Category Archives: Parenting

Naming our homeschool

Awhile back, someone shared either on Facebook or Pinterest this piece about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective. It was right around the time that one of our local veteran Orthodox friends had several of us Orthodox families either considering homeschooling or doing it already, up to her house to discuss homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective and had said much of the same things.

It finally helped me to articulate some of what I was thinking and feeling at the time about school and what our goals overall would be. While I had initially wanted to homeschool for purely academic reasons, I began to see my goals as much bigger than just a good education as our paramount concern.

The quote in that article from St. Anthony, really articulated some of the problems I see with just valuing academic instruction above all else.

I’ve known for quite some time now that we plan to use the private school exemption rather than teaming up with one of the local private or charter schools that I do not see eye-to-eye on matters of education or faith. In doing so we have to come up with a name for our school among other things. I knew I wanted to name our school for one of the saints.

With that quote as a guide, many of the traditional scholarly saints one might think of just were not clicking with me. So I asked our good friend that has been with us on our entire journey to Orthodoxy, first as a seminarian and now as a priest, if he had any suggestions for saints to consider since he had been so helpful in suggestions for each of our family members’ individual saints.

Of course the answer was obvious: St. Anthony the Great.

I kind of felt a little stupid even for asking him.

And that, dear friends, is how St. Anthony’s Academy got a name.

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People are generally called intelligent through a wrong use of this word. The intelligent are not those who have studied the sayings and writings of the wise men of old, but those whose soul is intelligent, who can judge what is good and what evil; they avoid what is evil and harms the soul and intelligently care for and practice what is good and profits the soul, greatly thanking God. It is these alone who should properly be called intelligent. — Saint Anthony the Great Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber, 1973, page 21

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Filed under Faith, Family, Homeschooling, Kiddos, Parenting, Ramblings

Gearing up for the 2013-2014 school year

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A couple months ago the moderator of our homeschool social group announced she was stepping down from that role because she would be starting a Classical Conversations (CC) community here. Since my overall long term plan has been to do a classical approach to homeschooling, I was intrigued. I soon found myself connected to a few other locals of the same mindset and plans for this community were racing forward. I looked over a few things like the CC website and catalog and read some snippets in there from the founder and others that have used CC. What I read seemed to fit with my overall plan, but I admit that at the time with everything going on, I did not have the brain space to devote to a really thorough investigation.

From what I saw it seemed close enough to my goals that I thought it would be good to do for at least a year, for the motivation and accountability alone. Because I’m crazy, and a people pleaser to the core, I also agreed to be the tutor for the 4/5 class that Bean will be in.

This last year, in part to my evolving philosophy on schooling and education in the younger years, has kind of been more on the unschooling side of homeschool spectrum than I want to be. If I don’t have a structure laid out for me, chances are I won’t do it depending on the season of my life. This past year (or more) season has been one that lends itself to other preoccupations. Which, honestly, at my kids’ age is TOTALLY fine. Spend an afternoon with one of my kids, you will see that their learning capabilities have in no way been harmed because tough stuff has happened around here that deserved priority.

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Anyway, starting last week and progressing forward until the beginning of August, our family is getting somewhat of a break from the busy season. It was the first week that aside from one ballet class (that we are LOVING at our new studio), I’d had zero commitments, classes, play dates, or big weekend plans in AGES.

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Naturally, the reading bug hit me. I devoured The Well Trained Mind in just a few days. I tried reading The Well Trained Mind (TWTM) once before and I think because I was pregnant my brain was complete mush (pregnancy brain is VERY real) and could not comprehend the material. I tried to read some of my favorite Jane Austen novels at the same time and encountered the same problem. I found TWTM to be completely overwhelming. Of course I had nothing to worry about as this step-by-step curriculum plan and model begins very gradually in Kindergarten with basic skills and then REALLY starts in first grade. There was no rush.

Still even without TWTM in my brain, my eventual plan was a Classical education and every time I panicked or felt overwhelmed I’d call up my sister-in-law and discuss curriculum options with her. This time my feeling upon reading TWTM was one of relief and freedom. It really is laid out step by step and so easily and clearly. I actually felt the need to apologize for all those panic conversations with my sister-in-law in the past because it was almost like this “Doh!” moment for me as everything we had talked about before was laid out so clearly in the book.

