Settling In and Reaching Out

Since December, my rallying cry has been, as soon as things calm down, we’ll settle into a good routine. That’s all we need.  A good routine. Since December we have also dealt with sickness that kept us out of school for a week, then school being closed for flu for a week, then missing who knows how many days for floods and crazy weather. And now the world has shut down, school is closed and we are all home. 

 

In a sense, I’ve got a better chance now of setting up a routine than I did before. Make a schedule for our house. I’ve got at least three weeks, minimum, to get us settled into a good routine. Most of our appointments have been cancelled. No pressure to get out and do things. Just home. 

 

Who knows, we might have such an awesome experience that we just decide to keep homeschooling, at least some of the kids. 

 

Or I might go insane. 

 

It’s a toss up. 

 

This week is our Spring Break and I told the kids I wouldn’t make them do any school work. Yesterday I took the kids to a playground. It had rained recently. When we got there, there was only one other family with two kids. Perfect. We are not interacting socially with anyone, just playing outside. Then a couple more families showed up, then more. And suddenly I felt like I was breaking a national covenant to not be near other people. We headed home. I told the kids we probably would have to skip playgrounds for a while. 

 

So, this morning I went to the Dollar Tree and picked up some puzzles and some school supplies. I sat down with the kids and we put puzzles together and then played Uno while some of the little kids played with building blocks and played Snakes and Ladders. Everyone co-operated. So nice. 

 

Of course, I’ve also dealt with some discipline issues that were so intense, one child is now spending the day with dad, sitting at a construction site. We’ve had some long time-out sessions. One child just put up a curtain around her bed to ensure privacy from pesky siblings. It’s a big mix of good and bad. Really, just life. 

 

Right now I am optimistic about how this will all play out for our family. 

 

I am also very aware that a large segment of society just lost their income as restaurants and bars were ordered closed. A bunch of small business owners are heading into a financial crisis. The entire economy of our country is just one big Question Mark right now. There are also a whole multitude of working parents who suddenly have to figure out childcare because their child’s school is closed. 

 

Last night I was dreaming about foster babies. In my dream I came home from being out and found three little babies just crying in my house. I was supposed to be taking care of them and feeding them, but no one had told me that they were dropping the babies off, and I had no idea how long they had just been sitting in my house crying. I was angry and devastated and frantically looking around for bottles and formula, trying to feed these hungry babies. 

 

I think the dream kind of mirrors how I’m feeling as I read about how many people have been put into a crisis with this pandemic. I feel the community-need to be stepping up and helping in whatever way I can. But, at the same time I feel like I’m completely maxed out. Could I babysit someone’s kids while they work? I’m not sure. I’m feeling the weight of eleven kids already. Could I donate money? Well, I give a tithe of our income every paycheck, but that little bit won’t go far. And I’m feeling the financial crunch as I’m suddenly not able to take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch at our schools. These kids eat a lot. 

 

I feel impotent. People need help. I should be helping. I’m already helping. I don’t think I can do more. Except maybe ask all of you to look around and see if you are doing all that you can. Maybe you could babysit for your friend. Maybe you can make a donation to a small business. Maybe you are in a position to offer help to someone in need. 

 

I know right now, this situation is so unexpected and different, that we are all scrambling to get our own families situated. But, if you can, I encourage you to look for some tangible way to reach out and help. It’s the only way we’re all going to make it. 

 

How do I Keep Up?

This week I ran into an old homeschooling friend. Though we are often in the same vicinity, we haven’t stopped to have a conversation in a while. I was asking how homeschooling was going and we talked about that for a while, then she asked how public schooling was going for me. I said it was going great. She asked how on earth I keep up with everything. I said something along the lines of, “It’s easy, I just don’t care.” Which, while flippant and funny, probably did not really convey how I feel. It’s kind of been nagging me, and I keep thinking of how I should have clarified that statement…So, my dear friend whom I’m going to tag in this post, I’m going to expand a bit. 

 

Homeschooling is all-consuming, and mentally exhausting. Especially if you are trying to homeschool multiple children. In your mind, at all times, you have a working knowledge of each child’s abilities. You know what they can and can’t do in Math and English and Science. You have a list of things you are worried about for each child, and also a list of things you are proud of. You can’t have a casual interest in your child’s education because YOU are the Educator. It’s a big load to carry. It was too big a load for me. I went through a long depression and in the middle of it, completely fizzled out in my ability to school my children. We put our kids in public school. We’re in our third year with our younger kids. My oldest two kids homeschooled through eighth grade and then went to public high school. My third daughter is in her fourth year of public school. 

