growth

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I was a little melancholy yesterday, since it was my oldest child’s 25th birthday (25! how can that be?) and it was yet another year that we were far away from him. I reposted something I had written three years ago, and then just gave myself permission to feel a bit blue. I often think that we all have something, some weight that we carry around. The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that it is universal- everyone has something. Maybe I’m quicker to reveal it than most people, but it’s there for all of us.

I tell my kids this too, to help them when they start to feel envy for someone else’s seemingly perfect life, and to help them remember to feel compassion. Life is a struggle, but I have also become so much better at seeing all the beauty, the peace and the joy and the little things that make a difference. I really do wake up each day and feel gratitude for the blessing of yet another day. The days aren’t always perfect, but most of them are pretty good and I’ve also become a lot better at reframing things in my head and learning how to be more positive in general.

So yes, I missed my son very much yesterday. I hope that someday we live near him again, close enough for a day trip at least. At the same time, I’m glad that my kids are the way they are- fearless, independent, curious about the world. They have some wanderlust too, and I understand that. The good news is that we are taking a trip to Atlanta to see him in a couple of weeks. It will be a quick trip, since my husband is going with us, but a few days will be better than nothing. This is how I see the future, with four kids- we will probably have to figure out how to travel to see them rather than expecting them to all settle down in the same town like some families seem to do. Mobility rather than permanence. But I do hope to have a place for everyone to gather, a place that is home for all of us, no matter where we go. That’s what we’re working on now, finding a little piece of the Maine woods and creating something special.

I can’t go back and rewrite the past, nor can I predict the future. But I understand that for me, living in the moment isn’t easy. I have to work at it, and I do. A lot of dissatisfaction can come from thinking too much about what might be different. I had my husband take a personality test recently, which has given us some insight into each other and the challenges we’ve faced as a couple. Our strengths too, it’s not all bad. I can’t believe I haven’t asked him to do it before!

He is an ESTJ (and I’m an  INFJ), and let’s just say that a lot of things make sense now. We each give something that the other person needs, but it’s been a bumpy road for sure. I would highly recommend that every couple know this about their partner- I don’t think it’s an exact science, not every detail will fit every person, and I do think that personality can change a bit over time, but in our case it helped us understand each other better, which is always a good thing. I think that reading more about what makes the other person tick has made us feel more kindly toward each other, and kindness is so crucial to a happy marriage. When you are guided by that principle all relationships are better.

It’s taken me two days now to finish this, and I need to go enjoy this beautiful day. Scott took the boys on a little backpacking expedition last night (yes, in March- I will never understand the male psyche), so I’ve had some time to myself. I had to go bathing suit shopping last night though, which isn’t very fun. I couldn’t decide between two suits after trying on what felt like hundreds, so I decided to sleep on it and go back and pick one this morning. We have a trip to a water park with other homeschooling families coming up tomorrow, and then there will be swimming during our trip to Atlanta. And summer is coming… I’m trying to live differently when it comes to clothing and everything else about myself. No more “good enough“… I want to take better care of myself now that I have the time and resources to do so.

 

 

birthday reflections

It is my oldest child’s 25th birthday. I wrote this three years ago, after we had first moved to Colorado and he stayed behind on the east coast. Now we are back in New England, and he has moved to Atlanta. I miss him so much.

 

Writing for Myself

“May your heart always be joyful, And may your song always be sung, May you stay forever young…”

~ Bob Dylan

Today is my oldest son’s 22nd birthday. It’s felt more emotional than most birthdays, because he’s on the other side of the country. This is the first time we haven’t been able to see him at all, on his birthday or somewhere around it. The space between us feels like a chasm, a great hole of loss, an aching longing to see him, to be part of his life in the normal way of parents and adult children. I’m neither clingy nor overly sentimental, but I had no idea that I would ever feel this far away from one of my children. The distance tugs at my heart, tethering me to something painful.

