Thursday, December 31, 2009

I'm Not Who I Was

Dear Dad,

I thought you'd never ask.

Or rather, I'd given up on you asking. See, I had waited and waited and waited until the hope of explaining had faded from need and into that quiet, still place where hope never dies, but no longer need to be fanned to stay alive.

You asked: "How did you forgive me?" and "Why did you reach out, and keep trying?" And I've got a good answer for all of it. But first, we have to go back to ... well, before you even left us.

By all standards, there was a lot to forgive. You admit yourself that parenting wasn't something you'd ever really aspired to, nor was it something that you saw as having much place in your busy, grown-up world. You had a life outside of the four walls of our home, and that was where you poured your love, your energy, and your passion. From the very beginning--as beguiled as you were by my pigtails and adoration of you--that place, that other, was your world. I never doubted that the time you gave to me was precious; It came in fits and starts, and was as dependable as the next phone call that would drag you away from the card game, the dance recital, the roughhousing in the pool. I don't remember you ever apologizing for the depth of your commitment to your job or your lack of commitment to your family. It was a foregone conclusion--to you, to us--that work came first. You were never ashamed of that, and so I grew to be ashamed of wanting you so badly, of daring to try and imagine a time when I would rank higher than the company that you ran with such diligence and care.

And then, of course, there was the drinking. You came from a long line of men who could hold their likker, and I doubt you ever thought twice about your nightly stop at "your bar." Amazing, isn't it, that three full generations on, you found and claimed your own local, just as Poppy's father had done back before he's watched his son take the boat from Ireland to the promise of America?

Your drinking was not of the savoring, social kind. It was in quantity, and not without ill effect. More than once my mother and I woke up to a crashed car in the driveway of our beautiful suburban home and tried to explain away for the polite folk how a man of such standing had managed to wreck his own car, make his way home, and pass out on the couch without feeling the need to tell a soul.

There was the fighting, too. The yelling, the slamming of doors, the throwing of objects. I can still tell you the exact volume level that a Red Wings game must be blasted at in order to cover the terrors of parents verbally assaulting one another on the other side of a wall: 18. I can also tell you that baby brothers accustomed to such ruckus will not awaken from sleep until their big sisters drown out the worst of the screaming with Henry Rollins' yells pumping from stereo speakers.

I will not go into the adultery or the acts of infidelity that you placed center stage in your marriage. We both know it's there, and we live with the shadow of its effects.

There was much to be forgiven from the beginning. Your leaving was, really, just lemon juice in a festering wound. Instead of wondering if you wanted to be with us at all, the answer was thrust into our faces: no, you did not want to stay.

You did not want to stay, so you left.

You left, and you took it all. You took our financial safety net, our ability to stay in the only home we had ever known, and the last shreds of my mother's mental stability.

You left, and you didn't look back. Years and years of black screen, as your absence spoke volumes over my most defining years. You missed it. All of it. The dances, the boyfriends, the college visits, mom's faltering grip on reality, my hatred for you, my young womanhood.

A lot to forgive.

But I have. Utterly, and completely. You know this. That stuff I mentioned? It's history--the back story of me, the pieces of the puzzle that come together like so many jagged edges to produce the person you see in front of you today. I recite them with no passion, no anger, no hurt. It is what happened. Bíodh sé amhlaidh.

Which bring us to the second question. Why did I then turn to you and seek to establish a relationship at all?

Clearly, you hadn't proven yourself very worthy of my love or trust. I'll be honest with you: friends and relatives have warned me (and will continue to warn me, I'm sure) of what an awful, heartless bastard you are. Of how you don't deserve my love. How the gift of even hearing about your grandchildren is too much of a reward for such a selfish life. How you need to reap what you've sewn: namely, loneliness and bitterness.

If I had a dime for every single mother fighting to raise her kids without the benefit of a father who has told me that I am wrong to offer friendship to you after the way you left, the lack of communication, the total absence and lack of interest in my life, well ... I'd be rich.

But I'd be no better off. And here's why. Please, listen closely, because I'm finally, after all that, getting around to answering your question:

I am not only your child. I am a child of the most high God. And as much as I have forgiven you, Dad ... He has forgiven me that much more.

