Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's the bomb-diggity

When you homeschool year-round, like we do, there is no ceremonial cleaning out of the desk and locker on the last day of school. There is no saying "goodbye" to a former teacher and eager anticipation of who will be your teacher during the next school year. There is no big revelation of which friends will be in your class, and there is no supply list telling you how many boxes of Kleenex and how many pencils you need to bring on the first day of school. There is no first day of school.

School just is.

It is a part of our day-to-day, breathe in, breathe out routine. Some days we breathe a little more or a little better than others. But it is there. Every day. Supply lists and school shopping are really just trips to the grocery, department, or craft stores.

Surprise! I'm your teacher...and yes, both of your brothers are still in class with you this year. So play nice.

I love this model of education. I love that we can take a day off whenever we need it, but we thrive on our daily routines.

As summer crept on, though, I realized that the boys were sliding into first grade without even knowing it. Without the big shift in teacher, classmates, classroom, and curriculum, without even a big summer break, there was no obvious transition from kindergarten to first grade. In a sense I like the seamlessness of this. I like that there is no artificial stoppage of learning and no major change to interrupt what progress is being made.

However, we live in a society that is full of boxes and labels, and the boys are having to field questions from grocery store clerks about their schooling (have I mentioned that people in Kansas are way too friendly? it gives a whole new meaning to #nofilter...but that's a post for another day). They were being asked what grade they are in, and they were still saying "kindergarten" because we haven't had any sort of last-day-of-school clean up (unless you count moving states).

So, what do you do when you are a homeschooler with no summer vacation and no major curriculum changes and you want to transition from one grade to the next?

We put a sign on the door.
 We gave awards certificates.

We ate cupcakes.


And we launched them down a grassy hill without training wheels.

So now, when they are asked what grade they are in, they can say "FIRST!"

Shorty, who was born right around the cutoff date, could be in kindergarten or pre-k, depending on which state's rules we want to follow. He's sharp as a tack, but doesn't like to follow directions. So, he has chosen to call his grade "cuckoo-kindergarten." It works for me.

They still look puzzled when people ask them how they spent their summer break. Sigh. I need to teach them to answer "year-round schooling is the bomb-diggity."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Less is More, part deux

So we've moved.

Most of the boxes are unpacked, and this place is starting to feel like home.

There is a lot that I miss about our old home, and the green house. I can't deny that moving here didn't excite me. Leaving our friends, family, and church didn't excite me. Kansas didn't excite me. Wichita didn't excite me. The street where we live didn't excite me. The house itself didn't even excite me much, even though it was on the official "approved" list I sent the hubby when he went house hunting.

finding our house is like playing Where's Waldo
I did add this crazy guy to the front stoop for some character (and a "landmark" of sorts)

The old place was full of charms. I loved the old woodwork and leaded glass. I adored soaking in the claw-foot tub. Nothing brought a smile to my face like walking or biking to the grocery store, the bookstore, the custard shop, the children's museum, the neighborhood market, our church, the theater, or any number of stores and restaurants on Main St. There was a bike trail just a block away that was perfect for teaching the boys to ride as well as having a ride myself. We were close enough to the city that we could head downtown any day or night and enjoy all that St. Louis has to offer (and I personally think that is A LOT), but our neighborhood didn't feel like suburbia. I had grown up in one of the neighboring communities, so my life was full of people who had known me all my life as well as new friends. Our lives were full.

Two days ago, the youngest observed, "Mommy, we don't have any friends here, do we?"

We don't have turn-of-the-century details. We don't have a bike trail, a big city, anything within walking or biking distance, easy access to local shops and restaurants. We don't even have backyard neighbors. The view from the back porch is vast and empty.
cloudy sunrise panorama from the back door
But, maybe, less is more.

Maybe not having our days so full of people to hang out with, things to do, and places to go is just what we need right now. Maybe we need to slow down, be still, and know that He is God. That He is Good. That he is Love. That His timing, His plan, His story for my life is better than the one I would choose to tell for myself.

