Monday, September 5, 2011

First Day of Homeschooling

Today was the day. I dove in head first. I was a little apprehensive, worrying that my hopes would be dashed on my very first day. I was worried that the kids would not like it, or would not follow along. Or that I would feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and like quitting. I know that might happen in the future, but I am glad it didn't happen on the very first day!

I am doing a very basic, relaxed method for 2 reasons. One: it is summer. The kids need time to relax and play. Plus, I believe playing is kids' learning in disguise. Two: I want to ease into this. If I go into this with tons of work and a rigid schedule, we might all want to quit. As I learned from Flylady (, baby-steps are the only way for lasting change and to avoid burnout.

We are doing Five in A Row, a program that is literature based. Basically, we read a children's picture books for five days in a row, gleaning new information and ideas each time we read. Today, we focused on social studies. Our overarching topic for the next 2 weeks will be World War 2. I asked all the kids at the beginning of this project what they wanted to learn; this was Nicholas' pick (no surprise to those of us who know him!)

Today was SO nice. All at home, all learning together. No running in and out of the car. There were some squabbles and hurt feelings, but they are worked out now, as diner is simmering on the stove. My heart feels peaceful.

Let's see if it lasts...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thinking of Elijah

Today (and many other days) I am thinking of Elijah, a little boy I first saw in a newsletter from the family who first took care of my darling son, Nicholas. Mike and Elisa Haller have a home in China and care for, as well as provide medical care for, boys without families. I fell in love with Elijah the moment I saw his face. My eyes were instantly drawn to him. And, while so many of the little boys are adorable, only his face stayed with me. (There's that photo below):
The thing about adoption is, you can never look at another child again and not think "that could be my child." Any child -- no matter how different he or she looks from me, no matter how different he or she acts or talks or lives, could be my child. And, then, with that is a sense of responsibility. I look at Elijah and think: I could be his mama. I could give him the love, the education, the giggles, the kisses on his boo-boos, the therapies etc. that he needs. And, what kills me, is that we could do it. It might make our lives a bit more complicated and uncomfortable to have a 5th child -- and one with a special need -- but we could do it. We could so something with relative ease that he just cannot do for himself.

I met Elijah this past winter when we were in China to adopt Ellie. We were visiting Nicholas' former home and he was there -- quiet, unassuming, not drawing attention to himself. And yet, I was so drawn. He was well-cared for, loved by his ayis (nannies) and provided for by the love of Mike and Elisa. Yet, not in a family. Playing with toys well below what is appropriate for his age (that is all there was the play with), a little withdrawn. I so longed to pick him up and lean him out of there. Bring him home. Give him a bed and a closet of clothes and read him books at night. I want to find out his favorite food and cook it for him. I want to find out what toys he really loves (would it be trains like Nicholas? Superheros like Peter? Something different altogether?) and then let his little imagination take hold of it. I want to teach him to read. I want to watch him laugh in the pool. I want to see his excitement at Christmas. I want to sooth him when he cries. I want him to learn about unconditional love.

The chances of us adopting him are slim. First and most importantly, my dh is not sure a 5th child is right for us. But, also the bureaucracy makes it hard to find a specific child and then get matched with his file. But, I can pray he finds a family. I can pray he finds all of those things that I listed above, with or without me.

xxoo, Elijah.

All the children who are held and loved will know how to love others...
Spread these virtues in the world. Nothing more need be done.
--Meng Zi c.300BC

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Keeping It Real

Ahhhh! It has just been one of those days. The kids wont' listen to me, they are bickering with each other, Peter just accidentally knocked over and broke a glass...then I stepped in a stray shard. Ellie did not sleep well last night (so neither did I) and we are both cranky. Today I really want to call in sick.

