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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

My Katiecat

 

My youngest and I are doing math together Monday-through-Thursday.  We need to stay consistent. We have to stay dedicated and on top of it because we both have brains that struggle with processing fractions.  Yesterday, I contemplated ripping the rest of the fraction exercises out of her workbook.  The math program is on the computer, though, and the workbook is merely a tool… so not helpful.  We soldier on everyday like weary Russian troops trudging through Austria and Germany trying to defeat Napoleon (I'm (trying for the third time) reading War and Peace)... They are tired, hungry, poorly equipped, and want a shot of vodka (I don't care for vodka, actually, but you get the point).  I am all those things by May of our school year… the same school year we are extending through the summer.  Math, however, makes us all crazy.  Especially fractions.  We have calculators for this, people.  My middle doesn't like math, either, and we’ve done three years of seventh grade math with her-- all because of fractions.  We'll get through it. Consistency.

But, I digress.

Katie...  Katie is also known as my Special K, my Katie-cat and my Katiebug.  She is that child.  She broke her collarbone at age 6, she has scaled the outside of our house up to her second story bedroom window, and has no fear of tall trees, approaching crocodiles, or possibly rabid opossums.  I'm serious.  She is the one that had me on the phone with poison control every week for the span of her second year of life.  She figured out blister packs, “push down and turn”, and “squeeze and turn” tops in the space of a month.  She mastered climbing onto countertops to get to the top shelf where I moved said medicines in the space of a week.  She sampled dish detergent and was overjoyed that she could blow bubbles out of her mouth.  The terrible twos had a whole. new. meaning.  I was either frantic or crying most days. I wouldn't trade her for the world and I'm fiercely in love with her.  I'm overprotective, too, because things that should scare her don't.  

She is deathly afraid of things that shouldn't scare her, though. Changing weather patterns freak her out. Loud noises cause panic. Bees affect her in a visceral way (I can't complain about this, specifically, though, because I, too, have an unrealistic fear of bees).  She frets when my husband and I daydream about moving to a less populated area, and really truly gets upset about any kind of change. She has always been my most sensitive child.  She is actually more challenging to parent than Tommy is, even given all his issues. Everything for her is too… too loud, too bright, too quiet, too dark, too spicy, too hot, too cold… The list goes on and on.

 

It's interesting to me that very early on I had an idea that Tommy’s development was atypical. With Katie, I would lament, “she screams at me all day long.”  In hindsight, I see a million little reasons that could have tipped me off about autism sooner, but it took us twelve and a half years to pursue diagnostic testing, and we pursued  testing because trying to educate her was becoming very difficult.  It was becoming very emotional- for all of us.

Why did we wait so long?  It might have been because she was our baby, “the caboose”, we called her.  Birth order can affect personality. Parenting your first is different than parenting your third.  I was always checking out parenting books from the library (I read them, too). 

She also is a she… autism in girls looks different than autism in boys. It is hard to articulate the specifics, but hormones and drama are just more expected among girls, so a lot of behavior just gets chalked up to “girl stuff”.  

Also, she has had anxiety and sensory integration “issues” her whole life, but those were diagnosed early on, so autism was never something we really considered (early on).  I guess we (my husband and I) might have been in denial, too.  Although, I think for me, it was in the back of my head that she was spectrum-y for a while (for several years).  A lot of Katie’s quirks, and reactions to things like noises and weather patterns started to look a lot like things I remembered Tommy doing.  A lot of close friends and family told me not to worry so much, and to not go looking for trouble where there is none, and not to try to put a label on everyone… and for several years I heeded that advice. And then the tween years happened. That “girl stuff” exploded into “GIRL STUFF”.  As she descended the stairs each morning the “Imperial March” from Star Wars would play in my head.  We needed some definitive help.

