A Few Notes on Writing This Semester.

(This is unedited because I’m pressed for time, so cut me a little slack if I ramble or spell opportunity wrong. Watch out, world. I’m not looking back today.)

Last week, Mary did something pretty cool. She came up with an idea that she liked enough to discuss with me in the middle of world history, and then she wrote about it in a letter to the president!

Impressively, it wasn’t even an assignment. The idea was something she came up with out of the blue, entirely on her own. I just suggested she consider telling it to someone more important than me. I love her writing curriculum, so we’ve never veered away from it before. I’m glad we made the exception in this case. It was a great multifaceted experience. It gave her an opportunity to 1.) apply her budding comprehension of politics 2.) map out a way to word her ideas so that they stayed concise while being effectively specific, and then 3.) format her letter to the specifications given on the white house webpage. I was really proud of her! Better than that, she was proud of herself. She even pulled at my arm while I was on the phone with my mom, making sure I told her about it.

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that is not even sarcastic. I didn’t know life could be so kind.

Over the weekend, Mary saw her mom for the first time in what (I believe) has been a full two years. Mary loved telling me how smart everyone said that she was. I love that she loved it.

This semester in writing, Mary’s has just done so much growing.

Right now, we’re delving big-time into description. Namely, people. In week one, we studied public personalities (celebrities, newscasters, etc.) and the ways that maintaining an on-air persona help them to do a specific job. For example, it’s imperative that an evening news reporter convey that they are intelligent and trustworthy, more than, say, bubbly and talkative. They’d work to maintain steady “eye” contact with the camera, and only shift their position to give short, quick nods. Mary chose a ten second clip of Zayn from One Direction promoting the MTV Video Music Awards to study. She wrote that he sat with an arched back, knees bouncing casually while his sneakers hung off the rungs of a stool. He lifted his eye brows a lot when he talked and fluctuated his tone, which made him feel very personable. Our mannerisms have a lot to say about our personalities, and we’ve learned to use that in writing descriptions.

Her assignments have forced her to ask a lot of great questions through some pretty neat assignments. What do the mannerisms our friends have, tell us about them? Are there any features on our own faces that illustrate aspects of our personality? What happens if you take a previously written description, and reword it so that the person or place you’ve described isn’t revealed until the very end? What if you take a ten-second description and write it as if the person you described were an animal that had human characteristics? How would your paper improve if you took out every single “it was”, “there is”?

We’ve learned to avoid stuffing an entire description about someone in the first sentence of their introduction. Instead, try using something that they do within the story as a way to give more detail about the style of their hair or the fabric on their clothing.

We’ve learned to drastically narrow down the moments we choose to describe. For one exercise she had to craft a cardboard frame and that week, only describe what she saw within the small opening, regardless of how dull, which helped her to practice pulling less obvious details from a scene. It reinforced a previous lesson on the way shorter sentences pack more of a punch. “Superverbs” which are a single, more capable word used to replace a boring verb next to an adverb, are continually put into practice, helping to keep our descriptions from being watered down with length. We’re always stretching our vocabulary, striving to use more effective verbs, poetic adjectives and concrete nouns. Variety in sentence structure is another place we’ve focused effort. At the end of last week, we learned that beginning sentences with a prepositional phrase can be a very effective way to write step-by-steps without getting caught up, having to repeat “then”, “next”, or “after that” more than once in any paragraph.

We’ve also begun to use a set of checklists for revising independently. Our checklists focus solely on content, ensuring that students are left with quality pieces at the end of each assignment. Editing is something she’s become a real pro at this year. Not only does she have an entire curriculum dedicated strictly to editing, with exercises to be completed once-a-week, she also has the most rigorous grammar course I, for one, have ever seen. (Luckily for her, I love grammar enough for the both of us, so we get through it just fine.) She also takes a spelling course whose benefit is twofold. Obviously, being a wicked speller has it’s advantages. But I never realized what an effective way it could be to bulk up vocabulary. She must learn ten new words a week, not to mention the tenses and other forms of base words she wouldn’t recognize without the daily training she gets, breaking unfamiliar words down to their root. (Wow, I hope that makes sense.) The best part is that she’s learning these new words by asking, herself. I’m not just giving her a list and making her regurgitate their definitions for a test. I ask her to spell words that she’s never seen before, and if it’s one she doesn’t know even after I use it in a sentence, she wants to ask. Then I’ll use it in a second sentence, and she usually follows it up by offering a sentence of her own and asking if that’s the way you’d use it. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Also, also, also! I’m excited because Mary gave me permission to share some of her writing examples on here. Yay! I plan to do it very soon. It’ll be fun for me!

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A Change for the Better.

Last week was the smoothest, most enjoyable week we have ever had homeschooling. Not a big shocker there.

Mary was just starting to gracefully accept that homeschooling would be a part of her life for the next year and a half, when we hit her with the idea that… well, maybe we won’t after all. Needless to say, warming up to the idea wasn’t much of a process for her. For the past seven days, she has been an unstoppable ray of early-rising, enthusiastic cooperation, beaming in through every window of the house. And I have not minded it.

“Can we start doing physical fitness again!? I’d love to work out with you this afternoon! Let’s work out everyday. In fact, I have this great idea for a health challenge next week. Wow, I never realized how much I love these running shoes!” These are the sort of things coming out of her mouth now. Obviously, the change derives from nothing more than getting what she’s wanted all year, so I have mixed emotions about it. This is the same kid who, from day one, has fiercely refused to participate in so much as a conversation about health, much less put the adorable pink running shoes I bought her to any use. It just wasn’t worth having all of my energy and enthusiasm depleted when there were so many other more imperative subjects not to compromise.

