The 10 Stages of a Family Road Trip

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Each summer our family completes a pilgrimage to our homeland. Like our great forefathers Mary and Joseph, we cast away the comforts of home and journey forth to the place of our birth. It’s a daring adventure that covers thousands of miles and that brings us closer together as a family (Literally. We’re stuck in a car within poking distance of each other for days on end. We’re very, very CLOSE.)

Seeing as we are currently smack dab in the middle of The Great Homeland Pilgrimage of 2016, I have noticed a pattern of stages that occur during the course of a family road trip. It goes a bit like this:

Stage 1: Anticipation
Hooray! We get to go on a road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!

Stage 2: Preparation
You neatly pack and organize all of the essential items. You package your childrens’ color-coordinated outfits into Ziploc baggies for ease-of-dressing on the go. You pack a NoseFrida and baby Tylenol (and a little Melatonin), just in case.

You hone your “I Spy” skills and research the latest fads in travel games. You create customized road trip bingo boards with interesting sites and trivia for the places you’ll be driving through (you laminate them for good measure, because they’re going to get SO MUCH USE!!!).

You stock up on healthy snacks and go to the dollar store so you can buy little trinkets to surprise the children with while you’re on the road.

You map out the stops along the way that include really cool parks and indoor play places for “wiggle breaks” while you’re on the road. You book a hotel with a pool and research family-friendly restaurants.

You make sure there is a fresh oil change and full tank of gas in your car.

You are totally, absolutely 100% road trip ready.

Stage 3: Departure
You load up the car the night before so you can make sure that Tetris puzzle of luggage and toys and dog crates will fit snugly and safely in your vehicle. You put the kids to bed early the night before so you can rouse them at daybreak and get out of town before the other drivers crowd the roads. Everyone is slightly groggy from the early start, but they are still totally, absolutely 100% PUMPED for the adventure that is about to ensue.

Let’s hit the road, Jack!

Stage 4: Road Trip Bliss
You sing songs as you pull out of the driveway and laugh with excitement as you discuss the interesting places you’ll be driving through today. The kids play happily with the dollar store trinkets you surprsied them with this morning and your oldest child reads a book to the younger children. The dog curls up peacefully at the childrens’ feet and drifts off to dreamland. You sip your coffee contentedly. It’s almost like Heaven, but in a minivan.

(This stage lasts for approximately the first 5 minutes, or 2 miles, whichever comes first)

Stage 5: Road Trip Hell
You notice that the car is making a strange sound and shaking every time you press the brakes. Whisper a silent prayer that you don’t have to use the “runaway truck ramps” when you drive down the mountain passes.

The kids are super tired and they’re already bored with the toys and games you have prepared for them. They are now using your beautifully laminated Bingo boards to play Sword Ninjas.

You hear a scream from the backseat, quickly followed by the second-most-awful phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“HE STARTED IT!”). You look back to see your 4-year old clutching his bloody nose…but it’s not that big of a deal because the dog is already licking his face clean.

You decide to pull over for lunch so you can handle The Situation and mend your childrens’ tears with chicken nuggets and milkshakes. Thankfully there’s a Burger King with an indoor playplace at this exit (*Gold Star* for researching this stop during Stage 2!).

You walk in the door to Burger King and your kids are PUMPED to play on the playground and eat the chicken nuggets and milkshakes that you promised them in the parking lot. When you walk in the door, however, you get a strange feeling. The lobby is full of very disgruntled looking customers who are holding receipts and staring daggers at the pre-pubescent fast food employees who are supposed to be microwaving their lunch. A lady sitting at a table leans over as you walk in the door and hisses, “I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. For a cheeseburger. This might not be for you.”

You’re right, disgruntled Burger King customer, this is NOT for us.

So you leave the “restaurant” and walk across the parking lot to the only other eating establishment: Taco Bell. Only, your kids are not at peace with this decision to leave chicken nugget-milkshake-playground-happy-place, and they are becoming quite vocal and violent in their protestations. When you suggest that they eat a cheese quesadilla they fall to the ground like a heap of writhing, screaming fish out of water.

You order them the cheese quesadilla anyway and  kindly escort them back to the minivan where they can fully express their disapproval in a constructive and productive manner.

By the time your husband brings out the cheese quesadillas, you have put on a movie, re-buckled the children and nursed the baby. All is quiet and right with the world. You calmly pass the now-comatose children their cheese quesadillas and hope they won’t notice what they’re eating since Chase from Paw Patrol has lured them in with his hypnotic acts of heroism.

You start the car right as child 1 takes his first bite of the quesadilla, only to hear a violent wretching sound and shrieks of “IT’S SPICY! IT’S SPICY! BLEHAHEHALJALTKHAADHGKLJADSHFPOIUE;LKFASDGKHADG!!!!!!” coming from the backseat.

