Monday, August 30, 2010


1: the raising of a child by its parents

Sometimes I wish I could just do the fun part of parenting.  You know the kind I mean:

Celebrating your child's birthday...
...with a party where your child delights in her friends and they delight in her. allowing all of the sugary treats that are on the NO list - cupcakes from The Cupcake Collection, Sprite, homemade lemon bars, brownies from Sweet 16th.  (But even then, not all at the same time.) reminding yourself of why she is so very challenging and so very rewarding

Celebrating the 9th Birthday
Sharing thoughtful conversations...
...about the book The Secret Garden and what the perfect garden would contain
...about the best way to take in the view, whether with a cup of coffee, a good book or friends in tow
...about what it means to grow up and whether the freedoms adults have outweigh their responsibilities
...and if those freedoms aren't worth it, what age would you freeze yourself if you could?

The View that Prompted a Thoughtful Conversation
Playing a good game of Hug Kiss or Tickle: You may be unfamiliar with this game since game K and I invented it.  Here's how you play:
...say the title slowly, with a voice suited to building anticipation
...let your child choose one
...smother child with kisses, swaddle her in hugs or consume her little body with tickling hands
...laugh with said child
...always, always play rounds in multiples of three, so that mom gets a fair share of hugs, kisses and tickles

I wish I could do just these things and let go of all the rest and they would turn into the great women I see lurking beneath the surface of these little girl bodies.  But if all I did was celebrate, talk and play, they would very likely turn into undisciplined, spoiled women with no one around to enjoy the great potential they hold inside.  And that would be a tragedy.  So I'll keep working away at trying to be the best mom I can be.  But I secretly look forward to being a grandmother when, as I see it, you really do get to just do the good stuff.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


:the work (and worship) of the people

Today at church, we had an instructional liturgy.  This was great, as it allowed our family (new to Anglicanism) to learn why we do what we do each Sunday morning.  Throughout the service, the verger explained portions of the service to us.  I learned a lot, but one thing that stuck with me was something the rector said: that liturgy is the work of the people.  It's not the work of the staff, the vestry, the "people in funny clothes" as he said.  It's my job as a part of worship to work out my salvation (with fear and trembling).  Now, I must confess that this process of working it out is not easy - or pretty.  In fact, I was brought face to face with just how messy it is this morning.

Before leaving for service this morning, I was reading in the current Bible study I'm doing.  The study is called Breaking Free and my hope is that this study will show me the things in my life and in my heart that keep me from experiencing God's freedom in my daily life.  So this morning, I was making notes about some of the things I've realized take me captive.  The first was one I've known for a while: fear.  I am afraid of many things on a daily basis.  A simple question to a stranger can cause anxiety, especially if I fear the question will elicit a less than favorable response.  Fear of conflict occupies a very large space in the miasma of fear in my heart.  The other thing that I've recently been acutely aware of is my fear of what other people think of me. 
Kids being kids, part one - a picture worth framing
Friday evening, J had a fantasy football draft, so the girls and I went to Cheekwood to see the Chihuly exhibit at night (OK, they're young, it was more like Chihuly at dusk).  We're accustomed to being at Cheekwood on a weekday when there are few other people there and most of those people are families similar to ours.  That's not the demographics of Chihuly at Night on a Friday.  Instead of moms dressed in skirts, t-shirts and sandals, there were silver haired dames in starched linen pants.  Instead of children roaming the lawns, there were couples picnicking.  And they were picnicking on blankets, using fiesta ware and stemware, not Chinet and Solo cups. 
Chihuly at Dusk - It really is stunning
There's nothing wrong with any of that, but it made me more tense than I normally am during a Cheekwood trip.  One thing I love about Cheekwood is letting my children roam free.  B especially loves investigating plants up close, chasing down squirrels, picking up frogs and leaping over streams.  This doesn't pair well with the Friday night crowd.  Nor does it pair well with a mom who is fearful that those who see my children behaving like (gasp!) children will judge me and find me lacking as a mom.  I left Cheekwood embarrassed at how my daughters had behaved and ashamed of myself for feeling that way.

Kids being kids, part two - climbing on an old garden door

The night at Cheekwood followed close on the heels of another difficult parenting moment.  B had a rough night Wednesday and her behavior was, in fact, so poor that J and I decided to cancel a portion of her birthday party.  Just days before, we sent out invitations for her friends to join us for dinner, bowling and a sleep-over.  But her behavior left us feeling like a big consequence was necessary and cutting the birthday party short felt like the right repercussion.  I hated telling the parents that dinner and bowling were still on, but the sleepover was no longer on the agenda.  Their responses were uniformly supportive.  One mom even told me she admired my willingness to make the hard decision.  But I hated to do it. I hated to disappoint B.  I hated to change our plans.  I hated for these other parents to know I have a daughter who misbehaves.  (Crazy, right?  Like their children never misbehave?  I know, but rational thoughts don't apply to these fears of mine.)