This last week or more Stephen says I’ve gone beast mode on homeschooling. I bought a stack of (pretty) composition notebooks and started laying out all of our curriculum for the year (more on that later). I read some articles about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective, picked a saint and a guiding quote for our school. I Blurb booked pictures from our last two years of school and then balked at the $50/book price tag (I guess my year books were around that price back in the day and if I think of it like that it is not so bad).

I also started trying to “get” Classical Conversations (I still don’t know that I completely get it), bought some art and science books for it, and started reading The Core by the CC founder. I’ve spent a couple days now reading reviews of the program on blogs and message boards to try and help me put into words how I was feeling, but having trouble expressing.

My initial impression that I got from the Classical Conversations website and catalog was that it was more of a complete program. However, once my Foundations guide (the main text of the program) arrived, I felt very confused and wondered if I was missing something because it all looked like a bunch of outlines to me. After reading the founder’s book, reading reviews and talking to my sister-in-law, I don’t think my initial impression was a correct one (though some families believe and promote that view of CC).

An analogy in my own life I have come up with best expresses how I feel about The Well Trained Mind and Classical Conversations. We have nearly converted to Orthodoxy at this point and I have had friends of various faith persuasions throughout my life. Many of these groups use the name Christian, but believe sometimes wildly different things. Many use similar or the same words that actually mean very different things to each group’s adherents. That’s how I feel about TWTM vs CC. I will add one more thought and that is, I believe there is a difference between learning something and memorizing. I still feel pretty confused by the seemingly random groupings of memory work laid out for each week with no context. My child is a “why” kind of child (like her mother) and I can see myself needing to explain A LOT of stuff to her with this program, some of which may or may not line up with our other curriculum. In this, I’m glad I did decide to tutor because I will be prepared to answer those whys.

Many other people have fleshed this out in more detail (just Google “Classical Conversations versus Well Trained Mind” or look up the posts tagged Classical Conversations on TWTM forums if you want a fuller picture). As someone that has yet to attend a practicum I am not sure my assessment is completely accurate or fair. It’s just how I feel from the outside looking in.

That said, from what I’ve read and what I was already planning to do this year anyway, I still think CC can compliment our goals. Memorization is good training for the brain even if we don’t completely know the context of what we are memorizing. So, I’m planning to look at the memory work as another subject we are tackling this year. Further, I think the fine arts and science will be great fun. I love the idea of doing these messy things in a group setting and having specific time carved out for them because I am sometimes reluctant to do messy projects at home (I did bust out the Playdoh for the first time in months this week and it wasn’t quite as messy as I often work it up to be in my anxious head). Lastly, this may seem a little absurd from a “classical” education standpoint, but I think the social aspect of the program will be a really valuable aspect for our kids especially in a season where we are kind of in limbo as far as a church community, have grown slightly apart from friends at our last community we had in this city prior to our move four years ago and obviously not as close knit with those from our previous city due to the distance.

Well, that was quite a lengthy tangent on classical education styles that I did not intend when I sat down to write tonight, but it was good to work through those thoughts in writing after trying to grapple with them the last week or so. So, on to this year’s plans!

I said I would talk about my notebooks later. So I guess I will start there. Prior to having kids when I was an editor of two community newspapers, I fell in love with a planner/agenda that was intended for moms. It gave full pages to every day of the week, had spaces for grocery lists, meal plans and all these other things I was trying to juggle at the time. It also did not have time slots for the days so you could list out things that needed to be accomplished each day in addition to actual appointments. As an editor, this was perfect because most days were not necessarily filled up with constant appointments and meetings, but rather lists of stories I needed to proof, pictures I might need to capture and people I needed to call. After awhile though, I started to feel like it was maybe just a little ridiculous to spend THAT much on a planner, even if it did come in cute covers. There were also a lot of wasted pages and sections that were for things I did not find useful. By the time I figured this out, I was pregnant with Bean, quitting my job and not really needing a planner anymore.

I’ve had an iPhone4 for a couple years now, but I’ve increasingly found that even if “there’s an app for that” for everything from menu planning to grocery lists, note taking, daily planning and to-do lists, I still prefer to at least initially write it out with pen and paper. So when I found my motivation this week and sat down with our curriculum I decided to use composition notebooks to map out our school year keeping some of the elements I loved from my old favorite planners, ditching the ones I did not find useful and incorporating things I need that would not be on one of those agendas like important days on the church calendar.

So today looks like this for example:
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And a day from our first week of school looks like this:
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Since we are still new (and unofficial) to Orthodoxy, I knew that this year one of the things I wanted to make a priority was learning about important days in the life of the Church as well as the traditions that are typical to those days so that we could begin to incorporate some of that into our family life. I tried to do that a little bit this last year from a hodge podge of Orthodox education sources, but I wanted something more coherent.