Fast food restaurants: 2   Family trying to eat a quick meal on the go: 0

You sic the dog on the spat out quesadilla and throw an applesauce squeezie and a bag of Goldfish crackers to your child. You turn the movie back on and pray for the next 13 hours to please go quickly if you love me and these presently-unharmed children, sweet Jesus.

Someone from the back seat utters the first most-awful-phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“Are we there yet?”), but you barely hear them because you’ve already put in your ear plugs.

Stage 6: Arrival
Where’s the bed and the mini bar?!?!

Stage 7: The Destination
You see all the places and visit all the people.  You take the car in to the shop and spend $700 of your vacation fund on new brake pads and rotors (at least you didn’t have to use the runaway truck ramps on the mountain passes). Your children act like lunatics escaped from an asylum because they’re off of their well-honed routine. Nobody sleeps because the baby is teething and your children aren’t in their own beds (They’re not in their away-from-home beds, either. They’re in your away-from-home bed, and at least 30% of the time one of them pees in that bed. Good thing you pre-packaged clean clothes into Ziploc baggies, because now you need to use the baggies to stuff pee clothes into until you can find a suitable place to wash them).

This, my friends, is what memories are made of.

Stage 8: Returning
After tearful goodbyes and a careful re-working of luggage Tetris, you load up the car and begin the journey back home. Everyone basically skips straight to Stage 5 and you just pedal-to-the-metal into the sunset.

Stage 9: Home
YOUR BED!!!!!
(and unpacking)
(and laundry)
(and grocery shopping)
(and locating that funky smell coming from somewhere downstairs)

Stage 10: Reminiscing 
You look back at your Instagram photos and Facebook posts from that trip and you remember the road trip glory days. You remember that quirky roadside attraction and that glorious  view along the Sierras. You think back on the lazy days you spent with your family and long-lost friends, and you yearn to be back.

Hooray! Let’s go on another road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!IMG_4911 3

 

The No-Spending Project

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she and her family recently completed a month-long no spending challenge. For 30 days they spent money only on necessities (rent, utilities, simple meals, gas), and they found creative ways to make up the difference. I was inspired by what I consider their act of bravery. I wondered: Could I do it? Could I go without all of the little extras–the Amazon purchases, the random stops for lunch when we’re out, the kid events, the little trinkets, the gifts, the coffee–even for a little while?

I decided to find out.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on a whole month, but I knew I could handle a shorter time…say, 10 days. Just to see what it was like. Just to test the waters. Just to become more aware of my spending and, hopefully, save a little money in the process.

Before I began my 10-day challenge, I laid out a few ground rules for myself. First, there was to be no frivolous spending (obviously)–my credit card became totally off-limits. In addition, I could only spend money on necessities that couldn’t wait until after the challenge (bills that became due, doctor co-pays, etc.)–the groceries already in my house and the gas already in my car would have to suffice. I should also note that Hubby was traveling for work during most of this time, so that made it really easy for me to control what was being spent or, in this case, NOT being spent!

Here’s a rundown of how my no-spending project played out:

Day 1:
We spent most of the day at home doing school and catching up on chores. I saved money on housecleaners by teaching the boys how to put away their own clean laundry and handle a broom and a dustpan #forthewin. Since I kind of decided to do this whole no-spending challenge on a whim, I hadn’t filled up my car with gas and was already hovering below half a tank. In the afternoon I decided to take the boys for a walk in our neighborhood instead of driving to the park so we could save some of that precious fuel for another day when I really needed to get out of the house.

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Day 2:

We spent the morning at Playhouse (an indoor preschool play time at our church) where I happened to win a Starbucks gift card in a raffle (coffee would still be had this week–Thank you, Jesus!). After Playhouse we brought a picnic lunch to the park down the road where we met up with some friends. We spent most of the afternoon playing in the park and exploring the creek. I even had some leftover carousel tickets from when we’d had David’s birthday party in the same park that we were able to use for a special ride.

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Day 3:
We went to the library and checked out about 400 books and movies to get us through the week. We ate leftovers for every meal. I also drank some wine that my friend had given me as a party favor at her daughter’s 4th birthday party the weekend before. Have I ever mentioned how much I like my friends?

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Day 4:
We had planned on going to a park day with our homeschool group but at the last minute we got rained out. Not one to cancel fun, I looked into some indoor options for us. A few weeks ago I’d purchased a Groupon for Pump It Up (just picture a giant warehouse full of inflatables and sweaty children bouncing off the walls), so we decided to switch gears and head over there.