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We were just kids ourselves when he was born, but how quickly we all grew up…

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reflections on the dark years, and how things have changed

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I was sitting in a Chipotle with the boys the other day, getting something to eat after their homeschool session at the skatepark. There was a sign on the wall about faxing your order in, and suddenly I had a vivid memory of a time in what I’ve now come to think of as my dark years. Well, dark years part 2, my first period of darkness was during my late adolescence, and it was triggered by a traumatic event.

Anyway, these dark years were essentially the decade after my youngest child was born. It hurts to see it so clearly now- how can I say that?! I wanted these children, begged and pleaded with my husband to agree to a larger family, they were all healthy and beautiful and I have always had so much to be grateful for. I know all that, and I am grateful. But life is complicated, we can’t always foresee the way everything will turn out, and the truth is that those years when I had toddlers and teens were very, very hard.

Kids have needs, nonstop needs that must be met. And some kids need more, for whatever reason. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and caring for one challenging child can throw a whole family into turmoil. I think that between the two of us, my husband and I did a fair job making sure that none of our kids got shorted in the attention department during those hectic years. But it took a toll on us. It took a huge toll on me, since I’m the mom and I have a very different personality from my husband. I’ve mentioned before that I felt like a shell by the time I reached my early 40’s, and this decade has been a journey back to wholeness. That’s what this blog is all about.

So as we sat there quietly eating our burritos, I remembered a time about six years ago when I wanted to go to Chipotle so badly. But I just couldn’t do it- I was literally terrified of bringing the two boys in and standing in that line, trying to order our food. I considered ordering online so I could just pick it up, but decided even that was more than I could handle.

I know this sounds ridiculous. But that’s my point- it was real at that time. The stress of coping with a difficult child coupled with my own personality quirks had reduced me to a person who no longer led a normal life. I remember trying to stop at a McDonald’s occasionally, and how even that was too much for Jesse- and for me. It’s only now that I can look back and see how things really were though. When I was in the middle of it, I didn’t know how limited my world had become, how I had lost myself in the needs of my family. I didn’t understand that I would have to work my way back to health, both physically and emotionally.

On the surface, I seemed fine. I had a wide circle of friends, was very active in the local homeschooling community, hosted gatherings regularly and went to parks and playgrounds and beaches with my kids. My husband took on the bulk of the work with our older kids though, even handling doctor’s appointments, school events, learning to drive, all the things that older kids need. I will always regret that I couldn’t be more present during that time in their life. It goes so quickly, and then they are gone, on to the rest of their lives.

I wasn’t fine, I see that now. I mean, I’ve known this for a while, but it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion- as you learn more, you understand more. As life has become more manageable, not just manageable but delightful,  I continue to be amazed by the revelations that keep coming. Everything from the ease of a meal at Chipotle to being able to take back control of the many tasks that my husband had to handle while I was in those dark years.

I know that it has all been worth it. That’s a real question that parents must sometimes ask themselves- Is it worth it? To work so hard for one’s children? Will they even know or care that you’ve given so much of yourselves to make them happy and secure, to give them more than you had?

These days, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I spend my time with people I love, doing things I enjoy. It is a clear and bright morning, and I woke up early like I usually do lately. The house is quiet. My husband is at work, earning money to take care of us. He has never, ever complained about being the sole breadwinner in our family, instead he has done the opposite of everything his own parents did and has cheerfully worked hard and been successful in his career. My older kids are out there living their own lives, working and paying their bills and just generally making me proud of them. My youngest is spending some time with my sister, so I’m blessed to have that kind of help and support. My newly-turned 14 year old is still sleeping, and soon I will wake him up and he will have a cup of tea and get started on his day- some academic work, maybe a walk this afternoon, then several hours of jiujitsu this evening.

