On a Learning Curve

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


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In the presence of angels

Many years ago when G was still in diapers and Ryan was deployed, I went on vacation with my parents. We traveled to Maine to get away from the July heat of the East Coast. We were almost successful, too. It was a delightfully chilly 70 degrees at the top of Mt. Washington on the day that we visited; otherwise, the week was fully of record highs and three-digit temperatures.

By the time we flew back to my parents’ place in Virginia, I was ready for a vacation from our vacation. It had been a long week of sunsets past 9 P.M., and I had four more hours of driving ahead of me–with Baby G and two miniature schnauzers. Except that I barely made it across the North Carolina border. I had a flat tire, limited cell service, and nothing to do but wait hopefully for a promised repair truck.

That’s when I first met a pair of angels. Sure, one of them was shirtless, and they arrived in a Camaro, but they were clearly sent to rescue me from the side of an overpass near Elizabeth City. Within ten minutes, they figured out how to work the German-engineered Volkswagen tire iron and replaced my flat with a spare. To show their appreciation, G wailed and both dogs growled and barked incessantly. With frayed nerves, I turned the car around to buy a new set of tires and start again the next day.

There’s much more to this story that I’m not telling you now. Sure, it’s entertaining and complicated, but the point is that these two strangers stopped to help me on a stretch of 17 South that had little traffic that summer day. No, I’m not exaggerating about the shirtless part or the Camaro.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Today I met two more angels. It’s a cold, snowy day, and my angels arrived in a snow plow wearing appropriate layers of clothing. One of them was named Nate.

I met Nate and his father today after our Subaru hit an icy patch, slid onto the shoulder of Ivy Road, and landed a hundred yards later on its side in a ditch. G was with me again, and she tried to dial 911 for me before she climbed out of the backseat. She stayed remarkably calm, too.

Nate appeared after I hung up with 911. Because I couldn’t open my car door, Nate climbed into the backseat to help me out. He and his father convinced me to unbuckle my seat belt, and Nate helped me climb safely out of the back seat to his father, who then pulled me up the snowy hillside.

In total, four of our Crozet neighbors stopped to help us, as did a policewoman, a volunteer fireman, and three teenagers assigned to the local fire and rescue station. I am grateful that we live among so many kind, helpful people.

It’s the season of Advent, and we celebrate the angels who announced the Messiah’s birth two thousand years ago. I believe that angels take many forms; some even wear shirts.

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A Labor Day of love

School is well under way in our household, and I’m not teaching. Not yet anyway. And I won’t be teaching anyone whose last name is Ford.

That’s a new thing for everyone, and the first three weeks have gone as well as or better than we anticipated. G still doesn’t love going to school, but she’s relieved to be past her freshman year. Her guidance counselor is pretty fantastic, too, and sent me a note that she hand-picked G’s teachers. I’ve already informed Ryan that we probably need to send her flowers.

H loves the social aspect of school and waivers between loving and hating the rest of school. She survived an embarrassing moment in PE, learned how to unlock her locker, and applied to be part of the SCA because she wants to remove the graffiti in the girls’ bathrooms,  She just finished the first round of standardized testing and informs me that math is too easy. I’ll take that as a thank you for six years of teaching her math.

S, on the other hand, is thrilled to be in school. She loves what’s she’s learning even when she’s not sure it’s the best use of her time. She is wise beyond her years though. After her first day of school, she informed me that she had made a bookmark, taken a personality quiz to find her spirit animal, and learned how to sit in a line with her PE squad. She was rather dismayed and disappointed about the lack of academic pressure.

“Welcome to public school, kiddo,” was my response. I then nicely explained why they had done those things and commiserated with her, too.

What’s going really well is managing S’s diabetes and this is what prompted me to write. When we started the registration process six months ago, we envisioned a fairly smooth transition from homeschooling to middle school. After all, it had taken us just two days to get Grace enrolled at the high school last year, so how hard could it be to put two kids in middle school?

Well, it turned out to be hard. The school didn’t want to accept the standardized test scores that I had been submitting to the county as proof of the girls’ academic process, so I brought the girls to the school for more testing. Then I brought the girls to the school to choose their classes and meet the 504 coordinator. Then S’s doctor filled out her diabetes paperwork. Then I took the girls to the pediatrician to prove that they were vaccinated and fill in any gaps in their records. Then we waited for meetings and schedules. With two days until the start of school, H still didn’t have a sixth grade schedule, and S still didn’t have a 504 Plan to manage her diabetes. Everyone was feeling the stress.

