Last day of school

047

Today was the last day of school for the year, for my four oldest kids.  Pictured here, right after we got home.  (Actually, the photo was taken right after I rounded them up, because the moment we pulled into the garage they sprung from the van and grabbed their bikes and got busy having fun.)

You wouldn’t know it on account of the rain that continues to plague my beloved and typically sunny Denver, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s summertime now.  Woohoo!

Wrapping up the year is kind of a big deal, because my kids attended a classical charter school this year, the first year we didn’t homeschool.

If you’ve followed our journey at all from homeschooling to a brick-and-mortar school, then you know it’s been filled with ups and downs and ALL THE FEELS.  We’d homeschooled for five years before taking the leap this past Fall, and it was tough!  So much transition and adjustment for our family of ten.  We even dropped out for a week, but then were seized with regret and jumped back in.  I told you it was hard!

But as I read through each of the report cards for the final grading period this afternoon, I consistently came across comments like has made huge improvements and was a pleasure to have in class.  My kids are gifted in different ways and they are allllllllllllll over the map in terms of ability, but the one constant is that they worked hard this year.  So.darn.hard.  Each and every one of them.  And I am so crazy proud.

When we made the decision to stop homeschooling and enrolled (and then re-enrolled) in school this year, we were merely giving it a shot.  Seeing how it would go.  It was scary to step out and do something new, especially when you’re part of a beautiful homeschooling community and kind of hate to leave it, and so we told ourselves we were just “giving it a year”.

We are so glad we did.

Not only will my kids be attending the classical school again next year, my little Mary Lu will be starting Kindergarten with them there!  Turns out this wasn’t just a one year diversion from homeschooling, but hopefully an ongoing thing for us.  Our school is amazing, and my kids are thriving, and our family is doing well.  In spite of my husband working crazy long hours for the past two months, and in spite of us having to work through a nasty situation as landlords (that culminated in needing to prep a huge house to sell), I still feel like I have a little bit of margin and breathing room in my life.  Having my daughter home with me (along with my two year old), before she starts school herself, has been precious.

And oh, how I’m excited about summer!

Swimming, roasting marshmallows over the firepit, sleeping in, lazy days around the house, hitting up happy hour at Sonic (slushes for kids and a Vanilla Coke for me, obvs), it’s gonna be great.  I’m so proud of what my children have accomplished this year, and I’m excited for what’s up ahead.  I would never have expected to be a mom who sends her kids to school, but here I am.  Giving thanks for a fabulous year.

So if you have big decisions looming up ahead, if you’re debating bringing kids home to educate them or putting them in school for the first time, be not afraid.  You’ll get through it.  You might even just end up loving whatever the new thing is!

And if you’re grateful for something your kiddos have done or experienced this past year, please share it here in the comments section!  Sometimes as mamas we focus on how far a child has yet to go, so it’s extra awesome to look back and see how far he or she has come.  Looking forward to hearing your answers!

(Oh and if you want to know a bit more about where we’ve been with our schooling over the years, you can click on the “Education” tab at the top of my blog.)

The same me

Me.

Me.

It’s been uncharacteristically quiet around these here parts, I know.

Pretty sure when you write an eBook and are, you know, supposed to get it out there, you’re NOT supposed to up and disappear from the interwebz altogether.

Oops.

But life has been insanely FULL.  Think chaperoning multiple field trips, visits to the dentist, running my freezer meal workshop business, trying to update the look of my blog with a new theme that will hopefully NOT make me want to bang my head against the wall, running to and fro to assorted horsey things, wrapping up the end of the school year with six different kids, shuttling children to birthday parties on the wrong day, etc.  Oh and it won’t stop raining.  In May.

I’m a little overwhelmed, clearly.

Today though I have NOTHING on my calendar.  Not one thing.  Tonight I have my monthly meeting with some ladies at my church, but other than that?  I’m pretty much camped out on my couch with my coffee and my laptop.  I have declared it a “do nothing” day, so I’m taking some time to blog.  And maybe watch some shows on Netflix, because that is obviously a REALLY good use of my time.

In switching over to the new WordPress theme, I’m also taking the time to (FINALLY) categorize my blogposts, in order to give people (and myself) an easy way to navigate through them by topic.  It’s a tedious task that may just result in a case of carpal tunnel, but it’s also been pretty fun to read back through old stuff.  Bittersweet too, because time moves so fast, and my kids are growing.right.up.  Cue the ugly cry, please.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Denver for seven years now.  Seven!  Life today looks and feels so different from our early days here in Colorado–we don’t homeschool any more, we’re at a different church, I’m scarcely tuned in to the local Ethiopian adoption community any longer, and we’re living on the west side of town.

