny pack for easy access to essentials, trying to keep little feet from kicking the seats in front of us, and the exhaustion of entertaining two intense kiddos on our travel days, I am extending invitations out to everyone to come visit us, please!

If you come here, I won’t have to explain to Light why we have to fly to Wisconsin from California via Tennessee and then home to California from Wisconsin via Detroit. Because he is absolutely correct when he says “it makes no sense at all.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Little Scientist

The last few posts have focused primarily on Light, so I thought I’d provide a little insight into my little girl, Happiness. Happiness is 2 years, 8 months old, going on 15. She is very busy, very curious, very persistent, very lovely, very everything. Sometimes she frustrates me to no end. For example, the other night she drew on her entire body with a green marker. The next night, she was painting happily and decided her newest canvas would be her stomach, belly button and INSIDE her ears.

One day I was skyping with my mom and venting sharing some frustrations observations about Happiness’s latest antics experiments when it dawned on me that she is a scientist to the core: a researcher, explorer and experimenter.

Here are some of the questions she asks herself on a daily basis:
1.     What will this color look like on the wall? How about the floor? How about my ear?
2.     What sound will these crackers make if I drop the whole bag on the kitchen floor, how about the living room floor,  how about the floor of the car? Will the sound be the same? Will the crumbs fall the same way each time? Then what happens if I step on them?
3.     Will the kitchen sink clog EVERYTIME I put toilet paper in it? What about the bathroom sink?
4.     Will Mommy’s glasses really get to the ocean if I flush them down the toilet?
5.     Will my hair fall out each time I use the scissors on it?
6.     If I spit water out my mouth, is it the same as spitting juice out of my mouth? How about food?
7.     Do my fingers and a pencil make the same kind hole in an avocado?
8.     Is it easier to get ink or crayon off of piano keys?
9.     Does a penny come out between the piano keys easily as a puzzle piece?
10. Does water spray out of the faucet in the tub when I use my hands to cover the spout? How about if I use a toy? My foot? My brother’s head?
11. If I pee here on the carpet, will it make the same shape as if I pee here on the hard wood floor?
12. Does my brother get the same kind of mad when I cut his new quiz cards in half as he does if I rip his new book?
13. Does a Zingo piece melt in the toaster? How about a Candyland Guy? A Go Fish Card?
14. Do I really make people smile a hundred times every day?
15. Does my mommy cry tears of happiness every single time I hug her and tell her I love her? How about my daddy?
16. Do I always have this effect on people? Yes, my sweet, curious, independent girl, you do. That, I know for sure.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Back To School (or not)

Some of our friends and neighbors are getting ready to start the new school year.  I have mixed feelings about this, most definitely. We live very near the neighborhood school that Light attended last year, so we drive by several times a week. I always look at the large announcement board hanging on the outside of the building that lists the goings on for the month. It’s starting to fill up- new student orientation, school spirit day, kindergarten reception, room rep meetings (I was a room rep for Light’s kindergarten class last year). Seeing the schedule makes me feel the loss. Truly the school had a great community. The families were wonderful. The students were wonderful. The neighborhood is wonderful. So, I do, I feel the loss. I love the hubbub of group activities. I love being involved in organizations. I love being around students and parents. So I am sad that we won’t be experiencing those kinds of things.

But, I think about the anxiety level that Light had when he had to ride a school bus on a field trip, even though I was also attending. I think about his sensitivities to specific kinds of discipline. I think about how his need for intellectual stimulation and challenge is a huge part of who he is. I think about how challenging it is for him to be in large groups of people and without the academic challenge to motivate him to deal with those stressors, he was miserable. I know that we have made the right decision. I think about the administration that had absolutely no interest in working with us to improve things for Light. I think about his kindergarten teacher who had absolutely no understanding of how a gifted mind works and the asynchrony, challenges and intensities that go along with that I think about how kindergarten was supposed to be fun for him and nurturing and a place for him to figure out his challenges and use his strengths. It was supposed to be a welcoming, fun environment that introduced us to the next 12 years of public education. None of that happened for him.

What happened for him were daily stomachaches and over all body aches on our M-F walks to school. What happened was Light crying himself to sleep every night. What happened was watching an angry child take over my happy, secure, curious, loving boy. What happened were conversations about feeling different, feeling misunderstood, feeling unappreciated. What happened to us were inaccurate labels and negative reports that were gross misunderstandings of what was happening with Light. What happened was an educator’s projection of her own family’s “issues” onto our son. What happened were suggestions for how to “fix” him, to help him conform to the norm, to fit in.

We know from experience, from hereditary that he will most likely not ever “fit in” to the “norm.” But we also know from experience, from heredity that who he is is an amazing human being just as he is, who doesn’t need to be fixed, but needs a special environment to help him reach his full potential.

So, I am excited for our own home schooling year, but I feel sad. I know things will change, they already have. I have lost touch with some of the moms that I thought I wouldn’t lose touch with. I loved the morning chit chat, the “late start Fridays”, the before pick up gossip and catching up. The thing is, I feel that loss, I don’t think that Light really feels it. I have to be careful, very careful not to put those feelings of nostalgia onto him. I loved school (although in hindsight, I can’t say that it was really beneficial). I wish I was more of a free spirit and I think my fear of getting in trouble kept me from my full expression.

What I won’t miss are the daily battles to get ready in the morning. I won’t miss the daily battles with homework. I won’t miss the daily battle of finding something to pack for lunch everyday. I won’t miss the daily battle with my gut and my intuition telling me that this was not right for us.

