Monday, August 25, 2014

there's something you should know...

Cooking with my two year old is easier than cooking with my seven year old. This isn't even the slightest bit of an exaggeration. It hadn't really occurred to me to let Channing "help" but he was incredibly whiny all morning and I really needed to make lunch so I plopped him up on the counter and let him dump stuff in and stir. And for the first time in my seven years as a parent, cooking with my child was kind of enjoyable. It brought me more joy than frustration, more peace than stress. This was a whole new concept for me. I would tell him, "Stay there. Don't touch," when I walked to the cabinet for another ingredient. And heavens to betsy, he actually obeyed. He sat when I said sit. He kept his fingers out of the bowl when I said don't touch. Sure, he got slightly overzealous when he was stirring but with a little bit of help, he got the idea. It was darn cute, his chubby little hands copying his mama.
When I cook with Bennett, there are all kinds of repeated warnings and stern commands and frustration (on both of our parts) and neither of us is having much fun. He absolutely cannot keep his fingers out of the bowl. He still has trouble following directions. He dumps before he's supposed to dump and he's constantly putting things in the bowl that aren't supposed to be in there. It's slightly easier with Dawson but not much. I always see moms posting things about cooking with their kids and I've always wondered what I was doing wrong. Turns out I wasn't doing anything wrong. And for the most part, neither was Bennett. He was just being the very active child that he is. There is so much of his behavior that's extremely difficult to deal with in certain settings. (If you're new around here, not to be confused with my Spirited Child, Dawson. Bennett is laid back emotionally. He's just always been demanding physically.) But the longer I parent, the more I can see the big picture and realize that for every difficult part of their personalities, there's an equally amazing aspect that comes along with it. He may not have much self-control, but that boy is braver, tougher and stronger than any kid his age I've ever met. He's so incredibly smart and kind and is going to be a fully functioning member of society whether or not he can exhibit enough self-control at age seven to cook with his mom.

My brother, Graham, shared this article the other day and this portion of it jumped off the screen and hit me square in the heart:

One day I watched a nine-year-old boy as he led a group of children scrambling over Vasquez Rocks, a great sandstone formation that slants up out of the California desert. He was one of those magnetic, electrical, radiant boys; kind to the younger ones, strong, quick, inquisitive, sharp as a tack, his eyes throwing sparks in the clear air. It was a joy just to watch him, I said to the friend standing beside me. She told me he had just been diagnosed with ADHD.
When you see children who do not learn well in school, they will often display characteristics that would be valued and admired if they lived in any number of traditional societies around the world. They are physically energetic; they are independent; they are sociable; they are funny. They like to do things with their hands. They crave real play, play that is exuberant, that tests their strength and skill and daring and endurance; they crave real work, work that is important, that is concrete, that makes a valued contribution. They dislike abstraction; they dislike being sedentary; they dislike authoritarian control. They like to focus on the things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore. 
Reading that made me so thankful that God brought the information before me and gave me the insight that I needed to make the best decision for Bennett's education at this point in time. We've never had him tested for ADHD but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he had it. (In fact, I'd be surprised if he didn't.) There's sure to be some frustration this school year on both of our parts but I'm fully confident that he won't be saying "I hate school" every day like he was last year. I read a comment on someone's Instagram several weeks ago that kept running over and over in my mind. The person that posted the photo said something about missing her sweet baby girl when she was napping. And someone commented that "that was the sign of a good mommy." I know she didn't mean anything by it, but wow, did it hit me the wrong way. I never would have commented back to that person with how it made me feel. She doesn't know me and like I said, I know she didn't mean to upset anyone by it. And if I've learned anything about the internet over the last few years, I've learned that constructive criticism or any disagreement needs to be said face to face. If it can't be said face to face, it probably doesn't need to be said. (But supporting another mama that's feeling criticized? Yes. Always, yes.)
But what I really wanted to say to that mom was that I haven't ever missed any of my children when they're sleeping. Ever. Like, not even for one half of a second. I've cheered and thrown a parade in my mind when they've gone to bed sometimes. I've felt a cringe of disappointment when they've woken up sooner than I expected. But missed them? Never. And you know what? I don't think that means I'm not a good mom. I think that means I have very VERY demanding children. And that I'm using up every shred of my energy to parent them with love and patience (and sometimes I royally stink at that part but sometimes I do pretty darn good.) I wanted to ask that mom if she thinks a mother of a special needs child misses them when they're sleeping? Or the mom of a colicky infant. Or the mom of three boys who often spends three full days a week as a single parent because of her husband's work schedule. Or the mom of a soldier who's been deployed for a year and is parenting four or five kids by herself. I'm pretty sure all of these women relish every second of naptime and bedtime and are still rockstar mamas when their babes are awake. I think a mom who misses her baby when she or he is sleeping has a very easy baby. And I'm glad for them. I'm not bitter towards them or envious of them. (Ok, maybe a teensy weensy bit.) I just know that I'm stretched a lot further than a lot of moms. But that in turn gives me characteristics that I'm thankful for. It has also given me an incredibly grace-filled perspective on others' parenting journeys. 
More grace, less judgment. (I'm working on this one. It's a daily battle, people.) And fewer assumptions that any child's behavior is directly linked to the way they're parented. Often times the nature is much stronger than the nurture. And so much of their nature, when nurtured correctly, will be seen as a strength as an adult. In the meantime, I'd really like a padded room with a jungle gym for my seven year old. Or perhaps we can just rent out some space at the zoo...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Nest

