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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.

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Shannon Enos is a wife, recovering Pinterest addict, and homeschooling mom of two young girls. Her hobbies include analyzing music with her husband, pretending she’s going to finish that crocheting project she started 4 years ago, and making lists of things she has already completed just so she can cross them off. Shannon values truth, education, the arts, open minds, humor, and “Nashville" binges on Hulu. She believes that learning happens everywhere, whether you’re paying attention or not.

 

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busy - blessings and burdens

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So, we have celebrated Mother's Day, and May is winding down. As predicted, the weather went from sleeting to 95 degrees with 112%humidity in the space of ten days. School is winding down (and/or done, even for us homeschoolers), graduations are happening (including our first child! from high school!), couples are getting married, and families are planning their summers. I feel like spring may be as busy as Christmas. It's fun stuff, and thank goodness, not so cold, but busy times always make me feel a little like I'm losing my mind.

Of course, I'm busy all the time, so maybe I've already lost my mind?

I've been thinking about this busy-ness a lot this season (and by season, I mean having tween and teenagers). Do we (I) need to be so busy? Isn't running around a breeding ground for conflict? Seriously, trying to remember who needs to be where and at what time is stressful! Plus the added burden of rush hour and traffic. On top of that, we deal with construction everywhere (will this area ever be done?), slowing down the commute, the drive to wherever-you-need-to-be, trying to get back home, etc. Also, most families have one or more things to get to, with one-usually more than one- child, which means carpools and call/text-trees. A lot of us are married, too, which means we have a marriage to feed and care for. Then, of course, don't forget chores, and groceries, and pets, and friends, and relationships, and ....

It feels like it will never end. There is such a pressure to be busy! There is pressure to have the kiddos involved in every activity that is available. Sports and dance and competition teams are awesome (I love dance, myself), don't get me wrong. I think though, I'm beginning to believe that the collective we are too busy. Parents seem to think that being so involved in everything (not to mention that we are spending so much money) equates to doing the best for their children.

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Giving our kids the best opportunities, and making them competitive for the right schools, is preparing them for life. I don't disagree with that, but I do disagree with having everyone in the house SO busy, running around to make it to practices, and clubs, and meetings. I struggle with this issue. My eleven year old needs activity. My fourteen year old loves music and lacrosse. We are a one income family. I dislike traffic- especially warm weather traffic around here on Thursday afternoons. Our family deals with shift work, aging parents and grandparents, special needs children, and homeschool. It can get frenetic fast.


It is kind of a radical thing, in this area, to not be at a gym, or a pool, or a dance studio 15 hours a week. It's not a popular position to just have one activity per kid per season, it's not even realistic if your child is talented and shows a passion for something. My daughter's best friend is a ballerina, and is in the studio almost every night. Ballet careers, though, are for the young, and she is in that season of needing to train if she desires to become a professional dancer. I support her entirely.

So, you can see that this is a conundrum of a topic. Where do you draw the line? At what point is too much... well... too much?

It's something to think about.

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For me, finally backing down from activity frenzy was a financial choice. When I started adding up the cost for everything the kids wanted to do it became very clear that if I wanted to feed my family real food, and drive in a safe car, we simply couldn't afford it. That didn't make it an easy choice, mind you. It's not fun telling your child no just because it costs too much. There is a silver lining, though; it definitely builds character. It certainly teaches real life lessons to growing children that everything costs something, and we need to make choices, and honor God and our families by those choices. We are not commanded to be busy. We are, however, compelled to honor God with our lives.

When we finally did gain a little time to see some perspective on how we were living week-to-week, and compare it to how things were now, all of us remarked that it was nice to eat dinner at home every night. We were all sitting around the table for the most part, for most nights. We had more money in the bank. We had our pajamas on before ten p.m. All of us, every single one of us, had to admit it was nice to not have to go back out of the house at seven o'clock at night. It was pretty awesome, actually.

