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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

Upward and Onward

 

Since everybody seems to love a Tommy update, I'm going to write one! As many of you know (Life Skills), Tommy is a little over halfway through his life-skills transition program out at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia. He has been living with a roommate, sharing a bathroom, going to classes, and having room inspections every week for five weeks now. He has to set his alarm, and be in class on time Monday through Friday, without anyone hovering over him, reminding him to set the alarm, and reminding him to get up, and dressed, and all that morning routine stuff. I can hardly believe it!

He has failed one room inspection because he opted to see a movie instead of doing laundry. He was really upset about it, too. The failure part, that is. He texted me a rant full of excuses- “I was going to do the laundry when I got back, we were going to take the trash out when we got back, the movie was longer than I expected…”

 

Oh, boy. I texted back: “well, I guess you learned a lesson, didn't you? You need to follow the rules, I guess, so you don't fail again. Right?”

It is so hard not to hover, not to validate any excuses, not to be so worried about every little thing. I'm not good at not worrying. I'm also not good at not jumping to conclusions, like, “Oh my gosh.. he failed a room inspection… what if he fails another, and then gets asked to leave, and then there will be no hope of anything good happening for him… and he doesn't have the finesse to even sweep a floor!”

After a few hours of radio silence I got the text that indicated all was well, the re-inspection went well, and -bonus!!- I even got the “Yes, I guess I have to follow the rules” text. Everything is indeed ok, apparently, lots of the kids fail room inspections at least once. They just have to clean up, empty the trash, do their laundry. And the movie (Suicide Squad) was great, by the way.

Elation. Happiness. Joy. 

People, he's getting it. He is learning, slowly, but surely, how to organize himself, and how to keep himself together. I truly believe that some life skills need to come from a “not mom” person. I want the best for him, but I start to sound like a parent from a Charlie Brown movie (mwammm mwah mwahhhmmm) when I'm trying to teach these things to him. I admit that I'm nagging sounding (begrudgingly admit it), but, let's face it, children get really good at tuning mom out sometimes. Also, I run out of energy trying to sound therapeutic, and trying to convey understanding while teaching the reasoning (again) about the necessity of clean clothes and daily showers, and sorting laundry. It's true.

Two weeks after Tommy arrived at Woodrow Wilson, I went up to retrieve him for a visit home for the weekend. He met us in the common room, and right away I noticed that he wasn't shaving, and he looked a little more oily than usual. I kind of expected that, so I didn't say anything as we walked to his room to grab his laundry and his backpack. When he let us in his dorm, I thought it looked pretty typical for a room shared by two young men. It smelled pretty typical, too. I was impressed, however, that his laundry basket was not totally overflowing, and that the bed was made, even if the comforter pattern was sideways instead of being vertical.

 

 

Surveying the room, I was nodding appreciatively at the relative tidiness that the boys were keeping up. Then, I noticed that on his desk-- in the exact same place I had left it-- was Tommy’s bath caddy. Inside Tommy’s unmoved, still very new looking and very dry bath caddy were the following: one unopened bottle of body wash, one unopened bottle of shampoo, one still-boxed and unopened tube of toothpaste, a dry scrub-poof with tag still attached, an unopened package of razors, one factory sealed shaving cream bottle, and an unopened package of four toothbrushes.


Um… Wow. 

“Tommy?”

“Yes mom?”

“Have you been showering? At all?” 

“Ish,” he replied, very confident sounding.

I may have levitated, I'm not sure, but Tommy was looking at me suddenly with an unusual expression. 

“And your teeth?? Have you brushed them? At all?” I asked in a very low voice, that I was extremely carefully not raising.

“Um… Ish?”

“TOMMY!!!”

Oh my goodness! I really tried to not shout at him, but, seriously? Danielle was with me on this little soiree, so she starts immediately whispering’ “Yoga fire breaths, Mom, breathe.”

“In two weeks, it didn't dawn on you to brush your teeth or take a shower??” I yelped at him as softly as possible, “and what is ish?! How do you ish take a shower or brush your teeth?”

