Thursday, March 27, 2014

All About Baby

Well, here's why it may be slow around here the next couple months.  I have hit the 36-week mark, which means delivery and newborn-time is imminent.

Yes. This is me. Today. At 36 weeks. I kept the photo small to emphasize my super-smart choice of "horizontal stripes" (hey... I'm down to just a few shirts that are long enough).

So... here are some interesting pregnancy "records"--and the one's I'm hoping to set.

1.  Earliest delivery:  My daughter (15), was born one day before her due date.

2.  Latest delivery:  Mikko (2) was born 8 days after his due date.  He was due seven days before my birthday. People kept saying, so stupidly, "Hey, maybe you'll have him on your birthday!"  And I always said, "What? That's a whole week later! No way that's going to happen."

3.  Longest labor:  Mikko (2):  50 hours. He MISSED my birthday by 1 hour and 47 minutes. Little Posterior Twerp.

4.  Shortest Labor:  Gabe (19).  My first (go figure).  12 induced hours (my only induction).  The rest of my labor lengths, in order, were, in HOURS, 27, 30, 32, 36, 50.  Didn't read this in any of the textbooks. Did you?

5.  Heaviest Baby:  Elon (6), weighed in at 9lbs 3 oz. The placed him on my stomach, and I said "Oof!" Interstingly, he's now my "smallest" kid--based on growth charts! My little gymnast.

6. Lightest Baby:  Mikko (2), 7 lbs even.

7.  Least weight gain:  Mikko. 30 pounds. Because I started up several pounds, and then due to an illness lost several during the pregnancy. Still had to lose nearly 50 when it was all over.

8.  Biggest weight gain:  70 pounds. This pregnancy. Because I started at my lowest weight EVER having spent the prior year fighting for my life against deadly spinal meningitis.

9.  Longest time avoiding maternity clothes:  This pregnancy.  At 36 weeks, I'm still in regular jeans (never made it past 24 weeks before).  Yes, I button and belt them UNDER my belly, but it's my same old belt (on the first hole now, not the 6th), and the jeans are a few sizes bigger.  Here's to NO MATERNITY CLOTHES for four more weeks!

10.  Non-medicated birth:  Mikko (2).  My sixth try, I finally avoided the epidural, and through all 50 hours of labor, with my champion labor assistants, only needed one shot of Nubain towards the end to keep me from tearing my husband's arms off.

11.  Only dark brown haired, brown-eyed baby:  Oli (4). The rest have blue eyes, and blonde or light brown hair.


Mikko was my record setter--five personal records:  lightest baby, longest labor, most overdue, no epidural, and least weight gain.

This baby, I want:

1. Shortest labor ever. I don't care if I do deliver on the way to the hospital, which is 45 minutes away.

2. Earliest delivery.  I normally LIKE to go late. I love how the anticipation escalates with each overdue day. But I'm old, and my body is struggling and weary. I could give this up.  I'm hoping for TWO days early.  April 26.

3. No Maternity Clothes ever.  Really? Can I make it four more weeks, and then pack my regular jeans to wear home from the hospital?  Haha.  Who cares? If I have to, I'll wear my son's pajama pants and husband's Ohio State T-shirt, though. I'm NOT buying any!

Other than that, I just want THIS baby, that God made just for us. However she is made, I want her.  Millie.

Millie Brooke or Millie Jewel. The jury's still out, but the big brothers are still insisting on the "Brooke."

In any case, if you don't hear from me, it's because I'm busy fitting in three more weeks of school, nesting, napping, still battling pneumonia, and starting to prepare my family for a possible interstate move.  Good times.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sibling Love

We all want our kids to get along.

But I want more than that. I want mine to LOVE each other. I mean, really love each other, and have a heart to put the others first, and serve them.

Why? Because when they grow up, I want them to show that type of love for everyone--putting others first, and having a servant's heart.

I believe that starts with me, as their parent, teaching this attitude in our family setting, with each other, while they are growing up.

So... how to do that?

1.  The General Rule:  I have a general house rule that says, "Your job is to make your brothers happier, not more upset."  (Right now I have all boys ages 2, 4, 6, 8 that require the bulk of my "teaching").  If one or two boys are playing happily, and then all of a sudden another joins them and it causes wails and protests... I instantly come in with the reminder of this rule.  Your job is to ADD joy. Never take it away. So, let's do this over and how are you going to do it so that the JOY stays?

