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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

Praise and Confidence

 

I grew up being a military kid.  This meant moves every three years, new schools, new friends, new houses.  I don't remember it being hard to make new friends and I certainly don't remember having a hard time in school with making friends, or joining a peer group, at least not in elementary school. Fast forward thirty or so years... we aren't in the military, but we certainly live in a transient area.  I have the kids involved in team sports, swim, music lessons, and yes, we homeschool, but my kids have plenty of times to socialize and make friends. 

So, why is it so hard?  Imagine my surprise when I tell my girls to go make friends at the pool, or outside, I get the clueless-blank-stare back at me? I don't want to be insensitive toward them, so I try to not feel exasperated, but isn't it, like, inherent in our DNA to know how to do this? Well, I can answer that on behalf of shy kids, and spectrum-y kids:  the answer is no. What surprises me, though, is the lack of social situation navigation awareness of all kids-across the board. What can I do, as a parent to help the situation? I don't think hovering over them, and rescuing them from all awkward situations is the answer, but this is something that's been on my brain a lot recently, and I've come up with a few answers (humbly, from my experience). Confidence. Praise. Self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a beautiful thing. Confidence, poise, and positivity are so important for our children to grasp, don't you think? I don't know any parent that wants their child to be anything less than self-confident, in fact. A positive sense of self is probably even one of the main predictors of success in life. 

I think that as parents we have a great responsibility for raising our kids. I'm not talking about just having kids, and living with kids, but it is imperative that we raise them. Kindness, courage, respect, compassion: these are the basic manners, characteristics, if you will, that seem to be both necessary, and lacking amongst our youth. Maybe we (parents) have produced some over-confident children by praising things based on performance, but forgetting to praise the stuff of the everyday, such as sharing, being inclusive, and helping others to clean, or do chores.

My experience growing up with just one brother was so different than the family of three children I'm raising today. We (my brother and I) didn't stay inside, we didn't have a computer, we walked to and from school (with same aged friends, not with parents), we rode bikes to the Jiffy Mart to get candy and comics. I wonder how much my kids are missing out on? I'm not talking from a play-outside-have-less-technology standpoint, though. I'm thinking about making and keeping friends, communication, manners, and being able to navigate social circles in a non-classroom environment.

 

 

My youngest is on the swim team in our neighborhood for the summer. I am actually very pleased with how this venue teaches sportsmanship, cheering on of team-mates, and self confidence. I think any team sport does that, actually, because my middle daughter had a similar, great experience with lacrosse  Within the context of participating with their teams, the kids all seem to be encouraging and kind. Here is what I notice, though:  once the kids are off the field, or away from the pool, “teamwork” stops. Some girls have secrets, some have smartphones  Some kids could and do play together, but a lot of kids sit alone  It's heartbreaking to watch school age children be so compartmentalized.  It's heartbreaking to watch a child be excluded.   And goodness, that goes for the swim (and/or team, dance, etc) parents, too!

It's easy to praise our kids' performances. It's an objective thing to watch a child score a goal or swim a good time and say, “great job!” I know, for me, I need to be more diligent praising the times they sit by someone who is sitting alone, and the times they are confident to join a group of kids if they are feeling alone.

 

 

Confidence. Confidence based not on performance, but confidence based on who they are. Positive praise that validates character traits like integrity and kindness and compassion go long way to encourage a child to be more confident to include and join others. I know we (parents) are raising our kids, our families in challenging times. I'm really thinking that technology, while great, is truly causing our kids to forget to interact with one another with language and face time (not Facetime, mind you). Face-to-face time. Also, this is vital to help kids, especially shy, socially-awkward kids, to join in already formed ‘cliques’. I'm discovering that teaching kindness is a little more straightforward than teaching confidence and friend building skills. My kids are currently reading devotions and character and confidence building stories at our house. I'm reading the same types of books, myself. Every little bit of wisdom helps, right?

 

 

So let us encourage one another and our kids with some positive praise!  Here is how that might look:

“Way to go!”

“I love it when you get along with your siblings!”

“Great job asking that kid to join in on your game!”

“Those girls look like they are having fun, how about asking if they have room for one more?”

“I love it when you find a way to include others in your playtime.”

