Sunday, June 28, 2009

No child left behind

As many of my regular blog followers know in just a few short (I hope) weeks Tim and I will welcome our 5th child. I am at the point in my pregnancy where I am tired. Really tired. The Florida summer heat is getting to me, my big belly is slowing me down, and the four children who are already here are wearing me out. In my exhaustion, and the guilt I feel over it, I am starting to worry that I may not have what it takes to parent five children and give them each what they need from me.
Both Tim and I came from fairly big families ourselves. I was the third child in a family of four children. Tim was second in a family of five children. My mother has told me repeatedly that she still remembers how hard it was to be there for each of us. Tim has often said he felt a little lost in the shuffle at his house growing up. I worry my own children may be feeling something similar- especially these days when I feel I have so much less to give. I know things will not get easier for quite a while as I have never juggled a newborn and home schooling at the same time. Not to mention the fact that I'm pretty sure I still have not mastered mothering four children!
So, what is a mother of five to do? Well, as a Catholic mother of five, I know that each and every one of my children is truly a gift from God. I know He has blessed Tim and I with the responsibility of raising each of them. Yes, our responsibility to our children is a blessing! God has entrusted us with an amazing gift in our growing family. With that responsibility, He, thankfully, also blesses us with an amazing amount of grace to become the family He created us to be, but only if we turn to Him. If I try to do it all and be all things to my children I will surely fail. If I pray and trust in God to lead me, to guide me, to inspire me, and to strengthen me than I know He will help me to do all that I can to raise my children in love.
I worry only because I know it will not be easy. I hope and pray my children never feel lost in the shuffle or just a part of the crowd at our house. I know that finding the time to spend with each of them will never be easy. I know that meeting each of their individual needs and knowing their individual personalities well enough to meet those needs in the right way will require a lot of patience and self-sacrifice on my part. Though I may never master parenting (does anyone?), I have learned that like St. Francis of Assissi said, "it is in giving that we receive." And so, I am willing to give more because I trust I will continue receiving even more than I already have!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How abortion is like ice cream

I once heard about an obscure law on the books in some states in America (according to the internet, both Alabama and Kentucky), that states that it is illegal to put an ice cream cone in one's back pocket. I heard about this law several years ago, yet it still makes me giggle a little when I think about it. First, I find myself picturing a state legislature meeting where the law is first suggested. Then, I wonder about the dialogue back and forth as it was undoubtedly discussed among members. Finally, it was obviously passed, perhaps by a 2/3 majority vote? So, now in at least two U.S. states (and maybe others??!?!?) it IS illegal to put your ice cream cone in your back pocket. It is illegal for even a second-- to pay for it, or tie your shoe, or whatever reason you might have for even wanting to put an ice cream cone in your pocket. I wonder how often this particular law has been enforced and what the penalty is for breaking it, community service in an ice cream truck, maybe? A fine paid in chocolate syrup?

There is a good reason I bring this silly law up...really. For some reason whenever it pops into my head (often at the strangest of times) I always think of another law that seems just as ridiculous to me. And, it is my hope that some day this other, much more serious, law will be put in the same insane and unnecessary category as the illegal ice cream cone law. I would love for Americans to look at the Roe V. Wade court case legalizing abortion and think the same thing I think about putting ice cream in my pocket. What a silly waste of time it was to pass that law, why would anyone even think of doing it? Why would any mother even imagine ending the life of her own innocent unborn child? Why would any doctor consider killing a person after going to school for so long to learn how to preserve lives? Why would any organization want to exist for the sole purpose of "terminating" babies? Isn't abortion even more preposterous than putting ice cream in your pocket?

I would love to end our fight to make abortion illegal because it is something that just never comes up anymore. I have always thought, that this is a fight that really belongs in our hearts and not in our courts. If we can change hearts than abortion law can someday be as meaningless as the ice cream cone law. I would love to think that some day it won't matter what the law says because no one, not any one in our country, or the world, would ever dream of taking an innocent life for the sake of convenience!

Unfortunately, as things stand now, the law will not be changing, at least not any time soon. Even more unfortunate, if we cannot change hearts it hardly seems to matter if we do overturn the law because people will continue to abort babies. The hearts and priorities of so many people are so out of order!