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The boys spent 2 hours jumping/climbing/sliding/hurtling their bodies through space. Then we went home for lunch and a nap (and by nap, I mean I took a nap with the baby while they watched PJ Masks in the living room) .

Day 5:
We spent the morning at a lovely race–even the boys got to run and win their own medals!

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It had already been a long week and I needed to feed my feelings, but since the grocery store was off limits I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen. We baked chocolate chip cookies and scones, then had a proper tea party to nosh on our bounty.

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Day 6:
Mother’s Day! Since Jon was out of town and my children are too young to have the decency to sleep past 5 AM, I decided it was time to cash in that Starbucks gift card I’d won earlier in the week.

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The rest of the morning was spent at church, and then we went home to pick up some beach gear. We ate a picnic lunch in the car while we were driving (because having children strapped into a carseat is just about the only sane way to get them to eat, anyway). We managed to find one of the last free street parking spots at the beach and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and surf.

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Day 7:
More school, more chores, more leftovers. In the afternoon we went to the boys’ gymnastics class and while they were in class I snuck out for a quick walk on the nearby trail (45 minutes alone…well, mostly alone except for the baby…was starting to feel like a mini-vacation!). After gymnastics we picked up a dinner order before heading home (I ordered the dinner using a meal-delivery gift card that we’d been given as a gift when Hannah was born…only they don’t deliver to our house, so I had to pick it up from my friend’s house. And they were late with the delivery. And I had 3 screaming, tired kids waiting in the car. But it wasn’t leftovers and I didn’t have to cook it, so it was still worth it.).

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Day 8:
After a full week of very full time parenting I just needed some time to myself so I decided to find some creative ways to carve out some no-cost me-time. First on the agenda was reading a book. I’d been trying to read this book all week, but by the time I got all 3 kids in bed at night (and staying in bed) I was usually so exhausted that I fell asleep on the couch by the end of the first page. Instead, I decided to distract the kids at the park so I could sneak off to a bench by myself and read mid-day. This tactic worked wonderfully. I sat there incognito for nearly an hour before the wild banshees realized I was missing.

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The boys had swimming lessons at the YMCA in the afternoon. After swimming lessons I took advantage of the free childcare and got a quick run in on the dreadmill before mommy guilt took over and I ran breathlessly back to check on my fragile infant and crazy boys who were surely wreaking havoc on the poor underpaid childcare staff.

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Day 9:
Daddy came home! Praise the Lord, Daddy came HOME. There was no need to spend any money today because all I wanted to do was throw the children at him and hide in a dark closet by myself.

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Day 10:
We had a very full schedule of gymnastics class for the boys (their last one…thank goodness because I am SO not the mom who can shuttle children to activities every day of the week), a veterinarian appointment, and another swimming lesson. It all seemed totally manageable, though, because I had HELP! Jon’s mom (better known as Grammy around these parts) had arrived for her quarterly baby oggling…er…family visit. And when Grammy is in town, we all get spoiled. She came bearing treats and promises of delivering Childrens’ Heaven on Earth (a trip to McDonald’s for Happy Meals). With free help and free treats, it was an easy end to my 10 day no-spending challenge.

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At the end of my 10 days, I’m happy to report that YES, I CAN go without spending. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed the challenge! It was a good exercise for me to recognize where I spend unnecessarily and to find creative ways to use what we already have access to. As a side note, we also received our tax refund in the mail during my no-spending challenge. Coincidence? I think not.

Although the official challenge is officially over, I’m going to keep at it. I do need to go to the grocery store and fill up my car with gas (our pantry and gas tank are both empty), but I’m going to continue my no-excess spending challenge for the rest of the month.

Now, how about you: How long could YOU go without spending?

 

My Favorite Family Christmas Traditions

Christmas is finally upon us, and it truly is the most wonderful time of the year! During this magical season I love making special memories with my kids. Part of that memory-making involves creating new traditions–or reviving favorites from the past–with your own family. Our family has several Christmas traditions that we begin each December. If you’re looking for some new ideas to add to your own family’s repertoire, here are a few of my favorites!

Wrapped Christmas BooksIMG_8383Every day in December the boys take turns unwrapping a special book for us to read together (after all, tearing off wrapping paper is one of the most exciting parts of Christmas!). The first book is a new book–an actual gift–and the rest are favorite books that we already own. Over the years I’ve collected enough Christmas and winter books to last us through the month, but any books would work just as well (or, if you’re looking to add to your collection, just check out your local used book or thrift stores).

Advent Chain

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Kids love counting down to Christmas–and parents love having a tangible way to show them how much longer they have to wait for their most anticipated day of the year! I’ve tried several countdowns, but my favorite is a simple advent chain. This year we are using a Jesus Storybook Bible countdown chain that uses stories and scripture references from the Jesus Storybook Bible (our favorite kids’ Bible) each day to tell the story of Jesus’ coming.

