Monday, May 15, 2017

Learning lessons: Spring Break on Oahu

I took our two older boys to Oahu over Spring break several weeks ago. I had this idea planted in my head that instead of taking big, huge, family vacations to Hawaii that we couldn't afford right now, I would take two of our kids every couple years. Spring break was our first round of this new plan to get me back to Hawaii more often-to the place I was raised.
I'll have to say, this trip was a good learning experience and one that was necessary for planning or I should say NOT planning, all future trips.

First of all, I didn't like vacationing without the other half of our family. It felt awkward and empty without them. I missed my littler boys like crazy and wanted them to be there with us. I ached for my toddler and couldn't believe I thought I'd be okay for an entire week without him. I realize that every parent is different in this regards. I have friends who are constantly planning trips without their kids and can't wait for the next one so they can get a much needed break. But for me, I can't stand being away from my kids and my heart ached the entire week I was gone. In fact, I had terrible anxiety about leaving him months before I left but hoped I would be distracted enough to have fun once I got there. It sorta kinda worked, except for every time I thought about him, which was like every hour.
I did have lots of fun, however, with my two older boys. It wasn't a bad trip, but I learned that ideally we should all stick together even if that means we will be vacationing at Snow Canyon instead of the North Shore of Oahu.

Second, I learned that when you rent a car you should never, ever, ever go cheap on the full coverage insurance. Get the insurance, no matter the cost! I haven't been in a car accident ever in my life, so I figured 6 days without rental car insurance would be fine. Boy was I wrong, especially on our third day there when I was backing out of a hotel in Waikiki and hit a cement pillar. The entire left side of my 2017 Nissan Versa got scraped up and the fascia came unhinged from the car.
I thought for sure I would pay thousands in car damages, which kinda put a dent in enjoying the rest of our vacation. As I made phone calls to my insurance agency I found out that I actually did have some collision damage, with a $200 deductible. I'm still waiting to hear the final results of my claim. I'm hoping that I don't have to pay out-of-pocket for loss of use fees, which is the fees associated with the rental car company not being able to rent the car out while it was being fixed. 
I could've avoided this entire fiasco if I'd have gotten the full coverage rental car insurance. 
Lesson learned.

Third, I realized that having a grand adventure with my two older boys also required some flexibility. Just because they are the older of the two, doesn't mean they don't have regular kid needs. 
When I was imagining this trip last year it was filled with non-stop fun and excitement and outdoor adventures! We'd be surfing and hiking and swimming and snorkeling NON-STOP!! But in reality we had to stop a lot to eat. My kids got hungry a lot (imagine that!) and I had to feed them on a reasonable food budget in a place that has unreasonable food prices. We had to stop and cook breakfasts, cook lunches, find snacks that weren't too astronomically priced, and find healthy foods, too.
 If It was just me I would've grabbed a manapua at 7-11 and gone and surfed for five hours, but my kids are pickier eaters, eat way more than I do, get tired easier, and require me to help them find foods that will satiate and satisfy.
I remember this one day we stopped at the roadside fruit stand and I let my boys pick out fruits they liked. One got a $5 tiny ziploc bag of sliced watermelon and the other got a $5 tiny ziploc bag of Mango slices and I just about died. Holy expensive, Batman.
I also had to be flexible when one of them got bad chaffing from swimming in the sea and salt water. We drove all the way to my favorite beach to swim and collect shells one morning and he sat on the beach the entire time because he was too sore to walk. Needless to say we didn't stay very long and spent the rest of the day reading, shopping, sightseeing, and trying to figure out ways to prevent chaffing so we could go back to the beach. (lots of Vaseline!!)

The greatest test of my flexibility came when we had an unexpected visitor in our bedroom. We were staying at my friend's house on the beach in Haleiwa. It was beautiful, quiet, and lovely, but as old North Shore houses go, it was also old, dilapidated, and not the Turtle Bay Condos that my boys were used to from previous visits to Oahu. They were overall fine with it, and it was so nice of her to let us stay there, but I could tell that Odin wished we were staying somewhere a little "fancier." 
On our third morning there, my little Odin was laying on his air mattress when suddenly the biggest, creepiest spider came crawling up the curtain next to him. 
Now, I grew up in Hawaii my whole life  and I NEVER saw a spider of this creepiness or magnitude before. It's body was the size of a small fruit and it's big, hairy legs extended out past the size of my hand. 
I would've screamed except for the fact that Odin was already screaming and I needed to stay calm for him. I have never seen Odin so frightened before in his life. He was trembling, crying, blubbering, and needing answers. I immediately told him to go sit in the rental car and stay there while I killed it. Meanwhile Zadok was getting out of the bathroom and asking what was wrong. I told him about the spider and he ran to the rental car as fast as he could without looking back (he's a true arachnophobic).
I made a quick decision to leave the spider alone because, honestly, I didn't want to go near the thing. I also knew that my kids would never satep foot in that house again so I quickly packed up all our bags and left my friend's house on the North Shore.  
 It was pouring rain out, the waves were twenty feet, my boys were both trembling with fear in our rental car, and I never felt more homesick in my life. I wished right then and there I could've transported back to our house in Southern Utah in a heartbeat to be with my husband and two little kids. 
From there we drove into Waikiki to find a hotel room, preferably on a really high up floor away from creepy crawly things, and that's when I scraped up my rental car. 
Awesome sauce. 