I am not really naive enough to think I will see a day when the abortion debate will leave our political arena or be obsolete in our courts. Though I hope it will someday be different, today I can only pray that there are some hearts changing, maybe only one at a time. But that our pro-life numbers will grow and grow....after all, with God all things ARE possible!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And the answer is....

I attempted to create suspense by ending one of my recent blog posts with a Hollywood type "cliff hanger".... are my children (and home schooled children, in general) unsocialized? It is a truly intriguing question, I'm sure. And, I'm afraid I have left my readers hanging a lot longer than I had originally meant to. I had intended to revisit the subject right way but with our overwhelmingly full social calendar have not had the chance. This, I guess, answers the question quite quickly and concisely, albeit without much drama or fanfare.

My children and I are, obviously, kept busy enough and, yes, they interact regularly with other children. They have friends who attend public school, friends who attend Catholic school and, friends who are home schooled like themselves. They are friends with boys and girls alike. Some of their friends are older than they are, some are younger and some are the same ages. I have heard, and have seen for myself, that home school children are often very good at communicating with all kinds of different people. By not spending 6 to 7 hours a day in a classroom of their "peers", they are able to interact with and build relationships with many different kinds of people. My children know all the employees at the library, they are on a first name basis with the grandmotherly cashier at the grocery store, they all play well with the pre-schooler across the street and they have helped out while I've babysat for a friend's toddler throughout the past year. They are accustomed to talking to adults as well as children of all ages. My children, while not necessarily social butterflies, are fairly good at communicating and tend to make friends easily. They certainly never feel lonely or isolated!

Now, all that being said, I do think the concern surrounding socialization was valid only a few short years ago. When I was growing up (in the 80’s and 90’s) I had never heard of home schooling. Everyone in my neighborhood attended the local neighborhood school. In fact, the sidewalks were busy in the mornings with all of us walking to school together. Back then (and, of course, even earlier) home schooling was rare. It was considered radical and controversial. I’ve heard stories of home school families whose children could not play outside for fear the neighbors would turn them in for truancy. Many families did choose to isolate themselves to do what was right for their children though it was not readily accepted or respected. I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to those home school pioneers who risked persecution from uninformed friends and family in order to pave the way for the acceptance of home education. I am so blessed that others had the wisdom and courage to forego the “normal” socialization (that includes so much bullying and peer pressure) to blaze a trail for the home schooling families of today! I feel confident, that though home schooling does present its challenges and drawbacks, lack of socialization is not one of them! A bigger concern for us is how to fit in all the social activities and get our school work done as well!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letter to the President

As I heard the Gospel reading for today, about loving our enemies and being kind to those who persecute us, it occurred to me (as it often does these days) that we, as Americans, are so quick to criticize. Perhaps it was the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but I thought of how many times we criticize our government leaders. As last year drew to a close, it seemed I could not listen to secular radio or watch a t.v. news program without hearing gripes and complaints about then President Bush. Now, every time I log onto my twitter account or my Facebook page, I see similar sentiments towards our current president.
I absolutely agree with many of the criticisms I have heard. I do not always like the things our leaders do and, in general, I avoid politics. But, in light of Jesus’ message for today (and everyday!) I was thinking maybe we could make a more positive change in our country by offering our support and encouragement to our government officials.
A few months back there was a campaign I heard about sending letters to the president in red envelopes in support of the pro-life movement. The idea was to inundate the White House with the pro-life message in order to share with our current leaders, in dramatic fashion, our views on the sanctity of life. I hope and pray the message did get through. But now I am thinking maybe we need to inundate the White House with another message. A message of support for our leaders. Not support of their policies or decisions, we should never support anything that we know is wrong, but, instead, support for the people behind the decisions. If we disagree with the direction our country is going in maybe that is all the more reason to show Christ’s love to our government officials. Maybe the best way to influence a positive change for the future is to spread more love and not more criticism.
So, I am going to write a letter today letting the president know that I am praying for him and his family. I will keep my letter short and positive, expressing only my prayers, not support of or criticism against, what the current administration is doing. I will send my letter in a blue envelope this time, blue to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. I would love to have others join their prayers and letters with mine (in blue envelopes) so, together, we can inundate the White House with real Christian love and charity. I suspect it is what Jesus would do if He were living in America today.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Home schoolers are SO weird!