My Secret Angel And Me
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This is a Christian alternative to the ever-popular Elf on a Shelf. The Secret Angel kit comes with a book about the true meaning of Christmas and a plush angel that “flies” to a new spot in your house each night. The kids have fun looking for their angel each morning, and I like that the focus with this kit is still on Jesus.

DecemBear Activity
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When Jon was growing up his mom made this charming activity board for him and his sister. Every day of December you move the little bear to a new designated spot on the activity board so he can look for Christmas (our version is made of fabric and the bear attaches with Velcro). In all of her resourcefulness, my mother-in-law created extra sets of the DecemBear activity so she could pass them on to her children when they were grown and had families of their own. While you can buy your own DecemBear fabric on Etsy for a small fortune, your wallet might be better off making your own countdown with clipart and a printer.

Felt Christmas Tree
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Jon’s sister Stefanie made this for the boys a couple of years ago and they LOVE playing with it! The tree and ornaments are all made from felt, and the ornaments attach to the tree with Velcro. We have several personalized ornaments with the boys’ names and favorite characters. Find DIY instructions here.

Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set
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I bought this set a few years ago when David was a toddler, but he (and little brother Jacob) still enjoys playing with it. The pieces are all made of durable plastic so it’s perfect for keeping within reach of curious hands. All of the pieces are movable (you can even make the angel spin across the top of the stable and, if you spin her fast enough, you can even spin her right OFF the top of the stable. HIL-AR-I-OUS). Plus, it can play music (I still haven’t told the boys about his particular feature. Because noise.).

Christmas Dates
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When I was growing up my parents always took each of us kids out for a special one-on-one date during the year: a date with Dad for our birthday and a date with Mom for Christmas. My first mom-and-daughter Christmas date happened when I was about 4 years old, and we haven’t missed an annual date since then! Every year our date is different: going to the Nutcracker ballet, seeing a play or a musical, riding on the Christmas ships, spending time at the spa (guess which one this preggo is doing this year?!). Jon and I are continuing the date tradition with our kids, and I’m looking forward to spending this special time with each of them as they grow.

Santa Photos
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This is another tradition that my parents started with me when I was a baby and that I am carrying on with my kids. It’s amazing to look at our collection of photos each year and see how the kids–and our family–has grown and changed over the years.

Now it’s your turn–what are some of YOUR favorite holiday traditions?

Filling My Love Jar

Last week we returned from our Last Hurrah of Summer, a half-month-long road trip where we reconnected with the people and places we love in Washington State. The very next day we loaded up the first batch of boxes into our not-yet-unpacked car from our not-yet-fully-packed house and started moving into our new house. August has been a whirlwind of activity. Busy, crazy, hectic, stressful, exhausting, magnificent activity. And you know what? Everything is just as it should be.

While we were in Washington, we celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday. She was pretty much the cutest birthday girl ever.

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I wanted to do something meaningful for her on this monumental milestone, something that might make her cry in front of all of her friends. Awhile back I’d seen an idea for a “love jar” (very few of my great ideas are actually my ideas at all), and I decided to give it a whirl. I sent out requests to all of Mom’s family and friends-who-are-like-family for stories and encouragement they would like to share with her. I wrote out each response and rolled it up like a scroll, then I placed them all in a jar. The result was a vessel overflowing with love.

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After this summer I feel like I am the love jar, and I am bursting. Despite the craziness of these last few weeks–perhaps because of the craziness of these last few weeks–my jar is full. Full of joy, full of awe, full of love.

This summer, my jar was filled each time we embarked on a new adventure or saw a loved one who has been separated from us by too much time and distance.

My jar was filled as we spent time with beautiful people in beautiful places.

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My jar was filled as my sons, who had only met my maternal grandmother as tiny infants, spent quality time snuggling and playing with their GG (we’re already planning our trip to Phoenix so we can get a repeat on this one!).IMG_5583 (1)

My jar was filled when the boys visited Jon’s beloved Granny Doreen and her health seemed to improve with each hug and little boy squeal that filled her home and her heart. IMG_5525 (1)

My jar was filled when we stopped by my paternal grandmother’s house on our drive back home and were able to gather four generations of Schroeders from three states into one photo.

