Time Machines, Field Trips, and Another Anniversary

This week, my kids had a field trip with their homeschool group, Classical Conversations, to The Rock Ranch. It is just about their favorite place ever. It’s a working farm, with historical tours, reenactments, artifacts, and best of all- plenty of places for free play. They took advantage of a giant bubble in the ground- ok, I know I have phrased that completely incorrectly, but to me that’s what it looks like! They took their shoes off and bounced their heads off. Then, there was Tiny Town- a miniature version of an old west town complete with a jail, courthouse, church, school, and stores. That is the highlight of the trip! They chase each other around, and drag their friends to the jail. Oh- the laughter! I could have listen to it for hours.

rock sheet

 

 

On the way home, Aidan and Rose were talking about how this year compared with other years they had been- the weather, the food, the activities. It hit me that I have no memories of those adventures. None. I don’t even remember the days that they went. I don’t remember them coming home to tell me about it, nor the other experiences they shared with dear friends. While everyone else’s lives moved on, I was in a bubble for almost two years. My bedroom was the bubble most of the time, dark, and I was unable to talk or read or even listen most days. The sustained level of pain separated me from rational thought and conversation. I existed somewhere between reality and a dream world. I do remember it feeling endless- days turned into weeks, into months. One day exactly like the next with no progress for a very, very long time.

I told my children that I felt like I had just stepped out of a time machine. A little over two years ago, I stepped out of this reality, and I just emerged. I’ve been doing more and more with the kids, but this week I noticed the passage of time so much more than before. Here I am, driving the kids hours in the car for a full day of activity. I didn’t drive a car for over a year. It was almost as though the last couple of years were a dream. I went from 2016, to now. They have all of these memories that I am not a part of. I’m not bitter about that, rather I feel an immense gratitude that they were so loved and cared for. I get to wake up every day, like it’s Christmas morning. EVERY DAY. I get to drive! I get to eat! I get to walk around! Never gets old.

I’m by no means perfect- my health is an ongoing challenge. A couple of days ago, James and I had an emergency trip to see a neurologist for me. We used to have those nail-biting, jump in the car, desperate wild goose chase for answers, outings together all of the time. A lot of those long drives and longer appointments were dead ends. This one, however, was not. Another piece of the puzzle is being put back together. It’s amazing just how much can fall apart, like dominoes toppling one after the other. I’m playing catch-up, and most days I feel great about the progress but other days (like this week) I look at where I want to be and I get discouraged. When will I get there? There is no magic time machine to jump in, and fast forward. Getting to the destination sure would be nice, but this journey has made me endlessly grateful for each teeny, tiny blessing.

While my recovery was gradual- almost imperceptible for months, the major events that changed my life are pretty easy to identify. I passed another milestone this week- the two year anniversary of my surgery at Emory. It was on November 9th, a Wednesday morning right after the election. The nurse came in at 4:30am to wake me up and tell me that Donald Trump had won. I was so surprised I almost fell out of the bed. They wheeled me down to pre-op in the still-dark hours of dawn. I was blissfully unaware of how difficult the surgery would be, and I think my surgeon was as well. He estimated 1.5 hours, and it took 7. After waking up, there were some complications in the PACU, and I felt real, raw fear. I was free-wheeling (ok, literally because I had enough ketamine in me to kill a horse), and didn’t know where I would land. For the first time in my life, I considered the real possibility that everything would not be ok. The uncertainty was the worst part- moving forward after that with no clear path or guarantees. I know I’m not alone in that experience. While mine was health related, other people I know have faced total uncertainty with jobs, sick children, marriages crumbling, and finances changing. I think human beings have a natural tendency to seek control and structure of their own destinies. To be forced to let go of all control and realize it is a harsh lesson to learn. Control is, I’ve learned, all an illusion of course! Even when we think we are the navigators of all things in our lives, we really aren’t.

Two years ago, I woke up on November 9th and fully realized that I was not in control at all. The reality had been there all along, I just didn’t see it clearly. Now, I wake up every day and let life happen. Am I still a planner? By nature, yes. Do I cling to ideals, bitterly and relentlessly, not wanting to let go of “my” plans? Nope. Not any more. While I was in my “bubble” I changed, evolved and I’m still growing. A time machine would have saved me so much heartache, but then I wouldn’t see life through rose colored glasses like I do today. La vie en rose.

 

Halloween!