 

My view of public school is, my children now have teachers. I no longer have to keep up with all the minutiae. That’s the teacher’s job. Yes, I look at all the papers sent home. I ask my kids what they learned today. I go to Parent/teacher conferences. I look at report cards. But as far as knowing how well they are doing in multiplication or whether they are mastering their fractions or whether they used proper punctuation in their writing assignment, I have no idea. Since their report cards all say that they are getting good grades, I’m presuming that they are learning what they need to learn. 

 

As far as homework is concerned, I don’t believe in homework for elementary school kids. I’ve been upfront about it with the teachers. Sometimes my kids choose to do their weekly “homework” packets because they want whatever award the teacher is offering. And sometimes they choose to not do it. That’s fine. I think that several hours of running around our yard, playing make believe games, and creating things with legos is going to help them a lot more than sitting down and doing a page of math reviews. I do expect my middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to do their homework, but they’re old enough to be in charge of their own work, so I don’t stress about keeping up with it. 

 

Of course, you have to ask the question, What if they aren’t learning what they need to learn? What if they are getting good grades, but are still getting major gaps in their education? 

 

Well, this is where my philosophy on learning helps me out. I am a reader. I have been a bookworm since second grade. While I can remember a handful of odd facts that a teacher taught me in a classroom, most everything that has stayed in my brain, came from an interesting book. I believe that if I can foster a love of reading in my children then I’ve won half the battle for educating them. 

 

We are a reading family. I always have a book on my kindle app that I pull out whenever I have a spare minute. My husband reads a book most evenings to unwind. My older teenagers have long, loud discussions about characters and events in various book series that they have all read. We have eight large bookshelves in our house and books are scattered on every surface. My kids go to the library at school and bring their books home and have fights about whether they have to share their library books with each other or not. 

 

I have one child whose brain is wired differently. In three years of homeschooling I was not able to teach him how to read. In public school they put him in a remedial program and the reading experts got him reading pretty quickly. (YAY!) But, he still struggles. It doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s still getting extra help in this area. But, he read books. Maybe not at grade level, but he still wants to read. This past week I had to take him on a rushed trip to the library because he needed the fourth book of the series and we only had the first three books at home. So, while I know he may struggle all his life to read easily, I’m not worried about him. My kids all have a natural curiosity about life, and they know that reading books is an easy way to learn about whatever they are interested in. 

 

I see public school as an opportunity for my kids to learn about different cultures. It’s a chance to be with the kids from our neighborhood. Learn how to make friends. Learn how to work with all kinds of people. It’s an opportunity to put into practice everything that we’re trying to teach them at home about “Loving your neighbor as yourself”. It’s a chance for them to think about people’s stories. What are some of the reasons why that particular child might have a hard time behaving in class? It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to be problem-solvers: if you see a problem at school, what can you do about it? All of these things naturally come up in our daily conversations, so I get a good gauge on how the kids are doing in these areas. 

 

So, how do I keep up with everything? I don’t. But, it seems to be working well for us.  

 

NEEDS vs WANTS

Yesterday a friend texted me and told me she had no food in her house. I kind of groaned. I had just been looking at my bank account and was feeling stressed at the thought of stretching the amount of money I had to meet our family’s needs. My first thought was, I do not have enough money to go buy her groceries. I’m going to be stretched as it is to buy food for my own family. I texted her back the name of a food kitchen in our neighborhood that would be having a free marketplace in a couple days. She made plans to drop by my house in a little while and so I got up, grabbed a bag and went and looked in my pantry. I started filling up the bag and then went and got a second bag and filled it up too. By the time I was done, I had put up enough food for several days for her family and really had not put any stress on our family by doing so. I hadn’t realized that I had that much food laying around my house. 

Before the text, my mindset had been, We have NO FOOD in the house! I NEED to go grocery shopping! In reality, even after giving away two bags of groceries, I still had enough food in the house that if some world catastrophe struck and we were trapped, I could still feed our family for a couple weeks. Of course, I wouldn’t have any fresh fruit and vegetables or milk, and I’d run out of meat pretty quick, but we could eat homemade cornbread and bread, and beans and other nutritious food that would serve us just fine in an emergency. (And no, I’m not a prepper.)

This summer I moved out of my bedroom. I filled up a canvas bag of clothes and a couple personal items and I didn’t go back into my room all summer. I lived all summer with one bag. I wanted my room back, but did I NEED any of the stuff in my room to live? Nope. 

This past weekend my husband and I spent a weekend at a cabin without the kids. I took groceries and cooked our meals while we were there. The cabin was stocked with everything you were supposed to need to cook. They had really limited options though. The entire weekend I cooked using one wobbly knife, one spatula, and one big spoon. I missed my utensil drawer back home that has a million knives and million spoons. But, I didn’t NEED all those utensils. They just make life a bit easier. 