So I'd like to offer the idea that everything has its own season. Teams, for example, are pretty defined (we have busy spring-times mostly because of lacrosse- it's a spring sport). Sometimes we need to change schedules around. And sometimes, we do need to re-evaluate and do less, and it is the parent's job to make that boundary. And while it isn't always a fun job, it is a worthwhile job, and a very meaningful and rewarding one. We love our children and want to help them in any way we can, which may mean saying no. Definitely, though, parents supporting one another is better than parents judging each other. It's not our job to make parenting choices for others. Instead, parents, we need to be supportive of each other. We need to recognize that what's best for you and what worked for her may not be the best option for me. And that is OK.

 

 

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Spring Rush

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I am loving this warmer weather, and all of the pretty colors! My nose and eyes aren't enjoying it so much, but I am. Flowers (especially pink ones) make me happy. Warm weather makes me (and my body, mind, health,and bones) happy, too! The sun and synthesizing vitamin D is, apparently, so important! Who knew?

 

Thank you for the warm response regarding autism awareness (the topic of my last post)! It's such an important subject in my opinion, and not just because my son has it. I think that everyone is going to have or know a loved one "on the spectrum", if not now, then in the very near future. What is considered "typical" may become outnumbered by what is considered autism. So, the importance of why or how or what makes autism so prevalent is not what we should be focusing on. Of course, preventing it would be great, but, I think accepting people with autism, and learning how to reach and teach children with autism is so much more important. Showcasing the gifts that come with the autism diagnosis is also important. It is so important for me to think about the things that make my son special, especially on those days when things aren’t, you know, so special.

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Here is another thing: Including the parents in the making of education plans, and the planning of supporting interventions and the placing of accommodations, also, is paramount. I have heard so many (too many) stories of parents (mostly mothers) being shut out of classrooms and learning environments. I did not have this experience, but it is frustrating to hear about because sometimes parents are the translators for their children, and anxiety surrounding language, transition, and safety is so hard to overcome (for everyone - parents and children). I have an eighteen year old, and it's still hard (to overcome all that anxiety)!

While early intervention is so important and so, so awesome, working as a team is imperative for everyone's success. I did not always get exactly what I wanted put in place for my child, but having an open mind, and communicating with educators insured that safety was always in place, and any barriers to communication with Tommy were overcome. Everyone desires to be understood, and the entire autism community deserves that opportunity, including parents and classroom teachers, and, of course, the child. I know that educators want to help. They aren't in it for the money, folks, so mutual respect is definitely important!

I've got to say, from my perspective, I have had a really great relationship with my son's team throughout his scholastic career. He started when he was three in the school system, so it's been a long relationship with so many great people. I can't believe, in fact, that it is coming to a close! I'm going to miss the security of Tommy riding a bus, and being escorted to classes and having someone available by phone or email all the time. Really- even on the weekends I would get answers to emails! There was not one teacher who didn’t want the best for Tommy. I’m going to miss his teachers. I'm going to miss the paraprofessionals who kept him pretty organized.  I'm going to miss everything being so close and so safe, especially the so safe part.

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I guess it's just that the old adages of "time flies" and "they don't stay little for long" are really hitting home. I can remember the baby who is now six feet tall so clearly. I wish I had another year to get things ready for transition, to help him just a little while longer.  I wish I could prepare him more. Time would still go by so quickly, and I will always be unprepared. Every parent is. That is the messy beauty of life, though... we need to soak up every moment- the good, the bad, the not-so-pretty, and pass on what we know to each other. That is why I write- to count my blessings, to figure out what I'm learning, and to celebrate what's beautiful, and to try to learn from what isn't. I believe it's so important to share the autism experience, too. We need to share so much, because we are all so different. 

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My middle daughter and I often comment that a reality TV show filmed at our house could be a big hit. Just the other night I was browning beef, the smoke detector was going off, Katie was screaming and plugging her ears (spectrum, maybe? Definitely sensory issues with that little one...), Pippin was barking and Danielle just walks in like, "Really? Where are the cameras?" Tommy is just flapping and growling at us all, as Danielle gets a magazine to wave under our overly sensitive smoke detector. I can't cook well, I'll admit that, but I promise nothing was burning! It was only about three minutes of mayhem, but the fall-out lasted all evening with ears hurting, and nerves unraveling. Maybe that doesn't seem so funny, but laughing instead of crying just feels good sometimes.