I was no easy child, and I know it. Anything and everything that a child could get into, I did. And I don't just mean the small stuff, like dumping a tin of flour all over the kitchen floor. The big stuff. The heartbreaking stuff. Like the night when I was 15 years old and tried to run away by stealing your precious convertible, and ended up slamming it into the side of the house. No small potatoes. I remember the look on your face like it was yesterday; I wondered at the time if you'd ever look into my eyes again. I was horrified at myself, at you, at my mother. I channeled that horror into my big act of teen rebellion. And I meant it. At the time, I was glad that it hurt you.

Even that, though, has been forgiven. Not just by you (I know because you've told me) but by the One who bore the ultimate price for my pettiness, my ugliness, and my sinful self-worship mixed with self-loathing.

Five years ago now, I felt God speak to my heart about you. You and I had resumed a casual relationship of sorts after years of virtually no contact. Phone calls once every three months or so. The occasional picture mailed your way highlighting my growing babies. But as I sat thinking over a passage of scripture, you came to mind. And I knew what God was asking. He wanted me to open my life to you, and to allow you to taste something not filled with the bitterness and coldness that you deserved, but bursting with the warmth and love that Jesus has poured out on me despite the fact that I didn't deserve it, either.

I didn't want to do it, really. I mean, I knew I would--I've read about Noah, and had no intention of running away from Ninevah--but I was certain that it would be a simple exercise in obedience. "I will do as you say, God, because to not do it is worse than the discomfort I will have in trying."

So I decided to start writing you letters. At first, they were stiff and cordial. Do you remember those letters? How I couldn't use the nicknames of the children for fear that you wouldn't know who I was talking about? How I had so many blanks to fill in, like my husband's job, and what kind of a house we lived in? I searched and searched for minutiae to fill those letters. "I am going to bake Christmas cookies this week." "Our dog is growing so fast!" "I painted in my dining room." I sent those details faithfully, once per week.

I heard nothing from you. After three months, I began to get angry. All of my feelings of abandonment, all of my hurt, all of my desire to protect my kids from your sin and deserting resurfaced. It was nearly impossible to write those letters when my heart was so hard.

And then ... a miracle.

I let go.

All of it. It just ... slipped away, like a dirty sheet being stripped form a bed.

Underneath were the good memories. Trips to Dairy Queen, just me and you. You hoisting me on your shoulder as we walked into your office. My pride at riding shotgun in your fiery red pickup. The way you sang "Jackson" at the top of your lungs in the shower. Your hug at my 8th grade graduation, where you told me that I was both brilliant and beautiful. With the skin of anger pulled back, I could see the good bits again.

Delighted though I was with the changes in me, I couldn't wait to see what God's big plan was for this new-found connection. I wrote my letters diligently, still not hearing back from you. I waited, sure that soon, you'd send a card or call, letting me know that not only were you grateful to hear from me, but that you, too, had come to know Christ.

But it didn't happen. Instead, that year at Christmas, you sent my children gifts for the first time. I waited, holding my breath. You called once. I waited some more. The letters kept coming, always from Washington to Kentucky. You sent a birthday card for Atticus, then Logan. I wrote some more. And on and on.

Three years ago, we met for a one evening overlap in your favorite vacation spot. It was the first time you'd met Logan. We had just one evening to spend together, and I wondered how it would be--you and your wife meeting up with my family. Would it be awkward? Would we argue? Would there be anything to say at all?

Instead, that was the night I saw you pull 9 year-old Jo onto your lap, and tear up as you examined her freckled, sweet face. You grabbed my hand too tightly and whispered, with a hoarse voice: "She's so beautiful. She's you all over again."

Months later, you sent a note written on office stationary. It said, simply, "Thank you for sharing so freely what I've missed. Love, Dad."

It was so little, when my overtures had been so numerous and so grand. Still, it was what you offered, and I took it to heart.

And then, finally ... five years into my weekly letters. Five years into my calls and my photos, my love for you having finally (finally!) blossomed and soared past obligation and into true intimacy ...

You told me when I visited that you loved me. That you were so sorry for all that you had missed. That you would have never reached out to me, because you knew that the wrong you had done was too much to ask forgiveness over. We cried and hugged, and it was a beautiful night. You told me how proud you were of me, and how you are enriched through my love for you.

But still, you didn't ask why.

Until today.

So, today, Dad, I am telling you. I have forgiven you because I was forgiven. I love you because I was first loved. And I kept reaching, even when it seemed like there was no purpose in going on, because I was sought after and rescued by the God who seeks after you, too.