I recently ran into a sweet friend at the pediatrician’s office–one of my first friends in Denver, actually–and it felt so good to connect with someone who’s known me longer than three years!  This is someone I’ve spent a ton of time with, but don’t really see anymore.  She first knew me as a blogger, ran into me in real life at the Presbyterian church we were both starting to attend back in 2008, and introduced herself as a non-stalker.  We went on to be good friends.  But then life happened, and we don’t run in the same circles anymore.  It’s one of those things where you fall out of touch with someone, and then feel horrible about it, and stay out of touch.  And you miss them, but you don’t do anything to change the situation for who knows what reason.  I hate that.  But, it happens.

Even in the blogosphere.

I’m not sure I ever set out to transition from being an adoption blogger to a Catholic blogger, or from homeschool mom to send-my-kids-to-school-and-blog-at-home mom.  I didn’t envision myself slipping out of one social or bloggy niche and finding another.  Granted there is a limited number of hours in a day, and I am very careful about guarding my time (gotta leave room for Netflix, amIright?), but I never consciously made the decision to be someone else or do something different.  I honestly go back and forth about the whole niche thing, because I don’t like to be in a box and I like all kinds of people to be able to read and engage.  I like to keep my options open.  Supposedly that’s not good for blogging, but whatevs.

And reading over all of my past blogposts made me feel better, because it confirmed that I’m really and truly the same bloggy person I’ve always been.  I may occasionally write something that doesn’t resonate with somebody out there (read: MAKES THEM VERY ANGRY), but then again I’ve always done that.  It comes with the territory here, unless all you do is post pictures of cats and narwhals with lots of emojis.

And I don’t know how to use emojis.

I remember a little over a year ago, I spoke at a moms’ group that met at a church–but the group wasn’t overtly religious in nature.  I regularly tailor my talks to whatever the particular group is, so it wasn’t a problem when the organizer specifically asked me not to use a bunch of Christianese (Catholicese?) or scripture quotations.  Still I was a little uneasy, and wondered if my story would resonate with anybody, or if they’d all roll their eyes and hate me.  The church they met in was old and trendy, in a cool part of town (and right across from Whole Foods–which, if you know me, is kind of the opposite of me), and all the moms were pretty trendy too.  And I’m not very trendy.  But oh my goodness, these ladies were fantastic!  Great conversations afterward.  Friendly people.  An all-around great time.  Nobody hated me for having eight kids or for vaguely referring to God’s beautiful design for marriage.

This further reinforced my belief that most of us dwell in an itty-bitty vacuum the majority of the time.  Doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, most of your friends and interactions are probably with people who look and think a lot like you.  This has historically been true for me, for the most part.  It’s probably natural.  But there are great people outside of that vacuum, and it can be really nice to step out for a bit.  Sometimes you’re forced out, for good.  And when you experience some sort of significant life-shift–whether it’s changing faiths or belief systems, choosing a different schooling method for your family, adopting a child, or something else–it can be disorienting.  Things don’t necessarily look the same anymore.  Your people might not be your people anymore.  Maybe you find new people, but maybe you don’t.  It can be, well, isolating.

So I’ve been thinking about all of this, categorizing old blogposts with my sore wrist and looking back over my life–particularly my time here in Denver.  Which is home, and I love it, I really do.  We feel so settled and happy with our neighborhood, parish, schools for the kids, and relationships.  But things look so different from how they used to.  In some ways, I miss some of our “old stuff”, and at the same time am unbelievably grateful for where we are now.  My children are attending a fantastic school, our church is amazing, and we are blessed with many dear friends.  Life is good.

And as far as blogging goes, well, I figure I’ll always be me.  If you’ve been reading here a long time, hopefully you know I’m still the same me.  Apparently I’m not much for finding just one niche and running with it, in being “this” kind of blogger or “that” kind of blogger.  Maybe I don’t always want to write about adoption, and maybe I want to take a break from explaining why I’m a Catholic.  That’s the beauty of the personal blog, I reckon.  I’m glad you’re here, no matter who you are or how you felt about that book The Shack.

And if you’ve ever moved away or experienced a faith shift or changed up what you’re doing, and you feel a little lonely or conflicted or all of the above, well, you’re not alone!  Been there, done that, just about a billion times.  Like when we adopted our sons from Ethiopia and became an interracial family, when we picked up and moved from California to Colorado, when we became Catholic, and when we stopped homeschooling and sent our kids to school.  We navigate life the best we can, and life has curveballs and unexpected twists and turns.  I love where we’re at, but I also kind of love where we’ve been.

It’s a gift to be able to look back and appreciate the journey.

And that journey also means there’s an eclectic bunch of people reading along here, and that makes me happy because, well, I like people.

Even though I’m an introvert, and will spend the remainder of my day hiding alone in my house, watching a docu-reality show called American Weed.

Filmed locally, of course.

Because–and if you don’t believe me, just ask my husband–one thing that has remained absolutely consistent about me over the years is my penchant for finding bizarre stuff to watch, when I should be cleaning my house.

Told you I’m the same me.

My eBook is Here!

5 Life HackslowercaseSo, I wrote a book.

And I’m super excited about it!

It’s called 5 Simple Life Hacks for Overwhelmed Moms.  Naturally.