One of the main reasons I decided to write this blog, and to conduct this summer experiment in general, was to get an honest assessment of how this homeschooling thing would work for me and the family. As I have said before, I have read a ton about it, but I thought putting it into practice would show me how it actually plays out for us in particular: for our specific personalities, learning styles, and relationships. Today feels like a really good day to report on the challenges of trying to teach my own kids all day long, everyday. I promise, tomorrow will be better. Soon I will write about the pros of homeschooling. But, today I just have to be negative. Thanks in advance for letting me vent.

What I dislike about homeschooling:

1. The constant talking. I like quiet; I like solitude. I like to be able to think and to chew on my ideas. But, this summer, I cannot even hear my own ideas, let alone let them form into anything coherent. Those of you with young kids know what I mean -- they never stop talking. In theory, I know this is a good thing. Heck, I spent a lot of time and money taking my boys to speech therapy to get them to speak! But this is just a constant barrage: "mommy, look," "mommy, look!" "MOMMY, LOOOOOOOK!"

Then, there is the 12 hour long cacophony of voices all directed at me. At this point in our family's journey, the kids still talk more to me than to each other. And, most often, this happens all at once. And then they start fighting: "hey! I was talking first! Mama, listen to ME!" I am tired of having to referee all of the competing voices and it stinks that sometimes I cannot listen to all of their ideas.

2. Having to be consistent. I am an idea person. I love to read, and to plan, and to imagine. And I don't mind implementing my plan..for a little while. And then, I admit, I get bored and want to move onto another dream. But, if I decide to homeschool the kids full-time, this will not be an option. I can't get bored, and then decide instead I want to try scrapbooking. Or photography. Or calligraphy. (Although, I just realized that perhaps all these ideas could be worked into homeschooling...maybe this is one way in which fits me??)

3. Having to be 'the bad guy.' Usually teachers and other school or camp officials take some of this burden. You know, the telling the kids to sit down, to listen, that their math problem is incorrect, or that it is not nice to yell at your playmate. Sure, a parent does this stuff too -- at home, with homework, etc. But, now I am doing it all day long. And the kids do not always want to do "Mommy School." They say "No!" or "awwww..I want to play" And I have to say "I'm sorry, it is time to work." This is not always easy. And it is, unfortunately, easier for the kids to have a meltdown in front of Mommy when I say this, than it would be in front of a teacher.

Also, I worry that the reason the kids are saying "no" so often is that they are bored. Am I not enriching their lives enough? Stimulating them as much as they did at school or camp? Are they not learning, growing, creating?

4. Juggling the differing educational -- along with the emotional, and physical --needs of 4 very different kids. My biggest concern with starting to homeschool for real (i.e. next fall) is that I might not be able to give the kids enough personal attention at their own academic level. (Of course, I think I have a better chance at doing this with 4 kids than a teacher does with 12 or more kids...but I digress). It is really challenging to find topics about which kids at various levels can comprehend and/or be drawn to. Then, there are the topics that they just cannot do at the same level: reading, writing, and math. I have yet to figure out how to spend individual time without the other kids continually interrupting me in a one-on-one session. How can I occupy them (without TV)? How can I keep it quiet enough for the tutee to concentrate? These are my conundrums I have yet to solve.

5. Having to be happy all the time. Or at least not bitchy. My mood is more important than ever for setting the tone of the family. That is a lot of pressure. Some days, I am in a terrible mood. Coffee in general makes things a whole lot better, but one some days even Starbucks can't save the day.

6. Going to the grocery store with all of them I am a sucker -- I buy them too many extras just to get them to cooperate. My grocery bills have never been as high as they are this summer. If only Peapod carried more organic products, I would give them all my business.

7. Having a messy (or should I say messier) house. This is directly associated with # 5 (see above.) When the house is in constant disarray, I am not a happy mama. And the house is just turned upside down lately. I clean up a room, and then turn around, and it is messy again. Come to think of it, this is also directly related to #3, because I have to be the "bad guy" in getting the kids to pick up after themselves all day long, too. And, once again, it is much easier to ignore Mommy than a teacher. Why is that??