This holiday is just plain fun at our house. I really love themes, and usually I can get my act together and dress the whole family up in one theme. This year, the budget wasn’t going to work because we just did some home improvement projects, and I needed to be really low key for Halloween. I know there are cool homemade costumes you can do, but I’m not up for that yet! One rainy day when the kids were stir crazy, James took them out to find the parts for the perfect costumes. I shouldn’t have favorites… but I do. This year, Lana’s is my favorite! She is going as Wonder Woman. She really loves the cape, and she doesn’t walk- she RUNS everywhere. Sweet girl. My older kids are starting to really notice when their candy disappears. I don’t want them to ruin their teeth, have a lot of processed foods and sugar, and -well, um, I really like candy!! That’s what it boils down to. I just plain love chocolate. So, yes, I sneak some of their candy. I think kit-kats are my favorite, with Hershey’s white chocolate coming in a close second.

 

 

 

I wanted to share some of our favorite outfits! I don’t buy ghouls and goblins for our home décor and this really frustrates them. If they could put fake zombies on the roof, the headless horseman in the front yard, and witches with cauldrons on the porches, they would. Nope. I stick with fall stuff like mums, pumpkins, and pretty wreaths. I don’t “do” the undead. The costumes are the same way. I guess it’s the obsession with the forbidden fruit, but I won’t let them dress up as anything evil and bloodthirsty. Other kids may- that’s their choice, but we do goofy, wild, and imaginative instead. I get some complaints, because plenty of friends go a different direction with their costumes, but for the most part they don’t grumble too much. The siblings stick together for the first part of the evening and in our neighborhood, Halloween is insanely busy! The grown ups have bonfires, and grill out in the driveways. It looks like huge tailgating parties everywhere. Everyone is outside, talking and catching up. We have a lot of golf carts where we live (golf cart capital of the world, I think is the nickname!) and sidewalks so people from other places come here due to the safety and ease of walking around.

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This year, we met up with a lot of friends and while the grown-ups had a chance to visit and chat, I volunteered to be the mom that went door to door in the early evening. I followed the group of 15 or so kids all over the neighborhood. What a wonderful privilege, to be able to walk and keep up with candy-hungry young’uns! There were fireworks, pounds of candy, chase and tag in the dark, and so many more happy memories to file away.

 

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James and Amy- our story

I love hearing about how couples met and fell in love. What was their first date like? When did they get engaged? Some stories are funny, sweet, sad, ironic, and all of them are touching. Of course, the story of James and me is my favorite. In my typical type-A, planner personality way, I started worrying about meeting the right fella when I was young. I think the concern began in my teens, that I would love someone who did not love me, or worse, I would never meet anyone that I loved enough to spend my life with. Does it make a lot of sense to worry like that? No, of course not. However, in my immature teen mind, the thought nagged at me that finding the “right person”  (you know the one you hear about in movies and books?) would elude me. I would never know what “true” love was, and I would grow old alone. Now, I had a plan B. I had it all figured out- I was going to be a very cool spinster, who traveled the world and was a published author. I would have lots of pets, and I would throw great parties! Oh my gosh, I am belly laughing right now thinking back. Woe is me, I had real concerns! Right up there with world peace, and fixing global warming- I worried about what the future would hold. My young heart wondered what it would be like to fall in love.

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On our 2nd date, in Athens, GA

I had deep heart-to-heart with my best friends about the categories of infatuation. The type of love that was required for marriage I knew, at least, was in a category by itself. It wasn’t all about being warm and fuzzy, no, I understood even at a very young age, that marriage was a vow and that commitment to the union was the crux of things- not romance. As a person of faith, who came into her adult relationship with God only after marriage, I struggled to trust the Lord with my heart. I desperately wanted to have a deep, loving relationship and marriage and did NOT want to relinquish my white-knuckled control. The thought that life may take me down a different road than the one I envisioned was unacceptable; I wanted to control every aspect of my own future- I KNEW my destiny. I had it all planned.

After college, I wanted to move to Washington D.C. and work on Capitol Hill for a couple of years and then attend the Georgetown School of Foreign Service for a masters degree. After completing my two years abroad after the masters, then I could get married. In reality, I was sitting at a kitchen table eating nachos when in walked my destiny. Foolish young woman that I was, I wasn’t a complete idiot- I recognized James for the gem that he is! It was second semester of senior year of college and I was attending a Super Bowl party at a friend’s house. People from Savannah were invited so I saw a lot of familiar faces. I didn’t dress up, and I probably couldn’t have told you who was playing! I had gone out with friends the night before and I was tired. I wore a sweatshirt and jeans, and no make-up (I still have the sweatshirt). Like I mentioned- I was actually holding the bowl of nachos and eating with them in my lap. James came in with a mutual friend, and we were introduced. I shook his hand over the chips and hot cheese. Clearly, it was an auspicious beginning!