But, I don't like to dwell on the negative things. These stories were just to illustrate that sometimes in life we learn things we need to know. I learned a lot about myself that week and especially  my needs and desires regarding visiting Hawaii.
I learned that I don't need to go back to Hawaii as often as I thought. I learned that I don't want to go on vacations without ALL my kids and my husband. I learned that I am flexible and patient when my kids are having a crisis. I learned that paradise comes with a price--if you don't have money to spend in Hawaii or family to take care of you, you don't get very far. I learned that being a tourist in Hawaii isn't as fun as living there. I learned that the safety and welfare of my kids surpasses any and all grand adventures I have planned. I learned that I LOVE living here in Southern Utah and was so happy to come home to my simple, country life.

 We did have lots of fun on Oahu, too! Despite all the hard lessons I learned,  we also had a blast doing fun things you can only do in Hawaii!
We had a spectacular day at the Polynesian Cultural Center with my Dad. The Samoan and Tongan shows are always so entertaining. The night show was amazing--my boys were very impressed with the fire knife dancing. I love doing all the fun stuff there like canoe rides, weaving fish from coconut fronds, and riding the tram around Laie, just like we used to do all the time when we were little kids living in laie.
And hanging out with my Dad is always fun no matter what. We also went to the Jon Hirokawa magic show with my Dad in downtown Waikiki, which was phenomenal! We are still laughing at all the funny jokes and mind-blowing magic tricks.

We had fun picking seashells off of Keiki beach and crashing in the surf at Three Tables. We got shave ice at Matsumotos and connected with some old friends. We had fun swimming at the little beach in front of my friend's house in Haleiwa. I ran on the beach every morning we were there, just like old times. We snorkeled at Hanauma Bay (Sharks Cove is way better but the waves were too big),  I got to surf in Waikiki and caught some really fun waves on a ten foot longboard, I ordered my favorite Saimin at Zippys, got a manapua from 7-11 and got Kalua pig at our PCC dinner. (My boy's favorite food memories are the pancakes at Ihop with Grandpa and the shaved ice.)

Overall, it was a grand adventure and a wonderful time spent with my two oldest boys. They are really fun to hang out with and I'm glad I spent an entire week with them!













Fixing Odin's headache with ti leaves and massage

Ala Moana Beach

Jonah's stuffed bear in Waikiki




Sunday, March 26, 2017

Our Homeschooling Journey

Right now we are homeschooling our 3rd grader, our 5th grader, and of course my toddler is home. He goes to part-time pre-school at our friend's house, but it's mostly for socializing and for fun, and he loves it. Our first grader goes to public school. It's a mixed variety over here but there's purpose behind all things. 
People often ask me,"So why homeschooling?" 
My short answer is,"We as parents try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of each of our children and sometimes homeschooling is the right answer at the time."

The long answer lies in this post ahead, so read on if you're curious.

To remind myself and to get things straightened out in this story, here's the low-down on who and when we have homeschooled.
First-born: Homeschooled for K, 1st, 2nd, end of 4th grade and most part of 5th grade. Public schooled for 3rd grade, half of fourth grade and 2 months of 5th grade.
Second-born: Homeschooled for 3rd grade, public schooled for (second half) of K, 1st, and 2nd grades.
Third-born: No Homeschool. Public schooled for K and 1st grade. 
Fourth-born: Hangs out with mama, fun-pre-school on occasion.

When our firstborn turned five and was eligible to register for Kindergarten, it wasn't the right path for us. I had already decided when he was 2 years old that I wanted to try homeschooling. I'd read all the John Taylor Gatto books, some John Holt books, followed  blogs like Astra Taylor's, joined all the homeschooling Yahoo groups (yes this was before facebook), and basically devoured anything that would inspire me in the direction of unschooling.  However, the surprise came when one day I realized that we didn't have a choice either way because our son couldn't be away from us. He had a bright and curious personality, and he loved learning and exploring and playing, but his extreme social anxiety didn't allow him to be two feet away from his parents at all times. He not only clung to us like barnacles on a ship, but he panicked and worried at the mere mention of doing anything extracurricular. We couldn't sign him up for sports, or community-fun-type classes, or even go to library story time without panic ensuing.  At church on Sundays he couldn't attend his classes without a parent by his side at all times.