I have time to write, to read, to exercise, watch tv… I can do all the things I need to do and still have time for nurturing myself. Bone broth is bubbling away in the slow cooker, a new batch of kombucha is ready to drink and a crock of sauerkraut is fermenting on the counter- these are all simple things I now have the time to make to help keep us all healthy. I may have let many of my ideals slip away during those years of darkness (gardening, chickens), but now that I have more margin in my life I will be able to start enjoying hobbies again. Has it been worth it? Yes. It hasn’t been easy, but the darkness makes the light so much sweeter.

this homeschooling life

I haven’t written much about our homeschooling life lately, and it’s feeling like a good time to do that. After all these years, living and learning with kids feels like the most natural thing in the world to me. It is a seamless process, without artificial distinctions between “learning” and “everything else”. We’re all learning, all the time. My job is to create an environment that nurtures my kids’ desire to learn, to provide balance and boundaries when needed, to know when to step in and when to get out of the way.

Sometimes learning looks very organic and natural, particularly when kids are young. As they get older, sometimes learning looks more formal or traditional. There are an infinite number of ways to live without school, but I’m sharing what it looks like in our family. We are not very structured, I have no desire to recreate school at home, but we do have a rhythm to our days and I’m willing to do whatever seems right for my kids without worrying too much about labels.

I see a spectrum of homeschooling, from radical unschooling to school at home, and we fall somewhere between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling. There is great disagreement over this in unschooling circles, with many unschoolers claiming that there is no real gray area, that you are either a radical unschooler or a relaxed homeschooler. If anyone is reading this and has no idea what I’m talking about, try to imagine some other group of people that share common values and ideals or hobbies, something that brings people together yet also divides along ideological lines. Say, Christianity. It’s a big tent, really, but there are some bitter divisions and disagreements over what it means to be a Christian. I consider myself to be a (very) liberal Christian, and my parents wouldn’t have acknowledged that there is any such thing.

It’s not so much that I have a problem with saying I’m a relaxed homeschooler, but my life and the way I raise my kids are so imbued with unschooling philosophy that it’s not quite accurate to leave that part out. I have ideals that guide me, but I also want to remain open to change, to new ideas and ways of doing things, to the fact that my kids are not me and I need to respect their journey without putting too much of myself and my own past into it.

Parenting is a work in progress, and each day has something to teach me if I’m willing to listen. My younger boys are very different from me in some ways, from the child I was and the adult I am now. I was calm, quiet, easily entertained, independent, a model student. I didn’t need much guidance when it came to learning. My older two were a lot like me, and I figured it was just the normal way to be. Then my younger two came along, and life got interesting.

It’s still interesting, but it’s getting easier. They need a lot more input from me, and they do better when we maintain a consistent rhythm, when they have an idea of what to expect. We have eased very gradually into formal learning- for Nick at age 10 it is only a small amount of math and writing. He reads well now, despite being my “late” reader, and he loves to read. This is another area though where I’m not completely hands-off, not even close. I let them both come to reading when they were ready, and I didn’t push at all, but I read to them all the time. It was a huge part of our life, so books and language were already an integral part of who they were, long before they figured out the mechanics of reading.

Now, I pick out books that I think they will like- I actually spend a lot of time doing that. Nick is reading the Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Jesse is reading the James Herriot books. I’m thrilled that he’s reading the Herriot books because I loved them so much. We still read aloud, typically a more challenging book that they might not be eager to read on their own. I’m reading a Landmark book about Abraham Lincoln to Nick (here’s a great link if anyone is interested- I just discovered these recently and found that I can get many of them through interlibrary loan), and The Red Badge of Courage to Jesse (he isn’t crazy about it, but I can get him to sit still for a chapter occasionally).

Jesse has started to talk again about going to high school, which would happen next year, so I’ve agreed to help him prepare for whatever it is that he wants to do. Full-time public school is definitely not my preference, but I’m going to focus on one day at a time and trust that it will all work out. In the past he’s been resistant to doing more work to get ready for a school environment, but lately he’s gone through a big period of growth in all kinds of ways and seems to be willing to do more academic work.

