Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Moving In

I have tried at least fifty different ways to organize my homeschool day. Each new approach works beautifully for at least a month or two and then something changes and we are reworking the schedule. For now, we are in that amazing place when I think I've got it figured out. We're learning! We're enjoying each other! Things are actually flowing! It won't last BUT I thought I would share the approach with you and some of the great things that have happened since we made a tiny change.

We always start the day with a devotional and a song that teaches the kids a Bible verse. (I love Seeds Family Worship because the songs don't make my ears bleed and the kids like to dance to them.) After the dance party we meet back at the table and do a science experiment, read some history or maybe read some poetry. I will keep going until one of them gets antsy. Here's where the change comes in. Before, I would plow through this and set out their individual assignments. I would bounce back and forth between kindergarten and third grade questions and playdoh problems until my head started spinning. Now I send two off to play when they are sick of sitting at the kitchen table and keep the least antsy with me to do math and English work. Once that kid's work is done, I call the next one and the other two play together. It's helped me to really spend concentrated time on each lesson but it's had this other amazing benefit - They are connecting more with each other.

"What are you guys doing?" I asked playfully as I made my way upstairs. I had been listening to their giggling for over an hour as I finished school work with my five year old and I was curious. I found my oldest and youngest sprawled out on the boys' trundle bed with at least thirty stuffed animals, a suitcase, a mini chair and a side table.
"Do you want both of your big bears, Rosie?" my oldest asked.
"Ummm, yeah. Put them here," she said, pointing to the pillow she had apparently brought from her bedroom.
"What's going on, guys?" I asked.
"Rosie's moving in," my oldest informed me.
"Oh really? What brought that about?" I asked, trying to hide my smile.
"I wanna be with my boys!" Rosie replied with a hint of challenge in her voice.
"Well that sounds fun. Is this a permanent thing?"
"We're going to see how she does tonight," my oldest said seriously. He turned to Rosie, "You cannot talk all night, Rosie. We sleep in here and we won't be able to sleep if you are constantly talking."
"Okay, Luke! You got it!" she said and she bounced up and down on the mountain of stuffed animals.

She has held true to her promise and has slept in their room the past two nights. She has fallen asleep later and woken up earlier but there has also been a lot more laughter. When I asked how it's working out, the boys both admitted that she talks a bit more than they like but, "It's okay. She really wants to sleep in there." And that's one more reason I am so blessed to have such sweet children.

Homeschooling used to be all about academics for me but I'm beginning to see so many other beautiful gifts. The bond they are building will last a lifetime. They will always have each other and nothing can take away their memories.

How do your children connect? Take a minute to reflect on opportunities you may have to send them off the play without your interference. It may be one of the best gifts you can give them.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Family Stories

My husband and I were recalling funny stories about our kids and this one got the whole family doubled over with laughter. He requested that I share it with all of you so that you can get a little giggle as well.

When my oldest was four, it was his job to walk our twelve year old pug/beagle mix. Walking him consisted of going right in front of our house and letting the dog do his business on the patch of grass near the sidewalk. On this particular day, Luke took the dog out as usually then, minutes later, busted through the front door frantic and without our dog. "Buddy! Are you okay? Where's Burton?" My husband asked.
"He's with the neighbor! I need a towel!" he said as he pushed past us toward the dish towel drawer.

Questions abounded but we held our tongues as peaked out the front door. Sure enough, a neighbor we had never met was holding our dog's leash looking just as bewildered as we were.
"Wait, why do you need a towel?" I asked.
"Because! I peed on Burton!"
"You what!?"
"He was peeing and it made me have to pee so I just started to pee and then he was done and he walked right through my pee and now he's soaking wet!" He told us this as if this sequence of events made even a tiny bit of logical sense.

We tried to stifle our laughter as we relieved (no pun intended) the neighbor from dog sitting and introduced ourselves as the parent of the kid who just peed on the dog. You just can't make this stuff up.

