Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy 4th Birthday, Luke!


she loved
little boy
very, very much
-even more
she loved
--Shel Silverstein


Four years ago today my oldest, Luke, was born. And it was an awesome day. He was over a week late- as were all three of mine- and, in late August, IN FLORIDA, his delivery couldn't have come sooner. I guess I just cook my babies on a low, slow boil. Like crawfish, they tended to need to soak a while before they're ready. 

His first birthday approached and I got to WORK. His favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I was a freshly teacher-turned-Mom, so I was obsessed. This was, if y'all can believe it, BEFORE PINTEREST so I was largely on my own in terms of inspiration, but I still managed to create a massive tissue paper caterpillar on our mantle and bake a cake large enough to feel Rhode Island and create and hang both house and yard decorations.(Ask my friend, Olivia, about the three trial cakes I baked, decorated and gave away before his party because I had to get it just right. Mercy. I had cakes in my house for weeks before his party. I'm surprised I didn't send us all into diabetic shock.) It has still, to date, been the biggest party blow out that I have undertaken. Sorry Josie and Nathan- it's a firstborn-first-birthday-thing. BONUS, however, is that I will be able to reuse all the decorations for Nathan's first birthday in October. 

(Again, sorry, Nathan. Momma's got to be able to put all that hard work to use at least one more time. After this, you can pick any birthday party you want. ::promise::)

The day of the party came and our house was jam packed. Every relative from every city, from four states away showed up to help us celebrate with Luke. (He, of course, was just worried about chewing on the bows and wrapping paper scraps.) It was a noisy, messy, chaotic, whirl wind afternoon. Punch was made and ice cream was churned and prayers were prayed and food was eaten and drinks were spilled and songs were sung and candles were blown out and cake was cut and naps were missed and it was perfect

It wasn't until later that night that I cried. It was after the lagniappe cake was put away and the balloons came down and the house was finally quiet that it happened. I sat down in the nursery, holding Luke and wept. That's probably not the best description. I cried buckets and buckets and buckets of tears. They were happy tears and sad tears and first-trimester-hormonal tears and tired tears and scared tears and worried tears and uncertain tears and proud tears. I cried for every emotion I had encountered in the twelve short months I had endured after finally becoming a mother, but mostly- they were thankful tears. 
Because I was. I was so thankful that I was the one chosen to be his Mom. Out of every person on the planet, God picked me. ME. He saw a part of goodness in my heart, in my mind, in my soul that He knew would make me a good Mom to him. It was a small part, a quiet little, untouched place that all Mom's have- I just had to use it. I had to find that place- that soft place for my Luke to land- and enlarge it. I had to grow that little area of goodness in my soul so that the more Luke would need it, the more would be available to him. I needed to become a farmer.

I needed to pasture this land in my heart for him so there were areas that I had to eliminate. I had to bush hog them down, disc them up, dig out the rocks and roots and tree stumps, pile them up and BURN THEM to the ground. Now that I was a mother- there was no room for selfishness. There was no room for empty conceit. There was no room for pettiness or strife or jealousy or slander. I needed to take those areas and slash and burn so I could grow a better crop. And it was HARD. And it was a never ending amount of work. I'm still working to keep out the weeds and hedge bushes that crop up when I let an area of my heart pasture lay fallow for too long. I'll be a constant gardener in this farming called motherhood for my entire life. 

And that's why I cried. Because entering motherhood was the strongest refining fire I'd ever been through. And birthdays are a milestone marking another year that I've survived that fire. It's an opportunity to look back at the months that have passed and think about the fields I've kept. I think about the weeds and briars and brambles I've pulled up in my heart that year. The ones that were rooted so deeply that it took some serious digging and praying and praising for me to finally get them out. And then, when I finally did and was able to plant that freshly turned soil with patience and goodness and honesty and love- I cry. Because I want to give my babies' fertile soil. Because I'm thankful that, with His help, I can. 

Motherhood has made me a better person. It's given me a divine responsibility to become the best Christian, the best wife, the best Mom, the best daughter, the best sister that I can be. It has refined me in ways that only Motherhood could. And, as hard and grueling and gut wrenching as it is- I feel blessed to be able to do it. 

My prayer is that my heart will always give them a soft place to land. 
Happy 4th Birthday, Luke.

(Now let's go eat some waffles to celebrate.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

What If We NEVER Go 'Back To School'?...