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My jar was filled every day that we spent having fun and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.IMG_5617 (1)

My jar was filled when we managed to collect this many tiny children into one house (catching up with their beautiful mommies between moments of intervention was also bliss).IMG_5638 (1)

My jar was filled when my children met my friends’ children and became instant best friends themselves.IMG_5599 (1)

My jar was filled when my boy challenged me and surprised me with his strength and determination.IMG_5750

My jar was filled this week when we moved into this new house that is the answer to our every prayer (with the selfish exceptions of a lack of cell service and acceptable internet speeds).IMG_5878 (1)

My jar is being filled as this new house becomes our home.IMG_5881 (1)

My jar will continue to be filled each time we explore together and continue on this crazy adventure called life. IMG_5916 (1)

And as this summer comes to a close for all of us, that is my wish for you. That your jar will be filled anew each day and in each season where you find yourself. May your love jar be overflowing: today, tomorrow, and always.

XxX

24 Hours of Yes

IMG_4256Sometimes I feel like I’m always telling my kids “No.”

Sure, there are times when No is useful–like when they ask to eat ice cream for dinner or ask if they can draw that really cool picture on their arms…with a Sharpie. Other times No is quite necessary for the health and safety of themselves or those around them–like when they ask if it’s ok to play with Mommy’s (plugged-in) blow dryer in the (full of water) bathtub or if they can “practice flying” off the roof with their friend. Sometimes, though, No is just plain convenient. Like when they ask if they can go for a bike ride but I’m “busy” emptying the dishwasher or when they ask for me to do a puzzle with them but I’m BUSY updating my Facebook status (I may have a friend who does this.).

All of the No’s got me to thinking–what would happen if I just said YES? Like, every single time my kids asked me something, I just said yes. And so, an experiment was born: 24 Hours of Yes. I decided to go one whole day where my answer to every suggestion my children made was “Yes.” Not “Later” or “I’m busy” or “I don’t feel like it”, but “Yes”.

*Note:
I performed this “experiment” on our first official day of summer vacation (which also happened to coincide with the day Daddy left for a big business trip–not something any of us were looking forward to, so I thought the “summer fun day” would help distract them a bit). I chose this day so that I could guise all of my extra Yeses as a special celebration of our newfound summer freedom (that way they wouldn’t be able to hold me accountable to continue performing in such an agreeable manner for all of eternity). 

Although I didn’t tell my test subjects children about the experiment, I did set up a few guidelines for myself. First, no requests could directly interfere with stated family rules or cause harm to themselves/another being/property. Secondly, all of my Yeses for my kids meant some No’s for me: no cell phone (Gah! No Facebook! No emoticon texting! No Candy Crush Saga!) and no impatience–today was going to be about my kids, so I wanted to be present for them and lay aside my own plans for the day.

With no further ado:

24 Hours of Yes

Question: What will happen when I only answer Yes to my children for 24 hours?

Hypothesis: My children will watch way too much TV and eat way too much junk food. I will go bananas from the lack of control.

Experiment Notes:

7:15    Yes to “Can I watch a show on your phone?” when Jacob sees me check the time on my iPhone before rolling out of bed.

7:30    Yes to pancakes for breakfast. (Sugar count:1, because to my children, “pancakes” actually means “lick syrup off the plate”.)

9:00    Yes to watching Daniel Tiger while I clean up from breakfast.

9:25    Yes to spending the day at Happy Hollow (*Happy Hollow is a magical wonderland of childhood fantasy. It’s part kiddie rides, part zoo, part ride on a dragon to Never Land. It’s lovely.)

9:41    Yes to eating gummy bears while I pack a picnic to bring with us to Happy Hollow. (Sugar count: 2)

10:08   Yes to spending 15 extra minutes searching the house for a VERY SPECIFIC TOY–even though we already had the car packed and everyone buckled in their seats.

10:15   Yes to jumping on the bed while Mommy crawls on the floor looking for the VERY SPECIFIC TOY.

10:30   Yes to running laps in the driveway (outside the packed-and-ready-to-leave-our-house car), waving the found VERY SPECIFIC TOY in a victory parade.

11:00   Yes to playing on the metal fire truck outside the Happy Hollow entrance gate, even though we’re already an hour past my planned arrival time.

12:00   Yes to the children deciding which attractions we would visit at Happy Hollow, and in which order  (This had a pleasant side effect of giving me a great workout while criss-crossing the park all day).

12:45   Yes to buying Icees after lunch. (Sugar count: 3)

1:00   Yes to riding the rickety roller coaster SIX TIMES in a row. Without getting off.  Directly after downing giant red Icees.

1:40    Yes to posing inside the over-priced photo booth.

2:40    Yes to “Mama, will you hold me?” while Big Brother plays on the playground.

3:00    Yes to “Mama, hair down.” (*Jacob is obsessed with my hair and he gets depressed if it’s pulled back in my quintessential “messy bun” for too long).

3:30    Yes to looking around the full-of-temptations gift shop.