Today, I have been looking around my house. I realized that though I have a large cupboard filled with pots and pans and cooking sheets and baking pans and serving bowls, I don’t use all of them. In fact, on a regular basis, I only use about half of my pots and pans. I have a storage place on top of my cabinets that is full of interesting serving platters and jars and fancy dishes. I don’t think I’ve touched them in two years. 

I have a hallway that has a large bookcase full of all my homeschooling books and materials that I used during my twelve year stint of homeschooling. I have been unsure of what to do with all these materials. I have tried giving them away, but no one is interested. I hate selling things, with a passion, so getting on ebay to sell my stuff is not a viable option. While I would like to keep all my interesting books that the kids love to read and look at, I have no need to keep boring, half-used workbooks. And there are a lot of the books that really aren’t that interesting. In short, I have an entire hallway filled with things I don’t NEED and I don’t even really WANT. 

In fact, I have a feeling that a good fifty percent of the belongings in my house are things that we don’t NEED and don’t even WANT. 

I am finding that belongings and things are actually a pretty heavy burden. You have to clean them and organize them. They make your living space feel more crowded. They complicate your life more. Busily managing your stuff takes time away from other more important things. But, it’s an addiction. We are a consumer-driven society. We are always on the lookout for things to buy. More things to own. Commercials feed this. We see something shiny and bright and new on the screen and we think, wow, I NEED one of those. And we use the word NEED a lot. I NEED some new clothes. I NEED some new shoes. I NEED new furniture. I NEED that new gadget. I NEED a new book. (That one is my go-to statement.)

Maybe it would help us if we stopped using the word NEED and replaced it with WANT. It would be more honest. Cause really, our NEEDS are very basic. We need food and water, shelter, clothing, loving relationships. Our WANTS are a lot more complicated. 

I WANT to dress at the same level as my peers so I don’t stand out. I WANT things that make my life more convenient and easy. I WANT to be entertained 24hrs a day. I WANT something new to boost my mood and cheer me up. 

I don’t know if there is anything inherently wrong with wanting things. But when those things start to take over your life and actually make your quality of life worse, it’s probably a good idea to regroup. Make yourself differentiate. Do I NEED this or do I just WANT this? Is adding another object to my life going to make my life better or just more complicated? Do I really want to have to clean up this much stuff every day? 

I have decided that the answer to those questions is NO. I don’t need this stuff, and in fact, I don’t want to clean up all this stuff. I don’t want to have to keep taking care of all this stuff. So, I am initiating The Great Heneise House Clean Out. 

Here’s to making life more simple and getting all those WANTS back under control. 

🎶We All Need Somebody to Lean On!🎶

This Saturday I got to attend a movie with my 5th grade boy and a bunch of school children from across the county who are involved in Project Grad. We showed up at the school along with a handful of other moms and their children, got on the big yellow bus, drove downtown, and entered the movie theater through the back door. Other kids from other schools were arriving at the same time and we quickly grabbed our little tray of popcorn and a soda and went in to find a good seat. Some other families from our school were there, having used their own transportation. I asked my son where he wanted to sit. “Somewhere close to Ms.Partin!” Ms. Partin is his homeroom teacher who had the fortunate (unfortunate?) job of being one of the chaperones. I smiled. It made me happy to know that he liked his teacher so much that he would want to hang out with her even when they weren’t at school.  

We all found good seats and were hanging out, eating our popcorn, waiting for the movie to start, when suddenly someone walked into the theater that caused a big stir. Dr. Brace! It’s Dr. Brace! Kids started calling out from all over the theater, “Hi Dr. Brace!!!” It was like a celebrity had arrived. Let me explain. Dr. Brace is the principal of my kids’ elementary school. Yep. The Principal. So, why on earth would a bunch of school kids be so excited to see their Principal? Because it’s Dr. Brace. She is super-friendly, knows every single child in the school by name, and their parent’s names. She takes time out to talk and listen to the kids. She’s full of enthusiasm. In fact she went around the theater, greeting each child by name, high-fiving, checking in with parents. Then she had to go around again and get a picture of each child, and then one more time to say goodbye to everyone as she was just doing a walk-through to make sure that everything was going well for the outing. There is something about her that just makes you start smiling whenever you see her. I don’t know her personally, but I love this woman. I love the fact that she has helped to make our elementary school a safe place where kids feel loved. I love the fact that she makes parents feel welcome and feel like they can be involved and speak up about issues and concerns. I love the fact that my children count her on their list of friends.