2.  Positive Reinforcement.  I ALWAYS praise and reward when I see my kids acting selflessly, being giving, or loving.  I hug them, tell them "good job." I tell them Jesus is pleased with how they are loving.  I have them take it a step further by coming with me to the kitchen to secretly bake a batch of cookies as a surprise for their siblings. I give them a gold medal (from the dollar store--but they wear them like they are real gold!), or... anything that comes to mind.

3.  Encourage Loving Activities.  I encourage the others to find fun in planning surprises and gifts for the others.  At least twice a week in this house, the siblings will draw pictures for each other, write notes for each other, make a craft for each other, or plan some other surprise (like build a surprise marble track or race track for the other to try, or fix a special treat with me as a surprise snack for the others--even if it's just a surprise cup of hot chocolate).  I encourage them to do the other's chores on their chore chart as an act of love and kindness (this is becoming standard practice, I'm happy to say!).

4. Creative Problem Solving.  If the older two are having a disagreement, then I make them sit down and come up with an planned, agreed-upon arrangement to settle their dispute or solve their problem, and then tell me the solution.  If the younger ones are involved in a disagreement or misunderstanding, I have them "hug it out" for a minimum of 10 seconds--while I time them audibly out loud.  It always ends in giggles and good feelings.  I'm trying to teach them that bad feelings can be willingly chosen to be left behind and replaced by good actions and deliberate acts of love.

5.  Team Play and Together Activities:  I encourage game playing, and sharing of their video game turns.  If they are having a hard time playing together, I may help them "map out a plan," like give them a vision for a big block/marble project, or Lego/Hot Wheels project, and assign them each different parts so that it all comes together.  I let them do fun things like picnics on the school room floor, and sleep-overs on the living room floor. They feel like friends as well as siblings.

6.  Continually build an atmosphere of encouragement.  It is a common occurrence for my boys to show each other their school work and accomplishments and get a VERY enthusiastic "ooh!" and "ahh!" and "WOW!" from their siblings.  Whether it's the perfectly written letter "e" on a penmanship page, a beautifully colored illustration, or a nicely symmetrical original design Lego car or spaceship.  They give each other high-fives, pats on the back, and lots of words of encouragement.  I hear lots of "Great Job!" and "That's really awesome!"  When the 4yo hears words like that from his older brothers... the beaming on his face doesn't stop for a LONG time.  It's quite lovely.

7. I never discount hurt feelings.  They happen.  Misunderstandings between siblings and frustrations over all sorts of things.  I ALWAYS listen if they get hurt or upset. Always. These become teaching opportunities.  Sometimes it means helping an older child understand the perspective or needs of a younger, and encouraging them to have more compassion.  Sometimes it means helping a younger child learn a bit more about growing up, and how to be a little less selfish and more giving. Sometimes it means reiterating boundaries and respect for personal belongings, and keeping the lines clear (I believe in ownership, which teaches good stewardship and generosity, so the boys have things that are distinctly "theirs" and the others may not touch them without permission--but I encourage them to give permission). But if one of them comes to me in tears because there has been a problem with a sibling, I stop and listen completely with empathy and sympathy.  This also sends the message that these relationships are IMPORTANT and take priority.

8.  Transition this attitude into all of life.

For my older children, these principles transition beautifully into the larger picture of life as they get more and more involved in outside activities. Because learning to live a life of love starts in the home--with how they are taught to treat their siblings.

I still encourage my older ones (15 and 19) to put the needs of their younger siblings first as a habit and rule and way of life, reminding them that they can never practice this too much.  Not to mention, their example to their younger siblings is one of the most powerful teaching tools (don't believe that? Have your 6yo jump off the coffee table while the 2yo is watching--and see the power of example).

