Friday, December 7, 2012

'Tis the Season, Friends

I’ve been taking a blog sabbatical in order to focus on writing my book, an effort that has been only semi-successful on one hand but at least a step in the right direction. I decided to come out of my self-imposed semi-retirement because each year the holiday season leaves me with an abundance of inspiration for writing.

In 2010, I blogged about my favorite Christmas song and what it feels like when it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  Last year, I blogged about Xmas and the post office--a post that ended up getting the fifth most hits of any posts on my blog and still brings tears to my eyes when I think about its inspiration.

This past year, we accidentally became Lutherans.  Having grown up evangelical, my experience with the Lutheran denomination was limited.  In fact, the only Lutheran services I ever attended were when some of my extended family got married.  I immediately placed the Lutherans in the good category because they had alcohol at their receptions.  We enrolled Ben at the preschool at Gloria Dei, and after sending both boys to VBS this summer to get a feel for the atmosphere, we decided to try a Sunday morning service.  So, here we are--part of a Lutheran congregation, a group of people whose outlook on life is similar to ours and who has warmly embraced our family.

Our associate pastor, Molly, contacted me to write a piece for a congregational Advent devotional.  Clearly, I’m comfortable with writing, but growing up in the evangelical tradition did not provide me with knowledge about the high church tradition and ritual that comes into play during these important moments on the church calendar.  I attended an Episcopal school for eight years as a child, but my take away about Advent was limited to savoring a bite of chocolate each day when I opened a tiny door.  (Likewise, Lent was the time of year when I didn’t eat chocolate at all.)  I married a Presbyterian, so as an adult, I’ve learned a bit more, but I took this invitation to write a piece to dig a little deeper.

My search lead me to pieces from some of my favorite theologians.  Perhaps more helpful were the websites devoted to teaching children why we celebrate Advent, complete with coloring pages and wreath-building instructions.  In all my insomnia-driven internet-searching research, the words that kept popping up were simplicity, reflection, hope, and waiting.

In the end, I wrote too short devotional pieces, one about simplicity and one about hope.  I certainly enjoyed learning about all the symbolism and tradition, and after attending our church’s “Advent Adventure” party, I can say that our family has a very nice hand-made wreath in the middle of our dining room table now.

Advent, as defined by the church, is essentially the time of waiting for the Christ child’s entrance--it is celebrated the four weeks leading up to Christmas, a time when we light candles representing hope, love, joy, and peace.  

I was drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea that all of life is Advent--that all we do is in preparation for the tiny, and not so tiny, miracles.  I see these miracles all the time in my life and in the lives of my friends:

The miracle of learning to read for the child who struggles academically.

The miracle of finding a budget-friendly car after bumming rides for a few weeks.

The miracle of reconciling a broken relationship after months of not speaking.

The miracle of finding a job after a year of unemployment.

The miracle of carrying a baby to full-term after months of bed rest.

The miracle of a clean bill of health after rounds of chemotherapy.

And each of those miracles were preceded by a time of reflection, a time of waiting, a time of hope--what beauty there is in living in a space that appreciates the past, present, and future all in the same moment.  I am reminded again and again that I am part of a story with no beginning and no end, a story that existed long before me and will continue to be told when I am gone.

My friend, Marcy Priest, recorded a song "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" last year as part of her church's Christmas album, and it is quickly becoming a personal favorite.  It's an Advent story in song.  Tommy and Eddie over at The Skit Guys used Marcie's song in the background of one of their new videos, and it spoke to me about my place in this universe in relation to the Christ child's birth.  The miracles on my horizon are but a tiny speck in the miracle that is existence.

Frederick Buechner says this, “For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”  
This year, this season, I am savoring that moment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Meaning of Life...or Whatever

On Tuesday, after I dropped Ben off for his first day of school, I had a clearly defined plan for how I was going to spend my two and a half hours--the first two and a half hours that were officially mineallmine with both of my children occupied with schooling.

For whatever reason, burritos are the one thing my children veto every time I suggest them, and they are otherwise spectacular eaters, so I acquiesce.  So, first order of business was to eat my modified burrito (chicken bowl with a tortilla on the side) in the sunshine on the sidewalk in front of the mall Chipotle.

