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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.

MWH blog april



We're All a Little Mad Here

Just A Little Tommy Update

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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I Used to be Smart

 

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

And then I had teenagers.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

“No, Mom, I don’t think that was it.”

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

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

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

“You can see it,” he replies.

“No, your whole face,” I answer.

“That’s as far as the phone goes.”

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

 

 

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

There is no rest for the weary.

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

 

 

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

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Just a Material Girl

 

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

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

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

 

Ikea Instructions... ugh!

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Keep calm, say no sometimes, and parent on!

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Some Ways To Make Friends With Your Neighbors

 

 

Now, I can’t even pretend to be an expert here... I can write about being more neighborly, and why it is important to know my neighbors and how it can benefit me, my neighborhood, my community and the whole wide world. Walking the walk, as they say, is harder than talking the talk. Oh, how that is so true in life!

I have, however, come up with a few ways to break through some of the barriers that pervade our (now, seemingly) isolationistic society. Here is the disclaimer to following the  advice from a non-sociology-educated-regular-type of person: Proceed with enthusiasm and caution and common sense. Prepare for some people to be receptive, and for some to not want any part of knowing the joy that is you making time to be a good neighbor. No need to slip on tennis shoes or a red cardigan or to sing “Won’t you be my neighbor,” but looking somewhat put together is probably a good idea (I think most days I’m wearing the frazzled mom look with pride, and I’d scare myself if I looked out the peephole in my door to me)... And always wear a smile.

 

 

Food. Food has a way of bringing all kinds of people together. Muffins are easy to make (from a box- I wouldn’t know where to begin with the “from scratch” approach). We woke up one day last month to fire-trucks and medic units outside of our neighbor’s house. I knew the husband had been deteriorating, but this seemed kind of sudden. He had indeed passed away that morning. We brought muffins the next morning for the surviving wife and her family members that were beginning to arrive from out of town. Sad people need reminders to eat. Food can be for good times, too, of course. Our community does an annual chili cook-off in February, for example (perfect timing, in my opinion, because it is the dead of winter, and chili will warm up the coldest of hearts). Why not make plans to actually attend? I think I might go to mine this year. Maybe you can start an annual tradition in your community, and use the lure of food to bring neighbors together.

Holiday treats. Every October a “boo” tradition takes place in our neighborhood. It’s fun to make like a ninja and leave treats on your neighbor’s porch. At Easter we do the “you’ve been egged” tradition (candy eggs, by the way, not vandalism eggs). Valentine’s Day means little heart treats. Leave a little card with your name and number with the treats, if you so desire. That can open up a path of communication, at least, with people you might not have occasion to talk to otherwise. If nothing else, just leave a note that says something along the lines of, “Your neighbor at ---- is thinking about you!”

 

 

Block Party. Don’t be shy about scheduling a block party. I recommend it not be scheduled around a holiday because so many people travel around those times of year. I’ve missed all but one of our block parties because of holiday travel, because the parties were always over July Fourth, or Labor Day or Memorial Day Weekend. Be bold! Schedule a block party one random weekend during the summer! Tell everyone to bring a beverage, a dish to share, and meat (or veggie burgers) to grill. Fill up some water balloons, grab some squirt guns, set up a canopy, and let the fun, and the get-to-know-yous begin! This ties nicely back into food bringing people together; and water fights are always bringing kids together. It works!

 

 

Walking Club. In Germany people participate in volksmarches all the time. Literally, communities host marches through their town or city, a section of the nearby forest, or on trails through cities, like, every weekend. I remember walking and earning medals and keeping a corkboard for patches from various volksmarches that I attended with my parents and brother. I didn’t have to run, swim, or bike a ridiculous amount of miles, either. It was just walking, enjoying the weather, and earning a medal. Now, why don’t we do that here in America? Well, actually, there are a few volksmarches here. The Porter library actually hosted a kind of virtual one all last year, where you could log in your miles and such. I think, though, that this could be done on a somewhat smaller scale through neighborhoods. Medals aren’t even needed. Just walk together. It’s like a running club, too, which I know exist.

