Friday, September 28, 2007

Work to be done

Another random post of my writing--this one a retelling of a story my beloved Alzheimer's-stricken grandfather tells me every time I get him on the phone.

Somehow, despite his raising, my grandfather got the notion that life had more to offer than a house with crumpled newspaper for insulation and a cookstove for heat. The idea tore at him, ate at him, from the time he was a small boy pushing a plow behind a mule.

The mule, really, was part of the problem, he would explain later to me. Poppy, Papaw’s father, had bought the mule some years back. She was past her prime then, and the man selling her warned Poppy that she had little left to give. Poppy scoffed, more interested in the low selling price than the return on his dollar.

“I’ve got a houseful of boys that can work,” Poppy reminded the owner of the mule, “All I need is somethin’ for ‘em to hitch the plow to.”

The boys knew when they saw Poppy riding the skinny, slightly swaybacked mule into the holler what had happened. He had left that morning with the promise of a new mule to replace the one that had been worked to death in the field. Nanny had tried to make him promise that he’d some back with a young mule—she didn’t care if it was so coltish that the boys had to break it—that would be worth their hard-earned money. The boys knew better, even as they watched their mother beg over a bowl of thin gravy. Even though none of them was over twelve, they knew. Poppy would come back with whatever suited him. And, apparently, the old gray mule with the two dollar price tag was what suited him.

My Papaw--known then as Mick-- and three of his brothers met their father at the barn lot gate. The mule was winded from bearing the load of her new owner all of three miles up the rough holler road.

“Whatcha’ got there, Poppy?” one of the boys asked, straining in to catch the scent of liquor when the older man spoke.

“New mule,” Poppy answered, swinging his lanky legs off the animal’s side and landing beside her. He was two full heads taller than the mule—not, Mick remembers thinking, a good sign in a work animal.
“You gonna’ plow with her?” Mick asked then, opening the gate so the mule could be led into the thin-planked walls of their collapsing barn.
Poppy stuck his finger in his son’s chest and shouted in his thickly accented voice, “I ain’t gonna’ do ought with it, boy. That’s why the good Lord above sent you.”

Poppy was true to his word. The next morning saw all seven children crowded around the breakfast table and the old man sprawled drunk next to it on his mattress. By mid morning, the boys were in the fields and the girls had followed their mother down to the stream wash clothes. It took three boys to guide the plow through the field that first morning. By the next day, they had a rhythm and it only took two of them to keep the old mule in line. They took turns behind the plow. Whoever’s turn it was to sit out could run down to the stream for a drink or sit under one of the tall trees at the side of the field until it was his turn again. By nightfall the second day, the work was done.

“And it’s a dang good thing.” Mick remembers, “Or we would have buried another mule had we had to plow with her a third day.”

Note: Since it feels rather self-indulgent to keep posting these little memoirs, I'll only keep going if people ask.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For Jo

I am not the world's biggest country music fan (though I can claim to like Johnny Horton more than your average listener), but this song truly sums up so much of the emotion that's tied to mothering a daughter. It'll be running through my head all day, accompanied by the images of my little girl in the gorgeous ten year retrospective video that best friend J. made for me, so I might as well share it. :-)

I Hope You Dance

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Her first decade

Jo is turning ten tomorrow. I'm not really sure how I feel about that, but clearly, I need to make up my mind quickly.

All those cheesy sayings are true.

"It seems like yesterday ..."
"I can't believe it's been so long ..."
"How you've grown ..."

All that and more, I tell you.

Ten years ago today I was saying goodbye to my co-workers, assuring them that I'd send news the next day as soon as our little one made his or her entrance. (I did.) I was also fending off an anxious editor who was positive that I wouldn't be coming back full-strength after my seven-week maternity leave. (I didn't.) That night, we drove around looking for a restaurant that had seating available, knowing that this was our last evening out as "just" a couple for the rest of our lives.

Jo joined our family the next day as a 10 pound, 2 ounce bundle of baby girl. We were in shock--at no point had dh or myself ever considered that we would be having anything other than a little boy. Clearly, God had other plans.

At no point in the past ten years have I ever wished for anyone or anything other than our beautiful Jo. She has brought sunlight into our lives and laughter into our hearts. Thank you so much for sharing all the love in your heart for the past decade, Jo. Your momma loves you.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Review: My Life, Unscripted

There are a lot of "girl's guides" out there, I know; as Jo has crept steadily towards her pre-teen years, I've kept my eyes and ears open for anything that might help us navigate the potentially rocky waters of her coming of age. I have a small collection of what I consider "tour books" set aside for her--things that I can draw on to help her find God's way for her as she journeys toward womanhood.

Tricia Goyer takes a stab at the genre with the autobiographical "My Life, Unscripted." Written directly to the young ladies she is hoping to guide and inspire, Goyer uses a unique, non-confrontational approach in presenting her material. Each themed section begins with a screenplay-like vignette drawn, presumably, from the author's real life and relating to the topic. The style is engaging, and most importantly, gives Goyer credibility as she tackles some of the nastier sides of growing up in a fallen world.

And therein lies the rub for this particular guidebook: Goyer's personal teen experiences involved alcohol, sex, mean girls, abortion and finally, carrying a pregnancy to term in her senior year. In other words, this book is not likely to make a good selection for a relatively sheltered young lady who has had little or no exposure to the school settings described or the pressures inherent within them.

For the record, Goyer presents all of the drama in a tasteful and completely non-glorifying manner. It is clear that she is writing this tell-all as a cautionary tale, with all the wisdom of adulthood and firm commitment to her faith underlining every incident. And no doubt there is quite an audience for the topics covered here--there are far too many teens in America this very minute that need to read this book to get an honest look at the cultural norms they are embracing.

For families who want to deal with these brutal realities in a frank and Biblical manner, "My Life, Unscripted" is a relational, approachable starting place. "Beautiful Girlhood," it's not. But needed ... yes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

And now for something completely different

Call it Random Friday. Call it Nothing To Blog About Day. At any rate, for your reading pleasure I offer up a section of a biographical piece that has been floating through my head (and on my hard drive) for the better part of a decade. Feedback welcome!

