Thursday, January 26, 2012

Homeschool Halftime Report

Somewhere in the past week or two, (or three, who knows? I can't keep track of the laundry, let alone my school semesters,) we passed the halfway mark of the year. I almost wish that I would have known when it was, because we would have had a major celebration.

Not only have we survived the first half of our first year homeschooling with everyone alive but:

1) We all still like each other.

2) The girls are actually learning things.


3) I'm not going insane like I was worried I would. At least not all the time.

These are all causes for big party, don't ya think?!

The Good:
The girls are actually learning. I see progress nearly every day. One of my biggest concerns when we decided to bring them home was their lack of writing skills. I'm not exaggerating when I say that at the beginning of this school year, Abby and Ashlynn could barely write coherent sentences. Their spelling was atrocious, grammar was non-existent, and requiring them to write anything resulted in their reacting exactly like they would if I was pulling their teeth out with pliers. Thankfully,this is the area where I'm seeing the most improvement. While their papers and writing assignments still need coaching and editing, I'm seeing much more understanding of basic writing conventions. We do spelling and vocabulary on a near-daily basis, and grammar exercises come around often as well. Their actual writing assignments are something we don't do as often, mostly because it requires so much time and energy to research, write, and then edit and their writings, but I'm determined to do better in that regard. Today, Abby is happily editing her recently-written paper on Belgium to use more transition words, and Ashlynn is brimming with facts about monkeys that she learned preparing her report.

Math is more of a struggle for my girls, but we're plugging along. We've had our fair share of tears from both the girls regarding multiplication tables, long division, fractions and the like, but they're coming fewer and further between so I count that as a success. A few months ago, after multiple days in a row of tears and frustration from Ashlynn over subtraction, she quietly told me that this was something that she never understood. No one had ever taught it to her. I asked her if she ever told her teacher last year that she didn't understand. She nodded, then added, "She told me she wasn't going to help me because I should already know it." Sigh. That's one of the reasons I'm so grateful to be at home with them- if there's something they're not understanding, they're certainly NOT afraid to express that fact to me. Often loudly, occasionally with tears and/or foot stomps.

As for history and science, we're taking that as it comes. We've read some "American Girl" books and talked about the setting and historical events. The girls devour all sections of the newspaper every day which has prompted some very interesting discussions. ("Mom, what does convicted mean?") We've been a little lax in formal history lessons, but are catching up. Lessons for the past few days have covered the three branches of government, the constitution, and the French revolution. I have to confess to cracking up every time one of the girls pronounced "judicial" as "judicle" (rhyming with "cuticle.")

We are fairly organized and follow a loose routine. Morning is for breakfast, chores, and the majority of our school time. At the beginning of the year, we used mornings to practice, but as Ian has gotten older, and busier, and decided to take one nap a day instead of two, it dawned on us that if we were going to learn anything at all, it had to be done while the walking human tornado was safely asleep. After lunch is practicing, and wrapping up loose ends, and by the time it's 3:00, we're done for the day so I can start teaching, or running to other lessons or rehearsals.

We're also seeing lots of exciting things as far as music development in both the girls. Their practicing happens five days a week consistently: Abby for about two hours, and Ashlynn for close to one. Abby is a week away from being finished with Suzuki Violin Book 6, and Ashlynn is nearly finished with piano level 2, and just wrote a long, complicated composition for the upcoming piano festival. This is one of the things I'm most enjoying about having the girls home. We rarely, if ever, fight about practicing anymore. It's just something they do. It's not rushed or shortened because of school commitments, and I have more time to help both of them. Although I confess that "helping" sometimes means shouting suggestions or corrections up or down the stairs.

The girls are happy. While we definitely have our days, I think that they are satisfied here at home. I don't know that they would admit it, but I think they like being at home and having the flexibility and the individual attention from me. I overheard Ashlynn telling her sister last week that "I had a nightmare that I had to back to school!" and I counted that as a sign that something we're doing is working.

The Hard
So I'm realizing that the above paragraphs make our life sound fairly idyllic. Let me assure you, it's not all sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops every day. Far from it. There is a lot of hard. I'd be flat out lying if I told you I didn't frequently wish to send the girls to school for a day so that I could find a few minutes of downtime. It's difficult to be on duty as both the mom and the teacher all day every day.

The most difficult part is balance. How do I manage to mother four kids, educate two, and keep Baby Ian, who is determined to climb on everything in sight, alive? We've had many mornings of chaos where the girls are begging me for help with spelling and vocabulary, Max is throwing his toys around the house, delighting in the noise, and Ian has dissolved in a hysterical puddle of baby goo because he has decided that 5:00 am is morning and is so tired that he can't be awake one more second. (How I gave birth to morning people, I'll never know.)  Many times, it feels like triage: who needs me the most right now?