I sorta can't even believe I'm blogging about this right now. My history of finishing spaces is not good. I think I've fully decorated a room approximately three times in my entire adulthood. One was Bennett's nursery and there was a guest room before we had kids. The other was a tiny powder room bathroom in our last house. I also did one little shelf on one wall in our last house too. My lack of decorating is ridiculous because I absolutely love doing it. My two huge hurdles have always been perfectionism and a very small budget. I would rather a space sits empty than to be decorated with cheap stuff I don't love. But that leaves me with empty spaces that I also don't love. Quite the conundrum. A dear friend of mine sent me a copy of The Nester by Myquillyn Smith, when I asked on Instagram if anyone had one I could borrow. That book, combined with a friend coming into my home to photograph me for a project he was doing, were the two things I needed to get my butt in gear and get my living room decorated.
My personal aesthetic falls somewhere between Ashley Campbell's and Kirsten Niemann's. (I definitely lean more towards Kirsten Niemann's. In fact, I'd be happy to just move into her house as-is. But I reeeeallly can't afford to make it look like that and Ashley's colorful, thrifty, anything-goes decorating mentality has rubbed off on me. Hers is far more attainable for an average budget.)
So here's a little tour of the decorating I've done in our townhouse that we're renting. (Our long term plan is to find land in the country to build a modern farmhouse on but we still haven't found the right property so here we stay for the time being. It has plenty of space. We're just lacking a backyard, which has been very difficult with my three boys. If they're outside, I have to be out there with them.)
Here's the little shelf our TV sits on. I plan on painting the whole thing a dull aqua with some chalk paint but that's not in the budget yet. Having books around makes me happy. And I've found that decorating with antique books is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to fill some space. I usually pay between $3-$6 for an antique book. The antique clock and camera were both gifts from my mother-in-law. Our library books and movies sit on the bottom shelf.