 

 

Tommy, looking much like a cross between a six foot tall Dr. Who and a child looking like he wants to get away from a Harry Potter howler message in person, says very softly, “But, mom, you didn’t tell me to do that.”

Time momentarily stops just for me sometimes. In a flash, everything goes silent, and I see in front of me my six foot tall son as a preschooler, wanting to please, waiting for instructions. It is so. so. so difficult to not have a typical reaction to an atypical situation. 

“Son,” I whispered, “in the nineteen years that I’ve been telling you to brush your teeth twice a day, I kind of thought that you would just know to continue to do that. The toothbrushes and toothpaste and the soap should have been a clue. I need you to shower and brush your teeth every day.”

“So, everyday?” he asks.

“Every single day,” I answer.

“Oh- ok- I got it. Can we go home now?”

“Definitely,” I answer. 

 

 

When we got home, my husband autoclaved my son, twice, for good measure. Tommy fell right back into his normal routine once he was cleaned up and re-instructed in the importance of grooming. When I dropped him back off at Woodrow Wilson on Sunday, I unwrapped all the toiletries, and wrote on his calendar: shower-use soap, deodorant, brush teeth with toothpaste in every square space. Reminders, I hoped, would help.

Tommy insisted on playing his epic return song (loudly, off his iPod, so everyone could hear), “Back in Black” by AC/DC as we checked him back into the dorm, and dropped off his meds at the clinic. Yes, kids stared at us, but they were either smiling at us, or ignoring us completely. The counselors and staff were nonplussed by his epic return song playing out loud. It occurred to me then, that Tommy is exactly where he needs to be. He is learning and doing and growing. He may not always shave or have shiny teeth, but with a few reminders, he’ll get there. My Tommy is becoming the best Tommy that he can be, there, with a little help from some friends that are professional counselors and teachers and not-moms. 

And we’re all a little bit mad here, but life seems to continue to work despite us not always being in the same place, and we all fit together like puzzle pieces...

 

Interesting how that (puzzle piece) is the autism symbol, isn’t it:)

Keep calm, and parent on. 

 

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First Day...

 

One of the most momentous moments of my mommy career was that auspicious occasion called First Day Of Kindergarten (another first and momentous occasion was First Day of Preschool, but that day only gave me three and half hours of not having my oldest home with me, so kindergarten was a whole new ball game). How exciting and anxious I was for the First Day of Kindergarten! My precious little son was beginning his scholastic career, and I went from being a new mommy to being the mother of a school aged child!  It all happened so fast, too. The notion of having a whole day to myself was a bit of a fairytale… and it was a fairytale, actually, because I totally had a baby at home with me when my first went to kindergarten.  Although it was beautiful to have some alone time with my new little one, I wasn’t totally, you know, alone. When she went to kindergarten I had another new baby at home. And, when she, my youngest, went to kindergarten I started homeschooling the older two...  Hmmm… I might be a bit of a kindergarten "failure", actually… as a mom, I mean. I’ve never really been at home without a child (or two, or three) being at home with me.

So, another momentous occasion was the occasion called the First Day of Homeschool. I love, love, love to talk about homeschooling. I actually did not really ever do a kindergarten year of homeschool because Katie was a first-grader when she started homeschooling, but it was still a first, and it was so fun, and continues to be fun, really! Danielle was in third grade, and Tommy was a seventh-grader, that year. We did have one year after we started homeschooling that they all went back to public school for a year (and it didn't go so well, which is why we committed to homeschool again).  While Tommy went to public school for high school because it was best for him, the girls and I continue to do school at home to this very day. We celebrate the first day of school every September, too, even if we never really stopped doing school in June, because summer is so, so, so relaxed school-wise.

 

 

So, the first day of school is always the best day of school! We celebrate at home a lot like people do that go to school away from home. We wear cute outfits (or pajamas-a new tradition), we have a fun breakfast and lunch, we organize our desks and use new notebooks and pencils. Lesson planning still happens, schedules get put together, and we go to work, together. We have some trial and error days as we figure out the first few weeks of school, and which days are the best days to do extras like art and music. I used to be really uptight about schedules and school work, and the first day, but I’ve learned that we all learn best together when we figure out what works best together, and that takes time. Since we’ve been doing this awhile now (eight years, I think? How is that possible?!) -I’ve become less intense about it all. It has taken a while to get to the less intense state of being, though. I think my kids would probably report that I'm still pretty intense, but I think I've chilled a bit. Perhaps receiving and listening to some advice would have helped. So...