When Tim and I first started discussing the possibility of home schooling our children we tried to weigh the pros and cons very carefully. Our children's education is something that we feel is important and we wanted to do what was best for them, and for us. The pros were many, more time together as a family, the ability to provide them with a truly Catholic education at a fraction of the cost of parochial schools, control over what and who they would be exposed to, lots of amazing opportunities to learn things hands on in the real world, etc.... The cons were fewer in number but we still wanted to take them into consideration. I would get no break, the curriculum choices were overwhelming and intimidating, and...well... home school kids always seemed a little weird.
We felt we had valid concerns about moving forward with home education. We just couldn’t ignore that age old home school protest- the kids will not be socialized. They will turn out socially backward, unable to interact appropriately with their peers, unable to form normal friendships and healthy relationships outside of their own family. In fact, we talked about home schooling for several years before we finally discerned that God was calling us to it. Despite our worries about socialization we started researching curriculum, talking to families from our church who we knew home schooled, and planning to turn our spare bedroom into a classroom. We would take the good with the bad and try out this whole idea of educating our children right in our own home.
So, as we begin our 5th year of home schooling, I find myself reflecting on our first impressions of it. Are our kids weird? Well....the reality is they are unusual when compared to their “normal school” peers.
Our oldest daughter, who is the only one of our children ever blessed with the opportunity to experience “regular” school when she was in kindergarten, is now ten and a half years old. She really is different than most 5th graders we know. For example, she will not wear pants or shorts. Everyday, by her choice, not mine, she wears either a skirt or dress. Our daughter would choose to live in the 1800's if given the opportunity. She is much more interested in history than in pop culture. In fact, recently I overheard a conversation she was having with one of her friends who attends the local Catholic school about how our daughter doesn’t know of any celebrity “guys”. Her friend was incredulous. Our fifth grader would choose to read a book rather than watch the Disney Channel or flip through a teen magazine. I'm not sure any of this is because she is home schooled but she is very much her own person and does not just do what everyone else is doing because every one else is doing it.
Our oldest son, at the age of 7 1/2, is very much a typical little boy. He loves baseball and always has his ball glove and baseball cap on. He enjoys playing outside, climbing trees and trying out stunts on his bicycle. He looks for every opportunity to be the center of attention and every opportunity to avoid his schoolwork. Despite this, he recently overheard Tim and I discussing the request of a friend to help them out on a Friday morning during our normal school time. I was telling Tim that while I really wanted to be there for our friend I worried about letting too much get in the way of school. Our son interrupted the conversation with a solution. "We could just take Friday off and then do all our work on Sat., couldn't we?" he suggested. Now if that doesn't speak to the benefits of home schooling, I'm not sure what does! did seem a little odd coming from a third grade boy!
Our first grader is a beautiful little girl, very expressive and out-going. She still loves school and can not wait to pull out the manipulatives for her math work and then cuddle on the couch to read Amelia Bedelia with mommy. She has asked to go to a "real" school so she can be around other kids all day long. I can't help but wonder, how long she would really enjoy the long days at a desk when she is used to a couple of hours of hands-on learning and the rest of the day playing with her little brother?
So, in answer to my own question, yes, our children are weird. Now, our kids are a part of those home schoolers I used to see at the park when I'd take them as little toddlers. The strange kids who were all playing together and making sure every one was included. Our kids are the ones who leave the house in prairie dresses and bonnets, without any fear of rejection or ridicule. Our kids think learning is so much a part of life that it can be done on weekends. So maybe home schoolers are a little weird! But, they are happy, they are healthy, and they are real. I guess we can live with weird!
Now, I am just left to ponder........ are they unsocialized?.........(for my answer to that question see

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Finding Holiness under all the Clutter