My parents were raised on opposite sides of a mountain that straddles the Kentucky/Tennessee border. They both moved North in their respective fifteenth years, led up I-75 by fathers hoping to cash in on Detroit’s booming auto industry.

If my family were given to seeing the irony in a given situation, this would have been a heck of an example. But I can’t recall anyone making mention of it. The fact was, they had lived no more than an hour apart for their entire lives before they finally met at a church supper with some really good Southern potato salad on the menu. From the beginning, this was all they had in common: twanging backwoods accents that set them apart in their mostly black high schools and a longing to return to places filled more with winding hollers than claustrophobic alleys.

Except for a brief, tragic stint in Knoxville, my parents never made the return to their roots. We went Back Home (as we called it) at least twice a year all through my childhood, pulling out of our brick, two-car garage before the sun came up and grinding our way up the dirt road that led to my Uncle’s trailer before supper. The trips down were boisterous, if agonizing. Before my baby brother joined us, I rode alone in the wide, windy backseat of my mother’s Charger, dodging still-red ashes from my parent’s cigarettes and handing up bottles of Bud when asked. All of this was before the ban on drinking and driving went into effect; it was the late 1970s, and only idiots thought driving with a few innocent beers under your belt was dangerous. These were presumably the same idiots who wore seatbelts when anyone with any sense at all could see that you’d have to be cut out of your car if you were strapped in and wrecked.

Trips South were sacred, as evidenced by the temporary suspension of several family rules. First, I was allowed to gather a small bag of toys and books to bring along for the ride. I could voice my picks for music, too—all I had to do was suggest the Johnny Horton 8Track and chances were good it would find its way into rotation. But the clearest sign that a trip Back Home was something special was this: It was the only time I was allowed to eat or drink in the car.

Despite the fact that both of my parents smoked, food—or anything else that might stain the interior—was taboo. Forbidden, too, was any horseplay that might damage the exterior of the car. My father orchestrated what he called “D**n Common Sense Rules” (as in, “Don’t you have any d**n common sense?”) pertaining to behavior in or around a vehicle:

1. Never ever put your feet in the car’s seat.
2. Never get in the car with dirty feet. If your shoes are dirty and you can’t clean them adequately, take your shoes off and set them in your lap. Mom can wash your clothes when you get home, but the floor mats, if soiled, may be ruined forever.
3. No eating, drinking, chewing gum, spitting, etc. in the car at any time.
4. Never use the ashtray in the car. Flick butts out the window to keep the ashtray clean.
5. Do not lean or pull on the front seats when you are sitting in the back.
6. Do not lean against the car.
7. Do not sit on the hood of the car.
8. No balls around the car: bouncing, thrown or otherwise.
9. If you must pass the car with your bike, do not ride it. Get off the bike and walk it past the car carefully, with your body between the bike and the car.
10. If the car gets wet, wipe it dry with a clean, soft towel. No air drying ... it causes spots.

The day to day enforcement of these rules was strict. Stopping at a drivethru for dinner meant an agonizing ride home with a hot, greasy bag of White Castles or Arby’s in my lap, the smell perfuming the air. I don’t remember even asking to try a fry in the car. It would have been sacrilege. Except for the times I was allowed to participate in the weekly automobile worship/washing sessions, I had never touched any of my parents’ cars. I had no idea what would happen if a real infraction—a scratch, a ding, or, heaven forbid, a full-fledged dent— took place. I was a quick study, and had been barked at a few times for being too near the vehicle. It was an honor and a priveleg just to be near the car. Anything more was too much to ask for.

But going Back Home was different. We didn’t eat breakfast in my family, so everyone filed to the car with an empty stomach. My mother always brought along a pillow and a blanket for me, and I would stretch out in the backseat. I was allowed to pull my shoeless feet up into the seat, but not to place them against any of the glass or vinyl trim. When I woke up, my mother would be carefully draining the last dregs of black coffee from our tall silver thermos into the lid that doublled as a mug. This was usually the sign that it was time for the music to come on—something raucous, usually. A little CCR, maybe. For years I thought that “Suzy Q” was somehow tied to the Ohio state line. I don’t know why, but it always seemed to be the song that was banging through the speakers when we left Michigan behind.

For lunch, mom had packed the day-glo orange cooler with bologna sandwiches. Mine were always plain: two slices of white bread and one slice of slick bologna. It came wrapped in a flip-top sandwich bag and a warning: “Get all the crumbs in the bag. And don’t go waving it around.” I was never sure why I would have wanted to wave my sandwich around. It was just one of those things that grown-ups said sometimes, I figured. When I finished the sandwich, I knew, mom would tell me I could get a bottle of Coke, the glass so cold that the ice from the cooler might still be beading on it. I would drink the whole thing and sit back, bloated and satisfied.

And then I would pray that I didn’t have to pee.

The trip from our suburban ranch home in Michigan to Uncle Shep and Aunt Lou’s three bedroom trailer in Kentucky took ten hours. There were no planned stops. Toileting was done by necessity only, and even then my father was more likely to pull off on the side of the highway and swing open the door as the car idled than to visit a rest stop with actual toilet paper. His glare in the rearview mirror was usually more than enough to make me sit with crossed legs and suffer while my bladder ached. And ache it did—a whole bottle of Coke, chugged so quick it gave me a sugary buzz and stinging throat, was more than enough to fill a six year-old’s bladder near to popping. How my dad drank all that beer and black coffee and never had to stop, I’ll never know. Part of me think that it was the magnetic properties of the place, drawing him home.

He couldn’t have taken his time going Back Home if he’d wanted.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Curriculum Night

In honor of the uncomfortable conversation I had last night, in which a fellow soccer parent thoughtfully enlightened me on the concept of "curriculum night" at her son's public school, I offer up my version for fellow homeschoolers:

Picture me in my ratty black SL sweatshirt and jeans, hair in a pony tail and oh-so-trendy black cat's eye glasses perched on my nose. I am probably not wearing shoes. I am standing in the small room that functions as our classroom whenever the dining room table or living room couch isn't being called into action. Seated in one of the two small desks that my children insist on having in order to feel like they're having "real school" is ... me.