While at first it sort of irked me that she could flip so easily – after all, it only highlighted how much she could have given me all along vs. what she clearly put effort into NOT giving me instead, purely for spite – I’ve since realized that being bitter about it would only work against me. At this rate, we can still get so much out of her seventh grade year at home. So I’m taking that enthusiasm and milking it for all I can.

Not The Baby Anymore.

I really hated having to write the last post that I did, because although homeschooling has put a major strain on us, Mary’s blossomed so much from it. No, this post is not about my little ones growing up. It’s about my biggest one, and teaching her that… well, no, she is not the baby anymore.

Homeschooling really is not the terribly negative thing I made it out to be in yesterday’s post, for the sake of keeping it concise and on the point. I wrote about never being so unhappy before, but I’m only unhappy about having everything I sacrifice (to homeschool) be so drastically taken for granted. (Of course, I realize this is just what teenagers do sometimes. Still, it was a golden learning opportunity for her: people won’t take crap like that lying down. I think she got the point. I think that was good.)

When I don’t feel that way, I know that what we sacrifice for this lifestyle is mostly worth the benefit. And genuinely, I don’t always feel taken for granted. In fact, what stung most about… well, what I had to have my talk with Mary about, is that she’s been making such remarkable strides. I was blindsided. Her demeanor has really been turning around; I’ve noticed her being much kinder, going out of her way to do the responsible thing, and crediting home school for progress she could tell that she was making, before I’d even give her back a grade. (That showed me she was taking pride in a job well done, instead of refusing to try out of spite – which is what the first solid month of homeschool was all about).

Last week marked a turning point for us. Spencer and I decided that we’ll go ahead and try our hand at putting her back into a different school next year. Things have changed drastically since last year, both for the better and for the worse. The more I consider it, the more confident I am that this is a better time to do it than waiting until 9th grade.

What sort of got the ball rolling for me was actually something that isn’t going to seem like it’s even related. Stay with me…

The other day, Mary found out that a friend of ours –  a parent from the neighborhood, who makes it abundantly obvious they adore Mary to pieces, wasn’t comfortable with her babysitting just yet. Mary came to Spencer and I about it, all puppy dog eyes and confusion. “They think I’m irresponsible,” she said, having just pried their daughter for the reason. “You don’t think I’m irresponsible, do you? They let [so-and-so] babysit. And I know how to change diapers and put Scarlett to bed and give her a bath and cook.” It was a blow to her ego, but Spencer and I were both very grateful, actually, that she found this out. We very gently told her that, well, we would probably make the same decision.

Most kids are good about buttering up an adult to get their way when it’s convenient — our girl could be a professional. Charm, to her, is like a switch at her disposal. I’ve never seen anyone so black and white with it before. She’ll literally go from using an Elvis lip to mock every warning out of my mouth, declaring tempestuously not to care about any measure I could possibly take to punish her — to suddenly laying a head on my shoulder, in the very next instant, pleading pretty, pretty please to be able to go to the mall… while she compliments my hair.

It’s impossible not to love the kid… and you can trust me on that, ’cause she ain’t afraid to test it.

It was good for her to see that all the conveniently planted charm in the world, without having a few solid character traits to back it up, won’t cut it in the real world. Namely, in this case, responsibility. She has become very capable lately, which is something to be proud of. But it’s only part of it, we told her.  We said that showing she can be cool-headed and respectful, even when it may not suit her immediate purpose, would probably go a very long way from here.

It’s important to us that our kids not grow up feeling entitled. I think at a certain age that goes beyond just earning privileges around the house, like video games after homework. And Mary has always been our most entitled baby. When I married Spencer, the poor kid went from being an only child all her life to suddenly having a new mom and two siblings in the span of three years. We’ve always cut her a lot of slack, sympathizing with the facets of her life that do, genuinely, warrant some. We were always weary, for instance, of using the whole “you have to set an example for your little brother” angle on her, lest she resent him for it. I think some of the long term affects of those good intentions are beginning to manifest now in a less-than-desirable way. I don’t blame her for it a bit. But I think we’ve taught her to use sympathy as a way to navigate the world. I also think that now that she’s in a place in her life where there isn’t much to get sympathy about — let’s face it: the girl really does have it good — she’s sort of lost. Sort of grasping at straws, if you will.

I mean, if you have to make up stories to get sympathy from people who care enough about you to be concerned, I think that’s a pretty good indication that maybe you’ve developed an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Our entire life has been put on hold to show Mary that she’s our number one priority right now. Really, she’s never not been our number one priority. The only exception being, maybe, when Scarlett was in the hospital. Even then, as I recall, I was handling things over the phone that she was pulling between family members.

And let me interject that this is not just academically we’re talking about. She’s praised to the Heavens for treating her little brother with a respect that he is simply expected, at four, to show their little sister. She gets newer and vastly more expensive clothes three times as often, while growing at a fraction of the rate her smaller siblings do. And because her gifts are generally smaller in size, we wind up spending probably twice what we do on both her siblings COMBINED at Christmas. To us, she seems relatively appreciative. (Taking with a grain of salt, the bouts of ungratefulness that come with just being at a self-absorbed age, of course.) But maybe homeschooling, with all of the ways it forces us to put her needs so far above everyone else’s, is just too much. For all of us, including her.

I definitely am no fan of feeling like such a martyr.

This Time, I Talk. You Listen.

For two days, I couldn’t look at her. I’ve never been in such a bad place with one of my kids before.

