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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

Special Needs

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Special needs is a very broad subject to write about. Truly, anyone can have special needs. I often write that our family wears our autism on our proverbial sleeves. The oldest and youngest are both on the spectrum (officially). Truly, though, a lot of people in my and my husband’s families would meet criteria for an autism diagnosis if the same information was available thirty years ago. We laugh (a little) and say about our kids, “Yeah, they come by their autism honestly.” Really, we all do.

The collective “we” have learned so much over the past few decades about autism spectrum disorders. We don’t know enough, but we’ve come a long way in the diagnosis, and treatments available for families with children on the spectrum. It’s natural to wonder about the hows and whys of the autism phenomenon. I think about that stuff a lot less than I used to, though, because, now, I am simply living through it. While it is validating to have the label/diagnosis, working on raising and launching my family is the reality of my situation. We have more ups than downs now, and more funny stories than sad ones.

 

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I get asked about how and when and what-did-it-look-like when we first started pursuing testing for Tommy, and later, Katie. Developmental milestones, and the delay of said milestones are the obvious answer to that question. Well, that only worked for our first child, though. Katie’s diagnosis came much later in her life, and only after a lot of frustrating situations. Special needs can look obvious at times, right? Everyone can see Down’s Syndrome, for instance, and people in wheelchairs and on ventilators obviously have special needs. With all the awareness campaigns for everything under the sun, though, just how aware are you? I certainly am not always aware. Can you recognize a special need when you see it? Sensory disorders, obsessive behaviors, and anxiety disorders are all special needs, too. You can’t necessarily see depression, but is that any less special than the challenges we can see?

 

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My Tommy (for example) is fundamentally opposed to shoes, and has been for many years. This is not a problem in the summer, but when you see a child (or man-child grown) wearing shorts and flip-flops in the snow, can you recognize that the situation is probably a special needs issue, and not a “where-is-his-mother” issue? What about the screaming kid in the parking lot? I’m guilty of thinking “what is that parent doing?” instead of, “Oh. Sensory issue. I get it.” Both of my spectrum kids refuse winter coats. I’ve stopped buying them, as a matter of fact, because they won’t wear them. And the notion that they will learn to wear heavier coats once they’ve just been cold a few times is a lie from the pit of... well, it’s a lie. They have been cold plenty of times, and those coats looked fine and lovely hanging on hangers in the coat closet. Forever. I finally relegated said coats to the Goodwill this year. I didn’t recognize some of those types of “symptoms” in Katie right away, though. She was twelve when we finally had our “oh! I know what this is!” a-ha moment!

 

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Aside from sensory issues making us special, we have food issues (everything is an issue, as a matter of fact). The different foods on the plate can. not. touch. This will completely ruin a meal. And making said children just go hungry doesn’t fix it, it just makes everyone cranky. Food can’t touch. Period. For a long time we couldn’t use the word “nose” because it would send Tommy into a spiral. Katie does not tolerate thunder. She will make herself pass out to avoid hearing it. My husband, who is afraid of nothing, does not get it, but even he is like, “do what you have to do, it’s going to storm.” We are a special family that can’t have things too loud (I seriously carry earplugs in my purse), too bright (sunglasses are stashed everywhere in the car, in the house, in the coat closet), too dark (three out of five of us are afraid of the dark, and we have nightlights in every bathroom in our house), or too quiet (fans. In every room).

Change, of course, is another problem. We do a family briefing every morning. I’m not kidding, we are special that way, and we talk about possible deviations from the plan. IF there is a change from the possible changes that wasn’t addressed that morning, the day is usually needing to be ended sooner rather than later.

I have learned to be able to say, “Sorry, we have to go home.”

It is far better in the long run to end an afternoon early instead of trying to muddle through a meltdown.

 

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Special needs families are special, indeed. I’m proud to belong to one, actually, and I love to write about it. Perhaps we (you, me, us) all belong to special needs families, because most of us can relate to having special issues... right? We may look underdressed in the winter, and over prepared in the summer, but we are better and stronger for it. And, sometimes we eat dinner at three in the afternoon because we’ve had to end the day before it gets any worse, but that can be special, too. Midnight ice-cream parties make up for three o’clock in the afternoon dinner-times.

Keep calm, stay special, and parent on!

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Modesty

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Summer, summer, summer time!!! I love, love, love summer. I love that there is so much to celebrate in the summer! Think about it: the kids are home from school, so there are no worries about late nights, right? When it gets too hot, there are plenty of opportunities to get in some water and cool off. And, hello... fireworks! Who doesn’t love celebrating the fourth of July? Summer is the best.

As it gets hotter, though, I’m noticing that the clothes are getting smaller, and smaller. I understand bathing suits at pools, and I’m not even opposed to bikinis, but I’m noticing that current fashion trends are focusing on the body being as uncovered as possible. Something has changed in the fashion world, indeed, in the world, in my world.