4:15    Yes to the request to go home and rest (*This resulted in a secondary request to go back to Happy Hollow–which was not granted due to the fact that it would negate my previous Yes–followed shortly by a colossal temper tantrum in the parking lot).

4:45    Yes to watching a movie with Big Brother while Little Brother took his nap.

6:35    Yes to reading a story before cleaning up from dinner, even though there was food on the counter and dirty dishes on the table.

6:45    Yes to taking my hair down. Again.

7:30    Yes to throwing rocks into the bushes in our backyard.

7:45    Yes to eating Pez out of their Elsa and Olaf Pez dispensers while we read our bedtime story. (Sugar count: 4)

8:20    Yes to one more story after everyone was already tucked in and ready for sleep.

8:30    Yes to butterfly kisses before they pass out from a (mostly) perfectly wonderful day of Yes.

Analysis of Results:
There was an excess of TV watching, junk food eating, story reading, and hair letting-down. There was a deficiency in Mother’s typical overly-controlling behavior.

Conclusion:
Yes is a good thing, and I need more of it in my life. There are certain requests that are always worth Yes–requests that increase our quality time together, that help us build memories, that help us strengthen our relationship, that validate my childrens’ role as a decision-contributor (most of the time) in our family. It went against my very nature to say so many Yeses, but I recognize the value of that word and I want to say Yes more often.

While I’m going to hang on to my Not Now’s and my No’s for when I really need them, I’m going to keep those cards in my back pocket. If there’s a way to say Yes–even at the expense of my own personal comfort or enjoyment–I’m going to take it.

Unless, of course, they ask me to ride that dang roller coaster 6 times in a row again.

XxX,
Allison

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We’re Going To Homeschool?!?!

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Seeing as yesterday was David’s last day of preschool, I thought it would be fitting to make our big announcement. After much thought, prayer, and deliberation we have decided to take on a new challenge in the Fall: homeschool. That’s right, folks–HOMESCHOOL.  As in, me having my own little classroom of two darling pupils located halfway between our kitchen and the boys’ bedroom. Every day. All year. By myself.

This is a relatively recent decision for us, and we’re still piecing together what “homeschool” will look like for our family. As I’ve started to share our news with people, however, I  have discovered that our somewhat unconventional decision has the potential to spark a lot of debate/dismay/panic. So, in order to answer some of your burning questions, I thought I’d put together a little Q and A session for us:

Q) Are you crazy?!
A) Yes, but I think we established that fact long before the topic of homeschooling came up.

Q) I could never homeschool my kids. They’d drive me nuts.
A) That’s not really a question but yes you could, and yes they would.

I believe that homeschooling is a calling–it is not something that you simply fall into or decide on a whim. One lesson I have learned (repeatedly) is that God equips the called, not that He calls the equipped. To be quite honest, I don’t have a clue how I’m going to do this. I do know, however, that God has called our family to take this on for this “season”, and I trust that He will lead us every step of the way.

I’m fairly certain my kids will still drive me nuts, though.

Q) Have you always wanted to homeschool?
A) I’m going to answer this one with an emphatic NO. No no no nooooo no. Because I used to be a teacher, a lot of people assume that I’ve always wanted to teach my own children–not the case. Not at all. My response to the “Would you ever homeschool…” question has always been, “Only if it’s the only best choice for my kids.” I know that homeschool is night-and-day-different from traditional school, and I never really thought I was cut out for the job. Plus, I REALLY like my free time (which just so happens to only occur during the hours my children are away at school).

Which leads me to the next question:

Q) Why on earth would you decide to homeschool?
A) The short answer is: because it’s the best choice for our kids and our family right now.

The long answer is…well, longer. I could write a whole post on this one question, but I’ll try to summarize some of our thoughts here. The main factors that went into our decision include: the privilege of building our childrens’ character and teaching from a Biblical worldview; the ability to address the specific learning needs and learning styles of our children (our boys are c-r-a-z-y); flexibility in the daily schedule to allow more “wiggle time” and play time (which research shows is more beneficial than strictly academic instruction for young children); more time for pursuing outside interests and extra-curricular activities; proximity to home (as in, roll out of bed and you’re already at school); the absolute absence of the term “high-stakes testing” (and for those homeschooled students who choose to participate in state-mandated testing, consistently scoring 30% above their “typically schooled” peers);  allowing our children to get enough sleep, at the times that naturally work for them; having more time together as a family mid-week (like, we can actually be awake during some of the hours when Daddy is home); and financial considerations (one local private school that I visited had an annual tuition of $24,000. For KINDERGARTEN. For the love…).

Plus, I genuinely enjoy teaching and being home with my children (they’re actually really cool people), so it’s kind of a perfect fit.

