Sunday, August 29, 2010

A really good reason

Jo at the Fit & Show table at Fair.

I have a really good reason for not posting for an entire week. A really good reason.

No, not that good of a reason. Seven is still securely, happily baking away inside, despite our best efforts to convince him or her that it really, truly is o.k. to come out and play. We had an ultrasound to check for size a week ago, and Seven measured in the neighborhood of 8 pounds. While I've birthed two pounds heavier than that, I'd rather stick in the "normalish" range with this little one, and am praying that showtime is in the next few days rather than the next few weeks. But hey, if I don't meet Seven until the end of September and he or she turns out to be a 12 pound roly poly, I'll happily take that, too. Just with a couple of ibuprofen to take the edge off, thankyouverymuch. ;-)

The reason I haven't posted is Fair. Yes, it's Fair time again here in Western WA. Jo is delighted to be showing off a couple of her rabbits, cleaning barns, and answering the public's questions about all things bunny. Her competitions have all gone quite well, and while it's definitely a huge disruption to our normal schedule of things (how DO people get everyone out of the house by 7 a.m. every morning?!?!) it's worth the effort.

The Blandings will return to their regularly scheduled postings this week.

Unless, of course, Seven decides to make his or her debut.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On waiting

Atticus, waiting for the fish to bite recently.

I am--finally--good at waiting. I know that some people aren't, but me? I'm no longer bothered by it. While the common view of waiting is something skin to "wasting time in between engagements," for me, waiting has become something else entirely. Waiting is a pause. Waiting is refreshment. Waiting is wading through the contents of my mind and heart and revisiting all the places I have been and hope to go. Waiting, it turns out, is good.

One thing that people ask me on a daily basis at this point is whether or not I am getting anxious to meet Seven. The truth? I'm not. Now don't take that to mean that I'm not looking forward to the day when I hold this little man or lady in my arms. It's not that at all. What it is, rather, is a contentment with the place where I find myself. Right now, today, as I sit here, I am--gloriously-- 35 weeks pregnant. That's 8.75 months into a pregnancy I never thought I'd experience. And while I am growing less comfortable as I try to find the perfect sleeping position at night, I am nowhere near feeling an urgency to leave this blessed time of being used to grow a baby behind me.

Here's the thing about waiting: it's as productive as you allow it to be. I have learned this the hard way, and I think that the weight of this lesson is what finally brought me to a place where I could sit and listen and watch grass grow without feeling the terrible guilt and frustration that inactivity often brings in its sidecars.

For years and years of my life, I hated waiting. While I was never one of the "gotta have it right now" crowd, I definitely leaned towards wanting my fulfillment on my time schedule. I remember when Jo was 14 months old and stuck in the middle of what seemed like an endless cycle of ear infections. During that season, it seemed like an interminable amount of life was wasted as I diligently administered almond oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil drops. When those failed to produce the desired result, I moved to antibiotics, analgesics, tympanograms. Anything that promised a cure was worth pursuing. Time was, after all, of the essence.

I waited and I waited for something to resolve. I hated every moment of it. It seemed like I did nothing but fret and rock my baby girl for years. In the end, that period of time was--ready for this? Six months. Yes, that's all. Six months. Clearly, it was not a purgatory without conclusion. But what it was, in truth, was wasted waiting.

Why? Because during that time, when I could have been wrapped up in making the most of the time with my only child, I couldn't take my eyes off of the end goal long enough to see the moment. While no parent wants their child to be in pain, let's be honest ... there are perks to having a little one who just wants to curl up in your lap and be loved on--especially when that child is your only one! But I was too determined to rush to the healing part to actually find some piece of joy in the moment I was given. I was thinking of the birthday parties we missed, the play dates we didn't make it to, the leaf-collecting walks that didn't happen. Because of that, I couldn't see the long hours spent reading, the shadow puppet sillies, the naps my baby girl took on my chest because she just needed me there.

I wasted my waiting. And therefore, I missed a gift.

I did this again after my devastating miscarriage in January of 2006. Unable to breathe, allow God to be God, and wait on His timing, I fixated on becoming pregnant again. The sad result? Reading my own blog posts from that season feels like peeking into someone else's life. Yes, my children grew. My husband loved me. Holidays happened. But again, the goal was the goal. Everything else was shunted aside in favor of getting to my end destination.

Do you know what ultimately brought me to the place where I could wait, and hope, and pray, and still get up in the morning ready to engage in the tasks that seemed fleeting and insignificant, but were destined to water my soul? Foster care and adoption.

Something about having no control, having no sense of permanence, being unable to wrestle situations to my desired outcome ... all of that taught me that waiting is life. Yes, you can rush forward to meet your dreams head-on. But you can also feel peace in the days that are marked with the mundane. You can find joy in the quiet. You can thrive in the desert where action and movement seem completely out of reach.