The beginning of August has brought a deluge of pictures of fresh faced, adorable booksack-backed kiddos standing on their front porch or at their bus stop or in their classroom with their new teachers across my Facebook and Instagram News Feeds. They've been posted with the hashtags #firstdayofschool or #backtoschool or #hallelujah and THEY HAVE ME HYPERVENTILATING. Because, y'all- I don't think I'll ever have a post like this. 

Because, y'all- I want to homeschool. 

On some deep, subconscious level, I think I've wanted to homeschool since the moment I held my oldest son, Luke, in the hospital. My husband brought him to me after they'd weighed and measured him- he was wrapped up and bundled with his precious newborn hat on and he was perfect. Innocent. Unstained. Unblemished by this fallen world we live in that's full of sin and stress and strife. He was to me, in that moment- the very personification of purity. 

I knew, of course, that the world would eventually stain and blemish and bruise him. The imperfect, sin filled world that we live in leaves it's marks on all of us. And Luke, (right along with my other two children and every other human on this planet) has been no exception. He isn't perfect. No one is. He's a rough and rowdy and rambunctious boy. But when those stains and blemishes and bruises have happened, I've been there.  

I can't stop myself from feeling a weight of responsibility to him. To all three of my kids. To teach them at home. To stand guard for them. To bar the door against The World while I train them to defend themselves against it. And while I keep them here with me, I'll protect them, and teach them to protect themselves, until they're strong enough, capable enough, mature enough, to stand on their own.  

Feeling the drive and desire to homeschool Luke when he was little surprised me. I talked with my husband about it, and he sort of agreed, but in a very non-commital way, seeing as he was literally a brand new, itty bitty, teeny tiny infant and we had FIVE YEARS to make some sort of concrete educational decision about his future. 

Things rocked along for a while, we got pregnant and had our second child- our daughter Josie. Things were sort of hectic as we settled into our new routine with a home with two littles, but even with the new changes and craziness, I still wanted to do it

We pressed on a few more months and found out that we were pregnant for a THIRD time in three years with our youngest child. Nathan was born 10 months ago, and we have now settled comfortably into our new, even more loud and busy and boisterous routine with three small children in our home. And, as harried as my days can (and most certainly DO) get, I still want to homeschool these three rascals. Because right now, even in this crazy place I'm in- it still feels right.

Now, y'all- that's not saying that I don't doubt myself like a million times a month. That I don't have supreme guilt agonizing over the massive mental "Pros/Cons" list I've tabulated in my mind. (Below is a small snippet of the borderline insanity that streams through my head on a minute-by-minute basis when I sit down and start to consider what it will take when I embark on this homeschooling adventure.)

  • Will the kids feel cheated out of the booksack-packing-lunchbox-carrying-bulletin-board-decorated life I am choosing not to give them? 
  • Will they hate me when they're teenagers for not sending them to a brick and mortar school? 
  • Am I patient enough to do this? 
  • Am I smart enough to do this? 
  • Am I organized enough to do this? 
  • What if they do poorly in school? What if Luke turns 7 and still can't read or write his name or count to 100?
  • Will I be a bad Mom if I'm an awful teacher?  
  • What about my sanity? I love my kids and all, but what if I don't EVER get a break? 
  • What if I look back in seven years and wish I could have a quiet hour to myself while they are away at school? 
  • What if I regret not sending them? 
  • What if I hate it? 
  • What if they hate it? 
  • What if they hate me
  • What kinds of things are they going to sacrifice by my keeping them home? 
  • What kinds of things am I going to sacrifice by keeping them home?
  • What if? What if? What if? What if? What if?...

I also have a bunch of hypocritical feelings about my desire to homeschool because, before I had my own babies, I was teaching other people's. I was an elementary school teacher in one of the best counties in the entire state of Florida, in the BEST SCHOOL DISTRICT within that county. At the best school in the district. (I'm talking to Y'ALL, my Oriole Beach Elementary friends!) OBE is the very same school that my kids are zoned to attend. My sister-in-love is still the school secretary there and I continue to have wonderful connections and friendships there even today. We stop by and say hello a couple of times a month because we love OBE. And we love the people that teach there.

But I don't think I can do it. I don't think I can stand there at the end of the hall or in the doorway of a classroom or at the curb of the school and do IT. Passing that baton that is my baby to someone else. I can not say goodbye to my child. To my ward of this world. To that little soul I've been entrusted to glide and guard and guide through this world. I'm not ready to give that duty to someone else. Because, to me, it's not their job. IT IS MINE. It is what I feel called to do.

For me, what weighs on my heart at the root of all of this is INFLUENCE. It's the seconds that make up the minutes that make up the hours that make up the days of my children's lives that I'd be giving up to send them away from me to a school each day. It's about my inability to hand over the weight of the responsibility for the events that will happen during these important, life-changing, character-molding, soul-imprinting moments to someone else that isn't me. I don't want to give that up.