Me1: "Thanks for coming to Curriculum Night. I know it takes a lot of time out of your schedule to come here all the way from the kitchen, but when you make a statement like this with your time, well, you’re showing your children that you care about their education.

So let’s get started! First of all, I want to point out that we haven’t had any discipline problems thus far this year, and really, we don’t expect any. But if something does crop up, I want you to know that I am fully equipped to handle it. I don’t send notes home, and I don’t have any catchy ‘name on the board with check marks' set-up, but I know how to keep order in this room and I’m not afraid to use the authority given to me to sentence kids to time-out or to remove privileges, if need be. Any questions so far?

Me2: “None. Go on.”

Me1: “Now you’re probably asking yourself what we do with ourselves all day. Since we don’t have a set in stone start time, that can be a little hard to define. We try to get things underway by 9 a.m., but some parents are quite as committed to that as perhaps they ought to be.”

Me2: (slumping guiltily in desk) “Sorry.”

Me1: “Well, yes. Anyhow. That being said, we get started somewhere in the hour of 9. Mostly, closer to 9:30.

“We cover a variety of topics here. We do the basics of course: reading, writing and ‘rithmethic, history and geography, Bible and spelling. We also read aloud. Actually, we read aloud quite a lot. Most of our day is actually spent reading. There. I've said it.A lot of this is covered in what I like to think of as the root of our program, Sonlight Core 4. This year’s main focus is on American history from 1849 onward. The children have already had some wonderful hands-on lessons related to this topic, including a neat afternoon spent panning for gold.

“I’ve modified the Sonlight Core a bit, of course. Someone insisted on enrolling a kindergartner and a second grader in a program clearly designed for older learners, you know.”

Me2: (slumping again) “Me, again. Sorry.”

Me1: “Uh-huh. Thankfully, I am a capable teacher and have been able to pull together a variety of other resources to pull in for those younger students. Is everyone with me so far? Good!

“Our entire class is studying Koiné Greek again this year. That’s been a fun extra-curricular that has really stretched our thinking powers. We are also continuing our study of classical music as a class. Our current piece is ‘The William Tell Orchestra.’ I wasn’t planning on introducing that this early in the year, but our students seem to have stumbled upon a fascination with black and white episodes of ‘The Lone Ranger’ thanks to someone’s strange parenting habits--.”

Me2: (blushing) “‘Strange' is such a strong word ....”

Me1: “Call it what you will. At any rate, I’m building on their interest, and we’re going with it.

“We’re also studying Spanish. And art. And doing AWANA verses every day. And PE. Boy, you should see these kids run! Soccer twice a week is a great outlet for all that pent-up energy.

In addition to what we here consider the essential basics of a good education, we like to address the specific needs and gifts of individual students. This is where it gets exciting, and a little complicated. For example, one of our students is interested in French, but I can only do so much, so she’s using a private tutor.”

Me2: “It’s her dad, actually.”

Me1: “As long as I’m not cramming it into my day, I don’t care who it is.

We’re studying biology and physics this year. We’ve already started our unit on the human body, and I think that’s going to take us some very interesting places. This is my first year back to writing my own curricula for this area after several years of relying on a pre-written schedule, so I’m excited to be doing it again. The children are rallying to breed our class pets--they're rabbits, you know. Sounds like a biology lesson to me!

We’re also balancing different levels of math and Language Arts for every student in the class. No one told me when I took this job that I’d be teaching one child to skip count by 2’s, another his subtraction facts and reviewing perimeter with a third, but there it is. We have daily writing time, of course, and are keeping journals. Add in grammar instruction, and we’ve got a full day, as you can see.”

Me2: "Wow. I am so impressed. Thank so much for all the work you do with my kids every day. Can I see some work samples and sign up for recess rotation now?”

The light fades as Me1 and Me2 come together to admire a wall full of paintings, drawings and other artwork. And we all feel good about ourselves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My honey's bday

Today is dh's birthday. It's also an anniversary of sorts for us; fifteen years ago today he invited me to his 21st birthday party. It was the first time he had ever asked me anywhere, which was nice of him as I was actually dating someone else at the time.

Needless to say, I ditched that boy (a very good thing) and took up with the man that is now my husband of eleven years. I can not say that we've had fifteen years of smooth sailing. Actually, there was a long stint where we weren't together and I dated an incredibly cool guy who was dh's polar opposite. There was also our rocky first year of marriage (held together by the glue of my pregnancy with dd) and several completely passionless months in 1999 that made me wonder if I really had what it took to be with this man "until death do us part."

By and large, though, the path has been one that I feel blessed to travel. I woke up next to my honey this morning and realized how nice it was to have someone with whom you have a history of shared events and experiences. Someone who loves you in cocktail dresses and torn blue jeans. Someone who is as comfortable as an old shirt, but who still surprises you with unexpected bursts of passion. Someone who walks into a room and makes it feel like a better place.

Dh is 36 now. He doesn't have the adorable floppy curls I feel in love with in college anymore. His beard is the most amazing combination of red, brown and white bristles. He still plays soccer, but aside from a weekly pick-up game with some Spanish-speaking friends, most of his field time is spent coaching boys under the age of 8. My husband is still as skinny as a rail, but chances are good his nightly bowl of ice cream will catch up to him as he creeps closer to his fourth decade. He is as finicky as he ever was--about clothes, furniture, you name it. And he still likes a dizzying array of too-deep foreign films that leave me snoozing on the couch. But oh, he is good to us. We are blessed to have him. Happy Birthday, Dh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There you go

Check-out girl at grocery store: "Is school out today?"
Logan: "You might get that impression. But let me tell you, school is never out."

