Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life Skills

The more I read, the more confused I get.

I read things on social media that are just mind-boggling to me, at least at first glance. Posts by parents asking where there are classes for cooking, for household management ... for life skills. I'm not sure why, but I find it strange that these things need to be farmed out to outside teachers, adding yet another thing to a family's already busy schedule and overburdened budget.

Why not cook dinner together? Why not take your child grocery shopping and teach them to figure out how much things cost per pound, budget the food money, get pantry basics and recipe specifics? Why not make up a "bank book" for them if they don't have a bank account and record withdrawals and deposits from their piggy bank or wallet? Why not have them work with you on car maintenance, upkeep of the house and yard, and everything that goes into daily, monthly, and yearly living?

Then I realize that it must be difficult for some, because they don't have confidence in their skills in these areas. They never learned this type of thing in school, and often their parents were too busy to teach them themselves. This is why they want someone to teach their children these skills.

That got me thinking even more - we grow up going to school, greatly limited in what we learn by our time in the classroom and at after school and weekend activities. Our parents are running us from one activity to another, barely being able to find time to grocery shop, doing much of life's essential tasks when we're otherwise occupied. We end up going out into the world barely prepared for the ins and outs of daily living.  

What if we were to slow down? Maybe not do so many activities? Take time to learn with our children these necessary adult tasks? Learning these things more greatly impacted my life as an adult than anything I learned in school. Well, besides learning how to learn things on my own.

If my children want to build something, fix something, take something apart, put something back together, save up to purchase something, cook something, clean something, or do something, I encourage them to do it ... or to learn how to do it with me, with someone who has the know-how, or on their own. 

One of the most greatly neglected, yet essential, subjects in schooling these days is self-sufficiency... which should be taught well before expecting someone to go out into the world and be a responsible adult. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fine Line

I'm lost.

Everything has caught up with me all at once.

Life is more than I can handle.

Desperately exhausted and in so much pain, depression sinks its claws into my sanity and shreds it to pieces. I just want everything to stop. I just want rest. Peace. Freedom from everything that's suffocating me,

Here there is no ray of hope, only ever-consuming darkness. My worth is gone. I am only a burden.

To everyone.

To my children, who are forced to live with a mother who can't do nearly enough for them, who can't work and provide financially for them, and who screws up the finances time and time again because her brain doesn't function properly.

To my husband, who can barely lay a hand on me without me flinching because of the disease-caused pain; who cannot understand how my heart breaks every day because I feel so unloveable; who works so hard, yet gets so little in return.

To my friends and family, who help me in so many ways, and to whom I'll always owe more than I can ever possibly repay.

I don't want to do this anymore. I can't. I don't have it in me to face another day like this.

Here, love is a rumor and God's voice a mere whisper. All good things seem too far away. Here, only pain and desolation. Only the need for the pain... for everything ... to stop.

But it doesn't stop. It never stops. Each day comes, as insistent as the last. The agony of existence informing my thoughts. Thoughts that I have to keep to myself, lest they infect someone else. 

Everything's fine here. I'm fine. 

--------------------------LIFE IS TOO MUCH.---------------------------

Everything's fine here. I'm fine.

It doesn't stop. It never stops. Each day comes, as insistent as the last. The exhilaration of existence informing my thoughts. Thoughts that I share with others in hopes that my joy will infect someone else.

Here, love is a rule and God's voice sounds like laughter and kindness and love. All good things seem to seek me out. Pain doesn't overwhelm happiness, it highlights it. Only the need to learn to work with the pain, and within its limitations... to get along with it instead of fighting it or wishing it away.

I can't wait to do more. I can't. I don't know if I have it in me to wait for another day like this.

Here there is only hope, only all-consuming ideas and dreams. It feels so good to give. I am finally useful. 

To everyone.

To my friends and family, whom I will never be able to repay for their generosity in supporting the creative pursuits my children and I get ourselves into and who get to experience the fruits of our labors first hand - if they're brave enough. 

To my husband, who takes joy in seeing me passionate about what I'm doing.

To my children, who see a mother who doesn't suffer from disease, but lives and thrives despite it.