And that's the other hard part. I am one person. There are four of them. And someone constantly needs something. Sometimes that need involves crying, whining, or throwing reusable glass milk jugs down the stairs and laughing hysterically when it shatters into a million tiny pieces all over the basement floor, just to get my attention. There are frequently times where Ashlynn needs help with a math problem, Ian is climbing on the table, Abby has an urgent question about her violin etude that just can't wait, Mom, and Max is screaming because he just pinched his finger in the cabinet door while he was slamming his Woody doll in it. (Don't ask. I don't understand it either.) I am plagued many many days with epic guilt, worried that I am shortchanging all of my children simultaneously.

I really and truly have days where I fantasize about sending them to school. Just for a day or two. And it's not because of them necessarily, it's all the chaos combined, and because there are some days (weeks?) where all I want to do is ignore everything and curl up under my covers with my kindle, a jar of nutella, and a spoon. Did I tell you that Ian's teething? Molars? All at once and that because of that he doesn't believe in sleeping at night? So mornings are painful, some afternoons I have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, and there are many days that I'm powered by Diet Coke and the sheer force of will. This week I decided that there needs to be a substitute hotline for homeschooling moms.

The truth of it is, I don't know what I'm doing. We take it a day at a time. And I'm not joking about the keeping Ian alive part. That kid is determined to climb on top of anything that stands still long enough, and then of course promptly falls off. That is when he's not emptying shampoo bottles, throwing onions like baseballs, emptying drawers, dishwashers, baskets of toys, and making his sisters crazy.  I'm amazed we haven't had to rush to the ER for a set of stitches or a broken arm.

And my house. Oh, my house. It will never recover. We clean up in the morning, we clean up at night. But if you're coming at any other time, be prepared to dodge toys of every shape and size, the bagful of math manipulatives that gets dumped on the kitchen floor every morning, half the contents of the pantry that will be scattered all over the main floor of the house, and of course the three baskets of clean laundry that Ian has conveniently unfolded and tried to shoot baskets with. And because Max is still new at the potty training thing, he will most likely be half naked and climbing in the laundry basket full of freshly washed clothes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

One of the first things people always ask me when they find out I'm homeschooling is how long we're going to do it. It's nearly inevitable that I'll hear a lecture about how important it is for my children to be properly "socialized" (and I'll write another post about that sometime later on), or how if they don't go to public high school they'll hate me the rest of their life for robbing them of that opportunity. Public high school? Excuse me? I have a fourth and a third grader. I need to get them doing long division before I can contemplate (and worry about) the wonders of drivers ed, junior prom, and Friday night football games.

So are we going to be doing this next year? I don't know. Maybe? Probably? Ask me again after we've survived February, (Oh how I hate the dreariness of February!) and tried to homeschool and move at the same time. But for now, despite the craziness, I'm mostly sure we're on the right track.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Battle of the Sexes

I have quite a few friends with families of all boys. That is as foreign to me as my family with two of each is to them.  Often I hear, "I just can't imagine what it would be like to have girls. We only have boy toys."

Well friends,this is what it is like.

The boys got several tractors as presents for Christmas. They are, apparently, the perfect size for the Barbies.

The other day, Abby came downstairs, obviously pouting.

"Max is playing with the tractor I wanted to play with!"  I had to giggle and remind her that the tractors did actually belong to Max.

The other main difference? Max and Ian crash the tractors into everything. When the girls are playing with them, the tractors have distinct names, personalities, and call everyone "sweetie."

Oh, and the pink sparky Barbie horse? Max has all but taken ownership of it, insisting that it's Bullseye from "Toy Story."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Potty Talk (Don't say I didn't warn you...)

Potty Training.

The two words destined to strike fear into mothers everywhere.

Especially this mother.

It's one of my least favorite things about parenting. Next to "Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?" (No, thank you, they never do, much to my exhausted chagrin,) "Is your child potty trained?" is my least favorite question.

It's another one of those undeniable milestones like walking, talking, and tying shoes. But I happen to have kids who can run, skip, and carry on an entire conversation with you before they express any desire to control their bodily functions.  Usually, I'm fine with this. Let them progress at their own rate, I say. However, I can't deny a certain sheepishness that comes up when surrounded by toddlers much younger and much more potty trained than mine.

