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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.



We're All a Little Mad Here

Lemonade

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I know everyone has heard the phrase, “when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade!”

I am not always happy, go lucky, easy-breezy-beautiful type of girl. I am more of an OCD type, everything needs to line up properly type of girl. In fact, all of my immediate family members are type A, control-freak, and orderly type of people. There may be disarray, and messes from time to time, but for the most part, order reigns in the house. Every single one of my kids likes to know the plan of the day (hour, minute, week, and year). We have briefings every morning, and before excursions (especially if Tommy or Katie are coming along).

So, last Tuesday, as we were talking about our upcoming vacation (happening on Friday), imagine the sense of foreboding I felt as Mark’s phone rang at ten thirty. At night. No one calls Mark at night. No one really calls anyone, ever, anymore; we get texts. I knew it couldn’t be an emergency in my family, because they would have called me. I knew Irma was still percolating off the coast of the Leeward Islands, and I knew Harvey had just finished pummeling Texas, and I knew Jose was bringing up the rear off the coast of Africa.

 

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We were already going on vacation with a plan B in place to relocate from the coastal house we had rented to a hotel thirty miles inland. We were traveling still, not knowing how the week would work out because vacation insurance only covered mandatory evacuations. I was already preparing to be in a state of flux. That is hard for me. I like firm plans. I like to know what to expect.

So, of course, Mark is being deployed. I love (love,love) that he is part of a team that does actual work in the face of disaster. I support him, and the team, and the mission of search and rescue. I am all in; our family is all in; we are all part of the team, in a sense. Mark has gone on several missions since becoming a part of Virginia Task Force One. It’s super, super cool.

 

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The very selfish part of me reared its ugly head when that phone rang at ten thirty at night. I very much was tempted to tell him no-you-can’t-go, I don’t care what disaster is occurring or where. We have plans, we have friends and family to go see, we are spoken for. No, no, no, no. I was prepared to have a temper-tantrum. Then the Holy Spirit very firmly told me to be still. He had this. Not so happy about being corrected, but I held my tongue.

“I can say no,” Mark whispered to me as he was receiving information in his ear.

“No, you can’t,” I answered, “This is what you train for. You have to go.”

Mark nodded a few times, mumbled some “mmm-hmms,” and replied, “Yes, of course, wherever you need me.”

And that was that.

Fast forward forty-eight hours later as I’m packing myself, two autistic kids, an anxious child, and two search and rescue labs (Mark deployed as a medical specialist on this trip), dog crates, beach gear, suitcases and snacks into one minivan... I was nearing some sort of cosmic breaking point. We are people of structure. We are a family of structure. It was on the very tip of my mind to just cancel, say no, hide under my bed, and forget the whole thing... And then God worked again.

 

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My phone rang with one of my best friends whom I was traveling to see, “Hey girl!!! You know we got this, we got you, don’t think of backing out, I’ll have to come get you, and are you on the road yet?”

 

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Everyone, including my kids, especially my middle one, has risen to the occasion. I’ve been so very blessed this week. My whole family has been lifted and cared for. I feel slightly guilty for feeling so unhinged in light of all the crazy disasters and persecutions that are rampant around the world. I’m just a gal on vacation with my family while my husband is working. That’s all it is. My house is not under water (I have a house and it’s not under water). I have food. I’m at the beach. The beach is not missing, as people in the path of Irma witnessed this week. My husband is safe. I’m safe. It’s truly all good. I may not like things changing, and plans being fluid and flexible, but I have learned to kind of roll with it. “Roll With It” used to be my theme song, like, a million years ago, but having children made me a bit of a control freak. This has been an exercise in faith- stepping out in faith- and rolling with it, literally. So far, we are having a very windy, rather cloudy vacation, but we don’t have to relocate! Friends and family are safe, too. Mark is working with search and rescue (FEMA) in the Caribbean. Tomorrow, the sun is supposed to make an appearance. I can’t complain. For real.

 

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Keep calm, trust your friends and family to rise up, make some lemonade, and parent on!