Do you have some favorite family stories? I encourage you to take a night around the kitchen table competing for the hardest laugh. There's something about it that connects us and makes us so happy to have each other.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Listening to God

We were given an amazing devotional called Experiencing God Day by Day by a family at church and it has opened my kids' eyes in so many ways. Although some things seem to be above their level, it leads to great questions and conversations. I have shared stories with them about how God has worked in my life and how I have seen him communicate in the lives of others as well. My eight year old has begun to listen for that still and quiet voice a bit more.

At his last doctor appointment, they did a vision test and determined that he probably needed glasses. They recommended a visit to the optometrist and I left with a referral for a great doctor. I wasn't worried about it but my son definitely was. "I am NOT wearing glasses," he announced before the pediatrician even closed the door.
"Bud, it's okay. What worries you about wearing glasses?" I asked, genuinely curious. (I remember faking bad vision in fifth grade because I thought glasses were a cool accessory. Apparently boys view this a bit differently.)
"I'll look silly! And they will fall off when I run!"
"I get it bud. I do. Let's wait to see what the eye doctor says before you get worked up. All you can do in the meantime is pray that nothing is wrong with your vision or that you have the grace to accept glasses if you have to get them."

Like so many things I say that I feel should earn a round of applause from my kids, this comment was met with brooding silence.

Nothing more was said about the glasses until a few weeks later. He spent an entire day with me as we went from one Jersey Mike's store to the next, promoting their Day of Giving for High Risk Hope. He patiently sat in the back seat reading a nature book and spouting out interesting facts. "Did you know that a blue whale is the biggest animal in the whole world?" he would ask me out of nowhere. And then suddenly he said, "Mommy! This says that carrots can help improve your vision." He paused and looked up, his eyes filled with light. "I think God led me to this book so that I don't have to get glasses."
I took a deep breath of gratitude that he could find God's love in the middle of a nature book.
"You just might be right, love. God is so cool."
"Can we stop and get some carrots on the way home, Mommy?"
"You got it."

I have always called it an honor to watch faith bloom in a person. Whether they are 88 or 8, it is an amazing thing to witness. To see this happen in my beautiful son is more powerful than I could have imagined. I don't know if he will need glasses or not but I do know that he will be able to see God and his love for him clearly. If I can give him that gift, I will be forever thankful.

How can you help your children see all the ways God is loving them? How can they help to open your eyes to all the ways he is loving you?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

No More Naps

For the past eight years, I have had at least one child that naps. For eight years, I have had a small break in the middle of the day to clean up a bit, read a good book or just stare at the lake behind my house and appreciate the quiet. My eight year streak is officially over.

“I’m a big girl, Mommy. I can just have quiet time in my bed like my boys do,” my daughter announced matter-of-factly.  Her “quiet time” has consisted of ripping down the little canopy over her bed, jumping from her bed to the floor and giving medical advice to Pooh Bear and Barbie. My boys napped until five years old (an anomaly, I know) and when I instituted quiet time, they sat in their room looking through books. This has been a whole new experience.

I wish I could tell you I have taken this in stride. I haven’t. I give my kids my all during the morning and I need that hour of quiet time to physically and mentally prepare for the afternoon. I need time to talk to my friends and check out cute shoes online. I need to just worry about me for a tiny bit of the day.  That is patently impossible to do with my daughter destroying her room upstairs. My frustration was mounting on the fifth day of not napping when I looked out at the water sparkling with sunlight. I felt a small voice telling me that I was being given something, not having something taken away.

I took the dog out and breathed in the warm and humid Florida air. I suddenly wanted to go to the pool. I wanted to splash with the kids and feel the sun on my back. And then I realized I could leave right that minute. I didn’t have to wait for anyone to wake up.

I marched up the stairs, bathing suits in hand. “Everybody up! We’re going to the pool!” They peaked out of their rooms, worried that someone had stolen their mother and replaced her with some crazy person.

“But, what about quiet time?” my rule loving oldest asked.

“Let’s play instead. Sound good?”