Desperately exhausted and in so much pain, my joy-soaked spirit soars. I don't want to stop, but my body craves rest. Peace.  A break from the blissful creative whirlwind that envelops me. 

I walk the fine line of LIFE IS TOO MUCH every single day. 

Depression sways me to the extreme some days, elation to the other extreme other days. The dark days and the days of sheer brilliance both overwhelm me, but in diametrically opposing ways...both with a plethora of tears.

To all who walk the fine line: treasure the times of too much goodness. Feel it. Embrace it. Hold onto the feeling of it - the feeling of who you are when you are experiencing it. That is your light. 

In times of darkness, know that that light is within you. It may flicker, but it will never truly go out. It will grow stronger as it burns off the fog of illness or depression or difficult times. You will shine again. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


For years, I struggled with joint pain. I was prescribed pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications. They treated the symptoms, while the disease damaged my body beyond repair. Often, we try to put bandaids on bigger issues by treating the symptom instead of the source.

Many parents "treat" the behavior, not the source of the behavior, and wonder why the behavior continues. Some of us are sometimes dumbfounded when we see what a great change can come when we get to the root of the issue. 

People often ask me how I would handle different situations with children's misbehavior or refusal to do something. I assume they ask because we've had our fair share of struggles with five unique children, two on the autism spectrum, one with OCD, and all just as stubborn as their parents...and we have survived thus far.

My answer is usually a series of questions, "Why do you think your child is acting out? Does s/he need more connection and time with you? Is s/he stressed about something? Is there a good reason for your child's behavior? Have you asked your child what they need in the situation?"

I've found that, in most cases, the issues parents have with a child are just a symptom of something bigger.

Many children refuse to do something for perfectly good reasons...and/or often we adults require children to do things for completely inane reasons.

We had a problem with people leaving dishes all over our house. I say people, and not "our children" because apparently the children always took their dishes to the kitchen, or so they said. It would seem that Not Me and Someone Else were to blame.  

In an OCD huff, I commanded that as soon as someone was done with a dish, they immediately bring it to the kitchen, wash it, dry it, and put it away. This made perfect sense to me. A few stressful days of me constantly reminding children to take care of their dishes ensued, with many paused movies, interrupted conversations, and frustrated children who just wanted to get to the end of the chapter they were reading before taking care of their tea mug. Children whined and complained. I was miserable. Then I realized that I was causing everyone more stress with unrealistic expectations. Cleaning up dishes upon leaving the room to move on to another activity would do nicely. Besides, I didn't interrupt my reading, working, or creating to clear my dishes, so why should I expect my children to do so? 

Which brings to mind that often we have a different set of rules for our children than we do for ourselves. But why? Shouldn't we be setting the example for our children? Yes, there are some things that need different rules - perhaps bedtimes or movie ratings or how old you need to be to bike to the end of the street - but how many of our rules for our children are just plain absurd when we think about them?

Taking time to ask our children what issues they are having can often yield simple fixes. And taking time to ask what our motives are for making a child do something can often give us a better picture of our own motivations.

One of my children had an issue with brushing his teeth. It was a battle every time. Why couldn't he just brush his teeth and get it over with? I didn't understand what the big deal was. Surely it couldn't be that horrific of a thing. I was upset with the child until I took a step back and asked him what would make his teeth brushing experience more manageable. A change in toothpaste and some privacy did the trick. No more epic battles at bedtime. At least not about teeth. 

Another of my children was angry much of the time. His treatment of his siblings was horrible and it was sad seeing him struggle to cope with life. What we thought was bad behavior was simply sleep deprivation taking its toll. A change in location of  his bedroom made a huge difference in his ability to sleep better and sleep in (he's a night owl like his mother) and his attitude greatly improved. 

We were able to come to solutions for these issues because we stopped telling our children to behave properly because we said so and got to the root of the problem. We did this mostly through listening to what our children had to say about the issue at hand and asking them for solutions. Children are great problem-solvers. 

One of the things I love about my family is that we work as a group to figure out what will work best for us as family. My children will call us, their parents, out on things that they see as not right just as we will bring to our kids' attention their not so great behavior. I will also ask my children if I'm being completely unreasonable with a request when I'm unsure. 

