Taming the closet monster

I don’t know about you, but when my kids were babies, I went into preparation mode for clothing. I did all the math, clipped all the coupons and figured out how far in advance I could purchase the basics. As a matter of fact, for our family photos, I pulled out a sweatshirt I’d bought on super sale when Liam was a toddler. He’s now eight, if that helps you envision what our clothing storage has been like ever since I was first pregnant with him.

Last year, though, I realized we were out of control. As I went the closet and found all the things I’d purchased over the years that I thought were adorable, or an absolute necessity. I also realized that I probably hadn’t used at least a third of the items I’d stockpiled. Part of the reason was because Liam is very particular with what he allows to touch his skin and part of it was simply because when you buy “cute” items, finding something to go along with it doesn’t always just fall into your lap.

Over the summer, my desire for a streamlined wardrobe reached a fever pitch. Liam wore the same three shirts on repeat when we weren’t in the pool and Sylvia pretty much lived in her pjs. And yet, the clothing in the drawers and closet were constantly all over the house, or wadded up in the corner of the closet floor. I started watching what the kids were wearing and realized they wore the same basic things on rotation with time out for Sunday clothes. And really, who needs NINE pairs of pjs when bed wetting isn’t an issue.

My theory, at least when related to my kids, is that when they have too much, they can’t manage. Also, then Mama is the one flipping out and yelling about the constant mess.

So we began purging this week. I’ve plucked out the too-small clothes and set aside eight shirts of short and long sleeves for each child. Liam has one pair of jeans because he hates them. I’m trying the jogger trend on him instead of chinos because they have elastic waists and are super soft. I weeded out the ohmygoshitsonsalefor97cents dresses I had bought for Sylvia that she hated. I took all the extra hangers out of the closets. And the socks I’ve hung on to “just in case”.

The kids’ closets are slimmer. They have a few items for church yet and their co-op uniforms. Their dressers are pared down, and it feels so good. The key to this project was to go through the clothing with each child. I asked them what they liked and what they wanted to keep. I asked how things felt on their bodies and if they wanted to give it to a friend or to the clothes closet.

A few weeks ago, we took a trip to IKEA and purchased Liam a new dresser. While I was wandering the endless isles, I found the Skubb boxes and thought they would be a great solution to the large drawer that was to store his socks and undies. And yes, they work quite well. One box for socks, one for undies, one for bathing suits, one for ties and then the two little ones hold his wallet and various items he likes to hoard.

Next up, teaching the kids how to do laundry. Or maybe, I should just work on keeping their socks from piling up in the corners?

Anxiety Girl!

Things have calmed down a bit around here, finally. Matt had a heart scare a few weeks ago that, thankfully, only resulted in major dietary changes and the addition of exercise into his life. During that time, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. Husband, kids, work, life… it just felt like too much. And then, before I knew it, I had to head to Washington DC for a lobby trip with Moms Clean Air Force.

I’ve been advocating with Moms for six years. When I started, Sylvia was an itty bitty baby, who would need to nurse or poop pretty much whenever I’d go up to speak. I once nursed in a back corner of the State House only to look up and realize I was directly under a security camera. That being said, I’ve learned to get over myself and power through whatever nerves I have.

This trip though… I couldn’t get it together and feel comfortable. Part of it may have been that Matt needed specific food, part of it being that the kids had plenty of activities. Either part is enough on its own, but together? I just couldn’t let go of the concern that something would go horribly wrong. So I obsessed and prepared and worried.

And even though I was a wreck, I realized once the whole trip was over, I’ve grown. Yes, I was nervous about my family. But when I considered where those nerves were coming from, I realized they were simply because a health concern sets me into a panic for control. I had none being a few states away. And when I was able to identify that, it was a matter of accepting that I wasn’t in control.

Isn’t that the worst? Having no control when you are the one used to having it all? Ick. Not my favorite. However, I’d like to mention that instead of crying and having stomach problems, I just did it. And when things were stressful during the trip, it didn’t phase me. Because there are only so many things I can control. It’s taken me many, many years to learn this, but once I did? Life changing!

I’m home now, and everyone is still alive 🙂 Matt’s mom answered my call for help and she kept everyone happy and healthy. The kids were delighted to have Mama back and the dogs even more so. Matt and I? We’re much better together.

 

Unexpected lessons

I was homeschooled growing up, so when I set about to do the same for my own children, my primary goal was to make sure they learned to love math. It sounds silly, but math was a huge sticking point during elementary school for me and I just didn’t want that to be the same for my kids.