And in those places, truly, you can find the most blessing.

I do not worship pregnancy. I am not a woman who is not satisfied unless she has a baby growing under her shirt or a nursling riding on her back. I do not feel empty or unattractive or without purpose unless I can define myself by my role as a carrier of life. I do not give birth and immediately dream of doing it again and again.

But I am enjoying this pregnancy. I am waiting well, and feeling that the wait, really, is more a part of the process than most of us ever notice. I can feel discomfort and be amazed at the design of my body as it accommodates this feat that I see only God Himself could have dreamed up. I can be brought to tears by a hug from Jo as she rushes behind me at the washing machine and bursts, "I can't believe we're going to have a baby!" I can ride the waves of hormones and marvel at their purpose. I can catch the wonder in Atticus' eyes as he places his hand on my abdomen and waits for another round of hiccups from Seven. I can see my body becoming a foreign entity and almost stand back, taking in this event in slow motion that only God could have timed. I can delight in Mani repeating, "Baby. Baby. Be jennnnn-tullll!" as he points to my stomach, wide-eyed and clueless.

So, no, I am not ticking seconds off of the clock in anticipation of meeting Seven. I have made that mistake too many times before. Instead, I choose to be immersed here, now, in this moment. I choose to receive the blessing fully, to drink of this cup, to allow God to wash His goodness over me in His timing. I will wait--joyfully--and enjoy this brief moment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flipping the switch

All of this prayer and time and effort to keep Seven safely inside, growing, maturing, getting ready for birth ...

And now, all we can think of is orchestrating his or her exit plan. :-)

At my 34 week appointment yesterday, my OB and I started talking about ways to to help ease this little wonder into the world. Seven is head down, engaged, measuring two weeks ahead, and big. The current guesstimate is 8 lbs., which is on target with my past pregnancies at this stage of development. Since I'm dilating and effacing quite nicely already, it shouldn't be rocket science to get this show under way.

But then again, one never knows. God is in charge. And for all we know, He wants Seven to weigh 14 lbs. and be born in September!

But just in case He doesn't mind giving me a slightly smaller little person to cuddle, we're making preparations for a birth sometime in the next week or two. Seven will be born at a local hospital with just Mr. Blandings and I on hand, taking the lead and probably driving the staff nuts with our lack of concern for their protocol over our wishes. Thus far, I've been blessed with deliveries requiring very little in the way of medical oversight; due to the timing of my births (earlier than average) and the size of our babies, we've felt that to give birth outside of a safety-net environment would be somewhat reckless. After all, I managed a 10 lb., 2 oz. baby with only one tear before ... but what if this time a shoulder was stuck? (shudder) What if the "above average" blood loss I experienced once before was worse? (eek) What if ....?

As always, we're assuming and praying for the best. I've never had an epidural, only had an IV once, and never required more than a little over-the-counter painkiller after the birth. I would love to experience the same beautiful, gentle birthing again, but you know what? If I don't, I won't be crushed. I won't feel cheated, defeated, or slapped. Why? Because to me, just having a healthy baby at the end of the journey is enough. I don't care how Seven gets here. I don't have anything to prove. I don't care what the environment is like, how dim the lights are, or if the right song is playing. If I end up with a c-section, an epidural, pitocin, whatever ... I really don't care. What I want is to meet my baby. Period.

So get ready. Soon enough, God willing, it will be time to meet Seven.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Oliver enjoying a good read in the van.

I gave up on real, actual preschool somewhere around the time that I realized that my time was much better spent constructing a family learning environment rather than setting up empty crafts outlining the life cycle of a butterfly or printing out worksheets aimed at letter awareness. This was a revolutionary way of thinking for me. Up until that point, I was pretty sure that "reading readiness" and "math activities" were required of all 3 year-olds, and that by doing anything less than providing these opportunities I was proving myself a bad, bad momma.

Eh, you live and learn, right?

Instead of concocting actual plans for preschool, I have spent that time with my children reading, reading, reading--and focusing on their areas of strengths and weaknesses. So, for example, Logan's "preschool" (if you want to call it that) consisted of reading picture books until I was hoarse, sitting in on whatever reading I was doing for the older kids, working through some speech and PT exercises with me, and painting, drawing, or doing some other artistic activity daily. He also amassed quite a startling collection of workbooks, but trust me, this had less to do with any interest on my behalf in "teaching" him, and much more to do with his desire to "do school." While I worked on math with Jo or lead Atticus through a reading lesson, Logan would happily cut, paste, and stick in his Rod and Staff preschool books, or the massive sticker book that I picked up for him at Costco, which required him to match different halves of animals or give community workers their proper tools.

And that, my friends, was "preschool."