And then came this morning.  J wasn't feeling well, so he stayed home from church.  It was only after we arrived that I realized how challenging this would make my morning: instructional liturgy means no Sunday School for the children. Even 6 year old K was expected to attend service with me.  I took a deep breath and plunged ahead.  I led the three girls to the area where we normally sit, but B said, "I want to sit closer."  Since B is generally the most challenging of my daughters when it comes to church, I figured it was wise to follow her lead.  Where did she lead us?  To the front row.  Not a row near the front.  The first row in the sanctuary.  As we sat down, I leaned over to B and whispered, "Since you want to sit in the very front, I expect you to be on your best behavior."  "OK," she replied.  Easier said than done.  I didn't keep count of the number of times I had to ask B or K to change their behavior, but I did note in my journal during the service:

Doing the work of our salvation is not easy.  Knowing that others' opinions of me are too important is one thing - being broken of this is another as I stand/sit in the front row and watch my daughters sit, stand and squirm in front of the body of Christ.  Pride is ugly and it lives in me.

Yet the key to breaking this bondage of fear in my heart was contained right there in the service:  "The Lord is my helper.  What can man do to me?"  So I'll keep preparing my heart to know more of what God wants for me and I'll keep trying to respond to his promptings.  I'll keep hoping to break free of bonds that should not enslave me.  I'll try to remind myself that my daughters are children - whether at Cheekwood or St. Bartholomew's.  And it's OK for them to act like children.  If I want them to be who they are, I shouldn't expect anything less.

Kids being kids, part three - inspecting the water lilies

Friday, August 27, 2010


1 a: a prescribed guide for conduct or action
b: the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members
c: an accepted procedure, custom, or habit

Are you a rule-follower?  Or do you look for little ways to break life's rules?   I recently read a very good book.  It was beautifully written, flawlessly executed and had a gripping plot.  But I found myself comparing it to my favorite book: a book with less flowing descriptions, fewer classic lines, a style all its own.  One of the many things I love about The Book Thief is that the author breaks the rules.  He plays with narrative technique, bends the rules of grammar, plays with readers' expectations about how a story should progress and is an expert at making abstract concepts concrete.  I love the story of the book thief, but even more, I love the way her story is told.  I remember reading it the first time and feeling such freedom.  This book taught me to tell the story the way it needed to be told - regardless of the rules.

The Book Thief

You see, I think I'm a rule breaker at heart.  I'm not your classic rebel, but the older (wiser?) I've become, the more I've resisted blindly following the rules.  I have a deep desire to carve my own path, even if it means hacking my way through the weeds, seeing the occasional snake or stepping in a hidden puddle.  A character on a television show I enjoy recently said that the reason countries who were formerly part of the British empire excel is because the British imposed order.  Are rules really the foundation for success?  Or are they stumbling blocks to creativity, a multi-faceted society and freedom?  I really don't know.

I'm certainly not an anarchist.  I pay taxes (well, my husband does since I make no money!), I drive under the speed limit, we have order in our home.  But I think it's worth pondering the role that rules play in my life versus the role that rules should play in my life.  I would never suggest that we should each do what is right in our own eyes - that is a recipe for disaster.  But where do we impose or follow rules simply because they make our lives easier, not because they are right?

I've sometimes caught myself telling my children to stop doing something not because it was wrong (hurtful, unkind, unsafe), but because it was inconvenient to me (loud, annoying, would make me late).  I'm not sure that's right.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's wrong.  I don't mean I shouldn't ever ask K to talk more quietly, I shouldn't ever ask A to clean her room, I shouldn't ever ask B to take her shoes and socks to her room.  None of these infractions break the rules of our home, but I do think it's OK to encourage personal responsibility and appropriate boundaries.  Where I think the path veers into a territory I dislike is when these common courtesies overshadow other aspects of my relationship with my daughters.  I don't want to be the enforcer.  I want to be their mother.  And while I think it's perfectly acceptable for me to express my needs and desires to them (being a doormat of a mom does not teach them a lesson I want them to learn), I want to be careful not to hand out consequences based on actions that are inconvenient, but not wrong.

As I've pondered this, I've reflected on the difference between guidelines, rules and laws.  In my mind, guidelines are strong suggestions, rules are man-made and laws are God-given.  The definitions, by the way, do not fully affirm these distinctions.  Rule and law are very similar words by definition.  I like guidelines best because they allow some interpretation by the participants while still providing clear information about expectations.  Perhaps I classify rules as man-made because that gives me the freedom to bend or break rules as I see fit.  But I wouldn't argue that it's ever OK for me to bend God's laws.  I just think there are an awful lot of rules our there that go far beyond those laid out in the ten commandments and well beyond the two laws Jesus says are most important.  Love God?  I'm trying to do that well.  Love others?  Yes, with God's help.  But no running in the hallways?  I'm pretty sure there are enough natural consequences to take care of that one.

Finding their own path

I guess my stance on rules comes down to this:  I want to be moving towards mystery, not rigidity.  I think this is consistent with Jesus' reply on what matters:  love is one great big mystery.  And I long for my children to do the same.  I hope they will embrace the things in life we will never understand.  I want them to trust their inner voice even when it contradicts a rule set by someone in power somewhere.  I think they were each made without a mold and I hope they will refuse to conform to rules that will alter the shape of who they are, even if that rocks the boat sometimes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


1: that cannot be described
2: surpassing description

I rarely regret that I've limited myself to one word titles for my blog posts.  Sometimes it's a challenge to find exactly the right word to convey what I'm thinking.  Other times a word leaps out, wanting to be explored.   More often than not, I'm thankful for the discipline and focus it provides to my writing.  But on a day like today, it's a true challenge.  One word to describe B?  That's nearly impossible.  I've tossed around several options: strong? complicated? varied?  What one word can encapsulate a child who is


As I've written this post and searched through our photos of this daughter I love, I've decided I do have one word to describe her:  MINE.  She's many other things - most of them wonderful beyond words - but she is and always will be mine. I'm so thankful she is.