We started working on math when the kids were little and thankfully, I think we’ve created a culture of positivity around that subject. So I’ve felt pretty good about our work there. For instance, today, Liam had a lesson in math plus 200 mastery questions. He tackled the mastery and then came to me to tell me that he needed a break. This, for us, is a huge victory. One of the things I have not modeled well has been listening to my body and mind when I have pushed the limits too far. And yet, working with the kids to teach them to recognize these limits in their own lives has proven to be lesson that is far more valuable than times tables. So he did a huge portion of his work, took a break to reset and then dove back in.

Liam loves history. Sylvia loves science. I love nuturing these loves. Nurturing a love for science is easy for me. But when history came up as a love, I was surprised. I mean, I enjoy history and museums and reading biographies, but Liam had never been interested until last year. We started using The Story of the World curriculum and he wanted to learn everything. He kept listening to the cds over and over and spouting information, so I decided it was time to start giving him comprehension tests to see what the outcome was.

There are days when all Liam does is history. Because he’s in the zone and learning and thinking and talking about it. While it always creates a ping of “am I doing enough” in me, I see his growth. And I see him teaching his sister to love a subject so deeply. She has been a hesitant reader, progressing slowly and anxiously, but watching him throw himself into something has given her the courage to do the same. We work and work and when they’ve hit their limit, they have learned to tell me instead of melting down, unable to communicate.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned though, has been how. to. let. go. of. expectations. I knew it. I’ve read all the books, listened to the podcasts, perused the blogs. But until I saw the difference a day of living graciously made in my life and the life of my family, it just didn’t connect. Lowering those expectations and allowing myself to not conduct things in our homeschooling environment like I “think” they should be done and instead realizing the needs of the hour and working with them. It’s freeing, I tell you. Sure, I still want to accomplish things so that the state is pleased with me, but this isn’t about living up to perfection. By learning that, I think I’ve accomplished my own mom curriculum. I’ve got about a B+ average right now, but their enthusiasm for learning is helping my own growth curve. Maybe I’ll be an A student by the time Liam hits junior high? 🙂

The pug life

When Matt and I first started noodling around the idea of pets (12 years ago! Gasp!) he was dead set on having a pug. I thought they were the ugliest dogs ever. I wanted a big, protective dog. I wanted something to run with or go on adventures with us and this fluffy, wrinkly dog didn’t fit that bill.

Since I am typing this with a pug crawling all over me, you can gather that I’ve since changed my mind about pugs.

George’s first night in our home!

Over the years though, we have realized that pugs as a breed in general need a little more attention to detail. Those precious little wrinkles need to be cleaned and checked for bites and infections. Their ears need to be cleaned and de-gunked. And with George we have also discovered a litany of skin issues. Vito very rarely scratches, and if he does, it’s his ears. But not George! He has scratched himself raw so many times. At first we thought it was allergies, so we tried hot spot sprays and oatmeal baths. But it wasn’t really effective as a long term solution.

Our vet then recommended that we try a grain free diet. I reached out to the Facebook world and asked for suggestions, and settled on a brand that would be easy to find in town. We followed the protocol for switching food and yet, the itching continued. Then, Vito started throwing up. It stressed me out because Vito is old and I was afraid if he continued to have intestinal issues, it could usher in the end of his life sooner than we want. As the final straw, we discovered George was munching on poop. POOP! And the vet said, he’s not getting proper nutrition, we’ve got to get him on fresh food.

I had looked at making my own dog food over the years and while I always thought it was a great idea, I never did it because, you know… time. But when it came down to it, I was desperate enough to make the time. It’s been a few months now and I wanted to share what we do!

I have tried quite a few recipes that involved a few different fruits and veggies mixed with different meats. They’ve been pretty excited to try new things, but I will tell you that turkey, applesauce and butternut squash was not accepted. Let me tell you, I have rarely seen my dogs turn their noses up at food, but that one? Nope.

Basic Dog Food Recipe:

  • 3 pounds ground meat
  • 1 bag frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced

Put the meat in a crockpot. Just dump it in! Pour the veggies over the top. Cover it up, turn the crock pot on high for three hours. Break up the meat about an hour or so in so that it cooks through. Keep it in the fridge for a week or freeze in daily packages. The dogs get about 3/4 of a cup each twice a day. So I freeze in 3 cup amounts and thaw a bag at night before I go to bed.

Tiny note here: the dog food looks like chili. Matt now asks if he’s allowed to eat something 🙂

In the last few months, we have not had any digestive issues with either dog. George has stopped eating poop (there are not words, people, no words) and Vito’s wrinkles are doing great. George’s skin suddenly flared up, but I take blame for that since I had experimented with adding rice into their diet. So, rice is definitely off the menu now!

