Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To Boston and Back

So last week I let it slip about my frustrating childhood habit of losing track of things, and how I see it popping right back up in the gene pool. Well, guess what? I'm not over it yet! On the flight to Boston last week, I apparently lost my iPod, which is very sad since it's not like I'm going to rush out and buy a new one (it came free with Tim's laptop last year). I had loaded the first ten chapters of Our Island Story onto it for Ian to listen to on the flight, and sure enough, just as I suspected it would one day, the compactness of the thing did me in -- it must have slid to the floor as we prepared to land. No luck in the JetBlue lost and found either, and no emails from any Good Samaritans who have discovered it and noted the contact info engraved on the back (my husband knows me well). On top of that, yesterday I lost my debit card at Central Market, and I left my camera in my mom's car when she dropped us off at the airport! YIKES!

But on a happier note, the trip went very well and we enjoyed the time spent with my parents. For anyone who doesn't know, my dad was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in April 2002, and has thus already outlived over 75% of patients thus afflicted. He gets around in a power wheelchair fulltime now, and breathes with a BiPAP during daily naps and nighttime. Despite the grim inevitability of the future, we just feel so grateful to have had the extra time, and to be able to snatch a long weekend every couple of months to get together with him and my mom. This trip brought up some important discussions about caring for them as the burdens grow greater in the next few months. It wasn't all serious talk, though. We also took walks to the nearby Animal Rescue League (where the kids ended up in a photo shoot with a Great Pyrenees for an upcoming charity gala, LOL), stopped for ice cream at the same place we always went when my siblings and I were wee ones, and explored the incredibly bucolic Walden Pond (The highlight of this famous landmark for my kids? Not the groovy Thoreau vibes, not the chance to splash around in their clothes, but watching a horse urinate in its paddock. Yup. Caroline says to me approximately twenty times a day, "Know what, Mom? "What, Caroline?" "I saw horsie go pee on ground!" Sigh ... even at 22 months, it starts so young.)

I hope we were able to be helpful, or at least minimally burdensome, and at the same time, it seemed like an abrupt change of scenery for a few days helped get me out of the rut of anxiety I seemed to be spinning my wheels in beforehand about our homeschooling (can't elaborate now). In the meantime, I've been inspired from recent reading to spend more time, as much as possible, outdoors with the children, and to present to them a feast of ideas rather than a litany of facts. I often wonder how we're doing with respect to that W.B. Yeats quote about education being not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.

And so I'll end with a brief note of what seems to be stoking the fires this week. We've all been hooked on Jim Weiss' Arabian Nights -- sometimes we sit in the driveway with the car on to hear the end of a story, and I actually listened ahead last night on my way to my support group meeting (don't tell the kids!). Books we're reading and enjoying: Shadow Spinner (Ian and I), The Family Under the Bridge (all of us), and Shadrach (Ian alone).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The testing

So every day I set forth the best of intentions to update my blog in the evening, and every evening I seem to be so bushed that I can’t put two coherent thoughts together, but instead stare glassy-eyed at the screen and procrastinate until tomorrow.
BUT, today was noteworthy because Ian had his first three hours of testing with the psychologist this morning. After remarking that “it was REALLY long,” He reported that the promised building-with-blocks activity was not as fun as he had expected, because he had been hoping to make an Eiffel Tower out of the blocks, and instead he had to make shapes with red and white blocks. Yup, that’s my divergent thinker for you. It makes me wonder a bit how accurate the results will be, since if Ian is not interested in something he really doesn’t give it his best effort. Unfortunately, the activities are not set up to revolve around prehistoric life or Magic Treehouse books. (And yes, she confirmed that she could tell pretty easily when he was ready to be done with a given activity. Even that is useful information, of course, since the testing measures not only IQ but also social/emotional maturity and attention/focus.) I guess that’s why it’s best not to get too tied to a number as a determinant of a child’s intelligence.
I have such mixed feelings about this testing -- including a feeling of impatience at having to wait another nine days for him to finish the last hour, and then another two weeks for the evaluation and interpretation of results. I admit I’ve been kind of pinning my hopes on it, probably too much, so on days when I feel ready to just crumple in defeat because I can’t get him to focus on anything on my agenda I’ll say to myself, “Ah, but pretty soon he’s getting the testing done, and then the doctor will have all these brilliant insights into what’s going on inside that noggin, which will deliver me from that feeling of groping around in the dark and from that negative energy that seems to build between us when I spend so much of my time reminding, correcting, trying not to communicate my discouragement so I’m not beating the poor kid down all the time.” This is actually somewhat embarrassing to write, since it exposes my doubts and weaknesses as a parent, but if I don’t get it down in words, it’s just this static in my brain and knots in my shoulders – and plus, I’m among friends here (including friends who deal with their own quirky kids on a daily basis).
(Note: I myself was a pretty absent-minded child, smart on paper but not so quick to adopt the life skills, and I sometimes wonder if Ian is the male, i.e. testosterone-ized, version of me! I’m sure my mother felt like banging her head against the wall too, say, when I lost not one, nor two, but THREE watches – remember Swatches? Even now, I have to catch myself from distractedly walking the other direction when Eliza wants to chatter with me about plans for building a fort out of silkies, or throwing a birthday party for her dolls.)
It’s late, and we’re leaving for Boston to visit my parents tomorrow, so I’d better go, although with a shot of caffeine I could easily ramble on for pages more. Mercifully for my handful of readers, I’m not a coffee-drinker …

