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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

Playground Misadventures

We were enjoying the beautiful February weather (the day I wrote this post). Two words that don’t really go together in the same sentence are beautiful and February, right? However, that is what we, my youngest, my husband, the two dogs and I were doing today. Having labs, we took a long, long, never-long-enough walk through the woods in order to let them run around, sniff the smells, roll in deer poop (I’m told this is a dog thing), and run around some more- because they are crazy. Because I have a very physical thirteen year old, I made her hike and walk with us. I’ve discovered that on the days she accompanies me (or us, as the case was today) on the outside walk time, the better she behaves in the evening, and the better she sleeps at night. She will swear that she doesn’t enjoy the outdoors, but my girl keeps up with the labs, is in front of them sometimes, and is usually grinning from ear to ear while we’re outside (thankfully, she does not roll in deer poop).

We emerged from the woods across from a playground, which Katie wanted to play on for just a few minutes. I am usually the nay-sayer, but Mark beat me to the punch and said yes, because, sun. In February. We can stay here for as long as we want.

There were a lot of moms at the playground with their preschoolers, but Katie is used to being around all ages of kids. We homeschool, so she is comfortable speaking and playing with adults and kids both older and younger than her. Nonplussed, she bounded, ran, and leaped from the sidewalk to the playground, while Mark and I took the dogs to the shade to cool off, as It was actually quite warm.

 

 

Not ten minutes went by before Katie scaled the playground equipment, and pulled herself up to the tippy-top of the highest part of the outside of the slide. Mark and I were watching her. We were present, and obvious to anyone that we were, indeed, her parents, and, truthfully, we were chuckling a bit while watching her climb.

She be little, but she be fierce! This is Katie’s norm, you see. She is a climber, and I have spent several moments of her life either biting my nails, or just praying over her and turning away. Honestly, it’s just better to not watch, sometimes. We’re a little bit mad here, and a bit old-fashioned, I guess, by letting our kids play hard, and we also aren’t about stifling creative play. We aren’t going to put her or let her stay in danger. Katie is a strong sensory-seeking-input type of child; and she is an athlete. She always has been, and I’m pretty sure she always will be. Climbing things is part of the package that makes up Katie.

 

that little streak of red is our Katie-cat

 

So, while Mark and I are laughing and watching, one of the moms present became so not amused. She went running (not exaggerating) up to the play structure, gesturing at Katie and commanding her to get down from there right now, which Katie did, thank goodness. Not a lot of filters on that little one, but we’ve been insistent on respecting adults as a rule. Then, said mom returned to her group of friends that she was talking with.

Mark and I, however, became immediately somewhat defensive. What just happened? Do we respond? What’s going on?

“Maybe it’s a rule that she can’t play on the outside of the play equipment,” I remarked.

Ever calm (sarcasm) about the “safety police” as he calls them (Katie gets this type of energy from him, by the way; I’m surprised he survived childhood), ranted, “It’s a playground! She is playing.”

I just nodded as he walked over to the rule board to read said rules. He conferred with Katie, and told her she wasn’t in trouble and came back to me with the news that there was no rule about “playing wrong on the playground!” Obviously.

“Well,” I said, “then she should climb if she wants to. She isn’t doing anything wrong.”

Mark asked if he should say something, and I thought yes, he should. Like I said, we were in plain sight of her, she wasn’t doing anything wrong, and she wasn’t being rude to anyone. So, he did just that and very respectfully walked over to the mom and told her that he could see Katie, and he was comfortable with her climbing, and she wasn’t breaking any rules. Well, apparently this wasn’t even about Katie, it was about her kids. She didn’t want them to be encouraged by Katie’s climbing prowess and attempt the same feat. Mark was dubious, and remarked that that was on her. She replied that she didn’t want to go the Emergency Room, and then she escalated, I know, because I heard her voice rise, at which point, Mark very respectfully waited for her to finish, then nodded and repeated that he was comfortable with what Katie was doing, and that she didn’t need to correct his child, thank you, have a good day, ma'am. At which point, I witnessed her throw her arms up and throw a book she was holding to the ground, and then she stomped toward her car. Then I stopped watching, because I so don't like confrontations.