Happy 9th Birthday B!

Monday, August 23, 2010


: an establishment that provides lodging and usually meals, entertainment, and various personal services for the public

Do you remember how much fun it was to stay in a hotel when you were a child? As a part of recent travels, we spent three nights in hotels with our daughters and their delight over the experience was fun to witness. Our first hotel had an elevator with a glass wall and a chandelier lit up and visible from said elevator. When you are ten, nine or six, it doesn’t get much better than this.

After a breakfast featuring a waffle made my an eight year old, powdered sugar doughnuts for each daughter, coffee for the mom and Mountain Dew for the dad, we obliged our daughters and rode the elevator all the way to the top, just so they could watch all the way up and all the way down.

The next night (at a different hotel) offered similar fun times. A and B shared a bed with minimal fighting and were even considerate of J, K and I when they woke early the next morning. Instead of waking us all up, they crept into the bathroom with their books, climbed into the bathtub and read. When tired of reading, they grabbed pop tarts and ate them in the bathtub, too. If I’d remembered my camera, I would certainly have snapped a shot of the hotel bathtub, littered with two pop tart wrappers and two books just before J emptied it to have his shower.

While J showered, B devised a game for the hotel room: she took the four extra large square pillows from the hotel beds and stacked them one on top of the other. Once they were stable, she backed up to the wall and got a running start before leaping onto the tower of pillows. Needless to say, her sisters quickly followed in her footsteps. I watched, amused – and thankful that we were on the second floor, with no one directly below us to be bothered by the thumping of girl bodies onto the hotel floor strewn with pillows.

Pillow jumping was quickly replaced with pool jumping as the girls enjoyed first the indoor and then the outdoor pool. Two pools in one place?! This might just be as good as mom letting us have doughnuts for breakfast!

One of the fun things about the ages my children now are is seeing them take joy in the small pleasures in life – whether it’s a doughnut for breakfast or an extra large, comfy hotel pillow. It’s easy for me to miss the magic of something as simple as a hotel stay. I’m so thankful that my daughters’ delight gave me eyes to see the beauty of the new and unusual, if only for a little while. I have a feeling I’ll look forward to our next hotel stay in anticipation of seeing their joy yet again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


:solemn promise to do something or to live or act a certain way

I used to be one of those people who thought it was rather silly to cry at weddings. Then I had three daughters. Now, every wedding I attend is through the lens of a mother who will one day witness a ceremony binding her child to another. We recently attended a wedding: it was simple, beautiful, authentic and fun – just like the couple being wed. One of the pastors officiating the ceremony used lovely metaphors to describe the process of marriage: dance and architecture. She talked about how with dance, you must know your own steps, stay in your own space, improvise when necessary and merge your style with that of the other dancer(s) and the choreographer. She also drew parallels between the design of a building, the importance of its foundation and how collaboration can enhance a structure’s ultimate form. These apt word pictures were drawn directly from the lives of the bride and groom, but were applicable and relevant to all in attendance. In closing, the pastor advised the newlyweds to re-read one of the passages from their ceremony when the dance of their marriage yielded missteps or the blueprint didn’t show them the way out of a conflict. The passage was a well known one: 1 Corinthians 13.

And then came their vows:

In the presence of God and all those present here today, I give myself to you. I promise to love and sustain you in the covenant of marriage, from this day forward in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow. I promise to love you without reservation, to encourage you and to comfort you. I promise to laugh with you, to cry with you, to grow with you, to always be open and honest with you and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.

As they repeated these vows, I whispered to J, “This is what they should go back and read. Because when you’re saying your vows, you don’t really believe the sickness will come or that sorrow could ever be a part of your life together. You’re too wrapped up in the joy to see that coming.

Sounds like a blog post to me,” he whispered back. I spent the rest of the night off and on thinking about vows and their importance, mentally composing this post long before I had the chance to actually sit down and type it up.

I love what these vows promise: specific actions (to laugh, to cry), specific ways to care for each other (encouragement, comfort), all no matter the circumstances (sickness, health, plenty, want, joy, sorrow). As I watched the bride and groom dance, I found myself thinking that I hoped my daughters wouldn’t say their vows too soon. This was perhaps an odd thought since J and I married young – I was twenty-three, he only twenty-one. I’ve never regretted marrying early because I married the right man. I’ve loved him day in, day out through fourteen years of marriage and I love my life with him. But do I want my daughters to marry that young?

At which point I realize what I really have known all along – that who they say their vows to is far more important than when they say them. Just this weekend, my mother-in-law was sharing that one of her criteria for a boyfriend was that he had to be the kind of boy who would swing on a playground. She didn’t want to date someone who wasn’t fun. Ten year old A piped up, “Yep. That’s my criteria, too.” I laughingly replied  that she should probably create her own criteria instead of using someone else’s. I told her I was very thankful I’d managed to find a man who loves books as much (if not more) than I do.

