Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Five Steps of Deployment

Halloween is just around the corner, and it’s kind of a big deal in our house.  For a recap, you can read THIS.  
Earlier this week, my husband left town for a two-month Air Force-sponsored trip to the southwest Asia, so he won’t be joining in the festivities, but that will not stop us!  No, no.  In fact, we will be in OK for Halloween with family and friends, and I intend on stretching out the holiday as long as possible.  I am attending adult parties both Thursday and Friday night, a family party Saturday night, a neighborhood association gathering Sunday night, and then, of course, we will trick or treat on Monday since that’s when the actual holiday occurs.
I figure if we are all fratched out on sugar highs, we won’t even notice that we still have sixty days until Daddy comes home.  Let’s be real--I’ll throw a pack of Smarties and a Tootsie Pop at each of the boys, send them to bed, and then spend each night cuddled up with the Kit-Kats and Reese’s peanut butter cups while I watch late night reruns of Friends on TBS.  When the madness is over and all that is left in the pillow case are those weird peanut butter taffies and gross jawbreakers, I will throw away the candy waste and wake up the next morning with resolve to make the best of the next two months, and step one of deployment survival will be complete.
I should really start this survival guide by saying, this will be the shortest deployment we’ve experienced yet, so I feel a little like I’m cheating and acting like this is a bigger deal than it is.  In our little corner of the Air Force, deployments are typically four months long.  For clarification purposes, a deployment is an instance where he leaves and stages out of another country to support war efforts.  This should not be confused with “trips”--which can last anywhere from one week to one month; “temporary duty”--which can last any length of time, but usually involves training somewhere in the United States with more flexibility/possibility of seeing each other; or “remote assignment”--which would take him somewhere most likely for a year to a place where our family is not invited.
So, a deployment for us is usually four months, and our spouses go more frequently, as opposed to some of my friends’ spouses who go for longer but less frequently.  Deployment schedules vary drastically from branch to branch (and more specifically from air frame to air frame in our world), but the steps of deployment survival seem to be consistent across the board.
I have already detailed Step 1 above, but let’s give it a name:
EXCESS.  This stage involves acting in a way that is contrary to typical behavior and almost always involves too much of a good thing.  Even the most disciplined spouse may find herself looking for her dignity at the bottom of a bag of snack-sized Twix.  (I have several male friends whose wives are the active duty members, and I in no way mean to exclude them, but in reality, most spouses-at-home are women, so for the purpose of continuity, I will be using feminine pronouns from this point forward.) Other spouses (around the time the first tax-free check comes through) may experience sudden budget-blindness and justify the purchase of a new handbag.  Still others may wake up at a resort in St. Bart’s, surrounded by friends, with the fuzzy memory of how a last-minute girls trip happened so quickly.  (Thanks, LivingSocial!)  However this stage plays out, it’s important for us all to go through it because without living excessively and irresponsibly for a bit, we would never find the motivation to move on to stage 2:
GROWTH.  During the growth period, your average military spouse (to be referred to as AMS from this point forward) snaps out of her delusional thinking.  Clearly, no one really wants to gain three pounds a week in chocolate.  Expensive handbags are fantastic (until one of the kids decides to empty the contents of his cereal bowl in one of the inner pockets), and St. Bart’s can only last so long before the children start to wonder where their mother went.  So, AMS digs her heels in and formulates a plan.  It’s during this stage that the Christmas decorations get reorganized--who cares that it’s July?  It needed to be done!  AMS might take up a new hobby--cross-stitching, synchronized swimming, or archery.  She spends her evenings (that were spent emptying the DVR reserves during the Excess stage) sewing new curtains for the sunroom, writing a novel, and planning out a detailed list of activities for the kids including educational trips to the science museum four towns over, a weekend of apple-picking, and one trip to Disneyworld with the grandparents.  The junk drawer consists of a box of toothpicks and a few paperclips, organized nicely into trays.  The kids are on the best sleeping schedule of their lives.  AMS has never been so productive and efficient.  And then that fateful day comes that moves her into stage 3:
ANGER.  All is going smoothly in AMS’s world.  The linen closet is organized by color, and AMS has finished reading for all three of her monthly book clubs.  After sticking the last Tupperware container of pre-made dinners for the week in the freezer, she takes a glance at the calendar for next week.  And there it is.  A giant red circle she drew before her husband left over the day that marks the “halfway point” of the deployment.  Suddenly, AMS is angry.  She is is forlorn.  Her hand instinctively reaches behind the alphabetized spice rack for the Boy Scout caramel corn.  And the Cool Ranch Doritos.  And into the freezer for some Rocky Road ice cream.  IT.  IS.  ON.  Halfway?  HALFWAY!  We still have as much time left as has already passed?  What on God’s green earth am I going to do for the next half?  RE-organize the wrapping paper bins?  Start another blog?  Plan a trip to Great Wolf Lodge?  GOODGODINHEAVEN, this is never going to end.  With the light at the end of the tunnel dimming a bit, AMS settles in with her snacks, sets the DVD player to play When Harry Met Sally on repeat, and wakes up with her hair stuck to the couch by a glob of popcorn and ice cream.  AMS has reached stage 4:
DOLDRUMS.  In Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, a young boy named Milo finds himself in a place called the Doldrums.  He runs into some inhabitants, the Lethargians, and has this conversation:
"Well, if you can't laugh or think, what can you do?" asked Milo.
"Anything as long as it's nothing, and everything as long as it isn't anything," explained another. "There's lots to do; we have a very busy schedule-
"At 8 o'clock we get up, and then we spend
"From 8 to 9 daydreaming.
"From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.
"From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.
"From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.
"From ll:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.
"From l:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.
"From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.
"From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.
"From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.
"From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner.
"From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.
"From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.
"As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done."
"You mean you'd never get anything done," corrected Milo.
"We don't want to get anything done," snapped another angrily; "we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help."
"You see," continued another in a more conciliatory tone, "it's really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along. Would you care to join us?"
"I might as well," thought Milo; "that's where I seem to be going anyway."
And this is where AMS finds herself.  The laundry can wait.  The dishes pile up.  There are so many other important things to do.  Like watch Lifetime movies about missing children and battered women.  Pinning recipes and quirky quotes to Pinterest.  And Stumbleupon--so many things to stumble upon!  And finding new Tumblrs about Ryan Gosling.  And the cast of Harry Potter.  The Little Caesar’s drive-through crew knows AMS by name--you really can’t beat Hot and Ready pizza when you’ve run out of pre-made lasagna and chicken pot pie.  She was going to make more casseroles, but there was a Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy!  At the end of each day, she checks off her mental to-do list.  Everyone survives without major injuries. Check.  Shower.  Yesterday counts--check! Bought dog food.  Oops--she’ll just give him some leftover pizza crusts until she can find time tomorrow to get out.  It is a haze of nothingness that lasts until she gets that phone call--the one from her deployed spouse.  During their fifteen minute phone call, after the voice announcing, “you have one minute and fifty-three seconds,” he tells her they have an estimated date for return.  She yawns, and answers, “Let me know when it’s a little firmer,” and then glances at the calendar. GOODGODINHEAVEN, it’s time for stage 5:
SPRINT.  Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!  That return date is a few short weeks away (maybe even days on a shorter deployment!).  Look at this house!  Who lives here--the cast of Animal House?  The laundry!  The dishes!  That smell!  We definitely have to do something about that smell before Husband gets home!  Luckily, the cleaning supplies are still in their orderly place.  AMS starts making lists for everyone in the house.  You!  Sort the laundry into darks and lights.  You!  Find all the rogue dishes throughout the house and bring them to the sink.  You!  Well, you just keep chewing on that pizza crust, and I promise I will get some food for you later today.  She makes a phone call to Friendwithnochildren asking if she could take them for an afternoon, so she can get a haircut and pedicure.  Husband has been gone for X days--the least she can do is pretend she hasn’t let her feet go the way of the Hobbit in his absence!  There is rushing and running and scrubbing and scouring and baking and freezing and maybe even a little exercising.  (The Doldrums are never easy on the waist.)  And before she knows it, the stacks are put away.  The smell is mostly gone.  The dog has food in his bowl.  And Husband is coming home.
If you look back over the stages, you will notice that if you add the first letter of each word together, you get “Egads!” an exclamation that originated in the late 17th century meaning, “Oh, God!” which is something that comes out of AMS’s mouth a million times during a deployment--for a myriad of reasons.  Wherever you are in the process, hang in there.  There IS light at the end of the tunnel--just put away some of the stacks of laundry, and you’ll be able to see it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington, Part 3: The Therapy