And then God showed up–of maybe that’s when I finally noticed that He answered our prayers in ways that I hadn’t thought to ask. With 46 hours to go, H’s schedule popped up online, and H was able to calm down, which meant I was able to calm down, too. With 21 hours to go, I sat down at a table with nine teachers, an assistant principal, and the school nurse. Sixty minutes later, S had a legal document, her teachers had shown appropriate concern, the new 504 coordinator made sure I was comfortable, and the school nurse showed everyone her CGM.

Yes, the school nurse has diabetes and wears some of the same devices that S wears. And God is good. Not because either the nurse or S has diabetes, and I do not want to imply in any way that God gave the nurse diabetes. Instead I point out His goodness in that He brought this woman and my daughter together this year. Type 1 diabetes has no cure–yet–and I struggle with what I can and cannot control. I cannot control S’s diabetes, but I can try my best. I cannot control her safety and well-being, but I can rest easier knowing that her nurse understands my struggle and S’s struggle.

I predict that we will send flowers to the nurse, too.

Last weekend I drove S back and forth to Lynchburg for a Labor Day soccer tournament. It was hot and miserable, and S was disappointed with her team’s second-place finish. But she was also elated over scoring a goal on a penalty kick. What she wasn’t expecting was that Ryan would call me and let me know that her beloved Dumbo rat had died while she was gone.

I waited until we had finished eating dinner before I told her the news. Then I braced myself for the emotional onslaught. Instead S surprised me. With her lip quivering, she told me, “Mom, I’m not going to be sad. She was such a good rat that it’s better to have enjoyed her while she was alive than to be sad now.”

S holding Suki earlier this summer

Ugh. Why do kids have to be so smart sometimes? And how do they grow up without us noticing? No matter what I say when I am most frustrated and frazzled, I sure do love these kids.


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Pickleball and Diabetes Camp

In September I start a part-time job teaching three classes every Monday at our local homeschool co-op. I’ll be teaching a fantasy literature class on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, a college prep writing class, and middle school girls P.E.

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

Of course it’s the P.E. class. It’s not that I haven’t taught homeschool P.E. classes before; it’s just that I’ve never taught middle school girls. They’re a daunting age group, and I’m guessing that most of their mothers chose my class for them. That’s why I’m pinning my hopes on pickleball.

This summer S and I have been learning how to play pickleball on the miniature tennis courts behind our local YMCA. Mary is our fearless leader, and we join her and a handful of others every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Here’s an action shot of S.

She quickly realized that I was taking pictures of her, so she insisted that I stop. But not before I snapped another picture of Mary returning S’s serve.

As you may notice, there is a slight age difference between S and Mary. My guess is 50 years. S is by far the youngest pickleball player, and I easily have two decades on most of my partners.

Anyone can play pickleball, and that’s exactly my point. The rules aren’t terribly complicated, even if they don’t necessarily make sense. Case in point: games are played to 11 points, and the no one is allowed to hang out in the non-volley zone known as the kitchen.

Anyway, this week S has been at diabetes camp. That means that I have now slept soundly through the last four nights without any alarms indicating low or high blood sugar; I have consciously tried not to count carbohydrates; and I haven’t uttered the phrase, “Are you high?!” This also means that I haven’t had a pickleball partner this week.

I’m okay with this arrangement though. It’s good for S to escape for a bit and hang out with other kids who find it perfectly normal to prick their fingers, pack juice and candy before every outing, and discuss numbers like they are math geniuses.

I took H to pickeball yesterday. She rallied with me for a bit but declined to play with anyone who wasn’t an actual blood relative; instead, she acted as scorekeeper and ball girl. She was a big hit with the pickleball crowd, too.

And I think that’s what I like best about pickleball. It’s not the game itself, which is a weird combination of ping pong, tennis, and badminton. It’s the fact that my girls are spending time with people they haven’t met before and that these people are five times their age. In fact, our pickleball experience reminds me of why I’ve enjoyed homeschooling my children: It’s healthy and positive to expose children to others who are different from them in age, experience, and background.

H and I will be picking up S from camp this evening. I guarantee that she will be sunburned, tired, and cranky–all signs that she had a fabulous time and probably didn’t miss me or pickleball at all.


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Trying to let go…

Yesterday was supposed to be the first time I put my baby on a school bus. There have been countless times I wished I could put her on a school bus, but I digress.