“Thanks for helping your friend/brother/sister feel important today. It makes me so happy when you are kind to others”

 

 

Kids and parents, alike, love to feel validated and valued. Hugs, high-fives, and praise go a long, long way to help us make the world a better place. I think we can all agree that kindness and dialogue are more important than ever in these years of raising the future.

Rise up, and parent on!

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social parenting

 

Being a twenty-first century mama surely has its challenges. It seems like everything is orchestrated, scheduled, overseen, and then photographed and shared on various social media.  Of course, it all looks and sounds so perfect, right? Who can resist adorable smiles, laughing children who are swinging and climbing or playing board games and co-operating perfectly? I'm guilty, myself, of posting and sharing these perfect little moments; who doesn't love to share the sweet and precious?

You can become inundated with perfection in all areas of life, really, by just logging on to one of your social media accounts. Who hasn't been caught up in this promise of perfection? My computer is full of fun and practical ideas!  I can make fun snacks, accomplish an amazing craft, tackle a four-course dinner (all in a crock pot), and whip up an amazing dessert before five pm, according to Pinterest, and still have time to sculpt my body, exfoliate, and organize the pantry before bed. I should have a perfect body, white teeth, and a satisfied husband, not to mention impeccably dressed (and clean) children who have done their own chores, and eaten a nutritious meal all by nine AM the next morning. It's easy! It's attainable! The proof is in the pictures!

 

 

Wow, right? Amazing. I feel like an Avenger.  I can do it all, and look fabulous, and kick some awesome tail, and… And… And… Then the letdown.

It is so easy to feel like a failure these days. 

I guess it won't do to post pictures of the meltdowns, the tears, the tired, the I'm-done-sharing and the resulting boo-boo bunny being held over a scrape, a bite mark, a black eye (I actually searched my files and even I am guilty of deleting the fails)… let's not forget the pictures of the crockpot-failed meal, receipts for Pizza Hut (because of said failed meal), and the kitchen that is trashed because not only did the meal fail, but so did that organized pantry, and the snacks, and the nutrition plan. I won't mention to not post any pictures of the teeth, and, also will not mention that I was way too exhausted to do anything but sleep when I got in to the bed.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love being able to share the pictures, and successes of life with my friends and family. I really believe it is easier to keep in touch with my people who are across the country, in another country, or even across the street, sometimes. I enjoy seeing the pictures of my friends’ kids and their successes, proms, graduations, and now (I'm old enough to see) weddings, and grandchildren (!). I love Pinterest, too, for the great recipes, crafts, and visual organization! I’m a sucker for visual organization. I love Facebook so I can really know about things my friends care about, I mean, how can you vote without Facebook (I'm kidding!)?

 

 

Sometimes, though, the social media universe can feel lonely.  For example, my oldest didn't go to prom, or to college. Social media reminded me of the stark reality that my kid didn't get to share in all of those typical milestones. It's ok, too, I understand that. It is still a loss, though, for me. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can be scrolling happily through the beautiful pictures of Instagram feeling a little sense of lonely-- be it because of a non-prom going child, or an adult that won't get to enjoy her mom’s birthday this year because of illness, or maybe there is someone who never had a relationship with their father, so there won't be any amazing-dad photos to post.  We are all going through something. At times, Instagram and Facebook can be downright painful. On top of all that, I can't cook. It just doesn't work for me. Not a lot of those Pinterest dinners really happen in my sphere of reality, and I'm certainly not going to post a picture of any of them (again- epic fails!), either.  If there is a picture of food on any of my social media, it's because it actually worked!

 

 

Seriously, though. We are not measured by our pretty pictures, and how well that scheduled play date went according to the social media. I think it's important to talk about, especially with young moms, and young families. Life is not perfect, and sometimes things just don't go right. It certainly doesn't look like a picture every day.  Beware of living by the standards set on social media, because it's impossible to be that perfect, that put together, and that smiling and happy all the time. You aren't a failure if one of your Pinterest ideas failed, or if the craft didn't turn out right. It's hard to get everyone to smile at the camera at the same time. It's not realistic to have gourmet meals every night. Remember that Instagram is a snapshot. Facebook is an opinion (all the opinions, all the time). Pinterest is just a suggestion, or a lot of suggestions.