I think it may be that I have teenagers.

 

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It was so much easier when I could dress them myself. The baby wore pajamas for the first three years of her life, because it was just easy. She is my most challenging fashionista, now. My middle girl is six feet two inches tall with a size twelve foot. That isn’t much fun, just FYI. Combine teenage hormones with impossible to find sizes makes for a teary day of shopping. Tommy, the oldest, hates shoes, hates shorts, and hates tags. He’s actually pretty easy. Jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops are easy enough. Hopefully, he’ll get a job that doesn’t require fancy clothes.

I have noticed the difference between girls' and boys' clothes as the kids have gotten older, and it started when they were in elementary school. Girls' shorts that satisfied the fingertip rule were super hard to find! With homeschooling we don’t have to satisfy school rules anymore, but we still have to satisfy my rules for, well, covering up!

Modesty has a few different meanings. Being modest- not thinking so highly of one’s self- is an attitude that makes a person easier to get along with. It is easier to draw close to people that are not screaming, “it’s all about me,” all the time. Modesty in the way that one would present themselves means to not dress or behave in such a way to be indecent. As a parent, just monitoring the daily news, the common culture, television, movies, advertisements, anything in print, and anything on the radio points to immodesty. The most popular movie stars and singers seem to delight in being naked! It is such a huge issue to cover up my kids when the people they are watching and listening to don’t seem to value that.

 

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The simple way to handle the modesty issue is to live it, of course. When you, as the parent, put a high value on being decent and dressing in a way that actually covers your body, your kids will likely follow suit (no pun intended). Now, everyone who is a parent knows that it is never that easy. I mean, no kid in the world never rebels. That little one who spent the first three years in her pajamas, also spent a fair amount of time trying to not wear any clothes. I mean, it was seriously an issue when she started preschool, because she either wanted to be in her pajamas or in nothing. Now, she’s growing so fast that sometimes it seems like she can’t help how she looks when she emerges from her closet. I, on the other hand, forget that what fit decently last week does not fit at all this week, and I go straight to, “No! Not ever! No way, young lady! You go change those clothes immediately!”

 

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She also doesn’t like change. I have to sneak the clothing out of her repertoire very stealthy-like. I also have to pretend I don’t know it’s all gone “missing.” I could lecture her about the good qualities and character traits of being modest, but she does better with visual, living examples. And a lot of time when any of the kids are focusing on what is the latest and greatest in pop media, I use it as an example of what not to do... then I remember I was a teenager once, too, and that strategy doesn’t always work so well, so we end up just talking about it. We talk about why our bodies don’t need to be on display for everyone to see. We chat about how our cheeks don’t need to be seen peeking out from under our shorts. We talk about marriage and purity because that is what we value in our family. Modesty may be a bit old fashioned, but hopefully we (the parents) can keep the conversation positive and encouraging and ongoing. It’s important, I think, to value those old fashioned values.

So, keep calm, talk about values, and parent on!

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C-O-N-T-R-O-L

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Janet Jackson’s hit, “Control,” Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Little Miss Independent,” and phrases like, “you’re not the boss of me” and, “I do it myself!!!” -all shrieked and sang from a set of toddler or tween or teen or young adult lungs can evoke a smile, a giggle, or a very real sense of dread, or all of the above.

 

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I am the queen of control issues. I have to do it my way, in my time, the way I like it. I own my OCD as much as my teenager owns Blanky and Dog-Dog. I’m unashamed, and a bit defiant about it, if truth be told. In fact, I’d say the entire household is somewhat in the throws of control issues. My husband has piles of papers, gear, books scattered throughout the house, that he “will get to,” and we had better not attempt to touch anything of his. In fact, if company is coming over and I need to re-locate the pile, I am very careful to not shuffle anything in said stack. I learned early on in my marriage to just accept this aspect of domesticity, and to not try and help him organize in any way. Here’s another thing: I’m actually not super organized - OCD about things, yes, controlling about things, definitely! I have stuff in certain spaces, and as long as I can close a door (think cabinets, closets, etc.) on it, I am pretty lax on how it actually looks. My husband thinks it’s funny that he can ask me where anything is, even something that is his, and I’m able to locate it.

“Honey, a while back I got some stickers in an amazon package, and I know I put them in pile “x” but I can’t seem to find them... any ideas?”

Me: “hmmm, not really.”

“But if you had an idea, where do you think they might be?”

Me: “ummm... You might want to try on shelf in the closet that has your workout t-shirts on it?”

Sounds of rummaging, boxes tumbling, footsteps stomping, and then an exuberant “whoop” will be shouted, followed by, “Thanks, Babe!!”

It’s a super power, I’m not going to brag.