Here is some advice I wish I’d gotten early on. Sit down, and get ready, because this is the best advice ever. Ready?

Relax.

That’s it. For real. Relax. That goes for all first-timers be it whatever kind of school: private, public or home.

 

 

I know it seems too simple, but especially with kindergarten through fifth grade, just relax. Did you know that colleges don’t look at elementary school grades at all? They don’t look at middle school grades, either, for that matter, unless your child took a high school-level class during this time. In fact, grades, honor roll, SOL results- none of it matters until your student is in high school. Of course, the elementary and middle school years are important to establish good habits, like studying and learning the basics, but grades don’t really matter. So, relax. Also, if you are homeschooling, you don’t even do SOLs. 

 

 

Another bit of advice I wish I’d gotten is that not all homeschooled students are geniuses. There are many, many reports that espouse the genius-level intelligence of kids that are schooled at home. There is actually a lot of perceived pressure in the homeschool circles to have super smart, gifted kids. Let me tell you, I’ve got three kids, and they are all at different levels of scholastic ability, and only one is what I would consider gifted in terms of school-work type activities. Mostly, though, the homeschooled kids I know, are typical, in that they aren’t going to college at age fifteen, nor graduating college before they are eighteen. It happens, I know, but those cases are few and far between. It helps (me) that I belong to a co-op, because it’s nice to be around other homeschooled kids (and their parents) once a week. It’s nice to know that everyone is struggling with a lot of the same issues, like the kids that read well but can’t do math and vice-versa. Everyone, including the kids and the parents, have strengths and weaknesses.  We (we parents) are all trying to do the best we can, and we want the best for our children, but it’s nice to know we’re all raising pretty typical kids in this arena. 

I think there is a lot of pressure to make the first of anything great and fun and fantastic. I know I seem to want everything to be just perfect on the first day of school. Can I tell you something? The first day of school is special, and new experiences come with a bit of anxiety, so I think I've learned to go with the flow, so to speak. Don't give in to that pressure to be perfect! Hug your kids, have some tissues ready and let everyone know you love them, period. Authenticity is the real winner of the day.

So, no matter what school or ‘first time’ parent experience you are getting ready to have, enjoy it! Take pictures and post them for friends and family to see. If you are truly alone and are able to, go see a movie, or get a pedicure, or go on a date with your spouse. If it’s a moment to have some alone time with a younger child, enjoy that, too! First days are awesome. New moments are only new for a short time, and then the newness wears off, so be happy, keep calm, relax, take pictures, and parent on!

 

 

 

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What Are We Going To Do Today?

 

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, although it’s too hot, for my taste, but beautiful, nonetheless.  I love the big fluffy clouds of summer, and the gorgeous blue sky. I enjoy coffee, with lots of cream in it (or creamer with a little coffee in it). I  love sleeping in and waking up slowly and staying in my pajamas… let’s face it, I don’t have to hold my tummy in when I’m in pajamas. Saturday is a day to just relax and enjoy. I have strived to keep Saturday activity-free for years. Not that it always works out, but I just covet that day of rest. Especially in the morning, because I am so not a morning person, do I love my day of rest.

Enter the end of a summer season, and two young ladies who sometimes eed a little direction.

“What are we doing today?”

Those dreaded words. In my head, my answer sounds something like nothing. I don’t want to do anything. Really, I just want to lounge around and not get out of my pajamas. I’m thinking, though, that this is not really an acceptable answer, so I suggest we go to the pool. Apparently, this is not an acceptable answer, either. Scowling faces, frowns, eyebrows furrowed as if to suggest that I’ve just declared that we should clean out our closets and then do yard work. 

