On a Learning Curve

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


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School’s Out, but It’s Not a Vacation Yet

We finally finished our school year last Friday. G actually finished on Thursday after a week that included field day, seven exams, an end-of-the-year ceremony, and her first dance. S and H still need to complete standardized testing because their flustered teacher didn’t realize there would be a two-week lag between ordering and administering those tests. Oops.

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Celebrating the final day of school with H

I have been trying to decompress from the end of the school year and all the craziness that accompanies the month of May. So far that involves paying S and H to dust the interior¬† of our house–a bargain at $1 per room; finishing a sewing project that I started last November; cleaning out my closet; but mostly planting, weeding, pruning, and digging in my gardens.

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My first attempt at embroidery

Unfortunately I’ve been unsuccessful at completely decompressing. G’s principal asked us if we were interested in purchasing tuition insurance for the upcoming school year. G can be a challenging student, but we thought we had hammered out a plan for ninth grade. Needless to say, Ryan and I were slightly unnerved by the inquiry.

In the meantime, we are starting to settle into a summer routine. So far that involves the girls asking if they can use the computer or watch TV and me asking, “Did you brush your teeth and hair? Did you make your bed? Did you pick up the piles of towels/clothing/books/paper on your bedroom floor? Did you clean your bathroom? Have you read for 30 minutes yet?”

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Baby tomatoes and blooms appeared this week

G has a stint as a junior swim coach this summer, and this mom is excited that swim practices switch to mornings next Monday. H is counting down the days until cake camp (3!), and S seems content to visit the creek, re-read the Warrior Cats series, and recover from a sprained wrist and knee. She is heading out to her first overnight summer camp in July, and we don’t want to express too much excitement/interest in case we scare her off.

I am happy to report that I have returned to running after almost a full year’s hiatus. Running a sub-10:00 mile is now thrilling to me in the way that it used to be demoralizing. But it’s the endorphins that I’ve missed the most, and it’s so nice to feel endorphins calming down my over-anxious mind.

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Lavender is known for its calming properties, and mine is in full bloom

Whether we actually take a real vacation remains to be seen. Actually it mostly depends on the whether the scheduling gods at Delta leave us enough wiggle room to get out of town. In the meantime, we’re making a little headway into summer vacation. A friend and I herded 10 children through strawberry fields yesterday, and I paid $52 less than an hour later for 20-some pounds of delicious berries.

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Low-sugar strawberry almond tart with local berries

So we are slowly making headway into summer vacation. We’re just not quite there yet.

 

 


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Today’s Lesson

Today I buried a gerbil.

That definitely wasn’t on my to-do list this morning. Carpool drop off, school work, physical therapy, and a load of laundry were what I had meant to accomplish this morning. After carpool drop off, the schedule derailed.

S: “Mom, I think Latte is dead.”

And he was.

Me: “I’m sorry. Do you want to put him in a box or just straight into the ground?”

S: “A box please. I’ll pick him up if you find a box.”

If you know our family or have read some of my blog posts, you already know that my girls have an affinity for rodents; you also know that we’ve already buried five hamsters. Latte, however, is the first gerbil to expire in our house. Strangely enough, he lasted exactly as long as a typical hamster lives: two years.

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S and Pepper the hamster

So we buried Latte–his full name was actually Chai Latte–under a rose bush this morning. Thanks to our quirky Virginia winter weather, the ground wasn’t frozen, and it didn’t take me long to dig a hole large enough for the Dexcom G4 CGM box that served as his casket.

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Once school was under way, S’s performance was decidedly less than stellar. That’s when I said something stupid: “Well, at least he wasn’t your favorite.” While my words were true, my daughter’s heart was wounded, and I quickly tried to backtrack and apologize.

We eventually finished our school day. H and I played a rousing (?) game of Win the Peloponnesian War, and S dutifully filled out 3×5 cards on the life of Marie Antoinette. But S is quieter than usual, and Mocha–the lone gerbil–has gotten more attention in the last eight hours than he has in many months.

I love that my girls have tender hearts towards their animals, even if I’m not wild about their choice of pets. I think it’s a valuable thing for them to learn to be responsible for the well being of tiny living creatures. But I hate the part when their beloved companions die.