 

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(note the not eaten food, and carbonated red juice in wine glasses)

When the kids were little, I had a very happy bit of control exerted over their toys, their clothes, food, bedtimes, snacks, friends, when they slept, where they slept, grooming, and the list goes on and on. I expected the regular push and pull of clothing and food choices, obviously, as they got older. I was “ready” for it. I prayed about these types of things as they got older (and still do) and they made their own friends and ventured into the territory of refusing to heed well intended advice about studying, how to treat people, and how to expect to be treated in return. While I maintain complete control over clothing in terms of modesty and how I expect private parts to remain private, they have all found their own sense of style, that is definitely not my style, and I’d like to think I’m OK with it all.

 

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I remain a complete wreck, though over the things that I really don’t have control over any more. I’m terrified at times about how I don’t get to choose the drivers that are on the road with my new teenage driver. I don’t get to shield my tween from mean girls- even in homeschool circles, some girls are still mean. I don’t get to make sure that awesome boy of mine showers every day and shaves his face while he is off learning how to adult. I can’t force feed them all nutritional snacks and make them eat healthy all the time... and what about that water?!?! Two of my kids pretty much refuse it. No amount of coaching about how good they will feel, the acne will clear up, etc. will convince them that I’m right on this one. It’s maddening.

 

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And here’s another thing: the control that my precious people have over me, now, is totally insane. Unconditional love is an overwhelming love and a fierce-protective love and a very forgiving love. I may hate some of the power struggles that have entailed at our house, and I definitely hate some of the outcomes of said power struggles, but even when it hurts, when it’s crazy, when we’re all exhausted, that serious-forever-consistent love wins at the end of the day. I can’t make my tween stop loving a certain pop star, for the love of all that is Holy (seriously), nor can I make her understand the health benefits of water. I can’t control how scared she gets during storms. I am so not in control of my son’s facial hair- he’s twenty- I get it (well, sort of). I can’t control my middle girl’s anxieties, or her sadness, and it kind of kills me a little each day.

This is what I do, though. I pray. I love. I offer advice when it’s asked for (and sometimes when it is not asked for). I pray some more. I seek godly wisdom. I read some books. I accept my children. It is so not easy, not ever, but it is working for us for the most part.

 

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Keep calm, control what only you can, accept, and parent on!

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Gogginsing It!

I am down and out with a neck injury again. One of the challenges of living with fibromyalgia is pain. I understand that the nerves in my body are simply “over-reacting” to a stimulus, but the feeling is still real. The pain is still pain. It seems, too, that at least four times a year my neck just decides to throw in the towel and stop being supportive, as if it is just done with my head and shoulders, and just done with the whole support of my cranium and conduit in which to conduct normal nerve impulses. My left arm feels like it is on fire, while my left hand feels like pins and needles. My left shoulder feels like a knife is in it, and my left hip feels wet. It’s really pretty weird.

 

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So, I’m reading this book about a Navy SEAL who just powers through pain, and any acceptable limit of abuse a body can take. Now, I may aspire to be more fit than I am, and I channel my inner Black Widow on occasion, but I don’t run anymore (unless I see a snake or a wasp) because it hurts and I am not much of a worker-outer. I prefer to walk, stretch, and do a few minutes of yoga. This guy, this machine-man, is named Dave Goggins, and in our house, now, instead of saying I’ll just power through something, I say I’m Gogginsing that! The kids and the husband are on board with the phrase, too.

 

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While I never hope to be a Navy SEAL, I, and probably any other parent in the world, require that power-through mentality, in order to raise a family. Now, I’m not saying that pain is all in the mind, and that being empathetic to your children who are hurting makes you a wuss, but, I bet there are occasions when saying “suck it up” is entirely appropriate. I know I’ve overdone the sympathy card with not only my kids, but friends, friends’ kids, parents, spouse, etc. However, after years of therapy I’ve arrived at a place of fragile balance between genuine sympathy, and “OK, it’s time to Goggins through that!” You’re not always going to win the contest, you’re going to fall off your bike, you’re going to get a bad grade, you are going to make a poor choice, and you are going to experience pain. When life knocks you down, get back up again!

While I am upping my health goals and exercise goals in order to stay healthy enough to raise the family, I need to remember balance, and when enough is enough. Actually, this neck-nerve-spasm thing occurred not from me over-doing it, but from me taking a shower. Yep, shampooing and rinsing off is, apparently, a hazardous activity... for me, at least. I had walked a bit prior to the shower, and walking is my sport of choice, but I didn’t think I was being a Navy SEAL status walker. I wasn’t this time, anyway. But, balance.