8. There is no moment in the day for me. This summer I have spent more days consistently makeup-less than in my entire life (and for those of you who know me, that is saying a lot). I miss talking to my friends on the phone. I miss working out. I miss watching TV that is inappropriate for kids (oh, "16 & Pregnant," I'll see you again some day...) I miss napping. I miss email and Facebook and reading blogs. I miss talking to my husband on the phone.

Ok, I think that is it. I feel better now, having pulled out my hair and written down all my complaints. Let's see how tomorrow goes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Experiment

So I am pretty much sold on the idea of homeschooling. I have been reading so much about it, like this and this and this , and I wholeheartedly believe that kids really need less structured "activities" and "lessons," but instead need their education to be a natural part of their lives. They need enthusiasm, love, playtime, and, yes, a little bit of math. I have come to see how school is an institution that most of us do not question -- but, why, really, do we need school? Why does learning need to take place in a group setting? With only kids ones' own age? With a "certified" teacher? Multiple studies have shown that kids do much better (in many ways: they score higher on tests, are more emotionally secure, more enthusiastic about learning, etc.) when they are taught to on an individual basis. And when there is time in the day for them to express themselves, and to be heard. All of these reasons led John and I to enroll our kids in small private schools, but perhaps there is an even better (for us, of course) way to do it. Maybe the lessons could be geared toward my kids' specific interests and learning styles. Maybe there is a way to go at their own pace, without being measured against a "norm."

I was a teacher before becoming a mom. I loved it as much as I was overwhelmed by it. It was the most challenging and exciting job I have ever had, save motherhood. I was also a student (for many, many years) and I loved that, too. I am a card-holding nerd. I love books, notebooks, pens, dry-erase boards, and, most of all, ideas. The only job besides being a SAHM that I can imagine doing is teaching.

But -- those are only my theoretical reasons for homeschooling. The practical implications of it might be much less fun. So, this summer John and I have decided to refrain from signing the kids up for any summer camps (gulp), have them stay home all summer, and "do homeschool." It will be a three month tester for us. We will see how things might actually works when everyone is together 24/7, when I am not only keeping up with household chores and my own personal life (i.e friends, doctor's appointments, working out etc.) but also with lesson planning, teaching, and supervision of the children all day long. This is where the rubber will meet the road.

We are also curious to see how the kids adjust to it. Will they miss being around their peers for the summer? Will they be bored when not kept busy 7 hours a day? I mean, we will be doing a lot, but our intention is also to slow down and have a lot of time for play, for thinking, for resting.

This will also be a time to concentrate more on some character traits that need attention, such as self-control and responsibility. I feel as though I do not have time to work on these matters with the kids when we arrive home at 5:30 at night, hungry, tired, and in dire need of a bath. I think one way we will work on this will be through setting up a chore system. Morning and evening chore routines will add some structure to the day.

So...let's see how it goes...I am going to have an open-mind and try to be flexible. I want to be really open to how this will work and have that not be shaded by my own desire for it to be a cure-all for my recent sense of unease.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My First Convention

Yesterday and today I attended my first homeschooling convention. Wow. Once I got over my state of awe at the size and busyness of it, I really began to enjoy myself: it was like a giant playground! Admittedly, a playground for nerds. It is like a Lakeshore Learning Center on steroids. Except more progressive, in some ways, and more conservative, in others.

More progressive in that there are SO many alternatives and aspects of teaching and learning available that my mind was spinning. It was really cool to see that many many others think "outside the box" when it comes to education. In my little part of the world, many cannot fathom education being more than a "good school" (be it public or private) and then getting into a "good college." When I mention homeschooling, I get the funniest looks. Like people don't really know what I mean. Or that they think I'm nuts. I wonder if they are thinking: "how could your kids possibly get a good education away from the professionals?," "how will they have a normal childhood?" or "are you being some kind of martyr, giving up my whole life to teach your kids?" These questions pop into my mind because that is how I thought before beginning this journey.