About a year ago, I blogged about perspective HERE and then finished it up HERE.  At the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening in my world.  I had figured enough out to know that I was dealing with depression, but I felt a little--okay, a lot--like Alice waking up in Wonderland, saying, “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
A lot of the confusion stemmed from the fact that this world was completely and utterly new to me.  Not one bit of it felt comfortable or known.  In fact, my view of depression was formed by commercials for medication and a couple times through Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.  My understanding could have been described as “textbook”--depression is a mental illness.  I kept telling myself, well, clearly I’m not mentally ill.  Depression was something that happened to weak people, crazy people, and certainly not people who are overachieving type-As, who have it together all the time.  At the time, depression meant falling apart, losing your grip on reality, and being worthless.  
Because I had so many misconceptions about how depression works, I told myself to stop being dramatic.  Get a grip.  So what if I could check nearly every box on the “symptoms of depression” checklist?  A deep part of me, the part that’s held together by pride and determination, said, “This isn’t DEPRESSION.  You’re just sad.”
Consequently, a lot of this confusion stemmed from the depression itself.  I am not one to use metaphors to describe concepts as huge as say God or love or, in this case, depression because rather than accurately describing the concept, metaphors are often inadequate.  However, I understand why people fall back on metaphors when they can’t think of a succinct way to describe something.
So forgive the inadequacy, but this is as close as I can get.  Depression feels like I’m riding a stationary bike, while perspective sits on a pedestal four feet away.  No matter how hard I reach, my arms aren’t long enough to touch perspective.  In the meantime, I lose sight of the fact that I’m trying to gain perspective because I’m just trying to keep the pedals moving.  The cycle is this: see perspective, fail to reach perspective, forget about perspective.  Repeat.  It’s exhausting.
Not long ago, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:
It made me so angry.  Angry.  I’m not an angry person.  Really.  But this made me shaking mad.  I wanted to scream, “YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T UNDERSTAND DEPRESSION THEN!”  Did she do something wrong?  Absolutely not.  And I totally get the sentiment.  But depression is a problem that I would never pick back up from the pile.  In a normal, healthy state, there isn’t a problem I couldn’t face.  I am a generally optimistic person, and I have a tremendous support system of family and friends.  In a depressed state, none of that matters.  It’s like walking around in a pair of sunglasses--no matter how hard I try, everything is tinted a darker shade.
After attempting to deal with depression on my own for about a year through various coping mechanisms, I finally found Nancy.  The military offers FREE counseling to all members and dependents.  As a key spouse for our squadron, I was armed with this information to share with other spouses but had never had the need to explore this option for myself.  When we moved to WA, I decided it was time.
Here is what depression looks like from the other side.  You know that stationary bike I’ve been pedaling?  Yeah, it’s not going anywhere.  And you know how you gain perspective?  You get off the damn bike and walk over to it.
In the depths of depression, this option never occurred to me.  On the other side, I have moments all the time when I’m like, “How did I not see this?  How did this not make sense before?”
