Joy For Beginners

2012/02/24

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but I’m going to try and do better.  ‘Nuff said.

One of the blogs I follow, Cheaper By The Half Dozen, mentioned a book in a post I read a few days ago.  The book, Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, is February’s book selection on the blog She Reads (also penned in part by the author of Cheaper by the Dozen).  It sounded intriguing, so I snagged a copy from the library.  This is easily the best book I’ve read in a long, long time- not because of the writing or anything like that, but because of the subject and how adeptly it’s handled.  This is the kind of book that touches your soul; the kind that you hold inside of you forever.  I will never forget this book and the lessons I learned from it.  Don’t be surprised to see entire posts stemming from one line or theme from this book!  If you like reading fiction, or even if you don’t, I still recommend that you check this one out.

I’m not sure if I found so many nuggets of wisdom and insight in the book  because they were just there- intended by the author to pierce the heart of each reader, or because I was looking for them.  I’m at a place of openness right now- openness toward my future, and hopes, and dreams.  Openness toward rediscovering the anticipation and expectation of wonderful things happening in my life.  I want to live, really live my life, becoming as grown and mature as I can possibly be, in the most childlike way possible.  Childlike because I want to believe and receive it with no doubts or second guessing based on bad experiences, fear, or whatever it is that other people think.  I want to really embrace the future and the hope that God has for me, knowing with every fiber of my body that He CAN and He WILL give me the desires of my heart if I delight myself in Him, just ‘cuz.

So!  Back to the book.

As a quick summary, there are seven women.  One has battled cancer and won, and at her victory party, the others decide she must do something she’s never done before, something that scares her, to overcome her fear.  For her, they choose white water rafting through the Grand Canyon.  It was initially her daughter’s suggestion, which they get a hold of.  Completing this will cause her to do two things- first, face the direct fear of the rapids.  More importantly, commit to something a year away (the trip is for a year in the future), as she has yet to embrace the fact that she has survived and does, indeed, have a future to look forward to and plan for.

She accepts, but with one condition- she gets to pick something equally challenging for each of them to accomplish.

What a great idea!  I’m totally going to round up some gals and steal it.  Seriously.

I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts about this book, and on my journey to truly get a life this year.  Your job is to get a life, too (if you don’t already have one) and to hold me accountable!!!  With that said, go check out my next post about a statement from the book that holds a lot of meaning- particularly as it pertains to children growing up, and how adults facilitate that.  Go read!

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Holiday Giving

2011/12/21

One of the things that I want my kids to develop a heart for (or at least a healthy respect for) is service to others.  I recognize that I can’t make them love it, or even really like doing it- but I can instill in them a respect for the fact that we should be concerned for “the least of these”, and we are responsible for helping them in some way.  It’s not okay to see a need and do nothing- I think God shows us things so that we can act, although “act” to me doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it yourself.  Sometimes the action is doing, but sometimes it’s finding the right person to get it done.

Anyway, on Saturday, I took Monae and Maisy to the Salvation army headquarters here in Baltimore.  Mark was quite ill, so he stayed at grandma’s, and Max would never understand why we weren’t opening the toys for ourselves, so I thought it would be better if he just stayed with daddy, lol.

Monae wasn’t really happy about missing her early dance classes to do this, at least not at first.  I am pleased to report that about halfway through the experience, she asked me if we could volunteer there every year- like a family tradition.    I told her I’d see how it went, and let he know after we were done.  When I explained to Maisy that we were going to pack up toys and clothes for kids who wouldn’t get anything for Christmas, she said, “some kids can’t get anything for Christmas?  Wait- but I’m still getting toys, right?”  It was kinda funny.  Once I reassured her that we weren’t giving away her toys, she was fine.  Maisy didn’t really mind helping at first, but got bored with it quickly.  I think next year she’ll do better, since she’d be able to help out a little more.

After signing in, we were escorted to an aisle and given directions.  In a room about the size of an elementary school gym, there were long tables set up end to end, almost the entire width of the room across, and most of the length to form aisles.  These tables were also stacked on top of each other- so take the layout and stack it on itself to get a mental picture.  On these tables and on the floor were large boxes, side to side.  Around the perimeter of the room on roughly three sides were giant wooden bins with the fronts cut low (so you can reach things inside).  The last wall consisted of a large shelving unit holding boxes labeled with boys and girls sizes, and shelves full of shoes, also sorted by size.

Each box has a sheet with information about the children in a family (they provide gifts for kids 12 and under only).  There are kids’ first names, their gender, age, and whatever they wished to receive as a gift.  There are two gift categories- toys and clothes- and stocking are also added for each child.