In the book I share five things I’ve learned over the past several years–or “hacks”, as the title says–that have really helped me in parenting my children and managing my home.  There are also assorted anecdotes about my eight kids.  Because, well, I have eight kids.  Lots of material there!

And, here’s the best part: the book is FREE!  Yes, free.

I’m quite literally giving it away, because I want to encourage and inspire fellow moms in the trenches.  Pretty much everything I know about parenting, I’ve learned through trial and error–and now I want to share some of that with you.  And maybe save you from some of the trials and errors!

To get my book, all you have to do is subscribe to my email list, and I’ll send you the link.  Easy peasy, right?

And if you find the book at all helpful?  Please tell your friends!  I believe that anyone who occasionally identifies as an overwhelmed mom can benefit from at least one of the five ideas I share here.  Thank you so much dear readers for your support, and for spreading the word!

When You Say Young Black Men

inner-cityYesterday I spent a good part of my day writing about Baltimore.

And before I could hit publish, I lost the whole thing.

After working my way through the natural progression of emotions (anger, wishing for a time-machine, and anger), I decided to move on and find something else to share today.  Maybe something a little less controversial or divisive.  Maybe a good diversion from what everyone else is talking about.  Maybe some thoughts better-suited to the typical reader here.

But then last night I noticed someone ranting on Facebook about all of the problems with “young black men”.

And I decided that no.  I AM going to write about Baltimore.

Because I have two young black men living in my home.

They are my sons.

I am going to begin this discussion by saying that no one should be defending or otherwise condoning the violent and destructive behavior we’ve seen in Baltimore in recent days.  And, few people are.  The average person on the street does not look at burning buildings or looted stores and say that’s the way to advocate for anything, much less justice.  Likewise, it is a small percentage of Baltimore’s young black men participating in these activities.  There are a number of marchers and protestors trying to get the nation’s attention, yes, but overall?  The average young black man is not breaking the law to do it.

Of course the media would have you believe otherwise.  They love capturing footage that makes for good entertainment and viewing.  And while the camera doesn’t lie, the lense is unbelievably narrow.  Anything we see has been carefully crafted by organizations that make money off of views and clicks, and every news outlet has an angle.  A narrative.

And speaking of narrative, consider an article I read yesterday from a news publication in San Luis Obispo, California, where I attended college.  The article was about Poly Royal, the epic party weekend SLO used to host every year.  Poly Royal was widely known and well-attended, and drew countless out-of-town guests in addition to the many university students.  But then one year things got out of hand, and a huge mob started rioting.  They threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers.  They damaged and looted businesses.  Needless to say, the otherwise sleepy college town discontinued the Poly Royal event after that.  By the time I attended Cal Poly State University, it was nothing more than a boring open house weekend that wasn’t worth attending.

Then years later, San Luis Obispo also had to cancel the annual Mardi Gras parade (which I actually remember attending in high school), for pretty much the same reasons.  Bottle-throwing and rioting.  A mob that got out of control.  $100,000 worth of damage.  People vs. police officers.

But did you know that the affluent town of San Luis Obispo is roughly 84% white?  And only 1% black?  Did you know that it was mostly young men involved in the aforementioned riots–and predominantly young white men?  Did you know that the median household income in San Luis Obispo is $60, 534?

And yet the race of the offenders was never really part of the news reports.  Facebook didn’t exist back then, but I’m betting that if it had, nobody would have been commenting on the problems plaguing “young white men.”  No, instead it was merely a crowd that had too much to drink and got overexcited, when the fist-fights broke out.  It was a bunch of immature boys causing trouble, when they threw bricks and bombs at cops.  Today when community members complain that drunk university students are regularly pissing and vomiting on their lawns, it’s shrugged off as “kids being kids.”  A minor inconvenience.

But not in Baltimore.

No, young black men don’t have that advantage.  Instead, when young black men behave badly, they are called animals, thugs, or worse.

A desperate black mother yanking her son out of the war-zone becomes either a Facebook meme or an abuser.

The son gets speculated about all over the interwebz because I BET HE HAS NO FATHER.

Well, no, people should not be setting fires or attacking police officers.  There’s no excuse for violent behavior.  And who knows, maybe that boy’s father isn’t around.  But mob mentality is colorblind, even if the impetus for the riots in Baltimore involved racial injustice.  Even a rich community with a fancy university, and mostly white residents, finds young men making terrible decisions.

And MY young black men?  My ten year old sons who for now are boys, but are growing stronger and older every single day?  They don’t miss a thing.  They hear the messages about their identity and self-worth as young black men.  If you didn’t know, kids say stupid, cruel things like “the color of your skin looks like poop” or “I don’t want to play with you because you’re black.”  Yep, at ten years old, my sons have heard both.  And as their mother I do my very best to encourage and sympathize, and instill in them a sense of worth in being young black men.  Because hello, that is precisely who God created them to be!  I tell them I love their skin, I tell them that we are all part of the human race, I tell them most of the world isn’t white, I tell them that even though I cannot walk in their shoes, they can come to me with their hurts.  And, they will have hurts.