But that’s the thing about depression.  It wraps everything in a dark, moving cloud.  You have bright moments when things make complete sense.  On good days, there are bursts of energy, bursts of insight, bursts of positivity.  But most days, for me at least, I went through the motions of living--after all, I still have children to care for, a husband to love, and friends and family who depend on me for all sorts of things--but I was living without any sense peace, joy, or purpose, three things that hold a lot of weight in my world.  (One of my biggest misconceptions was that people suffering from depression didn’t function well at all, when in fact, I was functioning in a way that most people would consider “productive,” but I knew without a shadow of doubt that something was just not right.)
I have lived my life in a way that seeks peace and joy at all times.  I have found that if what I am doing--whether it’s working, raising my children, or developing relationships with other people--is full of peace and joy, I feel a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfillment.  Any time I don’t find peace and joy in something, I know it’s time to let go.  Peace and joy are related to but encompass so much more than happiness.  It is (dare I say) easy to weather life’s storms when I am safely anchored to peace and joy. (Oh no! I fear the metaphors may be taking over.)
I have been seeing Nancy for three months now.  (Scott and I go together to work on our seven-year-itchy problems, too, and Scott has now decided he wants to go to therapy for the rest of his life.  He just loves talking.)  She has helped me identify some of the triggers that brought on the depression, and maybe more importantly, she’s helped me give a name to some of the “stuff” that has been going on in my head.
As part of my homework, I read David Burns’ book, Feeling Good, and I would suggest this user-friendly book to anyone who thinks they might be dealing with any level of depression.
I know people deal with these sorts of things differently.  I have friends who would not even tell their closest friends, let alone blog about experiencing depression.  Unfortunately, there is still a significant stigma attached, and there are many who won’t talk about it or get help because of fear or embarrassment.  I get that.  I really do. 
 Even though this post will probably take me less than an hour to type when all is said and done, hours of thought have gone into it.  Believe me--I have asked myself all kinds of questions.  Do I really want to be this vulnerable?  What will people think?  Will this cause people to tread lightly around me?  Look down on me?  Think less of me?  Pity me?  Will this affect my husband’s career?  What about those Christian friends of mine who say Jesus is the answer--what will they think when I tell them I love and trust God to carry my burdens, but this depression is still real?
I’ve asked all these questions, and I’ve settled on this: I can only travel this road the way I know how, and that is to be completely transparent about my struggle.  (I don’t mean to imply that if you need to keep this issue close to you, you are doing something wrong.  I just know this is what I need to do.)  When people talk about qualities they value in others, words like integrity, dependability, and trustworthiness are the first things that come up.  But you know what I value most in people?  Authenticity.  We all do stupid things.  We all make mistakes.  We let each other down.  We fail.  Because we are human.  But I have an infinite amount of forgiveness to extend to anyone who will own up to his or her humanity for the sake of being real with each other.
This is me right now, and if I’m to be my authentic self, I have to share this.  And to be completely honest, I’ve been living with my decision to put this out there for a couple of weeks now, and where once there was anxiety and fear, I feel nothing but peace and joy.  Consequently, I am confident that adding my voice to this conversation has monumental purpose.
If any of this struck a chord with you, but you’re new to this world, too, check out this questionnaire.  (Then, find a copy of Burns' book and read it!)
Also, here is something I ran across this week when this post was still in my head that’s worth reading especially if you are part of a faith community that ignores issues like depression.
Thanks for reading!  If you are totally bummed out now, try reading THIS or THIS.  It’s always a good to leave on a high note.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Move Over Siskel and Ebert