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Seventeen

I am so not ready to get up any morning. I am never ready to get up, as a matter of fact, because I am not a morning person. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that we don’t get up early, and we don’t ever start school before nine in the morning. None of us are morning people.

 

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This year, however, I need to be on task. I am officially in the “final four.” The final four years of high school. My youngest is a highschool freshman, which means, hopefully, in four years I will be done with homeschooling. It’s a humbling feeling. It is also a very terrifying feeling.

This fall, my sweet sixteen year old (senior year!) signed up for three college courses. She is thriving so far, and enjoying the added challenge. Two of the classes are online, and one is at a local campus. She actually attends a class ON a campus. The first day, last week, I had a little bit of a moment.

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“Um, it’s the first day and all... do you want me to drive you to the campus?”

Sweet sixteen year old gives me a look that is a cross between disdain, fear, and how-do-I-let-you-down-easy.

“Um, no, mom,” she answers, “I think I can handle it.”

“Of course you can,” I answer, with conviction.

Smiling, wanting to take pictures, wanting to give her space, and realizing all at once that my beautiful, homeschooled, still only sixteen-year old will be attending a class- an actual classroom class- with legal adults. Ugh. Parenting is so not easy. My hair has been falling out for ten years now.

 

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Meanwhile, I’m still ushering Tommy to and from the community college armed with notebooks, passwords, student identification numbers, number two pencils, and a truckload of patience, not to mention some clonazepam... just in case. Meltdowns can come out of nowhere- mine, by the way, not his. This week, our adventures included a pretest. Tommy forgot his picture identification, and had more than one sign in for his math pretest, and, apparently, he was supposed to print a test pass. Luckily, we had an old ID in the glovebox, and the lady at the testing center recognized us from placement testing the previous week. God bless the testing center department at Northern Virginia Community College. Those ladies rock! After three login attempts, multiple email checks, and all of us cross referencing barcodes on lab programs, he was able to take his test.

“So, how’d it go?”

“Fine,” Tommy answered.

“Well, how did you do?” I asked.

“You mean my score?”

Duh. Yes, I mean your score. Your father and I are paying for this experience, that, for heaven's sake, you must pass.

“Yes, Sweetheart, your score.”

“Seventeen.”

Silence. Pause. Flapping.

“What do you mean Seventeen?” I asked with a higher tone of voice. “Seventeen out of twenty? Seventeen percent? What is seventeen?”

“I think... but, I am allowed to go on in the course. Let’s go.”

Oh. My. Goodness. Bless. His. Heart.

Needless to say, I will be following up with disability services on Tuesday.

 

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Katie and I are still happily tackling The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve had to explain not only some pretty hefty vocabulary words, but also British colloquialisms and a way of talking that occurred one hundred years ago, on a different continent, mind you. The character training, though, so far, is superb!!! Good stuff. C.S. Lewis had it all together.

So, I am slowly becoming a morning(ish) person. I’m trying to stay on task. I’m in the “final four” and happily (albeit a bit nervously) navigating some very new territory.

Keep calm, invest in minoxidil, and parent on!!!

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More College Misadventures

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True to our (our, being my family) nature, we wait until the last minute to do practically anything. I say this knowing it is not exactly true, but sometimes true, and often true of me. I never would categorize myself as a procrastinator, however, if a spade looks like a spade, well... you know how it goes.

So, Tommy is home  and we are very happy to have him home. It’s great to hear his pounding feet in the morning, doing his laps around the dining room table, usually rocking out to AC/DC, Metallica, or Ratt (which, I don’t remember any Ratt songs, but apparently they aren’t too terrible). He wants to talk all. the. time. about things that I just don’t really get - time travel, the expanded multiverse, life in another dimension- those sorts of things. He also wants to constantly debate really important issues like why Disney bought Star Wars and ruined the canon of said series, and whether or not he can take a Navy SEAL in a fight (umm, no), and the wisdom of returning to a time of swords and jousts and fighting like gentlemen. I’m so tired. I love you so much. Please stop talking. More coffee. Please.