We all make mistakes. We all make assumptions. And we all apologize and try to do better. We change things that need to be changed. We try different things out until we figure out what works best. We realize what works best now might not work best in a year. We realize that we all misbehave at times - even parents. And that's ok, because we're all human. We learn together how to navigate life's trials and come out better on the other side. 

I try to embrace the struggles because they are the best learning experiences and the greatest chances for growth. 

Friday, September 30, 2016


"I am so OCD about that!"

"That really sets off my OCD tendencies!"

"I have OCD when it comes to that!"

People put on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as if it were an accessory to certain situations, not a mental illness. If you have OCD, as I do, I don't mind if you make such a comment. If you don't, please stop the casual use of a very serious condition.

People can be obsessive or compulsive about things without having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is life-altering, interfering with one's function in everyday life - every single day. Some are hospitalized because of OCD, until they get their meds and/or behaviors under control. OCD looks different for different people.

My OCD manifests in several ways. I compulsively count things - sounds, tiles, patterns, steps, stairs, words. It was nearly impossible for me to get through eating a bowl of Cheerios when I was little without them getting completely soggy, because I'd have to count the top layer of Cheerios in the bowl before each bite. In third grade, my desk was right next to the door, over which hung a clock. I literally counted every second of time sitting at the desk all of third grade to the ticking of that clock. I used to be able to tell you how many tiles were in my grandmother's bathroom, how many ceiling tiles were in each patient room at my pediatrician's office, and how many stairs were in any staircase in any building I frequented. I still count things, but can usually reign my brain in and not drive myself (quite literally) crazy counting everything. On bad days, though, I count every mouse click my husband makes while I'm trying to fall asleep.

I also obsess over the worst case scenario of just about everything. This made learning to drive incredibly nerve-wracking, but did prepare me for any incident or accident. It's especially challenging in parenting, and in marriage. Heaven forbid my husband is thirty seconds late for work - I can go from looking forward to his arrival to panic that he's been in an accident in a split second. If my child says they need to talk to me about something, I imagine the extreme worse and can't stop the stream of what-ifs from consuming me, when all they need to tell me is that they would like their own room or that they want to dye their hair a different color. I sometimes can't sleep nights, my brain making up crazy and disturbing scenarios associated with loved ones.

My youngest child has OCD. It's been evident since she was around 11 months old sitting next to a friend at a restaurant. Said friend moved Alia's placemat a half inch to the left to give herself more room. Alia moved it back. I took Alia to the bathroom. Upon our return, I put Alia in her highchair and she immediately moved her placemat back to the place it had been before my friend moved it when we were in the restroom. Nothing can be out of place if Alia thinks it was in the right place. You also can't do anything for her that she has her mind on doing - she'll undo whatever you did and redo it herself. Throughout her first six years of life, she could not wear matching socks. I would actively have to seek out a different sock, should I pull out a matching pair. She has to finish a song she starts singing or listening to, in its entirety, or it plays over and over in her head, sometimes for days, until she is able to finish it...and not in an annoying, I-have-a-song-stuck-in-my-head way, but in an I-can't-sleep-or-think-or-function kind of way. 

An amazing young man I know and I had a heart to heart about living with OCD earlier this year. His struggle with OCD is sometimes greater than his ability to cope and he needs to know that that's nothing about which to be ashamed, and that it isn't and shouldn't be a joking matter. He also doesn't need to hear his intense experience being made light of on a daily basis. 

You can be depressed without having clinical depression. You can have mood swings without being bipolar. You can be particular about something or have a way you need to do something without having OCD. So please, if you are very particular about something and don't have OCD, simply state that you're very particular about it. OCD isn't an occasional happening. It can be life-crushing for those of us living with it. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Going to The School

I'm still trying to process everything.

Upon arrival, we delved right into it all. Sixty-eight people getting to know each other a bit while doing their best to absorb an incredible amount of information and trying not to be distracted by the beauty of the lake on the other side of the windows. Evening prayer ended our time together until the next day.

That first night, we went to bed after just a taste of what was to come. Falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shores of Lake Ossipee, I was excited for the day ahead.

Waking at 4:30AM and unable to get back to sleep, I lay awake praying about the day ahead and many other things. As the sun hinted its appearance, I made my way outside to take in the glory of a Lake Ossipee sunrise. The magnificence of the unfolding dawn anticipated the richness of the day to come.

