Sunday, November 2, 2014

Crash and Burn

So...about those 31 days...yeah, I didn't keep up.  It is ironic, isn't it?  A series about being consistent  - and I was inconsistent.  I kind of predicted it, didn't I?

I have been thinking a lot lately about why I am inconsistent.  Not beating myself up about it, just trying to really look at the why's.  This is what I came up with:

Number one: I have a lot on my plate.  And so do a lot of other people I know who also tell me they are inconsistent about exercise, meal planning, getting up early, or the likes.

Number two:  I set goals that are too lofty.  At least they are too lofty for this time in my life.  Blogging once or twice a week probably would have worked.  But, every day?  It is just unrealistic now.  Possibly, yes.  But not probably.

Number three: I put off what I can't do perfectly.  I have been kind of avoiding this blog because I want it to be better.  I don't like the way it reads as "look at this wonderful life, praise Jesus!"  I want to write about the more complicated, nuanced, realness of this life, but I just don't have the time or energy or the quiet to write about anything that takes deep thought.  So I revert to a pretty shallow style. The perfectionist in me hates this.  Hates putting anything out there that I am not 100% proud of.

But, I am trying to fight against this instinct, and remind myself why I am writing.  Not to impress anyone.  Not to win awards.  But simply so my family will have a written account of our life together and my thoughts, however basic, about it.  Also, I hope that perhaps I might connect with other people out there through this blog.

So, I will continue to post here -- imperfectly and inconsistently.  With the hope that doing something is better than planning to do something perfectly and never doing it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Day 25: Handsome

I might be biased, but doesn't Elijah look so handsome with his new haircut?!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 23: Open House

Last night I took Olivia to an Open House at a private school in our area.  She will be starting middle school next year, and I thought it might be a good idea to check out some schools to see if she might like to go to a regular brick-and-mortar school for a change.  She didn't really want to go but she humored me.

Growing up I had always thought of private schools as something obviously superior but not attainable (for financial reasons, mostly). And even though we sent our kids to private schools before beginning homeschooling, that preconceived notion followed me into this information session last night.  I was ready to be wowed and to feel anxious about how on earth I could get my kids into this fantastic school.

But I wasn't.  I was completely 'eh' about the whole thing.

And, the thing is, it is a really good school.  I know that intellectually.  But what we got going on over at our house is even better.  Not because I am a great teacher.  Not because I am really energetic and organized.  But because the stuff that this prestigious school was trying to achieve in its students are the very things that homeschool does without even trying.

  • they focus on student-directed interaction rather than the old top-down teacher-imparting-sacred-knowledge-model.  What this looks like is all the students sitting around a round table with the teacher and all discussing a topic, instead of the teacher standing at a chalkboard in front of rows of desks.  The phrase "there is no front row" was repeated often.  

  • they get to know their students very well.  They develop relationships with these students and, in some subjects, they follow them for two years.
This was the gist of the presentation, and I kept waiting for them to really get to the clincher.  But, this was it:  sit in a circle and get to know the kids.

I know, I know that I am oversimplifying things, and that this school can offer so many things that homeschool can't:  like sports clubs and dynamic teachers who aren't our kids' very own parents (there is nothing better than a really cool, inspiring teacher...and I know it will be virtually impossible to be cool and inspiring to one's kids when they are teenagers) and friends they might not meet otherwise and on and on.

We realize that we are giving up some things when we decide to homeschool.  And that's okay because, as I have said before, we gain a whole host of other things that school can never offer.

But - wow, this never hit me quite like it did last night -- we sit in a circle and debate issues and learn things together ALL DAY LONG and no one knows our kids as well as we do.  So, really, the heart of what this fancy shmancy school was trying to sell?  Well, we can do it better.  

And for a fraction of the price, I might add.

I don't write this to try to convince everyone to homeschool. I really think homeschool is just one very good option, out of many.  And I don't write this to toot my own horn.  I am really writing it for ME because the last few months of homeschooling have been really really hard.

I have wanted to quit really badly.

I want some alone time.  I want some quiet.  I want to get a break from the 24/7 parenting.
I want to have a house that stays clean for just a few hours.  I want to have one meal that I am not preparing for 6 people. Whine whine whine.

And then there is the worrying that perhaps, just perhaps, I am screwing my kids up for life.  Public schools are screwing up kids left and right but, at least then, you can blame someone else.  

So, I went into last night ready to be swept away by this school  and have to make a big decision about whether or not to ditch homeschooling.  I was surprised to come away actually feeling better about good ol' Tiger Academy.  If I feel like maybe, possibly, hopefully I am doing something right in terms of my kids' education then I am less likely to feel bitter about the lack of peace, quiet, and order that I have been craving.