My purpose in this life is to get to Heaven and to help bring as many people there with me as I can. I'll be there with my husband, my family, and most importantly, I have to raise my children to be there, too. And, for me, as their Mom- the best way I know how to point them there is from home. Perched right here at my dining room table. 

Luke, my oldest, will turn four in a few weeks. And here in Florida, the state offers and pays for 540 hours of instructional time that focuses on academic readiness in order to help prepare 4 year olds for kindergarten. {In short, it's free preschool.} When I looked up the statistics online, something like 80% of parents in the state enroll their students in free VPK. 

We aren't.

That doesn't make us better than the 80% that do send their kids to preschool, it just makes us different. Besides, Luke is in preschool. He's learning everyday here at home. With me. And with his little sister and baby brother. (Who are about the two cutest classmates a kid could ask for.) We are learning letters and numbers and language skills and how-not-to-pitch-a-fit-every-time-someone-else-is-playing-with-your-favorite-toy-skills, and having picnics and field trips and nature walks. 

Our normal, happy, everyday life is a preschool. 

 The straw that broke the Homeschool vs. Public School camel's back happened last Spring when the idea of actually sending Luke to school was actually brought up and I actually almost hyperventilated in public.  

I was at a park on a play date with a good friend of mine. There was another young mom at the playground with a son who was exactly one year older than Luke. We, of course, as women frequently do- got to talking, and school came up almost immediately. She told us about where her son had gone to preschool and how much she liked the place and how excited he was for school in the Fall and blah, blah, blah... And then she turned and asked me where Luke was going to go to VPK. The sky darkened, my vision blurred and it suddenly felt like I was being slowly suffocated by a giant anaconda while standing in a pit of quicksand. 

I stammered something to her like "Well, he's got such a late birthday, we will probably wait and if we decide to, enroll him in a preschool thing when he's a little older. Maybe we will wait an extra year to do the VPK thing." That's when she looked at me and dropped a bomb on my tender little Momma heart: "Oh, well, that's OK- I guess." she said. "But, if you are going to use the free VPK voucher, it's only good for the year that they're four. If you miss the boat for that year, it'll be on you to pay for preschool." ::gulp:: 

That meant that if Luke were going to go to preschool, he would have to go in August. Like, four short months from then. He would be so little. He'd not even have turned four by the first day of school. I couldn't take it. The thought of sending him to school away from home was paralyzing me.

Y'all, I could not leave that park fast enough. My throat was tight and my eyes were hot and I had that terrible "I'm about to cry" feeling in my chest and I could NOT have a breakdown in front of this strange woman or my good friend and her child or in front of my kids. 

I got us all loaded back into the van as quickly as I could, holding back tears the best I could while I speed dialed my husband's work number. I called him faster than anyone has ever called anybody else ever before since the beginning of time. Alexander Graham Bell would've applauded both my speed and accuracy. 

The Dowager Countess totally gets it. 

Matt and I have this awesome symbiotic relationship in that I always, ALWAYS overreact to situations and he always, ALWAYS tells me when I'm freaking out. I called him and breathlessly filled him in on the conversation that just transpired in a :13 second "I-just-met-a-Mom-on-the-playground-and-she-said-that-Luke-will-have-to-go-to-VPK-in-the-fall-but-I-don't-think-I-can-send-him-because-that-just-seems-so-young-and-he-is-so-precious-and-innocent-and-I-just-don't-think-I-can-do-that-and-maybe-I-am-a-freak-and-what-do-you-think?" version of the situation. 

And y'all, NO LIE- Matt's response was: "Boo. Relax. We are not obligated to send him to VPK. You are right. He is so young. There is absolutely no real reason that we HAVE to send him to preschool. He is fine. You are fine. Our family is fine. Not everybody goes to preschool. Plenty of people live normal, happy, healthy productive lives without ever having gone to preschool. And our kids will survive without it, too." 

I have never loved my husband more than I did on that fateful morning as I lamaze breathed into the phone and borderline ugly cried while sitting in my van in an empty parking lot of a Mexican restaurant. Because HE GETS ME. 

Somebody asked me, when I told them of my misgivings about sending Luke to VPK what I'd be worried about him being exposed to at preschool, given the fact that they are only 4 years old. Well, to be honest, I'm worried about just about EVERYTHING he'd be exposed to. 