The movie that we watched was an animated movie about a little girl who faces a crisis in her family and becomes withdrawn from her normal bubbly, creative personality. I noticed that in the movie, part of the problem was that as things got harder for her in life, she stopped turning to her family and friends. When she finally hit rock-bottom, what helped her to turn things around was remembering her mother’s words, her mother’s love for her. As things got better, she turned back to her community, and her community helped pull her through her hard situation.

Two years ago I was trying to homeschool my children while going through a very deep depression, a depression that lasted about two years. I finally hit rock bottom and had to accept the fact that homeschooling was not something I was capable of doing at the time. I put my kids in public school, a very hard decision for me. Putting my kids in school became something of a turning point. It lifted a burden that had me pinned to the floor, eased it enough that I could slowly start getting up. Slowly pull my feet back underneath me. The kids’ schools have become a community for my children and even for me and my husband as we have slowly learned how to let go and let others help us.

I love that song, “Lean on Me”. I remember singing it at the top of my lungs in the back of the car with my teenage friends as we drove home from summer camp. It’s fun. It’s a classic. Makes you feel good all over when you hear it. I think it’s all of those things though, because the words are so true. We were not made to do this life thing alone. We were made for community.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 says:

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I am so thankful for the community we have found in our local schools. I am so thankful for the teachers and staff who work there, giving their best to my kids. I am so thankful that I don’t have to be everything to my children. That when God gave me ten children, it wasn’t with the intention that I would somehow become superwoman who can do everything all by herself, but that he had helpers lined up to help. Community to come alongside us and walk with us on this journey called life. I am thankful.

🎶“We all need somebody to lean on!” 🎶

 

P.S. I have really hesitated to post this as I don’t want my homeschooling friends to feel like I’m slamming homeschooling. That is not my intention. I just wanted to share what a blessing our schools have been to us.

Parenting: It’s Not A Competition

The other day I overheard a conversation. Two moms. One was telling the other, while talking about schooling choices and the spiritual good of your children “And of course you would never want to send them to public school!” Which of course I am doing with my kids. I felt my hackles rise and a bunch of retorts came to my tongue, which I of course didn’t say, because the moms weren’t talking to me, about me, or even meant for me to overhear them…They meant no offense. But I found myself mentally defending my parenting choices, and thinking, “I bet your kids aren’t going to turn out terrific just because you’re doing it a different way..” and then my final mental argument, “The proof is in the pudding!” You’ll see! My kids are going to turn out better than your kids and then you’ll know that you shouldn’t have been putting down my parental choices!!! And then I stopped, because by this time my mental defense was getting a bit ridiculous. The proof is in the pudding. What does that mean anyway? Does that mean that if my children all turn out to be law-abiding citizens who go to church every Sunday and marry within their faith and do good works…Does that mean that I get to claim the prize of “GREAT PARENT” ? And then you have to ask, well at what age do you assess your grown children to decide if you were successful or not..20, 30, 40? Ok, so what if you have 10 kids and one of them turns out to be a saint, but another one goes through a really rough period and does jail time? Am I a success or a failure? At what point in time does your children’s decisions rest squarely on their own shoulders and you are exonerated from any blame? Or, at what point in time do their good decisions reflect their own good character and not just the fact that they were “raised right”.

In the Christian circles that I walk in, there is a definite fallacy that we parents seem to hang on to very tightly. The fallacy is that our children are perfect little angels or at least, only mildly sinful, and it’s our job to keep them away from all negative influences, all exposure to evil, and keep them “pure” at all costs. If we do so, and we can launch them into society without a single wrinkle in their reputation, then we are good parents. We have done our Christian duty to raise our children right.

Guys, my parenting journey has taught me very clearly that this is WRONG! I am realizing more and more that I need my children to not be perfect..instead I need them to be aware of just how imperfect they are. I need them to know just how short of the mark they fall. I need them to be aware of just how desperately they need Jesus to come and wash away their sins. Because, they are definitely sinful people. We all are. I need them to see that their natural selfishness is sinful. I need them to see that their desire to always be right is prideful, and that’s sin. I need my kids to realize that just because they live in a church-going family does not mean that they are somehow better than the kids who have never set foot in a church door. I need them to know this about themselves so that they can know how badly they need Jesus and they can learn that He is the only one who is going to bring them forgiveness and peace in this world.