We certainly don’t shield our children from death. All three of the girls know the life stories of their brothers Seth and Owen and sister Lucy, and we certainly don’t equate animal lives with human ones. However, there’s a part of me that mourns when they mourn. It’s not that I don’t want them to experience grief. It’s just that I’m not sure that I’m ready for them to grow up yet.

 


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A Tiny Little Tooth

Sometimes it’s the little things that cause the biggest problems. Take, for example, H’s baby tooth. It’s technically a lateral incisor (see chart below), and it’s been loose for more than two years–no kidding. Unfortunately, H decided she needed to keep it and the permanent version. When our dentist gave her 10 days to wiggle it out or come back for an extraction, H chose to call her bluff.

That was last Wednesday. That was the day that I spent 10 minutes listening to H asking a million questions in an attempt to stall Dr. Todd. “Will it hurt? Are you going to use your fingers? Can I see what you’re going to use? If I let you touch, do you promise not to wiggle it? If I let you wiggle it, do you promise not to pull it?” You get the idea.

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Then I spent 10 more minutes trying to find a comfortable way to lie down next to H. That didn’t work. Both of us are officially too big to fit in one chair together. Finally I sat near her feet and waited for her to exhaust her supply of stalling tactics. I held her hands, and Dr. Todd assured her that the tooth was so dead that it would simply pop out.

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The infamous tiny tooth

Of course that’s not how it actually happened, but eventually her tiny little tooth was dislodged from its too comfortable home.

The whole visit was ridiculous. After H had her extraction, S needed one of her front teeth fixed again. That repair work prompted a stern lecture about gingivitis, flossing, and diabetes. When our well-meaning dentist asked me if I had thought about withholding privileges until the flossing improved, I bluntly stated that I was not interested in withholding any more privileges, Kindles, cell phones, or makeup than I already do.

Only G escaped with a glowing report. Which makes complete sense since she is my child who routinely loses her toothbrush and simply doesn’t brush her teeth, much less floss, until I notice and magically produce a new brush.

Last Wednesday I remembered why I had stopped taking all three girls to the dentist at the same time. And all of this is why Thursday caught me completely off-guard.

“Hey, Mom, want to see the tooth that I just lost?” H asked me as we were reading something for school the next day.

“You have another loose tooth?!” I replied.

“Yeah, I told the hygienist last month, but it just fell out.”

And I just stared stupidly at her. After 14 years of parenting, I still haven’t quite gotten the knack of this job.

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A fancy green tooth holder for all of H’s old teeth


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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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Thankful

Me: “S, did you take a rat into my bathroom while you were feeding the gerbils?”
S: “Why, Mom?”
Me: “Because I think I just wiped up rat pee from my bathroom counter.”
S: Silence.

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One of the possible culprits

Of course the gerbil cage is in my bathroom. We’re dog-sitting my sister’s poodle, so the gerbils need a sanctuary while Perry visits. Since the rats already take up a sizeable amount of space in S’s room and the gerbils are too messy and too loud to bring into the other girls’ bedrooms, my bathroom is the natural choice.

This is my life. I’m surrounded by a zoo: three children, two rats, two gerbils, and a large white poodle. And I’m thankful for every last one of them–most of the time.

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Perry doesn’t mind being a pillow for S and H

Ryan is flying the friendly skies this weekend because that’s what he does on national holidays. While we’d rather have him home with us, I realize that this is the life we chose; and this is the life we’ve grown accustomed to. Ultimately, this is the life for which we are profoundly grateful.

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Ryan’s inconvenient schedule is what allows me to stay home with the girls, homeschool them, and have access to world-class healthcare. And, as I was lecturing a certain 14-year-old just yesterday, it’s the reason that we have food, clothing, and tuition money. I may have phrased it a little differently though.

 

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Our 14 year old has a new hobby: forensic science.

As I sit here reflecting on the blessings of my life, I realize that there are far too many to list in this small piece of writing. But for now, while the girls are still asleep and though Ryan is three time zones away, these are the people who ground my days. These are the people–and their beloved animals–who are my world.

 


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Two Heartfelt Words

When we lived in North Carolina, we were blessed to be a part of an amazing church. The building itself wasn’t anything special, but the people were. They rallied around us during the biggest crises of our lives and were literally the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re talking meals, childcare, gifts of time and friendship, and even lawn care.