You can talk respectfully about the various problems facing the urban poor–for blacks and whites and Latinos alike, issues such as generational poverty, addiction, racial injustice, and gang violence are destroying lives.  The breakdown of the nuclear family is destroying lives.  But the generalizing about young black men has to stop.

Baltimore has been struggling for decades, and the community is hurting.  And it’s not so hidden now, because the wounds have been ripped wide open for everyone to see.  Will we listen?  Again I am NOT excusing or defending the violence–which is not only terrible but also a separate issue, which the media has successfully used to divert attention away from the real problems.  I condemn any and all violent and destructive actions, from what is happening in Baltimore to what happened in my old college town.  I believe the offenders belong in jail, and ought to be held accountable by their community.

But I AM talking about corruption, and about the erosion of trust between law enforcement and citizens–many of whom are working their butts off right now to pick up the pieces in their broken neighborhoods.

So let’s pray for peace, justice, and reconciliation in Baltimore.  Let’s make sure we’re seeing what’s really going on–this excellent series of photographs is a good place to start. 

Oh, and people out there on social media? Experience tells me that young black men are pretty darn awesome.  You should probably get to know some.  FYI.

On Bruce Jenner and Radical Mercy

 

brucejenner1Can I go a little outside of the box today, friends?

I don’t generally comment (publicly, anyway!) on whatever the latest pop culture controversy might be.  It’s just not my bag, partly (mostly?) because I rather detest pop culture–as in, I’m pretty sure if Western civilization ever falls apart, it will be solely due to the obsession with reality TV and photo-shopped celebrity gossip mags.

But today?

Today I’m sitting at my keyboard and writing about the pop culture thing that pretty much everyone is writing about: last week’s 20/20 interview with Bruce Jenner.

I honestly don’t really know anything about the Kardashians.  Well, except that one of them is married to Kanye West, and one of them got kicked off the Celebrity Apprentice a few years ago for getting a DUI.  (Okay, sometimes I do watch reality shows.  It’s Donald Trump, you know.  He’s kind of nuts.  Hard to pass up.)  And I know that Bruce Jenner is involved somehow with the family–I think he’s the stepdad.

And, they have a majorly popular reality show about being rich and famous and beautiful.  Which I have never, ever watched.  Refer above to my thoughts on pop culture.

It apparently came as quite a shock to people to hear that the former manly-man Olympian is in the process of transitioning into a woman.  This interview was, understandably, a very big deal.  Bruce Jenner opened up to Diane Sawyer about his life and his journey.

Something I feel like I should say before I go any further is that I hold unwaveringly to the historic Christian understanding of creation and the human person.  I believe it fundamentally impossible to “switch” sexes–no amount of hormones, surgery, or feelings can change the reality of who God created you to be.  I am a woman.  Bruce Jenner, however, is not, and ultimately never will be–even in spite of his appearance–because regardless one’s concept of gender, one’s given sex is a foundational thing.  Which comes from God.  Of course someone can live as a woman and believe he is a woman, but it doesn’t make it so.

That being said, my overall impression of the interview?  Bruce Jenner is one brave dude!  He is struggling, and has been for many years, and went on national television to tell his story.  Of course the issue of gender dysphoria is nothing new, but how we as a culture approach it certainly is.  Jenner believes, like most folks today, that taking the appearance and claiming the identity of a woman will solve the troubling issue of what he is experiencing inside his heart and mind.  And while there are people who affirm this idea, there are others who would advise him to proceed with caution, because all is not roses on the other side of that fence.  Personally I suspect that some of his demons might initially appear to be resolved by transitioning, but I don’t know that it will be as neat and tidy as he hopes.  And I also imagine new problems will be introduced, and there will be a ripple effect felt throughout his family and friends and community.  It’s sad.  But that’s just my hunch, which I humbly submit is nothing but that: a hunch.

Bruce Jenner knows that something is wrong.  He desperately wants to be whole.  He wants to be loved.  He wants to love himself.

He is not so very different from the rest of us.

So I guess I wanted to say that I am saddened by the politicization and culture warring that is swirling around Bruce Jenner’s declaration that he wants to be a woman.  The mocking and the snark on the one side, and the angling and co-opting on the other.  No, Diane Sawyer, not everyone struggling with their identity is a stereotype who aligns themselves with your particular political party.  No, religious talking heads, not everyone is happy with who they are, and not everyone feels comfortable in their own skin.  Sometimes, somebody is born one way but feels another.  Consider the anorexic who thinks she’s fat when she’s not, or the person crippled by body dysmorphic disorder.  There is a legitimate debate over the best way to approach the issue of gender dysphoria, but it exists.  And, it’s clearly no walk in the park.

Personal mental or emotional struggle (or whatever you want to call it) of course always carries a stigma.  Compassion can be hard to come by.  And there are so many agenda-driven cultural messages shooting back and forth nowadays, that people can scarcely hear over the noise!  But my goodness, why can’t we just listen?  And love?  And respond with gentle but firm truth?  You don’t have to agree that Bruce Jenner’s best option here is to transition–I really don’t believe that it is–but consider that we’re talking about a real person, with real feelings and hopes and dreams and challenges.  And this challenge in particular is no doubt excruciatingly hard.

