On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

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A Field Trip, Some Photos, and a Few Thoughts

A few weeks ago my trusty assistant–aka as my recently retired father–and I took the girls on the first field trip of this school year. For the past three years we’ve been working our way through Story of the World, a four-volume chronology of history from ancient to modern times. We have finally reached the 1600s, and it’s time to take advantage of living near much of the beginning of our country’s history.

Earlier this month we headed to Jamestown. Actually we skipped the original site of the fort and opted for the reconstructed settlement. While I’m sure the park rangers at the historic site are knowledgeable tour guides, my girls preferred the bare-chested Native American who wore a loin cloth and war paint; they were equally mesmerized by the raptor talon piercing his ear.

Since the girls are not avid colonial history buffs, my father and I found ourselves having to corral them regularly. There was a particularly amused older couple who insisted they wanted me to identify where we lived on a map of the Chesapeake’s tributaries after they watched H wander off without my noticing. The girls were also notably unimpressed with the reconstructed Powhatan Indian village; they declared that it looks exactly like the Woodland Indian village at Historic St. Mary’s City, which is just minutes from our home. (Sometimes they are rather astute little students, and I had to agree with their observations.)

To their credit, they did agree on two activities that they found enjoyable. I’ll let you see instead of tell you.

DSCN1500Scraping deer fur from rawhide is the perfect task for small children who like to destroy things, isn’t it?

DSCN1515Guess how long it took before one of them decided to “tap” someone on the head to see if she could feel it through her helmet.

Sometimes it’s good to put down the history books and go visit the place that history happened. And at least our Jamestown visit saved me from having to have another conversation with G that went along the lines of this recent one:

G: Mom, I’ve never even heard of the Mayflower Compact before.

Me: I know you haven’t. There are a lot of things you don’t know yet.

G: Well, I’m just saying that if I haven’t heard about it, how can it really be as important as you say it is?

Actually I think I might need one of those iron helmets that the girls are modeling. Then I could legitimately reply, “Sorry. I didn’t hear the ignorance that escaped your mouth.”

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Journey of a Thousand Miles

Does a journey of a thousand miles start with a step? Or is a thousand steps? Who knows. What I do know is that I logged my 1000th mile of 2014 today.

I finally have something to share via blog post. I’ve meant to write numerous things over the past two months; in fact, two of my loyal readers have commented on my online absence. (Yes, that’s you, Jen, and Daddy, too.) The days just seem to be extra full, and writing is the thing that gets pushed to the side. I’d love it if housework, cooking, or diabetes could be pushed to the side and forgotten for a few days, but they take precedence. Running does, too.

If you aren’t a runner, you’ll think that last sentence certifies me as crazy. To the contrary, it’s how I ensure that I don’t lose my mental grasp. I crave the endorphin release that comes after five or six miles of sweating and breathing heavily. It’s how I take care of myself physically and mentally.

All smiles after our miles.

All smiles after our miles.

And here is photographic evidence of H and me after today’s run. I ran 4.5 solo and then stopped home to pick up H for some PE time. She said she thought she could go a half mile today. I trotted along behind her and encouraged her to slow down and see if she could make it to the stop sign (or 1/4 mile) before needing a walk break. Instead she made it twice as far before declaring it was time to walk. We plodded home, and I checked the GPS one more time: One mile in just under 11 minutes.

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Growing Up Is Hard

The girls are growing up, and that’s not always easy for me Ryan and me. Or for them.

Recently S and H each lost a tooth. Actually, S didn’t lose her tooth; she pulled it out herself on Sunday afternoon. While we were at the swimming pool. And she was in the water. (Thankfully our neighborhood pool is chlorinated.)

H lost her tooth with considerably less drama than usual. There was no crying or screaming, and the blood loss was minimal. The worst part was when she handed me the paper napkin she had used to stop the bleeding. The best part was reading the note she wrote to the Tooth Fairy: “To the Tooth Fairy from H,” read the front. On the back: “I like you ” (and a big heart).

On Wednesday afternoon, S informed H that she had seen the Tooth Fairy in their room. It seems that someone–me, I mean–had forgotten to retrieve the teeth and leave dollar bills under the girls’ pillows during the night; we have a very absent-minded Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy’s husband realized the mistake and thought he had safely escaped detection before leaving for work. Nope. S took great delight in sharing this information with H.

What’s surprising/irritating is that S figured out the Tooth Fairy’s identity two years ago, but we explained the deal we had made with big sister G two years previous to that. If no one rats out the Tooth Fairy, then the Tooth Fairy will continue to bring a crisp dollar bill every time someone puts a tooth under her pillow. Apparently S was tired of earning dollar bills for missing teeth. Or perhaps she was tired of H’s tendency to tattle and wanted to even the score. I’m guessing it was the latter reason.