 

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Most of the people I know that are crazy busy raising their families, working, trying to keep everyone clothed and fed and nurtured, are struggling with fitness goals. We need to encourage each other to just do something. I wrote a very similar post last year. Doing something is better than doing nothing. If a ten minute walk around the block is all that is going to happen today, then that is good. Ten minutes beats no minutes every time. While I do know some uber-fit people, they tend to be of the variety that like mornings, and get up early. I can’t (ahem... won’t) do that, as mornings make me very, extremely grouchy when they are accompanied with not enough sleep, and no coffee waiting for me... however, mid morning walks, with a few weights thrown in after may be the ticket to increase the fitness routine up a bit, hopefully preventing any more neck injuries. I’ll keep you posted!

Stay Calm, get through it, and parent on!!

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Before and After

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Don't judge...

I love makeover shows! It doesn’t matter if it is a person, a home, or a business, I love seeing before photos and after photos of just about anything. I can totally relate to the character, 'Cher' in the movie “Clueless” delightfully squealing, “Project!”

Maybe it is just the satisfaction of a completed goal, or project that makes makeover shows so appealing. Perhaps there is satisfaction in the completed task of anything that just makes those feel good endorphins course through a person’s system. Who doesn’t enjoy that great feeling of “well done,” or the anticipation of that fresh, new feeling that comes with cleaning up a living space, or room (or house, or body)?

 

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I think it started with Extreme Makeover, Home Edition for me. I would cry each week for the several weeks I was able to watch the show (before I realized that crying actually incited migraines... ugh!). First of all, I could pretty much relate with every family that was being profiled- cancer, autism, rare bone disease, returning war hero... they all represented someone I knew or someone I was praying for. Second of all, the finished homes were just beautiful! I loved the stories, and I loved the beautiful living spaces. Next, I discovered Clinton and Stacy on “What Not to Wear.” I fantasize about them being my aunt and uncle that are just fabulous, and dote on me endlessly (hence, the fantasy). I actually picture them in my head when I have to buy new clothes. Usually, they are shaking their head “no” at me. I’m learning...

 

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So, I’ve recently been trying to right size my life and wardrobe, my health and house, my menus (thanks, Deb!), my wants and needs, that type of thing. Because I have the benefit of experience (my youngest is thirteen), I know that my wants far exceed my needs. I know the value of patience. I know that good, nice furniture really could (and indeed did) wait until we were out of the toddler and preschool stage. Now, I am much more fully aware that my children don’t really need more than a few nice outfits, because they will surely be hard on the every-day outfits and they shouldn’t cost too much, because stains happen (and rips, and tears). Health is more important than fashion, and fashion really needs to be comfortable, and most of the neighbors could really care less if the flowers didn’t make it in the ground, or if the grass went a little long for one week (or three). Speaking of makeovers... our yard, for goodness sake, is a corpse... but I digress.

 

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Recently we have had the extreme pleasure of having a bit of an extreme home makeover. I’ve been as giddy as a teenager in love! Our youngest is a teenager, and we scrimped and saved and waited, and decided that this was the year!! Can I just go ahead and highly recommend Lazy Boy and Bassett Furniture in Fredericksburg? These lovely ladies from each store came to my house and took measurements and totally put a plan together for the rooms we wanted re-done, or “made-over,” if you will. The only thing missing from my experience were the TV cameras. I got to finalize colors, and pillow trim (!), artwork, and rug selections. The before and after pictures don’t even do it justice, because, y’all, my (whole) house was a collection of mismatched, hand-me-down furniture! (Did I just say y’all?!?) So, the couch was a featured prop in my prom pictures (1989!?!). Oh my heavens, it was so time to trade up! I am happy to announce that we have very grown up and very new furniture in our living room and bedroom. Let me tell you, too, that it feels so good. And that couch... it is still in our house... it’s part of the homeschool room, now, and we even let the dogs on it. That couch will probably end up in one of my kids’ homes one day. It’s pretty sturdy.

 

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So, extreme makeover, home edition, Kristen style, has been enormously fun and extremely rewarding. I’m still a work in progress regarding menu, health, wardrobe, cooking wise, but I love to write so I’ll keep everyone updated. Let me add, too, that waiting until the children are older to get nice furniture has been the best choice ever. Mostly because we can put mortal fear into them about drinks and food not being allowed on the furniture, but also because, I think, they actually understand the value of working hard for something nice. Hopefully, that’s it, anyway. It could just be that nothing is really broken in yet, so they aren’t just flopping around on the furniture in all their grubby gloriousness. We shall see.

 

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Have fun, do a makeover, keep calm, and parent on!

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Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids' Race Series

PouchesRace

From a small beginning, Cathy Weise of the Ron Rosner YMCA has developed an ambitious three-race series for kids for this summer, with the help of The Great Train Race, Shannon Airport, Dominion Raceway & Entertainment, the Fredericksburg Area Service League and Race Timing Unlimited.

Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.

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