Monday, August 27, 2012

Twelve.

We went out on Saturday night to celebrate our TWELFTH anniversary. First to a movie (Moonrise Kingdom!) then onto dinner and drinks at City House. While we were waiting on our micro brews and popcorn at the theater (love that), we ran into a friend we haven't seen since before she got married a few months ago.

"How's married life?" we asked in unison, because that's how you roll when you've been married as long as we have.

"Oh! It's..."

But before she could so much as get a word in, we were falling all over ourselves to make sure she knew our first year was terrible. We do this to people a lot. We wouldn't want anyone to go around thinking we've always held hands at the movie theater and finished each others sentences now, would we? Oh, no. That would be crazy!

She seemed shocked.

"But, why? I mean, if you don't mind my asking. Was it situational or...your relationship?"

"Oh, definitely our relationship."

"Big time."

"It's just that it's such a big deal, you know? Getting married? Even if you already live together, it's like a REALLY BIG DEAL. You become a family."

I couldn't tell if she was scared or relieved or surprised or just confused. These are all very normal reactions to this type of over share, by the way. It's awkward, I know. But we can't help ourselves! Whether people like it or not we feel like it's our moral obligation to make sure everyone knows we were absolutely miserable as newlyweds. Just in case they happen to be struggling in their marriage and think they made a terrible mistake, we want them to know these things take time. And a lot of effort. And a pretty sizable commitment. That the growing pains are normal. And that as long as they both keep choosing one another again and again and again, things will have no choice but to get better.

Seriously!

Yesterday we took the boys canoeing along the Harpeth River (Foggy Bottoms has a "kids route" that was just perfect for the boys). We hadn't been since I was 7 months pregnant with Finn and it was kind of shocking how much had changed since then. Not only was our family bigger by a whole person, our canoeing skills (i.e. COMMUNICATION SKILLS) were about a million times better as well.



Last time we were so bad at working together we almost flipped the canoe. With a 4 year old and a pregnant lady on board!

This time we almost almost flipped the canoe too, but instead of getting upset about it or blaming one another, we decided to practice and figure out how to get better so the next time we hit a rocky patch, we would know what to do.



See? We're STILL learning how to be married! We now know that when canoeing, Bill needs to sit up front so he can be in control (i.e. he can jump out quickly when he thinks we're about to hit something or flip over).



And I need to sit in back so I can be in control (i.e. watch how he's paddling so I can work with him and/or stick my oar in the water like a rudder to steer the canoe when I think he's doing it wrong. What? I was a Girl Scout. I know how to canoe.)



(Plus, you know, I like to take pictures when I'm supposed to be rowing...).



Here's to the next great lesson. And the next twelve years!




Friday, August 24, 2012

A good fit.

Tonight, as the boys finished their Sonic tator tots and grilled cheese sandwiches (so gross, but we had gone to the Wilson County Fair and missed out on dinner so we had to stop somewhere on the way home so they didn't "starve to death"), we talked about the highs and lows of our day.



This is something we've tried to do ever since we started eating dinner around the table as a family but it rarely works out the way I hope it will.
Me: "Let's play rose and thorn!"
Liam: "Ugh."
Me: "C'mon, it's easy. Choose one thing that happened today that was really good for your rose and one that was not so good for your thorn."
Liam, sighing heavily: "Rose - everything. Thorn - nothing."
Me: "Ugh."
But so much had gone on today that I was hopeful I'd get some better answers.



"I'll start," I said. "Let's see... my thorn was definitely when my car got broken into and my stereo got stolen. That sucked."



"Oh, yeah. But it was really cool that we got to learn about fingerprints and meet that police man and see what car window glass looks like when it breaks."



"That's true. I guess it wasn't that bad. But it was still my thorn. And my rose, hmmm...I think it was seeing you and Finny playing with all those new friends at the community center." We had spent the afternoon at the park by our house, hanging out with a bunch of homeschoolers.

"That was so fun."