On that same visit to the pool, something else much more serious than the loss of a tooth happened. I’ve hesitated to write about it, but I think it’s important to share this story.

Summer came very late to southern Maryland. I only remember the thermometer reaching 100° once this summer, and we’ve turned off the AC at least four times to open the windows. So when summer finally decided to make her appearance, there were only three days left to visit our neighborhood swimming pool, and we were determined to be there all three days.

This is the same pool that we’ve been patronizing for the past four summers, and we spend an immeasurable number of hours there during swim team season. While I wish the lifeguards were more observant, the girls and I are very comfortable at our pool. Perhaps that sense of comfort–or complacency–is why it took me several minutes to realize that a strange man was swimming in the lap lane with two of my daughters and two of their friends.

As I approached the lap lanes, I watched this stranger race one of the girls to the other end of the pool. I then asked my girls if he was a friend’s father. No, they replied, we don’t know who he is. Why was he in their lane? (We don’t know.) Who was he? (We don’t know.) Had he asked to swim with them? (No, Mom!) And why did he need to be in a lane with three 11-year-old girls and a younger sister?!

I sat down at one end of the lap lane, watched the girls, and tried to establish eye contact with this stranger. He didn’t meet my steady gaze, but he did get out of the pool and walk to another area. I talked to the girls to establish what had happened, and I came away quite confused. No one knew who he was, and he hadn’t asked to swim in their lane.

I thought things were okay so I returned to my chair and continued to watch. Within five minutes, the stranger was back. In the girls’ lap lane again. Unfortunately there was no pool manager to contact, and I didn’t want to leave the girls. Instead I got in at one end of the lane again and specifically told the girls not to talk to him or to swim next to him. Except that one girl had already given him her name, age, and school. Again I stayed with them until he saw me and left the lane. At that point I found one of the girl’s mothers and shared my concerns. She kept an eye on the creepy stranger, and I watched over the girls for the rest of our visit.

Later after we returned home, I phoned another mother to let her know what had happened in case her daughter mentioned the incident. She was livid at the man’s boldness, thanked me for calling her, and headed to the pool herself. Within 24 hours, we were both giving statements to a deputy sheriff and trying to identify the creep.

The parts that I’ve left out are the conversations we had with our daughters in those 24 hours. While I instinctually knew something was amiss at the pool, I didn’t know what it was specifically. Call it a mother’s intuition or the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It was what the girls told us, what this pervert told the girls, what other lifeguards had noticed, and that he had tried something similar earlier this summer. (Sorry. I just can’t think of anything nicer to call him than creep or pervert.)

No crime was actually committed, but this 34-year-old man thought it was acceptable to join a bunch of pre-teen children for a swim without asking their parents; he also thought it was okay to bump into them as they swam.

What happened wasn’t okay with me or Ryan. Or the pool manager. Or the other parents. The girls know that they aren’t at fault, and they also know that it’s never rude to walk away from an adult who asks for their personal information. We brainstormed a list of safe adults that they can ask for help, and we were very specific when we explained to G why we were so concerned.

I’m angry, and so is Ryan. We work hard to protect our girls, but we’ve also taken specific steps to allow them some independence from our constant supervision. We can’t simply lock them up until they’re all 18 years old, and I’m angry that one of the safe places we enjoy visiting is no longer safe.




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Back to School

Our first week of school ended on a somewhat sour note. I canceled classes mid-morning Thursday, sent my absent husband an SOS, and gratefully accepted my sister’s offer to keep me company until Ryan finished his reserve duty. I was outnumbered and needed a second adult in the house. This photo accurately describes how I felt about a week ago–from the toad’s perspective.

DSCN1442My mental and emotional well-being are much healthier one week later. Ryan is home, I’ve caught up on some missing sleep, and I am ridiculously grateful that my sister and nephews drove three hours to rescue me. The children now seem to understand that they are legally required to do their schoolwork. Our second week of school went much smoother–thank you, Jesus.

Actually this nature scene took place in our neighbor’s backyard a few days ago. During our lunch break, H strolled through a few yards to see if any of her friends’ younger brothers wanted to play for a bit. Instead she was delighted to deliver the news that 4-year-old M had just spotted a snake! Eating a frog! In the backyard! We extended lunch to watch this garter snake eat his meal (who turned out to be a toad). The entire process took at least 30 minutes and captivated three adults and six children. It was fascinating in a rather disgusting way.