We invested in this couch when we were first married and I'm thankful we did. It's now eleven years old and I'm still happy with it. It's absolutely covered in spots and stains and has been peed on more times than I can count but has otherwise held up well to the daily beating provided by my three boys. I'd probably pick something in gray tweed now but I'm thankful it's neutral and the shape is timeless. That giant coffee table was another pre-kid purchase. The top stays empty for playing and eating since it also serves as our kitchen table until we can get some tall bar stools because there's no room for our farm table in here.
I've had that lamp for about eight years. I've thought about painting the silver parts brass but then my lazy side tells me to watch Parenthood instead. My former self would hate that it didn't really "go" with everything but that's where people like Ashley have influenced me. I like that it's not all matchy matchy. It's just been gathered over time and it works. The green owl is from West Elm and was a gift. (If there's ever something specific I want for the house, I just ask for it for my birthday or Christmas.) Those faux bois pillows were actually one huge floor pillow cover I got for $16 on clearance at Pottery Barn. It sat in a closet unused for a couple of years and then one day it dawned on me it could be cut apart and turned into two pillows. My mom found some backing fabric and made the covers for me. The other throw pillow was a very recent find from Target. I normally wouldn't even "splurge" on a $20 pillow but it was absolutely perfect to me so I got it. I love the colors so much. Now I need two more pillows for the side chairs in some brightly colored modern floral or print.
And here's the gallery wall. I started collecting frames over a year ago. I would buy one that I loved here and there at Target when I could afford it and then bought a few at Ikea. I found that round mirror on clearance at Target and I had that tin ceiling tile for years. The print in the center was a gift from my friend, Katy. I absolutely adore it (and her). Find her shop here.
I did the embroidery myself (inspired by this shop that is currently closed.) I need to add some little olive branches like parenthesis on the sides but I needed to hang it so I'll finish that eventually. Those zinc letters are currently at Michael's for only $7.99! Go get yourself one. (And pull up a coupon on your phone before you checkout.) I have to share just how much of a perfectionist I am. I actually wasn't going to buy it. It really bothered me that the bottom was flat and meant to sit on a shelf, not hang on a wall. I was afraid it would look weird. But Myquillyn's catch phrase rang through my ears: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." So I ignored my inner-perfectionist and bought it. It was the perfect addition and I love it.
The little deer head was from The Land of Nod. Another gift. I bought the frame to go around it at an antique store. I love hunting for something and finding just the right thing. I love the mix of modern and vintage.
The cheapest way to fill a frame? Have your kid paint a word you love. Or have them paint the word, love. Either way, it works and it's cute. (Not my idea. I think I stole it from Life Made Lovely. Her instagram feed is filled with all kinds of gorgeous vignettes.)
This green chair in the following picture was possibly the happiest accident in the whole room. My little sister, Claire, bought it at Goodwill. Thankfully she's not as much of a perfectionist as I am. She bought it because it was cute and cheap and someday she would use it, not because she needed it. She's currently living with my parents in Memphis and needed somewhere to store it so it's been in my garage for a couple months. It dawned on me that it would be the perfect size for this room. So now I'm "storing" it for her in my living room instead of the garage. I'm kinda hoping she doesn't move into her own place for a long time because I've fallen in love with it and its indestructible green vinyl. That'll be the only chair Channing's allowed to sit in when he's being potty-trained. Oh, and I've had this rug on top of carpet in the last two houses. It might seem odd at first to put a rug on carpet, but it adds tons of character to the space and pulls it all together. I've had it for about eight years. I'm sure I would pick something a little more modern and quirky now but I still like it.
This chair is covered in spots and stains too but it just adds to its charm. 
Here's the mantel of our strangely positioned fireplace. It's simple and I love it. You can read the story of how we got this ocean painting at the very bottom of this post. A piece of my heart lives in California and now a piece of California lives in my home. White metal pitcher: Ikea. (About $12 maybe?) Coral: really old from Z Gallerie.
 Full shot of the tiny fireplace with odd floating mantel:
I took this picture of Dawson and Jon on this trip to Florida a couple of years ago. It felt like such an accomplishment to get some photos printed and fill some frames! Also, photos are so dang cheap to print, which is fantastic. Take some (or ask a friend who has a nice camera to) of your kids not looking at the camera or posing. Then they'll feel like art.
When I first got the painting, I wanted to repair the frame and maybe paint it. Now I'm in love with the way it's all beat up:
And a shot of that whole side of the room. There's a patio door to the left of the fireplace and our front door is around the corner the right. That window looks out onto the pond. It was a strange layout but I think it all works. I have two of those giant brown chairs that we bought shortly after the couch. I don't mind them but I was hating how matchy our furniture was. Plus the second brown chair didn't really fit in here. Substituting that green chair for the other brown one made a world of difference. I should probably just sell the other brown chair since I don't necessarily want a set of them anymore. These are the chairs I'm dreaming about.
So thankful for these words that spoke right to me from The Nester: 
"At times, good enough and done is a smarter choice than perfect, and simply making a choice is often a sign of maturity, balance, and contentment." 
Holy moly, I loved that. Is everything in this room exactly what I want? No. Absolutely not. If I were given an unlimited budget, it would definitely look different. But the thing is, I absolutely LOVE this finished space. It's kinda perfect to me just the way it is. It makes me so happy to walk in and see it every day. It feels cozy and homey and welcoming. I'm proud of my thriftiness and patience and most of all, contentment with what I had to work with. I also feel more of a desire to keep it tidy. If it's not pretty to begin with, it might as well just be a total wreck because who cares? But now it's pretty and I want to keep it that way. Now, on to the rest of the house. I have no idea how much longer we'll live here but in the meantime I want to enjoy it. Next up...the boys' room. I have lots of stuff to hang in there already. I just need to keep this ball rolling!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Journey to Homeschooling