Now that I'm faced with a slightly different challenge, I find myself confronting the idea of "pre" and "school" on a new level. The truth is, Oli needs the skill-enhancing aspects of early childhood education in a way that most neuro- and cognitive-typical children do not. What's a homeschool mom to do?

Long before any diagnoses were forthcoming, I picked up on Oli's differences. His learning style follows no predictable arc I've ever heard of. His abilities are far below what one would expect of a child his chronological age. And yet ... he can learn. He most definitely has the ability to engage with and understand the world around him. Seeing this, I dug in. Step one: find his strengths, and make them stronger. Step two: find his weaknesses, and meet him there.

I started simply enough. Using the Montessori-inspired activities that I've picked up over the years, I led Oli through a series of activities on a regular basis designed to help him gain small motor skills. We worked on simple things, like matching and understanding one to one correlation. We talked about colors. And we read like crazy.

I figured out quite quickly that Oliver learns best when music is either on, or a key component of what he's learning. Easy enough. I set just about every routine to a song. Some were no-brainers (everyone knows the clean up song, right?) and others needed to be invented. But by the time I was finished, we had a song for every task ... and a little boy who was figuring out the structure of the day and the cues that signaled transition.

He graduated from birth to three and was enrolled in the local public school's special needs preschool program, and I took a step back, wondering how to redefine my role now that someone else was also trying to grapple with decoding the mystery that is Oli. I spent a few months "storing things up in my heart" and finally knew what I had to do: actual, real, concentrated learning stuff. With a preschooler.

In other words, preschool. Oli-style.

So this summer, we have kicked off a whole new push to make the most of Oli's cognitive capabilities and help his readiness along. I purchased a handful of tools to make this easier, but am also relying heavily on what I have on hand. For instance, those Montessori activities are in full force. Sandpaper to smooth rough edges on wood blocks. Clothes pins to pinch and adhere to the sides of bowls and strips of cloth. Rice to pour into different containers.

And then there are the purchases. One in particular has already been worth its weight. The BambinoLUK Special is a pricey toy/tool that sees constant use around here. Oliver and Mani both adore it, and settle in almost immediately the second they see it come out. The older kids have been trained in how to use it with them, giving this item a whole new dimension and layer of use. And then there's the actual product. So far, Oliver has worked on matching objects, identifying "same," and starting to see patterns. These are all challenging activities for him; he can last about 7 minutes at this kind of intense concentration, where Manolin can easily pull of 15. But the value for Oli has already been huge! I can see him beginning to sort as he plays (dinosaurs here, trucks here), and I can see him grasping the concept of "goes together." This is a major step.

My second purchase was the 3- to 5- year-old preschool package from My Father's World. This is the first time I've ever spent money on a preschool package. So far, I've been glad that I have. The puzzles and pegs are a perfect fit for Oli's sensory-seeking, hands-on learning style. Manipulating the crepe foam pieces and stacking the pegs have been great exercises in patience as well as critical thinking. We count the pegs, put together the puzzles, talk about the colors, and try to match the open holes with the right shapes. Again, this is not easy work for Oli. If I'm sitting at the table with both Oli and Mani in booster seats on either side of me, the bulk of my time will be spent leading Oli through how to turn the puzzle piece until it fits, while Mani gleefully counts, "One, three, four, go!" and stabs pegs into his number line. But Oli is doing it. He is concentrating, he is trying, he is delighted with himself when he gets it just so.

I am thrilled.

We read lots of books. Jo has taken on a good deal of reading duties, saying that she enjoys it, and that she likes the quiet cuddle time. This has freed me up to do more one-on-one with the older boys, but I try to make sure not to take advantage. Jo's appetite for reading to them, however, has proven a whole lot more adventurous than my own. I admit it; I have finally lost the ability to give a truly rousing read of "Going on a Bear Hunt." Jo's is still fresh, however. She even growls.

We're looking ahead at a busy fall with optimistic eyes. One of my goals is to keep Oli moving forward, to challenge him, to help him grow, and to give him the fuel he needs to make the most of his skills. So far, it's been busy ... but good. Kind of like Oli, actually!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Want to talk about homeschooling?

For a blog that was originally supposed to be primarily about homeschooling, I sure haven't posted about that topic much lately, have I? Maybe it's summer. Maybe it's my mood. Maybe it's the overabundance of real-life schooling that keeps flowing around here. Whatever the case, I haven't said much about our school plans.Which had you worried, right? LOL!

Trust me, we're still homeschooling. This summer was a bit of a flop. Our normal approach (unit studies mixed with some math to give our days a little definition) just never fully took shape. Being pregnant, doing adoption paperwork, processing visa information, etc., took precedence. Oh, and there was that bed rest thing, too. At any rate, my kids devoured the books on architecture that Mr. Blandings so helpfully brought home from the library. We did a couple of days worth of drafting exercises, explored some of the finer examples of architecture from history, built some really cool Lego models, and moved on. All the while, we managed a handful of read-alouds and math about three times a week.