 

 

And here is my favorite: Books. Host a book club!! I love to read, and many of my friends do, too. I’m in two book clubs right now, and one is in my neighborhood! Did you know that the library has bagged books for book clubs? It’s even free! Start a neighborhood book club for adults or kids, or even a mother-daughter (father/son, mommy/kid) type of club. Your brain, your children (their teachers), your neighbors will thank you. Books are a great way to bring people together. It’s true!

So, hopefully I haven’t scared anybody off! Make friends with your neighbors. Talk to them, bring them food, or share a book or a walk together. Remember that we are all trying to raise up a generation, and that generation would benefit by knowing their neighbors, and so will you... benefit, that is. Keep calm, make friends, and parent on!

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Love Your Neighbor

 

I have been living in Virginia for the greater part of three decades; living in, more specifically, Northern Virginia, for the greater part of three decades. I may not be “old Virginia” or “original Virginia”, but I am a Virginian. I love it here and I don’t love it here and I have a rather schizophrenic relationship with my state, that was never supposed to be my state, that I both love and hate.

Virginia is bipolar when it comes to weather, for example, and with every "pro" comes a "con." Virginia is BEAUTIFUL. If you are ever not stuck in the commute that is a part of life here, you can see how beautiful it is. We have one of the best fall seasons in our country! The leaves are stunning (and abundant- and they are a bear to rake, but they really are stunning). We have also one of the most beautiful spring seasons in our country. The blooms are fantastic, and I especially love the cherry blossoms. My eyes do not like the spring in terms of allergies, but I wouldn’t complain ever about how gorgeous it is.

 

 

 Here is another reason I think living here is awesome and not so awesome... Being In Northern Virginia, we are surrounded by transient people. Quantico, Fort Belvoir, Bowling, all the three letter organizations, and the endless contractors make for a very temporary feeling to the neighborhoods. I’ve been friends with the people in the house across the street from me since 1999. Six families have been in and out of my life over that time period, in that house alone, and it’s been beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s hard stuff to be vulnerable with people, get close, and then have to say goodbye.

I wanted to post about this, because I think it’s relevant. In our social media-driven world, technology is replacing human interaction. Don’t get me wrong- technology is great to be able to keep up with friends and family that live far away. I know, though, that in my neighborhood lately, a lot less of us are outside (me included). We don’t really talk anymore. I think sometimes people actually go inside when they see other families coming out. I’m not as close to my neighbors as I once was. I don’t know who is sick, or who is dealing with a hardship or who is pregnant. I only know, really, a few of my neighbors any more because so many people have moved since I was more of an outside-talk-to-my-neighbors-type-of-girl, and I haven’t even had a chance to meet the new people.

Here is the thing:isn’t it relevant that people aren’t talking to other people anymore? Shouldn’t we want to know our neighbors? I know people that have literally said to me: "Why bother?" They would answer no, they don’t need to know their neighbors. I’m sure I’m not the only person who disagrees with that, though.

 

 

We need to bother, friends. We need, I believe, these relationships in our lives. Humans are relational. It is important to know the people around you and the people that live close to you. Furthermore, consider that so many populations are feeling isolated, attacked, and disenfranchised. Is it possible that we just aren’t talking to each other any more? Why aren’t we communicating with our neighbors? I think there is something to this. Talking, face-time (not the kind over the computer), and helping each other, getting to know each other; these are the sweet things of life.

I’ve lived on both sides of this coin. I grew up in a military family that moved every three years. Now, I live in a community surrounded by people that move every three years. I have had the position of the friend that leaves, and I currently reside in the position of being the friend that is left behind. I get it. It’s hard. It is easier to be the one leaving, in my opinion. That being said, what if I never had people and neighbors that poured into me, knowing that I was a temporary fixture in their world? My oldest, best friend and I met in Germany when we were just ten years old! I can’t imagine her not being a part of my life. I have some friends that I’ve known even longer than that- like pictures of naked babies in the bathtub stage of life (I’m the naked baby, by the way, and my friend would be the other naked baby, and today we have children that are at the University of Nebraska, the Naval Academy -he and his wife had twins- and Woodrow Wilson- all born the same day... hours apart).

My point is this: people are important. Relationships are important. Communication is important. Neighbors are important. Invest in your community. Invest in each other. We are relational and we need to love our neighbors. It’s a command.

 

 

So, keep calm, love your neighbors, and parent on!

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