I hope each of my daughters will have their own criteria for what they want in a man. I hope they find someone who loves them for who they are, someone who pushes, prods and encourages them to be who they were made to be, someone who thrills their hearts and brings them joy. I hope they’ll find someone worth vowing to spend their life with. But it’s totally fine with me if we wait a few decades for that to happen…

K Dancing at her uncle and aunt's wedding, 2006

Saturday, August 21, 2010


4: the emotional or moral as distinguished from the intellectual nature

I got to spend some time on Thursday soaking up wisdom - from a mom (T) who has home schooled for fifteen years and her daughter (B), the product of said home schooling. B was once K's dance teacher is now starting her second year in a BFA program at Fordham University, in conjunction with Alvin Ailey Dance. I had a ton of questions for them - everything from how to know when to get serious about dance to how dance meshes with home schooling. The overwhelming impression I was left with? Trust my heart.

The vast majority of the information that these kind women shared with me was not surprising:
Q: How do I help A avoid the pitfalls of eating disorders as a dancer?
A: Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. Help her build up her internal confidence for when she's faced with a teacher who wants her to be thinner - because it will happen sooner or later.
Q: How will we know when it's time to get serious about dance?
A: Keep following her lead.
Q: Should I ever give A advice on performing or should I just keep being her cheerleader?
A: Be her cheerleader. Let her teachers do the rest.

I don't have a burning desire to have a daughter who is a dancer. I do have a burning desire to have a daughter who is confident in pursuing her passions. This conversation reminded me that my factual knowledge about A's passion is far less important than my heart knowledge of her as her mother. I have a desire to help her become who she was made to be and that doesn't mean that I need to know the different approaches to teaching classical ballet. I just need to know A and stay in relationship with her to know whether her dance classes are filling her emotional tank or depleting it.

I think one reason I seek out people like B and T is that I'm more comfortable with my intellectual side than my emotional side.  I want facts to confirm or deny what my heart tells me.  This can be wise - or it can be treacherous.  Because facts about what school of dance is best for one child might not be factual for my daughter, but I can probably trust my gut reaction to seeing pictures of the school's dancers in their recital costumes.  I want to learn to rest in the fact that I know my daughters far better than anyone else on the planet, with the exception of J.  I want to learn to use knowledge to supplement what my heart tells me, not to direct my heart.  Hopefully, that will teach my daughters by example to trust their own hearts when faced with whatever decisions await them on their paths.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


:the elongated wormlike larva of a butterfly or moth

Last fall, B found a monarch caterpillar.  She loved him and named him Artie (after Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl #1)).  She cared so much for him that we borrowed a butterfly habitat from her second grade teacher so that we could watch him transform into a butterfly.  B knew exactly what to do for this caterpillar:  she knew which leaves he would eat, she knew when it was time for him to make his chrysalis, she knew it would take a while for him to emerge and she was completely willing to let him go when the time was right.

Last week, K found a caterpillar.  A different, unknown kind of caterpillar.  She wanted to keep him.  B now owns a butterfly habitat (thank you Uncle J and Aunt A), so we had a place for him to live.  K found him on a branch, so we knew which leaves he would eat.  We looked him up online to see what kind of butterfly he would turn into and found out he'll eventually be a moth, not a butterfly.  K wanted to keep him anyway.  Like B, she named her caterpillar Artie (which pretty much infuriated B, but that's another story).

Unlike B, who took care of Artie the First, K is a little afraid of her caterpillar.  She doesn't want to collect the leaves or put them into the habitat for him. She wants me to do that.  She certainly doesn't want to clean caterpillar poop out of the habitat or remove the branches after Artie the Second is done munching.  But she still cares about the caterpillar.  When K found Artie the Second, he was bright green with yellow spots.  A few days into our caretaking, he turned a brown color.  I, of course, was afraid we'd killed him.  But it turns out he was just changing colors.  He's still hanging out days after his color swap, gulping down leaves like nobody's business and showing absolutely no signs of heading into that chrysalis.  Which, frankly, it a bit of a problem since we leave in about three hours to go out of town for the weekend.

We can't exactly bring him with us.  We probably have room for him in the van, but where would we find the right leaves?  What if he decided to form his chrysalis on the trip and got knocked loose?  What if my husband threw me out of the van for suggesting he drive twenty hours with an insect on board?  (He's not a bug guy, this man of mine.)

I jokingly said, "Too bad we can't find someone to babysit for us for the weekend."  At which point J offered a fabulous solution: "You know, I think O is the kind of child who would gladly babysit a caterpillar."  He was right.  Even better, O's mom is a fun, engaging mom who has gone on many an adventure with her children.  And I had a feeling she wouldn't think I was completely crazy for asking her to feed our bug for a weekend.  I was right. 

K will be so relieved since I warned her this morning, "Honey, if Artie doesn't make his cocoon before we leave, we'll have to let him go.  He can't make it all weekend without us and we can't take him with us to the wedding."  She said OK, but I was envisioning heart breaking sobs, pitiful tears and/or numerous complaints when the time came to actually put Artie back in our yard.

I'm thankful once again for the opportunity to see a life transformed.  I'm thankful that K watches her big sister B and learns from her.  I'm thankful for a husband who thinks creatively and a friend who is willing to babysit a larvae for a weekend.  Life is good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


1 a: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body

2 a: the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual

Charlotte Mason wrote that Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life. I don't know enough about home schooling philosophies to know whether Charlotte Mason and I are kindred spirits.  I am more concerned with finding the right path for A and I than I am in finding someone else's path to follow.  That being said, I have enjoyed thinking about how atmosphere and discipline relate to education.  And I can say up front that education as a life is a concept that resonates immediately with me.  If life is not for learning, why live it?  Even the primary definition of life echoes this - dead people, dead things can't learn.  That's one criteria that separates them from live beings.  And I would argue that the experiences that make up the existence of an individual are worthless if they aren't teaching the individual something.