This means that I can’t parent with this idea that if I can turn out perfect children then I will win the parenting prize. No. That’s not the point. The point is to spend their childhood teaching them about this God who loves them, teaching them that HE is the Way the Truth and the Life. Everyone is nodding their heads right now, “of course, we all want our children to be saved..” If that is our goal, then we also need to realize that We can’t save our kids. It’s God who calls them. And he has this really annoying way of doing things in his own time. Not my time. This means, I might have a child leave my home who doesn’t know Jesus personally yet. Can I do anything about this? No. But, I can certainly make sure that they know everything there is to know about God, Jesus, and the Bible before they leave home. And I can make sure that they always feel loved by their family, and I can bring them daily before God in prayer, on my knees, asking him to bring my child to salvation.

In the end, I have to step off the comparison box. I have to remember that this whole parenting thing isn’t about turning out perfect individuals. Me looking around and deciding that my kid turned out better than your kid is just stupid. This is not a competition. We are all raising up the next generation, together. We have the same goal…to raise up children into adults who love God and love people and who will take over the running of this earth after we pass on. We don’t get different colored ribbons depending on how our grown child turns out. This parenting thing is not an 18 year long job. It’s a lifetime job. We will spend the rest of our lives praying for our children, praying that they will grow in their knowledge of God, praying that they will be wise, praying for their protection…

May we resist the urge to compare ourselves with each other, getting worried or defensive when other parents do things differently,  and instead keep the end goal in sight…May we raise up our children to know God and be aware of their great need for him.

Elliptical Machines and the Kindle App

About two years ago our family got a membership at the YMCA. It was during a time when I was really struggling with depression. The gym became a life-saver for me. It was only a five minute drive away. I would tell my older kids they were babysitting, drive down to the gym, get on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes then quickly come back home, usually only being gone for 45 minutes. I felt better from the exercise and from having a short break from the house. I went as much as six times a week, usually no less than four.

Well, after we decided to stop homeschooling and my kids started going to public school, I no longer had a “big kid” to babysit, which meant I had to load up my little ones (there were three at home at the time) and take them to the gym with me and leave them at the daycare room. My trips to the gym now became long, drawn-out hassles that involved dressing little children, finding missing shoes, loading kids in and out of car seats, and then abandoning screaming children to a daycare worker. Just so I could get a 30 minutes workout. My trips to the gym quickly decreased. We were also still getting accustomed to everyone being gone all day at school and by the time the kids got home and I had a babysitter available again, I did not want to leave them to go do my own thing. I started only going on weekends. This past summer I finally pointed out to my husband that we simply were not using the gym to its full potential anymore and should probably cancel our membership. He asked me when I was going to exercise and I said something like, I’ll take a walk, or get a video workout or something.

So, around the time of my birthday, this fall, my husband informed me that he was going to buy me an elliptical machine with his bonus he had received. WOW! I was surprised, excited, and a little nervous. Elliptical machines have been my go-to because they have been the only form of exercise that has worked consistently with my various back problems. Having my very own at home would be a dream come true. Having my husband fork out a chunk of money so that I can exercise at home felt a little more dangerous. Especially when he calculated the cost of the machine (we found one on sale!) versus the cost of a gym membership and said I would need to exercise diligently for two years before having a machine at home could be considered cheaper than the gym. Yikes. To say I felt a bit of pressure to use my new machine would be putting it lightly.  

I am proud to say that I have, until Christmas time, been very faithful with using my machine. Christmas really threw me off, but I started back yesterday and I feel a renewed desire to keep exercising. Since I am not a particularly athletic or disciplined person, you may be surprised at this. So, here’s my little secret. I read when I exercise. I have a kindle app on my phone and I have a book at the ready, put it on the little shelf and just incorporate finger swipes to turn the page as part of my exercise routine. This is proof that if I am reading I can endure almost anything. The nice part about reading is if you get to a particularly intense part of the story, you automatically speed up and get an even better workout! 🙂 I guess this probably points to the fact that I am a bookworm, have been since second grade, and probably will be all my life. I average 4 books a week. Sometimes more. Rarely less. The library and I are good friends. All this to say, it is very exciting to find out I can make exercise (which can be boring!) into a time when I can read a book without any guilt. Long live elliptical machines, and long live the kindle app!

(Ok, I’m aware that people often watch TV or listen to podcasts while working out. I have found that I really don’t enjoy TV much, it doesn’t hold my attention, and I am not an auditory kind of person, so listening to someone speak into my ears through headphones is kind of stressful for me.) (Yes. I’m weird.)(Maybe there are more weird people out there like me though, so I’m sharing this amazing discovery with them!) (Ok, I also understand this is not exercise-guru type advice, I know, I need to do some other types of exercise as well, but, hey, something is better than nothing!)(I love parenthesis, they are so handy!) (And fun.) (I might just possibly over-use them.) (Maybe.) (Perhaps I should take a poll.)