 

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Anyway, Tommy announced last week that he is serious about getting his college degree, and wants to get started right away. As I’m writing this, school starts tomorrow. Last week, we went to the Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge, ID in hand, student number in hand, and two number two pencils (which he didn’t need) in hand to take the placement tests required to enroll in classes. We arrived on time and were first in line to take the tests.

“Can I help you?”

“I am here to take the AP test,” Tommy answered.

“Placement tests,” I hissed in his ear.

“OH! Placement tests I mean.”

 

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Of course, I immediately thought that this was going to go downhill, I was pretty sure college wouldn’t be an option this go around. However, the lady managing the check-in desk cracked a smile as Tommy read all his information to her, and basically melted my heart when she assured me that she would, “take it from here, Mom, I’ll make sure he texts you when he is done.”

I love it when a plan comes together. I love it when people can tell you are a foreigner in a foreign land and decide to show you around and help you get on your feet. I love it when people are good to my kids... especially the twenty year old autistic one who is clearly trying, but is just a bit of a square peg in a round hole type of world.

He, very predictably, did not pass math. Like, at all. It's his struggle, and dyscalcula looks like a huge math struggle forever. English went way better, also, very predictably.

So, after testing we went up and met with the admission counselor.

“Tell me, Mr. Schroeder, what are you planning to do... here?”

“Well, I took my AP tests, and I’d like to go to community college and then transfer to William and Mary and get my Masters Degree in anthropology or medieval studies and become a museum archivist.”

“Placement tests... He took his placement tests. He wants to start taking classes... like one class, for now... I’m his mom, by the way.”

She also smiled at us, was lovely to us, helped us, and Tommy will be taking developmental math starting tomorrow. He wanted to get the evil math out of the way first. All math is evil, apparently, and wretched, and horrible. He decided on his own. I’ve got to say that I’m pretty proud.

 

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I’ve also got to say that I’m pretty relieved. All the kids are set and school starts tomorrow. Danielle is taking some classes at Germanna, and Katie and I are conquering the Chronicles of Narnia this year in homeschool. It should be good. I need to get us (my kids, myself) back into a rhythm. So, summer rhythm is coming to a close, and school is back in session!

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Whew! It’s been a long summer for this Mama.

Stay calm... school starts soon... and parent on!!

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What's old is new again

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I am officially old enough to see trends making their second (and some third) time around again. I am usually just totally floored when some of these things show up after I’ve gotten rid of the last remnants of said trend in my closet. I gave away my last pair of leggings from the nineties about the time they started showing up in stores again a few years ago. I’m shocked that LuLaRoe has become such a hot thing! I loved colorful leggings and tunics the first time they were big thing! Now, I’m seeing high waisted jeans in stores... and button-fly jeans... for ladies... I’m not wearing those again.

My oldest daughter was just invited to a nineties party! The craziest outfit gets a prize! It’s just funny to me, because I think that is the decade that is making its return right now. I was in college for most of the nineties, and dating, getting married and having my first child, for the last half of the decade. It was pretty much a blur, and I’m positive my forties are way better than my twenties, but I may have dressed better back then.

 

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Now that I have a twenty year old, I’m struck by how much the more things change, the more they stay the same. My prayers for him to just make a good choice are the same now as they were when he was in preschool. Praying for safety for my teenage driver mirrors my prayers for her when she was two. That little one hasn’t affected any change in my prayer life for her: “help her to listen, help her to control herself, help her to be kind...”

I called my friend, slightly panicked the other day, “Katie has lost her watch! We need you to check your house!” She just laughed because six years ago it was a panicked phone call for Katie’s glasses. These friends are military friends, and have been out of the area for those six years; we’re thrilled they’re back. As she and her family came over for the first time since they were back in town, she marvelled at the bird’s nest behind our front porch light because when they moved we had a nest then, too. “Nothing has changed!”

 


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In a time and space where so much is changing, it’s comforting to rely on older traditions, like praying pretty much the same prayer after all these years. It’s nice to meet up and have cook outs with old friends. Seeing glimpses of my own teenage self in my now teenage kids is just pretty surreal, though. It’s both precious and humbling to see my kids growing into adults. Sometimes, I just shrug and say, “Sorry, you get that from me.” Sometimes, though, I get to say, “OH! They get that from me!”