I give thanks every day that I have healing in my heart where once there was nothing but an empty, throbbing cavity. I give thanks that when people talk about their fathers, I think not of the Dad who abandoned me in my youth, but of the one who tells me he wishes I lived closer. A man, yes. Mortal and fallible and bound to disappoint. But once, I had nothing. You were given back to me by my Heavenly Father, and for that, I will give praise. And if somehow, some small way, my offerings of love and letters and access to my children can be transformed into you coming even one step closer to knowing the full power of that Father's love, I am honored.

So thank you for asking. Thank you for being grateful for my forgiveness. But keep looking, Daddy. Because the open hand I have offered you is a mustard seed compared to the wide, green spaces and unbearable lightness that is the forgiveness of Christ. As much as your daughter loves you, He loves you more.

With love,
Mary Grace

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Don't you just love/hate how those nit-picky truths of life get in the way of living the way you want to?

I sure do.

My most recent encounter with Things I'd Rather Act Like I Don't Know came in the form of an Elizabeth George book, "A Woman After God's Own Heart." Say what you will about the whole patriarchal vs. complementarian models of marriage, I think we all aspire to be the best possible wife and mother that we can be. And we know how to go about that. Really, we do. Being a faithful follower of Christ, a great wife, an awesome mother is not a secret path walked only by those who have Figured It All Out. If only that were the case! Then we'd have an excuse, right?
No, the truth is that so often, we (and I'm lumped soundly in this group, trust me!) just don't want to do the work that it takes to get there. Because that work, well ... it takes sacrifice. It puts others ahead of ourselves all the time, even when we aren't feeling especially giving. And really, it's not always as much fun as the other stuff.

We know the work that needs to be done. We've read the job description. We'd just rather ... you know ... read a book and drink Oolong tea. O.k., maybe that's just me. :-)

I have a firm, satisfying faith in the Lord. I have a great marriage. I have amazing relationships with each of my kids. People who know me in real life generally think I've got a decent head on my shoulders (I think). I am living the good life, people.

Reading Elizabeth's George's book, though, made me want to aspire to the GREAT life.

As I've said, the keys to the great life aren't hidden from us. They're in plain view, if only we choose to see them. Elizabeth George breaks them down as priorities:

#2-Your husband
#3-Your children
#4-Your home
#5-Your spiritual growth
#6-Your ministry activities
#7-Other activities

Everyone has to define the specifics entailed in those categories by herself, of course. For me, ministry includes phone calls (mentoring friends), fundraising for our nonprofit, doing some volunteer writing and editing for our foster agency, and a host of other things that might not look like "ministry" on the surface. My spiritual growth doesn't include my Bible time, because I put that up there with #1. But it does include listening to podcasts of some of my favorite pastors and speakers, as well as reading books like the one I'm talking about here.

I'd like to say that there's wiggle room in some of those last priorities, but you know what ... I've found over the past few weeks that for me, there's not. For example, I'm more than happy to slide #4 (Casa Blandings) down below ministry activities. But you know what happens when I do that? I end up in conflict with #2 (Mr. Blandings) who is suddenly sockless and bereft at the state of the laundry pile. And I'd also like to say that from time to time, #6 (in the form of writing an encouraging essay) can take precedence over #3 (the children), especially when there's a deadline looming. But again--catastrophe. Oliver ad Manolin find their way into the potted plants, Logan dares to use the last nub of Jo's pale blue watercolor pastel, and Atticus commandeers the very last pair of fresh lithium camera battery for his latest Lego robot creation. On Christmas Eve. I could say that where there are no oxen, the manger is clean and chalk all this up to the happy chaos of a large and growing family. But the truth is that my absence--my misplaced priority--has consequences.

Would that it were more difficult to discern. ((sigh))

MMX, people. 2010. A whole new year. A time of fresh starts. A season of rebirth and regeneration. Yet another moment to pause, reflect on the blessings we've been given, and recommit to steward them well and wisely.

I'm walking into the new year with a heart that's listening more intently for ways I can serve my most precious gifts. I'm using the priority list above to help me better allocate my time and my energies. Don't be surprised if you see me here a little less often than usual as I wrestle my earthly desires into line with my higher calling. There's a lot of work to be done, after all. All I have to do is roll up my sleeves and get to it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TOS Review: Mathletics

Sometimes, you just can't predict whether something will be a hit or not. I admit it: I set up my free trial subscription to Mathletics, tooled around the site a bit and thought, "It's pretty good. But once the 'new' wears off, the kids will happy to move on."

I was so wrong.