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At a family farm, our first Thanksgiving together 2003

James was equally dressed up- I think he was wearing a hoodie and hadn’t shaved in 6 months.  He still doesn’t like to shave! He used to wear glasses before he had Lasik surgery. He couldn’t afford to get them fixed, so they sat a little crooked on the bridge of his nose and they had a piece of tape holding them together. Not kidding.  I recognized his name from home. He and I were neighbors growing up, our houses were three doors down from each other. I went and found him watching the game, and I asked if he knew that we had been neighbors- he did not. I sat down, and we started talking. We started talking, and we didn’t stop until he left thirty minutes after the game ended! I’m sure our friends were ready for us to shut up. He was the easiest person in the world to talk to- he had the best laugh, it was deep and bellowing like a young Santa Claus. He said he remembers me fixing him a plate of lowcountry boil for dinner and bringing it back to him. I remember thinking he was one of the nicest people I had ever met.

At half-time of the game, I went into the bathroom with my tiny Nokia cell phone (remember those?) and I called my mom, my sister, and my best friend from high school. I told each of them that I had met the guy I was going to marry. That was it- I just wanted to let them know! Maybe it was something in my voice, or maybe it’s because each of them knew me so well- I’m not the type of person to speak in hyperbole, or grossly exaggerate my feelings for a guy. They took me very seriously! My best friend said, “Ok Amy, I look good in pink!” and a year and a half later, she wore pink in wedding.  After the game, we made plans for him to come to our apartment and have dinner later that week with me and my roommates. I remember he wore a blazer, and brought a bottle of wine. I’m not sure who he consulted, but now that I know him so well I can’t believe he dressed up! This is the man who still wears scrubs that he had in medical school, with holes worn in the heels where they have dragged the ground for over a decade.

 

Our first official date just the two of us was in early March. We talked on the phone some before that, but both of us were really busy. Once we were together- that was it, we were inseparable. I know that drove our roommates and friends nuts!  Neither of us had two nickels to rub together. There was no fancy wining and dining; our idea of a date was to go to the grocery store and get the supplies to make sandwiches. We would buy one pastry to split, go back to one of our homes, make a meal and then sit outside on a picnic blanket to eat. We would look up at the sky and just talk and talk. I don’t remember any concerts, fancy restaurants, overnight trips, or jewelry. I do remember our conversations though, and the laughter. We could finish each other’s sentences, but despite my early prediction, I didn’t think we could get married. I had plans, and he was going to medical school.

We made it one week- one- of long distance. I came to visit him after his first week of medical school, and right when I walked through the door he looked at me and blurted out, “We have to get married.” I said something like, “yeah, I know.” And I did know with complete certainty that marrying James was what I was supposed to do. We weren’t supposed to wait for years and then get together after we had met personal goals- we were supposed to grow together, and take on new experiences as a team. I always thought that deciding who to marry would be a little nerve wracking-it’s FOREVER so shouldn’t you be a little nervous? Have doubts? Date for years so you can be sure? I didn’t do any of those things. Deciding to marry James was the easiest decision I ever made. I put that squarely on God’s shoulders- He gave me and James an unreal peace about the whole thing. It felt so natural, like we were extensions of each other.

In typical type A-worry-wort Amy fashion, I kept waiting for doubts, or reasons to be uncertain. Nothing…I prayed “Lord, if this is wrong and I’m not supposed to marry him, I need you to be REALLY clear.” Again, nothing but a sense of calm and peace and certainty. All of my plans to move to D.C. changed. I started marriage with so much joy, excitement and thrill about embracing our future together. I found a way to work in politics where James was in medical school. I worked on political campaigns, and I went back to school to get my masters degree. I didn’t give up any of my dreams, but I got to do them with James by my side. God was so much better to me, than I was to myself. His plans for me included everything I loved to do, and a the kind of work that I enjoyed, plus a soulmate for life. James and I disagree on little, everyday things, but we have always agreed on the big stuff.