They all started cheering (literally cheering) and grabbed the bathing suits to get changed. We drove down to the pool with the windows down and the music blasting. I dove right in with them and watched all their “cool tricks”. We laughed more than we have in awhile. I climbed out to warm up and as I soaked in their joy and innocence I suddenly felt grateful. Life with children is never predictable but it is always an adventure.

I’m still instituting quiet time, but my heart has changed. My daughter can jump off her bed all she wants – I’m still taking that hour for myself. And afterward, a fun afternoon is there for all of us to enjoy. It has shown me that so many things in life can be looked at in two ways. We can look at all we’ve lost or focus on what we’ve gained. Whatever we seek, we are sure to find. It’s not always as easy as flipping a switch in our minds but it is possible. Sometimes it’s just about making that decision.

Is there something changing in your life today that makes you feel out of control or frustrated? Look for the things you have gained. Trust that God has something better in mind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Opportunities to Serve

Our church's praise band was asked to perform before the Crop Walk in Venice and we were thrilled to have been given this opportunity. We always feel honored to share God's love and heart in any way we can. But my kids weren't quite as enthusiastic.

We ran home after church for a quick lunch and some quiet time then headed to the park. Questions filled the van as we bumped down the road. "Is there a slide at this park? Can I bring my scooter?" And then my personal favorite, "Why do we have to listen to you sing twice in one day?" I tried not to get defensive and said, "Well, it's an opportunity to serve God. Maybe we'll help someone know God's heart by singing in the park. We never know when he's at work." This was met by crickets. 

My two younger kids found swings and a climbing tree to entertain themselves while we set up but my oldest stuck close to me. He saw someone with a Crop Walk shirt and a clipboard and immediately concluded that she was the one that was in charge. He approached her without hesitation. "How can I help?" She was a bit taken aback then decided to take him up on his offer. 
"I've got some t-shirts that need to be hung up with clothespins. Can you help hand them to me?"
"Sure!" he said, jumping in with enthusiasm. 

As we sang, I watched him continually go back to this woman for more jobs then zip around carrying boxes and balloons and t-shirts. He didn't stop smiling. When his work was done, he came up on stage between songs for a quick hug. "I'm really proud of your servant's heart," I told him.

"Think she'll give me one of those book marks for all my work?" he asked with wide eyes. 

"Maybe so," I replied trying to hide a little smile.

I'm amazed at him all the time but I was particularly thankful for this glimpse into his heart and soul. So many of our interactions are power struggles (I could start a library with all my strong willed child books) but this reminded me that God has given him the ability to follow as well as lead. I needed the reminder.

Do you have a child that is particularly challenging? Ask God today to show you opportunities to channel their strong personalities. There may be someone that needs their "help" and can give them ways to exercise those leadership muscles.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Serious Talk

I hear my own words repeated by my kids every once in awhile and most of the time it isn't flattering. I hear them say things like,"If you do that one more time I will lose it!" or "That didn't hurt that bad. Shake it off," and it makes me cringe. It's almost as if they record the moments where I'm at my worst but completely forget the times I'm using all the lines I've read from Bible verses, parenting books and seminars. But yesterday, I heard my words come out of my son's mouth and felt truly proud.

"Rosie was just so mean to me!" my oldest said as he tore around the corner into my bathroom. (All hell breaks loose whenever I try to put on a little mascara in peace.)
"Oh yeah? You okay?" I asked distractedly, wanting to stay out of their little dispute.
"She wanted to let the dog upstairs so she opened the gate and I said 'no' and I closed it and she screamed and she got so mad that she pinched me and she pushed me out of the way!" He stood back, wide eyed, waiting for me to rally by his side and put his sister in her place.
"Wow - Sounds like neither of you were being respectful to each other." His little shoulders deflated. He had been so sure that he was completely right. "Ro," I continued, "No pinching or pushing. Ever. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it," she said as she completed her lopsided somersault. She was obviously very remorseful.
"Luke, if you'd like to keep the dog downstairs, what could you do? Other than fighting over the gate? Any ideas?
"I could get him and bring him down...But she shouldn't let him up there! He gets my Legos!"
"True. But who can you control?"
"Just me," he said in a low voice.
"Right." I got up to hug him and start our school day when I heard my middle child speaking in a firm and low tone.