Monday, September 17, 2007

A-ha moment

You're blue to the point that your husband feels like a failure.
You're edgy, and friends are starting to avoid you for fear of pushing you off the brink of whatever you're teetering on.
Joy is fleeting, and hard to catch by its elusive tail as it flits by you on the way to someone else's heart.

And finally, after three months of wondering why the darkness is deepening ...

You realize that this is how long you've been on the prescribed hormonal treatment to correct the fact that your body seems unable to recall exactly how to orchestrate the delicate symphony that is a woman's monthly art.

Praise God for light bulb moments that a) reassure you that you are not going to drop your basket and b) remind you why you steer clear of doctors and their "one-size fits all cures" in general.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Met with the ENT yesterday. Logan participated in the inspection of his throat quite nicely, luxuriating in the big old chair once he was convinced that those scary-looking pokey-tools were not coming anywhere near his delicate membranes. I got to see, via a cool mirror-thingy, parts of my beloved boy I'd never witnessed before. Turns out even the skin covering his enlarged adenoids is cute. :-)

The final diagnosis calls for a
tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. Dh and I are wrestling with this fact (and the inherent parenting fear that it brings to the surface) but are fairly convinced that this is the best route for Logan. Please pray alongside us as we seek discernment and peace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Adoption Timeline

For those just tuning in:

July 15, 2006-- Intro class--we make the final decision to adopt through the foster system, and fall in love with our agency and staff.
August, 2006--Fill out application for the agency (we are not working directly with the state), gather financial documents, letters of recommendation, etc. and are accepted.
October 21-23, 2006--The clock "officially" starts ticking as dh and I attend our full weekend, 30-hour PRIDE training session required by the state. The next week, we frantically begin rearranging our schedules to fit in the evening classes that our agency requires before your homestudy can actually begin.
November, 2006--Dh and I work through a massive packet of questions known as "homework." Designed to get us to think through our decision to adopt as well as to tip social workers off to any red flags, the sheer volume of questions is mind-numbing. Dh and I finally complete the paperwork on a flight back from a retreat in San Diego and toast success with watered-down Sprite in plastic airline cups. More classes.
December, 2006--Are frustrated to learn that despite having turned in our pre-homestudy paperwork, we'll have to wait until January to begin the actual
interview process due to the holiday vacation schedule.
January & February 2007--Homestudy. Four interviews total are conducted; one with just dh and I, one with dh alone, one with me alone, and one with the entire family. Our social worker says she'll continue to work on whether or not we should pursue foster licensing through the state or through a private Christian agency.
February, 2007--First email from our PRIDE group announcing a successful adoption. The couple, who had already been chosen by a birthmother before they took the class, are understandably ecstatic.
March, 2007--Homestudy is written, and we are referred to the private agency for licensing. A new social worker comes to make a home inspection, gives us a list of "to-do's" and says she'll be back in a month or so to make a final walk-through.
April, 2007--We scurry like rats, trying to gather things like fire ladders and CPR masks to make our home safer for a new child than it previously was for our own bio kids. Have the first state licensing homestudy meeting. Bet you didn't know it takes two homestudies to adopt via foster-care through a private agency, did you? Also, collect immunization records for bio kids, shot record for dog, copy of driving records for dh and I, and more and more documents, ad nauseum.
May, 2007--Our final walk-through is a success, and we have our last homestudy interviews. The homestudy will hopefully be written by the end of May, we are told. Our agency sends out their placement coordinator for our "big" interview--the "what is the right fit for your family" interview.
June, 2007--The final homestudy is not completely written, and we have a mild heart attack when we are told that the laws in our state have recently changed, and if our homestudy is not submitted to the state by June 18, we will have additional hoops to jump through. Blessedly, it is submitted ... on June 16.
July 14, 2007--Dh and I receive copies of our foster license in the mail. We feel official ... and start eyeing the caller ID suspiciously every time the phone rings.
July 24, 2007--I take a call from our agency's placement coordinator asking for permission to submit our homestudy for consideration for a child she had heard about in that morning's presentation symposium. The child is a 6 mo. old Caucasian baby girl. Dh and I pray before eagerly saying yes.
August 3, 2007--We have heard nothing back on the little girl. A state worker calls us and asks if we would be wiling to take placement of a sibling set, boys ages 3.5 and 18 mos. Uncomfortable dealing with the state worker directly, we refer her to our agency.
August 7, 2007--Our agency's placement coordinator says she has heard nothing back from the social worker for the little girl, but suggests hanging in there a little longer. She mentions a different sibling set, a boy age 3 and a girl, 15 mos. and says to pray about them. Dh and I do, but feel no indication that these are our kids.
August 22, 2007--About to lose my mind, I leave a long, whiny message for the placement coordinator begging her to call me back and tell me that she has no information so that I can stop wondering.
August 23, 2007--She calls back and confirms: "I feel like I sent your homestudy into a black hole." Since submitting our stuff, she has learned that this particular worker has a reputation of being difficult to reach and slow in moving. Placement Coordinator suggests that the lack of response may be a blessing, as the headaches of having an unresponsive worker as you move closer to finalization can be hard to bear. Time to move on, she says.
August 28, 2007--Placement Coordinator calls and asks permission to submit our paperwork on another child. This is a baby girl, age 7 mos., Caucasian. We laugh because dh and I have specifically requested Hispanic children and so far,
everyone's been white, white, white. Dh and I pray over the situation and call back to confirm that we want to be submitted. The coordinator sounds very positive, because she says that no one else has been submitted as of yet.
September 7, 2007--I call to check in. No news.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


We've had a lot of discussions about the terrible, awful state of the world in our house. We don't have a t.v., don't subscribe to a newspaper. What we do instead is strain current events from their media-driven source, through our parental filter, and into the minds of our children. Because of our curriculum content our children have an amazing grasp on the history of the world. That makes understanding the horrific events of the age not easier to bear (I'm not sure if anything can accomplish that) but somehow gives them more perspective. I've gotten used to that kind of depth of maturity in our conversations; even Logan nods sadly when he hears someone mention "Temple Mount" or "fighting in Africa." He has something to anchor current events to, and in some small way the fallen state of humanity is explained.