At one point I was even trying to find some sort of Orthodox encompassing curriculum (there isn’t one, but Protestant ones abound) and stumbled on the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos. I got some mixed reviews (dare I say negative?) from Orthodox homeschool friends, but having experience with picking and choosing already with Five in a Row, I decided I would go ahead with it anyway because it was the only thing geared toward children with resources conveniently in one package. At some point far down the road, I would love to come up (or be involved) with something comprehensive for Orthodox homeschoolers of a variety of age groups (bucket list).

One of the things I did during “homeschool beast mode,” was to look over this curriculum. I love all the art projects and many of the explanations and stories. I will not likely be using her ideas for circle time and other things that seem more suited to a corporate atmosphere such as a Sunday School class. Overall I think it will be a good and gentle way to begin creatively setting aside time to honor the heroes of the faith and important feast days in the church. I’m excited to learn and create together on this one.

Since all of the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum is tied to the church calendar, one of my first tasks after laying out the year in my composition books, was to figure out the important dates on the calendar like the beginning if the Nativity Fast, Lent, Pascha and others. Then I was able to write in lesson titles from the two Garden of the Theotokos project books: Seasons of Grace and Treasury of Feasts. They had to have two because there is no way for them to put them in a chronological order that would be correct every year since some important dates like Pascha move every year and others, like Christmas, are fixed every year.

I am still planning to finish out Five in a Row (vol. 2 & 3) next year, though as I said above, I tend to pick and choose on the discussion topics and activities we do to correspond with each book. I think we have loved every book on this list and I think it is still worth it. So my next task in my notebooks was to lay out for myself the order of the books and deciding which days it would be best to read them and do a discussion or activity from the curriculum.

I had a hard time with math, in part due to some pretty lousy teachers (just because you love math does not mean you love teaching) and because I had a hard time thinking more abstractly in my head. So based on that I thought a more hands on approach to math would be more helpful. Initially I was leaning towards the Right Start curriculum, but people in my local homeschool group kept raving about Math•U•See. I had a chance to head over to their website a few months ago and it seemed very similar and hands-on like the other program. It was also much less expensive. Based on that I decided to go with it and after reading The Well Trained Mind, I am even more satisfied with my decision as it is discussed thoroughly in there and recommended. Initially, since I normally do errands on Mondays and Tuesdays will be our CC Community day, I though we would just do it three days a week. However, everything I’ve read says a little math every day is best for retention and learning so we will plan to do one worksheet a day in the fall to start out with and see how it goes.

My original plan for handwriting curriculum was Handwriting Without Tears, but after reading The Well Trained Mind and checking out their other recommendations, I decided to go with the Zaner-Bloser curriculum instead. Cost was my main factor and Bean is already practicing some handwriting in various preschool workbooks she begs me to do all the time. Handwriting Without Tears seems especially geared towards kids having trouble picking up the skill and I don’t think that will be her. I may consider it in the future especially since our youngest is looking to be a lefty.

One of the main goals of the Kindergarten level is learning to read. I’ve had All About Reading Level 1 since sometime last year when Bean really wanted to start learning how to read. We made it through a few lessons, but it became clear to me at that point she was not ready, not retaining the information and having a huge problem connecting and blending the sounds together. We have tried to pick up All About Reading a couple times since our initial foray, but have tabled it again for the same reasons. She desperately wants to read now and has several books memorized which she says she is reading and I’ve had a hard time explaining the difference between reciting and reading to her (sounds like a theme from above). I’m planning to try it again this fall and in the meantime we are pointing out the phonetic sounds to her whenever we can.

So that about covers it for next year. The boys, including my nephew, will be able to sit in on any of it that they want to or their attention span allows. Sprout is so used to doing everything big sister does that he begs to do school too and he’s already mastered some letter and phonic associations, more than her, so we will see. I just really don’t want to push him, but I don’t want him to feel left out either.

Summary
Religious Studies: Children’s Garden of the Theotokos
Literature: Five in a Row
Math: Math•U•See
Handwriting: Zaner-Bloser
Reading: All About Reading
Science: Classical Conversations
Art: Classical Conversations
Memory Work: Classical Conversations

And since I have not shared much in the way of new/old abode, here are some pictures of and from our school and playroom (which used to be our living room before we moved):

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Oh Henry.