And... so does the sun- it feels good - and studies show it can improve your mood! The pink flowers are also quite lovely this time of year. So, get out and enjoy! There is time in every season to rush around, but it takes a strong person to be still and enjoy the beauty during the rush that is spring!

 

 

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autism awareness month take two

Here is another day in the life of living with autism, special needs, challenging situations… I share to offer community. We aren’t alone. We take up a huge part of the population now, and sharing information is what is going to help us all through our crazy, beautiful, funny, deep loving lives...

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"Can someone have a brain transplant?"

"What if Dr. Who came right now- you'd go, right?"

"I'm going to take over Disney so I can give Star Wars back to George Lucas!"

"I'm going to get a private jet and be a CEO..."

"I'm about 2 feet tall."

All this and more.... The crazy  everylife is just like this with Tom-Tom. He has a million questions. Every day. The child did not speak in sentences until he was four, and he hasn't stopped ever since. He talks... All. The. Time.  He questions everything!

Some of the questions are from curiosity, some are legit; he wants to know something. Most of his questions, though, are totally "what if" and "can you imagine" questions. Also, they aren't bland why-is-the-sun-yellow questions, no sir, they are what-if-the-opposite-of Big-Bang-happened-and-Batman-needed-a-new-Robin-and-you-saw-me-on-TV questions. Hmmm.

Tommy communicates this way, and he feels good this way, this is who he is. I don’t watch Dr. Who, and while I care about Star Wars, I land on the side that Disney will do a good job with the enterprise, and George Lucas isn’t offended at all.

So, there are times when some people (even family) will ask me if Mr. T is losing touch with reality.  I have to pause and think before I answer, so it can be true and not angry:  No. he is not really losing touch with reality, this is his reality. He lives in his world, planet Earth, science fiction, time travel, books, people, his sisters, and everyone around him.. This is autism. This is who he is. This is who we love. Tardis loving, Star wars enthusiast, time travel researcher, Tommy. 

Mind you, we have come a long (lloonnnnngggggg) way from no sentences and questions about Blue's Clues and Bob-the-Builder only. We are, for instance, a part of his reality. He cares about what happens to us. He doesn't necessarily need us to come with him, say, if he wants to populate Pluto (yes, the planet… or, um, moon), but he cares that we know where he is going. The thing is, Pluto sounds more safe to him than college, or a job, or whatever is next. Universes a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away are way more fathomable to him than the immediate future. He can see where he wants to be (while on planet Earth and only until time-travel gets invented), but isn’t quite sure how to get there.

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Some days it's funny- the brain transplant conversation was rather epic. "But, mom, they can do heart transplants, and lung transplants- Why not brain transplants? What if someone was really, really stupid and he just wanted an upgrade?"

(um, no, Honey, It doesn’t work that way)

Some days are a little distressing. He is six feet tall, not two, and private jets cost a lot of money. A twenty dollar allowance isn't going to get him a private jet. And being a CEO is great, but you need to have some skills, including math. He reads on a collegiate level but has an early elementary level of math skills, and organization means clothes go in the closet, blankets go on the bed, and paper goes in his folder, but not somewhat neatly nor sorted (nor folded, and always stuffed). CEOs have those skills, and even when they make enough money to have an assistant, in the beginning they had a plan, with vision, that was organized. I'm pretty sure marketing a Tardis for the populace means you have to actually have one first. A job that pays minimum wage at least makes more than twenty dollars a month, and some college can prepare you for CEO-dom, or whatever the next step is. This plan is what makes sense to me, but it is absolutely a hare-brained idea to Tommy.

