On a Learning Curve

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


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Stupid Things I Did Last Week

Catchy title, eh?

Life has gotten calmer in our household, but we still have our crazy moments. Rather, I still do stupid things that become learning opportunities for me. Here are some of the not-so-bright things I did just last week:

1. Perhaps the hugest mistake of all was arguing with my oldest child. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m reading Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy by Michael Bradley. At times, however, I forget the basic premise of his book–that teenagers are brain-damaged–and decide to engage in some verbal combat. I can’t even remember what we argued about, but I do remember it had something to do with the amount of clothing that was spewing from her dresser drawers and closet to cover the entire length of one wall.

On the plus side, we did decide that G would start washing her own laundry. I think that’s a victory for both of us!

My new favorite read!

 

2. As a homeschooling parent who is trying to tread the waters of private school with the same, aforementioned child, I’m wary of overstepping my bounds with G’s new teachers. In doing so, I didn’t advocate for my child’s learning needs. Last Thursday, I attended my first parent-teacher conference. Things mostly went well. I got an incredulous stare from the grammar teacher after I explained that I hadn’t taught G to diagram sentences and that she would need some help in that department. But I was unprepared for her progress (?) in math.

In 6 weeks I hadn’t seen a test grade, but her homework and quizzes seemed to be on par with her general ability/dislike for pre-algebra. It turns out that out of four tests, G failed one and didn’t complete two others. I was shocked to learn that the reason for this was that her teacher had fallen behind in grading. I was even more shocked–and rather bewildered–when the same teacher wanted to discuss spiritual victory over math struggles instead of following G’s 504 Plan. I got through the conference, asked G some general questions at home, and then fired off some emails asking for clarification on testing, grading, and student/teacher responsibility for incomplete work. Yes, I should have done all of this at the conference, and I shouldn’t have worried about making a nuisance of myself. And I will be checking frequently on whether G finishes her tests in the future. She needs me to be her squeaky wheel.

3. Ryan would like me to admit that I shouldn’t have promised S a rat. I made the promise in order to get her to start rotating where she places the sites for her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Currently she refuses to wear them anywhere except her belly. Unfortunately she has little real estate in that department, and her skin has scarring from the constant poking. We want her to use the backs of her upper arms or her backside; she wants us to buy her a rat–a fancy rat, nonetheless. So I struck a deal with her. She hasn’t held up her end of the bargain, but Ryan has enough faith in her that he’s upset with me. While I think my idea has flashes of brilliance, Ryan thinks it belongs on this list. Hamster #4 (aka Pepper) joined his predecessors in our pet cemetery last week, so there’s an empty cage in our house. We’ll see how long it takes S to cooperate.

This is what S wants: a fancy dumbo rat. If a rat can be cute, this one is.

4. Remember last year when I wrote about running the Frozen Heart 50k with my dad on his birthday? It was a painfully cold, wet, miserable experience for both of us as well as being a uniquely memorable way to celebrate a 65th birthday. This year my mother banned my dad from running a second time, but I decided I’d give it a try. Yep, running a trail race in 19 degrees with 6 to 8 inches of unpacked snow was another not-so-brilliant decision I made last week.

The hint of a smile is because there's less than a mile to the finish!

The hint of a smile is because there’s less than a mile to the finish!

I managed to finish one loop of the course–a mere 17 k–in 2 hours and 17 minutes, which is a PR for me. That’s officially my slowest time ever running that distance. I also set a PR for most walk breaks. When I was somewhere near the 6-mile mark, several of us were startled by an unexpected gunshot that sounded much too close to our trail. Yes, we were out in the woods, but St. Mary’s Lake is a state park; there shouldn’t be hunting during a trail race. My legs were so dead that my mind instantly ran through the worst-case scenario, and I decided that I didn’t have the energy or the desire to outrun a lunatic with a shotgun. Yes, I decided I would just like down in the snow and wait to be shot. I get sort of selfish and lazy when I’m in pain, and that’s when I also decided I wouldn’t be running the Frozen Heart in 2016.

That’s it for now. Here’s hoping that this week is less eventful in this category!


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14

Fourteen was supposed to mean two times the dirty socks, putrid laundry, misplaced sports gear, and cracking voices. Pimples, insecurity, and a look-out-world-here-I-come attitude: boys on the cusp of manhood.

