Full Circle.

In April, our year-long paid subscription to Reading Eggs for Matthew will be over. This week, if it weren’t for a little make-up work, Mary would be on her final project in Mechanics. The year is winding down like an old, extended tape measurer someone just let rip. I can’t believe daffodils have already sprouted with the promise of anything, anything other than winter.

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On Tuesday, Mary helped me to pack up all of the kids and the new dog to go for a run. It was nothing big, just a jog around the block – but it was. It took us twenty minutes to get everything we needed for it in order, which wasn’t expedited by Scarlett taking off her jacket and leaving a shoe by the sofa every time I did anything at all that did not involve my hands being clasped directly on her zipper. It wasn’t a big deal because I just didn’t have it in me to actually drive us all down to the park trail we used to try this at when I was a more ambitious homeschooler. But it was a big deal because managing a crew the size and general demeanor of mine while taking care of myself – if only in small ways – is a feat, and I did that shit like a boss.
It was kind of symbolic for me, the way everything went so well on our little run around the block endeavor. In the beginning of the year, trying to keep physical education a thriving part of our curriculum was a fiery disaster. Not only did she fight me every step of the way like she did with everything back then, but I was less equipped to handle her combativeness from the exhaustion of my own workout, while working with only a sliver of patience after juggling the younger two. She had gym two days a week at her old school, and I was eager and enthusiastic to keep up with that. In the end, it just wasn’t worth the battle and I chose instead to focus on her core subjects while we straightened out behavior issues that interfered with other, more elective courses.

While we missed out on important classes like phys ed and art, we did a tremendous amount of character building over long, no pressure, time wasting talks that we would have never had otherwise. It was that imperative down time which ended up making all the difference in building her trust and turning her behavior around.

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Grabbing a Shamrock Shake the day before St. Patrick’s Day, after helping her little sister make a shamrock necklace at the library.

So now that behavior is virtually a non-issue, we can finally start having a lot of that fun we missed out on before. I love working with her now. For a long time, to counter all of the criticism she threw at anything I considered fun, I kept all of our lessons bare bone dry. No frills, no fun, but no fighting. She couldn’t argue with assignments that were straight out of the text.

Now she asks for science experiments to do when all that’s required for the day’s lesson is a crossword puzzle or simple demonstration. She asks to learn about things that aren’t even part of the curriculum. Sometimes she’ll ask to do more than one project suggestion for a lesson that she comes across in her book; and the extra credit she gets for going above and beyond the minimal requirement are a total afterthought. It took a while, but eventually, the results of not forcing fun on her had an unexpected benefit.

It helped her take the initiative to make learning fun, herself. That’s a skill she can carry with her back to GRM, and a skill that’ll serve her well throughout life, if she can hang onto it.

Much to my comfort, she’s asking a lot about art and ‘gym’ lately. (Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-y-y-y-y-y!)

She walked into the kitchen holding a pair of pink running shoes I bought her from Target back in September, while I dressed Scarlett for our run. It was a pair that she begrudgingly picked out for home school phys ed. because I made her, and immediately hated once we got home. She admired them in front of me. “I forgot how cute these shoes were! It’s funny how these ended up being, like, the style now. Everyone I see wears shoes like this for working out. I’m glad I still have them!”

The loud, messy, geek-out, break-a-sweat fun I get to have with them now has been a long time coming. Not every day looks like exactly what I imagined home school would, back when it was but a dream that hadn’t yet been squashed like a total bitch by reality. But some days really, really do. And I love that.

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A Pet Parent.

The last few weeks, things have fallen beautifully into place for us. It took time (to put it graciously) for us to find a rhythm that worked, but we’re there. Everyone’s on the same page, working toward the same goal – everyday. Mary’s grades are way up, but more importantly, she’s clearly matured academically more than a year. I am so proud of her.