What is really hard right now for me (as a parent) is that he is eighteen and graduating and there are only two, relatively close-by, college autism programs that are residential, and he didn't get into either one. This is important, because he isn't independent. Regular college admission is a tough-luck scenario, too,  because of college admission tests (super smart kid, horrible test taker). There are accommodations for these tests, and, actually, there are a few colleges that don’t require tests, but, those aren’t close to where we live, and that gets us back to the living scenario. He is college material, but not living-on-his-own material. He can't remember when to eat and what is healthy, but he can read and research a subject pretty well. He still needs to be told to do his homework, to go to bed, to get up, to go to school. He will need a lot of support to get him through a college program. He needs to be told to put his shoes on, turn his shirt the right way, put on deodorant, etc. Every. Single. Day.

And he was a baby, like, yesterday. And I'm so underprepared. It is a bit crazy (I am a bit crazy). It’s also super exciting, and super stressful. I love it, and I don’t love it so much.

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So, transition is scary all around. It's especially scary when so many things have to be 'just so' in order for a plan to come together. At best, having typical teenaged boys must be challenging! From what I understand (from my friends that have man-boys), most boys still need to be told to wear deodorant, anyway. I'll be honest, though, it's hard to answer the questions right now:

"Oh! Graduating! Where is he going? What is he doing?"

Shrugs. All around. Just shrugs.

I don't know, yet.

We are all still trying to figure it out.

So, we're celebrating this moment and this milestone because it's happy, and a lot of work and a lot of people have poured themselves into Tommy. We need to celebrate. And God has it. My plans are, quite obviously, not His. So, for now, we will just be glad we've gotten this far and we will soldier on.

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beginnings

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We, like a lot of people around this area, have been on Spring Break this week! Yea! Party time- excellent- all those feelings. Even though we homeschool our girls, we stick (loosely) to the public school calendar because of my son, Tommy. 

 

Tommy is a senior in high school this year, and is going to be 18 next week. He doesn't drive, hasn't gotten in to any colleges, and, in fact, we aren't exactly sure what is going to happen next year.  If not for faith and prayer, I'd be a wreck right about now.  I'm quite sure I'm NOT panicking because God loves him more than I do, even though I can't really fathom that, either. So, I'm amazingly calm, even though I'm pretty clueless (about the immediate future, mind you).

In the spirit of Autism Awareness/Acceptance month, I'll tell you a little about life with Tommy (not to be confused with life in the nuthouse, or living in chaos, or anything crazy like that).  

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This is the beginning of our journey:

 

Tommy did not speak in sentences until he was between four and five years old. He had words, sure, but not sentences- and then he had echolalia sentences which were repeats of phrases he heard.  His first full sentence was "We just got a letter" (remember Blue's Clues?  I LOVE that little blue dog!)  and actually, I think he may have been two when he said that- but only I and close family could understand what he was saying.  We used a lot of signs. When we were out and about sometimes, a few people would ask if he was born deaf (I guess we were pretty good signers)?  I'd be like, "he's not deaf, he's autistic." What?!?  “Sometimes he sees better than he hears.”  Oh.

Tommy was one of those kids who was typically developing until he was about 13-14 months old.  It wasn't  completely an abrupt halt of development; it was more like he just got stuck.   Being a new mother and a nurse, I was pretty sure something was happening, but friends and family were absolutely sure everything was fine.  His pediatrician was listening and taking notes, but she wasn't ready to advise us to seek testing. Yet.

So, around 18 months of age our pediatrician wanted him tested through childfind. The group of people with childfind were fantastic, and caring, and encouraging. They were a wealth of knowledge and information. Because the range of typical is so wide, we tested Tommy again at two years of age, and then again around the two and a half year age.  After that testing, he began speech therapy. Shortly after that, we were referred to the school system for more testing and then he was placed in special education preschool at age three.   

Aside from getting through those initial first meetings to determine eligibility, and developing an individualized education plan (IEP), we had a good experience.  We had to push for a few things, and outright use some key (my husband calls them buzzword alerts) phrases ("are you implying that you believe this does not qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Act?") to get the point across that he was way behind on some key developmental milestones, and that he needed to start therapy and preschool right away.  Once he started in the school system, we had IEP, eligibility, and triennial testing (even the three years he was home-schooled) throughout his educational career. I have so much gratitude for his speech therapists, his teachers, paraprofessionals, and case managers!