This morning, however, I had one of those moments that saddens me beyond the scope of our normal "the world is truly not our home" conversations. While popping a Jiminy Cricket sticker onto her birthday countdown, I saw Jo pause.

"Today's September 11th, right?"

I got a chill. Of course I did. You can't hear that date and not feel something evil stirring around you.


Long pause as she methodically traced the outline of the little smiling cricket and his umbrella.

"Dad has to go to work today, right? It's not a holiday or anything?"

I started to explain the concept of Patriot's Day, but then I realized that in actuality, what she was saying was that she was afraid. See, the children were are raising live in a world where Sept. 11 has taken on mythic, horrific proportions. You can not insulate them from the images even if they were not among those old enough to remember sitting beside their hysterical mommy in front of the television as she screamed into the phone, "I don't care where the editors are sending you! You will not go near an !@# airport today, do you hear me?" (That would be Jo's memory of the event. Go ahead and deduct fifty points from my overall parenting score.) Even if Jo had never seen the first-hand trauma of that morning, she would forever be able to call to mind the collapsing towers. Even without access to popular media outlets, my 9 year-old has seen more representations, photos and drawings of the scene than I could ever count. The image has bored its way into pop culture ... and along with the actual towers come the devastating fear and insecurities that ride their wake.

Here is the victory in the terrorist effort of that day: six years later, my daughter wonders if maybe today--of all days--daddy might be safer at home.

Dh had to go to work today, of course. He--and millions of other American mommies and daddies--probably kissed his children an extra time or two before he went out the door today. And I bet millions of American children will make a little more noise when they hear the key in the lock as evening comes on. I know I will be among the millions of wives who heave a sigh of relief when I feel his arms around me again. And, in case you think that the bad guys alone can claim victory in the aftermath of 9-11, know this: all the reports that I have seen lately cite a larger-than-usual class of 5 year-olds entering their kindergarten year. Next year's class is expected to be even larger. The birthdates of many of those kids trace back their conception to a very fragile period in American history ... the weeks and months immediately following 9-11-01.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Neither, Nor

Jo is rapidly approaching her tenth birthday. I'd like to believe that this isn't perfectly evident to everyone. I'd like to think that she is growing up in a vacuum where the numbers go up but the way things are remains the same. Most of all, I'd like to think that my beautiful little girl is not going to writhe through those awful emotional growing pains that I remember so clearly.

Of course, none of this is possible.

Jo is growing up. Granted, she is growing into a gentle, thoughtful, kind, responsible, honest young lady. All of these are very good things--the fruits of many, many character training session as well as a fairly willing-to-please personality and a whole lot of grace. I look at all the things she is becoming and I am awed. She is so much more on the cusp of age ten than I was on the cusp of twenty. Good things can be done through this child.

But this doesn't mean that the transition is going easily in her. No, she is still struggling to reconcile within herself the little girl she has been for the past decade with the young woman she will find herself being on the other side of all of this. At times, she surrenders altogether in one direction or the other: pulling off her shoes and digging knee-deep in the muck with a gaggle of little boys, or graciously sacrificing her own plan to serve in a Sunday School class of younger children for the morning. This is the line I see my little girl walking. Am I grown up yet? Oh, tell me I'm still little enough!

Saturday afternoon the whole family made a pit stop at the grocery store to take advantage of a 50¢ per loaf sale on bread. It was a relatively warm day, and we'd been at the soccer field for the better part of the morning. As we stepped on to the curb and started toward the doors, I instinctively reached for the nearest little person hand. It was Jo's. What happened next was so fast that really, I could have misinterpreted it had I not opened my mouth a second later; Jo, seeing me reaching for her hand, folded her arms across her chest and scurried past me to the front of our little pack.

This is where "cool mom" shrugs and says, "Whatever. She's too big to hold my hand in public."

Unfortunately, I am not "cool mom."

"Heeeeey!" I heard myself saying before I even realized it. "I can't hold you hand any more?"

The look Jo shot me was one of clear horror, and I knew the second I saw her face that I had stepped over that carefully drawn line. Yes, I will be your little girl when I am feeling like a little girl. But when I am not, please give me my space.

My husband stepped in to the rescue, making a big show out of how he was quite happy that I now had a free hand, and thanking Jo profusely for allowing him the honor of escorting me through the store. We all laughed and giggled and the moment blew past. Jo even consented to walk alongside me in the store, and I was careful not to tread on her delicate sense of individualism.

But here's the second half of the story:

As we were in the produce section grabbing bananas, I announced that I was going to the restroom. Dh had taken the boys already, so I gave the shout out and then turned to go. Suddenly, Jo let out a howl.

"Mommy, wait for me, please?!" The girl ran up behind me in the fiercest bear hug I've been given in months (and this says a lot, because Logan can really dish 'em). Turns out the idea of me going all the way to the bathroom without her was just too much to bear. She held my hand all the way to the restroom, then played footsie with me under the stalls.

"You're not feeling like you hurt my feelings earlier, are you? Because it's not as if there's anything you need to make up to me here," I reminded her as we walked back to the produce section.

"Nah," she told me, "I can't explain it. But sometimes I just want to be close to you. And sometimes I just want ... I don't know."


I'd do it for her if I could. God, in His wisdom, made that impossible. Each and every little girl has to work out the kinks on her own. She has to feel both gawky and beautiful, both unloved and smothered, both naked and overprotected, both surrounded and alone. If I could, I'd sit down and plot her a course. I'd highlight the smoothest path and lead her there, taking care to avoid the places where it hurts the most. But I can't.