Our job was to look at the sheet, go to the bins/ clothing area to find the specific items in the right sizes, and fill the boxes (which contained black trash bags to hold everything).  Monae was shocked by the sheer amount of boxes in the room; we were about halfway down the aisles and we started working on boxes in the 900’s.  There were at least 2000 boxes in that room.  She was even more shocked, and quite sad, when I told her that those boxes didn’t come close to approximating the total number of kids or families that needed help- there were many more who wouldn’t get the help they needed.  It was very sobering.

We worked for three hours, finding stockings (separated by age), searching through toy bins, looking through coats and shoes for the right size.  It was easily one of the simplest volunteer jobs I’ve ever done, but also one of the hardest.  What I found most difficult was looking at the kids’ names and ages and realizing that they were the same ages as MY kids.  Seeing that he or she needed a coat.  Or maybe a pair of shoes that fit.  Maybe the four year old wanted a Barbie, or the tween girl asked for some lipgloss.  Things we take for granted everyday.  I can’t imagine any of my kids not having shoes that fit, or having to put “winter coat” or “gloves and hat” on their Christmas list.  That may sound petty or snobbish, but I’m not trying to be snobby- I’m just saying that it really hit home for me how much we take for granted.  How many things do we take as a given, and not even consider because we just know that they will be taken care of?   You know, those things that never even cross your mind when you’re whining about what you can’t get, or can’t have, or can’t do?  I’m guessing that when you’re having that pity party about how you haven’t been on vacation in three years because you just can’t afford it, things like affording a pair of shoes that fit or a thick coat for the winter never enter your mind.  They don’t for me, at least not at first.

This year when it got cold, I had a moment where I sighed to myself because I’d have to choose between one of my “same old coats” again this year, instead of buying myself a new one.  Not that I can’t, just that since I already have several puffy jackets and several wool coats, it wouldn’t be prudent for me to buy a pretty new camel- colored, cashmere blend car coat.  I thought about that when I was standing in the Salvation Army warehouse.  I felt ashamed and surprised at myself for not seeing how self- absorbed I probably am most of the time.  Not in a selfish way, just in a “me and my little world” kind of way.  My kids can choose what coat to wear, by style and color.  These kids are just happy to get something that will keep them warm.  Again, it was very sobering.

The silver lining in recognizing and acknowledging my selfish nature is that I caught a glimpse of the woman I want to be.  Introspection can be very difficult, as it forces you to take a hard look at yourself and see some things that you’d rather not acknowledge.  Indeed, the very act of seeing makes what you weren’t seeing before crystal clear.  It’s like looking in a highly polished mirror at yourself- seeing everything that you are, and everything you’re not all at the same time.

Along those same lines, I’m reminded that God was at work in me even then.  Not just because He stirred my heart to make volunteering a priority this year, but because during that introspective experience, He shined His light on me, exposing those dark places that I’d prefer to keep hidden- like the selfishness hiding in the shadow of my humility.  Have you ever noticed that when light is shined on some dark places, whatever is in the path of the light comes into focus, but those things on the margins are cast in shadow?  I  have found that when God’s light shines within us to reveal something we need to work on, it has the opposite effect on the outside.   The bright light focuses on the selfishness within me, but in that moment, people on the outside see my humility and compassion in the light; my selfishness is cast in shadow, out of sight, beyond pointing fingers and clucking tongues .

I had the desire to give to those less fortunate this holiday season.  However it really worked out that they gave to me-  a better, clearer picture of myself and the woman that I want to be.

And so, to answer her question:

Yes, Monae- we’ll make this a tradition every year.

Who knew I’d be posting a part two so soon?

So, my daughter has a audition tomorrow.  She dances, and she’s a great dancer.  She’s auditioning for two shows- Aladdin and The Nutcracker, as performed by the Ballet Theater of Maryland.  This will be her first audition hosted by people who don’t know and love her.  She auditioned for the pre- professional group that she’s a part of (and must re- audition for each year), but that’s directed by her long time dance teacher.  Not that that ensured her a spot, because it didn’t- but she was a little more comfortable in the presence pf people she’s known for years.  This time it’s different.

She’ll be competing against a roomful of strangers, in front of a panel of strangers, somewhat far from home (auditions are an hour away- the shows aren’t that far, though).  I am nervous for her, and somewhat scared- all those other dancers, whose talent we know nothing about- and her in there, alone with them, being judged on her performance as compared to an unknown quantity.  My “mother’s heart” is not aching just yet- right now it is beating a hundred beats per minute, fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings, in anxiety- laced anticipation.