I am calling this a rousing success, despite expectations not being met. Everyone is happy, lots of summer freedom was felt, and we were all ready to settle back in to a routine at right about the same time.

I pulled together a few loose weeks of school to get us rolling during the middle of July, and was able to have a lovely kick off just before August started. I haven't had the need to sit down and schedule things out in detail for several years, since I was primarily using SL. This year has taken on a different shape, however, and I needed to be a bit more on top of planning.

Jo is continuing in her studies using Veritas' Omnibus I. We purchased this last year at her request, knowing full well that it would take her a solid 18 months to digest the heavy reading required in this course. For her part, Jo has remained committed and enthusiastic. I think we can call the experiment a success. Scheduling the Omnibus is no large task; it's broken down into manageable bits on a helpful CD, and for the most part, Jo works at her own pace. Since Omnibus covers history, literature, and more writing than I did in some of my college classes, I only have a handful of other things to schedule out for her. She studies French in the early morning hours with her Daddy twice a week, and guitar with him on the weekends. I am leading her through one last grammar review to make sure that I haven't missed anything along the way. Together, she and I are using Polished Cornerstones as a combination Bible study/life skills/home economics/mother-daughter time. She does the normal round of Latin word study, math, and Logic. She works on her own creative writing, but I may ask her if she'd like a bit more direction there this year. I will most likely leave it up to her; Nothing is worse, in my book, than having someone come in and take over a hobby and passion.

I decided to use a combination of SL Core 2 and Story of the World volume 2 for Atticus and Logan this year. They're combined there, but each has a different LA (Learning Language Arts Through Literature purple for Atticus, First Language Lessons 3 for Logan), readers, vocab, math (TT5 and Singapore 3B, respectively), and spelling (though both are in Spelling Power this year). Logan also does guitar with Daddy, and both are using Rosetta Stone Spanish.

Then there's the "together" stuff: Bible (we use the Veritas cards as a visual as we read through the Bible, along with the fantastic Victor Journey Through the Bible), science (we're starting the year with Apologia's Swimming Creatures, then doing Apologia Land Animals, then moving to God's Design for Science Chemistry around Christmas time), Greek, and art and music.

Soooo .....

After I did all the legwork of combining the eighteen million bits, it was a good weekend's worth of planning. Bed rest is helpful that way! I decided to stay with the old fashioned "on paper" schedule and used a color-coding system to allow me to use only one planning book: Jo's assignments are in red, Atticus' are in blue, Logan's are in green, and lessons we all sit in on are in black.

Part of the schedule from our very light first week back.

A couple of years ago, a friend who was finishing her homeschool journey shared a tip with me on learning to create a portfolio for high school painlessly over several years' time. In essence, you create binders at the beginning of each year, then train your children to file everything--
absolutely everything--into the binders. I took her advice, and have been pleased with how thorough a record I'm able to keep simply by having access to everything in one spot.

To do this, I simply buy heavy-duty binders:Logan's Staples binder ... which will take the heaviest abuse, I promise you!

And use dividers to create filing spaces:The tabs in Atticus' binder.

At the end of the year, you'd be shocked at what those binders hold ... and how ragged they are from the constant use!

NEXT UP: My version of "preschool" ... with a special-needs 3.5 year-old!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Denied, part 2

Bee's visa was denied. Once again, a 13 year-old orphan from a country still healing from a civil war is counted among the undesirables when considered by our government authorities.

Jo is taking this hard. I walked into my bedroom last night to find our devastated girl--just weeks away from her 13th birthday--curled into as tight a ball as she could manage on her Daddy's lap. The bed frame sagged with their combined weight, and I recalled the many, many times I had witnessed this same scene over much smaller things in her younger years. But this time, the longing and hurt is over a person. I had to look away. Just hearing her sob, "They're mean. They're mean. All they want is people who have money," was enough to bring fresh tears to my own eyes.

We press on.

A local Christian school is excited at the prospect of perhaps extending her a student visa, allowing their other students the opportunity to learn to know and love and feel kinship with someone whose life has been very different from their own, and whose perspective may just be able to shake some of the Wii-fueled entitlement from their eyes.

It's not perfect. We'd prefer to have her at home with us, doing math around the kitchen table. Watching Mani sort his trains into stacks of blue, yellow, green. Learning that in some cultures, Mommas hug their big girls for no reason at all. But maybe God's idea is different. We just don't know. So we walk forward, trusting the One who wrote the story before we were born to reveal the plot line to us ... one page at a time.