Now, I understand both sides of this coin. Other children would surely see what Katie did as “cool” and want to try the same thing. They might take a risk they aren’t developmentally ready to take. They might indeed have to take a trip to the Emergency Room. The other side of this, though, is that Katie had every reason to be able to play on that playground as every other child. The rules were not broken, and it wasn’t even a private playground, it was a Stafford Parks and Rec playground. Not only that, Mark and I were watching her. On top of everything else, of course, is the fact that Katie is a great climber!

 

 

Furthermore, here is a truth: Parenting is a hard enough job to accomplish successfully with your own children. Outside of blatant harming behaviors (throwing rocks or sand, pushing/shoving, biting), correcting another person’s child crosses a line. At least I think so. Again, if she was being rude, or inhibiting younger children’s play, or purposely creating danger for other children, by all means, correct away. Otherwise, let me (us, my family) parent my kids, and you can parent your kids. Also, let the kids play on the playground equipment. We, as parents, are not doing anyone any good by keeping our children in a bubble. I’ve found that most children have a pretty keen sense of self-preservation when it comes to play. If they aren’t comfortable climbing, they probably won’t climb (an aside, again, would be teaching true danger limitations, such as loose rocks, busy streets, dead trees).

We returned from playground-gate completely unscathed and pretty calm (we still had a mile-walk home), but a little more aware of something happening in our country. Everything is about safety and lawsuits, even on playgrounds, and some people truly believe that they are part of the village that needs to raise all the children. I’m all about helping friends out or keeping a child from bolting into the street, but if you are present and watching your child do fill-in-the-blank, and you are not upset, then it isn’t my job to overrule your judgment. I think that would be bad manners. Also, injuries are inevitable during childhood. It happens. It stinks, but, guess what happens when a child gets injured doing something? I’ll tell you. They learn.

Keep Calm, and parent on!

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Allergy Alert!

Well, this weather in Virginia is just crazy this year. I’m writing this while it is still February, the sun is out, and it’s going to be seventy or so degrees today. I love it- trust me, I am not complaining- but... Almost always, a mild February means a mean March. I am trying to prepare myself for the proverbial other shoe to drop. In the meantime, I’ve been outside soaking up some vitamin D (really, just the sunshine that helps the body use vitamin D), and I’ve been walking, walking, walking. I’m all about endorphins releasing this time of year. Also, the cherry-blossoms are blossoming. Meh. Poor things.

So, with this lovely weather, I have discovered that allergy season has started (a little early) and it has arrived with some sort of vengence. My whole family has itchy eyes, including the dogs. My youngest sounds like a pug with a sinus infection, and my husband is constantly rubbing his eyes, nose, face. These two do not believe in medication, so I feel like I’m on the psych ward from nursing school administering medications.

“Did you swallow?” and “Let me see under your tongue.”

 

 

Good times...

Besides Zyrtec, Clairitin, (or both on some days, though I can’t recommend that) there are some other ways to help your body and sanity get through this allergy season. This is not authoritative medical advice, as I’m not a doctor; these are just some mad-ninja-mom tricks I’ve learned over the years. They are opinions. They are suggestions. These might work for you. Like I said, we all have allergies, and these are some things that work for us, because we can't move to the desert, and I don't tolerate the cold.

Repeat after me: DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOWS. The lure of an open window, with draperies softly flapping in the crossbreeze, is strong. You must resist it. The pollen will be all over everything in your house, and on the pillows that you sleep on. Just say no.

Use fans. I find that the continual movement of air helps us. I think it is great background noise, too; I can’t sleep without a fan on. Ceiling fans actually can be used year-round, and they keep things like dust mites from settling in your bedding. Dust mites, alone, kind of creep me out, so the bedroom fan is on all the time in the bedrooms. I’m sure I drive my family crazy with my fan habit, but I really feel like it’s healthier to keep the air moving. In the winter, you can make it reverse direction so it doesn’t feel like a blizzard is happening in your abode.