7 of us
2015, on my 34th birthday

From the first time I met him, James has been the easiest person in the world to talk to. He became my best friend pretty quickly, and he still is. We tease about the early years and how we would split a cheap beer from Walmart and make a sandwich for a Saturday night date. I think everyone needs to experience the lean years together- they are character building! We’ve had a wild ride full of ups and downs. Both of us have had serious health issues that were long term. James’s began 3 weeks after we returned from our honeymoon. So, we never got the “honeymoon” phase of early marriage. We dove right in to the “in sickness and in health” part. I could write for hours and hours about our first years together- dating, engagement, and the first years of marriage. It feels like a lifetime ago. There’s no one I’d rather do life with than this guy.

 

S’Mores the Hamster

Mom, can we get a pet? on repeat, for 1.5 years.

I got James a puppy as a surprise the day he went to take his Step II board exams in med school. We had been married for a year, and we owned a small townhome in Augusta, GA.  He was a small, black curly haired Schnoodle whom we named Gus. The first night we had him, we put him in a crate, determined to train him the right way from the beginning. He wimpered. We took him out. He wimpered some more. We propped his doggie bed up on pillows, on top of a chair, so he was even with our bed. Then, he kept wimpering…so we put him in our bed. And that was that.

james and gus

He slept with us, at our feet, every night until right before Aidan was born. I’m going to get choked up writing this. I wasn’t sure how he would react when we brought the baby home, but I was not prepared for his reaction! Gus sniffed baby Aidan, licked him, and then growled at anyone who came close. He NEVER growled, ever. Except when we brought a baby home. He met each one of our babies, and he loved them. He let them pull his hair, hold him, tickle his belly, chase him, play fetch, and feed him table scraps. He never bit or nipped- not once- in his whole life. He would however, bark at everything including his own shadow, the older he got. This drove me nuts.

After my mesh surgery and injury, I was on edge all of the time. I couldn’t stand loud noises or my sleep being interrupted. Since Gus barked a lot, he ended up being put in the laundry room to keep him quiet. It has a window, food and water, a bed and it’s right off the kitchen- so it wasn’t a punishment or anything. Still, he would keep his little nub of a tail down and act like he was being banished to Siberia.

In January 2017, I underwent a procedure that was supposed to be low risk, that had a 50/50 chance of working very well to relieve the nerve pain called pulsed radiofrequency treatment. I had a horrific reaction, and it ended up making me much, much worse temporarily. I couldn’t speak the pain was so bad. The few days afterwards are a blur- but I remember my dad coming in to my bedroom and saying that something was very wrong with Gus. Two days later he was dead. I was bedridden, and the kids were in shock.  James and dad dug his grave in the backyard on a cold, rainy afternoon. My mom was in town, and she came in to tell me that I HAD to find the strength to come outside. My daughter wouldn’t put the dead dog down, and she had his blood on her shirt. She was inconsolable. That is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. I got up and walked outside in the rain, and I took Gus out of Rose’s arms. I was on 100mcg patch of fentanyl, I don’t know how much Lyrica, 3-4 doses of oxycodone a day- and I still couldn’t focus through the pain. Nick was so little, and he said “why is there water coming out of my eyes?” Our oldest son blurted out “That’s not water! You are crying because you are sad!” I don’t think that Nick could process grief at his young age, but after Aidan said that, it hit him and he tore off running across the yard, sobbing. He hid in a giant bush and James had to crawl in the mud to retrieve him. That was a horrible day. The pain was unbearable and blocked out rational thought, grief, and I felt useless. I limped back inside, and curled in the fetal position on my bed while James and my parents took care of the children that afternoon.

I did not want another pet. At all. Ever. It’s amazing how resilient children are, and not long after that day, they started asking. I started saying “no” on a daily basis, for over a year. I had long told them that I did not have the energy to take care of 6 kids, work on my health, and take care of a dog. It wouldn’t be fair to a dog to bring them into our home unless we could promise to take care of them adequately. Finally, FINALLY they wore me down. Well, Rose did. My desire to NOT have a pet, was nothing compared to her love of all of God’s creatures. The child brings everything in here. Crickets, spiders, frogs- oh the tears!! I made her let a frog go at the soccer field. She wouldn’t speak to me the rest of the night!

I started doing my homework on low maintenance animals. They shot down my suggestion of a goldfish, lizard, or fiddler crab. They wanted a rodent of some sort. Ok, y’all, I have to admit- I have a fear/phobia of rodents. Like I freak out and scream. I cannot stand them. I kept researching, hoping the answer would present itself- and it did! I found the perfect pet!