I tried to take all these things in stride because I loved and adored my first-born baby boy so very much and wanted to be the best mother I could be, but it was also very difficult for me. At times it felt suffocating to be smothered in his large vacuum of constant needs and wants. I was basically the only one who could meet those needs as the soul nurturer of the household while my husband worked full time away from home, and it very often sucked the living daylights outta me!
 I started to realize halfway through his Kindergarten year that I needed and craved a village of supporters to help me raise my child, but my child only wanted and needed ME.
So although I loved spending all this time with my boy I also needed to find solutions so I wouldn't go crazy expending all my time and energy on his constant neediness and anxiety, plus taking care of his two younger brothers at the same time. I quickly realized that if homeschooling proved to not provide the village I needed then I would have to search out other options in the future.

It was June 2011 and we had just moved to Puna, Hawaii and were trying to adjust to our new lives there-- socially, culturally, and financially. It was hard at first, but the blessings came through constant prayer, as they do.
I have wonderful and fond memories of homeschooling our Kindergartner in Hawaii. We would wake up and read library books for hours in bed. I remember the warm, tropical, breezes flowing through the open windows as we lay snuggled up in bed. My eldest would be on one side, my toddler on the other, and the baby would lay sleeping or nursing in the middle. I loved these snugly, happy moments with my three little boys in the jungles of Puna. 
We'd do fun crafts, art projects, baking, gardening, and puppet shows at home. We also spent a lot of time at the library, at the local museums, and at the beaches. We'd play at the little tide pools near 4 mile beach and discover sand crabs, Opihi, eels and fishes, and giant Honu that were stuck in the pools, waiting for the tide to rise so they could escape to the open ocean. 
These were my favorite parts about homeschooling-watching my three boys run and play together as best friends. Overall I still craved some type of community and pretty soon I discovered Ke'iki Steps, a part-time pre-school program for our second-born child and third-born child to attend. This was a huge life-saver for me, and allowed us to have that small village around us that I craved. 
We also got more involved with the homeschool community. I started Tuesday Kickball Club, where every Tuesday we met at Kea'au park for kickball and socializing. This became the highlight of our week where we got to meet new friends, and I got to socialize with other parents! I started a Homeschool Blog, to help unite our little East Hawaii Community. I planned potlucks and posted events and tried hard to build a village of helpers around us. This became my heart and soul. Many of these faces here saved me from desperation and loneliness plus became good friends to my children! They will be forever dear to my heart.

However, even after all my efforts to keep him busy and happy, our son still struggled with anxiety issues. Some days we couldn't even leave the house because of his resistance to any type of social situations, even if it involved our friends. That's when I started truly praying for answers and that's when Patricia appeared into our lives, the child-play therapist we found in Hilo. You can read all about the experiences that led up to this, here.  
Patricia helped me to see that I didn't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore (because basically I would get crushed and die eventually). I couldn't be the only one trying to fix everyone in my family, and be the mother and wife I needed to be. She helped me let go of the things I couldn't fix and focus on loving myself.

In many ways, homeschooling my little first-born was the first-step on our family's path towards healing from the hurt and pain of unanswered questions. First-born's unique needs were the catalyst that launched our family into recognizing that we had very personal and difficult issues as a couple beyond our understanding, which needed to be fixed. Our marriage needed to be fixed before it was overcome by too many unanswered problems. 
Homeschooling our son helped us find those answers and helped us to start healing.

I keep thinking, what if we had been the kind of parents to force our son to be "normal"-to go to school, to take lessons, to attend social events, or to go to his classes at church? It would've been met with so much anger, resentment, and confusion that we never would've gotten past the superficial emotions on the very top of the giant, emotional ice burg underneath. Our entire focus would've been on trying to "get him" to go to school, trying to "get him" to make friends, trying to "get him" to act normal, instead of focusing on all the underlying issues beneath the surface: social anxiety, fear, worry, genetic conditions in the family, mirroring behaviours found at home, etc. These were the real issues at hand, not the fact that he didn't want to go to Kindergarten. 

I don't think we would've ever found the right answers we needed nor started on our path toward healing had first-born not been our son. I believe with all my heart that first-born's sweet, innocent, and anxious soul was meant to help us realize our own giant potentials.
I am also so grateful for the strong mothering instincts within me and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help me find the answers to our problems. At this time in our lives, homeschooling was the right answer. I will never regret our choice.

Upon moving back from Hawaii to Utah, I wasn't really sure what we were going to do for school. We moved back in August of 2013. First-born would've been starting 2nd grade and second-born would've been starting Kindergarten that month. After all the chaos of moving and relocating overseas again, I remember arriving in Utah and needing a break from any major life-decisions. We felt really good about the move and felt really good that we were on the right path. Our marriage was doing much, much, better and our little children were happy and looking forward to our lives here.
Deciding whether or not to go to school didn't seem like the biggest deal at the time, so, naturally we kept homeschooling. And of course, once again, my favorite thing about homeschooling was watching my three little boys play so wonderfully together on all our little adventures. We'd spend hours in the creeks, at the parks, working at home on little projects and reading lots of library books. First-born was making leaps and bounds with his anxiety issues. He was opening up more socially and becoming less fearful and shy about everything. He signed up for a Lego Robotics class and a tumbling class and started attending his church classes without a parent. He started participating in cub scout activities.(This was HUGE!! We were so proud of him!) Him and his little second-born brother continued to be best friends, doing everything together.