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An outside day

We couldn't believe it when we awoke this morning and felt an actual, perceptible, cool breeze floating through our window! An authentic breath of September! You have to understand that it's probably been about five months since our air has felt this way, and, partially since I know it won't last long, I was sufficiently inspired to take the kids to a nearby park for the morning. We brought our books, and did lessons at the picnic table/in the gravel/by the swingset, etc. Eliza was happy to listen to a chapter of the Boxcar children and then run off to play; Caroline, who is usually rather challenging to distract at home, spent quite a while filling a cup with gravel among a bevy of other toddlers and then roaming the playscape; Ian got to swing to his heart's content in between sessions of math workbook and listening to a chapter on Alaric the Visigoth from Famous Men of the Middle Ages (and in between math pages, he could run around a tree and back). I'd say it was one of our more successful days -- was it extra Vitamin D we were all benefiting from, or the built-in breaks available to those of minute attention spans for things that don't immediately interest them? I think we may need to make this something of a tradition.

On another note, does anyone know of a cheap and easy device that allows one to record sounds? I'm thinking of a modern descendant of a tape recorder. Caroline, who for most of the summer was an absolutely bear (not in the teddy sense) to put to bed, has lately become rather endearing at bedtime. We've gotten into a good groove as regards the bedtime routine: nurse, read a couple stories, turn off light and say goodnight to whomever or whatever we saw that day. Then the parent on duty sits by the closet or bathroom light and reads until she falls asleep. It was my turn tnoight, so as I lay there entranced by my book (an amazing, thought-provoking book called Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker that, in this day of Madeleine McCanns and other terror-inducing headlines, should probably be required reading for every parent, IMHO), Caroline was in full swing. Even with a slight fever, probably teething-induced, she was singing and chattering away, "reading" her Maisy book in the dark, singing "ring arounda rosies, pockabo posies, ashes ashes we all fall DOWN!" then bidding goodnight, with kisses, to each of her body parts, and then, quite suddenly, falling silent, as if someone had flipped her switch.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Great(?) Expectations

So the thing is, I really have no idea who all reads this blog except for the few of you who comment or have emailed me to respond to it. So I'm kinda going out on a limb here because I MAY risk offending certain people on the off chance they're actually reading this. It's not my intention to do so, but I've been mulling something over that needs to be put in writing, and I have no time to both blog and keep a journal, so please, if any family members are reading this, don't be offended, because really, it's about me, not about you.
There. The Magical Disclaimer. Clearly, this is not going to be about curriculum choices!
Now, on to business. I have come to the conclusion that life would be much more joyous, pleasant, and easy if I simply had NO expectations of other people. Why do I get frustrated and irritated with the people closest to me? Because I have expectations of them -- some reasonable, and some, once I have a chance to reflect on them a bit, not entirely so (e.g. that they should read my mind, know exactly what I want or would do in a given situation, and want to do so). For example. My extended family is extremely important to me (meaning not only dh&dc but also parents, siblings, and in-laws) and I cherish this ideal that they, like me, would make time together a top priority in their schedules. When this doesn't happen, sometimes my inner three-year-old falls on the floor crying and then sulks for days. "How could they not want to be with us? How could they not invite us to do such-and-such? How could they not find it of utmost joy and importance to initiate quality time with our kids?" etc. etc. Mature, I know. I'm working on it.
Another example, along the same lines. When we moved here from SC, partly to be closer to family, I had this lovely ideal, based on the experience of friends I observed, that our extended family members would be so excited to have us here, and so observant of the fact that I am (by choice, I acknowledge) with my darlings 24/7 without the resources at the moment to hire outside help, that they would leap to the rescue, happily offering to facilitate the occasional date night or Mom break. Or at least, when we gathered up our courage to ask, would be willing to drop whatever plans they had and lend a hand. And furthermore, they would ask at regular intervals, in all earnest sincerity and with genuine interest, how we were doing, how the homeschooling was going, how we were adjusting to life in Austin, etc. But you know what? God is making it abundantly clear to me, not in a finger-pointing way but in a gentle, are-you-listening way, that the problem is ME (and the solution is HIM). Those things that I envisioned, perhaps even took for granted, are simply not going to happen, and it's because I need to learn this. Just because I would express my love for people in a certain way, doesn't mean I can expect the same of them (repeat the mantra!). Nor does the apparent lack of those expected/hoped-for behaviors indicate a lack of love on their part. Nor can I form expectations based on how my loved ones treat other people, even if that seems fair and reasonable. I think that honestly, in most relationships, the words "fair and reasonable" just don't apply. They are, in fact, toxic and burdensome, because ultimately, NONE of us can live up to each other's expectations (especially if they're unexpressed and simply stewed over). I need to let them all go ... and in their place, make room for grace and for gratitude. For which there are, in all truthfulness, reasons in abundance.
Ah, but it's one thing to see it. Letting it happen, genuinely, from the inside out -- that, I think, will take a lifetime.