Several days earlier, my friend, Jody, had posted a quotation on Facebook that read “We were made to be the things that he is: forgivers, redeemers, second-chance givers, truth-tellers, hope-bringers. And we were certainly, absolutely made to be creators.” (s. niequist)”
After a quick google, I discovered Shauna Niequist and her book BittersweetAfter reading a couple of the excerpts from her website, I immediately placed her two books on reserve at the library.  

I had waited to start the book because my evenings had been consumed with filling out beginning of the school year paperwork and watching reality TV (hey, my brain was fried). So, part two of my big I-have-time-to-do-whatever-I-want plan was to leisurely read my new book while enjoying my meal.

Really great plan, right?  Yeah, until I started reading and realized that literally every page was going to make me cry.  I did not apologize to the two gentlemen sitting at the table next to me, who were probably utterly grossed out by the tears and snot dripping down my face.  Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but almost--I kept getting that choking feeling in the back of my throat, and I tucked a napkin on the inside of my glasses to line the rim of my bottom eyelids in an effort to catch the tears before they fell in my bowl.  

There was a time in my life when I laughed at Scott people who cry in movies.  I have been told there is a block of ice where my heart should be.  By multiple people.  But there is something about becoming a mother that opened the flood gates for me, and now these public crying fits seem to be standard operating procedure, which my friend, Erica, has assured me is completely normal.  And I believe her because she wouldn’t lie to me.

So, as I placed check marks in the margins of the book over and over again, I broke one of the rules I made for my alone-but-not-lonely time--I got on my phone to order the books to own (because I didn't want to get arrested by the library police for writing in their book).  I decided when we signed Ben up for this two-days-a-week class, I would have three rules because I am terrible without rules.  Aside from having a high need to have a plan, I need boundaries--like an electric fence with a shock collar to keep me from deviating from the set plan.  So, I made these three rules:

  1. No internet.  Especially no Facebook.  I was not going to watch my time disappear while I browsed other people’s baby pictures and “Liked” Ryan Gosling memes.  No.  I have plenty of time to do that at night when I am catching up on SYTYCD and folding laundry.
  2. No cleaning/organizing.  My kids are at an age, where I can very easily be productive (moms of wee ones--the day will come, I promise!).  So, the laundry and the vacuuming and the cleaning pee off the toilets--all of that can wait until a time when they are jumping on the trampoline or playing Legos in their rooms.  I will not be productive during my five-whole-hours-a-week.
  3. Some writing every day.  And this--THIS is the big one.

I am a writer.  (See how nice that looks in print, right there for all the world to see?)  But for the last seven thirty-two years, I have done very little in the way of writing with a purpose.  Several months ago, I attended the Storyline conference with Donald Miller, and above anything else he said, the thing that stuck with me most was this: if you want to be a blogger, write blogs.  If you want to write books, write books.  (That’s the Leia paraphrase, of course, but I think he would be happy with my version.)

In that moment, my body reacted in the way my mind couldn’t--I got sweaty pits and goosebumps all at the same time.  Because here’s the deal--I want to write books.  I write blog posts because I need an outlet for all the things that spin through my head on a day-to-day basis.  Consequently, the immediate gratification of getting a message from someone that says anything from “That was great!” to “I so needed to hear this today!” is what makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity on those days when I feel like an island (in a bad way).

I don’t begrudge my children or the time I’ve spent being thebestmomintheworld so far.  In fact, I believe being a mom is the greatest gift God has ever given me and the greatest gift I have to give the world.  Mothering--nurturing, caring, training, loving--is the most natural thing I have ever done.  But I really, really believe that the second greatest gift God gave me was my ability to write, and it’s a gift that has been sitting dusty on a shelf for far too long.

I finally feel like I have reached a season when I can focus on writing without feeling like I am shorting my kids or husband in an unfair way.  Because that’s what this season is about for me: 1. Working on my marriage, 2. Raising human beings, and 3. Pursuing writing as a viable career.

I wish you could feel the pit in my stomach right now--the one that is pummeling my gut and screaming, “WHAT IF YOU FAIL?”  Well, then I fail, I guess, but this is the moment in my life when I am saying, I am going to try anyway.

Shauna Niequist outlines beautifully the struggles that ensue when you are trying to write a book in her chapter titled “Knees or Buns.”  She talks about how when she is eating at a restaurant with her three-year-old, she gives him the choice--knees or buns.  Anyone who has ever dined with children will get this reference right away--I, in fact, have said a variation of this thousands of times, something like, “You can’t stand in your chair.  Pick one--on your knees or on your bottom.”