Third-born was a busy and active toddler who was also still nursing at 3 years old, though he didn't have the same attachment issues first-born had. He just really liked my milk. 
Then I got pregnant with our fourth child in early November 2013. It was going to be another boy! It was an exciting time, yet pretty soon I could feel myself breaking down emotionally and physically. I got tired and cranky way too often, as my pregnancies do. 
 I started having strong feelings about signing second-born up for school.  The gentle nudging of the spirit was telling me that second-born needed something more than homeschool. And I needed help during another hard pregnancy.

Second-born didn't have anxiety about anything! He was spunky, social, outgoing, and very extroverted. I could see that his needs were becoming very different than first-born's and we needed to respect his personality traits and his personal need to grow differently than his big brother.  I could see him copying and mirroring everything his big brother did, which was healthy up to a point because they were best buddies, but I could also see second-born holding back when first-born held back, and not doing things he would normally do because first-born wasn't doing them. He was also really busy! I felt that second-born going to Kindergarten would also help relieve this tired, pregnant, worn out mama from trying to keep those hands busy from sun-up to sundown. It was time to expand our village!

In February 2014 we signed second-born up for Kindergarten. It was already halfway through the school year, and I had the hardest time going through with it, but we did it! And he loved it! Just like I knew he would! He would come home so happy and excited about all the fun activities he did at school. Here's a blurb about that experience here. Then him and his big brother would pick up right where they left off and play, play, play all the rest of the day. First-born was still homeschooling at this point as I could tell he wasn't quite ready to take on any new challenges. And neither was I. Sending second-born to Kindergarten with all my fears and doubts and worries was all I could handle at the moment. After all, this was our first public school experience!
 However, It was a time for me to trust God and trust in this path for second-born while also letting go of all my strong biases and opinions about public education. The truth was, I really struggled with trying to balance my own personal philosophies and ideals with homeschooling versus not minding one bit if my child loved going to public school. I had to un-homeschool my brain and debunk many of the beliefs I had to make room for this new journey in the public school system. 

On that note, here's a few thoughts on homeschool versus brick and mortar school: On one hand I love the principles behind homeschooling and believe that homeschooling is the ideal educational experience.  I think that homeschooling, if done correctly, can have the ability to give kids powerful confidence, fierce independence, a passion for learning and knowledge that isn't forced or mundane, and a chance to build strong family bonds within their home. I love that homeschool allows children the freedom to learn and follow their passions completely untethered by classroom rules and restrictions, and the constant management of the other children in the class. Homeschooling can give kids a chance to pursue educational goals without being distracted or bored within the confinement of an institution. Especially for kids who might excel faster than the other kids in the class, homeschool can relieve a lot of boredom. And for kids who are falling behind the other kids in the class, homeschooling can allow them to go at their own pace while still boosting their self-confidence.

On the flip side, I also think that public schooling, if done correctly, can inspire and empower kids to learn and grow from their leaders and peers and become innovative thinkers. They can learn leadership skills and positive behaviours from the awesome examples of their teachers, be exposed to new opportunities like specialized classes and diverse student bodies, build on social connections, learn to conquer modern-day tasks, and get exclusive help with special-needs challenges. I also think that the love and care of a child's teacher has the greatest impact for good on a child's entire school experience. I know from personal experience, as well as seeing  my children's experiences at school, that if they don't connect well with their teacher, then they don't have the best experience overall.

All in all, I've seen homeschool families who totally rock at this, who provide amazing opportunities for their children to learn and grow, but then I've also seen homeschooling families that truly struggle, giving their kids poor opportunities to learn and develop both mentally, physically, and socially. I've also seen public school families who are raising amazing children, who are becoming amazing people, and who are contributing to society in amazing ways. I look up to many of these families in our community! Then there's the public school kids that are a living nightmare and make everything hard for everyone at school-- the bullies, the teasers, the trouble makers. These kids most likely have it rough at home, which is obviously very sad. These are the kids I teach my kids to stay away from. The kind of kids that give homeschoolers a good reason to keep on homeschooling.