The thing is, we have friends. We have awesome friends. We have a great community. We have fantastic neighbors and now we have met some wonderful new friends who are also on a home schooling path. I will still feed my need to be around other people, to be social, to chit chat. And Light will have opportunities to practice these skills as well without all the extra stress that goes along with it. So, I am excited for this new adventure. It feels exhilarating and liberating. And we can be on our own schedule and do things exactly the way that will work for our family.

I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy school year whether you are following a traditional school path or paving your way on a home schooling path. Here’s to a year of loving, living and learning! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Does Blogging Make Me A Better Mom?

This is only my second blog post, but right after the first one, I started obsessing over what my next topic would be, wondering if anything good would happen (be careful what you wish for!). I also started analyzing everything I was doing, which then made me wonder “Does blogging make one a better parent?” Many times, situations would arise and I would think about putting the story in a blog post, so of course, I planned to have the perfect parenting response so I could be proud of what I had to share with whoever was reading.

For example, yesterday, I left the room for maybe 3 minutes (mistake number 1) to take an important call (mistake number 2), my children were painting (mistake number 3). When I returned to the room, they had made a mixture of paints and apparently had decided to become warriors. Did I mention they were naked? With paint? They change their skin colors and the tint of the hard wood floors. Their bodies were COVERED head to toe in paint. The wood floor was covered in paint, the craft table was covered in paint. At this point, I knew this would make it into the blog. How was I going to respond?

I think I could have handled one child in this situation, but two children? I stood paralyzed and frozen. Usually I am pretty quick on my feet to figure out how to solve a problem, how to clean up a mess. This time I really had no clue. I did not yell. Honestly, though, I don’t remember what I said. Something like “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on?!?!” I asked them to pause so we could make a new plan. I told them we needed to clean this up and that we might be ruining the floors. I needed their help to clean up as fast as possible and they really needed to do what I asked.

Then I made another series of mistakes. First, I thought the best way to clean then off was to hose them off outside. So I carried Light out and turned on the hose. Well, duh, he started spraying the hose all over the place. I tried to aim it into the little baby pool, but he was just goofing off with it and refused to get himself wet because it was cold. Second, I carried Happiness outside and tried to spray her off. She flipped out. It was cold! So now the war paint is dripping off their bodies onto the concrete patio, so the mess was just spreading.

So then I decided to put them in the shower, but now I had to carry them in one at a time dripping paint through the house. First Light, then Happiness.  At this point, my clothes are covered in paint as well. At least they are warm in the shower and I ask them to please stay in there until I get the floor cleaned.  They hate to shower with the shower door closed, so they opened it, spraying colored water all over the bathroom floor. I needed some VOOM from The Cat in the Hat.

After a 15 minute shower, much of the paint went down the drain. Next was to transfer them to the bubble bath. First Light, then Happiness in the bath together, with cups. Another mistake. Thinking I could continue to clean the mess up while they soaked in the tub, with cups. Nope. Now I have a flooded bathroom floor to mop up.  Then they decide to drain the water themselves. I refill it to rinse them off. Finally, they are free of paint. I am sopping wet and covered in paint, still.

The bathroom floor is mopped up. The wood floor is clean. The table is clean. The kids are clean. My clothes are not clean. The kitchen sink has the full paint cups and brushes in it, still needing to be cleaned.

After the kids were clean. We talked. I asked them if they had fun. “Yes.” I told them that I appreciate their need and desire to be creative and to make messes. I told them that there is a time and place for that. And I asked if we could use the little baby pool outside to do body/mud painting next time. Then they helped me with some other toy clean up and we ate dinner (late).

In the morning I woke up to find that there were still paint footprints on the floor in the playroom. Also, paint on the front screen door, which reminded me that during this whole thing, a neighbor friend stopped over and apparently I looked quite frazzled and spread paint on the door.

I was proud of myself for not blowing my top. And secretly I was happy to see my kids in kahoots together instead of going at each other’s throats. They were giggling together in the tub and during the whole mess making time. My new favorite saying, “if you’re going to laugh about it later, why not laugh about it now.”

So, although this is tongue in cheek, maybe blogging does make one a better parent. It provides a bit of introspection if you know you might be parenting under a microscope or for an audience. My husband says that it is sort of like therapy. Like how you think about what you are doing and know that you have to report back to your therapist, so you adjust your behaviors a little more and make some changes so you are happy with the way you handle things. Kind of like what happened with this story and my blog.

I never did change my clothes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Many people have suggested that I start a blog. Some have said it's because I have some funny one-liners and funny stories (no pressure, though!). Some have said it's because my life is crazy (very true). Some have said it's because I write well and have a strong voice (strong opinions, yes). One honest friend asked why I would want to add to my already very full plate (because a lot of funny stuff happens). And others have asked what I would write about (the crazy, full, wonderful life of parenting two intense kiddos).

So here I sit nursing my 2.5 year old daughter, let's call her Happiness, while trying to type as she grabs my hands, kicks the computer keyboard and uses my breast as a kazoo hgklkjgkhgdgfxbn;nlikoiuyd (that was her). Is that a funny start off story? Is it crazy? Whatever your answers are, it's a true story happening right now.

My family is also beginning our homeschooling journey this year. Happiness is the younger sister of our 6.5 year old son, let's call him Light. He was in kindergarten for much of last year and for reasons you will learn all about, it was not the right fit for our family. This blog will also be about our adventures in homeschooling/life learning.

So, the purpose, I guess, of this blog is to tell stories, true stories, of the crazy, wonderful, overwhelming life we live here in Southern California. My hope is that the stories I tell will make you laugh. But, I also hope they will give parents permission to relax, have fun, and enjoy their children. I hope to share an honest look at parenting from the heart, leading with love, laughing out loud, and learning through living together, as a family.