Even before starting to home school a few days ago, long before I considered it as a method for educating my daughter, I thought of education as life and life as education.  I can remember A as a baby, tucked in the back seat of the car in her infant carrier.  We drove past something of interest and I said to J, "I can't wait until she's old enough for me to show things like that to her."  I have no recollection of what it was that day that I wanted to share with my tiny daughter, but I remember the ache with great precision.  The ache to show her the beautiful things of life, the ache to see the things she sees and hear about them, the ache to teach her and learn from her.  That's what life is all about. 

That day is long past.  I no longer have a child in a car seat and even little K will move out of a booster in a few years.  But I still ache to teach them things - especially to share the most beautiful things I've learned with them.  While I was writing this post, A asked me when she can read The Book Thief.  I'm in no hurry to let her read this book.  Not because she can't understand it.  She could.  Not because the writing is too hard for her.  It isn't.  I don't want her to read it yet because I don't think she's emotionally ready.  And reading a great book too early mutes its impact on your life.  So the challenge in making education a part of our life doesn't lie in finding ways to teach things.  There are more opportunities to teach things than I have the energy to act upon.  The key lies in teaching the right things at the right moments.  And this often looks very different at home than it does at school.

I don't have a list of skills or parameters that I want A to have reached by the end of the year.  What I do have is a desire to capture teachable moments - whether they are in the kitchen, cutting an onion, mixing honey mustard and prepping a chicken to roast, or in the car, discussing how the history we've studied so far relates to our lives today.  Because if we aren't learning together, educating each other, we're not really living.  That's not just true during this year of home schooling with A, but with each of my daughters and always.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c: self-control

As I mentioned in another recent post, I read an article that talked about education being an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.  OK, I actually didn't read the article.  I just read the title and decided I needed some time to think about these concepts for myself before reading the article.  I've now home schooled for an entire half-day and I can already see at least one way discipline will be a part of our year.

Some components of discipline are fairly easy for A and I.  We're pretty orderly in our conduct.  We both like prescribed patterns of behavior.  And self-control?  Pretty good at that, too (unless books are involved, then self-control flies out the window).  And I can already see that it will be easy to be disciplined about spending time studying history.  After just one day, A has articulated several key points of the Reformation based on her reading.  Here's a conversation we had at the end of the day while we waited in the air conditioned van for as long as possible before standing outside to wait for B and K in the sultry heat:

Me: "So, how do you think today went?"
A: "Good."
I think: Come up with a better question! One that won't allow a one word answer!
I say: "What did you learn in the history chapter you read?"
A: "Well, they really didn't want the Bible translated into English."
Me: "Why?"
A: "To keep people ignorant."
Me: "Why did they want to keep people ignorant?"
A: "So that people wouldn't know how ignorant they were."
This is not the answer I was anticipating.  Earlier that day, we had talked about the Pope selling Cardinal, Bishop and Arch Bishop positions for his own financial gain. I was anticipating something more along these lines.  So my follow up question was pretty honest:
Me: "Really?"
A: "Yeah.  A lot of the monks couldn't even read and if anyone could read the Bible, they'd know the monks weren't able to read it and were making stuff up."

So I've already learned something and clearly A has, too.  She's a natural at history - making mental leaps and connecting the dots in ways that amaze me, especially when coming from a ten year old.  I told her exactly this following our conversation and said, "Yet you still have to practice your math.  Your mind can do that, too.  Even if you don't like it as much.  I could see you slowing down as you did your worksheet today.  You started out pretty quick and got slower and slower."  A laughed in response and then groaned a bit when I told her we were going to spend the next three minutes quizzing on multiplication facts before getting her sisters.  She went along without complaint and got (most of) the answers correct, if not as quickly as I'd like.

Covering history will require discipline this year:  the self-control kind.  We'll both have to be careful to leave enough time for other subjects (which is why we do math first).  Covering math will require a different kind of discipline - the training, correcting and molding kind.  I don't have high hopes that A will one day be a mathematician.  But I want to equip her to be confident that she can cut a recipe in half, calculate a tip in her head, check unit prices in the store.

I will also need discipline this year.  Having a headache on day one of the school year showed me how challenging it's going to be to teach A when my head hurts.  I'll have to push through anyway.  Whether that means creating a headache back-up plan or cutting one subject out of the day because we've gone slower through my pain, I'm not sure.  But I do know that discipline doesn't happen overnight and won't happen at all if not modeled in my own behavior.

Friday, August 13, 2010


:not adequate :insufficient

Words, as much as I love them, are sometimes inadequate.  Today is J's birthday and I've pondered what to write to honor this special day.  Do I write about what he means to me?  What he means to our girls?  What I love most about him?

Words are inadequate to paint a proper portrait of this man who loves his work, loves his family, loves his wife, loves God. 

Words can't show or tell how much he means to me - or to A, B and K. 

Words can't convey how often he puts others before himself and loves us all so well.