When I was still a new mother a friend told me about the website As I understand it, it is all about taking control of your life through self-discipline and organization. Though it sounded intriguing I never visited the website. My sister discovered the show Supernanny after the birth of her first child several years ago. She was so impressed with the "techniques" for raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted children, techniques that focused on being disciplined, organized, and consistent, that she bought me the Supernanny book (by Jo Frost) for my birthday one year. I read it and, though I did not agree with everything I read, I did see value in many of the suggestions. Last summer, a group of my fellow home schooling moms and I read the book A Mother's Rule of Life (by Holly Pierlot) and discussed it, in order to encourage each other in our quest to be more self-disciplined and organized in our roles as mothers, teachers and home makers. A few weeks ago, yet another friend brought up the subject of to me. She told me how it has helped her to keep her house clean and running smoothly in just a little time a day.
As I think back to all my wonderful and well meaning friends and the helpful advice and encouragement they have shared with me over the years I wonder why my life continues to be so disorganized and chaotic. The advice is great, my friends are inspiring, the approaches they've shared seem sound and are proven, the explanation couldn't possibly be... that I have failed to take the advice! I have really great intentions but....though I spend way too much time on my computer each day, I still have not made the effort to visit FlyLady. Though, I read both the Supernanny book and A Mother's Rule of Life, and went so far as to write out the daily schedule both books stressed as being essential to a peaceful, happy home, I have not truly attempted to follow the helpful guidelines they laid out. Though, I keep planning to clean up the kitchen junk drawer, the closets, and the top of my dresser, I haven't quite got around to any of it. In fact, I am so undisciplined and unorganized I do not even know where to start in order to take control of the chaos and clutter that surrounds me. I sure wish I could find that old schedule I wrote out last year, or was it the year before? It is probably still here somewhere buried under all the junk mail and children's drawings! If only I could find a minute to look for it in the midst of corralling the kids, trying to figure out what I did with the bills that came in today's mail, and listening to the ten old voicemail messages on my cell phone!
I sure wish I could just call up FlyLady in person and have her come to my crazy house and organize for me! Wouldn't it be nice to have someone come in and take care of all the menial and tedious jobs that crop up in the midst of raising our families and eliminate the need for self-discipline and organization? I'm pretty sure with enough money that is an option actually.......hmmmmmmm, maybe......
Sounds tempting, very tempting, but is it truly the option God would want me to take? Unfortunately for the state of my house, the answer is clearly, No. First of all, I have never and will never have the money for such a luxury. Second of all, the need for self discipline and organization is not a need that will go away with a phone call and a visit from a cleaning lady or “professional organizer”. No, the truth is God wants me to be the wife, mother, and homemaker He has called me to be. He has chosen me for the task of raising, educating and caring for my family. He has given me the gift of this life and this vocation so that in it and through it I can be brought to holiness. No one ever said holiness would be easy, but I must trust in God. Through prayer (which I need to be disciplined enough to start with everyday!) I know even I can truly be strengthened. Through God’s goodness and the guidance of His Holy Spirit even I can be more disciplined and organized! With God’s grace, maybe someday I will even be orderly enough to become a “Supermommy” and a “flylady“!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Learning on our Days Off

It is the end of the traditional school year. Last week all the schools in our area, both public and Catholic, shut their doors for the summer and sent all the kids home for a few months of "freedom". My children, being home schooled, will not be blessed with this wonderful vacation from their education. In fact, we finished up our last school year last Friday and jumped right in, starting the new one, this morning, on the very next Monday.
Though they think I am mean, we are not taking the summer off. With a new baby due in August, I decided it was more practical for us to keep working until baby comes. We will put our school books aside, at that time, to settle in and adjust to having a baby in the house again. But even on our break we will continue to learn and experience new things. Which brings me to my a home schooling mother, I feel blessed that education is a part of our whole life. In so many ways, we never take time off! Now, that being said, we do have days without formal, book-work schooling, but I hope there is never a day we do not learn something worthwhile!
Learning in the midst of living our everyday lives is (among many, many, many other things) the beauty of home schooling. It is so wonderful to me how my children gain new knowledge all the time, and how, contrary to what they believe, they really truly enjoy so much of it. Though they do not always look forward to working in their math books, or taking their spelling tests, they absolutely love to explore the world and delve into all it has to offer.
I have tried to incorporate learning into our lives in a variety of ways. Some of our favorite, and easiest, ways of integrating discovery and instruction into ordinary life include reading together and experiencing the beauty and wonder of nature.
We read aloud together a lot. Everything from great literature to short stories to poetry to historical fiction to biographies. We all love reading and have probably learned much more from stories than from any workbook on our shelf! I have read them stories traditionally meant for children as well as some not necessarily intended for their age group. Just this pat school year alone, they have heard George Selden's A Cricket in Times Square and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. They understood and eagerly anticipated the next chapter of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding as well as Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. They memorized The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost and My Beard by Shel Silverstein with equal enthusiasm. They enjoyed the stories of Shakespeare's Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer's Night Dream. The world of books has opened the whole world up to them! And, if I was willing, they would listen to me read aloud to them for hours on end, everyday!
Science seems to be as fascinating as literature to my children. As we study each chapter in our science text book I take the children to the library and check out books related to the topic than bring them home and have them around in case anyone is interested in finding out more on the topic. I rarely use any of the books in a formal way and I hardly ever even mention them after bringing them home. Almost all of them are read, however. In fact, the kids like this extra reading so much that lately when we go to the library, we bring home non fiction books, on rocks, reptiles, fish, molds and slimes, etc...without my ever choosing a book off the shelf.
Our very favorite science lessons, though, are our weekly nature walks together. Again, there is nothing formal to this walk. We often do not even know where we are headed until we arrive at one park or nature trail or another. We do not bring along field guides or books of flora and fauna (though the children would love it if we did) but simply walk together through nature- talking, getting lost, or enjoying the silence and scenery. The older two children bring along their cameras and take pictures of the beautiful or unusual things we see along the way.
The world is a fascinating place and children are naturally curious and interested in finding out more about it. I feel so blessed to be able to witness most of my children's discoveries, as both their mother and their teacher. They have, in many instances, taught me a thing or two about this world we live in, as well. So, why would we want to take a break from learning? It is a magnificent way to strengthen our family by just being together and sharing our interests. And one of our greatest discoveries is that there is no better way to appreciate God's wonderful creation than to encounter it and experience it together.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Living out a true devotion