She obviously resented me for homeschooling her, for following through with the high standard I told her that I would hold her to if we were put in this position. But now, I resented her right the hell back. Mad does not describe what I was.

I knew that it was my responsibility to talk this out with her. I’m the mom. The problem was, I couldn’t do it subjectively enough to pull any sort of lesson from the experience. Not yet. If I talked to her any sooner than I did, while the salty taste of distrust was still so pungent on my tongue, it wouldn’t have been very productive. I would have been doing it more for myself than for her, and that’s a line I don’t cross with my kids.

Last night I finally asked her to help me peel potatoes for dinner. It was time. Matthew played video games in our living room for the first time, giving Mary and I a minute to talk that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. She was nervous. I was a hundred things at once.

I started by telling her a story of a time that I did something similar (though minuscule in comparison) as a kid, and the trouble I got into for it, and why. I told her that I didn’t understand it at the time, but that the lesson stuck with me enough that today, I want to pass it on to her.

It was a lesson on integrity.

One thousand, five hundred dollars I spent on your curriculum, all told. My entire summer, I put into watching teaching seminars online and reading books and studying history. Months, I put into refinishing an entire room of our house to give to you for school. (One dark wood-paneled wall in particular, I reminded, took eight coats of paint. I scrubbed rust off of the floor until I couldn’t feel my knees.) I wake up everyday before dawn, and instead of writing or painting or sorting through photos I took the day before like I used to enjoy doing with my morning coffee last year, I color code weekly schedules for you and I plan activities down to the hour, months in advance. I spend whole Saturdays glued to the copier, paper clipping lessons and organizing everything into a neat little filing system. I read through homeschool articles and teaching blogs that bore me to the core of my soul, so that I can collect ideas on how to be more engaging for you when I teach. I clean up from every craft and project and experiment that we do, and I do it happily, even when the entire rest of my house is an embarrassment to our way of life. I’ve taken on your chores, so that you don’t have to focus on anything more than school.

This is something I’ve striven for you not to have to know. But, Mary, everything else in our family life has suffered. Matthew never behaved this way last year, because last year I was a better and more fair parents to him. Last year, he wasn’t expected to keep his mouth shut and stay out of things from sun up to sun down, day after day, while I make you the bigger priority. I’m lucky if I have the opportunity to read to Scarlett once a day, much less get her out of the house to play – and I sit up at night sometimes wrought with guilt over the fact that her speech development is probably suffering because I don’t make the time for her. I’m too busy fighting with you. Daddy hasn’t come home to a hot meal in months, because after all of that painstaking and passionate planning I put into homeschooling you, all you have to do is refuse to work for an hour — and all of that organization I worked so hard to accomplish, unravels.

Instead of getting through our school day in the 4 to 6 hours I schedule it to easily be completed, I, your dad, your siblings suffer the consequence of you refusing to work, or treating me with such blatant disrespect in the midst of a lesson, that I have to walk away. It’s me who has to spend the evening hours making up for all the work you refused to do in the morning when it was assigned; it’s me who has to reteach every lesson to you (once when I actually assign it in the morning, and then again hours later when you finally begrudgingly agree to get it over with)  — while I’m supposed to be tending to responsibilities I have concerning everyone else in the family. I have a sinkful of dishes I’m not getting around to until 4:30, when I should be getting ready to unwind and maybe finally take a shower. I’m scrambling to put laundry away after everyone else is in bed. Daddy doesn’t have a hot meal waiting for him when he gets home because you’ve only just by then agreed to let me teach you science. Look around, I said. My house is falling apart. I work my fingers to the bone every weekend trying to catch up on housework that’s impossible to keep up with because while 50% of my time at home with you goes into homeschooling, the other 50% goes into struggling with your behavior. I go three days at a time between showers. Daddy has to go four days in a row sometimes without sandwiches for lunch because shopping has to be perpetually put off until a day when you agree to do all of your schoolwork before it’s too late to get out of the house!

You have 100% of my time. You have 100% of my attention. You have 100% of everything in me right now.

I told her that I have never been so miserable. I have never worked so hard to be treated so badly in return. Homeschooling, I reminded her, was a lifestyle change I took on as a necessity. A sacrifice I made. It was a position I was put into by her. Did I not give you six months in public school to convince me that you could handle not being taken out? On the last day of school, did I not have to drive you home myself because “extensive profanity” had you suspended from being able to ride the school bus for the rest of the year?

How dare you, after all of this time, continue to behave like I deserve retaliation for doing this to you. How dare you.

The thing is, it’s not your fault for not knowing how miserable this experience has made me, because I worked very hard to not let you see it. I wanted you to have no doubt that I was nothing but happy to do anything for you that you needed from me. I would walk through fire for you, kid, and I wanted you to know that. I wanted THAT to be what you saw. I know that you’re only a kid and I can’t expect you to have the capacity of an adult to appreciate things you don’t fully understand. So I never expected appreciation. But I did not expect this. You need to know that I am grossly disappointed in you for lying about the effort I put into homeschooling you. What you did was callous and irresponsible. I know you know that.

In all the six years that I’ve raised you, I have made mistakes along the way. But I have taught you to have respect for your father and I. I have taught you to appreciate the devotion other people put into their relationship with you. And I have taught you to have integrity. In lying about a member of this family, Mary, you gravely disappointed me.

She was biting on her finger with a far off look on her face when she nodded, a tear falling from her jawline and disappearing onto her lap. “I was mad at you,” she said after a minute, in more of an admitting way than a defensive one. It isn’t like her to listen quietly, especially while being reprimanded for something she’s actually done. This was a new and a very genuine response. It made me proud, and I let her know.