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When Rose was at camp, we wrote her a letter and surprised her, telling her when she got back we would go to PetSmart and pick out a new pet! We decided on a dwarf hamster. They don’t get along with others so you can only own one, they don’t bite, they don’t smell, make noise, and they don’t eat much. Voila, the perfect pet. Oh, the unbridled joy when we brought that tiny animal home!! We named her S’Mores because of her coloring. She’s SUPER fast, and teeny, and we explained that if she ever got out of her cage, that was it- she’d be lost forever. She can run really fast and she’s the size of a small plum- so we wouldn’t be able to find her.

On the first day of public school this year, I drove Matthew to school. I told his teacher that the only thing I was nervous about was him riding the bus. She assured me that she would personally walk him to the right bus that afternoon. When I went to pick him up at the bus stop… he wasn’t there. Our neighbor went back on to the bus and searched- no Matthew. I had to jump in our van, leave my oldest child at home in charge of napping siblings and frantically drive around searching for Mattie. Turns out, his teacher had put him on the “correct” bus, the one that the school system told me was ours, but the letter was wrong- they had mixed up the numbers and sent him to the wrong place. We found Matthew, and he was totally calm of course. Very exciting first day!

When we returned home, my 5 year old came up to me, tears rolling down his face. He explained that he had been playing with S’mores when he was supposed to be resting, and she had gotten loose. I know he was scared of his siblings’ reaction, so he hid behind me. He was SO upset. All of the excitement about losing Matthew was forgotten, and the kids all started shouting at once. They weren’t angry at all with Nick, they were too worried that our pet was lost forever. They took off upstairs, calling her name (as if she would come running?). Frantic, and hysterical. They took their shoes off before they run upstairs to look- I guess to avoid the chance that they stepped on her? I tripped over the shoes, and fell pretty hard on my knee and elbow. Ouch.

After I limped up the stairs, I laid down on the floor, pretty sore. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her tiny, furry body. She came running right at me! Here’s where my fear of rodents hurt the most- I didn’t have the nerve to grab her! I froze- and she kept going. Oh, boy did the kids let me have it! Finally, Aidan trapped her and they got her back in her cage. They patted Nick on the back, letting him know there were no hard feelings. Truth be told, I think they liked the excitement. We are really careful with her all of the time, and I know the little ones learned their lesson that day about taking her out. She is adored by all of them, not a problem at all, and it’s another step back to real life for me!

 

The best day of his life

This past week, we celebrated my oldest son’s 11th birthday. Usually, the kids discuss their birthday for roughly 11.5 months leading up to it. The cake, the presents, the activities, etc. This is the very first time one of my kids (getting older? small tear!) hasn’t brought up their special day ahead of time. We asked Aidan what he wanted, and he said he couldn’t think of one thing. For the record, we don’t shower them with a lot of gifts. James and I get each child a special present for their birthday, and then siblings choose Dollar Tree treasures that they pick out (always the highlight of the day). For his birthday, I knew what he really wanted. He loves to play Fortnite. I am pretty anti-video game, and we have strict rules about screen time. Oh man, the look on his face was priceless! I asked “do you want to play Fortnite and eat junk food for your birthday?” You would have thought I offered him a million dollars. That was it.

me and a and cake

We cancelled school that day, and Aidan played with his siblings outside, and he got to play Fornite. He was pretty funny about lunch. He said he wanted paninis with *pesto*! He knew not everyone liked it, but he did, and it was what he REALLY wanted. It might be my favorite thing too, so I happily agreed. Aidan had football practice that evening, and he asked if I would make cookies for his teammates. Awww- yes, I will. I’m honored he still wants me around. Rose and I made funfetti cookies from Pinterest that turned out really well actually- ha, a Pinterest win!

Matthew had his last baseball game that night too, and Aidan was going to miss it. He was disappointed about that. Aidan’s first love is baseball, and he’s been coaching Matthew since he could walk. He figured out early on that Rose wouldn’t take orders from him, but sweet Matthew was always up for a game and he didn’t mind constant instruction. It was a gorgeous day, and the boys spent a good deal of time in the backyard. Aidan worked with Matthew on his pitching, hitting, throwing and fielding. It was a full two hour “practice!” Matthew’s team hadn’t won a game yet this season. James had to work one of his long days with double shifts, and we had a complicated evening of running around dropping off kids where they needed to be at the right time.