Not saying Olivia will definitely not apply, or that she or the other kids will not go back to school at some point.  But, for now, I feel better.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Day 20: The Family Portrait

Our wonderful friend and photographer Lisa Shifflett took our family pictures again this year. 
 I really think professional photos are an important investment.  
They are some of my favorite possessions.

It is so fun to see how the kids change, and how the family changes.

And, the photos have an even more poignant meaning this year.  
It is proof of a miracle.  
My Elijah is really, honestly, truly smack dab in the middle of our family portrait.  
How crazy is that?!

Elijah was also excited to finally be in the family picture.  
I think it represents to him that he is part of our crazy clan.  
Once we get the final shots, I am going to get a printed copy and blow it up poster-size.  
Maybe with a quote about miracles attached to it.  

Here's a preview...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 19: Consistent Trust

Two things happened last year that made me believe that God hears our prayers. The first one was Christopher and the second one was Elijah.

I have talked in length here about how God heard my years of prayer about Elijah.  And the answer to that prayer was -- thank God! - a yes.  But Christopher is the result of a "no."  Or at least a "not now."
And the result is just as beautiful.

We didn't plan to adopt Christopher.  In fact, I had told myself I would never adopt from the "Shared List."  The Shared List is a list of children available for adoption from China who are not represented by a specific adoption agency.

Some orphanages have partnerships with agencies and they give the files of some of their children to them.

Or, China's central adoption government office assigns some children to agencies in the US (or other countries that participate).

But some kids, for a myriad of reasons, do not get assigned to agencies and are placed on the Shared List.  

I didn't want to adopt from this list because (1) our agency would know little to nothing about our potential child and the care he had been getting (2) you have only 72 hours to decide yes or no to a child's file before it is "released" back to the Shared list.  That's a lot of pressure.

We had a dossier ready for Elijah's adoption when we were told he would not become available, so we were given the choice to adopt another child or just leave scrap our file.

We decided to adopt another boy.  Our agency took a look on the Shared List and they "locked" (held for 72 hours) 2 files of baby boys for us.  One of them was Christopher.  His picture was just captivating.

We were still so sad about the fact that Elijah was not going to be ours.  We really wondered if we should adopt another child when our heart was in another place.

And we wondered how the other kids would react to another brother, one who was not the much-talked-about Elijah.

When I met Christopher, it truly was love at first sight.  It sounds so cliche, and I will tell you that it does NOT always work like that in every adoption.  As in many types of relationships, sometimes love just has to grow.

But this was the stuff of adoption fairy tales.  He was timid and shy, but we connected quickly.

As he did with all of the other family members when he came home.

Everyone just loves Chrissy.  And, as I've mentioned before, not all of my kids get along all the time. But everyone loves Chrissy.  He is super spoiled.

He just has a great personality.  He is happy and has an awesome belly laugh.  He already has a good sense of humor.  He points at any man over 65 and says "Papou!"(my father-in-law) and then shakes his head and says "No..."  After that joke got a bit old, he started pointing at older women and saying the same thing.  Then, dogs.  
Each time with a belly laugh.

He is sweet but no pushover.  He yells and stomps his feet and gets his point across despite his speech delay.  But, for some reason, it is just cute when he does this.  
I might not be saying this when he is 10.

He is affectionate and cuddly.

Something about him makes everyone want to help him 
(here, Nicholas is helping him feel comfortable for his well check-up by taking off his own shirt, too.)

He loves doing everything: homeschool experiments,

music class

swimming at the pool


(Maybe every 2 year old likes these things, I guess).

Christopher has become the family glue.  He is our equalizing force; the one thing we can all agree on on any given day.

I suppose a lot of this goes along with being the baby of the family, but, no, there is something especially lovable about Christopher.

His warmth, his playfulness, his willingness to try anything with a smile on his face.

But what also makes him special, I think, is the fact that he was so unplanned.  Such a surprise gift.

He is my reminder that God's plans are bigger and better than mine.

And that I can trust in the unknown (something very hard for me).

If everything had gone my way, my kids would have been deprived of one of their best friends.

And I would have been without one of my sweetest treasures.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 18: Consistent Work, Consistent Offering

I love this quote from Elisabeth Elliot.  I use the mantra "this job, not some other" when I am tired and disgruntled.  This is where I am meant to be, nowhere else.  This is the toilet I am meant to be scrubbing, not some other (I jest).