A quick field trip

Sylvia and I were on a work trip last week and while we were in between stops, I needed to get a squirmy first grader out of the car. Truthfully, I needed out of the car and a walk around too. The home of James A. Garfield was the perfect stop to remedy our cranky legs.

Even though President Garfield was only in office for 200 days, his museum and home tour were well worth the $7 admission fee. The museum had lots of treasures from his life and the home involved a great tour that was lead by a volunteer who really knew her stuff.

I think one of the best things about this visit was that the home is part of the National Parks Service and to keep kids involved, they had a work book with assignments for the kids to complete. Sylvia’s job was to complete the bingo page (we treated it as a scavenger hunt and sought out each of the items), ask the Park Ranger a few questions and find items on a map. When she was done they gave her a little park ranger pin and I tell you, it made the day for us!

Work will slow down a bit for me after September and at that time we are going to try to do more day trips around the state. There’s so much to learn here in Ohio!

Jitters

It happens every year… the nervousness. First it starts out as simple questions over my curriculum choices. But then, should I even be educating my children? What if I fail? What happens if they can’t pass those darned state tests? What if? What if? What if?

This is my fourth year of homeschooling. I haven’t failed yet. And I don’t think it’s because I’m awesome, I think it’s because this is what my family is supposed to do. God has so kindly directed us to this path and I see those kindnesses on such a regular basis, it’s foolish of me to feel these nerves pre-school starting. But I do. I’m human, so I worry and fret and fuss over things I cannot control, like people’s opinions of me.

We begin school on Monday morning. I have all the curriculum planned out, my closet organized… everything is ready. And yet, I still wonder if I am doing what I should. How much of it is my humanness and how much is my own pride? People will always criticize me. Over the years, I have been told I am “unapproachable”, “unteachable”, “stuck up” and “too perfect”. Well, guess what? I’m not perfect. I don’t mean to come across as unapproachable or stuck up. And I love to learn, so I’m not sure where the teaching isn’t working for me. But the point of this post is to share that I still struggle with worry over perfection.

I was homeschooled. I homeschool. Most of the time I feel fairly confident and “I’ve got this”. I know my children and their needs. I know how they learn best and what doesn’t work. I enjoy these moments with the kids and am well aware that before I know it, they will be off in the world and I won’t have these opportunities again.

What will happen if I fail? I’m not sure. I pray that God will show me when it is time to put them into a brick and mortar school. I pray that I won’t miss His guiding because I’m set in my ways. I think that’s the best I can do.

So as we spend this last weekend before school begins, I’m going to be focusing myself in prayer for the year. Not for anxiety, but for my pride. I need to learn to let go of the expectations I’ve absorbed over the years and just school my children. I know if I spend every day looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to criticize me, I’ll miss these moments that I cherish so much.

Here we go again

Yesterday it occurred to me that school begins in one week. ONE. WEEK. Remember the last time I wrote? In May.

Over the summer, I worked a lot. The kids swam a lot.  Both kids are getting good at doing chores without too much drama. I mean, there’s always drama, but it’s not as bad as it was the first time I handed out toilet brushes.

In July, we took off for Washington DC so we could participate in the 4th annual Play In for Climate Change. We went as a family for the first time and I tell you, showing my family what I get to do when I make my legislative visits. I got to share this city that I’ve grown to love so much with them. We were there for several days working and touring and experiencing things together. I got to introduce my family to my work family and to the friends I’ve made along the way, like Angela.

When we got home, we celebrated the one year anniversary of rescuing George. I haven’t talked about him much on this blog, but he is filling that empty spot we didn’t know we had in our lives. George is a rescued pug from right in our own county… neglected and abandoned, a sweet baby who was afraid to even sit near us now lives fully. He’s brought life back into Vito and loves us so much. Even now, as I sit typing, he is curled up with me, occasionally sighing as he snoozes. When I ask him if he’s ready for bed every night, he hops up and heads back to my room and settles in. He loves to play catch and eat snacks. He plays with the kids and enjoys every ride he gets in the car. Vito no longer can hear and every day, I see George doing something to help his older buddy either make it in the house or find a snack. He’s one of the best thing that could have ever happened to our family.

We got back from a family vacation with my in-laws on Sunday and I’ve realized that somehow, the summer passed by in a blink. Honestly, wasn’t it just June??

Today, I wrote out my notice of intent for the school district and got the last of my curriculum ordered. We are going to ease into the school year as gently as we can as I’m still traveling and things are crazy until the government’s budget is set. Thankfully, we continued with simple school days throughout the summer, so we are “ahead” for the calendar.