I also teach them to "BE" a friend first, and encourage them to be an example, and unmoved in their convictions when around others.  For example, my daughter (now 15), when she joined a children's chorus at age 7, I did tell her that she had to be kind and loving to the others, helpful to the younger ones or shy ones, and never be induced to join foolish behavior, or even foolish conversation.  If the others were not listening, or running, or being foolish, she was to stay fixed in her chair with her eyes on her director, or get away from the foolish behavior.  As long as she could show me she could do that, she could stay in the choir.  And I committed to watching her--because it was my job to teach her in this area. I did watch her rehearsals (I don't have to any longer).  She has now been in choir for 8 years, and she travels and tours the world with a very talented bunch of children from high schools all over the area and enjoys some very special friendships. I don't worry about her.  She has learned to help and mentor the younger, show friendliness and kindness to all, and set an example of obedience and respect, and turn her back on foolishness. At age 15, she is naturally starting to emerge as a leader and one that her friends look to for example and help--and she is not a natural leader in her God-given personality.  She is just kind and wise. 

My older son is the same way. He is nearly 20 now, but it is lovely to see his kindness to others--especially those whom others don't treat so kind (common among young 20-something men in a work environment). His firm commitment to respect of authority and the avoidance of foolishness, and his servant's heart that puts others first--it gets him promotions at work, and wins the respect of his coworkers continually.

My 6yo started gymnastics this past year. The boys in his class didn't listen, and continually shoved each other for the first place in line. The coach spent more than half the lesson time retrieving the boys from running around, or just trying to get their attention, trying to get them to stop playing around, fighting, and trying to get them to listen and obey.  After that first night, I had a talk with my son (then 5), and laid his ground rules for gymnastics class.  1. Always take the last place in line.  2. Always keep your eyes on your coach, and listen to every word.  3. If the other boys tried to fight, or shove, or be distracting, his job was to put his hand out, silently, in a "stop" motion to the other boy(s), and move closer to his instructor (standing firm in conviction and setting example).  That worked beautifully.  By the third week, the instructor came to me after class and said, "Whatever you're doing to raise your children, keep doing it! I've never had a nicer, more mature, more attentive boy in my class."  And 5yo boys cling to rules, by nature.  My son still does these things every class--even though the other boys have all dropped out and he has been having one-on-one gymnastics coaching!

Anyhoo... coffee's gone. Just sharing my heart because I think it's something that all us mamas wish for in our children.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"No-Planning" Homeschool (Simplifying the Curriculum)

A friend of mine recently posed this question to a homeschool online support group:

 Do you go through those phases of being totally crazed with the desire to plan and plan and plan and then buy and buy and buy - all things SCHOOL?

My answer? 

NOPE. No. Absolutely Not. Never. (For the record, I used to... but that stressed me out too much).

And this week,  Sarah, at Amongst Lovely Things, posted her fifth part to her awesome "Teaching from a State of Rest" series.  It was titled, "How to Simplify the Curriculum."

So, in lieu of leaving inappropriately long comments in either of these places...

I DO have a few examples and some testimony I want to share--as someone who has successfully (so far) homeschooled from birth through college graduation, children of varying personalities and interests.

If you love and live for planning and shopping for your homeschool, and new curriculum just makes you giddy, and gets you inspired, and makes you happy instead of mires you down and overwhelms you... then my testimony is not for you.

If you long to have a school that is simple, and effective, and gets done, and the thought of getting it done without planning or headache sounds like a dream to you... then maybe my story might help you a little bit.

Simplicity has become one area of expertise in my life. I'm addicted to simplicity.  In all areas.  So when it comes to our homeschool, I have learned how to simplify. We do always get it all done--even with my years of chronic illness and hospitalizations interspersed by newborns. We're always "ahead" (by general guidelines).  And, when tested for our required state assessments,  my children ALWAYS test above grade level--above the 90th percentile.  They're not geniuses. I know. I live with the little knuckleheads. Sometimes they can't sit with their behind on a chair for more than ten consecutive seconds--we deal with that, too.  But our curriculum is effective, and doable--it simply gets done.

I have found, that for me, it was worth the time to search for the "best" in curriculum, as in "best" for you and your family. And then STOP LOOKING.  For example, I knew there was a problem with our math when we never got around to it because we never felt like it, and it was tedious enough to cause tears and ruin our day (Saxon).  So, I went to a big convention with the sole purpose of looking at all the math curricula I could find, to see if there was one that suited us better.  That paid off.  That was seven years ago. I found a math that I knew was a wiser choice for us:  more conceptual, more simply written, less tedious repetition. I just knew. A lightbulb went on when looking at it and talking to the author.  I switched. The tears stopped. It instantly quit being a trial or taking a heroic effort to get it done. It has worked for ALL my children regardless of learning style or personality. The math haters have been converted. The math lovers are inspired and flourish. It is GOOD, well-written curriculum, and very easy to work through, one page at a time. I will never have to worry about our math again.  It was worth the time and effort to go find it.  Now the only effort I have to put into planning the subject is simply ordering the next level book when the time comes for each child. (In case you're wondering, it's Making Math Meaningful for grades K-6, then VideoText Interactive for Jr. High/High School).