I understand something about parenting in my ripe old age, and it is this: I am not doing anybody any favors by always having the right answers, or by always having the popular plan. I’ve read plenty of articles about how important it is to keep your kids busy so they stay out of trouble, off the internet, and away from drugs and alcohol. I think, though, in a way, we are creating a generation of children that need to have activities and days all planned and scripted out for them, so they don’t have meltdowns, and throw tantrums. 

 

 

I think it is important to let kids be bored. There. I’ve said it. I was bored when I was growing up, too. I truly believe that sometimes it’s good for our children to know that they need to take some ownership for entertaining themselves when mom and dad don’t have events planned out for every day of the year. It is especially important for kids to grasp this concept before the summer months seem like an endless dream of laziness and TV watching, internet surfing, and Cheetos eating. Those days should be treats, not the norm.

Granted, it is the middle of August, and it really has been too hot to do much. On this particular day, however, I was not so gracious.

“I am not a party planner, guys, nor are you currently on board a cruise ship, so I am not a cruise director, either!! I can tell you all the things you are not going to do today, and they are as follows: you are not going to be on the computer, or Minecraft, or animal jam. You are not going to be watching TV all day. You are not going to eat just snacks all day. And, finally, you are not going to tell me you have nothing to do because if you tell me you have nothing to do, I will give you a list of all the things that need to be done in this house, and you will be very sad.”

Not one of the greatest mom moments of my career, but the end result was effective. I didn’t hear any whining, and the kids all remembered that they knew how to read, how to play board games, how to build with legos, and how to ride their bikes. I am lucky now, too, that they are old enough to go to the pool without me, and they can walk or ride their bikes there.

 

 

Now, I am not trying to suggest that kids should have freedom to do whatever they want, nor am I suggesting that chores are a punishment. I am suggesting that kids be given a reasonable amount of unstructured time with appropriate boundaries to learn how to deal with being bored, and how to entertain themselves. We started with quiet time as my babies gave up napping. I still needed my nap, so they were taught to stay in their rooms, quietly, until I came to get them. This time morphed into alone time, and eventually as the youngest became old enough to listen to her older sister, it became date-day (or night) so my spouse and I could invest in our marriage. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with practice and patience, quiet time begins to illustrate to your kiddos that they are capable of self control, impulse control, and being alone and in charge of that time and space. Eventually, as they get older, most kids will start to figure out that alone/quiet time is necessary and important for their mental health. 

The benefits of this, I believe, are far reaching. Kids are learning to be responsible, they are being inventive, they are learning that immediate gratification is not a good thing.  Think about how easily, and how quickly our children get things- anything these days! They can totally get a meal cooked under three minutes, they can watch whatever they want because of on demand, or DVRs. Kids don’t have to wait for hardly anything. So, teaching them things like waiting, self control, and being quiet early on leads to better impulse control as these same children get older (just imagine your child as a teen learning to drive - impulse control is important). It’s never too early to start training!

Let alone all the benefits that your kiddos will reap for experiencing and learning to love quiet time, imagine the amazing, soul soothing, heart calming moments that YOU will benefit from by enjoying a little alone time for yourself. And, you so deserve that, Mama. You really do. So, keep calm, and parent on… after you get a nap, of course.

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present moments

 

 

I am so guilty of trying to worry over everything that I forget to enjoy the here and now!  I remember being in my early twenties wishing my life away. I wished I could find that special someone. I wished I could be done with school. I wished I had a cool job (and a cool car). When all of that was accomplished, of course, I wished I had the perfect engagement ring, and the perfect wedding. Then I was wishing for pregnancies, nursery furniture, and a new house. I mean, honestly, I was a hot mess with all that wishing going on.  

I bet if you ask any older (experienced) parent what is one thing they would do differently knowing what they knew now, it would be to worry less. Time flies, so enjoy the here and now. There will always be laundry to do, floors to mop, and shelves to dust. Chores are perpetual, aren’t they? Enjoy your present moments with your family. Enjoy the stages your kids are in, because one day they will be teenagers (if they aren’t already), and they will be embarrassed to cuddle with you in public, and they won't want to do anything you suggest. Or, they will be in college, or married, or living in another country, so relish your current stage and your current family season. It’s easy to give such advice, I know, and harder to follow such advice, I also know. I have a hard time with this myself, even now. I’m a clean floor girl, and we have a Labrador. Imagine how often I feel the need to vacuum. The hair never ends. Ever. Little poofs of awesome Lab hair are constantly being poofed into the air at our house.