The words come more quickly every day. Full sentences of them. Then suddenly it feels like it is all going by too fast and I am desperate to push pause so I can grasp and hold on to the fleeting moments of him being the baby.

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The “are you” questions every day. Every question starts with it.

“Are you eating, Mama?”

“Are you socks on, Mama?”

“Are you got your glasses on, Mama?”

How everything is a “need” for him, I” neeeeeed it!”

The way he walks around with books open saying the only part of The Lord’s Prayer he remembers, over and over, assuming every book is a prayer book, “Our Father, our Father, our Father.” Or how he sings all day long little songs and hymns that are mostly unrecognizable, but then a piece of a melody starts to sound familiar to me or a little gibberish sounds like words. Then if you ask, “What are you singing, Henry?” He enthusiastically answers back, “Tokos,” which means Theotokos in Henry speak. When we do our night time prayers before bed asking St. Alexander to intercede on his behalf and he repeats, “my soul” at the end.

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The way two boys feed off each other, their energy rising to maniac levels which usually results in something or someone getting hurt or destroyed. Something we never experienced with just Jillian or Jillian and Ethan.

The way he still naps, but protests it and diaper changes.

“I not go nap-nap!”

“I not stinky!” Often shouting this through the entire diaper change at the top of his lungs.

How he exclaims, “There is! I find it!” When he discovers something regardless of whether it was in plain site and didn’t really need finding or even when I pull out cereal in the morning.

Always climbing on everything and falling off too with the head wounds/scars to prove it.

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Wondering where everyone is or what people are doing all the time.

“Where Papa go?”
“He went to work”
“Where Papa go?”
“I told you he’s at work.”
“Where Papa go?”
“Henry I’m not going to keep answering, Papa is at work.”
“Where Papa go?”

“Mama! Where Papa go?”

“Mama! WHERE PAPA GO?”

“Mama! NOT! FUNNY!”

How he emulates Stephen every morning after he leaves.

“Bye-bye! I going work! Bye-bye!”

How he’s always asking for chocolate.

“Chocowat, Mama. Want chocowat, Mama. I need it.”

Or the morning he asked for it before church and I said, “No silly! You can’t have chocolate in the morning for breakfast!” And he looked at me with this, “Can you blame me?” look on his face and said, “Well…” And I started cracking up so loud, completely caught off guard by his ability to be so funny.

His love for peek-a-boo which is sometimes replaced with “Hi!” instead.

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“Where Henry? Are you Henry? There I is! Hi!”

His fierce independence. “Henry do it! I hold it! I do it!” How I have to give him options to make him think he’s in control like at swim lessons, “You can sit in my lap or on the bench next to me.” “On the bench! Henry do it!”

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How this shirt is just so true and how much he loves this shirt asking every morning for his “trouble” shirt.

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How finally with my third I have my water baby, one that will stand in the waves at the beach with me, who demands through a water logged face to jump from the edge of the pool into my arms as many times as I will let him.

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How he’s still the “foodie baby,” but is increasingly picky, just no where near as picky as the other two and always wanting something to eat with nothing to show for it on his long and lean frame inherited from Papa. “I hungwee, Mama! Want yia-yos (Cheerios). I hungwee! I firsty!”

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Our first Pascha

Pascha is the Eastern Church’s Easter. This year it came considerably later than the Western Church on May 5. If you want to understand the dating process for Easter/Pascha a little better follow this link.

Sister Paraskeva, one of the nuns we love dearly from St. Barbara’s Monastery told us after our first Pascha service that we will always remember our first Pascha and it will be the barometer or lens by which we see all of our other Paschas.

So, in light of those words of wisdom, I decided I would document some of my thoughts and feelings on our first Pascha experience.

Because of life of late our Pascha plans got jumbled and then reworked. The weekend before, we decided we wanted to spend it on the coast with friends and at the church that began our journey to Orthodoxy, St. Athanasius.

Normally, the whole Holy Week before Pascha is spent by Orthodox Christians in 18 different church services culminating in that Great Sunday. Lots of people we know in Orthodoxy take that whole preceding week off to reflect, pray, and attend daily services. Not so weird, really, that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be for!