Okay, so in the last post, I gave a detailed description of why I am homeschooling my oldest child for kindergarten (and consequently some things that are not my reasons for homeschooling).  Then, I got this fantastic email from an on-line homeschool group I joined a couple of months ago asking us to screen a movie and blog about it.  Seriously.  Does it get any homeschool-cooler than that?
So, we made a fresh batch of Tang, popped some popcorn, picked out our favorite candies from the stash, and sat down with our secret link and password to watch Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide on October 21st.
Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide on October 21st, is an inspirational story about some kids who want to do something big.  As a parent who is trying every day to instill equal parts idealism and pragmatism in the minds of my two growing boys, I am grateful for a story that teaches them that they are never too small.  Well, they are too small for the big slides at Great Wolf Lodge, but that’s not what I mean.
First off, I had to pause the movie one minute in to explain to my children that yes, you can really build snowmen like that in real life.  Having grown up in SC thus far, they would be more apt to relate to a movie called Sandcastles, which I’m hoping will change when we experience our first pacific northwest winter.  After a brief conversation about the fact that yes, we might be able to build snowmen like that and no, not today, because it’s October, and that’s just rain, I hit play again on Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide on October 21st.
We watched the remainder of the movie in relative silence, permeated by popcorn crunching and a few moments of boisterous laughter from Will, aged 6, followed by mimicked boisterous laughter from Ben, aged almost 3 (yikes!).
I should be completely honest here.  Even at 31, I can’t flip past Goonies or The Sandlot without stopping to repeat a few lines.  I, like so many of my generation, never missed an episode of Saved by the Bell.  You want real honesty?  I would still watch Full House  and Family Matters if my Friday nights weren’t spent catching up on my DVR’d Jeopardy episodes.  How about this?  My DVR completely fills up during the month of December between ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and the Hallmark Channel.  The point is, even though my list of all-time favorites includes Reservoir Dogs, Blade Runner, and Life Is Beautiful, I will never get too old or too consumed by movie-snobbery to sit down with a movie that brings a smile to my kids’ faces.  Frankly, amid the hokey one-liners and kid-friendly snot and poop jokes, I found myself genuinely entertained by Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide on October 21st.  (We even get a cameo from Beverley Mitchell of 7th Heaven fame, and it doesn’t get any cheesier more family-friendly than that.)
Overall, Ray Liotta’s depiction of a goofy, but loving dad was slightly less intense than his Henry Hill from Goodfellas, and I did wish Christopher Lloyd would show up with a Delorean.  Other than that, Bobb’e J. Thompson and Doug E. Doug performed a respectable ode to Cool Runnings, and the adorable performances from Bobby Coleman and Josh Flitter made this exactly what the film needed to be--an excuse for me to catch some snuggles and snacks with two of my favorite people.  
Parents should know there are some tough subjects broached in the plot line, so be prepared to answer some questions, but personally I’m a big fan of answering questions as they come, and what better way than through a form of entertainment?  Think of the film as an updated Stand by Me for a younger crowd--with a lot less cussing and sexual innuendo.
When it was over, I asked each of the boys what they thought of the movie because really, who cares what I think if the kids hated it, right?  Will said, “It was good, especially the part about snow.”  So PROFOUND.  Ben just said he wanted more Tang.  So there you have it.
Go see Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide on October 21st, and if anyone hears that Christopher Nolan needs someone to preview the next Dark Knight movie, please direct him to my blog.  Clearly, I have a talent for these things.
Also, if you want any other info about Snowmen, which premieres in select theaters nationwide October 21st, visit:

Check out the trailer here:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington, Part 2: The Homeschooling

About a month and a half ago, I came out of the closet on FB and told everyone who knows, loves, or met me once in a bar and requested to be my friend while still downing a beer that I was going to homeschool my to-be kindergardener, Will.  The response was overwhelming--so many of my friends gave me immediate thumbs-up-you-can-do-it responses, while others sent private messages asking specific questions about why/what/how.  A few others responded with WTF? and the like.
This summer, my MIL, whom I adore probably a bit too much, invited me to a Bible study at her church.  One of my best friends was also attending, so I said yes.  Between going out of town a few weeks and one week when my kids were throwing up, I only made it to three of the meetings, but it was enough to hear one thing I ABSOLUTELY did NOT want to hear.  
The study was about Jonah.  As a child, I learned quickly that the moral of the story was that if you disobey God, a giant fish will eat you.  On a positive note, after three days of lonely sushi-eating, the giant fish will spit you back out.  The adult moral of the story (or at least the one I took away) is that sometimes God calls us to do something that we ABSOLUTELY do NOT want to do.  
The leader of the Bible study laughed about how a woman she had encountered was so excited to finally have all her children in school when she felt called by God to homeschool.  Here was my response: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  That’s ridiculous.  I’m glad God would never ask me to do anything that insane.  In three years, I will be kid-free in the daytime and will finally be able to go back to work full-time.  The perfect plan, the plan I have had from the moment I ever imagined having children at all.
So, fast-forward to our arrival in WA.  I was buried in boxes, borrowing internet from Barnes and Noble when I could, and seriously lacking sleep due to the ten nights of sleeping on a leaking air mattress (it took us that long to figure out how to tighten the plug correctly) when I made the decision to homeschool Will.  (You thought I was going to say God called me to it, didn’t you?  But as you can see, it was delirium.)
I think this is the appropriate juncture to list some things that are NOT related to my reasons for homeschooling.  
First of all, I did not have a burning bush moment with God where he boomed down, “Thou shalt not enroll Will in public school!”  However, I do believe that that moment in that Presbyterian women’s Bible study planted the seed of an idea.  As I made the decision to homeschool based on some very common sense reasons (to be discussed below), I didn’t so much feel “called,” but I certainly prayed about it and “sought wise counsel” to use some Christianese.  My husband and a few other people who love me unconditionally listened to my reasoning and were on board, so I turned the previous homeowner’s business office into a classroom, and in a week’s time, we were ready for school.
There wasn't much to our garage classroom.
But we fixed 'er up right fancy.
I actually can't believe we had all this stuff--I didn't have to buy anything to make  a classroom.
Oh, wait.  We bought these desks.  I couldn't help it.  
Secondly, anyone who has met Will will tell you he is bright, but I don’t think that the public school system would fail him, turning him into a three-foot tall Lloyd Christmas.  Now that I am part of the homeschooling community, I can speak to this issue.  You have no idea how many people I meet who think they have given birth to the 21st century Einstein, a child that has such superhuman abilities that he simply can’t be held down by an institution. Homeschooling is the ONLY way that Little Albert will be able to reach his full potential and cure cancer by the age of 16.  (On a related note, these children wander around in mismatched socks with uncombed hair and can’t have a conversation about Mickey Mouse--this is not representative of the community as a whole, but I'm saying this stereotype exists for a very good reason.)  The homeschool community has a collective chip on its shoulder when it comes to public schools.  
I personally have NOTHING against public schools.  I have always joked that our kids will be in public schools as long as the school doesn’t smell like pee and the metal detectors are functioning properly.  My mother has been teaching at a “tough” school for almost twenty years.  When she started there, a good portion of the students had one or more parents in jail, in gangs, and/or drug dealing.  Most of the kids lived with extended family members who were trying their best but fatigued by raising their second or third generation of children.  

When the school was approached to become a charter school, my mom and other staff members insisted that during the transition, the school would continue to accept kids from the area--not just cherry pick the smart kids from around the district to falsely pad their test scores over time.  With the added resources from a corporate sponsor, they felt the existing community of learners could succeed. The demographics haven’t changed, but the energy has created an atmosphere in which fifth grade daughters who may have otherwise been pregnant are now receiving academic scholarships to some of the area’s private schools.  Over time, the community has metamorphosed into one in which education is encouraged rather than looked down upon.
How does this relate to my white-bread upper-middle-class smart kid?  The public elementary school Will would attend here in WA gets a 10 out of 10 on  The average income of households that feed into the school is well above local and national averages.  Test scores are high and student/teacher ratio is low.  The community--everyone from the grocery stores to the public libraries--supports the school monetarily and through programs.  My point?  I am confident this public school system would be more than sufficient in offering my children the education they need--partnered with the fact that I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to parenting, of course.  If kids in a school with minimal resources can succeed, Will will be fine.  (I’m sorry...I didn’t actually intend on going there.  It just sort of happened.)
Thirdly, I am not worried that evil heathen public school children are going to brainwash the Jesus out of my children.  This is another thing I’ve run into in the homeschool community.  I just don’t get it.  The same people who would argue that everything “starts at home” seem to lose confidence with the idea that their children could be “exposed” to the “things of the world.”  What?  That doesn’t make sense to me at all.  I’ve spent a lot of time “in the world,” and you know what the effect has been?  I am a more understanding, compassionate, open-minded, and reasonable person (I have run across some people who aren't really impressed by these qualities, but whatever). 