She goes on to compare writing to the situation with her son.  She writes, 

“What I learn, over and over, is that writing isn’t hard, but sitting down in the chair is really, really hard.  So at this point, I’m working at a three-year-old level: knees or buns?  I can sit anywhere I like, but I have to sit down, and then the hardest part is over...Creativity isn’t easy, and it isn’t something you turn on like a light switch.  My inbox will tell you that the world is full of writers who don’t write, painters who don’t paint, dancers who don’t dance.  They want me to tell them something, ostensibly a secret something that will get them up and moving again, creating again.  My reply is always a disappointing one: I don’t know what to tell you.  Sit down, knees or buns.  But then, I tell them something else: do it for the feeling you’ll have when you are done.  Making art doesn’t have the instant payoff that most things in our modern lives do, but like all things that really matter, the big payoff is invisible and comes much later.”

So, here I am.  On my second day without children.  On my buns.  Because she’s right--writing isn’t hard, not when you know with every fiber of your being that this is what you MUST do.  And whatever the payoff is, I am going to just live with this right now--the idea that I have five hours every week when I am going to do EXACTLY what I was made to do.  That, in itself, is payoff enough.  For now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First and Last

A few weeks ago, I was running errands with the boys in the back seat.  Out of the blue (a phrase synonymous with many things kid-related), my six-year-old, Will, asked, “Mom, when was the first Monday?”

These are the kinds of questions I do not know how to answer.  Why is the sky blue?  Let’s look it up.  What is God?  Got it.  How are babies made?  Sure.  But, when was the first Monday?  I don’t know.  I just don’t.  I mean, technically, I’m sure I could track down the answer by figuring out when the calendar was put in its current form, who made these changes, and when the vernacular became “Monday,” but even then, it wouldn’t start to answer his question.

His question at its root was not about Monday.  It was about marking time, finding a beginning, making sense of the world around him.

We have chickens, two of which have turned out to be roosters--roosters who like to crow every morning sometime between 6:00 and 6:30--roosters who are going to be traded with the farmer for hens before I wring their necks.  This morning, the red numbers on the clock glowed at me--the light screaming 6:23, mocking me, laughing and saying, “Your alarm is set for 7:03!  Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”  I sat up, not unhappy, on the first morning in a long time that I’ve had to set an alarm.  Why?

Because today was Will’s first day of first grade.

We homeschooled for kindergarten because (long story short) it made sense at the time, and over the last week as we prepared for going to traditional school--gathering school supplies, buying new shoes, picking out fun snacks for lunch--I found myself counting down all the “lasts” we were sharing together.

Our last summer movie night.

Our last day of waking up with no alarm and staying in pajamas.

Our last sushi lunch at our favorite restaurant.

Last night, as we left meet the teacher, I asked Will if he had any questions. He grabbed my hand to cross the street and said, "Can you walk me into first grade tomorrow? And for the rest of the days until I get the hang of it?" Yes. Yes, I can. I wanted to ask him the same question back.

This morning, Will stumbled out of his bedroom at 6:37, far too early, saying, “The rooster woke me up.”  I scooped him up, no easy feat these days as he is quickly approaching my shoulders in height, and carried him back to bed.  I climbed in next to him and pulled the sheet up around our necks.  He pulled my arm around his head to rest on my shoulder and said, “I wish Daddy could be here tomorrow.”

“Me too, buddy.”  Tomorrow is Will’s seventh birthday, and Scott is deployed.  Unfortunately, this is not the first or last important day that we’ve been apart. I snuggled my six-year-old, on the last morning of his being a six-year-old, and asked, “What do you think about turning seven?”

He yawned, his morning breath invading my nostrils, and answered, “I will fun faster and be better at video games, and I’m not sure what else.”

And in that statement, you see why he is my hero: his future is full of possibility, even if he’s not sure what it holds.  

A little over a month ago, one of my dearest friends found out she was pregnant with her first baby.  We stayed up late talking, when she confided in me her anxiety about motherhood, the bittersweetness of closing an era of her life.  I assured her the bitter would fade, leaving only the sweet, after the first time she looks in the mirror and sees her belly starting to swell.  Or perhaps after the first time she feels the fluttering feet or hiccups from the inside of her abdomen.