 

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Good books never go out of style. I’m reading Harry Potter with my youngest and it’s so cool to see her get just as excited as her older siblings did. I love reading classics with the kids, too. Katie and I are tackling The Chronicles of Narnia this year for homeschool. I can’t wait. I think she will find them magical. Even toys that are vintage are cool. I noticed Strawberry Shortcake in the toy aisle at Target, and right next to the hip modern version was the model that I played with a million years ago. I literally squealed with delight while my kids rolled their eyes and pretended they didn’t know who I was. See? Didn’t we all do that with our parents? Nothing really changes too much.

 

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So, as we usher in our new school year time frame (and what about that Lisa Frank stuff? I remember that when I was in elementary school!), remember that even though it seems like everything has changed, you can relax a bit and look at things through the perspective of time. Given enough time, things come back around again. Embrace change, even though it’s hard, and embrace the timelessness of life. Love, laughter, faith, tears, chaos and calm happen over and over and over again.

Keep calm, keep your leggings (and your books), and family on!!!

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Tommy is Home Again!

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My Tom-Tom has returned, once again, from time spent at Woodrow Wilson Workforce. He has been there since January, and was supposed to be there until October. He, however, decided to be a rock star and finish his training program three months ahead of schedule, with good grades and glowing reviews, to boot!!! Who knew?! Uh-mazing!

 

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So, apparently, the training is self-paced. Apparently, also, Tommy does well with computers and data entry. I kind of thought he would do well with that, and he proved me correct. He texted mid-June that he was going to be done in July.

“What do you mean, done?!?” I exclaimed, “is everything OK?”

I was slightly panicked as I tend to think the worst in every situation, and I was worried he was failing, or something. The “something” being I-don’t-even-know-what. I was like, “Face-time me right now!!!” He assured me that everything was fine and that he was just working so well, and ahead of schedule. I still emailed his guidance counselor the next day to verify that the “or something” wasn’t happening. It wasn’t. He really was ahead of schedule and doing great. How about that?!

His training certificate says that he is proficient in handling business and information technology. He did an internship in the media center on campus, too. The evaluations from his teachers, counselors, and coaches say he is ready for job placement.

I can not say enough good things about Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center! The transitions between trainings and life skills groups have been seamless. The communication with Tommy’s case manager from here has been excellent. Next up is our meeting with his case manager to determine what is going to happen after he goes back for his driver training in October. Tommy has expressed interest in maybe taking a few college classes, and getting a job in an area of interest for him. He understands that he can’t be a Jedi, but he hasn’t ruled out a job in forensic archaeology (think Indiana Jones). We shall see.

 

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I’ve got to say that two years ago I was just not able to visualize this point in time. I couldn’t fathom Tommy living on his own, or being able to complete training for a job. Granted, he was in a very structured living and training environment, but he did do it without me nagging, coaching, instructing, and nagging some more. I keep saying that not-mom is sometimes the motivation that certain kids need to have things ‘come together’ for them. Several things (grooming, cleaning, organizing, focusing) have to synthesize in able for kids like Tommy to get a boost in maturity to be able to handle a college or job environment. That, and a lot of prayer. Wilson Workforce has been our answer to prayer.

 

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Of course I’ll be posting more Tommy updates as our situation unfolds. For right now, we are happy to have him home. We are continuing to work on life skills (that grooming thing!). We still are needing to encourage Tommy to reach out to some of his friends. Refereeing TV time and chore rotations has become a daily occurrence (funny how odd numbers stimulate the fighting and sibling rivalry gene), since fifteen minutes after he arrived home a few weeks ago. Sigh. Also, though, it’s been great to see him be able to relate with us, and to be excited about seeing some people. I love having my brood under one roof, too. It does seem like the volume has been turned up at my house, though. I’m not having silent coffee time in the morning anymore. Tommy always has something to convey first thing in the morning. I’ve been reminding him that I’m not so nice until I’ve had that first cup... just keeping things real.

 

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Keep calm, and love having your kids home, because you’ll blink a few times and they’ll be twenty years old. Parent on!

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