The work may seem endless, but it is ultimately for an endless, infinite God.  That perspective helps me when I am helping ungrateful children and when I feel ungrateful myself.

I love my life.  I begged God for this life.  I truly believe that God used all of my pregnancy losses and delayed adoptions to make my desire for children grow.  Perhaps I would have stopped after two children if they had come easily to me;  if I had not had a chance to see how precious a gift motherhood is and how desperately I wanted it.

When I feel overwhelmed and tired and sorry for myself, I try to remember how much my heart ached when I saw mothers with children.  When I had no children of my own, I knew something central was missing from my life.

And that was a gift.  Because I can never wonder if there is a better life out there for me.  I had it and I hated it.  I cried out for the kids and the chaos and all the work that comes with it.  

Be careful what you wish for.
(I jest again)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 14: Consistent Feedback

Homeschooling has been hard lately.  Not the academic part (that is really only a small part of it) but the living-together-24-7-part.  There has been a lot of quarreling between the kids, and that leads to quarreling with me as I intercede.  It hasn't been pretty.

I have 6 kids with 6 big personalities.  There are always a lot of differences of opinions and it gets heated.  I don't like heated.  I like calm and peaceful.  And unicorns and rainbows.

I tend to tense up when the kids fight.  And then I react out of this nervous, negative energy. 

"Stop it!" and  "You need to be NICE to each other!!!"  
That type of thing.
And - surprise, surprise - it doesn't work.  All it does is raise my blood pressure.

From everything I have read, and from every seminar I have taken (and I have read and attended A LOT), I need to be the regulating force in the family (as does John when he is here in the evenings and on weekends).  I need to be the calm with which the kids calibrate themselves.

This is so hard for me.  

How does one stay cool and calm when people around are screaming and crying?
I just don't know.

But, I have figured out that what I am doing is not working, so I have got to give calm a shot.  

Because when I get upset I am giving the kids very negative feedback.  I am focusing on what is going wrong and on what they are doing wrong.  And some (all?) of my kids are very sensitive to negative feedback.  And it exacerbates the situation.  

I am trying to give much more positive feedback, both in the midst of trouble and otherwise.  I am trying to be encouraging rather than just disciplinary.  

And I am trying to see every fight between the kids as not quite a "crisis" but as an opportunity for my own growth, as well as that of the kids'.  

Getting along is part of our curriculum, 
perhaps the most challenging and the most important. 

Day 17: Not So Consistent

So, I kind of fell of the wagon.  Some days, like most people I know, I run from morning to night without much time to do much else than, well, run.  I don't like it this way, and I want to have more margin in my life.  But, I'm not quite sure how to do that.  The kids really do not do too many activities, and I am not involved in a million committees and clubs.  I guess it is just really time-consuming to homeschool and parent 6 kids.  Maybe I just have to accept that fact.

I did make time to do a couple of things I have been wanting to do.  I did work out twice (hoping for one more time tomorrow).  So, I am staying consistent with three times per week.  And, I went to see an elderly woman who used to live down the street from us, who now lives in a nursing home.  I have been meaning to see her for so long, but because the home is 30 minutes from us, I have put it off.  I am so glad I went to go see her, though.  She seemed to be happy to have someone to talk to.  I want to remember that my call, the one that speaks most loudly to me when I pray, is to take care of not only the orphan but the widow (James 1:27).  My life has to be centered around this if I want to take part in the greater meaning of my life.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Day 13: Consistent Friends

Well, today is Columbus Day, so of course we had to celebrate with Panini's.  (They're Italian, right?)

We had a really fun day with our good friends, Kim and Chris and their girls.  Kim and Chris are friends with whom we punctuate the year.  It wouldn't be The Fourth of July without them.  Or Thanksgiving (we celebrate a "first Thanksgiving" sometime in November with them before getting together with our families).  And we have spent many a New Years Eve, vacation, and birthday party with them.  Consistent friends.

Our kids love each other.  In fact, we have arranged a marriage between two of them, but I'm not naming names. 

Our times together seem to always involve food and silliness.  Above that, anything goes.

(Here, Chris attacks Elijah with Christopher's baby doll.  I think he's having fun.  Just a little.)

And here Kim dresses Olivia in paper packaging from a delivery we received earlier this week.  

I don't think we ever decided what she was.  A paper princess?  A monster?

Whatever.  She was happy.

Chrissy is Little Brown Riding Hood.

And his baby has a blanket.

What would we do without such good friends in our life?  Friends who are, in so many ways, more like family. 

Feeling very blessed this weekend.