So I've resolved to celebrate the days I get to shower, and throw a party on the days I get my kids showered and optimally nutritionized. I'm going to enjoy my spouse, and take pictures together even on the days when I don't feel beautiful. I will approach organization in a way that is realistic..for me! I might even try a few new recipes, but I'll keep my emergency stash of cash for pizza delivery for when the new recipe goes wrong. I'll look at reviews of things before I try them (especially on my teeth and anything with the word exfoliate in it). I'll be humble and I'll love on my friends and their perfect pictures, even as I remember that there was only ever one perfect person, and He walked on water. 

Keep calm, and parent on!

 

 

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Life Skills

If you were to have asked me in my twenties about life skills, I probably would have answered that they were just common sense. I would probably use words like obvious, instinctual, and innate. If I didn't know something, I could just figure it out. Besides cooking (I'm a terrible cook), I could totally live on my own at eighteen (I didn't, I know, not really, but I could have). Microwaves were invented, and I went to college. I had Domino's on speed dial (pre-cellphone era); I knew how to do laundry, study, and keep myself groomed. Life skills. Easy-peasy. 

Twenty(ish) years and three kids later, I realize that life skills are not obvious or innate for everybody. I didn't know what autism was, really, back in my twenties, back when I was first “adulting”.  I had never heard of sensory integration or executive functioning. While all kids, especially teens, and especially boys struggle to see the importance of clean clothes and toothpaste, for some kids it just doesn’t occur to them that they smell bad or have food in their teeth. Beyond that, unless they are reminded, they won't change clothes, deodorize, or brush their teeth. It's frustrating, to say the least, and heart breaking at times.  One day Tommy came home from high school with macaroni and cheese in his eyebrows.  A phone call to his case manager at school ensured it wouldn't happen again, but things like that happen all the time. He needs to be told to use a napkin, and to check the mirror before he leaves the restroom.

 

 

Tommy needs reminders for Every. Single. Thing. I'm not even exaggerating. He wakes up on his own, and goes on Wikipedia to get evidence to convince me the multiverse is reality on his own, but everything else needs prompting.  Did you shower? Did you use soap? Did you change your clothes? Did you brush your teeth? Did you remember the toothpaste?  It goes on and on and on. I'm even needing to smell him sometimes because the reply is often as automatic as the question.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I'm like, “Really? Come closer! No, you didn't!”  So, while most kids will realize eventually that it's important to be clean, Tommy just doesn't, and probably won't.   A lot of kids with autism don't and won't grow out of the stage of teenage unsanitariness. It just won't occur to them that it's necessary. Tommy won't figure out how to budget, meal plan, or organize himself by himself.  He needs a little extra help, and sometimes (at this stage of life) that help needs to come from someone other than his family members.  I call it launching him, this preparation for independence that needs to happen without the immediate safety net of his people always directing and guiding him. Forward progress!

So, Tommy had an evaluation week at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce center a few months ago.  It went very well, and he was recommended for the first part of his training to be the Life Skills program, which is nine weeks long.  We left yesterday and dropped him off (gasp)! He is living in a dorm, he is having to live with someone, and share a bathroom with eight other boys.  I'm excited and terrified, again. I wasn't quite as emotional dropping him off this time, but it is definitely unsettling for me--for all of us in this family.  Katie cried, and Mark was really quiet on the ride back home. It's what we want for Tommy, and yet it's hard to let go.  Parenting is kind of like signing up to have your heart broken a little at a time, and then to have it put back together, but it's just not ever the same. It's a beautiful and terrible thing. 

 

 

The biggest worry Tommy had, mind you, was his roommate.  “What if he is not like me at all… What if he is an atheist sports fanatic or something?”

Bless him.  I'm happy to report that the roommate was not an atheist sports fanatic, and, indeed, was quite a bit like Tommy.  They both like DC comics, Gotham, and conspiracy theories. The roommate is writing a book about the presidents’ secrets.  All the presidents. All the secrets. He is very organized. I was impressed.  Tommy and he fell into a very easy dialogue (and debate) about aliens, Area Fifty-One, and the “fake” lunar landing.  I left feeling good, a little less worried, because I was nervous about the room-mate possibilities, as well.  Part of life skills is social skills, and that is always a struggle for Tommy.