I had a conversation with a recently divorced friend who confessed over beers that he slept with a woman on his birthday, the first since his divorce--a woman in her forties.  He laughed, thinking about how his ex-wife is still in her twenties, and added, “I’ve never even slept with a woman in her thirties!”

I pray daily for a friend who posted a picture on Facebook of her first visit to her baby’s grave, just days after her baby took her first and last breaths.

I spent time with three different friends while home in OK last month who marked six, seven, and eight months since taking their last drink.

Another friend posted a picture of her daughter’s laundry from her first weekend home from college.  A few of months ago, we didn’t know what that day would look like for them as my friend was starting her first round of chemo for breast cancer.  What a joy it was to celebrate her last treatment and announcement of remission right around the time her daughter moved into her dorm room.

We measure our days, whether we mean to or not, in firsts and lasts.  It is one way we attempt to measure what life is, what it means.  We take pictures, we keep records in baby books and journals, we make every effort to celebrate and mourn the passing of time by creating benchmarks.  These benchmarks are not just plot points  on our timelines--they are memories of joy and sorrow and everything in between.

When we got home this morning from dropping Will off, I asked Ben what he wanted for breakfast.  He replied, “Fried eggs,” and then added, “Can I play Wii?”

I answered, “Sure.  Just while I cook the eggs.  Then, you’ll need to come to the table to sit with me while we eat.”

As I cracked the eggs into the skillet, I heard his tiny voice, speaking aloud to himself, “I’m going to be Mario.”

Ben, the second child, the little brother, is always Luigi.  For the first time, he gets to be Mario.  And that, friends, is when I started to cry.  Every first marks a new beginning, even the tiny firsts.

I sat down at the table with Ben to eat, and he asked, “Can I have some toast?”

Ben likes toast.  Never in my memory do I ever remember making toast for him.

And then he asked, “Can I have some jell-o on it?”

Translating the three-year-old speak, I took the strawberry jam from the refrigerator and grabbed the loaf of bread from the pantry.

Today, I ate eggs and toast with strawberry jam with Ben--just Ben--for the first time.  And it was lovely.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rock On