So here we go again. The summer is gone and school has returned. I’m not sad. I like my routine, and I’m tired of washing towels and bathing suits. I’m ready for sweaters and hot cocoa and fires. I’m so grateful for the changing seasons… life is never boring that way!

Growing responsibility

Sylvia has been six for a month now and when she hit that milestone, she started asking me for responsibilities.

At first, it was fun. And I then realized she wasn’t going to get bored and quit. She gets up and makes her bed. She asks to be in the kitchen making supper. She runs to help.

Liam caught on and started suddenly really beginning to pitch into the team effort that is our family. The day he went to the basement to carry the laundry up and start folding it on his own, I was hit with the realization that my kids are growing up. And fast.

I’ve said for years that I didn’t want to lose focus of my goal of raising my children to be independent and competent. I don’t want them to not know how to do simple tasks and think that mom will always be there to do everything. But do you know what? Teaching them to be independent is exhausting! It takes me forever to make a meal at supper because of the helpers. And my laundry is no longer folded neatly. But they have ownership over these chores and I think we are making a lasting difference.

Today, I gave each child a responsibility at the grocery and somehow, we still forgot the broccoli. So back in we trekked. And because I was going to pay with cash, I made Liam ring it out and pay for it. He doesn’t comprehend money very well, so it was slow. Very, very slow. But we did it. And we figured out the change. As he was putting the money into the self check out, a lady stopped to tell me I was doing a good job.

So here we are. My little people are growing up and I’m working hard to keep up with them. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Trying to build little lives that will eventually go out and impact other lives happened so much faster than I thought it would! They were babies for so long and then suddenly, they weren’t.

I wonder what this summer will bring for us? Growth for sure, but I wonder how. I’ve been pondering how to change their chores to something they can be proud of and perhaps this is the ticket. Laundry and dinner prep. It’s how I started really contributing to the family at this age… so what works for mom works for the kids? Maybe? How do your kiddos help out around the house?

On commitment and frustration

I made a hard decision last week. I did not like making said decision, but I know in the long run, it’s the right one.

How do we teach our children to persevere when we are all exhausted? How do we tell them that sometimes, the right thing is to quit?

I was not allowed to quit anything as a child. The only time I did was when my parents weren’t able to financially support the activity any longer. So when I started college and began loading up my plate, I over loaded it and committed. And committed. And committed. As an adult, I’ve continued my habit of over committing and then spending my free time bemoaning these commitments.

Last week, a heart-to-heart with my doctor said I needed to start taking things off my calendar. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had that conversation, but things were scary for me health-wise. So I’ve been working on my own commitments and while I was at it, I took stock in what the kids are doing. In so doing, I realized Liam was over committed.

It broke my heart to realize I had done this to him.  I know mothers are supposed to make mistakes and that I am human, but I was so frustrated with myself for  continuing the you-will-not-quit-mid-semester attitude and forcing him to continue with guitar lessons even though he was clearly burnt out. No one should have to have a fight with their 7 year old over practicing. Nope.

So I sent an email and made a phone call. It was uncomfortable for me. Not because we were ducking out, but because we were ducking out during the school year. And in that moment, as I read a very gracious email from his teacher, I realized that I’m still breaking the patterns of my childhood.

It’s not a bad thing, but I feel like the longer I parent, and homeschool in particular, I’m learning things that I shouldn’t repeat. I know there are loads of parenting books with “answers”, but he’s my child. And no matter how fussy I am about quitting, I should have realized that he was done and drawn the line.

So here we are. Mom learned a lesson. And Liam did too. He needed to learn how to express himself minus the anger and frustration. And when HE is ready to commit again, we will try it. But this time, I won’t set myself up for failure.

 

 

 

 

Quickest update

How is it April already? Our days just seem to fly right by any more. I find myself willing time to slow down and it just ignores me. Why? Because it doesn’t care… it’s me that wishes the little ones would stay little just a bit longer.

We have 13 more days of school left. We got into a wonderful groove with school this year and I’m going to continue it for sure. Three days of school over the summer and then 4 days throughout the school year. With me working and needing to travel from time to time, this works out well for us and we don’t feel burnt out or bored.

Oh. Another way to keep things interesting? Keeping track of the books you read. I started a GoodReads list with kids books for 2017. Some Liam has read, some we read together and some were audiobooks. Regardless, we now have a list so we can see what we’ve read through and keep growing our list. If you download the GoodReads app on your phone, you can even scan the book cover to enter it onto you list. It’s super fun.

We also discovered the show Mysteries of the Museum. It was a random scanning through the stations discovery. And boy I tell you, we just got sucked in. I find myself sinking into the couch to watch “just one more” episode. I need to know all the details of history. We’ve got it all set up on the dvr to record every. single. episode.