After that, the conversation brightened up fast. She stayed with me in the kitchen to talk even after the potatoes were peeled, offering help with other medial chores instead of going back to Mario Kart in the living room. I crumbled bacon over a cutting board and she passed me the paper towels and we gossiped about her old friends from school. I stirred garlic into the onions while they seared over a flame and she cried into her sleeve a little about her mom, which almost always happens when we have a strong parent/child moment like the one we had tonight. In less than a minute, she was smiling again, teasing me for the way I do something. The weight of sadness around her mom has already thinned so much, dissipating into smaller clouds spread farther apart as the years gone by make a terrible part of life feel strangely normal. Waiting for Spencer to come home, I loped in and out of five or six different, much happier topics with her, leaving the lecture behind with a strong sense of accomplishment. Both of us, very glad it was over.

I may have been too hard on her. But I don’t feel like I was. I want to raise a woman of integrity, not one ruled by her emotions. On the other hand, I think it was good for her to see that she isn’t the only one who has emotions. I think it was perfectly healthy for her to see that I was hurt by what she did. I think it was good for both of us to have a moment of real honesty about what this experience has been like from both sides of the fence.

 

Scarlett Jumps.

strollerbest

Whenever Scarlett’s happy, she jumps. She stops what she’s doing and she looks at the ground to steady herself for a second, and then she hop, hop, hops, usually setting a pair of light-up sneakers feverishly ablink.

They are just a small thing, her little jumps, but they’re delighted in around here like a gifted ability. What a stroke of luck, I always think when we’re laughing over her collectively as she hops (because Mommy found the glue, because this water is for her, because cousin Angelina outgrew another pair of boots). What a very lucky thing that one of the most distinguishing pieces of her childhood for us to to look back on someday, would be a thing so infectiously lovable.

I will remember this forever, I think. “I hope she never stops” her dad coos, his eyes doing that twinkly thing they do for her and only her. “I hope that when she’s seventeen and a boy asks her on a date, she goes: (hop, hop) ‘YES!'”

But we will forget. And she will stop.

It’s just like the way she used to flap the palms of her hands open and closed, arms stretched toward us as far as she could reach, beckoning for someone to hold her. Or the way Mary loved writing hilarious personifications in second grade, stapling together illustrated sheets of copy paper to make “real, live” books. Or the way Matthew outgrew being afraid of cracks in the sidewalk, like stepping on a little broken gravel might split the whole world in two and send us all plummeting to the Land of the Lost. There are a hundred and two examples that, had I remembered to scribble them down while they were fresh with existence, I could pick from for this paragraph. But just about all of them are lost to a busted, overworked memory.

Over the weekend, we were hit with a forgivably warm Saturday for the middle of January.

Knowing the answer perfectly well, I asked Scarlett if she wanted to go outside, and in response, she did what she always does when she catches wind of news that is, in any way, not terrible. Both bubbly-toed, stocking-clad feet caught a little air over the kitchen tile. And when she landed two clutzy landings in a row, she flashed me a grin so gaping I could probably have counted every tooth inside. “I wan go OUT-SIDE!” she assured me, leaving no room for question when both hands met for a belly-flashing clap above her head. I scooped her up for a kiss I just couldn’t resist. Then, laughing, I set her down from my hip and watched her hop away, galloping in a happy little side-step all the way up the hall for her boots.

She will grow and I will probably forget. Just not today.

strollerbest2

Matthewisms and Other Grammar Faux Fas of a Nearly Five Year Old Boy.

Five is a pretty cool time for little kids because they don’t mess up words as often. Five is a sad time for parents, though, because our kids don’t mess up words as often. Gabioli’s are just Ravioli now. And a Fridgafrator is just a dumb ol’ fridge. It sucks. 

Matthew’s always been pretty articulate, and in less than a month, he’ll be officially five which means that soon, I’ll have like no material left for his baby book and it’ll have to be retired. To box myself out of reality for a while, I’ve started writing down all of the ways I catch him still talking like a kid. 

 

  • If referring to sometime in the future he’ll be very specific:

Hey Mommy, on the one hundredth day, can we also go to a circus? 

  • Having kids is the only prerequisite to manhood.

I can’t drive a car til I’m a dad. 

  • If referring to sometime in the past, he’ll say:

Hey Mommy, one hundred and thirteen weeks ago, did you push me in a stroller too? 

  • If ever talking about the beginning of a movie or a song or a day, he’ll call it the front.

Hey Daddy, this song* is in the front* of the driving-by-itself-cars movie*! 

(Bad to the Bone) (opening sequence) (Maximum Overdrive)

  • If talking about any big number, ever, you bet he’ll be characteristically specific.

Daddy, thirty and one-hundred years ago, little kids didn’t have car seats, so that’s why I don’t think we should have to use them. That’s just not fair. 

  • Also, when talking in big numbers, the little number always comes first.

“Mommy, how much dollars/many money is this?” ($150.00) “We can’t buy this today, Scarlett, it’s fifty and one-hundred dollars.” 

  • When referring to anything remotely ‘adult’– whether it’s parents giving a “hi, honey” kiss on some Disney Channel program or some unexpected dialogue that sends us scrambling for the remote, Matthew calls it “falling in love”.

Close your eyes, Scarlett. These grown-ups are about to seriously fall in love. 

  • When really excited, grammar suddenly becomes entirely too important:

THAT CAR WAS JUST HAD BEEN DRIVENED OVER THE BRIDGE!! MOMMY, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN BEING WATCHING THAT!! 

