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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.

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We're All a Little Mad Here

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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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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