Friday, September 7, 2007

He Passed!

Well, the fateful moment has come and gone and I am beyond pleased to announce that this afternoon Tim passed his Ph.D. qualifying exams!!!!!! In case you're just joining us, this is Attempt #2 on some very rigorous written and oral exams, successful passing of which determines one's eligibility to receive departmental funding -- i.e. either pass or pay your tuition and living expenses completely out of pocket -- also known as, quit the program and look for a job. :-( After the huge disappointment of last January, it makes it that much sweeter to have him breeze through the oral today (in fact, he had done so well on the written part that they didn't ask him any questions when he showed up for his "grilling"!). If nothing else, the letdown of the first round makes the success all the more poignant this time. Now here goes two more years!
We're so thankful to the Lord for sustaining us and answering the prayers of all the family and friends who petitioned on our behalf for extra grace for a difficult crossing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The blessing of humor

OK this is just a teensy bit off-color but I just have to share it because it so perfectly illustrates the value of a humorous moment deflating your Balloon of Doom and Gloom. We had a, um, not so joyful day of learning together today (I won't bore you with the details of my homeschooling angst), capped off by a starting-off-wonderful-turning-into-big-flop-at-the-end tae kwon do trial class for Ian. By the time we picked up Tim from school (too rainy for the bike), I was just barely holding back tears. We stopped at Central Market on the way home (kids eat free on Tuesdays!), and as we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed something through my blurry vision. Rather unfortunately, my eagle-eyed son did too, and next thing I know he's pointing to the car parked across from us and asking, "Why does that car say, 'WARNING: HOTTIE INSIDE' on the windshield?"
I tried, really I did, to maintain my sniveling composure and answer him with a smooth, nonchalant, "Well, perhaps that car is owned by someone named Hottie. As in, short for Horothea, or Hothilde." BUT, akin to my inability to read Dave Barry aloud to my husband, I could not make it though my sentence for giggling.
Mature and composed? Not so much. Feeling better almost immediately? You bet.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Un-Labor Day

I have two raves and a rant for today. Hm ... let's book-end them. We'll start with Rave #1: Our outing today with our friends (and now fellow homeschoolers) the Dixons, to Mountainview Park, where we had a lovely hike, with just the right degree of ruggedness, some winged wildlife spotting, and a beautiful, shaded creek for the kids (and us) to play in. See below:
OK, never mind, Blogger seems to not be accepting images right now. (That doesn't count as a rant.) I must add, too, having done this same hike a couple weeks ago with our homeschool support group, that it is a whole lot easie to do this wiwhen 1) dads are along, and 2) the skies are ovecast and threfore not broadcasting 95 degree hat upon us!
Rant: The new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. We rented it this afternoon to watch with the older two during #3's nap, since the forecast called for tons of rain. Ian has read the book (he's a big Roald Dahl fan), and we just listened to the whole thing on CD, narrated most delightfully by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame at least twice while riding around in the car. Well, concerning the movie, I am most definitely not a fan. I guess I kind of carry a torch for the old version, Willy Wonka and the C.F., but Johnny Depp as Wonka in this recent one is just plain weird, failing to engage both the children he has invited on the tour and the audience. Even the factory just seemed to me too much like it was all done on a green screen. The last 5 minutes, with the heartwarming message about family, managed to redeem the experience a tiny bit for me, but still. Two thumbs down (but the kids liked it, and at least we got to discuss the comparisons to the book and audiobook, so maybe one thumb down and one waving horizontally). I see that most Amazon reviewers disagree with me, but that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it. :-)
Final Rave: The super-cool, oh-I'm-salivating, coveting, feeling sore-tempted, history timeline figures on CD from Homeschool in the Woods. All I can say is WOW.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Reflections on the week