  • He knows that “be’s” is not a word. But watching him try to finish a sentence without using it is priceless.

Mommy! Every time Mary be’s… be… be… be’s… is be… is be’s… be… be… Mommy, every time Mary be… be… SHUT UP, DON’T TELL ME! 

 

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Just for the sake of this blog, sometimes I wish the toughest thing going on to write about, was that we’ve decided to hold off on potty training Scarlett or that Mary got a new pair of glasses.

More than the big stuff, it’s always been little nuances of daily life that I’ve enjoyed trying to put into words. I’m learning, with mixed emotions, that our day-to-day just isn’t very little anymore. It won’t be for a lengthy while, either. Raising a big family is no small feat, not always effortless to keep light. So, all too often, the stuff consuming my conscious, taking up all my energy to be creative, is not the kind of plate I feel comfortable sharing with everyone at the table. I’m a little torn, to be honest. I want this space to be a mix of raw everyday failure, small victory and light commentary. That’s what I feel like our life has always been.

A few months ago, I stopped writing in my old blog because I didn’t like that it was starting to take on kind of a negative air. In being honest and open, which helped me to make it through some difficult times internally, I painted too harsh a picture of our struggles for other people to see.

Objectively, Mary is not always complicated, Matthew is not always ornery, Spencer is really an easy guy to get along with, and you wouldn’t know it from the way that I write when I’m feeling a little down on myself, but not everything is a struggle.

I started this one because I thought a fresh start would make a new and gentler voice easier to adopt.  My aim was to keep this lighter and more objective. I set out for it to be less of a coping mechanism for me if hard times are to pop up, which is sort of why I haven’t written a lot since Christmas. Nothing is bad, but almost everything is an effort. Whenever I start to feel like I can be proud of the progress I’m getting under my belt, some meager slip derails all of it. My whole mentality takes a dive. I’m feeling a little down on myself right now, and keeping my spirits up for the kids is where having my spirits up counts. Once I get a minute alone to reflect, it hits me how close I am to my whit’s end, trying to keep up with a few things that aren’t a lot of fun.

Homeschooling is just such an elephant in every room right now. When it’s good, it’s more exciting to me than anything else. When it’s hard, wanting to fix it is an all-consuming occupation.

I miss writing about superfluous things, like a puddle of urine on the floor because potty training blows, or the fact that we’re flirting with the idea of getting a dog, or how every time I corrected Matthew in front of Louis Elf this December, he’d remind me that Santa was watching and I was in serious danger of getting coal in my stocking if I kept up all this authoritarian nonsense. Both words came out of my four-year-old’s adorable, totally out-of-line mouth: nonsense and authoritarian. (Not surprisingly, something similar was was said to him that week.) But still, like, WTF? How do you just NOT write about something that sincere and wrong and hilarious?

I guess I’m just writing this to mark a resolution I have; to stop letting homeschool rule every facet of my life. I love my Mary, and I have such a passion for setting her on the right academic path, but I’m letting certain occupational hazards take more out of the me than they need to. So I’m scaling it back. I’m letting Matthew finish his sentences when he comes to me during a lesson, even if it is just to tell me he found a cute little ant in his bedroom. I’m stopping in the middle of calculating grades if Scarlett asks politely for help dressing her doll. I’m putting down the lesson planner when it’s time to start dinner, even if it means that catching up will be necessary in the morning. I’m going to let our sidetracked conversations go on uninterrupted during school sometimes, even if it means I have to teach past 3:00.

I keep pointing out that this is Matthew’s last year with us; his last full year home before going off to do so much growing up away from my side. But the hard truth is that this is a pivotal year for everyone, because every year with every child, is important.

Coincidentally, while I was busy typing this up, a friend of mine posted a link on my wall for some site where you can print your blog into a book for a very reasonable price. I’m not a fan of the covers on this particular one, but the idea has me seriously inspired to keep this resolution. I want to make a book of memoirs worth reading about for every year of parenthood with my kids. This is where I’ll start.

Taken the Year They Were Married.

parents old final

Today marks the first of homeschool semester two for us. It’s our first day back after a two week Christmas hiatus and we’re on a whole new schedule. I’ve spent more than one restless night and countless hours huddled over books and keyboards with a cramped butt, preparing for this. So it’s kind of a big deal. But yesterday, buried deep in the business of procrastinating out of inescapable boredom, I spent a lot of time hashing out last minute plans with my mom for something else – and it’s all I’ve got on the brain today.

Twenty-five years they’ve been married now. That’s just… pretty cool, you know? I don’t have a lot of time to write, and literally no time to even glance this over for a spell check, so I won’t get all sappy on you. But not a lot of (almost) 27 year old kids can say that about their mom and dad. I’m planning most of the anniversary party myself, which is intimidating in a way that sort of overshadows the little bouts of trepidation I have about staying organized for school. But I figure it’s mostly like planning a wedding inside out, and since I got married before Pinterest, let’s just say — I shall have my fun pulling this off.

Yesterday I had her drop off an old oval canvas that used to hang in a thick gold frame at their house. Back before their house was “their” house because I was a kid so it was mostly mine and they just kind of hung around to pay bills and cook. It’s always been one of my favorites. My dad looked similar enough in it, but my mom looked so young and somehow (though I can’t put my finger on how) un-motherly, that it wasn’t hard to imagine them having a life before me, being boyfriend and girlfriend instead of husband and wife. For some reason, I don’t know… that was cool to me.