I wrote about what led me to my decision to homeschool here but I'll recap it for any new readers. (And for all of my friends who forgot since, if you're like me, you don't remember half of what you read or hear in the first place. I blame the children for that, because, duh.)
I always thought homeschool might come into play at some point with at least one of my kids but I always thought it would be way down the road if any of them really started struggling in middle school or something. And only if I was really desperate. I wasn't exactly against homeschooling young kids but I definitely didn't think it was the best choice. I thought of all the things they'd miss out on if they didn't go to school with other kids and that always seemed more important. Plus, I loved elementary school. Well, at least through first grade. And fourth. The other years were questionable. I still don't think of it as the best choice. Just like every other area of parenting, I've learned through the years the best choice is whatever feels right for you and your kids after you've learned their individual personalities (and your own) and educated yourself on both sides of the issue. I have a difficult time with people who fall on one side or the other, thinking their side is the only option and everyone else is making a mistake. Same goes for every other hot topic, stay-at-home mom vs. working, vaccinating, breast feeding, co-sleeping, the list goes on. Let's just keep cheering each other on because we all have the same goal: raising great kids who love others and love the Lord. The rest, as they say, is just details.
I actually made the decision to homeschool Dawson for at least Kindergarten and 1st grade about two years ago, back when I read Bringing Up Boys by Dobson (good arguments, but still not convinced I wanted to give up eight hours of free childcare five days a week) and Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon. (Done. Decision made.) And since half my friends don't read books ever and just want me to recap them, I'll give you the gist. The all day classroom is not designed for a typical boy. Most girls thrive. Most boys don't. Boys at that age just can't possibly be expected to sit and focus for such long hours. They're constantly reprimanded and feel like they don't measure up. The very active ones will start to hate school and will be turned off from learning for the rest of their lives. (Sounds dramatic, but ask my husband. His response when I brought it up? "I hate learning." And its true. He never reads and has zero interest in learning something new unless it will benefit him directly.) Both books strongly urge parents to homeschool until their boys are 7 or 8. At the time, I had a baby and a very very difficult toddler so I knew homeschooling wasn't an option for Bennett starting in Kindergarten. He was also incredibly smart and I felt like he could focus for long periods of time. (Ha! Yeah....on a screen.) Well, Kindergarten went relatively well for him. I hated that he had to go all day and he definitely didn't LOVE school but it was mostly good. Well, then things started falling apart in first grade. He had trouble socially, physically (sitting still and concentrating for all the desk work) and academically. (He was ahead academically and wasn't nearly being challenged enough, despite the teacher doing everything she could.) He started crying most mornings before school and would beg me to stay home. There were many emails exchanged and meetings with his teacher and the guidance counselor last winter.
I went to a meeting for moms who were considering homeschooling back in early spring, thinking I was going with Dawson in mind. I left that meeting knowing without a doubt I needed to homeschool Bennett for second grade. The longer I sat with the decision, the more certain I was that it was the right one. We talked about it a lot and he was really excited about the idea.
Now that most kids are starting school again here in Des Moines, I've been feeling nothing but relief that I'm not sending him to public school again. Here me loud and clear on this one though. I do NOT think sending your kid to public school is the wrong decision. Quite the opposite. I think its a great decision for a lot of kids, particularly girls. I just know without a doubt its not the right decision for Bennett this year.
Am I overwhelmed? Not yet. But I probably will be as soon as all the curriculum books start arriving in the mail. I'm excited to get into a routine and get it all figured out. If I have clear direction on what needs to be done when, I can make it happen. I was a hard core BabyWise mom and my babies and I thrived on that consistent schedule. But if there's no clear direction for me, our days fall apart very quickly. The weeks we had things on the calendar this summer, like VBS or swimming lessons, went great. The weeks that were open ended were....not so great. So I think having structure, yet freedom, will be great for our family.
Since everyone seems to ask me, I'll share about curriculum I've chosen. I actually contacted the Christian school that we plan to send them to in the future (and I know that decision will become clear when the time is right) and asked what they use. I'm using most of the same stuff for Bennett so that way, if he goes there the following year, he'll already be on the same page. Literally. Its Bob Jones for English/Grammar and enVision Math. I'm going to use Handwriting Without Tears since I've heard so many great things about it. I'll pick my own books for reading and will add some history and geography in there somewhere. And social studies. I don't even know what social studies is but I'll google it or something. Do we need PE? I think we need PE. Mommy/son yoga sounds good. I've been wanting to start. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I signed him up for an after school hours Spanish class that will go for six weeks and then a Science class for four weeks after that through our community schools. I'm really excited about those. I think they'll be great supplements and also something to get him out of the house. And he told me, "I've always wanted to learn Spanish!" :) I'm not joining an official co-op since I want our schedule to be flexible and since Dawson will be in afternoon preschool. But I do have a group of moms I'll meet with at least once a month for different activities and lessons. I also had the option of reporting to a teacher throughout the year (she would do a home visit monthly) or just doing it all on my own. I opted to have a teacher come. I figured as a first timer, any extra help and direction will be beneficial. Its nice to know that I don't have to do that every year though, if I don't want to.
So here's where I ask you for any piece of advice you have for me as a first timer. I think I need to make up a bunch of busy bags for Channing, or else I'll start to rely on the tv too much. I'm not too terribly worried about him since he's my calmest boy, physically speaking. I think he'll be easily entertained with some toddler activities. Let me know if you have a perfect, not-too-sticky homemade play-doh recipe.
Cheers to a new school year. Fresh starts always feel good. But I'm not cheering for fall. Don't even say that word around here. Its still summertime. We just happen to have some schoolwork to do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trial by Fire