This morning as we rolled out of bed (we all tend to lounge on the big bed on Saturday mornings until our appetites get the better of us) I got an IM from my friend Vanessa, inviting us to join her family at the new park down by Town Lake (or I guess I should say, Lady Bird Lake). We had a great time! There was an area for the kids to play in the sprinkler jets, and once Caroline got over her far of the rather unpredictable jets, Vanessa and I got to sit and visit together, which was really nice. O the joys of uninterrupted conversation! Above is a shot of Vanessa and Sam; their little guy Benjamin is just about 3 months younger than Caroline and is super cute.
Anyway, I wanted to note a few of the weeks' highlights, because this was a big week for us, not just with the quals but also with officially starting our homeschooling year. Since my box from Rainbow Resource hasn't arrived yet (and unfortunately the UPS man does not labor on Labor Day) we're sort of ramping up, which I found to be a blessing. I decided to try out Sonlight this year, and do their kindergarten program (Core C) with both kids, since they'd both be interested in the read-alouds and Bible readings/memorization, and then I got the Grade 3-5 Readers and Language Arts for Ian. This just seemed to be the most sane way to accommodate both kids. and then I''ll do specific things with each of them, like medieval history with Ian (my modified version of Biblioplan) and phonics the fun and laid-back way with Eliza. Already I'm reminding myself that flexibility is key. For example, on Tuesday we ended up doing spelling in the driveway. I had a list of compound words to teach Ian, but whaddya know, we ended up doing HIS list of compound words (example: "crackerjack"), and then hiding words around the driveway (with sidewalk chalk) for each other to find. Pretty big hit. There was a moment there where I could feel myself resisting this, wanting to DO THE LIST, but then I realized that I was just setting us both of for a pile of frustration. Ian is NOT a by-the-book learner and (repeat the mantra!) it's up to me to roll with it. In other words, I have to remind myself not to miss the forest (encouraging a love and joy of learning, and preserving a harmonious relationship between us) for the trees (getting certain things done a certain way).
Wednesday was a good break already, because it helped ease the transition into more structured time at home. That was the day we met up with friends for homeschool day at the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History. They have a great film there about the Spirit of Texas, and I have to say, I am such a sucker for these things because the whole time the music boomed around me and the narrator intoned spine-tingling sayings about the heroes of Texas, I was fighting back tears. It's the same way I get when I hear "God Bless America" or even -- dare I admit it? -- "Proud to be an American." The kids really seemed to enjoy the museum, but of course the film was their favorite part. Cannon fire! Rattlesnakes! Hurricanes! We laughed, we cried, it was better than Cats ...
Speaking of Cats, one of our poems this week (we are working our way through Caroline Kennedy's Best-Loved Poems; love the poems, adore the illustrations) was "Mr. Mistoffelees." I remembered hearing it as a song in the Broadway Musical, and sure enough, iTunes to the rescue, I was able to find it and play it for the kids.
Thursday we had "school" in the backyard. I read aloud while pushing Caroline around the patio on her tricycle, and then we brainstormed personality traits of our characters, then did a spelling quiz while Ian quizzed ME on Magic Treehouse details (he did remarkably better on the spelling than I did on MT). For creative writing, he dictated to me a story about his Uncle Allen and a paintball game. Ian has been bugging me about getting the latest Magic Treehouse book, so we made an agreement that when he finishes 20 pages of his math book (we use Math-U-See), we can get the book. Well, he's motivated! Lots of math being done at our house this week! (Of course, I also count things like playing Sequence as math ...)
Friday went fairly well too, including the nature walk at Mount Bonnell. Overall, I would say we're off to a good start, although we have our challenges cut out for us. Specifically, I need to find good ways to occupy Caroline while I'm working with the older ones -- a nearly universal homeschooling dilemma, I know. Also, I need to make sure Eliza doesn't get short shrift, being the middle child and generally content to sit and listen in (until she's had enough of being overlooked and starts to let us know in unmistakable ways!). Finally, my biggest challenge so far, besides the balance between flexibility and structure ... helping Ian handle the transition between having Oscar, his friend from next door, here all day every day, to having to live for 3:00 (and then, horrors, sometimes seeing Oscar go off to another friend's house). If you know Ian, you know he's Intense. He will ask me over and over and over when Oscar is coming home, and it's not just that it gets irritating, but also that it evokes this insecurity in me, as if I can't possibly create a stimulating, enriching enough environment for him to keep hims mind happily distracted from the absence of Oscar. Soon enough, our schedule will get busier and we will see more friends during the day, but in the meantime, there are times when I just have to take a deep breath and walk away for a moment. Pray for me.
(And apparently, I am now competing for Long-Winded Blogger of the Year, so I'd better sign off now and go to bed!)