So he’s been getting up early each morning, doing what I suggest without too much fuss. This is the thing about unschooling- Jesse knows what unschooling is, and he specifically says that he doesn’t want to live that way. He wants to feel that he is on par with his peers, that if he were to choose school he would be okay. And I understand that. I think unschooling can work just fine for teens, and they can study certain topics when they become relevant to their interests, but if they decide to go to high school they will benefit from having certain skills in place. I’m not worried about my boys and reading, if anything they’re way ahead there, and their math ability is good. Better than mine ever was, despite years of good grades in school. But they rarely write- it’s just not something they’ve developed an interest in. I don’t get it- I’ve always loved to write- but I think it’s okay to push a bit as they get older because it’s an important skill.

Jesse is doing Thinkwell math (8th grade). We’ve used a variety of math curricula over the years, and this is our first time trying this. So far, so good. He was doing Teaching Textbooks but it was a little too easy for him, and this program is more challenging. Nick is doing Singapore math, but at a super relaxed pace. He didn’t do any formal math until he was about nine, and I still let him explore math in his own way most of the time. Jesse is doing Easy Grammar Plus. It’s his first time studying grammar in a formal way, and I really like this book. He’s also doing a workbook called Wordsmith. He fusses about doing it, but he’s not been very receptive to all the other ideas I’ve suggested for writing either (writing prompts, letters, journals, stories), so I think sometimes a straightforward approach works better.

Nick does an Italic series workbook to practice handwriting, and Jesse is watching Crash Course history videos. I’m not rigid about any of this- some days they just do what they want, and they always have the option of saying no. Ultimately, I don’t believe learning can be forced upon anyone. You have to want it, and it has be meaningful. You have to be able to put it in context. So much of what I learned in school was quickly forgotten, nearly all of it. I was being the good girl, doing what I was told, pleasing the teacher. I didn’t even mind the academic side of school, but I can’t say that it was deep or meaningful learning. Real learning is something different, and I’d like to think that I’ve given my kids the opportunity to understand that difference.

having enough

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It is a quintessential February day in Maine. A few days of bitter cold, now replaced by rain and wind and piles of dirty wet snow. If I were in a funk it would be depressing, but instead I feel strangely content. Not settled, not yet, but content with the way things are. Perhaps I will never feel settled, and I’m making  peace with my restlessness. The beauty of getting older, you learn to embrace that which you cannot change.

For the first time in forever I don’t feel anxious. I have a sense of plenty, that there is enough to go around. Enough time, energy, money. I’m remembering a blogging friend from a few years ago that talked about the concept of “margin”. I think that was the term she used, to mean having some space before reaching one’s limits. At the time I wasn’t really there yet- it was after we had moved to Colorado and I thought I had fixed everything up in my life but now I can see that the journey was only beginning. Recently her wise words have come back to me, as I begin to understand what it means to have that space in my life.

You know it when you have it, and it feels good. I spent so much time thinking about the idea of home, and really this is what I was looking for. Not a literal place, but a place where I can feel at home with myself. Things have changed in my life that have helped me find some margin. Two of my kids are fully grown up, and my job with them is done. My “challenging” child has finally matured. A lot. And that makes a huge difference- it takes so much energy to parent a spirited child. But the reward is sweet.

And then there’s money. I tried to ignore the topic of money for most of my life, and now I meet it head on. You don’t have to love money to be realistic about the role it plays in our lives, and our happiness. A big part of my own awakening was becoming more aware and involved in our finances, down to the smallest details. To give an example, we bought and sold houses four times and I never educated myself at all about the process. I was busy with my babies and homeschooling, all my pretty ideals. I trusted my husband to handle everything- not because he wanted it that way, in fact he likes my input. I did it because it was easier, but in the long run it wasn’t easier at all.

Being financially aware has been the smartest thing I’ve ever done. A little late, it’s true, but at least I woke up. And I can share our experiences with my kids, in hopes that they can benefit from some of our mistakes.