Briefly retreating from the chilly morning air to slip on some socks and wrap myself in a blanket, I returned to my Adirondack chair perch and some wonderful conversation with fellow early risers.

Walking to breakfast, a bit of anxiety grew about the tasks ahead. Would I find this all too challenging considering my health issues and memory problems? Would I be able to find a study group to join that would work with my schedule? Was I taking on too much?

Sitting down at a big round table for breakfast, my friend Suzanne and I introduced ourselves to the others dining with us. The usual where-are-you-froms and what-church-do-you-attends led us to find that we were all from the same basic geographical area, close enough to perhaps form a study group. We shared a meal and great conversation and planned to talk more that evening.

Weeks later, I'm still trying to process the rest of the day, which consisted of morning prayer, learning sessions, bathroom breaks, lunch, more learning, some getting to know the people at our tables, more learning, and a break before dinner. During that break, we signed up as a group with our friends from breakfast. No more worries about that aspect of being a student in the New England Synod School of Lay Ministry!

Sitting aboard the pontoon boat, my mind reeled with the beauty of the people with whom I had spent the last twenty-four hours, of the water and surroundings, and of the shared faith which brought us all together to expand our understanding.

Dinner was followed by yet another opportunity to learn and share with each other. Evening Prayer closed the day for some, while others made our way to a campfire by the Conference Center, where stories and laughter abounded. I sank into bed that night thoroughly exhausted in the best possible way. 

Rain greeted us on our final morning at Camp Calumet. Just one more conversation-filled breakfast, a final wrap-up session, and we were on our way to worship and then home. As I drove, I found it difficult to converse, so many reflections on the past forty-eight hours sparking in my head. I gave thanks for the weekend, the place, the people, and for this opportunity to grow in knowledge and in faith. 

My heart is on fire for the year of Biblical study that awaits during my first year of the School!

Saturday, September 17, 2016


I say it every time. 

Even after preparing myself for months ahead of time to lessen the shock. 

Somehow there is nothing that prepares me for any of my children turning yet another year older. 

Coren turns eleven today. I'm not quite sure how it happened. I don't know where the time went. I can barely wrap my mind around that number associated with the Moondragon himself. Six, maybe, but eleven???

That said, he is most definitely eleven.

Do you know how I can tell? Some of the adorableness is being replaced by maturity and handsomeness. Coren has grown up a lot in the past year, presenting himself in a more tween than childlike manner. I have to admit it freaks me out a bit. He still loves to cuddle, though, so I'll take what I can get! 

Coren made great strides this year. Perhaps the biggest is surviving a week at Camp Calumet Resident Camp this past Summer. He made it through without showering ... well, except for the infamous Camp Calumet "Car-wash" which involved shampoo and a hose or two. He sent the most wonderful notes, keeping us updated on the ups and downs of camp life. And he decided he wants to do it all again next year. 

To my still adorable, but not quite as much Moondragon on your birthday...

Camp is great so far. I may have gotten hit in the face a few times, but I'm ok. I may also have been joking about the getting hit in the face thing, but thought I'd include it since that was in your first note to me and Daddy this Summer! Everything has been fun so far. The food is awesome as always (but I'm not here for grilled cheese Monday!). I hope you have a very happy birthday and don't stay up too late partying! I love you!


Monday, September 12, 2016

How Will They Learn?

'Tis the season for questions and concerns, mostly from well-meaning strangers.

What amazes me is that, of all the concerns people express about unschooling (life-learning), the top four perceived problems have nothing to do with learning school subject matter.

Concern #1: Socialization
How will my children ever learn how to socialize if they don't spend 6-8 hours a day or more for 12+ years with children within six months to a year of their age?
I could ask how children who spend most of their time on weekdays in school and in after-school programs, sports, and other activities with others their age and with all adults as authority figures manage to learn to function in a world where you spend most of your time with people who are not your age and where your boss, a police officer, or other authority figure could potentially be younger than you.