Obviously most of us don’t know Bruce Jenner in real life, but I bet we know other people experiencing identity issues, or mental illness, or who are facing down monsters and giants.  And while I’m a big ol’ believer in sharing the truth–because there’s nothing remotely tolerant or loving about intentionally withholding the beauty of what is right and good from a person–I’m also an advocate for being a person who loves freely and humbly.  Who aspires to understand and to hear.  Who knows that I have my own frailties and shortcomings, and my own stuff.  We all have stuff!  And I don’t love people perfectly, not even close, but by golly I want to at least try to do a little bit of good.  Make the world a little better.  And it starts with caring about others.

Because Jesus’ love?  It’s a gift.  It’s good news, and it’s for everyone.  As in, the entire world.  There’s no promise that life will be easy or struggle-free when you’re a Christian or following Christian principles, but then that’s kind of the beauty of the whole thing.  Jesus gives us hope.  Hope. 

And we must pass that hope along to others.

I suspect that part of the Jenner backlash is because Catholics (and traditionally-minded Protestants) are feeling a bit on the defensive in the public square lately.  And, not without good reason.  But going after a 65-year-old man for opening up in a most raw and honest way, about his lifetime of brokenness and pain?  That is nothing whatsoever to feel threatened by!  Who did Jesus come to love and to save, but the broken?

The following is taken from Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium:

24. The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Isn’t that so beautiful?  But it’s hard, too, because the call to mercy is hard.  It necessitates living in the tension.  Sometimes it means keeping quiet, and at other times, saying something difficult.  But always, always, always, humility.  And love.  And grace.

And so we really can respond from this place–where we are kind, and where we listen before we speak.  We can accept that the human condition is a most messy, clumsy thing.  We can preach the dignity of the human person, and the beauty of God’s design for men and women, while also making space.  Space for questions, fears, mess-ups, and redemption.

Because the reality is that people are wounded and hurting.  They want to be loved!  So let’s not be ruled by fear, but instead begin by hearing what they say, acknowledging their pain, expressing the truth of their human dignity, and inviting them into a friendship with ourselves and with God.  And I kind of suspect that if we busy ourselves with the business of love, truth and mercy?  We will see our lives, and world, radically and beautifully transformed.

God bless you, Bruce Jenner.  I hope and pray that one day you’ll find the grace and peace you’re looking for.

Like what you see?  Follow my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email, and like my Facebook page.  Then head over to the side-bar to sign up for my email list!  Thanks so much for reading along!

On Filling in the Gaps

064Yesterday I wrote about how we’ve approached schooling decisions for our family.  And a sweet mama sent me a message, sharing that while her children attend their neighborhood public school, she wishes they were receiving a classical education.  This mama isn’t interested in homeschooling, and was wondering what she should do.

It’s a good question.

First let me say that there are many excellent neighborhood public schools, and I wouldn’t hesitate to send my kids to one.  And when I say “excellent”, I don’t just mean those numerical ratings that are driven by test score performance.  There is so much more to a school than that–things like diversity, the staff, and the joy that comes from investing in your neighborhood.  We happen to have this classical charter school in our neighborhood, but if it vanished into thin air tomorrow?  After sobbing hysterically into a bowl of mint-chip ice cream, I’d look at the various local neighborhood schools, and pick one.  And no doubt my kids would do just fine.

In any case, the reality is that not every family wants to (or can) educate their children at home, and not every family has access to the type of school they’d prefer for their child.  So what is a mother to do?

I think the main thing to keep in mind is that NO school is perfect, and EVERY education will have gaps.

When we were homeschooling, my children reached the point where they were not being as challenged as they could/should have been, academically speaking.  It just wasn’t happening.  Every family and situation is different, but as my kids grew older, I just wasn’t enjoying holding their feet to the fire.  So, gaps.

And as much as I adore our school we’re at now, there are things I wish were different.  I wish the kids did more memory work.  I wish they started the study of Latin a little sooner.  Heck, I wish it were a Catholic school, where my kids learned about the saints and attended daily Mass.  I wish our school had a greater African American student population, for my transracially adopted sons.  Gaps again.

Because you can’t have everything.

So in those areas where the school (be it public, charter, homeschool or private) is perhaps not meeting a perceived need, we as parents can absolutely find ways to address those gaps!

Now this will obviously look different for everyone, but I’ll share what I have personally found beneficial in filling those gaps.

We pray on the way to school, where everyone offers their intentions before we finish up with an Our Father or a Hail Mary.  (It’s a short ride!)  Then, we read about the saints and discuss the faith at home, oftentimes around the dinner or breakfast table.  I also encourage my readers to spend regular, individual time in the Bible.  Making intentional space for all of this isn’t always easy, but I’m trying to do better.  Spiritual formation is critical!