Christians who build little spiritual cocoons around themselves and their children are missing the point completely.  This is all coming out a bit judgy, and that's not really my intent.  I don't judge people for keeping their kids at home with them because they feel their home ("Christian" or otherwise) is the best learning environment for their kids--I do, however, get irritated when they act like public schools are the ultimate evil.
That said, I have several friends who homeschool their kids because they feel called by God to do it, think public schools are inferior and will not serve their children, and/or they want to shelter their kids from sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll as long as they can.  And you know what?  More power to them.  Those just aren’t my reasons.
We decided to homeschool for a couple of really common sense reasons.  First of all, kindergarden in WA is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and by the time I’d found a house, the only spot open was in the afternoon.  I started stressing about an entire school year of having somewhere to be right smackdab in the middle of the day.  That’s not just annoying--it would mean I would never be able to put Ben down for a nap.  If you’re not a mom, this may sound completely stupid, but if you are, you totally get this.  
Secondly, Scott is deploying in the middle of the school year.  I wanted the freedom to head home to OK for the holidays without having to limit our time.  On a related note, when he is in town, I like the idea of having the freedom to head to Canada for the weekend or India if he ever has time to take that much leave.  

Lastly, I found a homeschool co-op at Olympia Regional Learning Academy.  Will takes five classes in a traditional classroom setting throughout the week.  Each class has 7-18 students and follows a Montessori model, so he’s grouped with K-2 grade kids.  The classes range in subjects from Hands-On Math to Spanish to “Twist Like a Pretzel,” which is just about the cutest little yoga class you can imagine--it just happens to be all boys, so they are having a great time learning all their superhero poses.

With a background in education, I feel confident and competent enough to be able to structure a wide range of curriculum to supplement his co-op classes.  I am also really curious/excited to watch firsthand Will’s daily discoveries.  Two months in, this is really, really working for us.  I am nothing short of honored and blessed to have Will home with me for an extra year.  Will is the ultimate student, which makes me a better teacher, and THAT is pretty freaking awesome.
And just for the record, for those of you who are worried that (as one friend put it in a text) Will will “turn out knowing how to spell cymotrichous but not how to talk to a girl,” we’ve got that covered.  I will not fail at passing down a legacy of cool.

Stay tuned for the third installment of "Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington" in which I will detail my therapy sessions, which is way more exciting than reading my rants about homeschooling.

P. S. One other cool thing about our classroom is that there is a ramp up one side that leads to what is now our "fort."  See:

That's pretty cool, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington, Part 1: The House

1. I have been a blogging failure all summer.
2. I am no longer going to be a blogging failure.

So, here I go--getting back on the horse, dear readers.  I think this post is going to end up being a series of posts because I have about three months of catching up to do.  So, here’s the long story short to get you caught up on my life, starting with the fact that we now live in WA.  For six years, I had to clarify that we lived in SOUTH Carolina, as opposed to NORTH Carolina.  Now, I have to clarify that we live in the state, not D. C.  Other than that one similarity, life is basically 180 degrees different for us than it was six months ago.  (You can click here for a detailed chart of the differences between SC and WA.)

I was in OK until the end of July with Will and Ben while Scott completed his weapons instructor course in New Jersey.  Upon completion, he outprocessed from Charleston and found renters for our house, while I took a trip to WA to find us a new house.  We moved to Olympia, WA (or “Olhippiea” as I like to call it) on August 1st, received our household goods ten days later, and started Will’s kindergarten year (at homeschool!) two weeks later.  Somewhere in there we started going to therapy.

So, I think the easiest way to approach this series of posts is to begin with some thoughts about moving.  Anyone who has ever moved into a new house knows that the process is a little bit like childbirth--when you’re in the middle of the process, you want to kill someone, anyone, the closest person holding your junk, but in the end, when you’re looking at your new baby, it’s so worth it.  And just like having a new baby, there are things you expect, things you look forward to, things you dread, and things that surprise you.  There’s an adjustment period for everyone involved, but eventually, you find a sense of home again.  Here is a list of surprises, some good, some bad, that we’ve experienced with our new 2,200 square foot treehouse of a baby.

First of all, here’s our house:

Let me explain exactly what’s happening here.  The bottom story is a 2,200 square foot garage.  The side door in the first picture is the only way into the house, so we don't have a front door, and the big garage door is for our RV, of course.  Originally, the homeowner was going to use it to store his multiple cars, his boat, and his RV (with a small room walled in for his business office).  The top story was intended to be a guest house for visitors, and the homeowner and his family were living in it while they built their 7,200 square foot dream home, which looks like ours except way, way bigger obviously.