Instead, I have to settle for keeping my Mom-radar carefully attuned to whatever signals she's sending out. I have to draw my own boundaries as she stakes out hers. And together, we'll walk through this mess. And we'll come out on the other side. And chances are good, we'll hold hands as we walk out.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Math, You See

Gayle asked weeks ago for a review of Math•U•See, and I'm finally getting around to it. Sorry. Math is really not one of my favorite topics, even when it's combined with writing (which I love). But, because you asked, Gayle, I'll take a stab at it. :-)

First, I have to admit that this is actually our second attempt to use MUS as our math curriculum. About a year and a half ago, my dear cousin (also a homeschooling mom) sent me her copy of the Alpha program after hearing me complain one too many times about how Jo just couldn't get addition facts to stick in her head. Not being a person too shrug off wise counsel (or free curriculum) from those who know better, I dutifully bought a starter set of the blocks and the Student Text and we set to work on seeing just what this math was.

It was a monumental failure, that's what it was.

When confronted with a pile of happily colored little blocks, Jo froze. Her brothers cheerfully built walls and other creations from them as she struggled to remember the corresponding color to number relationships. She could not/would not sort the blocks into the neat little stair steps that our video friend Mr. Demme modeled. She fumbled around with setting up equations with those fun little hands-on manipulatives. And in the end ... I gave up.

We went back to Horizons, which was good enough, I guess, but never the perfect fit for my math phobic dd.

Fast forward to this past spring. Jo undergoes her annual evaluation, as required by the All Knowing Educational Powers That Be. The woman who does the assessment is another one of those people whose wise counsel I would be remiss in dismissing. She goes over a handful of math skills with Jo, then turns to me.

"What are you using with her?"
ME: "Horizons."
"Well, stop. Have you tried Math•U•See?"


I explained our problem with MUS, but she didn't back down. "Try it again," she urged, "She just wasn't ready before." I admit that I didn't believe it. But, I went home, pulled out MUS Alpha and started over. And this time, it seems to be working.

Clearly, the difference is in Jo. The program is no different than it was 18 months ago, so it has to be my daughter that's changed.

This go-round, she memorized the block colors in under an hour. She flew through Alpha, memorizing all of the facts with only a couple of burps along the way. Now she's on Beta. She's only 5 lessons in, but she's doing fine. I don't expect any major headaches for her as I look ahead in the text.

I have also placed Atticus and Logan in MUS--mostly just for consistency on my part. Atticus is at the tail end of Alpha, reviewing subtraction facts just long enough to let his older sister improve her confidence by staying a step ahead of him in the Beta book. (Yes, this is a ploy on my part.) Logan is doing Alpha again for mastery. He' finished lesson 6 today, counting to 100. He seems to be loving the math=blocks idea, which is right up his alley.

So, what do I like about MUS? First of all, I love that the pressure is off of me to be the one to initiate the teaching. I am essentially in the "support" role, following up where the very capable Mr. Demme leaves off. If his method doesn't "click," then I get to rework it. But honestly, his teaching style has been very approachable for my kids. I watch the video with the child the first time, then pick up with the examples and games in the teacher's guide. Then we work through the worksheet. The next day, the child watches the video on his or her own, then I sit in and we work through it again. On the third day, I give them the option of watching or not. Usually, they are ready to move on, which means teaching the lesson back to me.

All of this, of course, assumes that it's not a lesson that is covered in one day, which we've had several of since we're using the program remedially.

I also like the number of practice problems given in MUS. Some math programs seem too work-heavy to me. Frankly, if you've got it, you've got it. If you don't, then no matter how many problems you put on a worksheet, you're not going to solve the darn things. MUS allows for a manageable number of equations, then gives you the chance to step back and make sure that the mastery is there. If it is, and one worksheet is all it takes, then fine. if not, they have six sheets for each lesson (plus an online worksheet generator and drill program) that can keep spitting out more.

I also have a healthy appreciation for the blocks now. They are integral to the program, but my biggest fear (that my dc would be reliant on them to do any math of any sort) has not proven true. The manipulatives are an attractive tool, but like training wheels, there comes a point when they are too cumbersome, and the kids willingly set them aside. When they need to "see" concepts, though, the blocks work better than any other manipulative I have used. I can't tell you how many "a-ha!" moments I have personally had while watching a lesson and playing with my own set of blocks!

Yes, I admit--I have learned from MUS.

So what do I not like? The thing that turned me off to the program at first is actually not a drawback to me now. I wanted something that kept reviewing essential skills with Jo, since she seemed particularly hard pressed to keep facts and functions locked into her brain. I have realized, though, that that is something that I shouldn't depend solely on a math curriculum to do--it's something that I should be providing for my children in the way of daily life-application experiences. Since returning to MUS, I've made a point of hauling out more games, teaching my kids to play cards, asking them to calculate things and otherwise engaging them in a steady diet of mathematical thinking.

So there's the review. MUS is not a one-size-fits-all cure for the common math curriculum. But it is a great starting place.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Adventures with Potty Fish

We are currently fishsitting for our dear friends, who are enjoying some end-of-summer beachfront r&r. This particular little swimmer is a reddish Beta--the kind you can buy at Linens And Things in a big planter-slash-bowl to accent your dining room table. Not that I get that; animal as centerpiece seems pretty self-absorbed even to my non-PETA member mentality.

Anyhow, this guy is named Potty Fish. Dear friend J. bought him out of desperation as she was trying to entice her toddler to spend a little more time putting the peepee in the appropriate room instead of his drawers. I think she read about the idea online: FISH + BATHROOM= POTTY TRAINED CHILD. I suppose this isn't that far from the idea of using a fish as a decoration, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. I really don't remember how effective the idea was, but I know for a fact that the child in question is 3.5 now and hasn't worn diapers in quite a while. Maybe it was the fish. Maybe it wasn't. At any rate, the fish is now known to one and all as Potty Fish.

Potty Fish is currently reigning over our combo living room/dining room/kitchen area from his perch on a high counter. The kids have gotten a huge kick out of him, despite the fact that our home boasts one 120 lb. German Shepherd and not one, but two mini rex rabbits. If you ask me, any one of those animals are waaay more entertaining than Potty Fish. I mean, all Potty Fish does is hang out in his little plastic bowl and ... well, tread water. How much fun is that?

A lot, apparently.

