On a Learning Curve

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


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Distracted

I am a distracted writer. I don’t know how to separate life and its disruptions from my writing–or anything else really.

For example, last week S turned 12. I wrote half of a solid blog piece, and that’s where it ended. It bothers me to have half-finished things, so I deleted the entire post. Here’s the picture that I would have posted if I had finished writing.

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S and her beloved rat Nori. I have no explanation for her love of rodents.

We also had a few rough days of parenting in between the birthday festivities. I was torn between typing up my frustrations and violating the privacy of G, who doesn’t read my blog anyway. In the end, I scrapped that piece, too.

Needless to say, I don’t seem to have the hang of this parenting job just yet. We’re 14ish years into this vocation, and I still manage to be surprised by how ridiculously hard it is. One thing I am learning is not to judge other parents by the behaviors of their children. If Ryan and I are trying this hard, other parents also must be pulling their hair out, crying their eyes out, and wondering what’s gotten into their children’s minds, too. Right?

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Watching and waiting…

For a pleasant bit of distraction, I took H and her friend MC to our local Christmas parade on Sunday. We live in a small town, and anyone was welcome to walk in the parade. (The latter fact helps explain why a propane delivery truck was also one of the entries.) I love our newly adopted home town, and I was loving the fact that we could watch an entire parade in just 20 minutes.

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It’s not a Christmas parade without Santa and his draft horses.

Unfortunately, it takes me longer than 20 minutes to write. I wrote most of this piece yesterday while S and H were taking their weekly classes at our homeschool co-op. I did so in between emailing G’s teachers for make-up work because her body decided to succumb to strep; checking in with Ryan; and finding three co-op parents to keep an eye on H and S next week while I am recuperating from knee surgery.

If everything is for a season, then I suppose this is simply my season to figure out how to stay focused on what’s important, weed out what isn’t, and persevere when something–or someone–needs extended time.


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Another One of Those Back to School Posts

Today I might lose my mind.

It’s the first day of school for G, but we didn’t get any pictures. That’s because someone “forgot” to set her alarm and decided that applying makeup was more important than eating breakfast, getting dressed, or being nice to her parents. Today was also the first day of carpooling to a new campus. At least we were on time to meet our ride.

After dropping off G, I headed to the local YMCA. I have permission to start pool running again. Just three times a week for 30 minutes at a steady state. It’s been 5 weeks since I had surgery to remove my torn ACL, and I’m excited to move past the tedium of front leg lifts, side leg lifts, and back leg lifts. So of course the pool was closed for electrical problems today.

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It wasn’t a pretty ACL. And now it’s gone. ACL #3 should arrive in November.

Back at home, H accidentally spilled half a box of Rice Krispies. Right after I finished cleaning the floor. And our vacuum is out of service until a new shipment of bags arrives tomorrow.

So I started school with S and H. All was going fine until science. We have been using a fabulous, hands-on curriculum for the past two years. There’s an experiment for every single lesson, and we’ve been learning scientific principles according to their chronological context. The downside to all this great hands-on learning? It’s the perfect opportunity for H to start a fight with S. Today H decided that S was not holding two yardsticks at arms’ length properly; therefore, she wouldn’t participate and needed to storm out of the lesson.

Today the girls were supposed to continue learning about Copernicus and the scientific community’s shift to a heliocentric view of the universe. Instead I learned that an 11 year old can tick off her little sister by holding two yardsticks off to the right instead of holding them off to the left like the illustration in the book shows. Does any of this make sense to you either?!

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Ignore the missing punctuation. This is my back-to-school gift from my father-in-law.

It’s our lunch break now. S and H have mended hurt feelings and are fixing themselves of nutritious organic mac and cheese from a blue box. I’m going back to the Y. If I can’t pretend I’m running in the water, I’m going to sit on a bike and ride to nowhere for 30 minutes instead.

Maybe we’ll take back-to-school pictures this week. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll make it through a school day without tears or tantrums. And if comes down to a choice between pictures or good behavior, I’ll choose the latter every time.


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Distraction and Grief

I forgot to call my brother yesterday. It was his 40th birthday. Sorry, Matt. I’ve been distracted.

Everything distracts me lately. The power steering in my car went out last week, and the car spent 3 days in the mechanic’s shop. It’s dripping power steering fluid again, so S and H camped out with me yesterday in the waiting room while we waited for a diagnosis.

Last week G decided to dye her hair without asking permission. She used ballpoint ink—a mixture of red and blue that resulted in indigo streaks in her blond hair. After we removed all the dye from the sink and tub, we did our best with two partial bottles of rubbing alcohol to remove the ink from her hair. We were mostly successful with her hair, and we sent her to school the next day. It turns out that “mostly successful” does not meet her school’s dress code. She was suspended for the day, and I took her for an emergency haircut.

Meeting with the headmaster, emailing her teachers, and squeezing in a salon appointment turned out to be distracting, too. I was supposed to be teaching S and H; they were supposed to have Friday afternoon off because I had accepted a substitute job. Friday simply did not go according to schedule.

A pleasant distraction that appeared last week

A pleasant distraction that appeared last week

More than just distracting, it’s turning out to be tremendously hard to raise a teenager. We grounded G last weekend, which is more of a punishment for me and Ryan than for her. Because we do not trust her judgment, she had to stay within view of one parent at all times for the entire three-day weekend. Amazingly she still managed to turn another section of her bedroom carpet pink.

And we’re growing weary. Ryan is away as much as he is home. He is working two jobs, and we’ve been depleting our savings for nearly a year. My leaking car is almost 11 years old. Unfortunately our commitment to frugality—no vacation, no summer camps, no credit card debt, no car payments—didn’t earn us any tuition aid for the next school year. That letter arrived last week, too.

All of these stresses make our recent family battle with a stomach bug look like a piece of cake.

It’s hard to persevere when life is hard. It’s harder still because this spring has been full of unpleasant anniversaries. The end of February marked 15 years since we briefly met our boys Seth and Owen, and this week brought the 10th birthday of our daughter Lucy.

Very few of our new neighbors, friends or acquaintances in Virginia know that we have six children. Telling someone that you’ve buried three of your babies makes for awkward conversation. Every time we move, we weigh whether or when it’s relevant to share. But our babies will always be relevant to us.

Last week I simply wanted to grieve for Lucy. She’s not grieving for me because she’s having a grand old time with her brothers and great-grandparents, but I still miss her. Every. Single. Day. I miss her despite the fact that I have three living daughters. Or perhaps that’s why I miss her. She never had the chance to test my patience, make me question my sanity, or infuriate me.

And ten years later, the list of people who remember her story grows smaller. I understand why, but that doesn’t diminish the value of my daughter–or sons.

All of this is to admit that my brother took the brunt of my distraction and self-absorption. His birthday falls one day after Lucy’s, which happened to be the same day that we packed up our books and conducted school in a dated, wood-paneled waiting room. Of course the mechanic couldn’t find the source of the leak. He added dye–not ballpoint ink or food coloring–to the system, told me not to top off any fluids, and asked me to call back when the car leaks again.

You see, the car is going to leak again. All the signs are there. I wish I could make a pithy connection between my leaking car and my battered heart, but I can’t. In time we’ll replace my well-traveled Ford Freestyle with some leather-seated model, but my heart is another matter. It cannot be replaced, and I’m not ready to let go of any of the experiences or memories that have shaped it.

 


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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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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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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!