I hadn’t seen it up in years, though. Over time, our own school pictures were turned into Christmas tree ornaments as the toothless grins of my nieces and nephews took their place. Then it was JCPenny photo shoots of grandchildren, with my own babies squeezed in between a still-growing number of cousins, infiltrating the wall space. There’s a wall dedicated to vintage, hueless photos of generations spanning both sides of the family, in a tasteful collage style of intentionally mismatched frames about the couch. But the oval canvas wasn’t one of them. I guess it wasn’t vintage enough to make the cut. Or mom just doesn’t want to believe it is, which is more likely.

Coincidentally, my mom’s debut novel (!) is due for release a month before the big anniversary. So during a shoot for her author’s bio, she asked the photographer to snap a few of them arm in arm at one of their favorite spots. The best one was put in one of those massive, elaborately matted frames, on which my mom is constantly teased about spending too much money and way too much wall space. “Well,” she defended to me one day, “it’s the first professional photo we’ve had taken of ourselves in… well…” She looked up at my dad as if for rhetorical help, like looking at him was helping her to figure it out more than actually asking him would. “Since I was pregnant with you.”

I realized as we were talking over facebook yesterday morning, that that old oval picture would have been taken around the year they were married. At which point she reminded me again that they didn’t know it yet, but I was there too — holdin’ it down embryo style. I had to have it. She dug it up and dropped it off at noon.

I don’t even know what I’m going to do with it for the party, except to have it on the event page of facebook.

But isn’t it cool?

A ‘Not’ Back to School Prompt: Day in the Life.

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It’s hard to do a day-in-the-life writing prompt when Monday starts a brand new schedule for us. I’m looking forward to this second semester being much easier on us because I think I’ve remedied our biggest weakness from the first semester’s schedule.

We’ve only been homeschooling for half a year, and if there’s one lesson I’ve been beat with over the head, it’s that homeschool rarely spins out the rainbow and butterfly reality I plan for it to.

But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’m going for..

God willing, on Monday, the schoolroom will be tidy again. (It’s today’s project. And that’s what I’ve been saying for about, let’s see… three days now?) Instead of having the schedule for each week posted in the schoolroom on our pretty, little hanging dry-erase planner, it’ll be typed and hanging on the fridge. (No more “what are we doing today, mom… UGH, I have to go ALL the way downstairs to check!?”). I’ve already prepared her for the new block schedule, where each day will focus on a particular core subject. But Mondays are grammar, and grammar’s already kind of a yawn without knocking out the whole week’s worth in an afternoon, so I expect a hot, heaping load of complaints to kick us off. This subject will come with 8-10 worksheets by the day’s end and I’m pretty sure her eyes will bulge out of their sockets if she realizes this before we gets started. (Not exactly famed for her subtlety, this one.) I’m sure that once we get rolling though, she’ll be fine, especially because I know for virtually a fact, that we’ll finish sooner this way than on any other Monday before. She does much better staying on one subject than she does hopping from task to task, which is why I chose to switch it up for take two.

Our morning routine will pretty much always be the same. 

She’ll wake up around 9:00, look over the new schedule, and we’ll eat breakfast over a little video. First thing in the morning is always the roughest for Mary; she is the polar opposite of a morning person. So I think that waking up to a short video (relevant to whatever we’re learning that week) will be a good mind-stretch for her without me having to wrestle morning combativeness. (I’m compiling a playlist now, titling each video based on what week in the year it’ll compliment a lesson.)

Over Christmas break we rearranged the kitchen and dining room to allow for a new breakfast nook that’s perfect for our new HS lifestyle. The nook gives us more room to sit at and move more freely around the table; there’s storage in the benches (great for all those workbooks and papers that are rarely taken back to the schoolroom when they ought to be); and we’re able to set the laptop up on a nearby surface now so that I don’t have to worry about the smaller kids grabbing at it if I put a video on for them over a snack or schoolwork. We’ve instituted a new rule, where the laptop stays in plain view permanently. (Mary’s at that age — internet safety is at peek importance.) I’m not thrilled about it from an aesthetic point, but having it at our easy disposal during school is a nice, glittery little lining of silver.

Reading, 30 minutes. 

Then, I’ll read aloud to them, which usually gets Mary wanting to read for a while too. Reading is one of my favorites because it engages the whole bunch of us, from two to twenty-seven. It’s just a cozy little way to start a winter day, especially with kids who won’t be content to listen so quietly later in the morning. I also like taking the opportunity to point out where the author used strategies we’re learning to plug into our own writing, and encouraging her to speak up when she sees or hears them too.

Writing, 30 minutes to an hour. 

I like to warm-up with writing immediately after a good book’s just spurred us to get creative. Good writing has a natural flow, and I always feel like reading just before she writes helps to get that rhythm wheeling.

Spelling and Vocabulary/Editing, 10 – 20 minutes. 

Then, we knock out spelling, which is required to be done everyday, but only takes about 10 minutes.

And to wrap it up, she’ll play for a while on Word Dynamo. Last semester, we tried three different ways to tackle vocabulary. I’m a huge vocab nerd, so it was underwhelming for me to watch none of it really work any magic on her — until she introduced me to this neat, little number. I actually bookmarked it before we started officially schooling, and then let it slip through the cracks of my frazzled, distracted brain. She found it on her own one day and has been hooked ever since. Seriously, I have fun just watching her play. It’s fast-paced and better yet — one player, so I can actually pay attention to my other kids while she becomes a word-whiz on her own. (A lot of times, even when I’m happy to have a little of my own time freed up, I’ll get sucked in just rooting for her.) It’s pretty cool, so I’ve decided to make it a small part of the daily routine. A fun way to transition from the stuff we do everyday to our core subject.