I truly believe that no matter what educational path you choose as a parent, the most important principle is to make your family the first priority. Parents should be involved in every important aspect of their children's lives, and home should be a place where good morals are taught, where children feel safe, and where love abounds. 
We also try not to put a huge emphasis on checking off check lists and completing things just to get them done. Those things usually don't display the marks of learning, they just show that you checked it off a list. I always tell my kids that you can't know everything in life, but you can try hard to know a lot of cool things that will help you be a well-rounded and happy person. I like to see education is a journey, not a destination you check off. 
 Since my boys have been in public education, I've found that we don't really care if they complete their homework, or memorize their spelling lists, but we do care that they are making an effort to learn, that they are keeping up with the pace of the curriculum being taught, and that they can read and write well.  And of course that they are doing well emotionally, getting along with others, and making friends. I also don't hesitate to keep my children home for fun family trips, vacations, or outings because wholesome family activites are the bedrock of our lives! 
I truly believe that when a child is being lovingly nurtured, cared for, and the emotional needs are met, learning becomes an organic process that can't help but happen naturally. It's like those studies on babies who are left to cry it out versus babies that are held and cuddled when sad. The babies who are left to cry have been shown to have increased stress and anxiety which slows down their growth rate and their ability to pass major milestones. I mean, who wants to learn and grow when you're too busy worrying if someone is going to take care of you or not? I certainly wouldn't! I think it's the same thing with children and education. Love the child and the child will learn naturally.

 Okay, back to my story:
Second-born finished up his year of Kindergarten and baby Fourth-born was born that summer. WHOA. I have four kids now. Four busy, rambunctious, exciting, fun-loving little boys who need and want so much of my attention. I love it!

Now, since secon-born had such a great experience in half time Kindergarten we decided to send him back for full-time first grade the following year. First-born would remain homeschooling for as long as we felt it was right. Third-born was four and would stay home with me and the baby.

I forgot to mention that while second-born was busy in Kindergarten last year, wtried to get more involved with the local homeschoolers in the area. We helped run a weekly reading group and advertised for weekly park days. We even tried to start up a weekly kickball club here like the one we had in Hawaii. However, first-born didn't like going to the reading group, barely anyone showed up to the park days, and the kickball club just wasn't the same as Hawaii, so we stopped. 
This year we decided not to put energy in those areas and went back to doing our own thing, which mostly consisted of me chasing a four year old, nursing a baby, and trying to keep up on all the dishes and laundry. 
However, I also really wanted to make sure he had stuff to do, so we signed up for K-12, an online homeschool program. I was hoping it would provide a stimulating learning experience, but that didn't work out, either! K-12 sent us a free home computer and boxes and boxes of curriculum and all we had to do was wake up and follow their system of learning, yet it was really overwhelming for the both of us! They had him doing school work for 6-8 hours a day! What a nightmare! With the new baby, I didn't have time to sit down to explain things, and he didn't want to sit at a computer for 6 hours a day, and I didn't have the energy or brain power to check in each day and make sure he completed every, little assignment, and he didn't have the least bit of interest in some of the subject material, and I couldn't make him do it, and it was stressing both of us out! We were better off doing our own thing.

Oh well. Moving on. My fondest memory at this time was nursing baby Fourth-born to sleep while watching Merlin episodes on Netflix with First-born. We seriously loved that show and it gave us lots to talk about throughout the day about all things wizards, dragons, sorcery, and magic.
Then right before Halloween I suddenly started feeling like first-born needed to try going to public school for the first time. I felt that he needed to be challenged and stimulated in new ways that I couldn't offer him at home nor through K-12. I felt like his anxiety was getting so much more manageable and he could handle being away from home. In fact, he needed to for his own personal growth.
 I was also discovering new things about myself. For instance, my capacity for taking care of small children had a cut-off limit of two. Yep-two small kids at a time was about all I could manage before I started losing all hope of sanity. I realized that If I was going to remain a calm, patient, and loving mother, I needed to send first-born to school a this time. Once again, I had to trust God and be brave that this was the right path for my child.

I remember the Friday I went in and talked with the principle to see if first-born could try taking some classes part time at the local STEM school. "Maybe he could start off slowly with computer and science and work his way up from there?" I asked nervously.
 I was worried and nervous about the whole thing but the principle was calm and loving and assured me first-born would be fine. 
The next Monday first-born started his first day of part-time classes. And guess what? He loved it! He liked his teacher, he liked his classes, and he wanted to start going to school full time the next day.
WHOA. This was HUGE! My 9 year old was going to 3rd grade! My shy, anxious, fretful, mother-clinging 9 year old was going to be away from me for 6 whole hours a day! I didn't know how to feel about all of this, but the overall emotion was JOY, so I went with that one. Joy, and gratitude for the guidance of the Spirit to help me lead these little ones on their own path to personal growth and happiness. And joy that my husband and I could pray and make these decisions together.
*I don't always mention my husband in all this decision making because it is usually me that comes up with a plan and then we pray about it together. He's always told me from the beginning that since I am the one home, who would be in charge of all the homeschooling, then I needed to decide what works best for me and my situation. He is not home. He works full time and thus feels he has little control over what happens here during the day. Of course he wants what is best for each of our kids and will help me decide what we should do, together, but initially he leaves the first decision making up to me. Ideally he would love it if all our kids homeschooled, yet ideally he would also like a happy and sane wife. 