So, all in all, it's going to be an interesting nine weeks for this family!  One week without Tommy was fine, but nine weeks?! I'm a bit beside myself.  It's already so quiet. I didn't wake up to hearing him pacing around the house (laps, inside, every morning, with a very heavy heel). I didn't have to answer questions about him being the best swordsman in a multi-dimensional universe, scarf wearing fraternities in Brazil, or parallel Star Wars outcomes and theories, ad nauseum.  My brain won't know how to think without all that stimulation, I'm afraid. But, I'll keep you posted!  

 

 

Keep calm! Tommy is launching! And parent on!

 

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Moose

 

I think moose are just about the cutest and grandest animals that God thought to create. They are gentle giants unless, of course, you make them angry-- then they’ll just stomp you. But, still, they are cute, and awkward, and beautiful all at the same time. Adorable.

Danielle, my middle child, was born two weeks early. She came in just under seven pounds, and not quite twenty inches long. She is the tiniest baby I birthed, and the easiest, most laid-back baby about everything else. By seven weeks she was sleeping through the night and mostly content about nursing, being held, being in her crib, and being a baby. It was awesome. 

 

 

So, she was my tiniest for all of two weeks. She grew so fast! By the time she was two years old she was wearing size six (child) clothing. When she was learning to walk at twelve months, she had a size seven (child) foot. Fast forward to fifteen and a half years, and she is just over six feet and one inch tall, and wears a ladies' size twelve shoe.  She is my moose.  I called her that early on, which mortified my mother, but it's stuck with her. She is cute and awkward, and beautiful -- inside and out - all at the same time.

 

 

She is my middle child, but she is also my oldest child.  She developmentally is older than Tommy, so she has two birth-order places to fill. Growing up in between two special needs siblings has been challenging, but we truly believe in the purpose of each of our lives in our family, and how God has orchestrated us being together. Danielle is special, too, and is definitely growing with grace.  

I forget, in fact, a lot of times that she is only fifteen. She is an old soul, and has been fifteen going on thirty all year long. She helps me out immensely, and approaches problems and conflict with a very unique wisdom. It is wisdom I definitely didn't have at fifteen, or twenty, for that matter. So, when she reminds me she’s fifteen with typical teenage angst or drama, I'm usually pretty floored. We definitely have our moments! Danielle, though, is a natural teacher, and a very patient sister for the most part. She isn't a saint (yet); she does argue for her way with her siblings, but siblings will be siblings- even those with special needs.

Danielle is also a very talented musician. She is a gifted artist.  She is wicked smart.  Her heart belongs to Jesus in a way that is beyond her chronological age. Danielle loves babies and young children, so much so, that she is going on a mission trip to work in an orphanage this winter. I'm so very, very proud of her.  Loving her is one of my favorite jobs here on planet Earth. It is beautiful.

I wanted to write about her because I know I give so much time and attention (and writing) to the other two. That's how it is in special-need homes and families. I know that it's not uncommon for parents to be wracked with guilt over the time and attention variant among their children with versus those without special needs. I'm certainly guilty of feeling guilty a lot of times. I'm quick to point out that there is a plan and purpose for all of us, but that guilt monster is a tough one to squelch. Again, sharing information about special needs issues is what makes our families stronger.  Kids like Danielle make us stronger.

 

 

Mark and I try to make sure she knows she is loved and appreciated for being her, not just because she is an awesome helper. She gets some privileges that her brother and sister don't have because she has greater responsibilites than they do. We do some things like date-nights or date-days with just Danielle, and we encourage her to do some activities that are just for her. She also gets a smart phone, because she is in charge when Mark and I have dates alone. We encourage her to not be afraid to talk about the frustrations she faces with her brother and sister, and to not let those frustrations become the focus of her existence. I know some schools are starting support groups for kids who have a special needs sibling (or two), and I have a friend who tells me her daughter really enjoys the support group at her school. I know support groups are extremely beneficial to anyone who feels alone in a situation. I know because I've been a part of a few over the years. Sometimes, someone just needs to be told that therapy is OK. It is ok. It is all good. It is OK for your kids. It is OK for your family.