Concern #2: Fitting In to Society
How can unschooled children learn societal rules and how to fit into society if they are not in a traditional school environment like the majority of students...who make up the majority of society?
I could ask how a school society, with its cliques, bullying, dress codes, need to wear certain clothes or shoes or have the latest electronics, etc. prepares children to fit into adult society. And if we want those things carried over into adult society.
I could argue that unschooled children, being out and about in the real world, learn to navigate the ever-changing society well because they're experiencing it, immersed in it, daily. I love that my children are able to make their own decisions about whether they want to conform to societal pressures, or perhaps do something different, and perhaps better for our society. Some of the most successful people in the world started out as societal misfits...or are still societal misfits. Fitting in is overrated. 

Concern #3: Relating to the Real World
This one usually isn't in the form of a question, but rather a statement. Unschooled children can't possibly learn to relate to others or function in the real world in the same way traditionally schooled children can.
I won't argue with that. They don't relate to the world in the same way that schooled children do because they're not indoctrinated into school culture.
Our children interact with a vast array of people on a daily basis: parents, grandparents, friends, pastors, atheists, EMTs, cashiers, curators, volunteers, babies, elderly people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, UPS drivers, neighbors, school kids, homeschooled kids, homeless people, rich people..and many complete strangers who ask them why they're not in school, just to name a few. They have freedoms of time, choice, and travel that schooled children don't. They don't have many of the pressures that schooled children do. They have some pressures schooled children don't.  And they're encouraged to ask why and to not blindly follow what others are doing, wearing, listening to, or how they're acting. 
I do admit, there are things to which they can't relate. They can't relate to sitting in a classroom for six hours a day; to not being able to make the majority of their own choices for a good portion of their young lives; to asking permission to go to the bathroom; or to not being able to discover something about which they want to learn more and then heading to a library, museum, science center, or their own back yard to learn more at a moment's notice. 
I would think learning to live in the real world has more to do with interacting with it than studying it in a classroom.

Concern #4: What About Prom?
There is Homeschool Prom. Really.

After these concerns come the concerns about what my children are learning.
I've had many people ask each of the following:
- How will they learn to stand in line? I didn't know this was a huge deal, or something learned in school. We've been to Disney World, amusement parks, and the grocery store. I think we have that one covered.
- How will they learn to take tests? My children love testing their knowledge! They take tests for fun - to see what they have learned. To them, it's a game, not an anxiety-riddled task as it is to many.
- How do you know they're learning enough? I admit, I have a yearly freak-out over whether my children are learning enough. Then a friend, family member, museum curator, or member of our community has a conversation with one or more of my children and tells me how impressed they are by not just the information my children have stored in their brains, but the knowledge they've gained through combining said information with experiences they've had. They get to learn at their own pace and study what captures their interest, which has the huge benefit of retaining much of what they've learned. Many students who have to learn about something because that's what the textbook chapter is about don't retain that information and, without real world experience to reinforce what they've learned, don't filter the information through experience in order to transform it into knowledge.
And my children know how to cook, clean, shop for groceries and find the best price per pound, assist with home repairs and improvements, care for babies and toddlers (yes, they change diapers!), and so much more as a result of living and learning through unschooling.

- What about college? If they want to attend college, they can attend college. We, however, don't expect them to attend college at any specific age, if at all. I know too many people who went to college fresh out of high school because they felt like that was what was expected of them and now have a lot of debt and aren't using their degree at all. I'd rather my children put their money to good use and know what they want to do with their degree before they get it.

Unschooling, to me, is giving my children the resources and the ability to learn whatever it is they want to learn, taking advantage of teachable moments (and hours, and weeks, and months) and nurturing in them the self-confidence to follow their passions. My hope is that they are able to discover for themselves what path they want to take in life and are able to make a living doing what they love. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Like Home

Some places just feel like home. 

After a little over two months away from one of our most favorite places on Earth, it felt as if we arrived home as we pulled into the parking lot. Greeted with smiles and hugs from beautiful people added to that cozy, exhilarating homey vibe that is Epoch Arts. 

Today and for the next couple days, we're helping with Epoch Arts' Annual Tag Sale. The amount of stuff they have to offer, both indoors and out, is nearly unfathomable. As we sorted, bagged, folded, and set out items for sale, it was clear the colossal amount of work that had already been accomplished. This is no small undertaking.