When I arrived at Matthew’s game, I gave him a wave and a smile. He said somewhat dejectedly “I’m not pitching tonight.” He’s only 6 years old, and he plays on an 8 and under team. He really is excellent for his age, but I understood that they couldn’t start him as pitcher for every game. I tried to cheer him up by saying “hey, maybe you will be the relief pitcher?” I watched his game for a while, and the other team pulled ahead. Matthew struck out at the plate, and tried to hide the tears in his eyes. He is the sweetest child in the world, and it is pretty hard for my mama’s heart to watch him get upset. When James arrived after his LONG day, I took off to go to Aidan’s practice. I told Matthew I loved him, and good luck, I’d see him at home later.

After Aidan’s practice, the boys happily gobbled the cookies. I had two other kids with me, and we called James from the car to find out how Matthew’s game turned out. They don’t play past an hour and twenty minutes. James didn’t pick up the phone, so we tried mom. To our complete surprise, they were still playing 2 hours later! It was the bottom of the last inning, and Matthew was pitching- relief pitcher just like I thought. His team was ahead by one run! They had to hold the other team. Matthew had struck out one batter, and caught a pop fly for the second out. One more out and they would win, their first and only game of the season. He had made the two outs by himself.

Aidan was so funny. He had my mom on speaker phone- “MOM!! PULL THE CAR OVER!!!!” I did pull over, because I was too excited to drive. We listened as my mom announced each pitch that Matthew threw. “I CAN’T TAKE THIS!!! CAN I HANG UP??” Aidan asked multiple times. He couldn’t stand the anticipation and the pressure that was on Matthew’s shoulders. When mom announced the last strike, third out- never have I EVER been that elated! HAHA. We were screaming and whooping in the car, and we all pictured little Mattie on the mound throwing his glove in the air with glee.

Aidan was cheering so loudly, I couldn’t drive the car for 5 minutes. Screaming, fist pumping with the other brothers- it was a wild sight. Matthew won his last game, on Aidan’s birthday! When we got home, the brother’s embraced for a while. I met James’s eyes over their heads- THIS is why I endured 9 months of hyperemesis multiple times, I told him. This is why I missed out on girls’ nights, vacations, date nights, and decent food to be sick as a dog with each pregnancy. THIS, right here. Oh, the love that night! Aidan said it was the best day of his life. It was a sweet, simple day filled with love and family time. But, it was a perfect day to us.

aidan and matt
The joyful reunion after Aidan got home from practice and Matthew returned from his game.

When you lose the battle, and it’s ok

I’m going to share something pretty personal here: James and I have had *one* real argument our entire marriage. We’ve had this argument about 11 million times, but it has been the same one, over and over. We disagree on things, but there’s one thing that has been such a sore spot for us over and over. I have this perception that I have to be the mean parent, and he gets to be the fun parent. I’m the rule enforcer, and he’s the one who gives in to their demands and lets things slide. I always feel like one of us has to hold the center, so it must be me. I can’t give an inch, because then, who would keep order?

This perception in my mind of our roles in the home has led to battles, real, raw emotional battles over the years.  The hurt starts with me, not because of anything that James purposely did.  I’m sure when I’m old and gray I’ll be able to offer calm wisdom to young parents about how I learned from my mistakes, doing this! For now, I’m sorta/kinda still in the middle of it, and trying to figure out how to compromise without both of us feeling frustrated.

engage
Right after we got engaged, when we were 12. Just kidding:)

I am no doubt the stricter parent. Does that make me a “better” parent? Ah, confession. I’ll admit, in my more selfish, angry moments I thought that it did. I know I’m wrong. This line of thinking has gotten me nowhere except angrier, self-righteous and spinning my wheels. Not a great combination. James loves our children fiercely, and has very different ideas about what’s perfectly normal and acceptable. I don’t think that anyone needs to share every argument they have with their spouse on the internet, but I thought that perhaps other parents might find some common ground? One parent thinks they are the strict one, and carries some resentment that the other parent is the “fun” one?

One very recent and vivid example of our disagreement has to do with technology. We will always have to navigate the changing world of discipline and privileges as the kids get older. I am stuck in the 1980s- I didn’t do that as a kid, and I’m fine! I didn’t miss out! See?! I can’t stand video games. Cannot stand them. Cartoon people jump around and you get points, and there are different levels…blah blah blah. I have seen people totally engrossed, obsessed, sitting in front of a tv all day on a weekend in college, with no social skills because they just play video games all day. That’s my perception of what it looks like when people play.