I have no idea exactly what my children find so appealing about Mathletics, but they literally beg me to play it It's been such a smashing success that Mr. Blandings and I are trying to figure out how to swing an annual subscription of $59 for each of the three older kids. (With a special code, you get a $9.05 discount. The question that pops up is "What is The Human Calculator's favorite number?" The answer is 9.) If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that for us to even consider forking over that kind of cash, it's got to be something very, very good.

And yes, Mathletics is very, very good. In essence, it's a glorified drill program. It's extensive--exhaustive, even-- in scope and content, hitting the wheedling basics even with older kids, and pushing them in areas of newly acquired skills. The incentive for chugging through the vast library of mathematical thought comes in the form of "shopping" for new backgrounds, clothes, and accessories for your on-screen persona. My children (yes, even Jo) loved this. They happily sat and pounded through 45 minutes of practice that they wouldn't have tolerated for even half that length of time, all in the name of scoring enough points to add a new twist to their avatar's outlook. Did I mention that my children actually request time on Mathletics? That they have bemoaned the fact that we have only one computer with internet access? That they hooted and did happy dances when their father made inquiries about purchasing extended subscriptions?

Far and away, the coolest (imo) aspect of Mathletics is the "Play Live!" feature. Clicking on this section opens a window with a full world map. Your player's avatar pops up in a sidebar, along with their home country. And this is where the fun begins. In just a few seconds, you can see that the Mathletics program is actually scouring the globe, identifying players with similar skill levels from around the world. As the on-line competitors are lined up, their avatar and home country are posted in the sidebar, too. With three or four players ready, the real fun begins: a race against the clock--and each other-- for first place.

My children adore this element. It's an on-line, real-life math drill that pits them against players from anywhere and everywhere. Talk about motivation! Mastering your multiplication tables so that you can beat the socks off of the guy from West Ham is way more fun, says Logan, than doing it just so your mom will tell you you did a great job. Who knew?

I give Mathletics a huge thumbs up, if for no other reason than it truly excites my kids about math. On average, since having access to this site, each of my children has spent an extra half hour per day simply drilling age-level math problems. Without complaint. Without resignation. With joy. That's worth $50 a year in my book.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

TOS Review: Maestro Classics

We love books on CD here at the Blandings house. We also love classic children's tales. And yes, we love classical music. Combine all of that together, and you're bound to have a winner.

Maestro Classics are definitely a winner.

Blending a beautiful retelling of a beloved children's story with fabulous musicianship, these cds are the perfect backdrop for a quiet rest time, a short drive, or a little background distraction during some intensive preschool artwork. We received a copy of "The Tortoise and the Hare" and were delighted with the beautiful orchestrations and simple, classical story-telling. All of the Blandings kids were occupied with listening intently; That's saying something when you have a crew of kids aged 18 months through 12 years focusing on the same story cd!

The cds are each nearly an hour long and retail for $16.98. Samples are available on the website. Highly recommended as a homeschool library builder or a gift!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Going public

At the beginning of this month, Oliver became our first-ever public schooler. Having just graduated from (mandatory) Birth To Three program participation, we faced a decision: either get speech services through the school district, or get them through the developmental preschool. After much prayer, we decided that the preschool was worth a try.

Oli has enjoyed the two hour, twice weekly program. He is excited when he sees his little clear plastic, school-issue backpack come off of its hook on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He flaps his hands as we pull into the school parking lot, shouting, "Bus!" and "Sk-ooooo!" alternately. He leaps from my arms as I carry him to his classroom, barely pausing to shuck his coat before he clambers onto the special chair marked with his name, ready to start whatever sensory activity that his teacher has lined up for the session.

I am mixed with this utter love and acceptance of school. Even as I wholeheartedly embrace the blessing of two hours per week of intensive speech therapy, I am torn.

The preschool was supposed to feel like a necessary evil. Instead, it feels like more of a gift.

What's wrong with this picture?

The truth is, I went to the initial IEP meeting with a closed mind. We had been very pleased with Oli's private speech therapist prior to being told that, as a foster child, he was required to be enrolled in the state-run Birth to Three program. These services were provided at a lower cost to DSHS. Sadly, in our case, that also meant that they were of a lower quality. I was fairly certain that this would be an across-the-board trend in our area, and didn't hold out much hope for the opposite to be true when he turned three and, still not legally adopted, needed to begin receiving services directly through our school district.