So, let me say this:  It's not about the label, and it's not trouble, and I did worry.   Knowledge is power. Sharing knowledge is even more power. I like understanding that some behaviors aren't bad behaviors, they are coping behaviors.  I want to help her navigate those behaviors with grace and dignity.  I want not just her, but my whole family to thrive- just not survive.  We aren't perfect by any stretch of the word, but being able to name emotions and behavior has helped us (all) immensely--  to communicate and enforce consequences when needed, and to recognize stimulation overload and anxiety so we can change activities if needed. 

 

 

We’re all still learning and growing, but progress is happening.  Family raising is a dynamic process!  The house is a little more peaceful.  We still have some meltdowns here and there, but everyone in my house (including me) can be a bit dramatic.  School is definitely better.  History and reading are back on track, for the most part. Fractions and factoring are still miserable, but I didn't really expect that to change too much.  But… We. Need. To. Stay. Consistent. Consistency is key (with not only math, but parenting, as well)!

Can I just say this?  The best thing about my family are the people in it, and I want us all to live and love well. These kids are a gift, my husband is a gift, and it's a great privilege to be able to share a little piece of them with you.

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Summer School

 

As I write this, I am in the middle of our school day, and summer is coming fast.  

We are not quite halfway through our curriculum.  

We just didn't get to it. While the anxiety side of me starts to panic at this thought, the rational side of me reminds me that it is OK.  It's not like we didn't do school at all this year, because we did.  I know that, sometimes, homeschool just doesn't look like school.  We belong  to a co-op where the girls took science, writing, foreign language and drama once a week.  We went to music lessons several times a week.  We just didn’t stay on top of history or grammar the way I had planned  We were not as structured this year because of health concerns for four out of five of us, which necessitated traveling to many, many doctors and specialists. Throw in the husband having foot surgery and being home for ten weeks… well, we just didn't always get to the curriculum.  We had a lot going on, to say the least.

I wrote a post back in the fall about how this is a season. Again, in my head I'm good with this, but in my heart I get all nervous and worried. I fret about achievement scores and the end of year testing we have to do.  The only testing we do.  I'm over aware of the girls’ sentence structure, while they're talking, mind you.  Things like subject verb agreement pop into my head during random conversations. Everything becomes a “teaching moment” which to the kids sounds a lot like a lecture-- I call it discussion. My little one is dyslexic, too, and can not grasp the usage of commas, semicolons, capitalization, and periods. Grammar is consistently the girls’ lowest score on the end of year test. This year, math anxiety is high for both girls, too.  We bake together, but fractions continue to be a road bump for everyone in the math world, including me. We watch a lot of videos explaining fractions. 

In a nutshell, we were all a little worked up about testing this year. So, did we wait to finish the curriculum before we tested? We could have. We have until August to submit scores to the Superintendent. But, no! We all (the girls and I) had the same thought to just take them and get them  over with. So, we did. Then, we prayed and hoped for the best. And, just like homeschool statistics consistently report, they did fine. They did more than fine, actually;  they did above average- even on the grammar and dreaded math sections. 

Here is the best thing about homeschooling:  you get to follow your own schedule, and work at your own pace. So, this year when we were driving back and forth to Fairfax or Richmond or spending all day in the car, we could still cover some history and reading with audio lessons, and we were able to discuss content, so we weren't really skipping school. Also, on bad days we could stop early or take a break altogether, because we could always do some things on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon if we needed to (which translated, meant if I was feeling guilty or panic stricken because of a perceived lack of progress). On the mornings after a bad night of pain or restlessness, we could sleep in and start slow.  And on the days when we were dealing with meltdown after meltdown, we could abandon school entirely and focus on character training. 

So, my angst over the end of the year testing and lack of completion of the purchased curriculum is just that. It’s angst. It’s unnecessary. We don’t need to get so worked up about testing, because “school” is happening in every day life. Now, we can relax and just take our time finishing up history over the summer. We usually read and do math anyway, so it won’t be all that different. The girls, of course, think their world is coming to an end with the announcement that we’ll be doing school through the summer.  I’m trying to calmly remind them we’ve had a different kind of year, anyway, and haven’t really done a full amount of schooling this year (even though we did, albeit differently)... but we’re all a little mad here. Anxiety runs in the family, I guess.