It's October 2015 and I now had first-born and second-born attending the same school full time for 3rd and 1st grades, and me at home with our four year old and the new baby. Two kids at a time. I could do it!
And I loved it. 
I loved spending all this time with my two little ones while also knowing my two big ones were happy at school, doing fun activities, going on field trips, and getting an age-appropriate education they needed and enjoyed. Meanwhile I was home making play dough, reading silly books, doing pre-school crafts, and taking care of all the little kid stuff like changing diapers and deescalating tantrums. 
As the school-year wrapped up  there was not a doubt in my mind that next year my third-born would be attending Kindergarten, and my two older boys would be going back for 4th and 2nd grade.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as the poem goes. The following year third-born went to Kindergarten half-time, second-born went to 2nd grade as planned, and first-born went to 4th grade as planned, but partway through the year first-born started having a really rough time. 
A few things that were hard for him: 
1. He was getting bored in the classroom, especially with math. He is a fast learner and would finish his work before all the other kids, yet he'd have to wait before he could move on. He'd often be sitting there doing nothing for long periods of time. 
2. He had a lot of trouble-makers in his class who made things hard for the rest of them. His teacher would often hold everyone in for recess when just a few of them had been acting up. (p.s. holding kids inside for recess is not an acceptable way to punish, FYI.) Many times first-born would call from the office phone for me to pick him up because the kids in his class were being too annoying. I'd be there in a heartbeat. 
3. He didn't love his teacher like the year before. She was okay, but not as friendly, warm, or inviting as his first experience. I could tell he was disappointed about that. We thought about switching teachers, but the other classes were full to capacity. 
And 4. There was a kid who was picking on him during recess. I don't know what this kid's problem was but he decided that he didn't like first-born and would often push past him in the halls or call him names. I spoke with the principle and he said they'd try to work with him. It did get better, but the whole experience gave first-born anxiety.
 So between the boredom, the bad kids, the teacher, and this awful kid, we decided to pull him back out of school. He never actually asked if he could quit, but he was so happy when he did.

Now I've got first-born and the baby home and my two other kids happily at school. Third-born is loving Kindergarten and I'm loving the break I get from his non-stoppedness (is that a word, well it should be.) My third-born had always been a huge challenge for me in his toddler years and I was grateful for the village to step in and help. I can't really pinpoint the exact challenges I had with him but it was an odd mixture of him needing my constant attention yet also being fiercely independent and not wanting me to intervene on his play time. Sending Jonah to Kindergarten gave him just the right balance of the entertainment mixed with the independence, of which he so craved. 
 At this time I'm still doing okay because two kids at a time, but also feeling disappointed that things didn't work out for first-born this year. 
We spent the rest of fourth grade doing our own thing. No homeschool groups, no online curriculum, but lots of reading, research, computers, hiking, baking, documentaries, and soccer. And a little Merlin here and there. 
Both older boys played soccer this year for the first time and liked it a lot. I'm the Cub Master now and we're busy with Cub Scouts. I had my hands full with the baby who is now walking, talking, eating, zooming, and keeping me on my toes. The fondest memory I have of homeschooling first-born at this time was doing errands with him during the day. I don't remember specifically, but he was always making me laugh in the car. Many times I remember feeling so grateful for this special time we had at home together, his 4th grade year.

As third-born's Kindergarten and second-born's 2nd grade year wrapped up, I knew that I was a much happier, calmer, more patient, loving, less insane, less anxious, less depressive mother when I didn't have all my kids home with me at one time. Although this was a hard concept to grasp, it was the truth. 
I guess I didn't really know what kind of mom I was  going to be until I had four kids. Four kids was a game-changer for sure! I'd look back on all my ideals and ideas about child-rearing and education and realize that many of them would work just great with one or two kids. Maybe three. But with four kids, I had to start honoring my own limitations as a person and respect the skills and abilities I did or didn't have to raise these little people. 
 When I don't get adequate time to myself I start feeling suffocated and burnt out. I can't find any space inside my head to think. I can't find any space inside the house to collect my thoughts and feel peace and quiet. I can't focus on staying organized because my mind feels chaotic with too many little voices inside my head. Sending kids to school, even if it was only half of them, really saved my sanity and made me a better mom overall. 
When I sent little third-born to Kindergarten I kept telling myself that it was only temporary. "As soon as the baby gets older and I feel less insane, I will pull everyone out and we'll homeschool again with all of us. As soon as I can grasp life with four kids I will homeschool everyone again," I'd say.
I convinced myself that sending kids to school was only a temporary solution but now I know that it was the better solution for me as a person. At least right now. I don't like to say EVER or NEVER or ALWAYS because things always change.