We first started attending Faith Evangelical Bible Church in Newport because a friend had gotten married there and insisted there was a wonderful pastor who had recently been hired. And she was correct. Pastor Norm, his wife Laura, and their young family arrived in the fall of 1999 and were a great fit. Norm is an engaging pastor who has the gift of teaching, and he knows how to preach the Word of God. Laura ministers to the women, and I always looked forward to Tuesday morning Bible studies with her.

Norm is the minister who presided over the two memorial services that we held for our children. He has a tender place in my heart for other reasons, too. He came to the hospital while I was laboring with Lucy just to pray with us and keep us company. A month later when Ryan was in and out of various hospitals, we never had to ask him to visit. He simply showed up.

I know that Laura was a big part of his ministry to us. After all, someone had to keep an eye on their children! Being a pastor’s wife means that other people’s emergencies sometimes take precedence over your own plans. Thank you, Laura, for giving up time with your husband for our benefit.

After we left North Carolina for Texas, and then Maryland for Virginia, we continued to exchange Christmas cards with Norm and Laura. We’ve watched their family grow up and expand on Facebook, too. When I first started blogging, Laura sent me a real, hand-written letter that was so sweet that I saved it–until the great clean-out before last year’s move.

But last Saturday Laura blew me away with her thoughtfulness. There was a box marked Sonlight on the front porch. We don’t use Sonlight’s curriculum and I hadn’t ordered any books recently, so I was intrigued. Inside many layers of bubble wrap I found this hand-painted plate:

Read the bottom rim!

Read the bottom rim!

There was another hand-written note inside the box, too. Like the first one, it contained tender words of encouragement to persevere through our current woes. Apparently we aren’t the only parents who struggle and grow weary.

Today I mailed my thank-you note to Laura, but it didn’t seem quite adequate to me. I know that Laura didn’t reach out to me so that others would notice, and perhaps she won’t like any of this attention. But her painted words are true for others, too. Dear friends who have also let go of your children before you were ready, your babies are also alive in Christ, and you will see them again, too.

And Laura, thank you.

 


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How to spend your pre-birthday weekend if you’re over 40

Yesterday was another busy Saturday. I got up before 6 and met a few others for 7-mile run. I came home, harvested another five gallons of dandelions from the front yard, and then rounded up the girls. I dropped G at swim practice and then delivered S and H to a friend’s home. (Younger readers, this is why your parents tell you to enjoy your childhood and not to be in such a hurry to grow up.)

About a month ago, Amy, a spectacularly kind friend who’s taken a liking to my girls, had a conversation with the girls about birthdays. She wiggled my birth date out of them, and the three of them hatched a plan to bake me a birthday cake. Yesterday was baking day even though my birthday is still half a week away.

They spent two hours making a carrot cake from scratch. S grated the carrots and ground the walnuts; H supervised the rest. Together they added cream cheese icing and decorated the top with the age they think I’m turning and little rodent faces. While I’m happy to remain 41, the rodent faces were an interesting choice.

I spent my two hours of freedom at Trader Joe’s because that’s the kind of exciting thing you do when you have two hours to yourself and you’re about to turn 42. Then we proceeded with the rest of our day: swim pick-up, two soccer games, dinner with my dad, and a couple of hours with Harry, the world’s most adorable schnauzer-lab puppy. We capped our meal with slices of Amy’s delicious birthday cake.

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Harry and G

 

This morning the girls let me sleep until 8 AM this morning, and as soon as I walked downstairs, I discovered why: They were eating the remnants of my birthday cake.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” G told me, “we left you some,” and I glanced at the quarter cake still on the platter. All of the icing on the cake plate and dome had been carefully removed by small fingers, as had even more of the icing–and the remaining rodent face–on the remaining cake.

“Why would you do that?” I stupidly heard myself ask.

That’s when they offered to bring me a piece with a glass of milk–even if, they assured me, the cake hadn’t really been their favorite flavor. It was still good enough to eat, mind you, but they don’t really like carrot cake with cream cheese icing all that much.

“Coffee,” I replied. “Could you at least make the coffee?” And I walked out of the kitchen.

“Mom!” yelled G. “Do you want regular or decaf?”

“Not decaf!” was my response. I didn’t eat my cake either. I’m saving it for later–it will taste perfect with a glass of red wine after the girls are in bed tonight. Then I can think about how much I love my children, how thankful I am for a friend who gave me the gift of two hours to myself, and that my parents who bought a puppy so that we don’t have to.