Abby was by far the hardest. Nothing we could say or do would convince her to use the potty. Being a naive first time mom, I decided that I knew best, and she was going to use the toilet because she was three, and it was time. Uh huh. The problem was, I didn't consult Abby about this plan. I tried everything all those parenting books tell you to try: sitting her on the potty at regular intervals, rewards, sticker charts, and finally, just putting her in underwear and letting her have accidents because eventually she'll decide that she doesn't like the feeling of being wet and decide to go on her own. Nope, nope, and nope. She screamed when I sat her on the potty, never actually did anything on the potty so the stickers and rewards were moot, and started hiding her accidents just to avoid using the bathroom. So I gave up. Despite the fact that I could carry on an entire conversation with my 3 year old, ("Abby, do you need to go potty?" "No thanks, Mom, I'm fine. I don't need to go potty today.") I put her back in diapers and didn't think about it, talk about it, and tried not to be concerned that I would have the only kindergartner needing me to come change a diaper at recess, or to think about how much money having two in diapers for years on end was costing us. Six or so months later, she decided she was ready, then it was done nearly overnight. No more diapers, pull ups, accidents, or even bedwetting.

Six months after that, Ashlynn was potty trained as well. It was like buy one get one free.

And then there was Max. Another three year old with no interest or intention of making potty training easy. After my experience with Abby, I knew it would be better for all of us if I waited for him to be ready. I felt even more strongly about it because it's Max, and he's had so many things done to his body without his knowledge or consent.

Then it was Christmas break, I had two weeks without violin lessons, and as sometimes happens when I have unstructured time on my hands, I decided it was time. My husband laughed at me because Max had no concept of what a toilet was even for. I laughed back and decided that by the end of Christmas break, Max would at least be more aware.

And guess what? After a very funny trip to Wal-Mart to buy very tiny tighty-whities, (anyone know why little boy underwear is so much more expensive than little girl underwear?) a few days with nothing but accidents, a few times where I told him to pull up his "panties" on accident, a couple of pairs of underwear thrown away because they were just too far gone, and a week or two with a tiny potty in our front room, I hereby declare that Max is officially potty trained. With the exception of a nighttime pull-up (which I don't see us being able to go without anytime soon) we have been diaper and accident free for more than a week!

And he's so stinkin' cute about it. There's nothing quite as sweet as when he runs up to me and asks "Can I go pee in the potty now, Mom?"  Yes, please.

Maybe in six months, Ian will train as well. A girl can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mama said there'd be days like this

Everybody has "those days." Those days you know are going to be trouble before you even get out of bed in the morning. Today was one of those days. Highlights included:

~Waking up at 3:45 am realizing that not only was my baby nursing, he was also talking. And patting my face obsessively. He did not go back to sleep until somewhere just before 6 am. My alarm went off at 6:15 for my first violin lesson of the day.

~Finding bite marks in my bar of soap this morning. I'm not even going to ask which of my vampire children is now eating soap.

~Abby pounding on the bathroom door this morning as I was getting dressed to announce that Ian was bleeding and I needed to come out "Right now, Mom!" Turned out Ian's finger had a little scratch.

~Teaching a violin student and having her mother ask how I felt about doing all our lessons via Skype in February. They travel a lot during February, she explained to me. When I asked her if she was going anywhere fun, she told me they like to spend the entire month in Hawaii. I was distracted for the remainder of her lesson imagining spending all of February in Maui.

~My baby learning how to climb on the kitchen table. I've never had a dare devil baby. I'm not excited about having one now. It started with him using the step stool to climb. Then we pushed the stool under the table to he couldn't climb on it. Undeterred, he learned to pull the stool out from under the table. Then we decided to move the stool on top of the table when someone's bum wasn't on it. It took Ian mere minutes today to figure out how to scale the kitchen chairs. He only looks sweet and innocent.

~My husband calling and letting me know that his business trip was being extended. Yup. He was supposed to come home tonight. Now we won't see him until Saturday morning. You know the supportive wife gig? I'm not so good at it.

~My real estate agent stopping by, picking up paperwork, and letting us know that we have another offer on the house. Wait. I don't think I mentioned that we put the house on the market. We did. Our first offer came in 3 hours after it was listed, and we now have a second offer for $5k more. Neither potential buyer has even come to look. I don't know about you, but getting two offers in less than a week with no showing is a pretty good deal. If only we were selling it for anywhere close to what we owe on it... Sigh. Regardless, I am glad to be on the path. Can't wait for the day that the boys actually have a bedroom of their own and I have a kitchen big enough to turn around in without tripping over one of my many small (and not so small) children.