I'm blessed to also be heading "home" to Camp Calumet, another most beauteous place next weekend as I embark on my journey through the School of Lay Ministry. It will be quite a different Calumet experience from those in my past, as I will be child-free and amongst over sixty other School students, having faith discussions with other adults. I'm greatly looking forward to it!

It is my hope that wherever we end up in life, that we always be a part of communities as welcoming, loving, and comforting as Epoch Arts and Camp Calumet are to us now - and that we can be that community to others. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

If You ...

It doesn't happen often, thankfully, but some days I'm just completely overwhelmed by it all...in an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie kind of way. 

My husband's car, that has been fixed twice ...or was it three times ... in the past three weeks, is having issues again. Different issues than before.. This leaves me without my van all day, as my husband had to drive it to work. This means the donations in the van won't make it to their destination today and I won't be able to load the van for tomorrow.

If tomorrow's plans even happen. We're supposed to go to Six Flags (for an amazing $14 a person thanks to a reading program and online discounts). At the moment two of my children are coughing and generally not feeling well. It seems they're on the mend, but I'm not sure if they'll be well enough by tomorrow.

Or if I'll be well enough by tomorrow. I had my Cimzia injection yesterday and could very well get this bad cold from my children. I also cut my finger, and in the process banged my hand thereby causing issues with my thumb. Not being able to grasp things and in bad pain when moving my thumb, crutches will most likely be out of the question tomorrow, which means I'll need my wheelchair due to my current knee and Achilles tendon issues.

And to fit the wheelchair in the van, I'll need to take the donations out, which I can't do with a bad hand and knee and tendon because they're heavy boxes of books.

If I can't get the donations out, I also can't put the bin of towels we'll need in the van with my wheelchair. Not that I have the van, anyway.

Without the van, I also can't go to the store to get last-minute food items for our day out tomorrow, 

If our day out even happens.

Up at 4 with a child with a nightmare and 5:20 with a child with a nosebleed on top of it all, I just want to go to back to bed, curl up under a comfy blanket, and take a nap. But alas, I have coughing children to tend to and should really get dinner going in the crockpot before I forget about it.

And besides, I have plenty for which to be thankful - the medicine that will hopefully greatly improve my health, that we have a second vehicle and my husband has a job, that my children are rarely sick, that we have food in the house, and that we have the opportunity to go to Six Flags. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

You Must Be Excited

For the past two weeks, wherever I've gone with children, people have commented to me, "You must be so excited for back to school!"

Yes. Yes I am.

When I mention we homeschool, I often get a look of pity. I think this look especially comes from people whose point is that I'll get to get rid of  a break from my children for a good portion of the day once school begins. I usually comment that I love spending time with my children. One man just could not believe that I was sincere...or that I could possibly enjoy spending all day with my children. A woman's response was, "really...even the teenagers?" Yes. Really. My teenagers rock.

Am I excited for back to school?

But perhaps not why you'd think.

As a homeschooling family, back to school means something a bit different. Back to school means kicking off the school year with a Beach Party! Why not? There are considerably less people at the beach at 10AM on a Friday while school's in session. We also look forward to less crowded museums, science centers, libraries, aquariums, movie theaters, and other places that we love to frequent during school hours. Homeschool co-op will soon be back in full swing, which is fun for our entire family. This session is looking amazing, with class offerings such as Painless Algebra, Robotics, Introduction to Improv, Project Management,  Knowing Your World, and Music & Mayhem.

The school year also brings opportunities to participate in lots of things that happen during the school year such as Tuesday Night Sunday School, Epoch Arts Haunted House, Epoch Arts Mini-Production, homeschool days at museums and science centers, St. Paul Puppet Academy, and so much more.

And it means my children will be missing their friends who attend school because they often don't get home until late afternoon or early evening...and then have homework.This is sometimes difficult for my always-homeschooled children to grasp, as they eagerly await their friends' arrivals home each day to either play with them in our neighborhood, or online for those who live to far away for after school get-togethers. 

Homeschooling has opened the world up to me and my children. I have learned more as a homeschool mom than I retained from all my years in school. I love learning along with my children, and nurturing their love of exploring the world around them, following their passions, and discovering things about themselves.