My husband got a big raise, and we decided use all the extra money to pay off the last of our debt. Once we made that decision, I felt at peace about everything. The future may be uncertain, but committing to one thing and forgetting about all the other hypothetical situations has been good for me. I’m grateful for the blessings, for the stability of married life with a good partner, for the fact that life gets easier.

I’ve said before that I’m waiting for some inspiration, to figure out what the big thing is that I’m meant to do, now that my kids are growing up and I’m reclaiming some space for myself. But now I’m not so sure… what if there is no big thing? What if this is it, and it is enough? What if I can just be happy with the way things are- raising my last two kids, being a good wife and mother, caring for my family, cooking good food, slowly learning to take care of myself again. Does there have to be more?

 

grateful for the good days

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It’s been a good day. My knee is better, the sun is out, the kids are peaceful. Tuesday and Wednesday are our “busy” days (I use that term loosely, since we are way less busy than most people, including other homeschoolers), so I have started to look forward to Thursday as a free day. I’m trying to get better at putting my own needs in the mix, as I learn how to take better care of myself. I do things that I don’t really enjoy that much (like going every week to Rye Airfield) because that’s what makes my kids happy. But if homeschooling is going to continue working through the teen years, we’re all going to have to enjoy the process.

So today I did a lot of cooking, the kids did some work, and we went for a walk. The cooking was a little frustrating at first, but it ended up okay. I had bought something that I thought was a pork shoulder for slow cooking, figuring I’d make pulled pork. I got up this morning and put everything in the slow cooker, proud of myself for getting a head start on dinner. Then I started googling the specific cut of meat that I had bought, because I wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

Turned out it was a smoked, fully cooked pork shoulder picnic roast, aka a very fatty ham with a bone in it. Not exactly what I wanted. And I had already bought a piece of ham, because I was shopping with the boys and Jesse begged for it. Now I had two hams, and I didn’t even feel like ham! I ended up putting it in the oven and just baking it for hours. It’s okay. I wouldn’t buy it again, but I made a lot of other food to go with it. Mashed potatoes, cornbread, salad. Plus we have leftover fish and rice from last night. So there is plenty of food and I’m done cooking for the day.

We don’t always sit down together for dinner. I was just talking about this yesterday with friends at our weekly Wednesday gathering. I think every family should do what works best for them, and for us sitting down together in the evening isn’t that important. I’m with my kids all the time- no need to reconnect at the end of the day. My husband isn’t much for leisurely meals- he prefers to eat quickly while standing. And although he works full time, he spends all of his free time with his family too. Jesse now takes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu three nights a week, and it’s at a local health club so Scott works out while Jesse is in class. Even when we’re all home, dinner is a haphazard affair. Which sounds funny, because I’m so into cooking, but somehow the actual sitting down part doesn’t matter that much to me.

Sometimes we sit together, and when we go out to eat the boys are perfectly behaved, so whatever we’re doing seems to be working fine. It’s the way I grew up- my own family wasn’t very formal or structured either. We did have family meals, but there was no such thing as dinner served at a certain time each night. And that’s the way I’ve ended up doing it with my own family.

A small homeschooling anecdote- I read a book to Nick about Egypt today, after he did his math and writing. Right away he starts saying, “oh yeah, I know about that, and that, etc.”. I was surprised, because as far as I know we’ve never studied Egypt at all. He knows a lot about ancient Greece from reading the Percy Jackson books, and he is planning to read the Egypt ones but hasn’t started yet. I’m a lot more relaxed now, after two decades of homeschooling, more aware of readiness. I pushed a lot with my older two, and while I don’t think it necessarily hurt them I think there was a lot of wasted time.

“How do you know this?” I asked. “Tom and Jerry!” he said excitedly. “There was an episode all about Egypt.” Ah, natural learning at its finest. I’m still a bit skeptical, but he seemed pretty sure about it. I’ll google it when I’m done writing this.