Maybe what I need is to sit on the back porch, sip my morning coffee, listen to the chorus of crickets in the emptiness behind the house, and count the thousands upon thousands of gifts He has given me.
sitting on the back deck

Maybe what I need is to forget about play dates for a while and focus on playing with my boys, truly engaged and enjoying them. Soaking in their laughter as they play with each other, my husband, and me. With me.
two views of "the big room"

Maybe what I need right now is not another girls' night out, but a date night in with the man of my dreams playing games and talking into the wee hours while the crickets chirp and the children snore.
the boys' room

"Less" in this way is hard for me. I am energized by those around me. I love parties and plans and doing doing doing. Every day would be an adventure if it were up to me. This next adventure is going to be one of inward focus, of a slower pace and quieter days. An adventure of allowing the men, big and small, in my life be the ones who energize me.

I am ready.
living/dining/kitchen

In response to Shorty's statement regarding our lack of friends, I can answer, "Not many, buddy. Not yet, anyway. But we do have each other, and we are our best friends."
lest you think I have it all together, here is the door to my "office" -- an impassable mess

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Perfectly Imperfect

The boys are at an age when everything is a competition between them. I forsee many years of comparisons and contests in our future. One of the things they have been comparing recently is their height. Thing 1 has always been a little bit taller than Thing 2 and takes great pride in that fact. Thing 2 consistently strives to narrow the gap between them. And Shorty, well, he's hoping that one day he'll surpass us all.

Being renters and frequent movers, we have never had a wall on which we marked the growth of the boys. This past month we read The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.
If you haven't read this book with your little ones, I recommend it. It is lovely. Plus, there's a classic Disney animated short based on it.
Well, in the book, Ferdinand measures his growth on the trunk of a tree. That got my little men interested in being able to keep track of their growth. I agreed that it was a great idea to have a growth chart, but we needed one that we would be able to take with us when we move this summer and in the future.

I headed out to the hardware store and picked up a 6-foot-long plank of wood. We measured out 6 segments and each of the boys painted 2 sections in a very special color he had picked out all by himself at the craft store. Then they painted the lines all the way up marking the inches and feet.

The paint colors don't really coordinate. There are places where the paint is smeared. In other spots, the paint doesn't fully cover the wood. Sometimes one boy didn't stay within the "lines" very well. It is far from perfect. It may not even be beautiful.

It was exactly how I wanted it to be. If I had wanted it to be perfect, I could have bought a fabulous one designed by somebody who knew what she was doing. Just search "growth chart" on Etsy, and you will see. Some of my cousins even have a business making just this sort of thing. There is no shortage of amazing or adorable growth charts. If I didn't want to shell out the cash, I still could have insisted that the chart have a particular look that would perfectly compliment the decor. I could have picked out the colors, done the painting, and even some distressing or finishing touches to make it look just so.

However,
Look at those faces. They are full of pride and the joy of having designed and created something all by themselves. Something that is uniquely their own. They would not look that way if they were measuring their growth on a chart created by someone else.

Isn't part of why I do what I do with homeschooling to allow them to learn who they are and how to express that? Isn't part of it to allow them to learn how to paint, build, and create?

It isn't about having a perfectly beautiful home. It's about loving the perfect imperfection that is our life and our learning and our growing.

It's about learning that it doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be beautiful. It just has to be ours.

Because aren't we all perfectly imperfect? Aren't we still growing and changing and learning with every day? Aren't there parts of who we are that are smeared, smudged, chipped, or even mangled? As we go through this day-to-day, year-to-year chaos that is growing up (yes, I think we are always "growing", never "grown"), we are never going to be perfect. There are many times we will not be beautiful. But we are loved by the one who Created us and who loves to see our growth.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Volcano Day!

As I have mentioned before, we have Field Trip Fridays in order keep me sane augment our curriculum. It is generally a blast. This past week, we decided to forego our field trip and have a sort of at-home adventure. Nolan has been the proud and patient owner of the Lava Rock Volcano kit since Christmas.
Every few days he asks me about it. I have to admit, the idea of exploding fake lava all over my house wasn't really exciting to me. So, I may have been purposefully delaying the Big Day.

I finally decided that the poor kid had waited long enough. We started out with the physical construction of our volcano. It required strips of plaster to be draped over a plastic form. 


 The floors, the table, our shirts...everything was covered with plaster dust. But it made for a nice-looking shape of a volcano.

While we waited for the plaster to dry, we blew some bubbles and had a little contest to see who could pop the most. It had nothing to do with volcanoes. It was a lot of fun.