 

 

Nasal spray up the nose after being outside is imperative. Plain and simple saline nose spray works wonders to clean out the nose. If the kids have been outside, they get a squirt up each nostril when they come back in. I also insist that they wash their hands, because that nastiness sticks to everything, and it only takes one rub to cause an inflammation response in the eyes and nose.

We have recently purchased some air-purifier plants, as well. The husband is dubious, while saying I’m cute, but I am telling you that I am hopeful this will help. We have real air purifiers, too. Each bedroom has one, and the kitchen and living room have them. We have an air-scrubber on our vent system as well. I’m dabbling into essential oils, too. It seems, though, that most of the oils purify the air. We’ll see. If you aren’t into essential oils, Febreze and Melaleuca make allergy reducing fabric and room sprays that I swear by.

Hydrate!! One would think I am trying to poison my children when I tell them to drink water. Water, though, is so important! Most of us (human people) do not drink the water amount that we should. Make it tastier by adding fruit, or mix a little juice into a lot of water. Be prepared to use the bathroom a little more at first, but after a while, the body adapts... or your bladder stretches... or you’ve developed super powers. It’s a win-win. Water does a body good!

 

 

Finally, as hard as it is, enjoy spring. Don’t hole up in your house like a recluse. Now is not the time for hibernation! Pray for regular rainfall (that helps lower the pollen count), but on the nice days, get out and enjoy the area. All too soon, we will be in the throes of one-hundred percent humidity and hundred degree temperatures, and the only pleasant place to be will be a in a pool. Take your allergy medicine, employ some ninja skills, and explore this great creation that God gave us. It’s better than wifi, truly. Plus, there are so many beautiful places to get outside in our sprawling corner of Virginia, and just a few hours drive can take you to the mountains or to Washington, D.C. for even more adventures.

Therefore, keep calm, fight allergies, and parent on. Go outside, too, for some vitamin D, and remember to wash your hands!

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Just A Little Tommy Update

 

This weekend we had a chance to go have a visit with Tommy who is attending training at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce Center. I have (pretty awesome) parents that have this great little condo at Wintergreen, which is only twenty minutes from Fishersville. It's so perfect that it works out that we can get Tommy and spend the weekend with him there! It's so close to where our Tom-Tom is residing, working on getting job training, and thriving.

Independently, mind you. It is supported, yes, but he is doing it. It being life, responsibility, and school.

So, I got a text two weekends ago that read, “I’m ready, You can come get me.”

Uh-oh. He got his weekends mixed up. I was sure this was going to be very, very bad... but...

I called him, feeling a little (lot) nervous about how he would deal with the fact that we weren’t coming just then, but that it was the next weekend instead.

“Hey there, Bud,” I said after he answered, “It’s next weekend that we’re coming, not now. Are you OK? Can you deal?”

“Oh,” he replied, completely calm, “Alright, well, then I’ll see you next weekend, bye.”

OK. Well. He doesn’t like to talk on the phone. I get super long text messages all the time, but the phone calls are short.

“OK, love you, bye,” I replied. And that was it. No drama, no meltdowns, no problem. Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged, like, “huh, that was no big deal.” What a difference some maturity and time away makes.

So, this last weekend, we got the text that he was ready, and he couldn’t wait to show us his new dorm room, and he wanted to make sure his sisters were coming to get him, too, because he wanted to show them his new dorm room. We were already on our way to get him.

 

 

He is so proud of himself! Once the six week “trial” period of training is completed at Woodrow Wilson, the clients become “fully enrolled”. He got approved to try business technology, focusing on data entry, and after the first six weeks (which was two weeks ago) he was deemed successful, and became a fully enrolled student. Once he is fully enorolled, and doing well, he got the privelege of moving into the upgraded dorm. It has a better common area, and less people share a shower. This is important. Also, the common area doesn't have "just cleaning supplies" in it. Nice.