Instead fourteen is a house full of three girls, ages 12, 10 and 7. There’s a healthy dose of pink and purple in the laundry basket. Soccer cleats, shin guards, goggles and swim caps fight for room among a collection of bicycles, helmets, sidewalk chalk, Miracle Bubbles, and sleds.

There are no footballs or baseball bats; the pull-up bar and weights belong to their daddy. So do the golf clubs and the ball caps.

Fourteen wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it did, and we’re okay. We held our boys for a few precious minutes, and they’re never far from our thoughts. Especially today.

The shock, raw grief, numbness, and anger have worn away to faint memories, and in their place is a tenderness for others who didn’t want to–or didn’t get to–say good-bye to their children. The need to know why my sweet boys arrived too early has passed. In its place is the realization that we probably wouldn’t have known some–or any–of our girls if the boys had come home from the hospital. And that just isn’t a trail I want to follow today or any day.

Our lives are full and our days are long. Stocking the fridge, folding laundry, and checking math homework takes up my time. Coordinating medications, keeping track of blood sugars, and writing lesson plans seem more urgent than ruminating on the what-ifs and whys.

But every so often I do wonder. Would their eyes have been blue like mine or brown like Ryan’s? Would their hair have been blonde like S and G? Or curly and dark like H? Would they struggle with anxiety or attention problems? Would either of them have developed diabetes? What animals or sports would have become their obsessions? Would they be the ones driving us to our knees in prayer to survive adolescence?

I don’t know any of the answers, but I do know that fourteen years hasn’t changed the depth of my love for my first two babies. Happy 14th birthday, Seth and Owen.

 


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In the Throes of Battle

I’ve come down from the hilltop I recently visited. Instead of lush green pasture, Ryan and I find ourselves in the throes of combat. With our own child. To illustrate what I mean, here is what Child #2 created on Monday morning:

Gummy vitamins at war. Note the Xs on the decapitated bear.

Gummy vitamins at war. Note the Xs on the decapitated bear.

My mom thinks an art therapist would have a field day with this tableau. I’m sure she’s correct about that. I’m also too afraid to ask if this bloody gummy bear scene is related to our study of the Revolutionary War or if S is acting out some latent emotions related to her big sister’s recent hideous behavior.

Lately I’ve been longing for the days where we could put the girls into their cribs at night and sleep somewhat soundly knowing that they 1) weren’t capable of escaping and 2) their limited vocabularies prevented them from insulting our parenting. Looking to the past isn’t very productive, so instead we’re surging forward into very uncharted territory for us. We admit freely that we need help parenting our tween daughter, and we’re seeking wise counsel.

We’ve started reading a few books on the topic, too. In case anyone is interested in reading with us, I can already recommend Michael Bradley’s Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! (Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind).
I’ve finished Part 1 and still have two more sections to absorb before I can give a detailed synopsis, but it’s reassuring to learn that my once-sweet, somewhat-docile child is not deranged in a way unique to her. Dr. Bradley explains that all teenage brains are insane and gives the scientific data to support his claim. Phew!

Next on the reading list is Cynthia Tobias’s You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) , which the author wrote to empower parents to discipline and build up their strong-willed children. Did I mention that we’re battling adolescence with a strong-willed child?!  It’s at this point that the childish part of me would like to blame my mother for wishing this crazy, stubborn child upon me. Raise your hand if your mother said, “I hope you have a child just like you, too.”

Unfortunately I can blame no one. My wise, patient mother also says that you can’t take complete responsibility for your child’s personality. To do so would be to remove God from the equation. Furthermore, the flip side of being stubborn, strong-willed, pig-headed, or whatever you want to call it isn’t a bad thing. It’s called tenacity. And tenacity–combined with faith–is what has brought me personally through a number of crises and challenges.

So this stubborn, tenacious mama is plowing ahead. In prayer and with armor and not by myself. Ryan is standing beside me, friends who’ve been there and done that have offered guidance, more friends are praying, and I’m standing firm in the hope that God is not finished with this young lady yet. And though I recently found a grey eyebrow hair, I know we will survive this phase of parenting, too.