Feel free to share in the comments section some special ideas you might have that would help families who might be struggling with this kind of challenge. Share what makes your “typical” child special! How do other families gel together? Let's get some responses and discussion about togetherness and specialness. We are stronger together! Parent on!

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Frugality is Fine!


I was thinking about my supposed reality TV show the other day… the one I have in my head that will make us a lot of money, and will provide us with enough money to fix all the things that need to be fixed in our house, in our cars, our furniture… all the things.

Life here in the fancy-schmancy area called Northern Virginia is not inexpensive. Our family has made the choice of living on one salary so I can homeschool our kids, and be available for the many, many appointments that come with having kids on the special needs spectrum. So, it has become necessary to live frugally and learn how to love that trash-to-treasure look (I prefer the term “vintage” actually).

I thought it would be great to share some tips our family employs to help defray the high cost of living here. Some things might sound a little radical, some things may be unrealistic, but in my opinion, every little bit helps! Plus, as I keep writing, the more we share as parents raising families, the stronger we become.

One of the biggest cost cutters for us was to get rid of cable TV. You read that right: No TV. OK. I’m exaggerating a little- we have a Roku, and we subscribe to Pure Flix. We have a DVD player, too. We even still have a VCR in the basement, but that is only because we can’t figure out how to get the DVD player to work without it being wired through the VCR. We’re a bit mad, I know, but honestly, it was just easier to keep the archaic set up.  We exercise in the basement, and some of those workouts are on VHS tapes… I know…old fashioned. And there is another tip:  no gym memberships! Why pay to exercise when you can exercise for free?

 

 

We don’t cut coupons but we do shop mostly at Walmart and Aldi. We have a Costco membership for those things that make sense, like toothbrushes, toilet paper, and almond flour (and gas!). We go to Wegmans for their awesome produce and truly great prices on family-packs of meats and snacks. If you haven’t tried Aldi, I highly recommend you try it! Bring a quarter for a grocery cart (you get it back) and your own bags (environmentally friendly, anyway). They have really great prices on gluten-free things, too, if you happen to be on a special diet. Walmart has a savings catcher app, as well. All you do is scan your receipt and if there are other stores in your area that have a lower price on anything you purchased, it will give you the difference in price, which you can then transfer to a gift card to use at your discretion (we like using the extra savings around Christmas-time). Very easy-peasy penny pinching!

We don’t eat out often. That saves tons of money. I’m a horrible cook, too, so this is truly a sacrifice for us! Pinterest has awesome recipes, and printable menu planners. Menu-planning (check out my fellow blogger's post: Meal Planning Made Easy!  for more about that) is so helpful to organize a shopping list which also is helpful in saving money. I’m not super organized, but I know when I menu-plan I save money at checkout, and it cuts down on the mad dash to the store because I’ve forgotten ingredients or food. Plus, I don’t see the really cute t-shirts that just went on sale as I breeze past the clothing display to get to the food aisle in a hurry… therefore saving me more money. I can’t buy what I can’t see!  

 

 

Here are few other tips to use at the grocery store: Don’t buy juice packs- buy the mix and a pitcher and make your own. Don’t buy stuff at the check-out lane- these items (candy, gum, mints, mascara) are always marked up. Consider using frozen veggies and fruits instead of fresh. Opt out of soda and always try to buy generic (store-brand) items.

We also try not to buy the latest and greatest of anything. Cars, cell phones, TVs, DVDs… these items last longer than eighteen months; you don’t always need to upgrade your cell phone, and you can rent DVDs at Redbox instead of buying the film (unless, of course, it is a Star Wars or Avengers feature). Even clothing can be found not brand new, and in great condition! This is especially true for baby clothes. Furniture, cabinets, pots and pans, toys—these can be found at consignment shops and garage sales for a lot less than at the store. The library has used book sales once a month and it is free to join to have access to movies, audio books, e-books, and real books every day.  My family love, love, loves the library!

Now, let me encourage you to save money, and be creative while doing it! Pinterest (can you tell I love Pinterest?) is awesome for “life hacks” and “money-saving-mom” ideas. I don’t always have a successful month in the frugality department, but taking time to plan, and actually looking at more cost effective options for things helps here and there. Take some time to think about it! Share some of the methods you use to save money. Let me know how it’s going for you!

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