Stephen was able to take half of Holy Friday off and we headed out on our trip that afternoon. I tried to score a beach house for this four day mini-vaca and I scoured Goleta to Oxnard in search of one with no luck. I wasn’t exactly expecting as much so last minute, but I thought it was worth a try. We wanted to have a kitchen so we could prepare food and have a separate room to be able to put the kids to sleep in and be able to stay up ourselves if we wanted. I settled on a room at the Homewood Suites in Oxnard which at least had the kitchen with a stove that couldn’t even boil water, it turned out. We wound up having very little time to prepare food anyway. Next time, if there is a next time, we will just stay in Goleta near the church (there are two hotels just down the street) so we don’t have to do as much traveling back and forth.

After checking into our hotel, we headed up to Goleta to attend the Friday night service. We went back to our hotel that night and then were up early again the next morning for the Holy Saturday services. As with anything in our current life stage most of my attention is distracted by or spent on our kids, but I was still able to absorb some things. At one point during the service, Fr. Nicholas explained that on this day we are making way for the return of the King, that in old times when a king would enter a city bay leaves were thrown out in celebration. He walked all over the church joyfully throwing the leaves. The smell was of course amazing. I love the tangible and symbolic things like this with Orthodoxy. The kids of the church spent the rest of the service gathering the bay leaves and stuffing them in their pockets.

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We spent some time after the service meeting with Fr. Nicholas. I really love his attitude about and perspective on Orthodoxy. It was nice to hear it again since our last visit two and a half years ago. It really helped to clarify and put some things in perspective for us.

After that we drove back to Ventura to have some beach time with our friends. This was such a treat and I love watching my kids with these new friends. In particular, it was very exciting because my older two kids that have been extremely afraid of the ocean no matter what I’ve tried finally decided, thanks to friends, that this was actually something quite fun.

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After that we headed down to Thousand Oaks to meet up with our friends there for a little park play date. It was so good to catch up and relax with them. There is only so much Facebook can do for staying in touch over a year, you know? We always like to marvel at how small my children are so of course this sort of size comparison can’t really take place in the virtual realm. These two were born only a couple months apart:

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After park time we made a quick run to Target for supplies to make our Pascha basket. Since St. Athanasius is mainly a convert church and has a lot of parishioners from a variety of Orthodox jurisdictional backgrounds, they do Pascha baskets even though it tends to be a mainly Slavic church (Russian, Serbian, etc) tradition.

I had started this cross stitch design earlier in the week for our Pascha basket cover, but there was no way to finish it in time.

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So I found myself making my first red Pascha eggs and assembling our first basket into the late evening hours at the last possible minute when I really should have been getting some sleep in preparation.

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Traditionally, the Pascha service is held at midnight, but since St. Athanasius was originally located in the heart of Isla Vista in the same neighborhood as UCSB’s frat houses and such (the first time we visited St. Athanasius we saw a guy rolling a keg down the sidewalk on a skateboard as we pulled up, no joke) their first attempts at holding Pascha at the traditional time were met with drunk college students throwing things and jeering during the part of the service where the parishioners process around the church. So they hold their service at 5am instead. I got to bed a little after 11pm and Henry was awake around the same time with two year molar teething pain and a fever. Sleeping the previous few nights had also been difficult because of this and the fact that the boy decided to climb out of his crib and needed to be transitioned to a big boy bed.

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We had to be up by three and on the road by four to get back up to Goleta for church. Babies always know when you really need sleep, don’t they?

I think we wound up with 3-4 hours of sleep, but still managed to wake up and get out the door.

So everyone was super grouchy and tired. Stephen was really grouchy especially. We are driving up the 101 and Stephen is saying stuff like, “Why are we doing this?” and “I’d really like to make it to the Pascha breakfast, but we’re probably going to leave early because of the kids.” And I’m getting frustrated thinking just great all of this 40 days of Lent and all we have been through during it and now we’re not even going to make it to Pascha! I kept thinking he was going to turn around!

We get there and oh that part, the “take light from the Light” part where the Priest walks down lighting the candles and the church becomes ablaze, I think that will be etched in my memory forever. Here is a description of it from St. Nicholas Cathedral of Los Angeles:

Great Lent and Holy Week come to an end when we begin Paschal Orthros, and we hear the words of the priest: ‘Come take light from the Light that is never overtaken by night. Come, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead.’ He distributes the flame to the entire congregation in the darkened church so that we can walk in the light of the Resurrection. We immediately process outside the church in the ‘rush procession’ (hajme in Arabic), rushing to the empty tomb just as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did. They found the stone rolled away and encountered an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen (Mark 16:1-8), the first being in the universe to proclaim that ‘Christ is risen.’ Then the whole church sings with him: ‘Christ is risen from the dead trampling down Death by death; and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!'”