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It's been a wild ride. I want to encourage the parents of those in the beginning stages of testing and diagnosis.  Be patient. Keep notes and journals. Pay attention to what your kids are eating, and not eating. Find someone who has older "special needs" kids, and talk to them, make them your mentor.  Listen. Listen hard.  It takes time, for sure.  Tommy did not get an autism diagnosis until he was 5 years old. We weren't even considering autism until he was over four years old.  When Tommy started to put words together he started flapping, and making repetitive sounds and mouth movements.  He spoke in a "foreign language" with Kiki, his imaginary friend. He stopped making eye contact - at least, that is when we realized he wasn't making a lot of eye contact.  He had several things diagnosed prior to the autism, including OCD, anxiety, Tourette's, ADHD, and developmentally delayed.  All of those are appropriate, and they all are common “co-morbidities” of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

 

So, Tommy got diagnosed on the edge of time when autism was still under-studied, and not very common.  Autism was not even really talked about; I don't think it had an awareness day, and certainly not a whole month, although I may have been unaware of that at the time. Tommy missed out on some of the therapies that are especially beneficial for autistic kids because they were experimental, and not covered by insurance at the time. I'm not at all sad or bitter about it, but I do wonder if some of those things could have helped him. He did have amazing occupational therapy, though, and fantastic teachers, and really awesome speech therapists, and hands down the best psychologist and psychiatrist on the planet. Without a doubt, he would not be as high functioning as he is without his team of professionals!

Our beginning is just one out of millions, I know, and it's unique, because if you know a child with autism... well, then, you know a child with autism.  They all look SO different. I just wanted to share our beginning.  Throughout the month, I'll add more stories about life in the autism lane.  I'll make sure to keep it upbeat, too!  I don't do fake, but I totally believe in gratitude in all the things. 

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Ok, so I just wrote all that out to offer encouragement!!  When you are in the beginning throes of doctors, therapists, educational and developmental testing, everything is so overwhelming.  I think reading and researching are great and necessary, but I also think that the more stories you hear or read help to make the time more manageable, and real. It’s easier to relate, and find that you are part of a community.  Personal stories, are the best:)  and sometimes it helps to just know that you aren't alone- and that there is hope for the future. We've had a lot of periods of rapid development, and then a long stall, so it's helpful to not judge the day-to-day, but instead look year-to-year.  Being able to hear other families’ struggles and successes, and being able to laugh (and/or cry) are so important! Celebrate the milestones! Be thankful for the child you have, even when it's been a hard day, or week, or month, or year.  

Above all, though, don’t forget to celebrate you!  Beginnings are usually hard, so celebrate the days you get to shower and use conditioner! Seriously!  Mothering and fathering are not for the faint hearted, so take care of yourself, and love one another.

 

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Marriage Matters #1

It may seem a little cheesy, I know, but I think it is important, and I wanted to write regularly about this topic.  

So, I'm going to introduce (insert drum roll, here):  Monday Marriage Moments.

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So, I took my girls to see the new Cinderella movie last week, and it was just beautiful.  Cinderella is my all time favorite fairy tale!  I've enjoyed just about every Cinderella movie that has ever come out over the years.  Cinderella is my favorite princess, too. So, I get a tad excited about her, and I was just over-the-moon about this movie coming out, and I couldn't wait to see it.  

 

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It. Was. Fantastic.

So, I can neither confirm, nor deny, that I was crying during the movie.  I was definitely crying at the end, though, and as we left the theater.
My youngest daughter (very sweet and very sensitive) got emotional.   I think, probably because I was emotional, she began to escalate and become (very) slightly distressed (read: dramatic), and she started to shake my arm, saying, "Mom? Mama? Are you OK? Stop crying!  Mommmmm!"  she was starting to border hysteria.  She does not like it when I cry. (That little one....) 