I have since evaluated every subject, one subject at a time, and I have found and decided on a set curriculum in each subject for every age, Preschool through College.  Things that work for all the kids, match my preferences (flexible, well-written, simple, effective), and cover all the basics for what I feel is wise and gets the job done of preparing my children for success in life. I don't shop any more. I shopped at one point to choose the best for each subject--that took several years to work out, one subject at a time. But now, what we have, I know it works and will continue to work.  It has been worth the time to find it for each subject.  I don't have shelves or cupboards full of unused curriculum, unfinished curriculum, curriculum I thought looked amazing but haven't gotten around to it yet, extra books, kits, resources. That means if I went to clean out our homeschool bookshelves, there would be nothing excessive. Nothing I could get rid of  (This is true. I checked--because I'm nesting. I am looking for things to clean out). Everything is something we use, or is sitting there waiting for the child that will use it when they reach the right level. And I know it works.

And, that doesn't mean I'm not open to change or variations.  My HS daughter--her interests are different than her older brother. She is old enough to add specific classes or activities because we KNOW her "bent." And she is old enough to do them on her own.  And, as I have grown in my faith, and since faith learning is the CORE of our school, those resources and methods have changed, too.

Also, I am aware that times are a-changin', so I am always open to the possibility that I may need to make changes based on what is wise in order to prepare my kids for work, college or life (different core standards on entrance exams or technology changes).  Should I need to change or add, I will do the same thing--take the time to find the right stuff. Now... I have the advantage, I have homeschooled kids from birth through college graduation (with another 18 years to go!). Some mamas just haven't had to walk through all the years of learning yet.

Sarah's first point was to "Do Less." I would add, "Have Less." I am a big proponent of simplifying--not just curriculum. My entire home management:  toys, wardrobe, stuff of any kind,  kitchen (organization, shopping, groceries, menu), activities.  For school, this means I do NO lesson planning. Our english, math, science, and other subjects are simple, but well-written student books that we can work through one page at a time, with no teacher's manual.  We simply get up, and "do the next page."  Most days we get up with the intention to have breakfast then sit and do school.  Some days, that doesn't happen due to life. But with this method, we are always ahead, and with the simple curriculum, we are almost always done before noon with all of it (preschool, 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade--the 9th grader works independently and marches to her own beat--my job is to encourage her to plan and prioritize her own work).

Another example of how I "Do Less:" I don't teach US or World history before high school.  Just Bible history, because that is my opinion of what is wise and important.  The littles get all the OT and NT history (as their Bible lesson, 2 for 1).  We do geography ONCE starting in 4th grade (hard to understand history if you can't picture where in the world it happened), finishing after a 2-year study by completing the A Beka Grade 9 World Map Studies Workbook (and the Geography credit for HS transcript is done forever).  In Jr. High I have them plot a framework timeline of important people and events in world history. Then, I have my kids study history ONCE...

ONE TIME... high school, at the high school level, with a simple but effective curriculum, and study it well enough to get college credit, too (to avoid having to repeat it for Gen Ed credits in college).  Seems wise to me. Now... If I had a child who obviously LIVED and BREATHED history, that plan would change for that child--but it wouldn't take any effort on my part, really, now would it? 

Sarah's second excellent point was to "Integrate." I am the one who decides on a day-to-day basis, discerning based on time, interest level, and other reasonable factors (such as whether or not I'm throwing up because I'm pregnant),  if we are going to look up additional info on the internet, find an extra worksheet, use info from one subject for the grammar or writing assignment, find a documentary, go to the library, take a field trip, make a recipe, do an experiment, or decide to do an art project--based on what I read into the interest level of those involved. I am the one who decides if their writing in their Bible journal was good enough to count as their penmanship, or their reading in a different lesson was enough to count as "reading" for the day. I also have lots of "How-to-Draw" books, and we integrate drawing and sketching skills into our Bible, science, history, and other subjects as we can.