We just completed her performance resume, and will pick up her headshots tomorrow- they don’t need to be professional.  Good thing, because I forgot until the last minute.  But I have some good shots of her- between the dancing and the modeling in this house, I’m constantly taking headshots of my kids anyway.

Preparing the resume made it more real for both of us, and increased her level of stress so much it was almost tangible.  Once again, I played the cool, collected mom- “it’s no big deal, you’ll do great, you always do.”  Inside, I feel nothing of the sort- I KNOW she has the ability, I’m just afraid that in the presence of these other dancers and judges she’ll get nervous and freeze up.  I hope not, and that’s all I can do, because I’m not allowed to stand by and coach her, or peek in for a thumbs up, or anything- she’ll be in there, away from me, on her own, to stand on her own merits.  I know she can do it, but I’m afraid she’ll choke.  Perhaps I should have more faith, but it’s hard.

Once again, I silence that part of me that screams out to protect her from the possibility of hurt- the part that wants to tell her to just be happy taking dance classes.  And she would be happy to hear that, for as much as she wants to dance professionally, she does NOT want to audition.  Ever.  But auditions are par for the course, and something that she must get used to experiencing.  So I push her- not against her will, because if she honestly didn’t want to I probably wouldn’t force it- but I push her enough to move past the fear and into the next level of her training, even as I inwardly cringe at the thought of what could- and will- eventually happen.  I push her toward the thing that I want to protect her from, because it’s for her own good.

This is her dream, her ambition- all she’s ever really wanted to do.  I have to let her spread her wings, even if she falls the first few times before she flies.

When we wake up in the morning, it will be a whirlwind of activity to get all she needs and get her there on time.  We’ll make it, and thankfully the busyness required will keep my mind off of worrying for her- at least until we arrive.  Hopefully it will keep her from being so nervous, too.

I wonder if we’ll be having a celebratory dinner tomorrow night, or planning a consolation activity for her as well.  Or if we’ll even find out that soon- the waiting would be difficult for us both.  Luckily for me, I have an immediate distraction to help stave off my worrying- The Milkman calleth.  But I’ll keep you posted.

 

Update: Monae was selected for two roles in the Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s performance of the Nutcracker this winter.  Congrats, baby girl!

If you are a mom, you are probably familiar with this phrase.  If not, and for those of you who are not moms, I’m not referring to the heart that pumps blood through my body.  My “mother’s heart” is the one in the center of my chest and the pit of my stomach at the same time; the one that aches when your kids hurt, warms when they give you kisses, and smiles when they pick a bunch of dandelions so that you’ll have “pretty flowers”.  It’s also the one that fiercely protects when your kids are in danger, and is on alert for boo-boos, monsters under the bed, or the heartbreak of a first crush, depending on how old your kids may be.  This “heart” never gets a break either, and like the other one, needs it’s life-blood your kids- in order to survive.  When one of them is in any type of predicament- real or imagined- your “mother’s heart” immediately responds.

It’s that “heart” that I am currently doing my best to ignore- yes, I said ignore.  You see, this is one of those “imagined” moments of danger- when I say imagined, I don’t mean that the possibility for hurt does not exist, but that if that hurt should come to pass, it’s one that will ultimately help my child- in this case my oldest son- grow into the responsible man he is quickly becoming.

And it’s such an insignificant thing.

My son is a Junior Firefighter.   That’s one of the things he wants to do with his life.  In a nutshell, he receives the same training as regular firefighters (they are trained by active firefighters) only they don’t train with live fires.  But they do everything else.  Right now, he’s the sergeant of his platoon (the kids are grouped into platoons), but elections are today- he’s running for captain.

Last year, I got really nervous and “mama beary” when he decided to run for sergeant.  Not that I had any real reason to be concerned, as he’s well- liked by his peers and is very dedicated, I knew he’d be upset if he wasn’t elected.  You see, they still vote kids in to positions- understanding that sometimes having to face a defeat will not ruin you for life- in fact, it can help grow you as a person and build resilience and integrity- which stands in contrast to the current trend of “let no child feel any type of disappointment ever” (which, I think, is why as adults they are so unprepared to deal with it).  But, I digress.