That text from him included some happy faces, which he almost never includes, and the message, of course. No phone call, though.

 

 

Thank the Lord that Woodrow Wilson is a place that has been made available to us. Tommy, I feel truly, would not have made these kinds of strides in his development, his independence, and his responsibility in any other place. The staff of people that work with Tommy are top notch, respectful, professional, and caring. The purpose of helping people with disabilities become more independent, and ready for work, is evident in every aspect of the curricula and environment of Woodrow Wilson.

Now, let me be clear. The challenges of autism and learning challenges are not gone in Tommy; indeed, they are part of what makes him so awesome (mama-pride). The preparation through evaluation, life-skills training, and now business training are the components that are helping him to be successful. Believe me, we still have our moments. He tantrumed when we “cleaned him up” over the weekend. He got a good showering, scrubbing, and shaving. He got his hair cut and his nails trimmed. Apparently, these are soul-sucking experiences for him.

Also, when we returned to the dorm on Sunday, the check-in person wasn’t available. Mark and I sent him to get his keys (they have to turn them in when they leave, then pick them up upon return) while we carried his laundry and snacks up to his room. After we were waiting (in the cold!) for ten minutes, I went down to see what was taking so long. I asked him what was going on, and he replied that he was waiting for his keys. Someone had told him the check-in person was next door at the other dorm, but it didn’t occur to him to go find her. Well... there you go. That’s autism, executive functioning issues still exist. It’s all good, though. We are all learning, right?

I can’t say enough how awesome it is to see Tommy doing so well. Once we got him settled, and his medicine turned back in at the pharmacy, he turned and hugged us and said good-bye. He was in a hurry to get back to his new dorm, where, in the common room, a few students had gathered to watch the original Star Wars (episode four), and he didn’t want to miss it. Hug, good-bye, and off he went. The nurse at the pharmacy smiled at us, and told us he was a pleasure, and for us to have a good afternoon. I felt a tiny bit sad, in a longing way. You know, like, there goes my baby... that is a man-child, and will be twenty next month, and how is that even possible? But, it’s what we have been praying for. We have been praying for a place and a situation where Tommy can thrive and learn to be independent, and for him to be able to feel successful. Mission accomplished (so far, anyway).

 

 

Keep calm, pray for your almost adult children, and carry on!

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I Used to be Smart

 

Once upon a time, I was the mother of little people. I was exhausted. I didn’t shower every day, or every other day, and a ponytail/messy bun was the hairstyle dujour. I could not see the end of being physically and bone-weary tired from taking care of little humans, and keeping them safe.

And then I had teenagers.

I went through a phase recently that had me convinced I needed to re-read every parenting book I had ever read, and then I probably needed to read a few more. I mean, seriously, how do I manage to say the wrong thing. every. single. time. I speak to my daughters? Furthermore, I totally have the worst timing ever. I may not physically be warding off burn injuries, flying from second story window injuries, or window blind injuries, but, I am still physically and, more to the point, mentally tired.

Now, I’m a little bit mad, here, but I am also a little bit sane. The jury is still out on the smartness factor of my brain, but I have not ever been told I’m certifiably crazy. I’ve tried, actually, and I’ve had years of therapy, but I do not have a “you-are-out-of-your-mind” diagnosis. So, far be it from me to point out the obvious, but I know for sure that I can drive a car, I’ve graduated from a four year college (in nursing, mind you), and I can keep track of homeschooling my kids. So, how is it that I know nothing? Have I gone through some type of mind sucking machine?

 

 

My children are so much smarter than I am, and they know everything. This makes me tired. I so love repeating myself thirty-seven times a day to get the chores done, do the school work, and put on deodorant. I also adore the fact that I can tell my teens that drinking Mountain Dew (why is that stuff not classified as a legal drug?!) will keep you awake all night. It’s not like I’ve never been to college (or have a nursing degree).

“Mom! I didn’t sleep at all last night!” said my youngest precious Sunday morning when I had to wake her up for church.

“Well,” I answered, knowingly, “that is what drinking Mountain Dew does to you.”