"Was it your rose?"

"Hmmm. I don't know..." Uh oh, I thought, here it comes. He's about to say "everything" just like he usually does, then he'll roll his eyes and ask to be excused. But to my surprise he said, "There were a lot of good things that happened today. The police man and the park and the fair and this slushie...but I have to say the best part was when Dada beat (enter very specific video game information here) on Kirby."



"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Definitely. And my thorn...let's see... Oh, I know! It was when I almost starved to death in the car."

"It was a big day," I said laughing.

"Yeah. It was a good one."

"Definitely."

"Mama," Liam said thoughtfully. "You know how homeschool is like a really good fit for me?"

"Is it?"

"Yeah. Well, will you please make sure you only teach me first grade things this year so you still have things to teach me next year? I don't want to run out of things to learn in homeschool."

"Okay, buddy. I'll pace myself. But don't worry - there are always new things to learn."

"Good. I love homeschool."

"I'm so glad," I said, squeezing his hand. "I love it, too."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What we have here is no failure to communicate.

At Finn's 2 year check up, our pediatrician asked how he was talking.

"Oh, great," I said. "He's saying a lot! More and more every day."

"Does he say thirty words?"

"Oh yeah. I mean, I think so?" I looked at Liam. He shrugged. "I'll say...yes. Definitely."

"Fifty?"

"Oh, fifty? Um...I don't know. He's picking up more all the time. I'm not sure about fifty though."

Does anyone keep track of this stuff? I'm sure lots of people do, actually. Just not me. Anyway, our doctor was fine with thirty (possibly fifty) words and pleasantly surprised that Finn went through the entire appointment without crying hysterically and screaming, "No! Mama!!!" every time he tried to touch him. That hasn't happened since before we had to see one of our doctor's partners who did a particularly thorough ear exam. It's been a while.

Of course, as soon as we left the appointment and I started paying a bit more attention, I realized that Finn easily says fifty words. And every day since then he's picked up more. Some of which I can even understand!

For the one's I can't, he has figured out the next best thing: charades. My two year old is freakishly good at charades!

The other day he went down for a nap much later than usual so when our neighbor friends were on their way home from school and stopped by to play, he had just fallen asleep.

"You guys are welcome to come in," I said. "But there's just one rule: do not wake up Finn!"

Of course, that's an impossible rule. Our house is on the small side, Finn's room is front and center, and I was doing absolutely nothing to curtail the loudness that naturally comes with kids who are having a good time. Within minutes Isabella came out onto the porch to tell me Finn was crying. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll go get him." So I kept talking to my neighbor while the kids stripped down to their underwear, put on capes (Liam's big into Captain Underpants at the moment) and jumped into Finn's crib to hang out.

Later on, I asked Finn if he had an okay nap. His eyes got very big and he started acting out exactly what had happened. First he laid on the ground with his eyes closed, looking very sweet and peaceful, then started yelling, "Preston!" in his sweet baby voice. After the second or third, "Preston!" his eyes shot open and he looked around wildly like he was anticipating an attack. Then he started fake crying.

"Oh!" I said, finally understanding what was going on. "You were asleep until the kids yelled for Preston and it woke you up?"

"Yeah!" he said, acting out once again what he looks like when he goes from asleep to awake.

"Then you got sad and cried?"

"Yeah," he said, frowning. "Preston! Waaaaah!" Then he smiled SO BIG and backed into my lap for a cuddle. No translation necessary for that one. I love you too, Finny...

"Sleeping Finn"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shout it out.

Do you remember that SNL skit from the 90s where Will Ferrell keeps saying, "I drive a Dodge Stratus!" It's here if you want to watch it. I just did though and it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I guess the clip I was really hoping to find was the one of me and my sister yelling, "I drive a Dodge Stratus!" anytime we felt insecure and needed a quick punch in the ego or just wanted to break the ice or win an argument. We did it a lot. It's a highly effective technique. Although, unfortunately, we never filmed it for YouTube.