It is nice to see the sun again, and we’re totally excited that it's almost summer. We will be spending the mornings (hopefully) finishing up the Renaissance and early explorers and doing some math, and then we will be out enjoying the warmth and sunshine!  We will continue to sleep in and take our time.  I believe this is officially called unschooling, but I still just call it a season. I’d prefer a little more structure for the next school year, if we ever get there.  I suppose it’s possible, though, that we will just be used to this pace and continue on with it. Only time will tell.  

What are the plans for your summer days?  Do you tend to be willy-nilly, or more structured? 

 

 

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Just Like That!

sunflower

And just like that:  Summer is here!  It has (predictably) gone from rainy and fifty degrees straight to sunny and ninety degrees.  So many times, the crazy Virginia weather patterns just make me feel.. well... a little crazy.  I was not focused on swimsuit shopping while it was rainy and fifty degrees, and now it's summer, and I forgot to get skinny, so my swimsuits from last year are just not quite right.  Swimsuit shopping can make any rational person feel a bit mad, right?

I am a warm, sunny weather person.  I start to hibernate when the time “falls back” in October.  By April, I'm ready to come out of hibernation mode, but this year it was just still so cold, and overcast.  Then May happened--  without any sun. So, I'm a little out of sorts. I am a month and half behind on my diet and fitness schedule, yet, the pool is open.  What's a girl to do?

Well, the best (and only truly rational) advice I've gotten is to quit whining about it and enjoy the weather, and the pool, and to just keep moving forward.  I don't whine a whole lot, and I really don't like it when my kids do it, so that advice is easy to heed.

So, we must start to exercise... again.  And we must start our healthy eating... again.  Forward motion is what it's all about.  We might do well for awhile, and then slide on making the great choices, but we have to keep trying.  My husband and I made a pact to help keep each other accountable, too.  So far, so good... We had a lot of excuses during hibernation; he had foot surgery, and we were busy going to appointments and check-ups, and follow-ups, etc., plus the kids and I all had appointments with specialists, too.  Life has stabilized a bit, though, and the rain has subsided.  

No more excuses!

 

Pippin always wants to go outside for a walk!

Fitness, for me, is not hard during the summer.  We are at the pool a lot, and when the whistle blows for the kids to get out for their fifteen minute break, I get in and do laps for fifteen minutes.  I like to walk. I enjoy hikes. The only real excuses for not moving during the summer would be things like temperatures over one hundred degrees, demon storms that pop up out of nowhere, and illnesses.  

 

just.say.no.

Diet and nutrition are pretty easy to do well during the summer, too.  We love berries and watermelon and all the fresh vegetables!  And let's hear it for grilling!  By June my family is pretty sick of spaghetti and meatloaf, so fresh food and grilling are welcomed with open arms at our house.

I am guilty of being overly critical of myself (body image, lack of exercise, sugar addiction) and that is why I wanted to share some strategies that have worked for me in the area of nutrition and exercise.  Just moving is so important.  Even when I am achy feeling and unmotivated, a walk (even if it's just to the laundry room and back) can do wonders.  Stretching and plank work (even if you can only hold a plank for ten seconds) strengthen your core.  Baby steps are still steps, and you will feel better when you take them! Switch the sugar to stevia, add some fruit to your diet, try a new vegetable… These are all little improvements you can make, and the summertime is a great time to start new habits with diet because summer food is awesome.