There is a very popular video game trending right now called Fortnite. You’ve probably heard of it. I was fine with not having it at all in our home. James downloaded it for our oldest son to try, and that opened a new can of worms. I can beat my head against the wall and rehash the same arguments over and over again about why I don’t like video games, but James can silence me with one sentence “I played them occasionally and I turned out fine.” He turned out better than “fine”- he happens to be my hero. I think he hung the moon. I can’t argue with that statement. It’s true. He’s a hardworking physician, a very hands-on loving father, a patient husband who was my rock during the hardest times of my life, and a man of faith.

I realized that I want peace in the valley, I want to show James how much I admire him, and after a lot of prayer, I knew I needed to take a long, hard look at my pride. I have a pretty rigid view of what’s right and wrong, and more than anything in my life, marriage has softened my edges. I hope that it has made me a better person- I think so. My personal opinion of video games hasn’t changed, but how we treat them in our home did. The boys play Fornite sometimes and the world hasn’t stopped turning. It’s not winning and losing a battle. There shouldn’t be “winning” in a loving home, because that means that someone gets defeated. I just used that analogy in the title of this piece, to represent my personal battle. I battle my pride all of the time- pride over asking for help, pride over teaching the kids “enough”, and pride over being the perfect parent. Gah- it makes it glaringly obvious how much my arguments are about PRIDE, when I write it down and read it.

We have days, times, limits, etc. on screen time. We are in a unique position because of James’s job, where we have multiple computers in the home. One of them was not being used, and was a very nice desktop. We installed it in his office, so that when the boys are online they are next to James- literally. I don’t feel like I am in a position to share every rule we make about screens, because what works for us is probably not right for someone else. Plus, each one of my children is treated differently. That kind of irks them! I get the question “why is he allowed to do __?”

I hope that when I look back on my life, I can say that I learned from my mistakes. The fact that I’ve had the same argument for 11 years, clearly shows that I have room to grow! As much as James and I are alike in many ways, and we love each other, we communicate very differently. My biggest stumbling block is my pride, when it comes to being a good human being and a person of faith. These compromises as a parent and a spouse might get me to Heaven one day- breaking down my innate tendency to always think that *my* way is “right.” By working on my communication with James over every-day disagreements like Fornite, I hope I’m a better listener and friend to everyone else! I read once that marriage is like putting two rough rocks in a bag. Over time, they bang against each other and become smooth. I like that. It’s not easy, and sometimes there are tears of frustration, but my rough edges are being refined and honed, by love.

dance
Dancing at Piper’s wedding, after 14 years of marriage.

Why do I homeschool?

I remember having a conversation with a friend years and years ago, and she said that she wanted to homeschool her children. I thought wow! that’s great, good for you, but I could NEVER do that. The first question I asked was “what about socialization?” She had a long, well thought out answer full of plans and ideas that sounded wonderful. In my mind, I thought about prom, and AP English class discussions which I loved. I didn’t want to deprive my children of the good experiences that I had had in school. Homeschool sounded interesting, but it wasn’t for me. My husband went to a private, Catholic high school and I went to a private, secular high school that was academically challenging. I loved school, and I’m still close with friends I’ve had since middle school. Still, a tiny seed was planted that day while on a coffee date with a mom friend.

Fast forward a little while. We were living in the Philadelphia area for James’s residency and he had matched with a fellowship in the Detroit area. I had heard the not-so-pleasant stories about Detroit (#1 most dangerous place in America, at the time) and I obsessively scoured the internet trying to find us a suitable place to live. We had no money for flying out there and searching in person for a rental. I was pregnant with Matthew, and I remember sitting on the sofa/bed/chair/everywhere with the laptop on my legs and searching- again and again. Nothing. If I found a cute place, I immediately got outbid. I was flummoxed, because to my knowledge not many people were moving to Detroit! I finally broke down and called a real estate agent to ask what in the world was going on. She kindly explained that I was trying to move to the ONE good school district in the area. ahhh- gotcha. That made sense. No wonder it was so competitive.

God provided for us, perfectly, in His time, just like He always has. In what felt like the LAST minute, I received an email from a doctor at the hospital where James was going to work. She was an ob/gyn and she was renting out her family home and would LOVE to have a medical family stay there. Phew. It happened to be on the cutest street in America, in the best school district, with kind neighbors- basically perfect. While that experience ended well, it got me thinking. What happens in a year when James is looking for jobs after fellowship? Do we make a list and say that not only does  the job have to have certain criteria, but we have to find a home with a certain floor plan, in a specific school district? I knew that that was too many variables, too many unknowns.  I had to remove some.