I signed up H to attend Horizons Camp, which is for rising sixth graders who want to meet other students or get used to middle school before the first day. Or it’s for mothers who are really excited that a school bus will pick up and drop off their rambunctious children and let them have a little peace for four hours.

Except that H wasn’t on the bus list. No problem, emailed the principal. Just drive her in Monday morning, and we’ll send her home on the bus.

So that’s what I did. I took H and her buddy B to the high school just down the road past the middle school. The middle school is under construction for the summer, and the sign-up letter listed the high school as the location.

At the high school, I met a group of other moms–and one dad–and their rising 6th graders. A very nice but very confused secretary assured us that Horizons Camp was not being held at the high school.

After a quick phone call, everyone caravaned down the street back to the middle school. Voila. Camp Horizons was being held in part of the middle school not under construction. A very apologetic principal assured us that all would be okay.

Except that it wasn’t. B and H did not ride the bus home at 12:15. The bus driver did not have either of their names on the manifest–yes, just like an airplane manifest–and his assistant explained that my little girl refused to ride the bus.

Ugh.

That’s when the principal pulled up to the bus stop with B and H in tow. B’s mom and I had both missed her phone calls since we were walking to the bus stop, so she drove them herself. H’s explanation?

“Mom, it smelled like cigarette smoke on the bus. I cannot ride a bus that smells like cigarette.”

I thanked the principal, who seemed fairly mortified by the day’s misadventures. She promised to get both girls on the manifest as soon as she returned to school.

That’s when we started the walk back home, and that’s when the next part of the adventure began. You see, in order to reach the bus stop, we had to cut through someone’s property and literally walk by No Trespassing signs. But B is a rule follower and would have nothing to do with our return route. Given that our other two choices were to walk along a two-lane highway with no sidewalk or follow a trail, we chose the trail.

B’s mom tried to make conversation. “So…tell me what you did. Was it fun?”

Yes, it was fun. H said that they played a game called Me, Too.

I gave my friend a look that showed my horror–and naivete. “Laura, it’s not that kind of Me, Too.”

“Yeah, Mom, like when someone said, ‘I play soccer,’ I said, ‘Me, too!'”

Then the girls explained that they had had math and reading blocks, played soccer, and created a tower out of balloons. But no snack. H thinks it’s cruel not to feed children, and she reminded me that I had said there would be snack provided.

Yes, I had told her that. Because that’s what the information sheet said. Then again, we hadn’t been doing well with the information sheet so far.

By now we had reached the trail. The girls chattered about seeing a copperhead yesterday. “You saw a copperhead and didn’t tell me?” I said. “How do you know it was a copperhead?”

B explained that it had a diamond pattern on its back. Then she started shrieking hysterically. In the trail ahead of us was an actual snake that looked a lot like this.

Northern ribbon snake on leaf

That’s an eastern ribbon snake, and it’s very tiny and harmless. That didn’t deter B from hysterics though, and I can’t really blame her. If you’re scared of snakes, then there’s no differentiating between good and bad snakes.

As we slowly walked home–keeping an eye out for more snakes the whole time–H told me the real reason she wouldn’t ride the bus. Since her name wasn’t on the passenger list, she was supposed to sit next to the assistant–the one who smelled like cigarette smoke–and she didn’t know him. I’m sure I’ve mentioned H’s general suspicion of any adult male she hasn’t previously vetted. I sighed.

Later that afternoon the principal emailed that she couldn’t find H in the computer system. Had I forgotten to register her for sixth grade?

Are you kidding me?

We skipped the bus adventure this morning, and we’ve decided not to try the bus again until the “real” bus arrives in August. I also decided to visit the office after I dropped off B and H. It turns out that all of H’s information is safely in the system. It’s just that the system doesn’t roll over to the next school year until July 16.

Of course it doesn’t.

I promise I’m trying. It’s not every day that a mom who’s been homeschooling her children for 11 years decides to turn control over to someone else. And it’s clearly going to be a learning process for all of us–me especially.

 


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A few words on fathers and Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. My husband lumps it into the category of made-up holidays. I, on the other hand, quip that every day is Father’s Day. By that I mean that we have a traditional household. I stay at home with the children–sometimes to my chagrin–and do the majority of cooking, cleaning, and child rearing while Ryan literally is on the road or in the air six months out of the year. It’s pretty much the norm that I cook him dinner if he’s home.