Anyway, last night as I was driving to my "Welcome to home school!" pot luck, I was pulling a full on Will Ferrell in my head. It was like I had to convince myself before I could convince anyone else that I was totally qualified to take this leap.

"I drive a Volkswagen mini van!"

When I pulled up to the party (that happened to be at the home of one of my favorite midwives) and saw a sea of mini vans lining both sides of the street, I quickly changed my tune.

"I brought a quinoa salad!"

Then I went into the party and saw a table full of fresh, healthy, beautiful food and quickly searched for something else that might make me seem special and uniquely qualified to educate my child.

"I, um...have long hair?"

Because I haven't been at this long enough to feel completely comfortable leaning on my curriculum alone. Actually, that's not true at all. I feel very confident in the choices I am making for Liam. It just sort of feels too good to be true.

See, the more I research the more I realize I can do whatever I want for home school. Really. Which might seem strange like, if there are no rules, how do you know you're teaching the right stuff? But let me ask you this: What's the right stuff? I mean, think about it. THERE IS NO RIGHT STUFF.

There are the standards that are covered in public school but those differ county to county, state to state and are just what some one else decided was the right stuff. Same with private school. A curriculum is decided upon and that is what is deemed important.

So I can decide what's important for Liam to learn and go from there. Same diff.

It just feels a little, I don't know, like I'm cheating or something. Like I should have to be up to my eyeballs in worksheets and textbooks, begging my child to sit back down at the table and finish his assignment. Fighting through subjects he hates just so we can cross them off our list and move on.

But that's just not the case. For one, he's never met a subject he didn't like (well, maybe bike riding...) and for two, I just don't believe that we should push kids to improve their weaknesses when we can instead help them grow their strengths.

I mean, sure, introduce a lot of different subjects (you never know what might stick!) but when something is clearly not a child's forte, I think it's okay to let it go. As adults we're all good at different things - we have strengths, we have weaknesses - and that's okay. Actually, it's fantastic!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. The pot luck. It was awesome. Not 10 seconds in I felt completely welcome and comfortable and at home with this eclectic group of warm, passionate, intelligent people. Because all the stuff I'd been trying to reassure myself about was exactly the same stuff they were saying. We were all in the same boat! And since most of them have been in this boat before, I left the party feeling enlightened and super excited. I wanted to shout, "I home school my kid!" loudly and inappropriately. Not to make myself feel better, just because I was so darn happy.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Breaking the rules. Making our own rules.

I have to make this brief because Liam is going to be home from a play date in 20 minutes and his other friend will be here in 40 minutes for a sleepover and Finn will likely be up from his nap any minute so, here goes nothing. Deep breath...

We have decided to homeschool!

Besides the obvious questions like am I out of my mind (maybe) and what are we going to do about socialization (please see above), the rest of it really seems to make sense.

When we took a hard look at our options, the decision sort of made itself. It came down to this:

I could A) fight tooth and nail to get what we needed from public school (so not my style); B) shell out the big bucks for private school and hope it was a more appropriate fit (even though we essentially already pay for homeschool); or C) customize a curriculum to fit Liam's current needs and keep him engaged and excited about learning.

Ding, ding, ding!

It was one of those decisions that we were afraid to say out loud but once we did it was like, "Oh, yeah. Obviously. Why didn't we do this all along?"

Well, I can tell you why. We didn't do it because I didn't think I could ever possibly do it in a hundred million years. We didn't do it because it's different and I am a rule follower who can't help but want to be just like everyone else. We didn't do it because we didn't want to raise a kid who didn't know how to fit in and play by the rules and be normal. We didn't do it because we didn't want to miss out on the community of school (and yes, the socialization).

We didn't do it because we didn't want to be that family.