The sisters from St. Barbara’s were there and seeing their sweet faces glow from the candles as they followed the procession out, I’ll remember that too.

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There were some low points, like we were at the very end of the procession where no one was singing and it was hard to hear, it was really cold suddenly even though it had been so hot for days before. The wind kept blowing our candles out. Jillian singed her hair on her candle inside later. But we made it through. It was seriously incredible.

We get out of service. Fr Nicholas blessed the Pascha baskets, ours got good and soaked by the Holy Water, it was right in front of Fr Nicholas.

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So I plopped down with the kids with what we had and sent Stephen outside to the food line. He comes back and is like this completely changed person! Ha! He can hardly stop laughing! I was so confused! Ha! So I asked him what was going on and he was like, “Yeah, I was still mad and it was cold out there in line and I was just thinking that all of this is so crazy and I wanted to go get in the car and then I got to the Deviled eggs and I had one and it was like the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. As soon as I took a bite I just found myself smiling and all of Lent was suddenly over and I was happy and I am so happy!”

It is interesting though, after that dividing line of Pascha, all of our Lenten sorrows seemed so much… I don’t know… not gone… subdued? Even the miscarriage feels like that since Pascha. It’s not like I’ve forgotten and am just over it now, but it isn’t consuming, you know?

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We went back to our hotel and had some down time before the church picnic. Henry learned a new phrase which we appreciate over ” poop” and “caca” or “pee pee” and the usual potty humor our boys share in the back seat. He probably said, “Christ is risen!” at least 100 times during our drive back that morning. Loved it!

It was totally weird walking into our hotel, most of the guests just waking up for the day and enjoying their breakfast in the lobby. It felt like the day was already half over!

The kids had a blast with the other kids at the park and of course with the egg hunt (yes, we still do them).

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We made the very wise decision of Stephen taking half of Bright Monday off and so instead of driving home after the picnic we were able to go back to our hotel for early bedtime and wake up the next morning to take our time getting back. It was lovely!

Oh and many of the photos of the services came from the St. Athanasius photo album which is part of why I waited to write this because I was not taking many photos during the services. 😉

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What I’ve learned in the 4 years I’ve been “homeschooling”

My husband is a Dodgers baseball fan. By default I am too. My kids are Dodgers fans by default too. Sometimes I would say my husband borders on obsessed. He usually reads a few blogs and watches a few highlight clips from every game. He knows who is on the disabled list right now (too many guys!). I keep tabs on what is going on, but I don’t know what their current win-loss record is. I don’t know what the streaks are. I follow them on Instagram to see some of what is happening and because photos are my thing. It’s fun to know that they won or lost and be able to talk a little with my husband about his interest/obsession.

Last summer when a four-year-old baseball “phenom” from Thousand Oaks threw out the first pitch, I mentioned it to him and showed him the picture in my feed. This started a big discussion I didn’t quite expect and that discussion has colored the last year of school for us in ways I did not expect. When I read the caption, in which the word “phenom” was used, my husband immediately scoffed. He said it wasn’t right to attach a title like that to a four-year-old even if he’s good, even if he is obsessed. So much can happen between now and when the kid could eventually be able to go pro. I Googled him and found a local newspaper article about the kid and how he has a former professional baseball player for a coach, among other things. Stephen was seriously concerned about the kid throwing out his arm before he’s 10. And then what?

I think around the same time I read the book Preschool in Three Cultures which was an anthropological study that looked at preschool in the United States, Japan and China comparing and contrasting what went on there. I was completely struck by the fact that the Japanese preschool example was kind of out of control by our standards. Their day mostly consisted of playing undirected, singing songs, maybe a worksheet that no one was really forced to do and eating. The teacher would help children as needed, but mostly they were left to their own devices. There are some pretty “shocking” stories from their single day of observation about one kid in particular that was completely disruptive and awful to the class. The teacher let the group mentality of the class sort him out. A year later when they visited the school the disruptive crazy kid was often left to sit by himself. No one wanted to play with him because he was so awful. There were signs he was beginning to change his behavior. At the time Japan was also leading in education, comparatively. This was contrasted by the much more structured schools of China and the US though the US was definitely not as structured as the Chinese schools in which group mentality takes on a whole other expression. The US children did have lots of play time, but there were rules like only three kids per station, when children didn’t get along or something went wrong they were forced to express guilt, sorrow, repentance etc. as is part of our very Western minded Judeo Christian judicial system. I remember after reading a particular section on this wondering how different this would play out had Eastern Christianity been the one that spread rather than the juridical Western version.