She looks at me with that worried little thinking face for a few moments before shaking her head no. It took about everything in me to return the gaze with any kind of neutrality.

“No, Mom, I don’t think that was it.”

Oh, really? Caffeine and sugar don’t tell your brain to stay up? I read somewhere that arguing with thirteen year olds over obvious things only make the mom more angry, and the child just adds to their brain that mom doesn’t know anything.

When I facetime with the boy-man-child who is away at college, he keeps the camera on his eyes only. Tommy has a rule (that I have no real way of reinforcing), that he has to shave daily, and can’t have facial hair until his acne clears up.

“Tommy,” I say, “let me see your face.”

“You can see it,” he replies.

“No, your whole face,” I answer.

“That’s as far as the phone goes.”

Like I said, I don’t know anything anymore. And, I’m tired. I am mentally jousting with smart kids every single day, now, and they are a savvy bunch, these children. Not only do they know everything, they also think that any experience I may have with any kind of issue doesn’t count because that was before the internet. Right. I lived back in the dawn of history. I got it.

 

 

What does one do when their children know more than they do? I’m trying to parent and learn all of history every day. Apparently, I have to discipline and be mindful of all the feelings (their feelings, mind you), or I’m causing brain damage. I also have to have a PhD in psychology, psychiatry, botany, and child development in order to raise humans that will be productive in society. Did I mention I’m tired? By the way, I still have to tell my youngest to look both ways before crossing the street, my middle is driving (!), and my oldest is living away from home, so, I’m still trying to keep everyone safe. So, even the “well-at-least-I-kept-them-alive-during-their-early-years” phase, is also now a “I-pray-they-can-stay-alive-during-the-teenage-phase.”

There is no rest for the weary.

That you get up and wrangle, love, nag, teach, love, and keep alive the children in your care every day is worth a celebration. When you fall into your bed each night, weary with worry, exhausted and overextended, just try to rest in the fact that the day was successful. If you aren’t dead, you are successful. If you are still parenting and raising a family, you are part of something special! Read some books, but don’t live or die by them. Take all advice with a grain of salt, because your family is unique, and you know them best. While your children may think you are as dumb as the day is long, just remember that it’s a phase. It’ll pass. One day, they will be twenty-five and needing your advice again. At least, that’s what I hear. I’m not there, yet. Apparently, I’m still in the ignorant timeframe of parenthood. I know nothing.

 

 

So, hang in there, parents! Keep calm, repeat each morning and evening that you are super-woman or super-man, and parent on!

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Just a Material Girl

 

 I have been in a minimalist mode lately. I’m trying to de-stuff the overstuffedness of my life. My husband and I are at this point of realizing that “more” is not better and “bigger” is not best. It is interesting to me that as a young couple we were so busy “filling up”. Filling up bookcases, and rooms, and toy boxes became priorities. We needed more ornaments for our Christmas tree, more seasonal decorations, we needed outdoor things like hoses and sprinklers. We needed things- the things to make a house a home and a yard... well, the yard is still a corpse, but not for lack of trying. We just had to have more stuff, to fill in the empty spaces.

Mark and I had all hand-me-down furniture or very, very inexpensive furniture for a long, long time. It’s not like we got married, and instantly had furniture and table linens, and a Pottery-Barn-esque decor! Saving and acquiring furniture, rugs, matching linens and silverware are part of growing up and growing old together, I know, but I remember having this need to have all the things... right now. I coveted pretty furniture, and seasonal accessories, and flowers in the yard. The reality, though, was trying to stay within our budget for groceries, and clothing for kids that were constantly growing and needing new clothes, and birthday and Christmas presents, and occasional day care. Then, of course, came the medical bills, and specialists that come with diagnoses and therapies. Then we decided to homeschool and go down to one income. So, we’ve arrived at this point in time with a lot of experience being frugal and we have a lot of patience with the “lived-in” look that has been our home since we bought it way back in 1999.