The two houses are situated on 38 acres of mountain landscape, and this is the view from our treehouse porch: 
At this point, you may be thinking: why are you living in this family’s guest house?  Well, that’s where it gets all Twin Peaks/All My Children.
So, rumor has it around the Black Lake area that Mr. Homeowner was a complete asshole.  Other words that have been used to describe him by this small community include: douchebag, loser, good-for-nothing, and scumbag.  His wife is equally respected by their former neighbors (which includes less than 20 people within a 3 mile radius of the property).  Anyway, Mr. Homeowner was over his head financially, got wasted on scotch, and scuba-dived to his death--all after canceling the insurance policy that would have benefitted his wife (who, by the way, had a new man living in their home before the funeral).  The building company took pity on the widow and bought the property instead of leaving her to be foreclosed upon.
The new owners plan on parcelling the land and have been renting out both houses since taking ownership, and the moment I saw the house (despite it’s soap opera beginnings), I knew it was perfect for us.  We are situated up a 2 mile gravel road in the mountains.  We feel like we’re stuck in the boonies, as our immediate neighborhood consists of four other houses, some Winter’s Bone trailers/barns at the bottom of the hill, and Black Lake Grocery, a convenience store where you can buy bait, beer, and assorted grocery necessities, but where you should also make sure your children don’t get kidnapped.  HOWEVER, in reality, we don’t live in the boonies because Barnes and Noble, Trader Joe’s, and Chipotle (among other businesses that make life worth living) are all within a ten-minute drive from the Black Lake area.  It’s truly the perfect situation.

Here are a few things that we’ve learned since living here:
Can you see me?  I'm incognito. 
Secret blackberry ops.
The people of western WA have an intense hatred for blackberries.  This is a tremendous advantage for us because we have acres and acres of blackberries to pick and no one else wants them.  I have taken up canning jam because my freezer isn’t big enough to hold the pounds and pounds of berries we have picked.
The water in WA is ridiculously soft, which has multiple benefits.  First of all, cleaning is infinitely easier because there aren’t the same kinds of minerals that turn everything white or green that I’m used to dealing with in OK, or the weird pink gunk that gathered on everything when we lived in SC.  Also, the tiniest amount of shampoo and conditioner gives me magical hair.  I’m talking angel hair.  Like 1970s Farrah Fawcett hair.  Light, fluffy, magical.  (Also, I have to be careful to use a very small amount of shampoo or body wash, or I end up having flashbacks to the traumatic bubble party during my senior trip to Cancun--soft water=too many suds.)
Our expectations about people in WA being crazy hippie liberals did not even come close to touching reality.  It is so beyond even my wildest dreams.  I have always felt like the most liberal member in nearly all circles of friends, but you have to consider context.  I grew up in OK, went to an evangelical church, and married someone in the Air Force.  So, my (truly) middle-of-the-road political and religious leanings have always been viewed by others as extreme lefty.  For the first time in my life, I am the conservative righty prude.  It’s refreshing.
This is the road that leads to our house.  At night and without two cute little boys, it is much, much creepier.

I will probably not be able to watch any suspense/horror movies during the duration of our stay at this house.  In addition to the quaint pleasures that accompany “rural” living, there is a very significant sense of fear.  I am slightly afraid of death by black bear attack/deranged prisoner escapee every time I am out walking the dog at night or driving back from town after dark.

The first thing everyone says to us about living in the PacNW is something along the lines of, “Oh!  You moved there at the perfect time!  The summers there are BEAUTIFUL.  But watch out for winter!”  At first, I thought people were just being dramatic--the rain can’t be that bad, right?  But then, literally everysingleperson we met would go into this line of thought: WA winter=immediate suicide watch.  So, I think that just means I need to put a tanning bed somewhere in my 2,200 square foot garage (right next to our indoor playground and trampoline).  I joke, but I have had three people tell me to buy my tanning package now.

I really wanted to post some more pictures of the house (mainly because everyone keeps asking), but it still looks like a bomb went off, and I figure this way, you will just have to come visit if you really want to see it.  Look out for Part 2 of “Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington” when I will explain how someone as unbelievably cool as me can be a homeschool mom.