~Realizing, as I'm trying to help both girls with their math, fill out health insurance paperwork, change Max's clothes after he had an accident, and keep Ian from dancing on the dishwasher door, why newborn babies just shut down when they are overstimulated.

~Getting this picture text from my husband and trying not to die of jealousy.

~Stopping my last violin lesson of the day early because I could hear my two boys upstairs shrieking. At the top of their lungs. For ten minutes straight. It sounded like the end of the world. I promised my sweet teenage violin student that I would give her and Vivaldi her extra ten minutes at her next lesson. Then I sang hymns to myself for the next hour, praying all the while for the strength to make it to bedtime.

~And then, wonder of wonders, putting both very tired boys to bed at 7, curling up in my chair with my blanket, the space heater, the girls playing upstairs very quietly and "Anne of Green Gables" on my Kindle. I felt like drinking up the quiet. Forty five minutes later, I felt renewed enough to be a mom again.

"Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

Amen, Anne Shirley. So glad I get to try again tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A girl could get used to this

I don't love winter. I hate being cold, I despise needing (and losing) boots, hats, gloves coats and snowpants in every size, and I especially loathe snowpacked canyon drives to and from violin lessons. This becomes rather problematic when I live in a town that had snow on Memorial Day last year.

Except this year. January 6. Practically springtime, don't ya know?

We've had little to no measurable snowfall, no need to bust out the snow tires and chains, and no building of snowmen, much to my kids' chagrin.

But from my perspective, there's nothing wrong with a trip to the park with the kids on a sunny January afternoon.

I just hope Mother Nature doesn't decide to  dump snow on us clear through June as payback.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Another Obligatory Christmas Post

I wouldn't be a mommy blogger if I didn't blast everyone with a whole bunch of Christmas pictures right? And despite the fact that we took the tree down and de-Christmased everything on December 26th, (Hey, when you have a toddler tornado hanging around, a Christmas tree becomes a deadly weapon!) I haven't managed to put together a coherent blog thought since then.

Then all of a sudden, it's 2012. Wow. How did that happen?

Anyway, Christmas was wonderful. It really was. It was loud, noisy, messy, happy, giggling, magical chaos.
We rode the train to Temple Square on Christmas Eve night. Forget the lights, the train was everyone's favorite part!

The lights were stunning.
We especially loved the new nativity set placed in the reflecting pool.
 It was very effective wearing the kids out. You can't really tell in this picture, but Max was falling asleep sitting on the top of the stroller. (You also can't really appreciate the magnitude of the tantrum Ashlynn was throwing because her feet hurt, and horror of horrors, I made her wear jeans!)
Santa arrived right on time, and the tree was piled with presents.
No, Ian didn't get an iPhone for Christmas. He was just way more interested in it and the package wrappings than in the presents themselves.
Max was beside himself with excitement when he opened up a "Woody" doll from "Toy Story."
Since Christmas was on Sunday, we scrambled into new Christmas clothes and headed to our meeting. That was undoubtedly, the most crazy part of the entire day. We should learn that just because it's Christmas doesn't mean we're going to get to church without at least a few major and minor meltdowns. (We should also learn not to take pictures in front of a window...)
My mom sewed and entire wardrobe full of doll clothes for the girls' dolls, Emma and Katie, including matching nightgown sets.

Uncle Kevin is always willing to be the entertainment committee.

Once we returned home, we enjoyed dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, played with Uncle Kevin, and opened more presents. We collapsed into bed early, satisfied and grateful. Not to mention exhausted.

So what else have we been doing with our break? Sleeping in. Taking naps. NOT teaching violin lessons. (We also haven't been very diligent about practicing our instruments... Shhh!) We've played games, gone swimming, eaten lots of junk food, read a whole bunch of books, (Yay for a new Kindle!) and stayed up way too late.

Needless to say, my 6:30 am violin lesson came very early this morning. However, my children, despite their protests, seem glad to be back in a routine.

Oh, and about those pesky New Year's Resolutions? I've been reading lots of blogs with lots of brilliant resolutions and themes for the new year. I even have one friend who is training for a half marathon. Even more shocking, I have one giving up Diet Coke. Me? I'm all about making resolutions I know I can keep. Here goes:

1- Keep everyone alive. All year.
2- No overnight hospitalizations. (I know better than to say no hospital trips. But not being inpatient is a worthy goal, I think.)
3- Change less diapers.
4- Teach Ian to play piano so we can proceed with his career as a child prodigy. That kid needs to start earning his keep anyway.
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