I went to the meeting wondering if there was any way possible to get Oli back into private therapy. At worst, I thought, I can just lug him into town for the school's speech therapy once a week, check that box, and find a program to do with him at home until he could be put on our insurance. What I heard at the meeting changed my mind. Instead of anti-homeschooling, overbearing professionals who were ready to step in and parent my boy, I found understanding, open-minded folks who admitted that they had never worked with homeschoolers before, but were more than willing to give it a try. What's more, the idea of a parent actually wanting to be an active part of the process thrilled them. I left the meeting with a flicker of hope in my heart.

Mr. Blandings and I prayed. We looked at our social, amiable son. We researched other options. We found peace; We would enroll him in the preschool. If it fell flat, we would find another way. But if not, well ... maybe there was something God had for Oliver ... some blessing we couldn't yet see.

The teacher is fabulous. Her long experience with developmentally-delayed preschoolers is made even better, in my opinion by her own status as an adoptive mom. She embraces a Montessori-type approach to preschool. Her classroom is uncluttered, slightly dim, and cozy. She likes Oli, and can elicit some of his genuine, deep smiles--the ones he saves for his favoritest people.

Oliver has two classmates. One is a tall, quiet little girl named Nikki who does not speak and is on the autism spectrum. The other is Nathaniel, also autistic, who can raise the roof with his laughter and wild jaunts around the room. Three three year-olds, a teacher and an assistant, plus a speech therapist and occupational therapist. Water tables. Small, manageable furniture. Push trikes and playdough. For two and a half hours.

I guess I can see why he likes it.

It's been an odd experience, adjusting to even this little bit of institutionalized schooling in our lives. The clock, on school days, always feels like it's ticking. Our activities wrap around those hours--1-3:20 p.m.--in a different way than they adjust for those random intrusions in ones life. And then, there's always the strangeness of not having Oliver home, not having to keep a steady eye trained on him lest he fumble his way into trouble. Or not having to make space for him in the grocery cart.

"My arms feel empty," Jo said the other day, as we sat on the floor, reading our astronomy text. I looked over and realized that, while my lap was happily full of a squirming, rocking Manolin, she was missing Oliver, her constant companion.

That afternoon, when we went to collect him, she threw the van door open and snatched him from my arms.

"My Oli!" she laughed, burying her head in his cheek. "How was your day? What did you do? Is that paint on your chin?"

Jo, Atticus, and Logan have been decidedly against the entire premise of "sending Oli away for school." They avert their eyes as I free him of his carseat straps and stand him on the curb, adjusting his heavy coat and helping him into his backpack. They make no distinction in their minds between a public school classroom where children play with playdough and sort weighted pegs all afternoon and ones where children labor over fill-in-the-blank worksheets and math quizzes.

Mr. Blandings and I have tried to explain it, but our words seem to fall flat. To our children--true black and white thinkers--there is no reasoning that public school could be the answer for a particular season, or service, or child, even. They don't want to go to public school. Therefore, they don't want their brother to go to public school. They respect our choice, but they don't understand it. While it pains me to know that they are wondering if I have utterly lost my mind, I am o.k. with their doubts.

The truth is, I have them, too.

I wonder if these hours in a classroom will have a worthwhile effect for Oli. I wonder if he will pick up behaviors that he doesn't currently struggle with. I wonder if I will forever be the squeaky-wheel parent, the only one to say "No, thanks" to the bus transportation, the only one to ask for a written list of skills being covered so that I can supplement them at home. I wonder if Oliver will learn anything. I wonder if I am wondering too much.

Before I send any of my children off into the world without me--be it to a night of AWANA or to a friend's to play--I always say this blessing over them:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

As I swing Oli into my arms just outside of the elementary school, I whisper these words in his ear and prepare my heart for handing him over not truly to the kindly Miss Teacher who handknit him a sweet hat to have as a "welcome to School" gift on his first day. No ... what I must remember is that I am handing him over to GOD. In following a prayerfully considered path, I am trusting that GOD is in control. He has led us here, and He will not allow harm to come to Oliver. And until we meet again, I trust that God will hold Oliver in the palm of His hand--his education, his future, and his heart.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Believe it or not, I started this blog with death in mind.

It's true: I started this blog because I wanted to leave something--anything--to bless my husband and children if I were to someday be tragically ripped from their lives. I was well aware then--as I am now--that my youngest children would have only the vaguest notions of me if one day I were to be simply erased from their daily routines. Yes, they'd struggle for a bit. A few weeks, a few months maybe. But eventually, the person who took over the singing, the rocking, the boo-boo kissing would replace me in their hearts and minds, and they would know nothing more of me than the snippets they were able to glean from others whose memories were longer and had deeper roots.