This morning, I called my mother to offer her belated birthday wishes. (I tried to call her twice yesterday, but she was out.) The kids gathered round and did their best rendition of both "Happy Birthday" and our preferred family favorite, "Birthday" by the Beatles. Afterward, Logan asked to talk to Oma. I walked away--never a good thing--and came back a few minutes later to this exchange:

"Potty Fish. Yeah, Potty Fish. ... He swims in ... something. ...I don't know. .... It's ... pee maybe? Maybe that's why he's Potty Fish?"

Yes, I explained the moniker to my mother. And yes, she knew that the fish wasn't sloshing around in a bowl of urine. Whether or not Logan actually thought that or not I guess should be sorted out before he applies to a college biology program.

So be careful what you name your pets, folks. Stick to Nemo and Peanut and Prince. Don't venture off into uncharted territory. Let Potty Fish be a lesson to us all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

An anniversary (of sorts)

The official two years ttc mark hit today. Two years. Happy birthday, ovulatory anxiety!

Makes me want to go back in time and clock myself for all those "All he has to do is look at me ..." funnies I threw out back when I had just had my third baby in just over four years.

Live and learn.

Back to School

... not that we ever take an extended break, mind you. Not that we haven't spent the past two weeks easing into our full schedule. And not that the children seem capable of not turning even mundane things into learning opportunities, but still ...

Today has been the Official Now We Are Doing School On the Record Day.

We've had an auspicious start, which is normally the case with our fall schedule. I am playing the part of human ping-pong again this year, bouncing from child to child, from topic to topic for those things that need to be covered individually. I have elected to stack those subjects in the morning hours. Jo, especially, tends to work faster and more efficiently before lunch, so I'm taking advantage of that fact. We've already covered math (courtesy of Math-U-See), LA (a mish-mosh of customized items), Spanish (Rosetta Stone), Bible, Art (a little free painting to fill in the time) and cursive handwriting for the boys. Then Jo made us some delicious quesadillas and we enjoyed them over some light reading before heading off for "rest time."

And it's only noon!

I know that it can't possibly stay this perfect but, wow ... I am enjoying this!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I give up

Logan has strep. Again.

His last bout was a mere four weeks ago.

This marks his eighth infection with strep in 18 months--his fourth round that has been accompanied by scarlet fever as well. Our medical provider has had him run the gauntlet of medical wünderdrugs, from amoxicillian to cefadroxil to Keflex to some particularly nasty thing starting with an "o." He has gargled, chewed gum with Xylitol and dealt with my constant monitoring of the condition of his tonsils with flashlights. We have been waging a war in this household ... and strep is the enemy.

Just for jollies, at his 5 year check up today, I asked the family practice nurse we see to do a test and see if it was back. He'd complained of his throat hurting and had had a sandpapery red rash on his stomach since yesterday afternoon. Knowing his history (and being an excellent health care provider in general), she obliged.

When confronted with yet another positive result, I admit it: I officially gave up. Logan is going to an ENT in two weeks, and I've been dreading it. Been thinking up all the things I can think of to justify why this kid needs to keep his tonsils. I mean, God put them there, right? They are a functioning part of his immune system. They shouldn't just be altered for convenience or our lack of patience or ....

Nevermind. I give up.

Nothing I can say is worth putting my son through this every six weeks. If taking his tonsils out is wrong, then let me be the guilty party. If he wants to be angry down the road that we rushed to have part of his body hacked out, so be it. Right now, I just can't take looking at the bags under his eyes anymore and wondering if it's strep again, or picking up on behavioral cues and trying to discern whether it's attitude or sickness. I can't see him walking around thinking it's normal for your throat to hurt all the time.

So I give up. Time for the surgeons to do their thing, because clearly, it's not something a mommy can cure.

Monday, September 3, 2007

In honor of public school opening day ...

A quiz answering the burning questions you truly want to know about my high school years!

1. Who was your best friend? Before we moved to NC, it was Cheryl. Then, when we moved, I had a little clique of friends that were my constant companions: "Big Dave", Trent, Jess, "Buddha" (real name: Carsten), Davie P., Dylan, "Lizard" (real name Elizabeth), and the Heathers. We really liked nicknaming people. I was "Cheddar."

2. Did you play any sports? Not in high school.

3. What kind of car did you drive? I totaled a Cavalier and was rewarded with a Beretta. I'm not sure about the logic there, but ...

4. It’s Friday night. Where were you? In the basement at Trent's house with "everyone," playing pool. Or at work.

5. Were you a party animal? Not by the common definition.

6. Were you considered a flirt? No, I was the edgy one. Apparently that was somewhat attractive to certain guys.

7. Were you in the band, orchestra or choir? Band until we moved to NC.

8. Were you a nerd? I was one of the punk rock kids. The super-popular folks didn't look at us with envy or anything, but we were a few rungs higher on the social ladder than your average nerd.

9. Were you ever suspended or expelled? No comment.

10. Can you sing the fight song? I put a lot more effort into learning all the lyrics of "Tommy the Cat."

11. Who was your favorite teacher? Mr. Schnackenburg, who thought my writing was worth something.

12. What was your school mascot? We were the Sabres.

13. Did you go to the Prom? Several.

14. If you could go back, would you? Uh, no.

15. What do you remember most about graduation? No one from my family came. Four years later, when I graduated from college, I opted not to walk in the ceremony and no one understood why.

16. Where were you on Senior Skip Day? Much to my shame, many a day was Senior Skip Day. Back in the day, I knew all the record stores and museums of downtown Charlotte by heart.

17. Did you have a job your senior year? Two--I worked the counter in a dry cleaners and was a nurse's aid in a retirement home. Trying to save for college, you know.

18. Where did you go most often for lunch? There was this place by the school, I can't remember what it was called. They had awesome French Dip sandwiches. When I became a vegetarian, I started going to this Vietnamese place for noodles.