Finding a job near a great school district was going to be too much pressure. The buck stopped with me, not the teachers, to make sure that my children were well educated. I didn’t want to end up with a  great job, albeit in the middle of nowhere, and not have a way to make sure that the kids were well taken care of academically. I decided to start researching homeschooling as a back-up option. I don’t do things halfway- it’s all or nothing. It wasn’t feasible for me to physically go back to school to get a degree in education, so I ordered the textbooks and taught myself. I read about early childhood education, lesson plans, child psychology, development, and education theories. I was very practical about all of it at the get-go.

I remember this so vividly- I was reading a woman’s blog one day- ok, back up a little. I didn’t exactly know how blogs worked! I googled “mom homeschool blog” and worked my way through them, reading about how they divided up their time and managed to teach multiple children. During the course of that afternoon, a warm and fuzzy sensation spread through me. I mean that literally! There was a warmth, a tangible feeling of joy and love that I will never forget. I felt a calling, a very strong conviction, to homeschool my children. I was not looking for a “sign”, but one hit me like a brick wall. It was the clearest answer to a question that I hadn’t asked out loud- Lord, what do I do? He said, Amy DO THIS. Gulp. Really? I will repeat that- I was NOT looking or asking for guidance, I *thought* I was just reading and preparing “just in case.” Nope. Funny how life happens?

After that afternoon, when I felt a calling deep within me, I went to my husband to get his blessing. Oh, by the way, we are going to keep these LOUD, little humans home with us and take on the task of education too. M’kay? I feel called to do this. Before I got all of the words out of my mouth, James was exuberant! “Amy, those homeschooled kids ALWAYS win the Scripps spelling bee!” Those were his exact words. Oh, sweet James. He was valedictorian, and the best speller I know. Bless his heart. So far, none of his children have exhibited one-half of his ability to spell. Hehe. However, the thought of one of his kids winning a national spelling bee was what first attracted him to the idea! From there, we delved more into the nitty-gritty of each subject, the logistics, and the spiritual and moral side of things. Education is an immense responsibility and we knew from the beginning it was a team effort.

My sweet friend who talked to me in the coffee shop that day also extolled me on the attributes of Classical Conversations. It is an international “school” with a standardized curriculum, that repeats every three years. Meaning, wherever you go, the CC group is doing the same thing as all of the others around the world. I read about every kind of approach known to man for education. I settled on the “classical” approach, and it works well for us. There are so, so many things I could write but this post was just to give a little background on the “why.” When we found out where we were moving after fellowship, I immediately looked for a Classical Conversations group to join. The public schools here are amazing, but I committed to trying homeschooling for one year. The one year turned in to six, and we love it.

I was deeply grateful for the public school system when I was too sick, and in too much pain to teach. The teachers there didn’t just teach, they loved my children. My daughter and son flourished academically and made a lot of friends. Long story for another day- but the gist of it is, God took care of us at every turn in life. There have been many bumps in the road, stops, starts, and pauses.  We’ve committed to trying to tailor the education to meet each child’s needs, as well as me and James. It saves our sanity and patience to have the littlest ones in a nearby preschool, that we love- they are like family!

When I started homeschooling six years ago, I created this gorgeous classroom. I carefully chose the paint color for the walls, posters, charts, globes, art supplies, desk, bookshelves, etc. I admire those families that actually use a “classroom” at home. Wow. So in reality, now we use the kitchen table. Why? It’s a lot closer to the snacks which my children “need” in order to learn, at least every hour. The books get stacked on a pretty hutch that I got for dishes. It does not have one dish in it. It does have a LOT of broken crayons:) We use our formal dining room now too- it’s covered in kids’ books, and papers. Education is not confined to a classroom. It’s all over our house! There’s a science experiment currently growing in my kitchen, and the Classical Conversations cd’s are upstairs in the bedroom, where the little siblings can listen to them as well during their quiet time.

 

So, why do we homeschool? In short, I felt called to do it. James has a heart for it as well. We have always been on the same page as far as education is concerned. What started out as a one year commitment, to “see how it goes”, has turned into a lifestyle for us. It works for us! We had to change things when my health was suffering, but that is the great thing about community- everyone loved on us, and pitched in! My oldest son didn’t miss a beat. Public school served our family very well, private preschool and kindergarten did, and our homeschool community acted like family and kept Aidan moving along. CC embraced my mom who took Aidan every week last year, when I was still stuck in bed.

I’ll share more details about curriculum another time. For today, just know that I love homeschooling. I never in a million years thought that we would be doing this! And socialization, is not a problem. Just ask them- if you can get a word in edgewise!