Tim and I have always had similar values. We are both "cradle Catholics" from big families. We are both very conservative in our views- both social and political. We both enjoy a somewhat lazy, simple existence as opposed to the hurry, hurry, hurry busy-all-the-time life of so many of our friends. These are the big things that obviously make our relationship work so well. We, of course, have our differences as every couple does. Tim is very quiet and keeps a lot of his thoughts and emotions to himself, I, on the other hand, love to talk and keep nothing to myself. Tim likes to live in the moment and worry about tomorrow when it comes. I want to plan everything in advance, have a plan for everything that might happen and worry about today, tomorrow and next year all at once.
Sometimes the things that seem to matter most day-to-day, though, are the silly, little things we have in common. Tim and I both love sweets. We often laugh at the same goofy things. And we are both night owls- preferring to stay up late and sleep in the next morning. Sitting up in the wee hours of the morning, eating Little Debbie nutty bars, and giggling over the Conan O'Brien show are some of our greatest memories from our early years of marriage. Amazingly, having children did not put much of a damper on our schedule, as they all tend to be energized in the evenings and then sleep late also. Life has been good.
Then, a few weeks ago, Tim started training for a new part time job. The job, which will ultimately have shifts from 10pm-4am, should be a huge blessing to our family. The money is better and it will allow Tim to be home more often. The hours should also work fine- we are all accustom to our late nights anyway. The training, however, has been a different story! In order, to accommodate both his training for the new job and his regular full time job Tim has been working 14 hour days. His days start at 5:30 am when the alarm clock rings and rouses him before the sun even rises. Most mornings I sleep right through it all, feeling a little guilty when I awake at 9am to find the bed empty next to me. On the rare occasions I have been awake to see Tim off, the guilt is even worse. He is making such a huge sacrifice to do what is best for our family, and here I am climbing back into bed to get another few hours of sleep. Tim has yet to complain about the crazy schedule he has been keeping. He dutifully sets the alarm at night and dutifully drags himself out of bed, practically in the middle of the night, to start another day of seemingly endless work.
In my guilt over sleeping so much, I have begun to look at my own selfish habits and wonder if I am making enough sacrifices for the good of our family. Though, I am pretty good at preaching about living out my vocation and talking about serving God through serving my family, I have been completely humbled by the action with which Tim is actually doing it. I am starting to realize that maybe my tendency to want to talk about everything is keeping me from actually doing any of it well! Maybe Tim's quiet way of just doing what God has called him to should inspire me to greater action, greater service, greater charity. So, today, I vow to do better. Today, I will put aside some of my selfish, lazy desires and spend more time with my children. Today, I will work harder to keep my house clean and to do so with a smile. Today, I will do something nice for someone else, just because. Today, I will try to be more like Tim, giving and loving and truly living out a devotion to duty....but first, I think I may lay back down to catch just a few more minutes of sleep!


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