Just as my wee ones would forget me, I knew my husband would not. Mr. Blandings is, by nature, a piner. A lonely soul. A man who longs for closeness and connection. Without me as his earthly ballast, I am fairly certain that his period of drifting would be long and profound. Eventually, of course, he would find comfort. The Lord would not leave him to wander this life in pain or, even, without the counsel of a new friend, wife, and mother for his children. I can honestly say that this does not bother me; I am hopeful that, were I to be unable to perform the duties of wife- and motherhood, God will supply an equally capable and loving woman to step in and shepherd this family on a daily basis. She wouldn't be me, of course. But as long as she loved Jesus, loved my husband, and loved my babies, I think I'd be grateful to know that the role was being filled.

Out of this clarity, I began to write. Small things, really: This is how our day goes. This is what I'm thinking about. These are the little things that make my day, our day, feel just right. This is the big picture I am seeing. These are the places my heart is going.

Some day, you see, I wanted Mr. Blandings and my children to have a vast repository where they could visit me. Discover me all over again. And maybe, just maybe, know how deeply they were loved.

I wanted them to know that I am confident, now as ever, in the fact that the good times of this life are nothing compared to the good times to come in the next ... but oh ... I am so happy to have shared them here with each and every one of them.

I wanted them to know how much joy they have brought me.

How I have never regretted a single moment.

How my life has been all that I could have wished for ... and more.

This is why I started blogging, back in the beginning.

How about you?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas with the Blandings'

A flock of boys flanked by sisters! This year's stockings, l-r: Jo, Atticus, Logan, Oliver, Manolin, Bee

I took a slightly different direction with our annual Christmas newsletter this year. I started writing these updates in 2002, when our little branch of the family tree was swept up in the hurricane of relocation and deposited clear on the other side of the country. I've heard the whines and rants about Christmas letter over the years, but folks, I have no other idea how to keep a whole passel of family members in the loop when it comes to a horde of growing children and a lifetime of memories. I guess I could give them all my blog address?

On second thought ... no.

Anyhow, I write Christmas newsletters. I only give them to family members and dear friends, and no, I do not outline every academic award, AWANA jewel, and cute quip my little angels have uttered over the past twelve months. I'm a quick-and-dirty highlights kind of girl. For example, last year's section about Atticus said:

Atticus, age 8
Atticus has decided to employ his considerable brain power in the promising field of Star Wars scholarship. As you might imagine, competition in this area of study is fierce. Atticus must spend hours a day poring over tomes to look up fascinating (and relevant!) facts such as how many light sabers Obi Wan owned during his lifetime and whether or not AT-ATs can be safely transported by starship. In his down time, he stays sharp by nibbling grilled cheese sandwiches into the shape of X-Wing fighters.
That's not too bad, is it? I mean, it's not bad enough to be posted on a forum, followed by a gagging smilie, right?

I can only hope.

At any rate, this year I decided to set our update to song. I worked on it for quite a while, and I think I finally got it just right. I was going for whimsy, especially since the vast majority of our family thinks that we're unbelievably nuts. The final version is to the tune of "Deck the Halls" and is very tongue-in-cheek, while still celebrating the ups (and yes, the downs) of our year.

Here's a version that didn't quite make the final cut--my rewrite of the classic "Christmas in Killarney", shared here for posterity's sake.

Christmas with the Blandings'

Schooling tots, schooling pre-teens,

The busiest picture you've ever seen
Is Christmas with the Blandings'
With all of the folks at home

Verses to say and stuff to know
"I'm running a truck over Mommy's toe!"
And math facts, you know, of course
aren't very popular in our home

The door is always open
The social workers pay a call
And Adoption Workers, before they're gone,
Will check the house and all

How grand it'd be, a full day to see
Without interruption--sheer tranquility!
I'm handing you no blarney
The likes you've never known
Is Christmas with the Blandings'
With all of the folks at home

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting doubts to rest

I recently read a book about homeschooling that I disagreed with almost completely. The author's admitted bias, his background ... everything about it worked against the entire premise of the project: To begin the process of understanding homeschooling. I read the book, mostly because I am curious as to what anti-homeschooling advocates have to say, and also because I keep a sharp eye out for anything that might have the potential to undermine my ability/right/legal standing to homeschool my children.