A couple of Sundays ago, we played hookie from church.  Strike that--we’d have to go on regular basis to consider it playing hookie, so really, I should just say we woke up on a Sunday morning with a plan to get “stuff” done around the house.
Scott’s plans included mowing and edging, and I headed to the space our neighbors had tilled earlier in the week for our shared garden.  Armed with a shovel and small trowel, I dragged the boys’ wagon full of tomato and pepper plants down the hill.  After checking out what the neighbors had already planted, I got to work.
The garden is far enough from the houses that I felt the joy and solitude that comes from gardening without the bustling sounds of our six busy boys who were playing and working with their dads up the hill--the coolness of the dirt on my hands, the careful planning of rows, the ache from digging holes, the knowledge that I will eventually be rewarded with the fruits (or in this case, vegetables) of my labor.
Growing up in OK, I spent my summers making mud pies out of red clay.  During our six years in Charleston, SC, I learned how to grow oversized crape myrtles and towering tomato plants in dirt that could more accurately be described as sand.  Now, as we are navigating this chapter of life in WA, I am presented with a different kind of ground.  We are situated up in the hills, with a view of the Olympic Mountains, on ground that, as I discovered with my first shovel full of dirt, is filled with rocks.
As I dug out holes for my plants, I had to throw out multiple stones, some smooth and round, some jagged and sharp, most smaller than the palm of my hand.  As I moved down the row, though, I found a few rocks buried deeper that were large--big enough that I had to dig much bigger holes than originally planned to pull them out.
I have always felt God--and I mean that just the way it sounds--in nature.  I can listen to sermons all day long and not feel inspired in anywhere close to the way I am when standing outside.  I see God in the size of the mountains and in the size of a grain of sand, in the movement of hummingbird wings and in the movement of the wind-blown trees, in the sound of crashing thunder and in the sound of sticks snapping under my feet on a walk through the woods.  God is both unreal and real to me in those places, where I am in awe of creation.
As I dug the holes for my plants, hitting rock after rock in the soil, I felt this sudden convicting grace.  At once, the parable of the sower came to mind.  It was one of my favorites when I was little--the story Jesus tells to illustrate how people receive God’s love.  I remember praying to be good ground for God--that whatever God was trying to plant would sprout a hundredfold crop, as the parable reads.  Even as a small child, I knew I was good dirt--that God could plant just about anything in me, that true joy comes in reflecting God’s work in my life.
But as I hit rock after rock, I began to reflect on how the simplicity of that message was somewhat lost in my adult life--this life of responsibility and work and loss and pain.  The garden of my life has not been rich with planting soil for a long time.  Instead, I found myself identifying with a much different piece of ground--the stony place, as Jesus calls it.
There is a surface level of dirt, very much prepared for the blessings and gifts, the dreams and ideas that God wants for me, a level of dirt that I’ve been tilling out of habit because it has to be done, because it’s what I’ve always done, because even with the business of living, I have not lost sight that I need to leave myself open for the seeds that grow into the things that will nourish me.
Under that rich, moist soil is a level of rocks that if left unearthed will strangle the roots of anything reaching deeper to grow, the rocks that will push everything good and right straight back up to be scorched by the sun.
For me, the rocks have these names: pride and envy and selfishness and bitterness and anger and apathy and cruelty.  On the surface level, I believe most people who know me would not describe me as having any of those qualities (or maybe they would, and I am not nearly as self-aware as I think).  But the reality is that some of those rocks are just below the surface--they peek out in my snarky, judgmental comments about the way other people live.  They peek out in the private conversations with my closer confidantes when I expose my prejudices and thoughts of superiority.
With this revelation (as with all personal epiphanies) came a challenge: what am I to do with these rocks now that I’m admitting they are there?  I always have a choice.  In my weakest moments, I tend to pick the rocks up, hold them tightly in my hands, and hurl them at other people.  How often do I hurt others with my rocks, holding on to my pride and selfishness at their expense?
Oddly enough, as a child, I had a rock collection--rocks of every shape and size that I kept in a box under my bed, rocks I’d picked up on different family excursions, everything from trips to the park to family vacations to far-off places.  How funny that I still do that now--sometimes instead of throwing the rocks at people I love, I hoard all my rocks in a box, taking them out to remember the moments I picked up anger and envy, as if keeping them in a box will somehow make them go away.
But there is another choice.  A better choice.  One I will be reminded of every morning when I get up to check on our chickens on the way to water the garden.  
The same day I planted our garden, Scott and I were also working on creating an outdoor space for our chicks who are quickly growing into full-sized chickens.  They are still teenagers, so to speak, so they are not ready to join the laying hens quite yet, but they have certainly outgrown their brooder.  The owners of the house built a goat pen that has fallen into disrepair because it hasn’t been used in a few years.  We spent an hour or so clearing out the weeds and vines that had grown over the tiny house to start converting it into a small coop for our chicks.  In the process of creating this space, I began lining a walkway with rocks that I dug up in the area, some large and some small.  The pathway is meant to create boundaries, a place to walk safely without being scratched by the weeds and blackberry vines that grow rampantly around our property.  The pathway will hopefully make it easier to carry water and food back and forth from the garage to the chicks, as we continue to nurture them to maturity.
Instead of throwing them or hoarding them, I want to build something useful with my rocks.  I want to create boundaries with my apathy, so that I might never forget to care again.  On the other side, I will be guided by my cruelty, so that I will try my best to always be kind.  And each of the stones along the way will remind me that no one else’s feelings should be trumped by my pride, that no one else’s life is worth my envy, that no one else’s opinion is worth ruminating in my anger and bitterness. And so, I want to build this pathway in my life, one lined with all the rocks, large and small, that need to be dug up, lifted out, and exposed for what they are--the things that make me vulnerable and human, the things that must be removed in order for me to be perfect and hallowed ground.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Intelligence Designed