The weather was decent for January, meaning sunny and just slightly above freezing and mostly bare ground, so we went for a walk. I have got to get motivated to walk more regularly- this is the most difficult time of year for it, but I need it and miss it so much when I don’t do it enough. It wasn’t quite as warm as I thought, so I was thankful that we all have good winter coats. We had a nice walk in the woods along a local tidal creek. And now I get to sit and write and hopefully read some blogs while the house is quiet. It’s so important to celebrate the good days.

 

time alone

 

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I had some time to myself this weekend. 36 hours, to be precise. Scott took the boys to stay in a yurt a few hours north of here, and there was no question about me coming along. Staying in a glorified tent in January in Maine doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I injured my knee a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t healing as quickly as I had hoped, plus I had a cold and just felt about a million years old. Winter blues I guess, but I’m starting to get better at recognizing my needs and asking for help.

So off they went on a Friday afternoon, and I had the house all to myself, at least until late Saturday night when my daughter came down. And I realized that I didn’t know when the last time was that I had spent that much time alone. I can’t be certain, but I want to say it’s been since I had kids. So 25 years, maybe more. I’ve had a few hours alone, many times. Maybe a day to myself, here and there. Perhaps one quick overnight. But alone alone, for a day and a half? It was a first in a very long time.

Too long, and I enjoyed every precious moment of it. It’s so weird, being alone when you’re used to always being with other people. Not just people, but people who need something from you. People who rely on you, for food and clean clothes and love and affection and attention. Because I’m an introvert and content with my own company, I didn’t fully realize how deeply connected I am to my family, and how long it’s been this way. I’ve always said that I tire easily of too much social interaction, but my husband and kids don’t count. And that’s true, but being with them still isn’t the same as being alone. It’s work, no matter how joyful and fulfilling it may be. And to do it for years and years and years, without a break… no wonder I feel depleted.

That’s part of my journey right now, acknowledging where I’m at, how far I’ve come from the person I used to be, what I can do to start being more true to my authentic self again. I can’t believe I’m using that term, but it expresses what I’m trying to say so I’ll let it be.

It amazed me, how still the house was. For the first time I understood why someone might put a television on for the sound, or get a dog. Cats are so silent. My cat enjoyed curling up on the bed with me at night, but during the day seemed bewildered by the lack of commotion. Or maybe he didn’t care, who knows what cats really think.

My purpose in asking for the weekend alone was to rest my knee- something that is difficult to do with everyone around. Impossible. It was hard to do it even being alone, but I forced myself. And I realized how hard it is to just stop. Even alone, I could still find plenty of things to do. I kept saying to myself, no, you don’t have to do that. Let it go. It’s crazy, seeing my life like that for the first time. Seeing how I’m always kind of racing along, putting out fires, the endless small chores, being afraid that if I let things get a little bit messy I’ll fall behind and it will all be chaos. I have a home that is clean and organized, but it takes a fair amount of diligence to keep it this way. Taking a break from that diligence was eye opening. Of course the house stayed clean because there was no one around to mess it up, but I understood for the first time just how much energy goes into making a home.

So I spent 36 hours resting, reading and watching television. I read an entire book, binge watched some of my favorite shows. I ate when I was hungry, whatever I could find in the fridge, without having to worry about the constant food needs of others. I put a cold pack on my knee when I thought of it, I drank my golden milk , which actually tastes better than it sounds. I sat quietly, with myself and my thoughts, able to focus in a way that you can only do when you’re not rushed or pressed for time or anticipating the needs of others.

It was good to have that time alone. I’m grateful for it, especially since my husband will be traveling next week. It’s not so much that I’m looking to make any major changes. I love my family, I’m blessed in so many ways and I love this life. My boys are doing great, and I wouldn’t change a thing about allowing them the freedom to live and learn without school. I’m glad that everyone is thriving, I just want to be part of that rather than feeling like it has somehow come out of me, that I am falling behind even as everyone else moves ahead.

(Also, if anyone is interested in the write up of the yurt weekend, that is here, on my other blog. The weekend was a good time for all of us.)