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The View from My Hilltop

If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past couple of months, you know that our family has been walking through a hard season. Actually, if you’re wondering why I haven’t written much, it’s for this same reason. Ryan has been actively job hunting for the past nine months, G has morphed into a hormone-fueled tween who has abandoned all reason, S’s diabetes has been even more unpredictable than usual, and I’ve been struggling to keep my anxiety under control.

Through it all, we’ve had some absolute rocks in our life. My dad has spent parts of the past two weeks with us while Ryan traveled. My mom is devoted to praying for us; Ryan’s parents just listen to us and never tell us that we’re doing things wrong. My sister gave me a proverbial kick in the pants and convinced me I wasn’t a failure because I could no longer homeschool G. Kind neighbors help with childcare, and my running buddies listen and advise during our long weekend runs. On top of it all, our church prays for us. They walk beside us and allow us to be vulnerable in admitting our struggles and failures. They point us back to the truth of God’s Word; they encourage us to place our hope in the Lord; and they rejoice with us during the good moments.

And we’ve seen some amazing moments in the past couple of weeks. Ryan has been away three times this month, and it’s only January 16! Yesterday he called me from Atlanta to give me some of the best news we’ve heard in the past year: He accepted a job offer with a major airline and is now a first officer. This is my husband’s dream come true–or, as G suggested, it would be like she were going to swim in the Olympics. We will be moving later this year so that we can live near my extended family. Neither Ryan nor I have lived in the same Zip code as any of our family members in almost 20 years, and we’ve grown weary of raising our girls without grandparents and cousins just a short drive away.

Other good things are happening, too. If you live in a somewhat rural area on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area, you might understand the struggle to find  medical specialists, especially pediatric ones. We routinely travel over an hour each way to see S’s endocrinologist four times a year, but the same problem exists for mental health providers. For the past six weeks I’ve been harassing regularly calling three different counselors who treat teens. I’ve gotten nowhere with any of them–until I tried a fourth counselor this week. To my utter shock, she returned my phone call within 24 hours. As an added bonus, counselor #3 called this week and offered to hold a spot if we don’t “click” with #4.

What a difference one week makes. For us, it’s meant a new job, an upcoming move, and someone who wants to help our sweet G make better decisions.

No, I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses at the moment. The girls aren’t thrilled with Ryan’s news, but I understand their reaction. I was a military child, too, and I rarely rejoiced when my parents told us it was time to pack up again. We also know that we have a long row ahead to hoe with G, but knowing that we’ve found others to help us allows us to take some much-needed deep breaths. I know that we’re not out of the valley yet, but the view from this little hill is certainly lovely.


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Speechless

G is super nervous about starting a new school tomorrow; after all, it’s been 7 ½ years since I dropped her off for school outside of the house. Apparently everything I say to her just makes her feel worse. For example, I asked her to make her lunch and to put away her laundry after dinner tonight. I’m horrible like that.

She got into bed early with 2 of S’s Harry Potter books, and I gently suggested that she try reading the psalms instead. After all, I pointed out, King David wrote many of them when he was feeling stressed and anxious.

“Why was he feeling anxious?” G wanted to know.

“Well, he was being chased by a crazy king who wanted to kill him.” (See, Pastor Rob, I’ve been listening to your sermons about David and Saul.)

“Yeah, but Mom, he didn’t have to go to a new school. I don’t think he even went to school.”

“You’re right, but he faced an 8-foot tall giant when everyone else was too scared.”

“Mom, what’s so hard about that?”

That’s when I said good night to my fiercely stubborn child. What do you do with a 12-year-old who thinks she’s ready to take on the world but doesn’t have a clue how to do so?

Nothing. There are no words I can say to her tonight to convince her she’s going to be okay. There are just the silent prayers that I lift up in short sentences throughout the day for her.

 


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All Is Calm (Just for the Moment)

We were late for church this morning because we didn’t read the bulletin last week. Had we paid attention, we would have arrived at 9:30 instead of 10 AM. We also would have remembered that there was no Sunday school for the little girls. At any rate, we squeezed into the only available pew: the very first pew directly in front of our pastor. Our pastor has a good sense of humor, and he laughed as he saw us slinking conspicuously into our seats. Within the next 10 minutes, the entire pew was full with two more families who were also oblivious to the schedule change.