So this year while we’ve done school from time to time, I’ve mostly just let things be. Not out of laziness. Not because I’m burnt out. Mostly just because they need to play. They aren’t ready.

It is funny and it is not so funny because a lot of people have been cautioning me against formal schooling with my preschooler(s). I didn’t want to listen.

When we lived in Thousand Oaks, it was definitely the norm to be this way. Preschool activities and school itself starts as early as 6mo (we did a Mommy & Me music class at that age). Even the parks & rec district has very good preschools that people sometimes wait in line for overnight to secure a spot. It’s a very driven culture over there in many ways. People are thinking about scholarships and college when their kids are still in diapers. This is definitely a generalization, but that the four-year-old baseball “phenom” was from Thousand Oaks, was not surprising to me. There are a lot of young “phenoms” there. Perhaps because they have the resources, the community, the support system for this to be a possibility.

My kids were verbal early, could sit through books, loved to do activities and things like art and coloring. They were curious and seemed to want to know about everything. I thought this meant we needed to be starting something formal. We’ve done unit studies, co-ops, Five in a Row, parks and rec preschool classes in Thousand Oaks, worksheet packets from all over the Internet, etc. While much of it has been fun, I think a lot if it has been frustrating: me yelling, them not being able to pay attention, them ready to move on, them just not ready in general. I observed this in Jillian’s parks and rec class too.

I was frustrated when we moved back here last year and my preferred dance studio, the one I danced at as a child and has sent dancers on to college and professional companies, only took dancers as young as four. They made an exception for my daughter, then 3.5, because she’d already been in dance a year. So when fall came I found another studio that did take younger dancers because my then 2.5yo wanted to dance like sister and had been expecting that his turn would come this year, about the same age she started. This last year watching their classes (and maybe it is partially just the studio), I now know why children under four should probably not be in dance or any organized sport/activity for that matter. They just do not have the coordination, attention span, etc. My son’s poor teacher seems exasperated every week trying to get this group of 2-3 year olds, of which my goofball son is the oldest, to stand in formations, copy dance moves etc. while they instead run around the room, do summersaults, giggle and run away from her as she tries to put them back in place, can’t get timing or moves right, or pretty much anything. Their performance in a couple weeks will be a miracle and probably bring down the house in laughter, honestly. He says he loves dance and promises, “Today, I’m going to listen to Miss Shelby,” but I just wonder if it really is necessary to even have to worry about that. Next year we’ll return to the “preferred” studio, if he still wants to dance like sister once he turns four, we’ll see about it.

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I’ve spent the last four years learning the hard way, ignoring the advice I was given. Please learn from my mistakes! My school of hard-knocks advice? Let your preschooler be a “pre” schooler. Let them explore, draw, color, etc as they want. If they become obsessed with certain plants, bugs, tractors, a certain animal, or any number of things try to think of activities or read up on ones that will naturally foster the love of learning about the latest obsession. Go to the farm and the zoo. Play at the park. Take walks. Keep a garden. Maybe buy/borrow a picture book on the subject if necessary, but don’t force them to read it.

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Compulsory schooling is not required until the first grade in this state and personally I, along with many other homeschoolers and others, believe it needs to stay that way even though every year they try to introduce bills to make kindergarten and preschool mandatory. Schooling will be there. Then it will be over faster than you can grasp. Little kids I knew from the nursery at our church when I was in high school are graduating high school now and over the next few years. Friends and family that had babies around the time we got married have middle schoolers now. This blows my mind. Where did the time go? How did these little ones get so big so fast? They only get to be a kid for so long. Let it be as long as possible.

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Ways that I’m obviously failing at my job…

Summer makes me feel like a limp noodle.

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Husband announces one night, “I’m thinking about looking into taking my work clothes to the dry cleaner. It takes me a really long time to iron in the morning and we can’t seem to get them folded and off the floor before they get wrinkly and covered in dog hair.”

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“We were sitting in your room, playing together with a ball…” says my mother-in-law as she launches into a story about my husband’s childhood that I’ve probably heard no less than 100 times. I focus in on a new aspect of the story, wait, you were playing together? Parents play with their kids? Because I don’t. Or rarely. I kind of just let them do their thing and I do mine.

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Why are there so many toys out at once? Why is there such a big mess? Questions my husband asks when he gets home from work.

Um. I don’t know. They were playing.