 

 

So, along the lines of enjoying the present moment, I wanted to speak to the importance of enjoying your spouse (significant other) right here, right now. Too often, we are so busy wishing for the next stage of life, that we forget to focus on the stage we are in, and we forget to focus on the one we are in this life stage with. Remember that you were a girl or boy friend before you were a parent. Your time and attention was on your spouse long before you ever had a baby. I’ve seen so many couples forget this. It is heartbreaking to see married friends separate, and/or get divorced. I pray and love on the hurting separated friends, for sure, but it is still heartbreaking, and it is still a very hard struggle for those going through tough marital moments.

In no way am I implying that staying together is as easy as just paying attention to your spouse, but often it is a good place to start if things seem to be falling apart. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but your spouse certainly deserves time and attention, in addition to your children. I know when I was a mother for the first time, I was livid with anger when (quite honestly) my husband mentioned his needs weren’t being met. Believe me, I was on the warpath instantly!  It is not easy to take care of a baby for the first time, nurse/feed them, figure out how to soothe them and heal from the delivery, and get some rest… and care for the needs of a husband… all at once. We had some very honest talks (sometimes very heated as well) those first few weeks. We both needed to show grace toward one another, and we both needed to give one another time and attention. We found we had to communicate everything, in plain English, and without shouting, very, very frequently.  

 

 

Let me tell you- those talks have never stopped.  Each stage of family and parenting life has brought different demands on our time and attention, and unfortunately, it seems like our marriage relationship is the very thing that takes the greatest hit. Kids are demanding on a good day, and they do need more from us than our spouses do in terms of safety, nurturing, and development.  I challenge you (and myself) though, to think of what your spouse needs, and don’t be ashamed to put them first.  

Obviously, I’m not saying to neglect your children, I'm merely suggesting that putting time aside- non-negotiable time- for your spouse will do wonders for your marriage relationship. It’s tough to not let the drama of child rearing interrupt that time, and emergencies do happen, but it is so worth it to remember your grown up loved one, every day, non-negotiated, to remind them they are important to you, too. 

I could not do this family without Mark. It has not always been super happy, and certainly it has never been without conflict, but we are a team. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, we have promised each other to stay committed and to choose love and forgiveness. We constantly remind each other that we are important, and we need our time. Date nights are great, but everyday moments are just as powerful.

There will be ups and downs, and good days, and bad days, but enjoy those days.  Enjoy all the days and moments that are right now. Right now will never happen again. Marriage moments need to be an important part of your family raising so that you can weather tough times, and be so thankful for the gift of the present times.

Keep calm. Enjoy your family. Parent on!

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Parenting with Chronic Ilness

 

I think it's time to talk about this subject. I have many sweet friends who are dealing not only with toddlers, children, activities, and diapers, but also with illness and pain. Probably many people you know are coping with a hidden illness. Hidden illnesses or conditions are the diagnoses you can't see. A lot of people truly just don't like to sound like they are complaining, so they don't talk about their illness at all. Some people downplay their suffering, because, unfortunately, other people tend to doubt symptoms they can't see. Given that I am raising children with sometimes invisible symptoms, I have a soft heart for those that are undertaking parenting while dealing with a chronic illness.

Everyone gets sick sometimes, and if you are the mom who is sick, you know it is next to impossible to take the day off. I had the flu (Flu Season? Still?) the month of March (like the whole month), and I wrote about having backup plans for everyone to have on standby so others could step in and help, if it came down to it. Don't take for granted that your spouse automatically knows what to do, just because you live together; mine didn't and we've been together over twenty years! Bless him, he was like, “What?! You do that?! How often?! When!?” Talk about a comedy of errors. We are still married, by the way, and we’re always better for those tough moments, but lesson learned: write down the medication schedule, if nothing else.