Words are insufficient to honor this day in the way it deserves.  Instead, we tried to show it with some beef brisket, roasted vegetables, cupcakes from The Cupcake Collection (key lime for the birthday boy) and small presents to show him we know him and love him.  Those things don't quite do it either, but we had so much fun decorating the table, making a card and wrapping presents with him in mind.

Since my words are inadequate to mark this occasion, I'll just have to do my best to live and love in a way that makes up for the times when words fail me.

The man I love

Thursday, August 12, 2010


1 a: settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions b: something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things
2: a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial

I sometimes thing our greatest strengths are also our strongest weaknesses.  One of the things I love most about my daughter B is her unwillingness to compromise on the important things in life:  how she spends her time, where her energy goes and, most importantly, who she is. I truly admire all of these traits in her.  Since she was very young, I've sensed such a strength inside her.  It's like she's known from the start exactly who she was made to be and I've prayed all along that I will be able to train her, guide her and parent her without breaking her will.  Because her will is a beauty to behold and I have no doubt it will serve her tremendously well later in life.

But this same will of hers can be selfish, stubborn and unyielding.  B had a friend come over to spend the night earlier this week and it was apparent to me how difficult it can be to befriend this child of mine.  She knows exactly what she wants and what she wants to do and if it doesn't coincide with what her guest wants - well, that's just too bad.  Ahhh!  B is not unkind (though her sisters might tell you otherwise), but she is sometimes (often?) oblivious to the needs and desires of others.  I saw the conflict between she and her friend and I tried to help.  I suggested she do what her friend wanted right then and could do what she wanted after her friend left.  B acquiesced fairly graciously and enjoyed the remainder of her friend's time with us.  But I know with certainty this will not be the last time I have to help B see things from someone else's perspective.  I was left wondering how to teach this child to compromise. 

It's not that I don't know how to compromise - I am the master of compromise.  I've spent so much of my life wanting to be liked, desiring to be loved, craving acceptance that I've been willing to compromise over and over - and not just the mutual concession type of compromise.  No, I've been willing to concede to derogatory versions of myself in order to get along and get by.  I'm trying to get over that and the last thing I want to do is teach B that compromise means she needs to be less than her full self.

So how does a parent walk the line between encouraging a child to think of others and concede some points in the small things in order to never compromise on the big things?

As J and I talked through this a bit last night, he commented, "This is when it would be really helpful to have a friend who's been there."  I don't have a dear friend with a similarly strong (yet strongly selfish child) whom I can call and ask about this.  So if you're reading this and you've addressed it with your own child - or your parents addressed it particularly well with you - please share.  I'd love advice on how to protect the core of who B is from ever having to be compromised.  And I desire to help her extend that same grace to others.  Because she really is an amazing human being.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


3 : a surrounding influence or environment

I recently came across an article on a particular type of home schooling (if you don't home school, let me assure you there is a whole language out there that will sound foreign the first time it touches your ears).  The article was on the Charlotte Mason style of home schooling.  I didn't get past the title before stopping to ponder:  Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.  I still haven't read the article because I wanted to think for myself about what these three words atmosphere, discipline and life mean. 

Atmosphere is a great word to ponder.  It's ever-present (literally, since the primary definition relates to the air we breathe), but that makes it easy to take our atmosphere for granted, to not spend any time or thought making sure our atmosphere is one that we actually want around us.  Which is sad since an atmosphere is a "surrounding influence."  Having recently had our kitchen renovated, I've given a fair amount of thought to what I want the atmosphere of our home to be.  It's been helpful to try to articulate what I want people to feel when they enter our home and what I want us to feel as we live here.

Before we started our renovation, I met with a kitchen planner who helped us plan the lay-out to move our kitchen from one with five doors and no cabinet space to one with two doors and far more functionality.  As I talked with the planner, she asked lots of questions about what I envisioned for the kitchen.  One thing that came up was that I didn't want our kitchen to feel formal.  I wanted lots of light.  I wanted comfort.  This translated into light cabinets instead of dark ones, honed counter tops instead of polished ones.  This was especially important with our kitchen since it is, in my opinion, the heart of our home.  It's literally the room where our nourishment originates, so I wanted the kitchen's design to reflect our heart for the atmosphere of our home.

An Atmosphere Where Caterpillars Can Live on the Kitchen Counter

Like our kitchen, I want our home to feel welcoming, inviting, comfortable. I want people to feel like they can kick their shoes off or keep them off, stand or sit, talk or listen.  I want our home to be a place where people can be themselves.  I've been to homes - and you probably have, too - that are beautifully decorated, but so put together that I immediately feel like I need to be on my best behavior.  (And I won't even go into how I feel in these homes when my children are with me!)  I don't want people to be on their best behavior in my house - I want them to be their normal, everyday selves.

A relaxed breakfast atmosphere...

It's not terribly surprising that I would want our home to be a place where people can be themselves since that's one of my primary goals for our family - that A, B and K would be exactly who they are meant to be, with no outsider, including me, telling them who to be.

So when I think about how atmosphere relates to home schooling A, it seems clear that one goal should be educating her in a way that encourages her to be who she is and who she is becoming.  This is an encouraging thought because it has been central to my idea of home schooling all along.  In fact, our entire history plan has been created and centered around A's love of dance.  Ballet was invented in the renaissance, so that seems like a good place to start our history studies.  When I worked last weekend on planning for the year, this idea came through loud and clear.  My mission said, in part, "To equip A to fulfill her personal mission in life."  My vision includes, "A confident A who knows academics, but more importantly know her heart..."