This, uh, independence, has resulted in a new thing where my kids have started sneaking food and drinks from the pantry instead of asking me to get something for them and eating them in the back of my daughter’s closet behind the dress-up clothes rack.

I don’t know. I feel like I do stuff all day long. I wash at least two loads of dishes. The laundry makes it into the washing machine and dryer. I cook meals. I make things for my kids and our house. We go to the park. Sometimes Jilly & I sit down and do preschool worksheets (because she begs me). We read a lot of books. They look at a lot of books. Jillian recites a lot of books from memory to the others.

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So why does it feel like it is never good enough? Why does it feel like I’ll never catch up? How do you ladies do it with the small children and the working out daily and the clean house and the crafts and the Etsy shop or other entrepreneur activities and the healthy eating and the homeschooling and the daily blog posts and the beautiful photographs? Because I’m barely treading water here people and I don’t even make myself have half those responsibilities.

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Alone and not alone.

Yesterday and for a few days before I was fine.

My anemia symptoms are gone now. Milk that came in was quickly dried up again with herbal tea consumed and cabbage strategically (albeit uncomfortably) placed. Physically, I feel normal again.

In spite of that, today has felt like more of a falling apart kind of day.

A friend of mine reached out this morning, the timing of it could seriously not have been more perfect. She said how this all feels in a way that was so well written:

I don’t understand the pain that you’re going through, or will go through. But I get what you mean. I was thinking about it all this morning, about you and about (name removed for privacy)… how terrible miscarriages can be. I came to the conclusion that it’s because, not only is it a loss that you’re dealing with (as many of us do)… but a miscarriage is directly and solely yours. A personal tragedy. Only you can know what has taken place, the horror that your body has gone through. And for that, I empathize with you.

One of the first questions I had for my midwife as this all unfolded was, “What do I even call this?” I seriously wondered if I even was allowed to call it a miscarriage since it was so early. The well meaning people surrounding me and asking me if I was sure that this was in fact a miscarriage did not help in the processing of this question. I must have had at least five or six conversations over-explaining myself and how I knew for a fact that I had been pregnant and that I was sure this was a miscarriage. The last post on this subject was just that: wordy me, over explaining. I guess I wrote it with the hopes that I wouldn’t need to have one of those awkward conversations again if I wrote it all out and knew my answer to that question.

Some of you may or may not remember or know this, but this happened to me once before. Since I figured it out so far after the fact though, it did not hit me like this has. I have had many new doctors over the last few years because of insurance and job changes and as any of you know when you get established with a new doctor a review of your health history is part of the process. On almost every form there is a part where there are separate entries for number of pregnancies and number of live births. I have always put 4 pregnancies and 3 live births on those forms, but upon discussion with every single doctor (the exception being my wonderful midwife in Ventura) they always say, “Well it was so early that we won’t note that in your chart,” or “That really doesn’t count as a miscarriage.” It’s not so shocking really, the point when I miscarried is the point when it is still OK in our society to have an abortion.

A few years ago a friend of mine that doesn’t blog anymore shared some of her fertility struggles back when we were all blogging and bloggy friends. I remember her words impacted me so much and helped me to finally somewhat process through the miscarriage “that didn’t count”. She said that in a world where the unborn are regarded as disposable nonentities at the early stages of pregnancy, there is little comfort for those of us that suffer a miscarriage during that part of a pregnancy. Miscarriage is so common (and I hate that word in this situation), but no one really knows how to deal with it or those of us that have been through it. Her specific words have stuck with me, “My unborn children were people with a soul. The loss of that unique person left an enormous void in my life.”

In early miscarriage we don’t have a funeral. We don’t know the sex of the child and cannot name the child, a suggested coping mechanism on several articles I’ve read on the subject. I did not ever feel my babies kick, hold their hand, gaze into their eyes. No aunties, uncles, cousins or grandparents got to know this person or hold them and thus feel the void of their absence.

Post-partum hair loss has started, but there’s no baby to show for it. It’s a deep ache that is hard to share with anyone else.

My husband’s cousin that knows this tragedy, sent a card that said, “There are no words for the pain.” She’s right. But in some small way those that have brought meals, sent texts or messages, brought flowers, sent cards, books, have prayed and offered their condolences have helped. It has not gone unnoticed even if I have not responded directly to everyone. They can’t share in my grief or understand it. They never knew and can never miss this person, but knowing that they care helps. It helps me to know I’m not alone in something that I am going through alone.

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Filed under Family, Parenting, Pregnancy and Birth, Ramblings