Recently, one of my friends had surgery and was placed on bed rest.  Her postings on Facebook showed her increasing negativity as she was stuck at home watching cable news--the stories of corrupt politicians, people abusing or neglecting children, and celebrity nonsense.  Another friend aptly responded to one of her posts by saying, “Stop watching the news.  It’s hazardous to your healing.”
This resonated with me then, and I have continued to come back to this thought over and over as each day brings with it more bad news.  Clearly, it’s important to stay informed about what is happening in the world around us, but I get angry, bitter, and exhausted by the stories I hear.  We can all benefit from turning off the noise.  I have to find the things in my world that bring me peace and joy and wonder.
So, let me introduce you to my friend, Wes:
I like to call this picture "Mount Wesmore."
I met Wes when he was born (over 17 years ago).  His parents, Wade and Jules, were friends with my parents.  I watched Wes grow as I volunteered in the church nursery--watched him toddle around, his curly, blond hair flying wispily beneath the brim of his cowboy hat.  One of the stories that gets retold in our neck of the woods frequently is one in which after Wes’ little sister, Alex, was born, his mom found him standing near her with his invisible cowboy lasso.  When asked what he was doing, he replied, “I wanna rope her!”
Jules, Wade, Wes, and Alex
When Wes went to preschool, his parents noticed that he wasn’t reaching some of his developmental milestones as they expected.  Wes was a happy child, engaged in his environment, a natural comedian, but when he started working on coloring pages, his parents noticed something was wrong.
After taking Wes to a pediatric ophthamologist, they learned that Wes had a degenerative disorder that affected his depth perception.  Over the years, Wade and Jules worked around Wes’ “disability” by providing him with nonconventional learning environments.  They molded their lifestyle to make sure Wes’ needs were at the center--exploring options with homeschooling and tutors and private schools that catered to Wes’ individual needs.  They sought the best medical treatment possible, and eventually, Wes underwent surgery to correct the problem.
In recalling that time, Wes’ mom, Jules, told me, “We went to the doctor whom everyone said was the best.  The doctor prayed before the surgery, and the word he used to describe the result was ‘miracle.’”  The surgery restored 90% of Wes’ perception issues, which had degenerated over ten years.
Because of his condition, Wes never learned conventionally, something that his parents embraced wholeheartedly.  As an educator, I am aware of the multiple intelligences that humans possess, but our society does not always encourage different learning styles.  We teach to the test and focus on measuring “intelligence” quantitatively, but there is no test that can measure our ability to adapt to change or overcome obstacles.  There is no test for how well we relate to others or how our intelligence is displayed through writing, acting, or painting.  So, these kids--kids like Wes whose strengths are in their art and interpersonal skills--are not lauded in the way they deserve.
As a parent (and someone who DOES learn in a very academic, conventional way), I am inspired by Wade and Jules and their commitment to their kids.  I hope and pray that I can be as patient and diligent about fostering an environment where my boys’ strengths are applauded, encouraged, and reinforced by me as their parent.
Now, let me introduce you to Wes’ intelligence:

All of the above pictures with the exception of the ones with Wes in them were taken by Wes (please don't use them without my and his permission).  His family just got back from a trip to the “North US of A” as he titled the album on his Facebook wall.  When I scrolled through his pictures yesterday, I found myself weeping alone in my living room.  And you know what else I did?  I prayed--a prayer of thankfulness for this not-so-little boy’s spirit and my ability to witness the miracle that is his life.

All of this from a kid with perception issues.
I called and asked Wes if I could blog about him (and then asked his mom for permission because despite his very mature talent, he’s still a minor!). I asked Wes to email the originals, so I could post some of them on my blog, and he emailed me the ones I asked for and a few extras, saying he felt like God told him to send them.  The first is a picture of a car, and as soon as I showed it to my boys, they said in unison, “MATER!”  The others confirmed what I already knew about him--two of them are pictures of his cutie-patootie sister, Alex, and one is a picture of his parents kissing.  To me, this speaks volumes about the kind of human Wade and Jules have been growing.

Wes is one of the smartest miracles I know.  I asked him if he has ever taken photography classes, and he told me his parents asked a local photographer from his hometown to show him how his camera works a couple of months ago.  Just recently, a local coffee shop/mini-gallery in Wes’ hometown asked him if they could feature some of his prints.  Someone else saw some of his drawings (once he learned to color, he became a pretty spectacular artist, too) and asked if they could use them for t-shirt designs.
I believe in the redemptive power of our stories and their ability to inspire hope and bind us together.  Wes’ life is just one example of the beauty in my world that far outweighs the ugly.  And it’s fitting that one of Wes’ pictures sums up my thoughts so well:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's the End of the World, I Mean, School Year As We Know It, and I Feel Fine!