I supply my kids with library books off of Dr. John Senior’s “Great Books List”.  It’s broken down by age, and it’s a great way to ensure that your children are getting exposure to the classics.  Summertime is the perfect chance to have your kids do some major reading!

Sadly, there isn’t much I can do about the racial diversity issue at our school, but the good news is that two of my sons’ teachers are black.  There are also several Latino students who attend, so the school is certainly not disproportionately white.  And I regularly check in with my sons to see how things are going.  It’s the price we pay for living on this side of town, and for attending this school, but we still feel it to be the best option at this time.

Finally, we’ve opted not to worry too much about the memorization and Latin at this point, because for us, there is plenty going on without it right now!  But for parents wanting to spend time at home doing these things, I cannot recommend Memoria Press highly enough–Literature studies, Latin, Logic…oh my goodness, it’s a veritable feast for anyone interested in an authentically classical education.  I also like to recommend Laura Berquist’s The Harp and Laurel Wreath for poetry and memory work.  And of course The Well Trained Mind is a fabulous go-to for resources and ideas–I think there’s even a section where they talk about how to incorporate some of the classical methods, even if you’re not homeschooling.

While perhaps you might feel like your child is missing out on something, the truth is that we ALL feel that way!  Homeschooling mothers worry (I certainly did), and we send-our-kids-off-everyday mamas worry.  There is no perfect situation!  It’s easy to read the books and blog posts and articles and decide that WE MUST HAVE THIS FOR OUR CHILDREN, but really?  All we can do is our best.  And I’m willing to bet that regardless where they attend school, our kids will all grow up relatively unscathed.  Because we care, and we love our children!  Education is a big piece of a person’s life and I don’t mean to diminish its importance (because it IS important), but it’s also a broad term, and there is no shortage of ways to go about getting one.

The family is the primary school for virtue and life lessons, after all, and so if we do family well?  Our child’s education shall be a success.  Gaps and all.

And now I want to hear from YOU: do you feel like there are gaps in the education your kids are receiving?  What have you done to fill those gaps?

Like what you see?  Follow my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email, and like my Facebook page.  Then head over to the side-bar to sign up for my email list!  Thanks so much for reading along!

To School or Not to School

My daughter doing a Russian art study on a field trip to the museum.

My daughter doing a Russian art study on a field trip to the museum.

Last week I filled out the final paperwork to enroll one of my younger daughters in Kindergarten this upcoming Fall.

And I’m feeling ALL THE FEELS about it too because, well, Kindergarten.

This is her last year at home, her last year doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, and her last year of being a little and not a big.

Oh.my.heart.

And it’s all so new for me, because we were homeschoolers back when each of my other kids began Kindergarten.  I’ve never really sent anybody off like that, and oh it is sad!  But it’s happy, too, because my daughter is SO ready and confident about going to school, and I know she’ll do great.  As for me, I’ll be here crying my eyes out.

And because it’s the season of enrollment and big school decisions, I wanted to share a little bit about what we are doing with our kids this upcoming year, and how we arrived at those choices.  But first, two VERY IMPORTANT THINGS:

1.) There is no one way to raise and educate happy, holy kids.  Because look.  If you homeschool, your kids won’t automatically be weird or socially inept, and if you send your kids to school they won’t instantly devolve into peer-pressured, pot-smoking monsters.  People on both sides of the fence sometimes prefer these extreme narratives because they make them feel better about their own choices, but it’s simply not true.  And it’s dangerous to perpetuate the idea that homeschooling is THE ideal that all Catholic women should aspire to, where sending a child to school is considered a last resort for the weak.  Conversely, there are people who swear their kids would shrivel up and die if they were to bring them home, and that’s not true either.

2.) There is no one reason for choosing a particular type of education for your child.  Believe me when I say it’s no small coincidence that parents agonize over these decisions for months on end.  It’s hard!  There are so many factors to consider, not least of which is the overall well-being of your child.  So people shouldn’t assume that somebody homeschooling doesn’t care about rigorous academics, or that a parent sending a child to school cares nothing for the child’s moral development and character.  We weigh the pros and cons and take all kinds of things into consideration, and then make a decision.  There are lots of reasons we used to homeschool, and there are lots of reasons our kids attend school now.  That’s just how it goes.

Now that those things are out of the way, I’ll tell you about our plans for this next year, and our thought process behind making those plans.  And if you are choosing something else for your family, PLEASE know I don’t think my choices are superior to yours.  Okay?

We will have seven kids in school this Fall, spread between two different schools.  My oldest child will be in 6th Grade, and my youngest school-attender will be in Kindergarten.  I’ll still have little Alice home with me!

My two daughters with Down syndrome will continue attending a neighborhood elementary school, where they receive specialized instruction, therapies, and inclusion in the mainstream classroom.  They ride a bus that picks them up and drops them off right at our house, and they love to go!  I made the decision to enroll them in school this past fall because, well, they were ready.  And the extra stimulation and independence has been SO good for them.  Their communication has improved dramatically and they feel so good about what they’re doing.