But the thing is, once I saw how many resources there were floating around out there on the World Wide Web and kind folks (like you!) pointed me toward things like Saturday Academy at Vanderbilt for the Young and Stanford's Education Program for Gifted Youth and the East Nashville Homeschool Association and I realized I wouldn't have to be his one and only teacher, more like his guide, it hit me: I already homeschool. I just call it parenting. How bad could the real deal possibly be?

Sure, we'll be that family. But who cares? I mean, really. That is so not a reason. And the whole teaching a kid to follow the rules business? Why? So he can grow up and struggle to stand up for himself and his kids because he's so darn good at following the rules? That's crazy talk. Besides, the only time you really have to just follow along and fit in and deal with the hand you've been dealt is when you're a kid, right? I mean, if there is one thing I hope I teach my kids it's that if a situation sucks you should change it, not just hang in there and suffer.


It's harder but it's worth it. Right? Oh boy, I hope so.

And as for the socialization thing, have you been to school lately? I mean real school. Public school. Because aside from the walking in and saying hi to people in the morning (which I love) and one 15 minute recess after lunch every fair weather day and hanging around the playground after school (which we will still be able to do), there is not a whole heck of a lot of socializing taking place. There's a lot of shushing and "quiet down boys and girls" and "one, two, three quiet mouse!" and sitting still and being quiet, but as for the social stuff it seems to be kept to a very manageable minimum. Which majorly bummed me out every time I visited Liam's kindergarten class and will be what I hold onto in my head every time I momentarily freak out and worry that I have totally ruined my six year old's social life. 

That and what at least a couple awesome people have told me since we started down this crazy path:  YOU WILL NOT SCREW UP YOUR KID.

And if it starts to look like I figured out a way, we'll try something else.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thank you.

Just a quick post to say THANK YOU to everyone who offered insight or ideas or personal stories or support in response to my previous post. It is all helpful and I appreciate it immensely.

We have a lot to consider although I think we're starting to feel ourselves leaning toward something that feels right...at least for right now. Which is an important point, I think. None of this has to be permanent, you know? If we make a decision and later decide it was a bad one, we can choose something else. Right? There's really not as much pressure as I sometimes think there is.

And another point: None of this should be decided (or not decided) out of fear. So much of what I've done regarding Liam and school up to this point has been fear-based. Fear of not fitting in, fear of the unknown, fear of losing our coveted spot at our lottery-based school, fear of doing something for Liam that will inadvertently affect Finn (like losing his coveted spot at our lottery-based school), fear of what will happen when it's time for middle school, fear of making waves, fear of turning the school against us, fear of going against the tide, fear of blah blah blah. It's stupid. I'm over it. No more fear-based decisions. Period.

But it is time for a decision. Back-to-school night last night made that pretty clear. It's time for us to do something major.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't look a gift(ed) horse in the mouth.

This whole sending my kid to school thing is really bumming me out. It's not that I miss him and want to hang out with him all the time (although, sometimes I do). It's just that it's NOT WORKING. Sending Liam to school is not working. Ugh. I really don't even know where to begin...

The thing is, he's gifted. Which might sound awesome like I'm bragging about how smart my kid is but I promise you, it's a whole different ball game. Being gifted means he has special needs. And just like any other kid with special needs, he's struggling to get those needs met at school.

Because there are lots of kids with lots of needs and only so many hours in the day. And I get it, I do. Of course they are going to teach in a way that reaches most of the kids. It only makes sense (especially when there are test scores to consider...) But it means my child is one of the kids who isn't getting his needs met at all.

And so all that great gifted potential is just sitting there getting bored and irritated and harder and harder to tap into. Because when you don't have to put forth any effort to "succeed", you may as well stop trying.

Which SUCKS. Because if his fire for learning goes out now? When he's six? What's he going to do with himself after that?

All year last year I told myself that academics are only one part of the puzzle. It was what made me feel better when my chapter book reader brought home worksheets about letter recognition and practiced counting groups of objects instead of working on multiplication and fractions like he'd been doing at home.