Today is our 12th anniversary. It should be filled with cards, and flowers and the anticipation of a fantastic date night out. But it isn't. I've never before anticipated a date that I know will be filled with pain instead of celebration. Things crumbled last year around this time. Jon had been hurt by me a few years prior and despite plowing forward and attempting normalcy for a couple of years, the band-aid covering his gaping wounds just wouldn't hold any longer and so began my husband's retreat to try to find healing. I remember last summer being so sure it would just be a handful of months, but here we are a year later. The pain of separation isn't much easier. I'm just more used to the feeling of it.
I've found that people can fairly easily talk about those rough patches once they're back on smooth ground. But I don't hear people talking about it when they're stuck in the middle; at least not outside their trusted circle of family and friends. But you know what's even harder than walking through the toughest time in my life? Pretending I'm not. I can't and I won't. I will not put on a mask of perfection when my heart is aching on the best days and feels like it's being ripped in two on the worst days. I sometimes want to hang a sign around my neck that says, "Tread lightly. Broken heart inside."
People often tell me I'm brave for sharing my story. I don't feel brave. I feel free. I'm free of guilt and shame. I'm free of worrying about any sort of reputation that I may or may not have. Freedom in Christ is so very real in my life. And the more I talk, the more my story is in the light and able to be used for His glory. I want others to experience that same freedom. The sin in my past is ugly. But God is already redeeming it and I think I've only seen a fraction of the redemption to come.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. -James 5:16 MSG
On this day, August 3rd, 2014, I choose joy. I have compassion and empathy for others that I didn't have a year ago. I have more grace and less judgment than I had a year ago. I have a much bigger faith than I did a year ago. And I have had far too many blessings to count this past year, particularly in the area of friendships. When I was at my loneliest, God flooded my life with incredible, deep, authentic friendships. But most importantly I have a desperate need for my Savior. There were times about six or eight months ago that I would honestly think, "God, I'm not sure I want this season to end because I don't ever want to stop needing you as desperately as I do right now." Being at your wit's end is sometimes the most beautiful place to be.
My friend once wrote a great blog post about what to do for a friend who's miscarried and I so appreciated it. (I'd link to it but I don't think it's live anymore.) So here are my tips if you have a friend walking through any sort of difficult and painful time:
Acknowledge it. Don't ignore it. If they know you know about it, ask them how they're doing. Sometimes the conversation is awkward when people ask me how I am (because I'm usually brutally honest) but I feel so incredibly loved by the people who do and sometimes hurt by the people who don't. Send a text or a card if the thought of bringing it up in person seems scary. If you're very close to them, find out their love language and meet it from time to time. You have to remember that someone in a marriage separation or recently divorced isn't receiving any sort of affection, besides from their kids. And although, I'm learning to rely on God and fully realize that He is and always will be enough, it sure does feel good to be loved by a friend. And lastly, buy them a copy of the Streams in the Desert devotional. I don't know where I'd be without it.

My life does not look at all what I imagined it would right now. I can't say yet that I wouldn't change it, although some parts I definitely would. But I trust that I'll be able to say that a few years from now. I just couldn't produce spiritual growth like this on my own terms if I tried. And I know its not in vain. I want to be used on this Earth for the kingdom. And if my broken and redeemed past and broken and someday redeemed marriage will ultimately bring Him glory, then I will continue to praise Him for this storm. My God is big. And He's got this.
Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite Streams in the Desert devos, because I can't ever quote that book enough:
We are to honor the Lord in the trial--in the very thing that afflicts us. And although there are examples where God did not allow His saints to even feel the fire, usually the fire causes pain.
It is precisely there, in the heat of the fire, we are to glorify Him. We do this by exercising perfect faith in His goodness and love that has permitted this trial to come upon us. Even more, we are to believe that out of the fire will arise something more worthy of praise to Him than had we never experienced it.
A person has only as much faith as he shows in times of trouble. The three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace came out just as they went in--
except for the ropes that had bound them. How often God removes our shackles in the furnace of affliction!
This is the way Christians should come out of the furnace of fiery trials--liberated from their shackles but untouched by the flames.