If it’s Tuesday, though, she’ll do an editing exercise instead. These are only required once a week, which is nice because even I think they’re dull. They’re quick, though, and essential, or I wouldn’t make her do them.

Core Subject of the Day. 

One of the hassles of our old routine that I can’t wait to escape, is the need for every single book every single day. (Almost, anyway.) When I expected that most of school would happen in the schoolroom, there was no reason to mind that. But school happens so much more often at the dining room table or curled into the sofa, that we wind up with forty pounds of books and binders and art supplies and pencil shavings scattered around the dining room – that no one cares to lug back down a flight of stairs and into their schoolroom cubbies. Taking care of a single core subject a day ensures that we’ll only need one massive textbook at a time, which, by the way, will fit like a well-worn shoe into the new bench storage.

Check out my last post to see an outline of our new schedule. It’s full of adventure and excitement and bullet points.

Then, there’s Matthew…

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Of course, that only covers Mary. There are two other kids to parent and one of them is a pre-schooler, which forces me to drag this out a little longer. Bear with me. For him, I’m a little more lax. Play is a big part of his day and I take full advantage of that. He occupies his little sister while Mary and I work on the more “mom-intensive” academics.

Down in the schoolroom, we have a little routine that we call “calendar time” usually before Mary even wakes up because Matthew’s an early riser like his Momma. He counts all the days on the calendar and posts the new one, then we practice saying and writing the date. Then, we do the Pledge of Allegiance. Lastly, we have poster where I point to each letter blend sound, and he tells me what sound each of them makes. Periodically, he’ll work on Reading Eggs. It used to be a daily endeavor, but that tended to make him lose steam a little. When we scale back his reading program to just a few times a week, he treats it much more like a privilege. He’ll plug away at that thing for hours and I’ll have to pry him off with a spatula.

He’s always involved in the art projects, history crafts or science experiments, lending a small hand whenever age appropriate and loves being included in the discussions afterward. This semester, I plan to organize his day a little better. He has a backpack for next year that he can’t wait to use. So I’ll fill it each day with the games, activities and workbooks I want him to spend some time on. I think that he’ll enjoy reaching into it himself to pull out kind of a surprise activity. Instead of being told out of the blue: “Okay, time to do your reading”, he’ll know from the first time he peeks into his bag, exactly what we’ll be doing. Plus, he can pick the order in which they get done. Board games are (at least) a once a week activity for him because the number practice is so effective, and I love that Mary always wants to join. For kids who are generally at each other’s throats (getting used to being around each other 24/7), it’s a great way for them to practice keeping cool and being considerate.

So, in a nutshell, that’s our day. If you’re here from the homeschool hop, let me know you stopped by! I just missed the cut-off for participation, but because I’m THAT big of a nerd about reading other people’s homeschool plans, I’m going to check out everyone’s blog in the listing anyway.

The Switch to Block Scheduling: Semester 2

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You know that feeling you get when someone reaches over to scratch your back.. You didn’t even know that you wanted it, but suddenly you’re in the middle of heaven, clinging onto every last alleviating second, begging it not to go? Well, that’s what Christmas break was for me. I’m not ready to stop unwinding, but I am excited to finish planning for the rest of the year. So I’m just taking that and running with it. School! Positive energy! Yay!

So, the title wasn’t lying. One thing that has me totally psyched about this fresh start of ours is the fact that we’re trying on a whole new schedule. New year, new us, baby! Okay, I’ll stop.

Everything that’s still kind of messy about our old routine points a big, blaming finger at the constant start-and-stop of our old schedule. When I sat down to pencil out last semester, I tried my best to make her have a little of each class every day, or at least three times a week because I didn’t want her forgetting stuff. That was kind of dumb.

I never felt like we got to root deep enough into any subject before having to rush out of it and into something totally different. Mary likes to do this great thing where she whines about starting each new subject for about ten or fifteen minutes before getting to work. (Part of the creative process, I guess.) Once she works, she’s very diligent. But if you pull her out of that diligence to put it on another path in a new subject, you pull her out of a studious mindset altogether. Between every finished assignment, she hops up from her chair and starts an 80’s montage of completely random activities while Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” vociferates the background. Then I have to reel her back in and say, “Now’s not the time to start rearranging bedroom posters/organizing your bookshelf/taking pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror for facebook, Mary. We only finished the first assignment. Back to the table.”

One day, as a journal activity for time management, I had her log in start and stop times for each subject’s activity. You wouldn’t believe how much time was being wasted meandering around the house between “classes”. Or, telling her to stop whining already and just get started. Of course, some of it is me, too. Poor Matthew is told to pipe down, like, 90% of the day now. I feel like I’m constantly shooing him away so that we can stay on task and I don’t loose Mary’s attention. Between classes is when I sometimes have to catch up on… you know, paying attention to the other two. I guess Mary figures that if I’m catching up on stuff, then she can be too, so she hightails it away from the desk at every perceivable opportunity. Reeling her back in always takes ANOTHER sliver of time. And even if all of those slivers are small, they add up when there are seven or eight “classes” for them to fall between.

Because we were more conscientious of it on our second go of the logging experiment, our day was finished in HALF the time. Not kidding. And I wasn’t surprised. I knew then that if we dedicated each day to one particular subject, we’d skip over so much of that “stop that, start this” whining, and would be able to keep her little mind motoring on at a much healthier pace.

It’ll also be much easier for her to know what to expect. Everyday she asks “is today gonna be long?” before she’s out of her pajamas.

