On a Learning Curve

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


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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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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.


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Writing is hard, but parenting is harder

I haven’t written anything for almost a year. On this blog, that is.

I’ve started countless pieces but never finished anything, much less published a piece. I skipped our annual Christmas letter, too. I just couldn’t find the words to express what’s going on in my head, in my heart, and in our family.¬† I make it a practice not to sugarcoat my life, and I just can’t decide if sharing the messiness of my life would add value to someone else’s or just be TMI.

In short, I’ve been busy trying to parent our three girls. And it’s been an exceptionally hard season of parenting.

Last August, H developed an anxiety disorder in the aftermath of last summer’s C-130 crash. Her daddy is a pilot, and those crew members were his friends and colleagues.

Last October, G made a bad decision; the administration made a bad decision; and then we scrambled to place her in a new school. Three grading periods later, she still doesn’t know where she fits in, and she still doesn’t know who she wants to be.

S is hanging in there. She is the proverbial middle child who knows how to slip under the radar while her sisters draw fire.

Somewhere in the midst of counseling appointments, teacher conferences, and doctors’ visits, I reached my breaking point. I made the decision to stop teaching S and H after we finish this school year. I need to be my girls’ mother first and foremost; they desperately need other people to teach them.

While that decision was monumentally freeing, it hasn’t made anything easier for now; however, we have almost finished jumping through the required hoops of registering for public middle school.

Last Monday I submitted the girls’ standardized test scores and requested that our homeschooling file be closed. Yay, me!

Ten days ago I took the girls for MAP testing at the middle school after the counselors did not want to accept their Stanford Achievement scores. I goofed and scheduled the MAP and Stanford the same week. They completely embraced 3 full days of testing. (In my dreams, that is.) Coincidentally, the girls’ MAP test results aligned perfectly with their Stanford results. I rolled my eyes, but not in front of the guidance counselors.

Both girls chose their classes last Wednesday; S is pinning all of her hopes on advanced art and French I despite my guidance. H spoke a total of 10 words to her guidance counselor. He’s a man though, and she makes it a point not to talk to strange men.

Today I am writing on Memorial Day. We are home and unpacked from a very hot, humid soccer tournament. This morning Ryan switched out the front porch flag to fly the USMC colors. I can’t help but remember family and friends who selflessly sacrificed themselves for this nation. Today in particular, I am thinking of the 16 men who gave their lives aboard Yanky 72 last July.

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There’s more to write–much, much more–and I promise to return. After all, I’ve left you, my readers, hanging in the middle of what seems to be my belated Christmas letter.

 


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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.