The convention was conservative, also, in that it caters to a very conservative Christian audience. In my area, this part of the population is either ignored, ridiculed, or condescended to. And while I do not consider myself conservative, I have learned in the last few months of reading and reading that the Christian Right has a lot of good things to say about raising children, family life, and, yes, education. Just because I do not agree with their stance on, say, gay rights or feminism does not mean I have to ignore, ridicule, or condescend to them. It was actually neat to be in a totally different culture, so to speak. It was like traveling, something that I have found increasingly difficult as we have more and more kids. Who is to say that Conservative Christian culture is less interesting than Avant-garde Parisian culture? Believe me, each is as foreign to me as the other.

I sat in on 4 different workshops. I chose mostly what some would deem 'fluff' courses about one's feelings surrounding homeschooling (one was overcoming the Supermom motif and one was about homeschooling despite your past - i.e. not being homeschooled yourself, etc.) There were many more hard-core workshops on how to teach a child with autism or how to decide which math curriculum works best for your child. One "how to" workshop I did attend was one run by Jim Weiss, a wonderful storyteller, who has sold many books on cd for kids. He taught us how to read aloud to children and about the basics of any story. It was so wonderful to see and hear this man speak after listening to so many of his cd's with Olivia

I totally bought too many books. It was just so exciting! Since I am starting out, I spent an extra-long time in the used curriculum section -- buying $1 used math books and such so I can check them out and see what style I like, and what style might work for each individual kid. And, I'll admit, I bought quite a few new books about homeschooling in general (can't seem to get enough of those) and quite a large number of Jim Weiss cd's. Some are for gifts, I swear!

I am not overstating it when I say that this weekend was life-changing for me. It was solidifying to finally see in action all of the ideas I have been reading about for so long. And, after a great first week of homeschool-summer camp, I am just on fire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's that time of year again

Well, it is that time of year again: contracts have been sent out by the kids' schools and we need to decide about school for next year. Back to the same old question: to homeschool or not to homeschool?

Last year, I was so excited about the prospect of homeschooling. I had read the books, researched curricula, even attended a homeschool convention. But, long before the idea had ever really solidified, we had signed contracts for the kids' private schools. Sure, we could have pulled them out and home schooled anyway, but we would be kissing our hefty tuition goodbye. Did I love the idea of homeschooling? Yes. Was my husband on board? Yes. Did we love it enough to eat the full year's school fees? Not quite.

But, here we are again. I love how life is so circular and God gives us so many chances. Our contracts are due in a few weeks, and I am really considering what to do.

One thing that came out of my summer homeschooling experiment was I was able to experience how overwhelming a change homeschooling will be for our family. It is not only about the actual education of our kids (although that is a significant part). But also the daily management of our home, the management of differing personalities and conflict. Managing my own side-tracked self. Finding ways for me to unwind - exercise, quiet time, prayer, reading. It is a lot to tackle all at once. At time, it made me want to give up.

So, I am thinking: why not break off a little piece at a time. Why don't I homeschool one child first? Then, I am eliminating the sibling rivalry quotient. I would then only need to concentrate on one curriculum and one set of academic needs. I will be able to slowly get used to this aspect of homeschooling, while also trying to figure out how it works for me as a whole person.

My dream is that it will be so wonderful that all of the kids would homeschool the following year. But, as I have come to learn, my plans are not always the best. And that is okay. If it is only one year, or only one kid, then so be it. At least I will have tried. At least I will have listened to this relentless voice that won't let me drop this crazy idea despite all of the nay-sayers and really very good arguments against it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Break Musings

I've been thinking a lot about this concept of simplicity in family life lately. Specifically, how can I make this ideal work in a way that makes sense and feels authentic to us. Why is it important anyway? The kids are on Spring Break this week (and last) and it has actually given me time to stop and think about what it is I want from my family life; and what it is that is missing.

Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote this wonderful book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, that was life-altering when I first read it (I have read it and reread it multiple times now). Being mindful as parents, in other words being aware and present, is so much harder than it sounds. Life moves so fast, and you are so so tired! It can be repetitive and trying. It is so easy to escape into a TV show or my iPhone instead of listening to a 2-year-old's seventeenth question about garbage trucks. It is so much more entertaining to talk to another adult for a few minutes -- which turns into an hour -- than to engage in a moment of rivalry between siblings. It is easier to drive from activity to activity than to play yet another game of Candy Land, with no one playing by the rules. But the Kabat-Zinn's remind us that "mindful parenting involves keeping in mind what is truly important as we go about the activities of daily living with out children." In those moments when I am actually listening to the garbage truck questions or squabbles, or playing that 24th game of Candy Land, I enter into that moment. I find that elusive joy that comes from the overused phrase, "being present." And I feel connected to my kids.

That is what is missing: the connections. After rushing the kids into the minivan by 7:15 in the morning (lots of admonitions and stress involved), then going to the gym or cleaning the house or going grocery shopping or occasionally seeing friends, then getting the little ones down for naps, then picking up the kids, rushing to after school activities, coming home and making dinner, getting the kids into the bath (lots of admonitions and stress involved), then getting them to sleep...I feel like I have barely acknowledged my kids, let alone heard their thoughts or feelings. And my poor husband has barely been kissed on the cheek before I pass out cold. The weekends are a little better, but sometimes they are just as full.

Something is not right here. At least for me. This is not what I yearned for during the years of losing my pregnancies and dreaming of a family. I have still yet to figure out how to remedy the situation, but something is a-brewing. I can feel it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


A friend of mine who has an adopted daughter related a story to me recently. She was on vacation at a beach, and her daughter , Lizzie, who is from China, was playing with another little girl. They were making sand castles together when the little girl asked Lizzie where her family was. When she pointed out her family, her new friend asked why Lizzie doesn't look like them. Lizzie said proudly, "because I was born in China and my parents were born in America." The little girl responded, with complete innocence and sincerity, "then that means that you are an orphan?" Lizzie, who had never really heard that word before, was momentarily silent. Her mom overheard her say "do you mean was I born from another woman's tummy? I was.." And the conversation drifted, as 6-year old conversations tend to, towards other more pressing topics such as sand-castle assembly.

When my friend told me this story, I wondered to myself about the word "orphan." Why had Lizzie never heard it? Why had I, now that I thought about it, never used that word with my children, 2 of whom are adopted from China. They both were technically "orphans." Meaning, according to Websters, "a child without parents" or "one deprived of advantage or protection." But the word orphan seems to have negative connotations which are unspoken but very real: I think of the musical of my childhood, "Little Orphan Annie" -- a dirty, neglected child living in deplorable conditions (who, however, rises above it all due to her tenacity and optimism). It conjures up images of poverty, victimhood, neglect, abuse, perhaps undesirability. A more recent movie entitled "Orphan" even brings up some uglier cultural ideas about the word: parentless children who are somehow unlovable, depraved, even demonic and set to destroy 'natural' or biological families (its a horror flick, so I am not quite sure how seriously I take the message nor how closely I align myself with the views of many in the adoption community who called for a boycott of this film.) Some from this community also complained to an online thesaurus to remove the synonyms given to the word orphan, such as "waif" and "vagabond."

I think, for me at least, it is sometimes just too painful to think of my children as orphans. To think that they were 'abandoned' or, to use more p.c. terminology, that an "adoption plan" was made for them. To think about what is the very real truth: there was a time they lived in orphan care. That they had no parents. That their birth parents had to make the very painful decision (painful for both them and for my children) to let them go. That there was a time their needs -- emotionally, developmentally, and sometimes physically -- were not met. To remember that there was a time that they weren't sheltered by my love and care.

But they were orphans. And now -- praise God! - they are not. I have said before that adoption, even more poignantly that the arrivals of my birth-children, made me believe in God. I felt something much greater than me, much greater than my agency or China's CC@@, drawing us together. It was a "come to Jesus" moment. And perhaps, they were "saved" from a life of devoid of family care, but I was also equally "saved" -- their little souls brought me a peace I never knew existed. Oh how sentimental I am being, but really: my kids saved me. They gave me faith. They gave me God.