That, and I also think I enjoy torturing myself a bit.

Q) Are you trying to shelter your kids from the world?
A) Yes, and no. The world shelter is defined as “a place giving temporary protection”. There are several matters in The World to which I would like to offer temporary protection to my children while I build a strong foundation for them so they will be able to weather storms on their own. I am not naïve enough to assume that I will shield my children from every potential Bad Thing that is out there, but I’m happy that I will have more time in these early ears to equip them for the challenges that lay ahead.

Q) What will you DO all day?
A) Here’s the thing: I can’t STOP my kids from learning. All day, every day, they are learning. When my boys work together to build the world’s tallest Lego tower, they are learning. When we go to a new park and spend 3 hours exploring nature trails observing the flight pattern of a butterfly or which objects sink or float when they throw them in a creek, they are learning. When we bake cookies and they measure and count each ingredient, they are learning. For children, the world is a classroom.

While my children are little, I want them to…well…stay little. To explore. To play. To be bored for awhile and sort their own selves out. To sit in a cozy lap and read books all afternoon. Next year we will do a lot of that: exploring, playing, reading, learning as their interests lead us (plus some hardcore academics thrown in for good measure).

If this homeschooling thing sits well with us, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of curriculum options available to us. We can use “official” curriculum provided by our local public school district, formal curriculum packages available for purchase, an assortment of unit studies pieced together from Pinterest/library books/my brain, or anything in between.

All I know is we’ll be doing it all (or most of it all) in our pajamas.

Q) Going against the stream, are you?
A) I guess so. Strange as homeschooling may sound, though, it’s not that strange. A growing number of my friends already homeschool–so it doesn’t seem that unusual to me. In fact, with nearly 2 million families choosing homeschool for their children this year, homeschooling is the single fastest growing form of schooling in the United States. 90% of Americans still choose traditional schooling for their children…but 10% (and growing each year) are choosing homeschool. I dunno…a part of me has always kind of enjoyed the challenge of an upstream battle.

Q) How long are you going to homeschool?
A) As long as it’s the best choice for our kids and our family.

We’re going to use next year as a trial year to work out the kinks and see how we like it. David will be in Pre-K next year and Jacob will be entering preschool, so we still have plenty of time to decide if this will be a good long-term choice. We’re just going to take each year as it comes, and go from there.

If I’m comatose or neurotic by this time next year, we may have to call it quits.

Q) So, are you against “normal schools” now?
A) Absolutely not! Jon and I both went to public schools (whoop!), and I’ve taught in both private schools and public charter schools. Each school setting has different strengths and challenges, as does each individual school. We plan on transitioning the boys to a traditional school some day–whether that’s in a year or two or ten, I don’t yet know. I love schools and I’m excited to try out one more type of school for myself.

Q) Won’t your kids become socially awkward now that they’re being homeschooled?
A) You’re wondering if Boy 1 who believes his toys are actually alive and Boy 2 who has full-blown conversations with my hair might possibly become socially awkward? Not a chance. There are actually plenty of opportunities for homeschool kids to interact with their peers: homeschool co-ops and support groups, church groups, sports, extra-curricular clubs or lessons, and playing with friends in the neighborhood. My boys will also have plenty of time to interact with their favorite life-long friend: their own brother/new-schoolmate.

Q) Now that you’re homeschooling, are you get an ugly haircut and frumpy clothes and move off the grid?
A) Now that you mention it, that doesn’t sound half-bad. I actually don’t even know what my hair looks like any more because I only ever wear it pulled back in a “messy bun”, my clothes are already about as frumpy as yoga pants and t-shirts can get, and I’m kind of over this whole overcrowded-too-much-traffic-people-everywhere thing. As long as we have internet access so I can binge watch Netflix after the boys go to bed, “off the grid” could work out just fine for us.

And so the ending to this school-choice saga is the same as the ending to any good story: unexpected, yet inevitable. It’s been a huge decision–but now that our choice has (finally) been made, we are excited and confident that it’s the right one!

I hope that this Q&A session has been helpful for you and that I’ve answered all of your questions. If you have any additional concerns, feel free to keep them to yourself for awhile so I don’t have a nervous breakdown before this whole homeschooling thang goes down.

Wish me luck!

Supporting a Mother Through Her Miscarriage: A Guide for Friends and Family

Hope-2-570x379 A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s Day and I was filled with emotion: love, contentment, delight, fulfillment. Being Mom to my two boys is one of my greatest joys in life, and I adore having a whole day each year when this blessing is called to mind.

Mixed in with those beautiful feelings, however, there was a twinge of heartache this year. This sorrow is because, unlike in years past, this year on Mother’s Day I was reminded of a recent loss. Nearly four months ago I had a miscarriage and we lost what would have been our third child. Although time has passed, the wound that experience left on my heart is still very fresh.