19. Have you gained weight since then? Oh, yes.

20. What did you do after graduation? I went to lunch with my then-boyfriend's family.

21. What year did you graduate? 1992

22. Who was your Senior Prom Date? "Big Dave" (the aforementioned boyfriend)

23. Are you going/did you go to your 10 year reunion? No, I let that one pass me by. I did submit a profile for this program-type booklet they put out. It had little blurbs of the "Where are they now?" variety. I was the only one with three children, one of a handful living out of state and one of only a few dozen who were married. Strange.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The New and Improved Schedule

Keeper of a tight ship I am not. Sure, I tend to have things running along at a fairly good clip. But my natural default mode is decidedly sedentary (ie, reading--alone or to my kiddos) and that really doesn't translate into a whole lot of laundry getting folded or dishes getting washed--let alone the other stuff my children will need to know someday, like how to calculate the area of a triangle. (Oh, wait--I'm not totally convinced that they will ever need to calculate the area of a triangle. And, if they do, I know that they are smart enough to google it to get thorough instructions.)

We do well enough, really. We put in more than our states' required number of school hours (not to mention school subjects). My children love learning and have no problem digging into some pretty deep topics on their own. And really, you can learn a lot from just reading good books. Look at Beatrix Potter, for goodness sake! :-)

But this year, with the responsibility of educating three brilliant little blessings dangling over my head, I thought that my former dabbling in scheduling should start to look a bit more like actual, real scheduling. After a few stabs at trying to juggle the fact that there are three students in this one room schoolhouse and only one teacher, I think I came up with a fairly workable outline. Here's a peek at the plan ... which will of course be modified as we go along.

6:30 a.m.--MG up, make coffee, Bible time
7 a.m.--Jo & Atticus private Bible time, Logan breakfast helper
7:30 a.m.--eat breakfast, devotion time with entire family (yes, we do devotions over omelettes)
8:30 a.m.--All, morning chores
9 a.m.--MG shower, Jo finish chores/Spanish, Atticus read to Logan
9:30 a.m.--MG reading lesson with Logan, Jo LA, Atticus Spanish/cursive
10 a.m.--MG Math-U-See with Jo and Atticus, Logan painting or drawing
10:30 a.m.--MG Math-U-See with Logan, Others finish lesson and/or AWANA
11 a.m.--MG Language Arts with Atticus & Logan, Jo make lunch
11:30 a.m.--lunch (history read aloud over lunch)
12 p.m.--MG computer, dc reading in rooms
12:30 p.m.-MG phone calls, quiet time (drawing, writing, etc.) in rooms
1 p.m.--All family read aloud
1:30 p.m.--All Science/Art (alternate)
2 p.m.--All English from the Roots Up
2:30 p.m. --Jo & Atticus Greek, Logan Spanish or computer game
3 p.m.-- MG one-on-one time with Atticus, Jo & Logan play board game
3:30 p.m.--MG one-on-one time with Jo, Atticus & Logan play game
4 p.m.--All chess/music (alternate)
4:30 p.m.--All Journal/Drawing/free writing
5 p.m.--MG make dinner, Atticus dinner helper, Jo free, Logan Lincoln Logs
5:30 p.m.--Dinner
7 p.m.--MG read to boys, Jo French w/ Dad
7:30 p.m.--MG free, Jo reading with Dad, Atticus reading in bed, Logan bedtime
8 p.m.--Jo reading in bed, Atticus bedtime
8:30 p.m.--Jo bedtime

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Happy Song

I really haven't liked the direction this blog has taken. I feel like it's becoming my own personal whine-fest. I try very hard not to live my life focused on the negative, and yet here I am, over and over again pointing out the crumminess of the things that are going on around me, or saying how frustrated I am with this or that.

So tonight, here's a list of things I am happy about or thankful for, in no particular order:

1. My daughter is turning ten and, unlike I once feared would be the case, she is not cheeky, mouthy or rude. Quite the opposite actually.

2. My husband is willingly (joyfully, even) working a temporary part-time job to bring in extra $$.

3. An anonymous Christ-follower who obviously knew of our need left $500 on our front porch. Talk about blessed!

4. My boys think that "The Lone Ranger" is edgy entertainment.

5. I weeded my front walkway without getting stung by bees, hornets, wasps or anything else that can potentially kill me.

6. Jo asked if we could "please" do school today, even though it's Saturday.

7. My mom acknowledged for the first time today that "The DaVinci Code" is indeed a work of fiction.

8. My husband and all three of my kids have accepted Christ. Family heaven party!!! :-)

9. Logan draws me an entire pack of pictures almost every single day, just for being his momma.

10. Atticus is seven and still thinks it's cool to sit in my lap every morning and cuddle.

11. I remembered to buy coffee at the grocery store even though I had forgotten to put it on the list.

12. Orange peel texture for newly installed drywall does indeed come in individual aerosol cans.

13. I spent virtually all day alone with Logan yesterday, and he talked my ear off. I loved it.

14. I've had a bunch of evenings alone lately, which is a prime way I recharge.

15. I am enjoying a totally useless novel with absolutely no redeeming value right now. Guilty pleasure.

16. Unlike my grandmother, I do not do laundry in a crick. I have a lovely Kenmore that does the deed for me.

17. Jo's birthday list? A 4-H sweatshirt, a rock tumbler, a purple light saber and ... play food. C'mon. Is this girl great or what? :-)

18. Two of my grandparents are still very much alive.

19. My dh has been extra-sweet to me lately, knowing that I'm down.

20. I found that darn folder of fingerprinting documents I thought I'd lost.

21. I've got a good friend that's only a phone call away.

22. My cousin loaned me a load of wonderful books for school, in addition to going halfsies on Core 4 with us.

23. I have someone I trust who I can leave my kids with in a pinch.

24. Fall's almost here.

25. I am slowly building a relationship with my father.

26. My Mamaw and Papaw still call me "Baby."

O.k., I'll stop. Hopefully that long list of good outweighs the bummer vibe I've been perpetuating here and will make me want to post more.

(P.S.--Spellcheck isn't working right now, so *that's* who you should blame if you read this before I get to fully edit it!)