Enter sweet Baby-Kate. My girly-girl-tomboy-wildling child. She is all things teenager at the moment, and definitely in a “me” stage. She has a generous heart, on her terms, and she loves something fierce. She cannot, for the life of her, save any great sum of money. As soon as she gets her allowance, it’s spent. Sometimes she spends her allowance before she gets it. She wants things done now, and wants things done in a certain way and on her timeline. It’s a tough life.

 

Ikea Instructions... ugh!

 

So, she has been asking for a loft bed for about eighteen months, and I have routinely shot the idea down for about eighteen months. Out of the blue, though, she decides to bring the subject up at the dinner table, early last week, when Mark was home. After a very short debate (Mark actually thought it was a great idea), we considered the pros and cons of said loft bed, and decided to go for it. We found one at Ikea that was reasonably priced, and in stock, so we hustled up to the megastore in Woodbridge and bought no less than twelve long, flat boxes that indicated they would become a loft bed with a desk after assembly. We don’t go to Ikea very often, but when we do we discover that we need about thirty other items, and a few plants, plus a mattress. So, the minivan was completely full and packed to the brim when we headed home. Two days (yes, days, plus three Google searches and a few naughty words and lots of exasperated sighs) later, we had a loft bed put together, complete with desk and new linens and drawers that lined up and some extra screws, and extra monkey wrenches, but a put together product, that was, indeed, a loft bed. And... lots and lots of cardboard... just keeping it real.

 

 

Well, it wasn’t a day later that Katie declared to us that we needed to go into debt in order to fund her future acting career and horse and gymnastics habit. Whaaat?!??

Kids: you love them all the time, and they just break your heart a little bit each day. Can I get a witness? I love, love, love my kids, and it is heartbreaking when a little heart decides to choose self over love. We’re all guilty of it, I know, it’s just hard, right? My family and I try really hard to be giving and loving, and we try to make good financial choices, and we try to not carry debt. When did I forget to teach that to my youngest? Or, maybe it is because she is the youngest that she expects so much. She came into the world with a room ready and waiting for her, plenty of toys and books and baby gear, and two older kids that adored her. We were more financially stable, so she could choose activities, and where to have her birthday party every year without too much debate. She has it pretty good, really. We all do, actually.

 

 

Teaching humility and thankfulness is the stuff of hard, beautiful love. I know I need to be more consistent with teaching my youngest, and definitely more patient with her. She struggles with non-concrete subjects, so I’m pointing out to her every blessing, every moment to be thankful for, pointing out each less fortunate person or old (out of production type of minivan and station wagon ) type of car that we pass while out and about. We will be doing more mission work with our church, and I will be keeping her busy with books and activities that teach about finance, and health and food crisis’ in other parts of the world... and in our own backyard.

I am a former material girl, and I may be a little bit mad here, but I don’t want to raise any material girls (or boys). We are a downsizing and rightsizing family to help make our home a better place, and hopefully make the world a better place. Giving the kids everything they want, when they want it, leads to selfish behavior, in my experience. So, my pearl of wisdom for the day is to just say no to some things and love your babies with hugs and kisses and walks and good conversations about how awesome it is to be alive. De-cluttering is a great opportunity to give to those in need, and have conversations about the world beyond your walls. I want to shelter my kids, and make everything beautiful for them. I don’t think, though, that this helps them in the long run. Experiencing waiting for things teaches some powerful lessons, don’t you think? I know I’ve learned a lot over the years, and hopefully, my kids will be able to echo this sentiment in their collective futures.

Keep calm, say no sometimes, and parent on!

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Pouches' Community Corner

Adoptive parents in Fredericksburg now have a new partner on their journey to a healthy family. In 2016, Children’s Home Society was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to extend their Richmond area post-adoptive services to the Fredericksburg area.

ChildrensHomeSociety

Now CHS is looking to find adoptive families in the area who need support before they hit a crisis point. “It doesn’t matter which agency they adopted from, or when that happened,” said Buckheit. “We want to offer a lifetime of support to adoptive families in the Fredericksburg area, especially those who haven’t been aware of our services in the past.”

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