On a Learning Curve

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


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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 theĀ  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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Parenting Is Hard Work

Note: I started writing this post 10 days ago, so I think I should just publish it and move on.

Parenting is hard. I mean it’s ridiculously, unbelievably hard. And we’re not sure that we’re doing such a bang-up job lately.

Someone always seems to be throwing a tantrum or telling us what she isn’t going to do. In fact, by 9:36 this morning, all three girls had pitched some variation of a fit. G refused to eat breakfast. S screamed that she hated diabetes because we couldn’t figure out why her blood sugar hit 338. And Number 3 decided that she was not going to accept any help with math, despite the fact that she can’t pronounce the word ratio. Yes, we had some good times at our house this morning.

Last month we made the decision to stop homeschooling our oldest child G. This is my last week teaching the first child that I taught to read. For now at least. We’ve enrolled her in a nearby private school so that I can spend my time just being her mom instead of being her teacher. It was a gut-wrenching decision to make, and it involved prayer, tears, more tantrums, and some painfully honest advice. And none of it has gone as planned.

You see, I’m a firstborn daughter. I’m organized, responsible, stubborn, and dependable. Once I decide to do something, I’m going to hang on until it’s done well. I graduated salutatorian of my high school class; I have a Phi Beta Kappa key. And last month I realized that I could no longer teach one of my children. That was really difficult to admit. But you know what? It was amazingly freeing, too.

I’m not envisioning that the rest of this academic year is going to be smooth sailing. Ryan and I are preparing ourselves for some big bumps in the road ahead of us. I already know that I’m going to have to learn to keep my mouth shut when G brings home work that I wouldn’t assign. I also know that I need to let my child struggle–or even fail–in order to take ownership of her own education. I also imagine I’m going to be increasing my weekly mileage in order to help her learn how to negotiate for herself.

(Here’s how I tried to finish this piece 5 days ago.)

Remember how I wrote that parenting is hard about 5 paragraphs ago? Well, this whole week has been hard. Especially today. Today is most likely the last day I will formally teach my oldest child. I had envisioned that we’d tie up a few loose ends, finish a science review, and grade one last math test. I borrowed a DVD of the Muppets’ Christmas Carol to wrap up the week we’ve just spent on Dickens’ Christmas classic.

That’s not how today has gone. G tore up her final project for A Christmas Carol. I don’t know if she’s finished her math test or her science review because she isn’t talking to me. Kermit and Miss Piggy are on indefinite hold. Oh, and the counselor’s office returned my phone call from Monday. They may or may not be able to see her in three weeks. The office manager told me just to “hang in there” since G’s problems aren’t life-threatening. I wanted to growl back in response.

I went for a run while the girls ate lunch. I cried in the shower. I threw on a load of laundry and drove the girls to their art lesson. H is pestering me to play Uno with her because that’s important to a 7 year old. I played two hands with her, but my heart is hurting.

I want to act like a 12-year-old. I want to stomp up the stairs, slam all the bedroom doors, throw the laundry on the floor, and shred something made out of paper. It hurts to have a child who is hurting. It hurts to have a child who thinks she doesn’t need her mother any more. And it hurts that I have to let my child figure out how to grow up and solve her own problems.

I need some grace today. I need the grace that God promises is sufficient to meet all of my needs. And I need to dole out a healthy amount of grace towards my sometimes-snarly, sometimes-sweet, always-unpredictable daughter.

Did I mention that parenting is hard?


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The Day in Pictures

I haven’t been running as often lately. Apparently my 40-year-old body has decided to act its age. I’m not very rubbery these days, and something always seems to hurt.

Since I’m not running as much, I haven’t been tweaking possible blog topics either. I do some of my best writing and praying while I run. I do have a piece I’ve been working on for awhile, and my goal is to find time this weekend to put it on (digital) paper. Life has been stressful lately, and praying has seemed more important than writing.

In the meantime, I thought I’d string together some sentences and three photos that I captured today. (Note: I am not a professional photographer. I didn’t even use a real camera–just my Galaxy S4. Don’t judge.) The first shot presented itself just before lunch.

20141212_133018A re-enactment of Hitchcock’s The Birds? We didn’t open the door to take our chances with this flock of blackbirds. After the noisy little things flew off, I consulted with Merlin, the bird ID app from Cornell University. I was disappointed to discover that these are probably relatives of the common grackles who used to poop mercilessly all over our cars when we lived in south Texas. (Here’s a plug for Merlin if you enjoy birding at any level. Download their free app; it’s well worth the time it take!)

The next photo op presented itself while H and I were running errands in “downtown” Leonardtown. We regularly visit several shops on Fridays while S and G take their art lesson, and we popped into Corner Critters, a quirky pet shop that keeps us stocked with hamsters and their accoutrements. Here is the colorful canine who greeted us at the checkout.

20141212_142307This is Whisper. She–or possibly he–is famous enough to have her own Facebook page with 2000 followers. She’s apparently a Ravens fan, too, and was happy to pose for me. That’s all I have to say about Whisper.

Finally, I captured this shot as G was finishing up her science lab. Yes, that’s a toilet in the background. Apparently she needed a dark, windowless room with a table or countertop. G decided that the toilet lid was equally convenient. Sigh. Homeschool science is definitely not high budget, and we apparently need to revisit the results from last spring’s science fair project. (You know, the one where we swabbed various household surfaces in search of bacteria.)

20141212_154933I’m off for a run now. There are just a few minutes of daylight left, and I need to figure out what I’ll be writing next.