I read the entire book. I shrugged when the author seemed unable to grapple with some of the truths we homeschoolers know to be self-evident (instructional time, for example, need not be as long as that often employed in a classroom setting). I shuddered when the author's point was proven. (Why, oh why, did the nearly illiterate parents from Tennessee--the ones who proudly displayed their "Rod of Correction"--volunteer to be interviewed?) And I was sadly resigned when the book closed with its premise unshaken: homeschooling is at best a substitute for poor classroom instruction, but at worst a detriment to the child.

I put the book down and tried to forget about it. The truth, though, is that a small seed of doubt was planted in my mind.
Is my best good enough for my children? Are they missing out on something magical that would, truly, speak into them academically?

Academics are my weak spot, you see. I don't doubt--not for a single second--that the moral training my brood receives is far superior to the one they'd have at the hands of someone who was forced to stay without the limits of what is allowed in a public school. It's the academics I worry about--the reading, the writing, the math.
Am I doing enough?

God has a funny way of setting these fears to rest. Last night, as Atticus as I made our way through a quick trip at our local grocery store, my eye was drawn to a bulletin board. On it were the collected works of a local third grade class--the best of the best, as it were. Assembled, for our viewing pleasure, were the efforts of several 8 year-old children who had been handed a worksheet. On it, the teacher had left a space for artwork, then written in a few sentence starters. On first glance, I thought this was a kindergarten assignment. In my homeschool, I stop giving intros in the beginning of first grade. Yes, I might dictate something (
"I want you to write a couple of sentences about how you feel. Need some help? You can use "I feel ...' or even "I am ...' Let's talk about how a sentence starts. First, you use what kind of letter?" etc.) but I'm not giving them fill-in-the-blank sentences that will be easily scratched in and forgotten.

But these sheets were noteworthy in their lack of any evidence of actual creative requirement, let alone any real instruction. These kids--one year older than Logan, one year younger than Atticus--
these kids, these promising, star public school students, were lauded for their work.

Seeing their efforts made me feel so much better. Punctuation either wildly incorrect, or missing entirely. Words misspelled far beyond phonetic accounting. Handwriting that is completely illegible.
And these are the ones they chose to celebrate in front of the entire community as a sign of the excellent education our local students are receiving!

Why did seeing this horrible excuse for public education make me, a citizen, feel better? Because truthfully, if this is what my local public schools expect of a third grader, I am in no way failing.


Homeschooling is not perfect. There are children out there, right now, ostensibly being homeschooled, who are 17 years-old and unable to read a newspaper through no fault of his own. There are homeschoolers who put on Wiggles videos to fulfill a music requirement. Yes, there are "homeschoolers" who beat their children.

But when held to the standard of education that is set before us by our communities, most of the homeschoolers I know personally far and away exceed the "bare minimum" that so many outsiders think we struggle to maintain. We are the parents who stay up late researching creative math games. We are the parents who spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor with a globe on our lap and geography flashcards at our sides. We are the parents who peek over our 8 year-old's shoulder and sing, "I-before-E-except-after-C ..."

We are doing a good job. No matter what a handful of detractors think, we are educating our children. And we're doing it well. And with love.

Never forget that, mom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A shameless plug for my Jo

In February, Jo is going to Nepal with her daddy.

Not planning on going.

Not hoping to go.

Nope, she's going. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Her mind is made up.

She is going in February. She wants to plant her feet on Nepali soil. But most of all ... she wants to be at the head of the line for giving Bee a big old hug and welcoming her to the family. If all goes well, she'll be escorting her new big sister home.

Now all she needs is $1,500 for a plane ticket.

In typical Jo style, this has not daunted her one little bit. She pulled out her account book, tabulated how long she has to sell off some bunnies, and began plotting other cash-generating opportunities. Among them? Her recent passion for bookmarking making.

In this vein, my little dynamo has recently set up an etsy shop, the better to peddle her wares. As a good momma, I'm giving her a shout-out here. Therefore:

If you'd like to help Jo get one step closer to her dream of meeting her big sister in February, would you please take a gander at her etsy site? And even if you're not in the market for a bookmark for yourself or as a gift to give this year, could you please pray that God brings the funds forward for her? She'd love to know that folks were lifting her desire before the Lord!

Jo's shop: Mission to Nepal

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Oliver is three today.


Who knew such a small number could make a mother so happy?