Difficult as this whole experience has been, it could have been worse. Thinking back on my own miscarriage, I realize that people around me said and did much to aid in my ability to heal and move forward. The topic of miscarriage is admittedly a very tricky subject to navigate–especially if you’ve never experienced one personally. The sad truth, however, is that most of you reading this right now will experience a miscarriage at some point-whether it is yourself or someone you know. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can help a mother through this difficult time.

Here are some practical tips that I have found particularly useful as I find hope and healing after my own miscarriage:

Let her grieve
I used the word mother in the title of this post, as opposed to woman, because when you have a miscarriage you are losing your real-as-anything child. With my miscarriage, it was not just some cells that gathered in my womb before disappearing, it was my baby. The loss a mother feels from a miscarriage is very real, and it deserves a good amount of mourning. Don’t diminish this. The grieving will be strong at first, then eventually it will subside. At some point you will think that the time of grieving has passed, but then–maybe even months or years down the road–something will remind her of her loss and she will grieve all over again. When this happens, just tell her that it’s alright to be upset, give her a shoulder to cry on, and tell her that you love her.

Share your story
For some reason that I don’t completely understand, the topic of miscarriages is still widely seen as taboo in our culture, and many people are simply unwilling to talk about it. This is much to the detriment of the nearly one million mothers who face a miscarriage each year.

For some mothers, talking about their miscarriage will be the most difficult part of the whole ordeal–but it is necessary. Encourage the mother to talk about her experience and share her story with others. Even if she only confides in her husband and a few close friends, she needs to talk about this. Holding the devastation of a miscarriage inside is like dragging around a thousand pounds of dead weight–it will eventually break you.

On the flip side, if you have already gone through a miscarriage, be bold and share about your experience with another mother who is going through her own miscarriage–this simple act of letting her know that she’s not alone will alleviate so much pain. There is great healing in sharing your story with others, allowing them to help you, and learn from them. When you share your story you will be surprised to learn how many other people have also been through this, and they will help lift you up.

Acknowledge that the baby she lost “counts”
The most heartbreaking thing somebody said to me when I was going through my miscarriage was, “I’m sorry you weren’t pregnant”–as if I’d made up the morning sickness, the surge of maternal joy that came when I saw the positive pregnancy test, and the doctors confirming this joy at my first ultrasound. The reality is that I was pregnant, but I will never get to meet that child.

Through sharing the story of my miscarriage, I met a woman who had experienced a miscarriage over 30 years ago. She told me that after years of struggling to cope with her miscarriage she decided to name her lost baby, and that was what finally allowed her to move on.

We decided to follow suit, and we have named our lost baby Lily. Since the boys were with me at every one of those early ultrasound appointments, I don’t want to diminish the loss of our baby or act like all of this never happened. We will continue to talk about Lily, and the boys know that they have a sister waiting for them up in Heaven. In some small way, by keeping the memory of our baby girl alive we will help our family move forward more completely.

Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault
The first thought I had when my doctor told me that my pregnancy would end in a miscarriage was “What did I do wrong?”. My doctor assured me that I had done nothing to cause the miscarriage, and that there was nothing I could have possibly done differently to have a more favorable outcome. The truth is, 15-20% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo and other non-preventable medical issues. Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault, and that she is not to blame.

Do something kind 
Going through a miscarriage can make you feel pretty crummy, so do something that will help lift her up. Go above and beyond, and do something thoughtful for her.  Send her flowers. Get her a gift certificate for a pedicure or a massage. Buy her something pretty to wear. Make sure the house is well-stocked with her favorite chocolates. All of these little acts of kindness will let her know that she matters to you and that you love her.

Offer practical help
One of the hardest things for me while I was going through my miscarriage was taking care of others–some days it was hard enough to just take care of myself. Going through a miscarriage is exhausting and physically painful, and she’ll relish the idea of some help. She may not ask for help, so step out and offer it anyway. Babysit her kids so she can take a bubble bath or a nap in peace. Order takeout or pizza (or better yet, cook her favorite meal for her) so she doesn’t have to worry about dinner. Clean her house or do her laundry. Offer to take her somewhere fun so she can get out of the house for a bit. Anything you can do to help her day go smoothly will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

Hold on to hope
Help her to realize that a miscarriage is the end of something, but it is not the end of everything. I have found great comfort during this time by counting my blessings and holding onto the hope of what is yet to come. My faith has been a huge factor in my perspective, as have the encouraging words of others. Just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes getting through the dark days so much more bearable.

And, if all else fails, just be there for her. Because, really, with love all things are possible.

XxX