How can I foster an atmosphere that enables these things?  I don't think the answer has much to do with improving my decorating skills or keeping a cleaner kitchen floor.  It has everything to do with balance: balancing a neat home and a family who enjoys being together, balancing school work and time connecting, balancing learning from books and learning from life.  Now to live in a way that is consistent with the atmosphere I want.  A bit harder than writing about it...

Monday, August 9, 2010


2 c: a detailed formulation of a program of action d: goal, aim

Last Thursday, a friend shared a technique that has worked for her this summer with her daughters to keep them engaged and the bickering at a minimum:  she makes a plan for the day for each of them.  She gave me a few examples and I decided to give it a try on Friday.  We had friends coming over for lunch on Sunday and I was spending Friday night and part of Saturday away.  The only way to be ready? Clean on Friday, with all three girls at home with me.  The solution?  Let's try the plan.

A's Plan

So I crafted a simple plan for each girl.  As I was writing out their plans, the house was quiet.  A and B were reading in their rooms and I could hear K conversing with her invisible friends in her room.  So I finished the plans and just left them to their own devices until they asked me for something.  B was the first to ask to watch television (B is usually the first to ask to watch TV), so I presented her with her plan instead.  Not surprisingly, she was resistant at first.  We see over and over again that B loves to be the master of her own time.  This is why she is hesitant to commit to any organized sport or activity - she doesn't want to have to do the same thing each Monday because what if she finds something more interesting to do?  That said, despite her initial resistance, B was the first to get started on her plan.  Her sisters soon followed and it ended up working fairly well.  They were occupied and I got the downstairs clean enough for guests.

One product of the plan:  B's flag of Tanzania

After creating plans for a day for our girls, I retreated with a friend to a Bed and Breakfast to plan for the coming school year.  In the past, this hasn't been necessary because our girls have all attended a nearby public elementary school that we love.  But this year I'll be home schooling A, so when my friend suggested a retreat to pray and plan, I was in.  I've ended this summer feeling stretched thin and unready for the fall.  And I won't have the luxury of getting refreshed the first week or two of school.

My planning time on Saturday went great.  Friday night my friend and I listened to an MP3 on organization by a mom of eight (she ought to know about organization, don't you think?).  Near the end of that time together, my friend said she planned to start Saturday by looking broadly at her mission in home schooling her children.  This resonated with me, so I started Saturday morning by looking for a Bible verse that might guide my efforts to determine my mission, vision and purpose for the coming school year with A.  God was gracious to almost immediately provide two verses that were a great encouragement to me:

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back. 
 I love these verses because they speak directly to why I can home school A.  You'll notice there's nothing in the passage about being a trained educator.  That's a relief since I'm not a trained educator.  But I am one whom the Lord has instructed.  I do know how to rest my weary mind - in his word.  And I have not drawn back, but have been obedient in several difficult things - speaking at a women's retreat, trying to look more directly at my past's role in my current story and home schooling A.  I can only trust that I will not be left alone in the uncharted waters of fifth grade.  God will be right there with me, waking me every morning.

I came home Saturday with a mission, vision and purpose, as well as a tentative weekly schedule and a plan for our first four weeks of school.  I was mightily encouraged and am now more excited than scared to get started later this week.
Our tentative weekly schedule, which with be adapted often and with much joy

It's amusing and encouraging how sometimes God chooses to hammer home a point.  In this case, it wasn't enough to show me the value of planning, to encourage me in my plan and to give me some concrete plans to start with.  On Sunday, the sermon reminded me that no matter how well I plan, it's not my plan that counts.  It's my faith and obedience that count.

I always bring my journal with me to church, so that I can jot down questions, thoughts and lessons to ponder later.  Yesterday's notes contain question after question:
  • Do I believe God will fulfill the most unlikely, outlandish promises he makes?  (Like making Abram a father at age 80+)  
  • How do I try to solve my problems myself?  (Like Abram using Hagar to 'fulfill' God's promise)  
  • What compromises am I willing to make when I should instead sit and wait on the Lord?  
  • Do I trust God or my own wisdom, my own research, my own plan?
In its own way, these questions are reassuring.  I can plan and prepare for home schooling A, for guiding K through first grade, for helping B navigating the murky waters of fourth grade girl relationships.  And I should plan for these things.  But it's not my plan that will determine the success of my efforts.  And frankly, I may not even see the success.  Because as I was reminded in yesterday's service, "your participation, your faith in Jesus Christ matters in ways beyond what you see."  So I'll plan, but I'll try to hold my plans loosely.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


2 : to give attention or solicitude

I've been thinking recently about what it means to take care of myself.  Like many moms all over the country, I am ready for school to start.  My girls are at each other's throats, bickering constantly, stuck inside because of the extreme heat.  Tempers are flaring (mine included) and right now school looks like a light at the end of the tunnel.  The only problem with this line of thinking?  School starts in eight days, but I'll still have a child at home.  What's more, I'll be responsible for teaching her.  Yikes!

I'm not entering into a year of home schooling without thought.  I've pondered the best approach, prayed and thought about what I hope A and I learn from the experience and researched curriculum til my eyes crossed.  But it remains a great big unknown.  Can I explain concepts at A's level?  Will we find joint interest in the subjects that must be covered?  Will we languish in the subjects that do catch our interest, to the detriment of staying on track?  Will I go crazy doing this?