"Rosie, we need to have a serious talk."
"Okay, Do Do!" This is her nickname for Drew and it still makes me smile. I hid around the corner to listen.
"I know Luke was mean about the gate but you can't pinch him, okay? When you are mad you have to take a deep breath. You can't hurt him. It's not nice. Got it?"
"I got it, Do Do!"
"Okay. I love you, Ro Ro."
"Love you too!"
They hugged and my baby girl ran to her big brother and sincerely apologized. "I'm so sorry for pinching, Luke. So so sorry," she said as she reached out for his hand.
"That's okay, Rosie. I'm sorry for closing the gate."
"Awww, that's nice. I accept your apology."
And finally, they were ready to move on with forgiveness in their hearts.

My Drew did what I couldn't do. He helped her understand that kindness was expected. He showed her that she had to take responsibility even though she felt justified. I was amazed.

I share this in the hope that you remember that your kids truly are absorbing all the good things you are working so hard to teach them. It may not always seem like it, but they are. They watch how we handle disputes between siblings, how we work things out with our spouses, how we work through the stresses of daily living. They are taking notes and practicing along the way. Drew said to me yesterday during a crying jag, "I'm not a grown up. I don't know how to handle all my emotions." I told him that I struggle with the same thing sometimes, even as a grown up. That's why we have each other. That's why we have God to guide us. So let's hope and pray that, as grown ups, we can be good examples. Let's pray that we can be a resource for our kids when things get tough and that we are daily examples of God's love and forgiveness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Entrepreneurial Spirit

My husband and I have begun Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and we are learning so much. We have set a rigid budget and moved to a cash system and, interestingly, it's the kids that are feeling it most.

"Can we have McDonald's?" they will ask.
I will pull out the food envelope and show them what's left. "I have $15 left. It usually costs $25. Want to pitch in the other $10?"
"But I don't have any more money!"
"Oh, okay. Then I guess we can't have McDonald's."

They have decided that something has to change. As any good business owner knows, there are two ways to increase cash flow: Cut expenses or increase sales. My boys have chosen to increase sales. They have normal chores that give them $5 a week but they have been looking for some supplemental income. To date they have launched a lemonade stand that actually sold apple juice and soda, a golfing booth (pay $1 for a swing of the club), chocolate covered strawberries (Hershey's syrup drenched strawberries would be a bit more accurate), a daredevil show that featured my five year old being crashed into a pile of boxes by his older brother and a Rainbow Loom bracelet sale. They are course correcting on the way and analyzing what sells the best.

"Every body likes drinks which makes sense because it's hot in Florida," my oldest said to his brother thoughtfully. "But we don't have enough kids in the neighborhood for the golf business."
"But everybody likes golf! I just need a new sign!"
At this, they race off to redesign their advertising and choose a new corner to stand and attract business.

This week, they caught a break. "I went into a store today and the owner asked about the bracelet you guys made me," my husband said over breakfast.
"And I told him you made it. He wants ten in darker colors to sell in his store. He thinks he can sell them for $3 a piece."
"But we were only charging $1!"
"Yeah, but he thinks he can get more. What do you say? Could you make some up for me today?"
The boys raced around the house gathering materials and consulting on color choices. Then my oldest got to work.

I don't know what will happen once the bracelets hit the shelves but I do know that this has been incredible to watch. I never worried about cutting back on my extravagances. I can buy less clothes, less Starbucks, less fancy makeup. But I did worry about giving my kids less. I want them to have everything. And yet, I'm giving them so much more by holding back. They are learning about advertising, pricing, math, knowing their market and calculating profits. Best of all, they are learning about all they are capable of doing on their own. Amazing.

If you are feeling pressure to give your kids more, go easy on yourself. Giving less my give them more opportunities to be resourceful. They just might amaze you.

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