It turns out that our pastor had this Sunday off from preaching. Instead of a Christmas sermon, we were treated to a lesson on Jonah. The girls were delighted–and actually paying attention–as the twenty-something guest speaker used emoticons in his sermon notes and several church members took part in an unexpected reenactment of Jonah’s journeys away from and to Ninevah.

But the reason I am writing was because of the moment where I looked down the pew and saw our entire family holding tiny plastic communion thimbles filled with grape juice. The girls were listening and paying attention; only one of them was slightly fidgeting; and no one was whining. Instead they were being reverent and participating.

This was one of those moments that moms capture in their hearts, and I knew it was special. This was our family together sharing a moment of faith. This was what Christmas is all about: Christ came to this earth as a human babe so that He could become our atonement. And 2000 years later my little family was sitting in a pew just three days after Jesus’s birthday celebrating his death and resurrection.

Merry Christmas to me.


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2014 in Review

I didn’t get around to typing up a Christmas newsletter to accompany our annual card. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between highlighting the wonderful parts of family life and bragging about the children’s accomplishment in a plastic way. Here is my attempt at remembering what we did in 2014.

In January we said good-bye to Ryan, who was activated for the first time since joining the Reserves. He joined his squadron for all those necessary pre-deployment activities and then headed to Bahrain for three months. I pretended like it wasn’t a big deal to homeschool three children all by myself in a state where we have no family–for about one week. Then I called my newly-retired father and asked him to come keep us company. He arrived just in time for our biggest snow of the season and helped me shovel out three driveways. Did I mention this was the year that I learned how to shovel snow for the first time? Yes, there’s a first time for everything. (Note to Ryan: I’m just now remembering that I broke the snow shovel. Apparently you shouldn’t break up sheets of ice with the side of the shovel.)

Daddy and I shoveled snow, and the girls made tunnels.

Daddy and I shoveled snow, and the girls made tunnels.

In February we celebrated my dad’s 65th birthday in great style. My mom watched the girls while he and I joined a bunch of other crazy runners and ran almost 11 miles up and down partially frozen, mostly slushy trails at a nearby state park. I’d like to say that we had a good time on our two-hour run, but that wouldn’t be what actually happened. The nicest thing my dad said was that he had a memorable birthday and will never forget it.

Still dry and smiling before Frozen Heart 2014.

Still dry and smiling before Frozen Heart 2014.

March brought some much-needed warmth after a cold winter. Spring soccer started up again, and S’s coach grudgingly allowed her to try playing goalkeeper. After all, it’s a scary thing to watch your accident-prone child place herself purposely in harm’s way. I got my own scare in March when I was attacked by a German shepherd during a long run with Ann and Tracy, two friends who patched me up and still continue to run with me.

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Too bad there isn’t a locking door on this cage of dangerous animals.

Later that month the girls and I took an extended visit to Norfolk, and I got a weekend reprieve. I drove to Greenville, SC, to meet half a dozen wonderful homeschooling friends for a Five in a Row staff retreat. (Five in a Row has been the core curriculum for our elementary homeschooling, and I help moderate the discussion boards.) Publisher Steve Lambert and author Jane Lambert treated us like queens for the weekend, and I easily recovered from the embarrassment of receiving my very first speeding ticket.

April began with a huge sigh of relief: Ryan arrived safely back on U.S. soil. The girls and I had a great plan to surprise him at his plane. Our plan worked quite well; we got lost more than once, failed to coordinate our bathroom breaks, and missed the plane’s landing by a solid 20 minutes. Later that month I turned 40 and celebrated my new age group by running my third half marathon with one of my favorite running friends Tracy.

Surprise!

Surprise!

May is a big birthday month in our extended families. On the day that H turned 7, it was Ryan’s turn to surprise me. While he was deployed overseas, he and my sister had been planning a beautiful afternoon at a local winery. Spring soccer came to an end in May, and it turns out that S is a fantastic, aggressive goalie. Who knew?! At the end of the month, we wrapped up our seventh year of homeschooling with a field trip to the National Cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam and Korean War Memorial sites.

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G and H with our favorite field trip chaperone

Also during May, Oreo (aka Hamster #4) joined his three predecessors in our small animal burial ground. Jelly Bean (Hamster #5) soon joined the family.

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S and H with Oreo during a tender moment.