He has been nervous about this for over a week, and especially this morning as we traveled to the fire station.  I cold feel his nerves, and my “mother’s heart” ached to tell him not to accept the nomination- for fear that he would be disappointed if he wasn’t chosen.  My mother’s heart knows that he will be very hurt, and very sad, and it can’t stand the thought of him being disappointed.  It wants to shelter him, to protect him from his own ambition and in some cases (gasp!) dreams, because they may be a little too ambitious, or so my mother’s heart thinks.  He might get hurt!!!

Luckily, I have lots of brothers and nephews and a husband who remind me that I’m not raising a little boy, I’m raising a future man- and I remember their words as I listen to him tell me his plans for advancement.  My son has always had a plan for his life- a path he intended to follow.  I’m not surprised, since I’ve been praying for that very thing since before he could roll over.  Every day, almost without fail, sometimes getting back up from bed when I realized I had forgotten, I would place my hands on his head, his back, his feet, and pray “Lord, please show him Your purpose for his life while he is young.  Make it plain to him; give him the boldness to walk into that purpose regardless of who understands or agrees.  Lead him the way that he should go, and help me to do whatever I can to not hinder him, but to help him to become the man you’ve created him to be.”  Everyday.  For YEARS.

So he’s a kid with plans for his life.  Sometimes I guide, and sometimes I stand back in awe.

This is a part of his path, I know.  He may not get chosen, and he might,  Either way, it’s part of the plan- a plan that he’s prepared to take risks for, I might add.  And I try to respect that, even as my “mother’s heart” is shouting at me to “put an end to all this dreaming and goal setting- what if he gets hurt??!!!!”

And I distract myself, and I shush “her” as loudly as I can, because this is something he feels he needs to do.  It’s not inappropriate or weird or anything else most moms of teenagers are concerned about.  And yes, he might get hurt- but if he does, he’ll learn to move past it.  To press on.  He’ll become stronger, and more resolved- that’s how he is.  Either way, he’ll be fine.

I’m proud of my son today, because he’s not afraid to push past his greatest fears to get what he wants.  I wish I had more of that when I was younger.  I wish I had more of it now.  I learn from him, sometimes.  He’s teaching me right now.

And so, as I quiet my “mother’s heart” for the 1,000th time today, I end this post, as it’s almost time to pick him up.  This post was part of my distraction, too.  I wonder how the elections went, wondering whether I’ll be planning a special meal to celebrate, or a special activity to help assuage the hurt.  Either way, he’ll be fine, and so will I- until next time.

Update: Mark is still sergeant; he didn’t get promoted.  He’s not nearly as upset as I am, lol.   He said he got over it really quickly, and now he knows what he needs to do to help ensure his promotion for next year- and he can’t wait to get started.  Another lesson learned (by me).

I have been homeschooling my oldest two kids for four years now.  Well, one for four years, the other for three and a half.  I pulled my son out of school halfway through 4th grade; my daughter was in 5th grade at the time and wanted to finish the year because of theater group.

Initially, my family was okay with it.  By “family”, I mean extended family- my husband was always  supportive (and one brother has always made his support known as well).  Anyway, since my son had been having a lot of problems in school socially (his early years were spent in Christian school, which is a different environment from public school, and he struggled with the other kid’s behaviors, things they would say, and things they would do), and academically,  it seemed like a great idea.  (They weren’t able to teach him at the level at which they tested and found him competent- at the end of 3rd grade, his reading comprehension was 10th grade, and his reading ability they couldn’t even quantify- during the test of having to read words with an ever- increasing difficulty level, he never reached a level of frustration.  In 4th grade, after many “boredom” struggles, his teacher admitted to me that she knew that they weren’t working at a level which approximated his ability and that she knew he was bored, but that she had 29 other students and couldn’t tailor things to what he needed.  She went on to say that even though it wasn’t on his level, he needed to sit through it anyway, and if he couldn’t do that, perhaps I should consider some type of medication to help him do that.  REALLY?  I should medicate him because he’s bored?  And THAT’S when I pulled him out halfway through the year.)   Now, I also know (because I was a teacher myself) that teachers are not allowed to recommend medication- but she did.  And while part of me felt bad for her (I’d taught classes of 30+ students myself, and it’s no easy task), the other, larger part of me knew that I had to get my son out of that environment before it ruined him.  The academics were a problem, but what all of it was doing to his mind and his self- confidence was worse.  His spirit was breaking.  I pulled him out.

Thing is, my family assumed that I would homeschool him for the rest of that year, then send him back in the fall since he’d have a new teacher.  Not sure where they got that idea from, as that was never my intent nor did I ever express an interest to do that, but there it is.