"At least he's comfortable there," I'd tell myself. "We get to walk to school with our friends and meet him for lunch whenever we want. He loves PE! He has Spanish every day! Plus, recess! And friends! Who cares if he's not learning anything? At least he's happy!"

Because feeling good is not nothing. It's great and very important to a kid like Liam. But it's not enough. At least, not anymore. Not two years in a row. Especially now that he's not as comfortable as he was last year and recess is only 15 minutes ONCE a day. The pros are slipping away and the cons are freaking me out. I just can't lose him already, you know? I just...what kind of a parent would I be if I let him slip away?

So we've met with the principal and will have an IEP (individualized education program) meeting within the week and will hopefully figure out what the heck to do so I can stop drooling over the Montessori website and Googling "homeschooling gifted children" and having to lay next to Liam until he falls asleep every night (hello, anxiety and sleepless nights!) while my mind races with worst case scenarios and what ifs.

So far, it doesn't look like there's a silver bullet. I don't want to shell out a THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH (!) for Montessori. Homeschooling is really hard to wrap my brain around (Liam and I tend to bring out the laziest in each other plus, you know, the two year old). Skipping grades seems like forcing him to grow up even faster than he already has to. But staying where he is is making him hostile (and me depressed). I'm hoping the IEP will have some answers because I'm afraid the only thing I'm bringing to the table, is questions.

Anyone else in a similar boat? I'll take all the advice I can get...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A great week for Julia.

Julia really doesn't like to brag, but sometimes she just can't help it. She is having a truly fantastic week!

Check out my column from this Thursday's Tennessean:


Can I get a what-what?!

When I emailed my editor to thank her for choosing this post (she edits posts from my blog for the paper), her response was maybe even GREATER than getting to see my little lady in print. She said the reason she chose it was because it inspired her. As a woman who would like to have babies someday but doesn't want to sacrifice her creative hopes and dreams, she said seeing me do it makes her believe that it's possible.

Wow!

That really is EXACTLY why I started my blog and named it what I did. To me, giving up who you are as a person in order to raise your babies is doing a serious disservice to yourself and everyone around you. Not only will you end up feeling unsatisfied and possibly resentful, your partner will lose the person he fell in love with and your children will have less of a roll model to look up to (and might even end up feeling guilty for taking away your identity as they mature...). It can be hard to find a balance between parenting to your fullest potential while maintaining and nurturing and growing your individual identity, but I think it's one of the most important things you can do. For yourself, for your marriage, for your children, FOR THE WORLD!

Needless to say it meant a whole heck of a lot to me to hear that sentiment echoed back.

And while I was basking in the glow of that, I was also busy dropping of copies of Just Right Julia at Parnassus Books in Green Hills and East Side Story in East Nashville!

Relatively small steps, yes, but for me it definitely feels like I'm picking up some momentum. I'm not sure where all of this will lead but I am open and ready and excited to see what happens next.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Dr. Seuss party for Thing 1 and Thing 2!

Finn shares a birthday with our good friends' son Coen, so it only made sense for them to share a party too.


My very talented and creative friend and I (she whipped up that adorable invitation like it was no big whoop!) got together to brainstorm over drinks one night but as we were leaving the bar realized we forgot to talk about the party.

"I'll hop on Pinterest to find some ideas."

"Me too!"

"Done. Party planned!"

That place really is a goldmine for ideas. Perfect, glossy, are-we-having-fun-yet ideas. I mean, really, what two year old has ever said, "I loved my party! Everything was themed out and color coordinated and, my goodness, did you see the dessert table! Best. Birthday. Ever!" 








Source: hwtm.com via Maggie on Pinterest


I appreciate that sort of eye candy but I guarantee you the subtleties would have been completely lost on Coen and Finn (not to mention most of the guests). So we kept the theme loose and let the good times roll.

Grinchy guacamole, one fish two fish goldfish, top hat skewers...

Green eggs and ham!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 style cupcakes and cake pops (my 1st time!)