We have less "toy" toys, but lots of good books, puzzles, games, Legos, blocks, and art supplies. When the kids have an appetite for this type of play, then lots of the reading, logic, problem-solving, math concepts, and creativity takes care of itself, doesn't it?  I can check off "reading" every single day based not only on our read-aloud, but also because they have learned to just read as an activity. Yes, that meant getting the occasional joke book or Garfield comic book from the library to help build the appetite, but the book basket is full of good things for their learning, mind and soul.

Speaking of that... my littles are upstairs playing "Lego Battle"-- a game they invented on their own, working together (integration, right?)  But it's 10:00 a.m.  I'm now going to call them down to do their school... and we will be done before noon! Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, illness, or other unexpected surprises--we all know how many forms those can take!

Happy homeschooling to you all. I pray your efforts are blessed. Truly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Happy 15th to my Favorite Daughter

An amazing and beautiful girl who has been such a blessing and source of grace in my life. She is sweet, joyful, funny, delightful, talented (oh... what a singer!), smart, and really good company! One of my best friends.

So... she'll be my favorite daughter for 7 more weeks, anyway, until her first sister is born!

Baby Stepping into Lent for the First Time

Baby Steps.

It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself, one day at a time.  One tiny step at a time.
--Dr. Leo Marvin (What About Bob?)

Yes. Lent can be a bit overwhelming for someone new to the celebration.  Granted, I've been "running  with the big dogs," learning  about faith, liturgy, and holy living by reading Catholic mama blogs--ladies for whom practicing Lent with their whole family is a lifestyle and longtime tradtion.

For me?  Oh! How would I even start?  My children don't even know the meaning of the word! 

Well... Here are my baby steps.  Just two.

1.  Remember each morning what the Lent season is all about, and the purpose for participating in it, in faith:
  • Mortification of the  flesh. Denying fleshly lusts and accepting  suffering to help me learn to bear the wounds and suffering of Jesus.
  • Seek ways to purify my heart, deepen my understanding, strengthen my spirit, and be filled with the Spirit.
  • Focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, praise, and thanksgiving.
I don't dare to make plans for all 40 days. That is not baby steps. It is too overwhelming, and beyond my understanding of how to glorify God. But I can commit to meditating each morning on this season, and writing down the things I will do, one day at a time, to participate in this.  Probably abstaining from sugar (except in the event of a pregnancy hypoglycemic attack, in which I must drink soda and eat candy quickly).  But this morning, that meant not adding any to my cereal.  Writing down prayers and thanks. More study time to build faith.

2. Family devotion.  I do a Bible devotion with my littles each day as our first lesson of the day.  I don't think it's any coincidence that we are smack-dab in the middle of studying "The Life of Christ."  I just signed up for emails from Ann Voskamp so that I can download her free eBook  for family devotions during Lent--which chronicles the life of Christ. It follows the exact same format we used to celebrate our first official family Advent, yet is only 17 devotions. And feeds our preferred art-geared school methods. Not overwhelming. Baby Steps.

But that also means signing off on this post and being even more "giving" and available to the needy that God has placed in my life--namely, my husband and children today.

Okay. Update.  I sat with my three boys to do their devotions for school today. I pointed out that it was Ash Wednesday, and the first day of Lent. I explained what it was all about--all new information.  I explained "almsgiving," prayer, charity, and fasting.  I explained "giving something up" to show God He is more important to us.  I gave them some examples. I explained how some people give up sweets, or soda, or the iPod or video games... by this time their eyeballs were bugging out.  I told them that each day for the next 40 days we were going to honor the Life of Christ, and talk about something we could do to grow in our faith.

Without missing a beat, my 6yo says, "I'll give up school!"  Then my 4yo says, "I'll give up naps!"

I suggested that today, they each choose a toy to give away, to practice being more "giving." (Almsgiving).  Then I suggested that we pray an extra prayer at the end of our lesson. Then I hinted that tomorrow maybe we'll think about giving up the iPod turn for the day, or maybe eating their cereal without sugar, or their PBJ without the J.  I told them we'll talk about it each day and decide on something to help us grow in faith.

Baby steps.

But... for the record, they were willing to give up school for the whole 40 days--without any hesitation at all!