Okay so first-born finished up his 4th grade year at home. It's now August 2016 and the plan is for third-born to go to 1st grade, second-born to 3rd grade, and first-born to 5th grade, and little fourth-born will attend a friend's pre-school 3 days a week for 2 hours a day. This year, however, we decided to try first-born at the Montessori school and see if that was a better fit for him. At the Montessori school we were told he could go at his own pace, thus eliminating the boredom factor. If he wanted to shoot ahead, he could do so in his own timing. We felt really good about it. 
Meanwhile, I would use this time to finish up my college degree that I had abandoned twelve years ago. It was all online so I could work it into my morning schedule easily and still be available for everyone and everything later on. 

Pfffffft. That plan lasted about a month. This was turning out to be a harder challenge than I thought!
First of all, getting everyone to school in the morning took all the energy I could muster! First I had to have everyone fed, dressed, with shoes on, lunches made, and ready to go by 8am to drive first-born across town in one direction to get him to school by 8:15am, only to turn around and zoom across town the other direction to drop the others to school by 8:45am. Of course third-born always wanted me to walk him in so I had to find a parking spot in the busy, morning, school-traffic-jam, and park, then quickly walk him in. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I had to quickly jump back in the car to get fourth-born to pre-school by 9am! Then I would rush home so I could get on the computer and hack out some college course-work before it was time to pick fourth-born back up.

Geez this was exhausting! I wanted to cry every morning, and many days I did. One morning I was zooming so fast that I got a $200 speeding citation. I was going 55 in a 25 zone. That speeding ticket was actually a huge wake-up call to how hectic our lives were in trying to get everyone to school. 
To add to the chaos I almost always had to wake up fourth-born each day from his afternoon nap to pick the boys back up from school. This was hard on the both of us and resulted in more tears from both of us. However, I was determined that once we all got in the right rhythm then things would start falling into place and go a lot more smoothly.

Then one day, after a month into the school year, I got a call from second-born in the school office. He was crying and wanting to come home. He said he didn't want to go to school anymore. I gave him a few days at home to relax and breathe and deescalate from whatever was troubling him, then brought him back to school thinking he would probably be okay. Within a couple hours I got another call right away that he wanted to come home. 
My poor second-born. This was so unlike him. He's usually my happy, bubbly, guy who skips off to school with a smile on his face. 
We took a few more days to figure things out then decided that maybe he just needed a break from that particular school. He personally didn't really know what he wanted, so we tried signing him up at the Montessori school with first-born. He went for two days but was again upset and didn't want to return. Although I felt disappointed that my perfect plan wasn't working out, I also felt that we needed to honor second-born's feelings. He was obviously going through something new and needed time to sort it out. 

Second-born started homeschooling at the end of September, and gosh, since second-born was homeschooling we figured It would probably be a better experience if first-born was homeschooling, too. First-born was having a petty good year so far at the Montessori school, but wasn't at all opposed to homeschooling again. It felt good to have both of my boys home together again. 

As far as his anxiety, firstborn has made leaps and bounds with his anxiety issues. To me, he is a whole new person. First of all, he's not shy at all. He'll talk to anyone, anywhere, about whatever he needs to talk about. He's also hilarious, and witty, and makes everyone laugh all the time, including himself. He started playing Lacrosse with no hesitations. He plays RPG with grown-ups on game night at a local shop. He contributes to discussions in his class at church, sharing meaningful and mature insights. He smiles a lot, instead that permanent scowl he used to wear. He's still shy in some situations and some people think he's mad or upset when he's overly quiet, but overall he's completely broken out of his shell. 
I am so proud of him and the huge progress he has made.

Having my two older boys start homeschooling  7 months ago was a big adjustment for me, but only because I wasn't planning on it. I had piled so much other stuff on my plate that I hadn't made room for homeschooling. In my mind I was already so busy with my college work, my busy toddler, my church calling, the non-profit I volunteered for, and all the ins and outs of managing our home (cleaning, cooking, organizing, scheduling, and all the many, many details of family life.) 
To me, homeschooling my kids was the last thing I wanted to do. In fact, I told my husband and children that if these boys were going to homeschool, they had to do it themselves. Not because I didn't want to teach, encourage, and provide learning opportunities, but because I felt like I couldn't.
I really fought against it and struggled with feeling like this was the right thing to do, even though I knew deep down it was. After I finally stopped fighting and started being proactive, I began to see all the blessings coming from it. Oh the blessings!