In June I joined my crazy mother runner friends and ran 200 miles from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago for our second Ragnar Relay adventure. Once I returned home and caught up on my sleep, we settled into our summer swim routine: Everyone up by 7 AM to wiggle into suits and spend two hours at the neighborhood pool for swim team practice. Tuesday and Thursday evenings belonged to swim meets. This year all three girls swam for the Marlins. G has definitely discovered a love for swim, S has discovered that her athletic talents are better suited to soccer, and H decided that she loved to swim backstroke.

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Ragnar mother runners on the shores of Lake Michigan after sleeping for 2 hours at the Racine, WI, YMCA.

June also brought great sadness to our neighborhood and family. H’s best friend, our next-door neighbor Sofia, lost her brave three-month battle with brain cancer. Sofie went home to Jesus, and we mourned for her. Our girls all grew up quite a bit this spring, but H impressed us with her devotion to her friend and the gentle way she adapted to Sofie’s illness. June was a sad month.

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S donated 9 inches of hair to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths. She was inspired by Sofie.

July brought some much-needed distraction as we flew to Oregon to celebrate my father-in-law’s 75th birthday in grand style. Ryan’s siblings, their spouses and significant others, and a slew of nieces spent five days crammed together into two vacation homes before caravaning to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to watch Ryan’s brother Dan perform in two plays. It was a fantastic, exhausting trip. We returned home to Maryland to finish up the swim season. G excelled in breaststroke, and H held fast to her decision to only swim backstroke.

Beautiful backdrop in Ashland, OR.

Beautiful backdrop in Ashland, Oregon

August is our transition month between the last lazy days of summer and the beginning of a new school year. H left for a week of Grandparent Camp, which has become a tradition for her and her cousin O. S and H spent the same week at a local horse camp.

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Some tiny superheroes pose after a week of camp.

Meanwhile, we swam just for fun, tried to ignore the awful heat, and then picked up our school books. H started 2nd grade, S began the second half of 4th grade, and G became a 7th grader. S and I started a new soccer season with a mostly-new team, and I started to suspect that something was awry with our school year.

A little homeschooling humor.

A little homeschooling humor

September brought more heat, more swim team practice (for G), more soccer headaches (for me), and more county fair ribbons. All three girls earned ribbons and tidy little prize checks for their art entries. Where they get their artistic abilities continues to be a great mystery to Ryan and me!

Practicing paddling skills

Practicing paddling skills

In October it was my turn to earn a little prize money. I earned my first cash prize for finishing third in the Lower Potomac River 10 Miler. I also logged my 1000th mile of the year with a little assistance from my sometime running partner H.

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I earned $75, and my dad placed 1st in the Grand Master category.

The rest of the month went by in a blur of G’s 12th birthday, soccer games, swim practices, long school days, and the various medical, dental, and extracurricular appointments that require me to drive the girls around the  tri-county area of southern Maryland. (Actually this description truthfully describes the entirety of September, October, and November.)

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Neighborhood trick-or-treaters before their haul of sugary treats.

In November I resigned from coaching S’s soccer team for the second time in one season. Bad behavior still manages to blindside me, especially when it comes from adults. Apparently my resignations mean little to our soccer league, however, and I ended up agreeing to finish up the spring season. Taking the advice of a wise friend–Jen, that’s you!–I’ve put a plan into place to keep the spring season from making me crazier than I already am.

If we owned an anteater, of course it would let the girls ride on its back.

The girls riding an anteater at the National Zoo in November.

If our family had a motto, it would be “Change is our constant,” and December stuck to this theme. S and H started attending a new homeschool co-op; we made the decision to place G in a private school after Christmas break; and Ryan scheduled a job interview. Oh, and all three things happened in the same week. I can’t begin to guess what 2015 holds for our family, but I’m fervently praying that God grants us stability and peace in the areas of job, home, and education.

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Uncle Matt took the girls and Cousin O out for a spin on an unseasonably warm Christmas Day.

My specific prayer is that Ryan finds the best job for our family so that we’ll be able to move closer to grandparents and cousins. As our children grow older, we find that we don’t need our family to help us so much with babysitting; instead we need their support and guidance to help us navigate the teen and ‘tween years.

Happy 2015, everyone!

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