Here's another bit of advice (admittedly advice I need to take for myself):  Don't be so hard on yourself!  Trying to feed a family full of different people with different likes and dislikes is a challenging, daunting task!  I don't even like to cook. If I won the lottery, I’d hire a chef before I ever even thought of hiring a cleaning lady, a coach, or a chauffeur.  Also, having kids makes you a parent… and a teacher, a nurse, a psychologist, a taxi driver, a laundromat, a crisis interventionist, an accountant, and a referee.  You might feel a little tired, you might have had a bad day, and you might just need some chocolate.  Sometimes, the lure of a bubble bath (alone, mind you) outweighs everything else.  Don’t dwell on the things that don't always go your way.  Celebrate your successes.  To take care of others necessitates the need to care for yourself. We need to love ourselves so we can love our families. 

I'll write it again, to make sure you read it (loud and clear):  

We need to love ourselves… So we can love our families.

 

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Spring Pickings

We love spring!  The colors are beautiful and the warmth  and sunlight are so welcome after a long winter.  Even though this winter was late in coming, any length of cold makes for a long winter in our house. We (all of us)  don't care for the cold, and after the first snow of the season, we are done with that, too.  So, we welcome spring with open arms.  Our noses, however, are not so excited.  There is Zyrtec for that, though… and nightly showers… and nose sprays… and netipots if you are so brave.  I actually am pretty sure I'm drowning or practicing being water-boarded in case I'm ever captured by an enemy force when I use the netipot, but it is effective for cleaning out your sinuses.

This spring has been fun this year because of so many new things happening.  It's so poetic, isn't it? Spring is all new, and we are doing new things.  The oldest got to spend a week independently at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  The middle is finishing up her first year with the bass, and is participating in the youth and worship bands at church.  The youngest got to start horseback riding, and she tried out for the gymnastics team.  It's all exciting stuff.  It's nice to come out of hibernation, too, from the cold.  We are looking forward to summer  plans, and compiling our bucket list of things to do. 

I am going to be careful again this year and try to not over-schedule us, though.  Last summer, it worked pretty well to have a loose schedule with plenty of room for flexibility.  We try not to do too much. Sometimes, we're not so successful with that, and then we are all kicking ourselves for signing up for too much.  We especially like to take it easy over the summer.  Some families like to get busy over the summer, because there is more structure that way. We do need structure due to all the autism in our house (I say it with all the love in the world, too. I'm not being snarky!), so we try to have a general structure to our day.  So, instead of going to a bunch of activities that we are trying to fit in, we just follow a loose type of flow to our days. We have swimming most afternoons, we go to the library one day, we do our errands all on one day (at least we try to), and we do something fun, like a field trip, every couple of weeks.  Music and gymnastics continue over the summer. So, we do stuff, we relax, we fit in leisure, we fit in fun.   This summer, we are also fitting in homeschool (the girls are despondent). We will try to be consistent with schooling this summer just to see if we like it.  And to finish... more on that later.

This area (Northern Virginia) is both a blessing and a curse.  There are so many things to do- and so many things are free!  Traffic, though….  I recommend using the metro if you are traveling to DC, or even consider taking the train from Quantico, or any of the other southern stations.  Don’t go north on a Friday without expecting a huge amount of traffic coming back south.  It is worth it to reschedule to a regular weekday.  One summer I had the idea of “field trip friday”... We did that exactly once.  Friday traffic, man, is bad enough to make me lose my religion. We do field trips Monday through Wednesday only through the summer! 

Here is another bit of advice:  Pack snacks! Especially true for those fantastic free Smithsonian Museums-- they are extortionists when it comes to food.  I’m not exaggerating! This area is rich in history, and the great thing is that it’s not only Virginia History, it’s American History.  I love our Virginia-DC-Metro area; I really, really, really don’t like the traffic and the congestion.  

So, spring has sprung, again; I shouldn’t be surprised.  I always feel, though, every year in May, like I’ve missed something.  I’m sure it’s because I tend to hibernate for the winter months, and this year I got the flu, so I completely missed March.  Yet, here we are.  We’re finishing up the bulk of our homeschool stuff, and looking forward to our summer schedule.  

What plans do you have for summer?  Do you like trying new things in spring? 

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Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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