First of all, mornings became a lot more calmer. Getting one child to school and a part-time pre-schooler was nothing compared to the four. My anxiety settled down. I stopped crying every morning. I wasn't rushing everywhere all morning and could think more clearly and calmly. 
Second, my eleven year old started babysitting for me during the day while our toddler napped so I could get important errands done. This was so amazing! I also didn't have to wake him up anymore to go pick up third-born from school. This eliminated long, cranky battles with a tired toddler. 
I also started to see the blessings in having my boys home together. These boys have been best friends since the moment second-born was born. They currently have no problem playing together and keeping each other entertained. My husband gives them a list of tasks to accomplish each day and they help each other reach their goals. They encourage each other when one falls behind. They go on bike rides together.  They love to read and are both reading either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. They take breaks to watch Studio C and laugh their little heads off. They are happy and thriving at home. They are learning, growing, and happy, even without my 100% attentiveness to their homeschooling.

Third-born is still happy in first grade. We'll leave him there for now. He woke me up from a nap today to tell me he had three crushes on three different girls in his class. Freaking hilarious! He is losing all his teeth at once and will soon have a big, gaping hole where four front teeth used to be. He is cute and lovable and doesn't really enjoy playing with his older brothers as much as he loves his stuffed animal collection. He sleeps with all his animals snuggled up close to him and begs me to bring them all to school each day (sorry, kid). He has a a play date with a girl in his class on Monday. 
Fourth-born has a very social and spunky personality. He loves being active and being around other toddlers his age, although he'll talk to just about anyone. He surprises us with his ability to memorize songs and tell tall tales. He enjoys his pre-school for now, although it's very loose leaf and often gets cancelled.

And that's the end  of our homeschooling journey thus far! To make a long story short the answer is still yes: "We as parents try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of each of our children and sometimes homeschooling is the right answer at the time." 
But also, "We as parents also try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of the mother and the family as a whole, and sometimes public schooling is the right answer at the time."

I honestly don't know what everyone is going to do next school year. I was considering sending everyone to school, but that could change. Second-born might not be emotionally ready to go back. Perhaps third-born might need a break. I know we'll need to decide pretty soon as registration is coming up. Or not.
What I do know is that I'll be praying for guidance and listening to my motherly intuition on what needs to be done for each person in our family. I love and adore each one of our children and know that God will guide us towards the path they each need to be on. To me there's no black and white or cookie cutter answer to whether or not my children should attend school. One of the big reasons I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom is so I could be available for any changing needs in our family. I realize this is a luxury for a lot of people and I am grateful everyday for the choice I have to be home with my kids. Or not. 

Next school year we'll have a middle schooler, a fourth grader, a second grader, and a three year old! My how time flies when you're busy raising little people!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our mountain trail

We recently discovered this really fun trail in the hills near our home. Since I realized that we could go up there and explore, we've been going at least once a week. It was a trail I would walk past almost every time I went running, yet just assumed it went to nowhere. One day I got brave and followed it and quickly realized it was going to be the latest and coolest thing for our family to do. If you know us, you know we like having our special nature spots to call our own.
This particular trail has all the elements I look for in an awesomely awesome, nature-friendly hang out for my family:
1. It's out of the way and not many people go on it. In fact, we haven't seen another soul on the mountain in the past 3 months.
2. It has wild life! We've spotted deer, jack rabbits, hawks and crows, and I even saw a red fox darting through the bushes the other day.
3. It has a steep incline for exercise purposes. My glutes love it when I hike up this trail.
4. It has cool rocks to climb onto and enjoy the view from the top. (We can see the Temple!)
5. It's close to our house so we can walk or drive there, whatever we are feeling up to.
6. It's close enough to society that I feel safe whilst alone with the kids up there.
7. It has interesting rocks, old animal bones, and lots of sticks and mud--all things little boys love to pick up and collect.
8. We can bring the dogs and let them run free. (although Thunder chases the deer away.)
9. My boys love it.

There are also many other fun trails near our home that we like to frequent, but this one is winning my heart for all the above reasons. One of my favorite things about living here is that it takes just a few mere minutes before you are immersed in nature. If you need to get away and breathe some fresh air and have a moment to yourself, all you have to do is head for the hills!

On a snowy day in the hills:

 On a not-so-snowy day in the hills.
 One day when we went to the hills I told Odin that I was going to run up the steep trail to get my heart-rate pumping and get some good exercise. I told him that it's okay if he can't keep up, "Just go at your own pace and meet me at the top," I said. As I started making my way up the trail I quickly noticed that he was going to do everything in his power to beat me to the top. He started scrambling up the steepest part of the rocky hill-side, knocking through bushes, and scrambling through trees, determined to take short-cuts and get their first.  And he did! He was panting, exhausted, and out-of-breath, but that little Odin made it! And of course, he made me smile. 

Please take us running. Please take us to the hills. Oh please, please, please, please.....

I often take the bigger boys to the hills in the morning after I drop Jonah off at school. On other days, Jonah's favorite place to go is Three Peaks to collect iron ore. He has a huge bag of it that weighs like 40 pounds. He says he's going to become a Blacksmith someday and "smelt it" into really cool things.

Have a beautiful day finding spots of nature to call your own! We will, too!