That does not mean that I can’t appreciate Father’s Day. I am blessed to have a life full of good men who, while not perfect, have been/are good fathers, good husbands, and good providers. I am not naive; I know that this is the exception, not the rule.

The 2017 poster: Someone needed 4 pieces of paper to express her love

Before we had children, Ryan thought it would be nice to have just two. I suggested four. Instead we ended up with six, though three have gone ahead of us to heaven. Ryan had no idea what he was vowing when he promised to have and to hold me for better or worse. He demonstrates his love for his girls–all four of us–by going to work and coming home faithfully, but I know he longed to be a father to his two boys.

Did I mention that I have been able to stay at home for the past 15 years? That’s solely because of Ryan. My husband has selflessly supported our family since G arrived. When I thought I’d try my hand at homeschooling G, he signed on for that, too. He just didn’t realize that my two-year experiment would morph into an 11-year lifestyle. For the past eight years, he has held two jobs that keep him far busier than he ever wanted. I love him for that.

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2007: Still one of my favorite pictures of Ryan and the girls

My own father lives just 20 minutes away. He’s part of the reason that we moved back to Virginia three years ago. He’s always been an important part of my life, and for the past three years, we’ve lived in neighboring zip codes. In recent years, our relationship has changed. He’s been my running and painting partner, assistant coach, and sounding board. He rarely offers advice without being asked, and he always offers me unconditional love. He is quick to give me a hug, and it’s obvious that I inherited my leaky eyes from him.

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2013: Running my very first Charlottesville 10 Miler with my dad

Then there is my father-in-law. Mike lives many miles away on the opposite coast, but he’s equally important. His signature phrase has always been, “I love you madly,” and it’s impossible not to love him madly in return. He fiercely loves Donna, my mother-in-love. He raised Pat, Dan, Michelle, Julie, Ryan, and Chad–and survived their childhoods and adolescence to pass on his love to eight granddaughters and one grandson.

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2010: Papa wearing a pink cat on his chest in support of our first JDRF walk

And finally there is Bill. Our girls knew him as Uncle Bill, and he was family in the truest sense. He was my father’s best friend, and I can’t remember not knowing him. When I was engaged to Ryan, he took me out to lunch one day and explained that married couples only fight about three things: family, money, and sex. Twenty years later, Bill is no longer with us on each, but he’s still correct about all three. That was Bill: he spoke his mind freely. When we were stationed in Corpus Christi, we lived just a mile away from Uncle Bill and Aunt Sharon, who became the girls’ substitute grandparents for the three years of our tour. One of my favorite memories is when Bill volunteered to babysit all three little girls one evening. When I arrived home, H was asleep on the floor in between the couch and coffee table. Bill’s calm response? “She kept crying when I held her, and she fell asleep down there. I wasn’t going to move her.”

2008: H is totally at rest on Uncle Bill’s lap. She’s sucking her thumb and twirling her hair.

Happy Father’s Day to my three favorite fathers. Ryan, Daddy, and Mike, I didn’t support the greeting card industry or Amazon today–and I’m fairly confident that you’re not offended. Instead I just wanted to put into writing a small token of how I feel about each of you. I love you. Thank you for showing me and our daughters how real men love and lead their families. Thank you for demonstrating the love that the Father has for each of us in tangible, concrete ways every day.


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Car magnets, ADHD, and a horse named Eddie

Have you ever seen one of those ribbon magnets that says, I love somebody with autism? They’re popular on the backs of minivans, and the ribbon is composed of multi-colored puzzle pieces.

What I’ve never seen is a ribbon/bumper sticker/magnet advertising that the harried mother driving the minivan loves somebody with ADHD. Do you want to know why? Because the child with ADHD would have noticed the ribbon magnet, pulled it off the car, retrieved a pair of scissors and/or the hot glue gun, and then turned it into something even more spectacular. Until he–or she–remembered something else more interesting. The aforementioned mother would eventually disover the artwork-in-progress–let’s say as she innocently enters the bathroom to pick up wet towels. She will involuntarily shriek as she notices that “someone” has strewn scissors, Sharpies, glitter, and bits of refrigerator magnets next to a hot glue gun that is oozing glue onto the tile floor. She’ll catch her breath and decide against a second shriek as she silently thanks her child for not selecting a room with carpet.

If you don’t love somebody with ADHD, you probably think I’ve gone a bit overboard already. But that’s only because you have no idea what it’s like to live with someone whose brain is wired completely differently than yours.