As for the party, it was also pretty laid back. There was an art table that the kids loved, lots of hula hoops that the grown ups loved, and a bubble machine which, if you're ever going to throw a backyard party or be in the vicinity of children, you should probably just go ahead and invest in one of those babies right now. Minds were blown.
























I think the boys had a genuinely good time at their party (which is always the point but not always the case...). Three cheers for sharing a party! Hip, hip, hooray!!!

Having a ball...and eating one too!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Two too cute.

Today is my sweet baby Finn's 2nd birthday. Is that even possible? I could have sworn he was still a baby but this morning over breakfast I showed him his birthday video and he wanted "more" so we watched his older birthday videos and I almost fell out of my chair. Because while it's true that he used to be a baby (and a really cute one at that), I can now see that somewhere along the way he has grown into a boy.


A thoughtful, sweet, happy two year old boy who loves puppies and horses and yellow and his family and helping and snuggling with "night-night" and playing outside and swimming and reading books and making art...





As he blew out his breakfast birthday candle forty five thousand times (he would immediately blow it out and smile briefly while signing and saying "more") and we watched his beautiful life flash before our eyes (plus a few horsey videos on YouTube), I crossed my fingers that he was making some really good wishes on that candle.



Because if he's lucky enough to take after his Mama, he will grow up to have everything he ever wished for.

Finn with Mel Robertson, the baldie I picked out in 1st grade...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don't underestimate the small stuff.

Last night, as it got further and further past bedtime, Liam came up with the perfect cure for Olympic fever.

Cloning.

"What we need to do is make a copy of ourselves so we can keep sitting here watching gymnastics all night while our other copies do the stuff we don't want to do."

"Like go to bed on time?"

"Yes, exactly. The other Liam and Mama would go to bed while we stayed up all night watching the Olympics!"

"Can I make more than one copy?"

"Yes!"

"Okay, cool. I need one copy to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen, one to go to bed so I'm not tired tomorrow, one to do a bunch of research, and one to see if this guy gets the gold. I'm going to be the one who stays up watching the Olympics."

"Me too."

Since he hasn't figured out cloning yet, we did the next best thing and kept watching the games ourselves. We watched as one gymnast's dad/coach kissed his head and squeezed his ears before each event. We watched another boy hang his head in disappointment as his performance on the pommel horse ended his time at the Olympic games (he wanted to win the gold "for his parents"). No wonder we all get sucked into this. It's like ESPN meets telenovela!

Every now and then a commercial would come on and I'd half-heartedly ask if he'd brushed his teeth yet.

"It's past your bedtime," I'd say.

"It's past yours, too."

It went on like that for a while until Liam suddenly switched off the TV. "Okay, Mama. Let's go. Time for bed."

"But I really need to clean up the kitchen."

"No you don't. Just do it tomorrow."

"But I'm not going to want to do it tomorrow either. I would much rather wake up to a clean kitchen. The tomorrow me would appreciate the tonight me SO MUCH if I just did it really quick."

It wasn't quite cloning, but he got what I meant.

Now that the TV was off, it wasn't so bad after all. Liam even helped a little, running things to recycling, gathering cups and glasses from the living room, keeping me company while I rinsed and loaded.

When we were finished I took a big deep breath and said, "I am so glad we did that. Even though I really didn't want to, it had to be done. Sometimes the easier choice is only easier for a minute. After that it makes life much, much harder. We will have a better day tomorrow because we did the dirty work tonight."

After a long day of parenting my ass off (first day of school + questionable classroom placement + learning my rights + gathering my resources {aka, other parents} + lots of back-and-forth with the principal + swimming all afternoon with kamikaze baby + husband out of town + Olympic fever...), it felt like I had finally had a successful moment. In a sea of REALLY BIG THINGS, it's sometimes the tiniest moments that matter most. Actually, it's almost always the tiniest moments that matter most. The big stuff just gets us from here to there. It's what happens on the way that builds character.