Kids are clay. They are impressionable. And soft. And malleable. And easily molded by their environments. 100% of absolutely everything they come in contact with leaves a mark on them. Good or bad, positive or negative, embarrassing or validating- those marks are there. PERMANENTLY. And I want to be the one who leaving the most imprints on my kid's lives. 

It's like when I bought peaches a few weeks ago and (unwisely) put them in the big part of the buggy where my oldest son sits while I shop. By the time we made it to the register to check out, all of his wayward kicks and rolls and nudges and smushes between the big tub of oatmeal and 4 milk jugs had turned what had been a sack of perfectly ripe fruit into a big ol' bag of peach mush. And I think kids are like that. They bruise easily. Their souls need to be handled with care, because their spirits are tender and need to be treated accordingly. 

Luke is like a sponge. He literally picks up on every single thing that happens in my house, in the grocery store, in church, EVERYWHERE. When I think he's not listening. He is. When I think he's not paying attention. He IS. He can tell, by the tone of my voice and the sound of my tone, before I ever tell him, who I am on the phone with when a call comes in. "It's like he's got ESPN or something." 

But seriously, raising my kids has been the best motivator for me to change some of my less-than-desireable behaviors. Being their Mom, being the one who has the greatest influence on their lives has been the biggest incentive to make me a better person. To make me a better Christian. A better wife. A better daughter. A better friend. Because I know that they will mirror the behaviors, habits, and attitudes they see in me. And I want to give them the best example possible. 

But the weight of that responsibility is sometimes hard to bear. Because I'm not perfect. I lose my patience and my temper and my sanity more often than I'd like to admit. And I've got to be honest because there are days that I want a break

There are days when I think about friends of mine who have school aged children who can get like entire HOURS of their days to themselves. Zero fighting. Zero squabbling. Zero potty breaks. No incredibly loudly squealing kids in the background of their phone conversations. At 9:47am, they can watch TV or browse Pinterest or take a nap or sit on their couch or read a book or drive their cars or take a bath or basically do ANYTHING IN THE WORLD that I am not able do right now. And y'all, there's a selfish part of me that worries that I'll miss not having that when I'm homeschooling my kids. (Ouch. It kinda stings to admit that.) 

But then I think about the flip side to that coin. I think about the days and hours and minutes that I will get to spend with my kids. The joy I saw last week when Luke tried UNPROMPTED to write his name for the first time ever. How cool it was for me to see Josie initiate an opportunity to share with her little brother because he was fussy and she knew she could do something to help make him laugh. 

I get to watch my two oldest kids celebrate literally every.little.thing their baby brother does. "Momma! Nathan justa crawled to me!" or "He justa rolled my ball back!" or "Nathan justa ate the snack I gave him!" or "Nayyy-fun's sooo-a cuuuute." "I wooove my widdle brother." "He's just the sweetest ol' thing!" Moments like that are the fuel that keeps my engine going on the tough and tired and troublesome days that I'm sure I'll encounter while I continue to teach and lead and raise my kids at home. 

And, y'all, now don't get me wrong. I realize how dramatic all this must sound. How completely over reactionary it may seem. Because, right now even to me as I am writing it- IT DOES. I am 100% guilty of over dramatizing this situation.(I compared my kids to Play-Doh and ripe summer fruit, for mercy's sake.) I know know there are plenty of homeschool situations that aren't perfect, just like I know there are scores of public school situations that are far from ideal. 

I am worried that, by writing a post about my views and decisions about homeschooling my family, I will offend someone who has chosen not to. THAT IS NOT MY AIM. I have close family and dear friends that homeschool. I also have close family and dear friends that send their kids to school outside their homes. Both sets love their children. Both sets want what's best for them. I do not doubt that for a SECOND.

 I've read oodles of pro-homeschool articles telling parents that if they send their children to school outside their homes they don't love them enough as a family that homeschools. That, if they send their children to public schools that they aren't worried about their souls. I AM NOT SAYING THAT. 

I am not speaking for your family. I am not speaking for your children. I'm speaking for my family: myself and my husband. I am speaking for my family and the three precious souls given to me.This is the place we are currently in. These are the decisions we are facing. And this is the path we feel led to take. 

The most important graduating credential your family could pursue should be the same, regardless of the educational setting you choose to acquire it in. That's leading your children to attain a citizenship in Heaven. 

Now all I need to do is try and track down a full length denim jumper outfit and a shirt with 3" shoulder pads because I've got a 'homeschool Mom' uniform to put together. If you see any plaid seasonal, fabric painted vests or a pair of acid washed, elastic waisted jeans- send them my way. I'm currently accepting donations.  


"Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
 Written by Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived on the face of this Earth in the history of the entire world. Also, my homeschool/parenting motto. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Ode To VBS Teachers

I always loved Vacation Bible School when I growing up. Seeing my church building decorated with all the props and posters and displays always got me PUMPED for our nights of classes, crafts, and lessons. I always loved and appreciated VBS, but it wasn't until I became an adult with children of my own who are students that I really, truly appreciated what Vacation Bible School is. 

You see, it's easy, as a kid, to take all of the hard work and planning and preparation that goes into making a VBS possible for granted. It's easy to see the fake clouds suspended from the ceiling and the huge painted cardboard rainbow or the super sized airplane/puppet stage combo and think "Awesome! VBS decorations!" without thinking about the actual work that went into painting a 20 foot rainbow or dinosaur or airplane or hot air balloon or castle or palm tree or whatever else you could think of that is on display in the church building. 

*(By the way, have you ever knelt on a hard, linoleum floor for any length of time while wielding a foam paintbrush tracing outlines on bulletin board paper while trying desperately not to stray from the pencil lines that were drawn on it? Because adult knees can only take so much pressure before their kneecaps begin to protest and their joints seize up. When they finally straighten up from their hunched over position, they don't really straighten up from their hunched over position. They stand up and sort of hobble around for a bit, limping like a blind chicken looking for a feed bucket while they wait for the blood to begin circulate through their aching and abused joints. Then, after a few minutes of the 'blind, hungry chicken' dance, they can begin to walk normally again. This exercise has given them just enough time to refill the paint on their paper plate before they need to get down again onto their greatly protesting knees for yet another 12 minute round in the "Follow-The-Faintest-Pencil-Line-Ever-Drawn" game.) 

Being an adult, I can see now that VBS is a marathon filled with glitter and stapled butcher paper decorations and lessons and snacks and costumes and silly songs and prayers. It's a grueling race and sometimes it seems like you'll never see the finish line. But you KEEP GOING. Every night. Because it's an event that children will remember always and an opportunity to teach them Christ in ways that only a week of VBS can offer.


 So, to anyone who has ever completed this marathon-like event called Vacation Bible School and lived to tell the tale: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever dressed up in a VBS themed costume despite the sweltering summer heat: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever stood outside in the afore mentioned heat while little children make vain attempts at playing yard games: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever stayed up late into the night painting wall decorations: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever taken a frightened (and often times screaming) child who is new to your church, to your class, to VBS, under their wing so they aren't scared: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever scarred their retinas by staring into a projector while trying to trace Bible character outlines: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone else who has volunteered to be the song leader, thereby forcing them to participate in all of the action songs, and thereby having to sing all 319 verses to Father Abraham: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever cleaned out a WalMart shelf of black acrylic paint at 10pm: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever driven two towns over in search of chocolate gold coins (or any other lesson manipulative that you absolutely had to have): THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has violated the rules of time and space to calculate individual class/snack/craft rotations for 5 different 35 minute rotations between 7 individual locations: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever made a palm tree out of a pool noodle, some butcher paper, a few fake fern fronds and some fishing twine: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever written 3,481 different children's names on sticky backed name tags at a registration table: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever taken the 17.2 hours required to make that layered rainbow Jello snack to go along with a Noah's Ark Rainbow lesson: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever walked a neighborhood in the thick summer heat to pass out flyers and invite your neighbors to VBS: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has used one of those staple-remover claws to pull out 291 staples out of classroom walls after the VBS decorations have come down: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has swept, vacuumed or mopped a floor after a night of crafts and glitter and sand and sticker paper and glue dots: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever taken somebody else's child on a bathroom break: THANK YOU. (You just wiped a hiney for Jesus.)
  • To anyone who has ever stepped outside their comfort zone and invited their neighborhood children to ride along with them to VBS: THANK YOU.  
  • To anyone who has laminated and cut out little, tiny, itty bitty, individual versions of memory verses or book marks or crafts to hand out to the students: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever burned their fingers on a hot glue gun: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever glittered every scrap of construction paper in the building (and themselves in the process): THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever watched the VBS teacher's small children so that they can teach classes: THANK YOU. 
  • To anyone who has ever prayed, in advance, for the work that will be done and the souls that will be reached at VBS: THANK YOU.
  • To anyone who has ever done anything that could touch any soul for Jesus through Vacation Bible School: THANK YOU. Your effort has not been done in vain. 
"...Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for the harvest." {Jesus, speaking to his disciples about the spiritual harvest.} 
James 4:35