The tall, empathetic, middle girl (Moose), also sensitive and sweet, was patting my other arm.  She was trying to be soothing, and sing-songy, like, "aawwww, Mom.... It's ok! Why are you crying?"

Teary, sniffling, trying to not totally lose it in front of my girls, I choked out, "I don't know!"

Well.

Exactly why was I crying? It was a beautiful movie. I loved the dresses! I loved the characters.  Plus, Cinderella is brave, and resourceful, and kind, and lovely.  She overcomes obstacles. She isn't bitter. She's smart. She has a fairy godmother, and fabulous shoes! She lives happily ever after...

And, there it is.


Happily Ever After.

Of course, that's it! That's the hope, the wish, the dream, the prayer.  Don't we all want that?  A kingdom, the dress, and a happy prince are all great wishes, but happily ever after; that sums it all up, I think.

What does that look like? How is that possible? Practically, what are the steps to happily ever after?

Well, I'm not an expert, but by today's standards, I've been married awhile; so I am happy to offer a few tips that may help. Here they are:

Remember the special reasons you wanted to marry your spouse!  Why did your spouse catch your eye? What made her/him special to you?  What did you like most? How did your other half make you feel special?  These are the memories to pull out of your brain at two AM when your child is sick and you are so exhausted you think your eyeballs are going to go on strike, and said spouse is snoring in your bed.  These are the moments, in the middle of the argument about where the money went, that you need to remember that you really do love this person.

 


Forgiveness. I know not all of our readers are Christian, but forgiveness is such a huge influence for me. We forgive, because He forgave.  Forgiveness can work for anyone, though! Forgiveness is not unique to Christianity; it is essential for relationships to grow!  If you can forgive and be forgiven, you and your spouse are on the right road to a long relationship.  Sometimes in marriage forgiveness is a daily act... for everyone.


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Date night!  I can't stress enough the importance of date night!  Of course, there are tons of obstacles to date night:  finding a sitter, not having extra money, no good movies, restaurants are too loud, the kids are too young, too old, etc.  Let me tell you something- date night can happen in your living room after the kids have gone to bed, before the kids come home, during the day while the kids are at school, or if you home-school, during quiet work/seat work/ nap time.  All you need for date night is an hour, and your spouse (and no phones/devices/tablets). Look at each other. Talk to each other. Play a game. Listen to one another. Connect. All that stuff is free, by the way.

Call in the troops!   I am a huge fan of therapy.  I'm just going to throw it out there! Sometimes, an unbiased third party is needed to work through hurts, pasts, and overwhelming situations.  There is no (zero, nada, nyet) shame in asking for a little outside help.  It can be the very thing that gets you through a trying situation that seems impossible. Sometimes just the couple needs therapy, and sometimes the entire family can benefit. Recognize when it is ok to admit a situation is bigger than you, and you need some help.
 


 

Finally, I can tell you that prayer is huge. I would not still be married if it weren't for my faith.  If you find yourself desperate, consider the church of your choice. Not only can you be led to God, but you can be lovingly cared for and pointed toward resources to help you. Marriage is a reflection of God's plan for us, so church people want to help your marriage succeed.  Also, there are probably resources, tools, classes, and sometimes counselors that are already in place there, and at low or no cost to access.

So, is happily ever after a myth? A fairy tale?  Maybe.  I think happily ever after is real... It just takes intentional hard work and effort.  It's a choice, usually a daily choice, to see the best in your spouse. It's a commitment to choose to love.  Easy? Absolutely not. Worth it? I'm betting, yes.  Definitely.

 

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Pouches' Community Corner

This month Pouches learned about a very important resource for families who have lost loved ones to sudden tragedy, an organization called LLOST.

keepsake box

The foundation has helped 44 hospitals in 22 states through their Treasured Memories program. The program sends nurses to bereavement training, and provides or supplements the $55 memory boxes that include clothes, booties, handknot blankets, pictures, foot prints, hand prints, clipped hair and other mementos.

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