So, I have friends that are struggling with different ailments such as:  lupus, multiple sclerosis, migraines, scleroderma, depression, fibromyalgia. The list can go on, and on. These aren't illnesses that you always see. These people usually suffer in silence. I found out just recently that one of my friends had been dealing with multiple sclerosis for a few years only because I saw her out, limping with a cane one day. Even still, she was saying things like, “It's no big deal, it only happens sometimes.” Later in the year someone was complaining about how forgetful said friend was, and how she was always sick. As gently as I could, I remarked, “Well, yeah.  You know she has multiple sclerosis, right?” So? What's that? As if that is any excuse.

Oh my. 

Friends, we are better humans when we are building one another up, rather than tearing each other down. First off, don't be so quick to judge something (such as who are different than ourselves. When we (humans) seek to understand each other, instead of complaining about one another, the world is simply a better place. Invisible diseases (or conditions) hurt. Usually, they hurt a lot. Migraines are debilitating. MS causes numbness and paralysis. Scleroderma makes the skin ache. Depression, anxiety, and all the obsessive compulsive disorders are extremely hard to deal with, and to live with. Just trying to get everyone in the family up, fed, dressed and presentable is hard when you're feeling good. Imagine having to accomplish all that while having a pounding headache, or when you can't feel your legs, or when your skin feels like sandpaper if someone brushes up against you. 

So, when you see your forgetful, sick friend out and about, at Target or the grocery store, tell her she looks beautiful and be kind. Tell her it's great to see her up and out. You never know what it took for her to get out of the house. 

Everyone is dealing with something.

When the fibromyalgia diagnosis first started showing up across the country, I was a young, know-it-all-hot-shot nurse. I would roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, “drug seeker” whenever I was assigned a fibro patient. Don't misunderstand- I loved nursing, and my patients and I treated everyone with respect, compassion, and dignity. But you can't see fibromyalgia, and pain is subjective. I couldn't really wrap my brain around it, and back then, the medical community didn't have a lot of information or research to effectively treat fibromyalgia. Pain medicine was the treatment of choice. When you spend a year as a nurse on a med-surg floor, inevitably you have a lot of drug-seeking patients, and when you are new and young and you know everything, judgement happens.

 

we all have our dog days:)

Fast forward fifteen or so years… One day I wake up not feeling great, again, and I start thinking about it, and I'm wondering why am I having so many headaches?  What is this constant pain on my breast bone? Why are my hips burning, and achy, and what is up with the leg pain? One symptom blends into another, time goes by, then I started having trouble sleeping, even though I was always tired. I was really tired, and always achy, and constantly getting sick.  So, when, one day, at five o'clock in the afternoon as I was starting to put the kids to bed, so I could just go lie down and rest, I stopped myself. I started to do some research, and decided to see some new physicians. Guess what? Welcome to the club. It's fibromyalgia. And it hurts. For real.

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

Our circumstances can define us if we let them. I don't really accept that, though, for me or my family. Yes, of course, some things do change, have changed, and will continue to change, but illness doesn’t define me- or the family. For us, we have had to rearrange some schedules, say no to some activities, and we need to remain flexible. We have slow days, for sure. Thank goodness we homeschool, so pajama days are blessings. Everyone pitches in to help out- not always willingly- but they do. Cleaning is a group activity. Cooking is what I like to call “collaborative."  Schwans, DiGiorno, and Green Giant are my friends. Sometimes, frozen food is where it's at. Everyone knows they can turn on the oven and bake a meal. The crockpot is good for easy meals, too. We definitely don't schedule things for early in the morning. Quiet time is absolutely a must. I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from friends, and I will always share that advice with others. The best advice I have though, is to be kind to yourself. Some days will be just fine, but when the days come that are painful, or exhausting, just remember that your body is different than it used to be, and it is ok to slow down and say no to extras. And pay attention to your nutrition. Frozen meals are better than McDonalds, and vegetables are important. Be aware. Be kind. Don’t judge. Keep calm. Parent on!

 

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