When he didn’t go back the next year, and my daughter came home, they were all awry.  My daughter struggled with school too, but for opposite reasons- coming from an even more colorful public school environment in the city, she adapted to the county school environment with ease- easily the best behaved child in class and very respectful.  Academically, she was quite behind, and having a very hard time.  By her own admission, she was the “dumb girl” in the class, and spent a lot of time feeling bad about herself.  Her self esteem was suffering, too, and it wasn’t just a matter of trying harder.  Between the lead poisoning she had as a child, and her suspected mild dyslexia (suggested through school testing, although not bad enough to warrant intervention, so they said), learning is just harder for her.  Not that she can’t learn- she can, and she does- but she learns better when not constantly ridiculed for not “getting it” as fast as her peers do.  I felt that bringing her home would be helpful, as she wouldn’t be under the pressure she was under before, and she could work at her own pace.

My family freaked.  They tried so many things to get me to change my mind, all to no avail.  They were convinced I was ruining them, what about socialization?  More importantly, what about PROM???  ( they were 9 and 10 at the time…)

You already know where this is headed, so I’ll skip those details and get to my point which is this:

I totally get that people who love my kids would be concerned about this different educational path we’ve chosen for them.  I get that.  And I appreciate their concern- I’m glad they care enough to risk ruffling my feathers to ensure their well- being.

Fast forward four years, and my kids are doing great- grade levels above their ps counterparts, happy, and very social.  My super- shy son is much more outgoing, so much so that his friends’ parents can’t believe that he ever was shy.  He plays football, is a Junior Firefighter, does archery, and is an equestrian.  My daughter dances- lots and lots, lol.  She’s always been social anyway.

That said, I feel that- since they have not been ruined and are doing well academically- that everyone needs to back off.  I’m still having to justify my choice to people- and I’m so over it!  True, I don’t HAVE to justify ANYTHING, technically that’s a choice I make to keep things hospitable.  But I am so over that.  I feel like if nothing else, the people who know me best know me well enough to know that I don’t jump into anything- I never have.  I’m the research- it- to- death type.  And, not that my level of education is necessary to give my kids a great education (I have a good friend with a GED who successfully homeschooled her 3 girls), I am very educated, and even worked as a teacher for about 10 years prior to homeschooling.  So I have more experience than most, I’d think.

But that doesn’t matter.  Every year, even during the year, with every conversation, there are the inevitable hints about “sending them back to school”.  Sometimes it’s the not so subtle, “So, when are you sending them back to school?”  Other times, it’s comments like “she’s so smart, she outta be in school!”  Uuummmm, hello??  If working with her God- given talent at home has gotten her this far, why would I fix what’s not broken and send her to school?  That doesn’t even make logical sense.  And, like with the breastfeeding thing, these are people who have done absolutely NO research on the subject of homeschooling.   And who really haven’t done any research into school, either.  They just “know”.  Sorry, but that’s not good enough for me (or my kids).

Really, I’m just tired of it (can you tell?).  The bottom line is this- these are MY kids, and it’s my responsibility to raise them the way God is leading ME to.  You don’t have to understand or agree.  And that’s okay, because these are MY kids.  MINE.  You raised YOUR kids the way you thought was best; allow me the same respect.  Keep your comments to yourself- if I change my mind, I’ll let you know- but you’re not gonna talk me out of it, I’m not suddenly gonna hear something you say or see some brainy school kid and think “I’m gonna drop this homeschooling thing and send my kids to school, too!”  NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

We homeschool because we feel that is what God is leading us to do for our kids.  It is not a judgement of you because you chose differently for your own kids, or because you’re choosing differently now.  We’re not anti- school.  Our choice has nothing to do with you at all.  We feel that it’s the best choice and the best place for our kids.  Period, end of discussion.

So, a message to those of you who feel like you still need to “talk some sense into me and get me to see straight”- please stop trying to change my mind!!!  It makes me not want to talk to you at all.   No one wants to feel like they constantly have to justify their decisions to everyone else.  And the reality is, I don’t have to- the only person I have to justify anything to is God, and when I stand before Him, I’ll be confident that I followed His leading in this area.  You may not understand or agree, and you don’t have to.  God is not speaking to you about what I should do with my kids’ lives.  He speaks to me directly, and I have no problem hearing him, thank you very much!  Your opinions are exactly that- your opinions.  Your issues are exactly that- your issues.  I grow weary of feeling like I have to defend my choices because they are different from yours, and I’m not gonna do it anymore.  If you’ve never experienced this version of me, it’ll be a new experience!  One caveat though- you may not like it.