Back in the kitchen, we donned our smocks and got out the paint to artistically design the rocky mountainous surface of the volcano. It was a meticulous labor of love for these 3 boys who love to create.


While we waited for that to dry, we went to the porch and worked on our portable growth chart. They each picked the colors for the 6-foot plank and are quite excited to start marking it up with their heights. No tears as we leave behind some house where we have marked their progress on the wall. We will just take this piece of wood with us wherever we go.


We waited until Grandad arrived before making the eruption happen. During the wait time, we read Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne. The boys all love the adventures of their friends Jack and Annie, and we always learn a little something along the way.

Once he arrived, we got busy. First we got all set up with toy dinosaurs, the lava rocks, vinegar, and baking soda. It was difficult for little hands to squeeze the bottle, so Grandad needed to help out.



Mostly the "lava" flowed down the sides of the mountain, but occasionally we managed to get an explosion of lava that shot high above the mouth of the volcano. All in all, it was a great day. And now we have an active volcano that could erupt again any time. Be warned.


It's always a successful Field Trip Friday when some exhausted little boy falls asleep in a random place at a random time.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Moms Day

I woke up early yesterday morning. After checking the overnight Facebook action, I washed the dishes, put a load of laundry in, cooked myself some eggs, and had breakfast before the storm of activity that is my life with twins plus one awoke.

It's Mother's Day.

The hubby had an extra long work week in Kansas, plus some house hunting. He was tired. He was sleeping in today. I expected no fanfare this morning. It's fine.

The boys got up, and within five minutes we discovered that someone (likely that handsome guy who is snoring in the other room) clogged the toilet in the night. Unfortunately, we didn't discover this until after Thing 1 peed, didn't notice the clog, and then Shorty dumped his own clog- worthy load into our house's only toilet.

Fifteen minutes of plunging. Happy Mother's Day to me.

I live a very glamorous life.

I was taken by surprise at the intensity with which I felt the loss of my own mother. I wanted nothing more than to be able to hand her some flowers and a card and thank her for who she was and who she had helped make me to be. But I couldn't.

When I get sad, I get mean. It's one of the ugly bits of who I am. So I decided to pick a fight with the hubby as soon as he woke up. I worked myself up to it while he was still sleeping so I could ambush him with my ire. We had our little row, but he knows me well and diffused my anger before things got really bad. 

As I was telling him why I was sad, I realized that I was being very selfish. I lost my mom and was unable to celebrate with her, but I could still celebrate who she had been. Other people in my life have mothers who are still living, but still are unable to celebrate as the holiday says they should. Their mothers are not and have never been the stuff of Hallmark cards. They cannot hug their moms and say, "Thank you for all you have done for me. You are the best mom ever." 

I am blessed.

I had a great mom. I miss her. But I am blessed to have had her.

After I got over myself, we got on with our day. We swung through the drive thru at BK on the way to the art museum. It was the Mother's Day lunch that dreams are made of.

At the art museum, the first thing the four of us did was head through the labyrinth of galleries on our way to the restroom. Wait. Did you think we were a family of five? You are right. That wasn't a typo. Four of us went to the restroom. One of us got lost in the shuffle. I had one twin and thought the hubby had both Shorty and the other twin. The hubby had the other twin, thinking I had two kids with me. It wasn't until we all emerged from the restrooms that we realized that we were missing the Tiny Man.

Mother's Day parenting FAIL.

I have never run so fast in heels up steps in a museum in my life. Back by the front door, there was Shorty. Chatting away with the ladies at the desk. He had done everything right. He stayed put. He didn't panic. He told the people at the help desk who he was and whom he was with.

After we were reunited, he was pretty excited that he had done something "all by himself."

Needless to say, the rest of our time at the museum was much less eventful.

On the way home we grabbed some hot-n-ready pizzas for yet another perfect celebratory meal on paper plates at home. Dessert was frozen custard with a free cone for Mom...that ended up being eaten by the kid we almost lost. Small price for his safety.

I ended my day by cleaning pee off the floor of the dining room. The day had truly come full circle.

There was no breakfast in bed. There were no flowers, no chocolates, no fancy dinners, and no gifts. But I woke up this morning knowing the greatest Mother's Day gift of all was mine. The greatest gift I have ever received is the privilege of  being a mother. That gift is mine today and every day.

www.jillheupel.com

I am blessed.

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