DSCN1456G and S were then inspired to round up some toads of their own for a terrarium we’d made previously. I’m surprised that the girls haven’t named these guys, but they have been good about watering them daily and providing them with fresh earthworms. (We found the instructions for layering a proper toad habitat in Pets in a Jar.)

My girls thrive academically when we link learning to the great outdoors; in fact, we had at least one outdoor activity each day last week. We learned about radiant energy with white and black trash bags; we used a magnifying glass to show how radiant energy creates thermal energy, which is a fancy term for fire. And here is how H and Granddad spent part of Friday morning.

DSCN1454H is just over 4 feet tall, so we carefully traced her body in chalk; we then drew a “small” 11-foot giraffe to demonstrate the difference in their heights. Granddad helped with the giraffe’s markings, and H laboriously colored in everything. I vetoed G’s idea to ask our neighbor if we could trace her two-month-old baby girl in between the giraffe and H.

I’m trying to scale back my expectations for the beginning of our school year. The first days back are notoriously unpredictable, and my month’s worth of lesson plans didn’t take into account two children’s particularly bad attitudes. As our new routine becomes, well, routine to the girls, I’m anticipating that they’ll become more compliant. I’m also hoping that our PE choices will tire them out in all the right ways, too: G starts year-round swim team in two weeks, S has her first soccer game next Saturday, and H has decided to become a runner. Art lessons and choir practice will also fill some of the afternoon void and give me some breathing room, too. I, on the other hand, am learning the art of saying no, thank you to others’ requests for my time.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress.



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First Day of School

I haven’t been writing because we’ve been getting ready to start another school year. Actually, I would have preferred working on this blog to writing lesson plans. I am an expert procrastinator, but I opted to be a responsible grown-up last week. My final language arts order arrived last Friday, and I hauled all the new workbooks and textbooks out of their hiding places. (Seriously, I hide new books; if I didn’t, the girls would haul them off to secret hiding places to read them. I know that doesn’t sound like a terrible problem, but it makes it inconvenient to find things.)

H bounded out of bed this morning and asked when she could start her math and handwriting. Being the great mom that I am, I told her I was still drinking coffee and needed to take a shower first. She took the hint and completed two subjects on her own just by reading the assignment board. Here’s H after we finally finished up this afternoon.

H finally has all of her front teeth!

H finally has all of her front teeth!

We took an ill-timed break this morning to head to the dermatologist. One of the downsides to living in a small rural community is that practitioners from specialty practices visit their satellite offices infrequently. S and I got our moles checked out, and we ran by the library on our way home.

S thinks she’s funny. She’s really halfway through 4th grade.

G actually had homework on her very first day of 7th grade. What kind of teacher does that?! Of course, that may be related to her complaining that the first two chapters of  The Hobbit were boring, which led me to re-read the first chapter aloud to her. S and H listened as well, and everyone agreed that The Hobbit seems like a pretty good book. By the way, that’s a long first chapter!

My stylish 7th grader. No, it's not cold outside yet.

My stylish 7th grader. No, it’s not cold outside; the hat is a fashion statement.

I survived my first day back, too. The funny thing is that I’ve been having classroom anxiety dreams lately. Sheesh! I haven’t received a paycheck for teaching in 11 years; surely I shouldn’t be dreaming about naughty students stealing test papers and carrying them out of the classroom under their shirts.

H took my picture. S took my board and wrote "no."

H took my picture. S took my board and wrote “no.”

Today marks the beginning of our eighth year of homeschooling. That’s exactly six years longer than Ryan and I originally decided we’d try this experiment with G. Since much of our married life has been filled with unplanned challenges, I really don’t know why we thought that homeschooling would be quick and easy. It definitely hasn’t been. The past seven years have been filled with messiness, struggles, and frustration, but they’ve also been equally amazing. All of our children can read; in fact, they love to read and visit the library on a weekly basis. One of them even loves math! They are each curious and talented in many ways, and it’s been a privilege–and a blessing–to spend my days with them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Ryan sacrifices an equal amount so that I can stay home with the girls. He holds down two jobs–in two different states, no less–to make sure this happens. What an awesome husband I have!



Out of My Hands

I like being in control. There. I wrote that sentence.

There is only so much in my life, however, that I can control. I can run a household, but I can’t decide when it’s a convenient time for my husband to deploy. (Nope, the Marine Corps is completely uninterested in my opinion.) I can make the best lesson plans and order exciting curricula, but I can’t rewire the way that G’s brain pays attention. I can log 100 miles a month and swallow my Zoloft, but anxiety still rears its ugly head from time to time.

I also have no control over S’s insulin pump. I learned that yesterday morning when S came home from swim practice and announced that she had an alarm message on her pump. After two attempts to rewind and reload the insulin cartridge, I concluded that the pump had broken and that S needed to go back to injections while Animas shipped us a new pump.