I have tried so many different methods of writing out her schedule so that our day isn’t interrupted with her having to ask me so often “what’s next?” or “what do we have today?” or “is today gonna suck?”. For some reason, I dread those questions. Sometimes, our day is going to be a little longer.. and “what’s next” is such a trap question. She’s going to attack me with the death groan no matter what I say, and when you know that the death groan of torture is coming before you even answer the questions — UGH, it’s like an upright fork stabbing into a glass plate. I want to be angry, but I’m too busy just begging it to stop. Please, please, just make the whining stop, I’ll do anything.. anything, I tell you.

Sometimes I swear it’s just a stalling tactic because even after I tell her, she just sits there until I finally say: um, okay, you know what to do now, so… you know… permission granted to get a move on — she follows it up with: Okay, well, where are my worksheets? (same place as always) Well, where is my notebook? (same place as always) Well, what SIDE of my notebook is it in? (same place as always) Where do I put it when I’m done? (same place as always) What pencil am I supposed to use? (why the hell would I care?) Well, what if it doesn’t have an eraser? (kill me now) Well, what if the apocalypse comes before I can finish the assignment?

She could stand to spare me a few thousand of those regular complaints, but with our schedule the way it was, I actually don’t blame her for needing to be reminded what she has next incessantly throughout the day (even if it’s always written at the start of every week in fifteen different places that she could check herself). The new schedule is so simple, she’ll know the gist of her day without having to check the planner at all. A few, very short subjects (vocab, spelling) are done at the start of everyday, then there’s writing on all but Friday. The rest of each day is dedicated to one core subject. She’ll know Mondays are grammar days. Tuesdays are History. Wednesdays are Science. And Thursday – Friday are Math.

 

Some subjects I still think it’s important to have everyday. Writing, for example, requires repetition. I like that one being everyday. It’s nice to work on a piece for a while, put it away for a night (or even the next day), and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes, but also with ideas that are still hot out of the oven. Daily reading is a healthy habit – if not vital, as far as I’m concerned, and spelling tests are just too redundant to fit more of than one into any day. But the rest of our subjects are made up of enough smaller components that fitting a week of lessons into a day won’t be like doing the same activity for hours and hours.

With History it’s like: Okay, do this pre-test. Now let’s have our lesson. Okay, now make yourself a notecard. Alright, now let’s get the art supplies for our activity. Okay, now let’s clean this up, let that dry, and watch this video. Now we’ll do some mapping so grab your atlas, and then we’ll wrap it up with a little What Did You Miss exercise. There are just enough start and stops to keep the redundancy of a block schedule at bay; whereas there are just too many of them for it to be the seventh subject tacked onto an already up, down, left, right, A, B, jump kind-of-day.

Alright, enough yapping.

Here’s the new schedge:

Weekly health goal: (*note: alright, a little more yapping. Health class, though I had it on the original schedule last semester, never worked for us. I have much better luck not trying to make our health discussions so official and forced. I’m her mom and we’re together all day long now, so we talk about nutrition, exercise and sexual health in our everyday dialogue. Instead of giving her assignments, I’m instituting a weekly healthy goal. A few examples so far: make a smoothie that has a meal’s worth of nutrients; stick to water or milk for every drink all week; run everyday and chart any progress in time or distance; pick a dinner recipe we make often and tweak it to make it healthier – then treat the family to it! Whatever she does, I’ll be doing too.) 

Monday: Grammar

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Grammar:

  • lesson 1; worksheets 
  • lesson 2; worksheets
  • (if applicable) lesson 3; worksheets

Tuesday: History/Art

Language: editing; spelling; writing
Reading:
History/Art

(*History is the most involved subject. I like having it all lassoed into one neat and tidy day. But there’s a lot of info to process, so I’m throwing two of it’s components into Friday. Both Friday activities are all-inclusive of what’s been covered that week, so it’ll be a great review. Also, Mary despises art for some pain in the neck reason. Every attempt to make it a separate class has ended with her being in trouble for acting out. BUT, a lot of the history lessons comes with an accompanying craft for the daily activity. I have a lot of unused art-class assignments that I’ll be incorporating into the pre-planned crafts related to History.) 

  • review; pre-test 
  • lesson 1; notecard; activity (to include art)
  • lesson 2; notecard; activity
  • lesson 3; notecard; activity
  • mapping

Wednesday: Science

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Science:

  • Physics: Lesson; experiment
  • Mechanics 1
  • Physics: Lesson; experiment; lapbook (of lessons 1 and 2)
  • Mechanics 2

Thursday: Math

Language: spelling; writing; vocab
Reading:
Math

  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

Friday: Math

Spelling
Math

  • lesson 1 
  • lesson 2
  • lapbook choice of lesson

History: (Cont.)

  • Timeline 
  • Worksheet exercise/Quiz

At the beginning of each week, I’m going to make a print-out of our schedule with each assignment on it and have it posted on the fridge. I used to write the schedule in dry-erase marker on this neat Martha Stewart weekly planner hangy-thing above her desk in the schoolroom, but it was a pain to fill out by hand every Monday, and to keep it neat while fitting everything in. This’ll be easier. Plus, she won’t have to go all the way downstairs or rummage through our daily stack of books and papers for my planner, just to check the schedule.

As always, I still have more to say than any respectable adult probably has time to read, but I think that about sums up our major changes. Today I’ll be baby-sitting Matthew and Scarlett’s besties, so before they arrive Mary and I will be making something presentable of the schoolroom again, and cracking down on this photocopying obligation hovering over my head. I swear if I knew how many photocopies were required of a homeschooling parent, I never would have signed up for this. Like seriously, that would have been the deal breaker.