My other five kids will be attending a classical charter school (K-12) just four minutes from my home, the same one my oldest four went to this year.  It was a scary thing to send them there after so many years of homeschooling, but we are SO glad we did.  Initially it just seemed an opportunity too good to pass up, and so we figured we’d give it a try for a year.  Turns out they love going to school, are super motivated to work hard and do well, and have made HUGE gains in their education.  Plus I don’t personally enjoy teaching most subjects, so this has really been a win-win for our family.

But let’s go back in time.  When we first began thinking about school all those years ago, back when our kids were all just bitty, we anticipated eventually sending them to the local neighborhood school.  But then I read assorted books on educational philosophy.  My favorite?  The Well Trained Mind, which was all about homeschooling with the classical method.  Love me some classical education.  Most of my closest friends at the time were educating their kids at home and sending them to a weekly local enrichment program, which seemed cool.  So we decided to homeschool, using The Well Trained Mind as a guide because I am not an unschooler, I’ve never been good at hands-on projects, and I didn’t relish the idea of putting together unit studies.

Over the years though I began wishing for a classical option outside of our home.  I discovered that I don’t love teaching math, science, art, spelling, grammar, or composition.  I discovered some of my kids have some learning disabilities.  I discovered that while I wanted a good, solid classical education for my children, I was not really interested in providing it myself.  But still we homeschooled, because I felt it was better than the other options available to us at that time.

A little over a year ago though we converted our house into a rental, and picked up and moved across town.  We wanted to live closer to our church, friends, and my parents.  A home on a little over an acre (rare for this side of Denver) happened to be for sale right where we wanted to live, so we jumped on it.  (The house needs some work, but it’s doable as-is while we get our act and money together.) And shortly after moving here, we found out that a tuition-free classical charter school would be opening up RIGHT nearby!  I met with the principal, and she was amazing.  I talked to my kids, and they were thrilled at the prospect.  So, off to school they went.

But as exciting as it was to have a classical school fall right into our laps, it wasn’t exactly easy.  I worried about all kinds of things (peer influence, sibling relationships, homework load), and the initial transition was admittedly rocky.  We even dropped out for a week.  But in the end we stuck with it, and I’m glad, because once we got into a groove? This school has turned out to be pretty much the best ever.  My kids are thriving academically and socially.  Their world has been opened up a teeny bit, which has been good.  They receive 40 minutes of PE and 40 minutes of music EVERY SINGLE DAY.  We love it, every last one of us!

Figuring out the type of schooling that works best for your family at any given time is challenging.  So many things to juggle, especially in a large family, and especially with a range of personalities and learning abilities.  Plus it is not just you making the decision, but your spouse as well (if you’re married).  Couples aren’t always on the same page.  And every school is different, and there are definitely some situations I would not feel comfortable sending my kids into.  My Ethiopian daughters, for example, temporarily attended a public school while they were getting their evaluations done, in order to develop an IEP.  And I can say with certainty that I would not enroll any of my children there long-term, unless I absolutely had to.  The staff members working with my daughters were amazing, but the school’s culture and overall vibe were not.

Every family has different priorities, too.  We really value the education of the whole person, and we are finding that our chosen schools are fulfilling the academic piece quite nicely, while not detracting from conscience formation or character development.  Academics matter to us precisely because of our faith–using, engaging, and refining what God gave you–so we don’t see it as choosing math over morals.  Instead, we believe we are assisting our kids in reaching their potential, and providing for their futures.  Which we as parents are called by God to do.

So as you navigate the murky waters of educational options, take heart!  Remember that you can take it year by year.  You can change your mind.  And change it back again.  You can discover new ways of doing things, and even learn to like them.  If life feels overwhelming and you’re feeling anxious, figure out if there’s something you can tweak.  Maybe school isn’t working out so well, and you’d like to bring your kids home.  Or maybe homeschooling isn’t something you want to do anymore, and you’re thinking about enrolling somewhere for the fall.

Please know that whatever you decide, you really can raise smart, well-rounded, happy kids, who love God and love others.  Your choice of schools will probably not be the single greatest determining factor in whether or not your child succeeds in life.  Stay engaged, keep the lines of communication open, and find time to enjoy your kids–and no matter where they learn algebra, you’ll be winning!

Like what you see?  Follow my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email, and like my Facebook page.  Then head over to the side-bar to sign up for my email list!  Thanks so much for reading along!

006: Raccoon update, trusting God in hard times, and moms having fun

048

Welcome to episode six of my podcast!  If you missed any of the prior episodes, you can listen to them here.  You can also listen and subscribe to That Catholic Girl via iTunes!

Like what you read?  Follow my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email, and like my Facebook page.  Then head over to the side-bar to sign up for my email list!  Thanks so much for reading and listening along!

You are enough

 

131

 

I was sitting in the sunshine at a girlfriend’s house this morning, when I discovered my daughter’s school had been trying to call me–for the past twenty minutes.  (That’s what happens when I forget to turn up the volume on my phone when I get out of bed.  Oops.)