Let me rewind for a minute. S was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 3 years old. She spent Easter weekend in a children’s hospital while Ryan and I learned how to inject insulin, check blood sugar, count carbohydrates, and do the job that her pancreas was supposed to do. For a full year we administered three types of insulin at three different times a day; we carefully counted and fed her the same number of carbs at the same time each day. It was exhausting and scary. On top of this, I was in my first year of homeschooling G, and H was still nursing. By the grace of God, we all survived that first year with diabetes.

I forgot to mention, however, that S was always hungry and that she was still struggling to gain weight. We made the decision to put S on an insulin pump. Of course, it had to be a pink insulin pump, and she had to agree to wear it. We found a pink pump, and I ordered a pump waistpack in zebra fabric so that my little horse lover could safely carry her pump. A month after starting pump therapy, S had gained three pounds and grown a full inch; her hemoglobin A1c also dropped a full point. The best part was that she could eat whenever she wanted. We still followed a diabetic diet, but she was thriving again at the age of 4.


S on her very first day with her insulin pump. So little and so much pink!

She’s been wearing a pump for five years now. While this isn’t the first time that something on the pump has malfunctioned, this is the first time that we’ve had to remove her completely from the pump. Guess what. I’m totally out of practice when it comes to remembering how to give injections and how Lantus, a slow-acting insulin, and Novolog, a fast-acting insulin, interplay. It turns out that I’m not a good substitute pancreas when I can’t use a pump.

Until yesterday, I failed to realize just how important S’s insulin pump is. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this pump literally keeps our daughter alive. (That’s another scary sentence to write.) Did I feel out of control? Yes. Did I try to shove my anxiety back to a dark corner? Yes again. Was I thankful that Ryan was home from water survival training? Absolutely. Did this unexpected experience drive me to my knees? You bet it did.

This morning S woke up with a blood sugar of 352. That’s after spending a good chunk of yesterday in the 40s and 50s. As an added bonus, she was spilling ketones this morning, so I made my third phone call to the emergency operator at Georgetown University Hospital. But here’s what I did first: I prayed over S. I asked that God would protect her from these crazy numbers and that He would grant me wisdom in knowing how to take care of her. I asked a faithful group of friends to pray with me, too. Right before I took H to swim practice, we prayed that her new insulin pump would arrive this morning instead of later today. I said those prayers in faith because I had exhausted everything I knew how to do on my own. I said those prayers because crying in frustration and snapping at Ryan wasn’t making me feel any better. I prayed because God always hears our prayers, and faith means believing that God will accomplish what we cannot.

An hour later G and S arrived for the second swim practice, and they brought good news with them. S had drunk enough water to flush out her ketones and a big brown UPS truck had delivered a new pump. Amazing. The whole experience lasted 24 hours. S survived, God is still in control, and I have to admit that He is much better at being in charge than I am.


S knows how to accessorize: goggles, swim cap, and pump!

Speaking of situations that are beyond my control, I’d like to ask a favor of my readers. I have a niece and nephew whom I have not met. I have not met them because they are currently living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My brother- and sister-in-law have completed all the necessary steps to bring home their children; however, the DRC’s government has suspended exit permits for legally adopted children. Nearly 800 children are waiting to join permanent families; tragically 10 children have died from malaria and malnutrition–preventable diseases–while waiting for their exit permits. I realize that 800 children is not a large number, but each of these children is special to their families. Would you sign this petition to request that the Obama administration contacts DRC President Kabila before the African Leaders Summit in early August? It’s a small act, but it just might be enough to bring two children home.

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She Loves Me…

20140722_112738This artistic masterpiece is the reason that H interrupted my morning shower. She loves me. She thinks I’m awesome. And she thinks I’m cool. She commandeered the rose from a neighbor, and she wrote two of the nicest words that she knows how to spell.

Just 60 minutes before she professed her love for me, I parked her bicycle in the garage and ordered her onto the porch for a cool down. It seems that I was “ruining her life” by insisting that she stop whining and play nicely with her sisters and our neighbor. She didn’t find it funny that I threatened to spray her with the hose in my hand if she didn’t stop fighting. She was angry when I did spray her because she continued to say ugly things. She even threw her bike helmet onto the grass to show me how angry she was, which is why I parked her bike.

In full disclosure, I hit her with fewer than 10 drops of water and she could find no evidence of water on her clothing. I even apologized, but she was still grumpy with me.

I suppose H either has a terrible short-term memory or that she’s forgiven me. Either way I’m thrilled with my gift. It’s better than a paycheck or a full vase of roses with the stems attached.


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