In our house, we call the ADHD brain a “super brain” because that’s exactly what it is. My daughter’s super brain fires far more rapidly than mine does; it notices far more things than mine does; it tries to accomplish far more tasks than mine can; and it does all of these things all at the same time. All of the time. Unless she is asleep.

My child is funny and fun to be around. She is creative like you wouldn’t believe; in fact, I may have created the glue gun example based on her shenanigans.

Last night she brought me her gerbil, a 3-year-old morbidly obese rodent named Mocha Bob. Mocha Bob was pink because someone thought he needed a layer of blush all over his fur. G thought this new hair color was hysterically funny but did admit that she wasn’t sure how to remove it. I suggested a nice dust bath.

Last week I was cleaning up the kitchen counters when I heard a familiar voice: “Mom, do you know where I am?” I looked over the counter into the family room but saw no one.

“Mom, I’m down here. With Perry.” Perry is my sister’s standard poodle who visits us whenever her family vacations. G loves Perry, and the feeling is mutual. Since I couldn’t see Perry or G, I gave up.

“Where exactly are you and Perry?” I innocently asked. This is where I found the two of them.

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Why yes, a standard poodle and a 15 y.o. girl fit comfortably in a dog kennel.

I have a million of these stories from the last 15 years. They’re funny–really, really funny. When she was two, she calmly covered her legs in Sharpie while I was nursing S. When she was five, she turned her little sisters into bunny rabbits on Easter Sunday; she accurately drew noses, whiskers, and paws onto both of them. At ten, she taped S’s toothbrush to the bathroom ceiling.

I also have a million stories that aren’t very funny to me because of the amount of cleanup they required. At three, she covered her bedroom walls in Bag Balm during nap time. At 12, she splattered blue food dye up the bathroom wall and across the ceiling but still has no explanation as to how/why she did that. That was the same summer that two ink pens–the permanent type–mysteriously exploded in her swim bag and bed. At 13, she dyed her hair in the bathtub with ballpoint pen ink. When she was 14, entering her bathroom could induce panic attacks; I retrieved corn starch, olive oil, thumb tacks, Sharpies, highlighters, ballpoint pens, crayons, glitter, scissors, dishes, utensils, and bits of discarded fabric more times than I care to count.

What’s my point exactly?

It’s exhausting to raise a child who has ADHD. And it’s frustrating to be the child who has ADHD. It affects every aspect of her life and mine: her schoolwork and my relationship with her teachers and administrators; her friendships and my relationships with her friends’ parents; her feelings that no one likes/understands/loves her; and my marriage to her father.

It’s easy for her to lose hope, and it’s a struggle for me to not worry about her future.

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I’d rather have this sign than a ribbon magnet.

Today I dropped my super creative, exceptionally funny child with a super brain at her first official day of work at a local horse farm. She has her first summer job, and I am ridiculously proud of her. She will be doing hard labor taking care of horses three days a week in exchange for a lease on a horse named Eddie.

I love this girl. She makes me crazy, mad, and anxious at times. Every day with her is unpredictable, but today is full of promise.


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Under pressure today….

When kid #2 finds out that she made a premier-level soccer team but not the team she wanted to make. When kid #3 attempts to calm her distraught sister, but her offer to play Quiddler is rebuffed. When kid #1 refuses to ask her teachers to clarify the exam schedule and demands that you figure out what she is supposed to do.

That was the first part of my morning.

When kid #1 finally catches the morning bus after a week-long hiatus. Wben kid #3 stops being a jerk and completes her vocabulary and math assignments. When kid #2 agrees to start her language arts because you’re letting her keep her favorite rat in her jacket pocket–and it’s your jacket.

That was when I caught my breath.

When kid #1’s trainer texts to say she just quit giving riding lessons at the barn–the barn that is less than a 10-minute drive from your front door. When kid #3 shoves her fist into her mouth and refuses to answer the pediatrician’s questions because there is a male medical student in the room. When the monsoon restarts and water threatens to enter the garage less than 15 minutes later.

That was this afternoon.

When you find the sump pump and successfully hook it up. When the husband phones from the opposite coast to casually ask how the day has gone and gets more than he imagined.

Will life ever calm down? Is this simply a rainy season?

Ugh. There is so much water everywhere that the mosquitoes have burst back to life. And that’s exactly what life feels like right now. I’m treading water while trying to get back to the shore, and I can’t figure out how to outsmart the mosquitoes. Yet.