Tigist is in Kindergarten, and the school said she wasn’t feeling well.  The school has been known in the past to want to send my girls with Down syndrome home anytime they have even the slightest hint of a sniffle, and I’ve had to do a fair amount of pushing back.  Does she have a fever?  No?  Well is she doing okay in her classroom?  Yes?  Then she needs to stay at school, please.  But today I could tell it was different, and so I quickly gathered up my littlest daughters and drove over there, where yes indeed Tigist was sick.  The moment we arrived home, in fact, she climbed into her bed and slept for over two hours.

It’s difficult when your child is largely unable to communicate how she’s feeling.  There’s not much time in the morning from when my two daughters wake until they board the bus, which means that I don’t necessarily know someone is a bit under the weather–until they’re at school, laying on the floor and crying.  As a mother this makes me feel terrible, but I am accepting that it is simply part of parenting a young child with Down syndrome.  We do our best but there are times when I don’t know what’s wrong, or if anything’s wrong, and sometimes I send a little girl to school who has been growing progressively worse throughout the morning.  In hindsight my daughter was a little bit grumpy yesterday afternoon, and this morning she seemed reticent to walk to the bus.  But sometimes she’s just grumpy, and sometimes she’s a little bit stubborn–so it’s just plain hard to know.  Sigh.

It’s fair to say we moms have a tendency to assume that we must be “the only one”. We have a child who struggles with this or that, we can’t seem to get our kid to do such and such, or we feel guilty because surely nobody else unknowingly sends a sick child off to school.  But do you know what’s funny?  I’ve learned to let go of all (okay, most) of that mommy angst over the years.  Because, you know, I have eight kids.  One of them has ADHD.  Several have learning disabilities.  There are some who scream and fight over shoes and earrings nearly every Sunday morning.  And, we have raccoons living in our attic.  We are a big, noisy, messy family and just like everyone else, we’re doing our best.  So my general philosophy when it comes to parenting is to focus on the positives, and to be happy.

And yet I know there are so very many mamas out there struggling with self-doubt, and feelings of guilt and shame.  I know this because when we first adopted my sons from Ethiopia, and went from one to three kids virtually overnight, I occasionally found that I did, too.  My daughter had been such an easy baby, and our initial transition to parenthood had gone so well.  Of course my sons adjusted well too, but now we couldn’t even leave our house for groceries without the stares and comments and judgment, always judgment, about our life choices.  I started to wonder if maybe we really were crazy, and if it was unrealistic to think we could manage to thrive as a larger-than-average family.

I will add a quick side-note here, and say that Catholic mothers in particular are perhaps prone to feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  On the one hand we embrace an openness to life in marriage, and on the other we strive for holiness, love, and excellence in our approach to vocation.  How is this possible when there are so many little ones underfoot?  How do we lean into our calling and find a deep and abiding sense of joy when we have a child who doesn’t behave at school, or a two-year-old who cries out “COOKIE!” when she sees the priest raising the host during the consecration?  (Not that that happened to me this past Sunday or anything.  Ahem.)

How do we reach a place where we experience some level of confidence that what we are doing as mothers is not only okay, but good?

Honestly, for me, I have had to learn to accept that when it comes to motherhood I am, through God’s grace, enough.

The Lord has called me to love, raise, and nurture these precious little ones.  So I do my best, first and foremost, to do those very things.  Anything else is bonus.  Years when we were moving across town, and I didn’t get to throw my kid as big a birthday party as we all might have liked?  It’s okay.  Times when we’ve had quesadillas or cold cereal for dinner because dinnertime rolled around and I just couldn’t even?  It happens.  How I sent my five-year-old daughter to school this morning when she was feeling sick and all-around crummy?  She can’t always communicate, and so sometimes I do that.  And I go pick her up, and bring her home to sleep and eat lunch out on the deck, with the cat.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that my value and worth as a human being and mother don’t depend on living up to self-imposed standards that have little to nothing to do with love.  And it’s a good thing, because I’ve got all these crazy kids who lose pieces to board games, and leave handprints all over our windows and sliding glass door.  I don’t do crafts and if I’m honest, I don’t particularly enjoy cooking–though of course I do it out of necessity.  (The cooking, not the crafts.  I avoid the crafts like the plague that they are.)  But it’s all good because I love my kids, and they are happy little people, and I really am too.

So take heart, fellow mamas!  You are doing a fabulous job.  You love your kids, you work hard, and God has called you to be their mother.  Life’s too short to perpetually beat yourself up over perceived weaknesses and Pinterest shortcomings.  We should always seek to love well, but we must forever fight the temptation to adopt a false and unattainable standard for ourselves.

It is only then when we can begin to embrace the messy, imperfect, and delightfully humorous reality that is motherhood.

Like what you read?  Follow my blog via Feedly, Bloglovin or email, and like my Facebook page.  Then head over to the side-bar to sign up for my email list!  Thanks so much for reading along!