When our family entered the world of homeschooling, we had few expectations and high hopes.  Today marked the end of a great year, and I am officially the mom of a 1st grader and 3K-er.  We finished the year somewhat anti-climatically as we have been in review for the past couple of weeks.  Seeing all the pictures of my friends’ kids with tiny graduation hats or creative teacher gifts made me *slightly* jealous but also thankful for everything this school year brought me.
Will also attends a homeschool co-op, and his last homework for his “Under Construction” class gave us a big project to work on that made this week seem a little more climactic.  The project was to design a puppet stage and sock puppet based on a favorite story.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who has known Will for longer than three seconds that he decided to make a storyscape of The Avengers.
In order to do homeschool the way I wanted to do it, I had to accept early on that this was what my house was going to look like for awhile.  We worked in our classroom, but many things we did "spilled" into the rest of the house for various reasons.  Sure, I could have cleaned more and lived with a lot less clutter, but I decided having time to read or watch TV at night was more important in this moment.  There will be a day when we live in an uncluttered house again, but it's not my top priority right now.
Will with his final project
Sock puppet Nick Fury, leader of the Avengers
My very spectacular MIL sent us these blank stick puppets a few months ago, and I hid them away for a rainy day.  They obviously came in handy here.  The assignment only required one puppet, but OBVIOUSLY we had to make all the Avengers.  That's Loki on top of the red building.  Will decided to draw him because he was a bad guy, and he only wanted to make good guy puppets.

While we ate lunch this afternoon, I decided to ask Will a few questions to try to get a feel for how he thought the year went.  His answers are as follows:
On a scale of 1-5:
How did you like handwriting practice? 1
Adding and subtracting? 3
Telling time? 3
Counting money? 5
Reading books? 4 (He also added that he likes it better when I read to him than when he reads on his own)
Writing stories? 5
Making comic strips/collages? 5
Studying geography and map-making? 4
Drawing pictures? 5
Cutting and pasting? 5
Problem-solving workbooks? 5
Logic puzzles? 5
Watching/listening books? 5
Science experiments? 5
What was your favorite thing we did this year at homeschool? Cutting and pasting.
Did you like having Mommy for a teacher? No because you distracted me always.
What do you mean by distracted? Because you were always making me do my letters better.
Are you excited to go to public school for first grade? Yes! 
Why? ‘Cause I’ll make new friends.
I asked Ben what he liked about school, and first he said, “I’m not telling you.”  After I asked Will questions, he changed his mind.  Here are his answers:
What do you like about school?  Coloring and cutting and the computer.
What do you like on the computer? The letter game that you can press the letters.
Do you like learning about colors? No, I don’t like learning about colors.  I know all the colors.
Do you like learning about counting? Yes! (Rolls eyes.)
Do you like learning about shapes?  (Shakes head yes and smiles.)
At that point, he said, “After we talk about school, can we talk about snow?”  I said, “Yes, do you like learning about weather?”  He said, “Uh, yeah.”
Do you like it when mommy reads to you? Uh-huh.
Tell me about one of your favorite books.  Thomas.
How about another one? Chuggington.  And Lightning McQueen because I have a book about Lightning McQueen that has buttons to press, and if you say the words, you have to press the buttons, and if the race is starting, you have to press the red button.
How about a book that you read with Daddy at night?  Hippos Go Berserk.  And Blue Hat Green Hat.
Are you excited about going to your preschool next year?  No.  I’m excited about Legoland and Disneyland.
What was your favorite thing you did in school this year? Drawing.
The thing I feel best about is that none of these answers surprised me, and overall, I feel like my kids are academically and socially on track with other kids their age.  Going into this year, my biggest goals were to be patient and flexible, and I think I passed the comprehensive test with flying colors.  For my kids, I wanted them to end this year with more knowledge than when we started and to be comparable to other kids their age academically.  The fact that they are both excelling in a few areas of the curriculum is an added bonus.  I also wanted them to have fun--because they are six and three, and they have plenty of years to cry over group projects and stress about testing.  The last question I asked Will was “Did you have fun in school this year?” and he emphatically answered, “Yes!  You always make school fun!”  This isn’t really true, but I’m ecstatic that he feels that way.
In the fall, Will will be attending the local elementary school.  We officially enrolled him a month ago, and standing in the hallways with the brightly colored bulletin boards, watching classes of kids walk down the hall quietly in single file behind sweet-voiced teachers made me so excited for him.  He is going to love it.
Ben will start two afternoons a week at a church up the road for his first year of preschool (with additional homeschool instruction from me on the days he's not in school, but that's kind of a no-brainer).  I can’t wait for the first time he comes home with something I didn’t help him make.  He’s going to love it.
I’m going to love it.
Maybe, with the extra time, I’ll even get started on publishing all these books that are sitting on the dusty shelves of my brain.
Thanks for reading, and happy summer!