Like, seriously. I don’t even know where to begin describing the extent to which her attitude lately has improved. It’s been killing me that after such a tumultuous beginning, there has been so little time to enjoy writing about her success. I’ll admit, less time in front of the computer (even doing something I really enjoy, like writing) has been kind of nice, though.

So, it figures that as soon as things slow down around here, I’d find a way to ramp them back up.

Meet Benson!

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If you’re a face book friend of mine, you know that I’ve had a pretty vicious case of puppy fever this year. It’s strange for me, too. As a little girl I used to cry myself to sleep over the stone cold, hopeless reality that my parents would never, ever let me get a dog. When finally they cracked, it was a disaster. I loved those dogs. But owning them, for my parents, must have been a nightmare.

Dog one got knocked up by the unruly bay retriever one street away that was always getting loose with her. Together, they made our second outrageously mannered dog. Those three dogs had a bond like I never knew could exist between an animal family, and regularly bolted out the door to meet up for troublesome, off-leash adventures through the neighborhood. I never minded their behavioral problems growing up — but when I became a parent, it was as if I had been exposed to the matrix my mom endured. The idea of putting myself and my beloved little house through the turmoil of puppy training and dog co-habitation was not at all desirable to me.

I like the way Meagan Francis put it in her article on Babble about how kids are easier to raise than dogs. Something about having kids you actually gave birth to (or at least share a species with) pulling on you all day long really drives the romance of caring for another fully-dependent creature out the window.

To liven up the family just enough, that innate animal lover in me settled on a couple of cats who fit our lifestyle well. With a whole slew of kids already, they were enough. They are gorgeous, self-reliant, and just affectionate enough that they’ll agree to cuddle whenever you ask, but could really give a shit less if a week passed before you found the time.

Gradually, we started to sound like grandparents when it came to visiting any one of our constant pet rescuing, shelter volunteering, animal fostering, pitbull activist friends. We’d always say to each other, “Gosh, their dogs sure are beautiful… Yeah, I’m with you though – still glad it’s not US trudging them out to pee first thing every morning, rain or shine.”

Riley, a free beagle my brother was looking to rehome, happened to us on a whim, which is rarely the best way to go about bringing anything important into your life. But he turned out to be one of the coolest things our family ever endured. His time with us was short. But to this day, Matthew and Spencer vow he’s still an important member of this family. When it came to getting a new dog, though, there was no desire. Not even from the kids. We never would have gotten rid of him voluntarily (and genuinely, we were heartbroken that he never came back) — but it was kind of like… George Costanza when Susan died of cheap glue poisoning. No one was rushing back out to replace him.

Eventually, and kind of surprisingly, all of that deteriorated one day. Well, not all at once. But in nice big clumps, all of our trepidation about owning a dog someday down the road fell away. It started to be one of those things we kind of wanted. Something we looked forward to. Until eventually we were talking about it in a really excited way. We looked up breeders and bookmarked the web addresses of reputable shelters. We talked about names. I paid more attention to the relationships between my childless friends and the dogs that they love.

The part of me that has to overanalyze everything can recognize that this probably has to do with Scarlett reaching an age of measurable independence. She is no longer a baby. We’re in no position to have more. And even though I do not (in even the smallest measure) want more kids, that instinct to nurture and raise a fully dependant being is still very much alive. And at this point, constantly nagging. It’s become pretty clear to me since we brought him home that this is less about wanting us to be a “dog family” than I thought it was, and more about me just wanting to extend the reach of my experience as a parent. I like that Matthew will be able to put so much loyalty into a being that depends on him, I like that Spencer will devote Saturdays to taking it out to for activities it’s breed naturally craves, and I like that Scarlett will have a k-9 pal to grow up with. But really, I wanted a dog for myself.

Lucky for me, Benson is happy to sustain me.

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This one is exactly nothing like his more brazen, high-energy predecessor. He is a doll baby; medium energy, bashful and already remarkably obedient. I have never been more in love with an animal.

I’d really love to talk about our adventures so far in training, but someone has to go potty. Hello, pre-blizzard temperatures!