In some ways, I was the orphan. I was lost and now I am found.

I was deprived of advantage and protection. No longer.

And, at many times, I felt unlovable, unwanted, alone. Now I see how untrue that is.

Thanks, guys.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27 NIV

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coming Out

What I am going to say causes people's eyes to bug out of their heads. It is something I never considered -- I didn't even know what it was -- until perhaps 2 years ago. It is something that equally thrills me and scares me; something that might actually turn our lives towards simplicity...or maybe it will just cause me to lose my mind. But I am coming clean today: I am a wanna-be-homeschooler.

I think my husband thinks I have watched one too many episodes of 19 kids and Counting. But, really, that is not it. The idea started mostly because I am very very interested in teaching my kids. I was a teacher, and I miss it. I love seeing that little lightbulb go on in kids' minds. I love seeing their enthusiasm as they learn new ideas. I love learning and re-learning along with them. I would think that perhaps that I needed to resume my career as a school teacher, but that is not the lifestyle I want. While I admire and sit in awe of working moms, I know it is not the path I choose. I want less rushing around, less time away from my kids and husband, more time to sit and stew in the eucharisto, the gifts and the gratitude of life.

I started reading about homeschooling as I read some adoption blogs. Blogs have really opened up the world for me; I have learned about other types of family life that were really unheard of before to this Jersey Girl. I never heard of people who had adopted many (and I mean many) children. Also, I had never really spent any time with a bona fide Christian family. My only Christian friend was someone I met in college and who, regretfully, I met with a mixture of curiosity and fear. I was raised Catholic, but that is not the type of Christian to which I am referring. I mean the type who use the word "Jesus" in everyday conversation. The type who capitalize the "h" in "him" and who go on mission trips. The types who really and truly try to create a better world, and, for them, it is all due to Jesus Christ. (Note that I am not saying Catholics do not do this -- just not the Catholics I met. They were all sneaking into the girls' room to smoke cigarettes...wait, did I just make that more offensive?)

Anyway, some of these strange families (some of these did not have 11 adopted children, and some were not avid Christians) I met online also homeschooled. I could not read enough about this. It totally fascinated me. Oh, the curriculum! Oh, the notebooks and worksheets! And, by far the biggest source of my excitement: oh, the literature! I wanted to teach my child to read. I wanted to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with them. I wanted to teach them Shakespeare.

And, as it turned out, I also wanted us to be the type of family, although not necessarily Christian or jumbo-sized, that homeschooling might be most apt to support.

to be continued...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I have always wanted a large family. And now that I have one (at least, in this part of the country, 4 kids is considered a lot), I get asked quite a bit about my reasons for wanting this. There are many reasons, but the one that is the most honest, the most central to me, is that I wanted a simple life. "Ha ha," you must be thinking, "You thought having 4 kids would lead to a simple life!" And I suppose I was not thinking of school schedules, afterschool activities, laundry, dinnertime, etc. I was thinking that I wanted family to be central to our life, rather than careers, and social life, school and activities. I grew up as one of 2 kids. And I had a wonderful childhood. But, I felt like, in many ways, we were 4 people who lived together but who had separate lives. We met once or twice a day for meals, but other than that we were chasing our dreams in different directions. As I grew to think about how I wanted to piece together my own family life, I imagined that having more children would force us to slow down, to plan less and to be home more. To prioritize home life. To be present to the daily beauty.

I am finding out that this ideal takes more than just adding more kids to your household.

I am starting this blog in the hope of recording my search for a simpler, yet more abundant life. I am looking for ways to spend more time at home, and less time in my minivan. I am looking for more family time, and less activity. I am hoping for rich and loving relationships within our family, rather than the quarreling and tension that comes from hurrying and stress. I am looking for God. I am hoping to make a U-turn back to my authentic self, away from striving and attempts at achievement. I am trusting in this wonderful process of Life to take me there. Giddyup.