This last question was, in fact, J's biggest concern about our decision to home school A.  I believe his exact wording was, "Can you do this and be nice to the rest of us?"  It's a legitimate question.  I'm a girl who likes her time alone, who likes her quiet, who enjoys her own company.  Last year brought all of this in abundance since it was the first time in several years that I didn't work part time and the first time ever that all three girls were in school.  I won't lie:  I loved it.  I read.  I wrote.  I made time for myself, time to be with friends, time to be with God. 

Looking back, it feels like last year was a provision directly from God.  Had I been working (even part time) when I'd had my surgery in January, it would have made a difficult situation even more stressful.  Even without work beckoning for my attention, I needed lots of help to take care of the girls.  I couldn't drive.  I couldn't cook.  What I could do - and needed desperately to do - was rest.  And last year's circumstances made that possible.  I made the conscious decision in the spring to rest up during April and May so that I could enjoy summer with the girls.  It helped.  We've been able to do all of the activities we wanted - and more.  And my leg has held up well.  I believe this is true in part because I took care of myself to make it happen.

So what does self-care look like next year?  A will have an all day tutorial on Tuesdays.  I've already decided to use a massage gift certificate on my first Tuesday alone.  That will be a one time thing, but I do already look forward to the 5 or 6 hours I'll have to myself weekly.  It's small compared to last year, but it's something.  I can use that time to read, to write, to create a collage or two, to just be. 

I asked a dear friend who has home schooled for years what her biggest concern was for me for next year.  Her reply?  "I know you're worried about time alone, so I worry about that for you."  Her advice?  In their family, they have an hour and half each day of quiet time.  I'm thankful that she told me that because it gives me permission (which I shouldn't need, but do) to make that a part of my routine with A.  Getting A to read in her room for a hour or so will not be a challenge - she's a voracious reader.  The only challenge will be keeping her stocked with enough books and making sure I use the time for self-care and not house care.

I'll also continue in Bible Study with a group of women who consistently encourage me and are willing to share their lives with a vulnerable transparency.  I'm not close friends with many of these women yet, but none of them are afraid to talk about difficult things and I believe God put us together for this season of our lives for a reason.  Time with them will certainly feel like self-care.

A final plan to show myself some solicitude?  A bit of time away:  an overnight this weekend to center myself before starting school next week and a silent retreat in the fall to recharge mid-semester.  I've wanted to do a silent retreat for a year now.  Silence and solitude with God doesn't just give me rest - it fills my emotional tank.  What fills your tank?  Time with friends?  A date with your spouse?  Dinner out?

For years, I didn't make self-care a priority.  I gave it lip service - self-care was why I exercised, why I ate healthy foods, etc.  But I didn't even really know what I needed to do to take care of myself.  That is one of the blessings to come from the last year:  I have a better knowledge of what I need (quiet, solitude, rest, the Word, books, creating).  Now I just need to quiet any voices of guilt and shame that tell me I'm not worth it.  Because I've learned, I've seen, I know that I do a better job of caring for others when I care for myself.

Monday, August 2, 2010


1 a : an entertainment given without expense to those invited b : the act of providing another with free food, drink, or entertainment
2 : an especially unexpected source of joy, delight, or amusement

Mid-morning today, K went down to the basement.  I figured she was playing - she and her sisters had been playing down there with barbies, puzzles and a chalkboard.  I didn't think much of it - until she came running through the dining room and went straight into her room, with something behind her back.  Highly suspicious.

"K?  Come here, please," I called.  She came running back in.  (She runs everywhere.  Why walk when you can run?)
"Yes, Mom?"  she says with empty hands.
"What did you get in the basement?" I ask with a smile.
"Oh!  I got bags.  I want to make a treat for everyone in the family! You! Dad! A! B! And even me!"

While tiny K is vibrating with excitement, I'm not quite as thrilled.  Her "treats" tend to result in a lot of mess for me to clean up and sometimes are less than thrilling for the recipients.  (She once fed us bananas with cracked black pepper as a treat.)  She runs into her room to get the gift bags she procured in the basement.  She has a good assortment - masculine, feminine, Christmas, Easter, name your style, she's got it.  And she wants to fill them all with treats for her family.

To buy myself a bit of time, I tell K she must first clean her room before she makes our treats.  I head to her room to give guidance and supervise while she cleans and I read my book.  I only bought myself an hour or so, but I did get a cleaner child's room out of the arrangement.

Later, I come down from the treadmill to find K perched on a barstool that she's pulled up to the kitchen counter.  Scattered around her smiling face are boxes - of a great assortment of foods.  She's put these foods into a large tupperware container and is brimming with excitement: 

"When is Daddy coming home?" she asks. 
"Not for another seven hours, honey.
"Oh.  But I want to share my treat with him."
"Well, you can share with A and B now and save some for Daddy."

It's now nearly twelve hours after K mixed her treat.  In that time, she has taken it down the street to share with a neighbor, filled a bowl for each of her sisters and her father, hidden in the basement to munch on it and shared with me from the original container.  On the surface, her treat was comprised of fruit loops, cheddar rice cakes, M & Ms, cheese crackers, peanuts, chex mix and sour Yogos, but the real treat was sharing in K's enthusiasm, a trait she effortlessly embodies.