Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5 under 5

A lot of you know about what's been going on at my house. Some exciting stuff. Well, here it is:

I'll be watching my sister's twins for the next few months before they join in the day care at her workplace. (First part-time & then full-time) That's five boys under the age of five. 1 four year old I'm kinda sorta homeschooling right now. 2 toddlers that I'm transitioning to mostly free roaming the house and its goods. And 2 adorable babies for me to sleep train and make smile.

Andrea & I are both navigating new routines & challenges and sending sisterly check-up texts to each other.  When she was pumping earlier she wanted to know how things were going, so I went right over to her boys and snapped this

right as one of them let out a long, slow fart. (If I was talking to my kids, I would say toot. But, c'mon, I'm gonna give these Mueller boys some credit. It was a fart if I ever heard one.)

Then I located Alistair & Emerick and snapped this

right as Alistair (on the left) was filling his pants with what can only be described as liquid poop because it made a sound which struck that exact chord & Emerick was 3 hot seconds away from a time-out for touching the forbidden light (a lamp of irresistible toddler magnetism).

Then I found Thomas who had just two minutes earlier found a pb & j and exclaimed, "Is this pb & j for ME?!!!" like it was a gold bar to solidify his fortune... and so I caved and gave him the very expensive, very amazing treat (his 2nd for the day).

Yes, you're right. At this point in the day, 3 out of 3 of my kids aren't clothed.
His look here seems to suggest pondering his former life of fond memories and/or how all the noise in the background is quickly making for negative ones.

No, really. He loves Luke & Logan. Adores. He sings to them & even showed his brothers how to very, very carefully touch them --- which just tripped me out & back to when they were that size and I was praying he didn't jump on their faces. Not really, but yeah...pretty much.

Alistair & Emerick definitely LOVE the transition. I've let them loose in the house & haven't had the time or energy to have a series of mini heart attacks about it. I found them at the fireplace perched and swinging their legs like it was just the. coolest. place. ever. It reminded me of teenagers smoking in some covert place and loving their put-on intrigue. Yeah, you cool boys. You real cool.

Today was my 2nd go round as headmistress of the Anderson House of Boys and it went pretty well. However, it wasn't a walk in the park as evidenced by the following:

a. my trash can is nothing but a mound of diapers. I seriously mean it. It's the perfect setting to play "I Spy a Dozen Diapers Without Even Digging!!"

b. a half hour before pick-up (babies asleep) I stuck in ear buds and displayed my dancing interpretation of "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle" and "drop it, drop it low girl" and many other songs to my twins who looked both delighted and disturbed.

c. right before writing this post I shouted into the void sun room, "I NEED CHOCOLATE!" and the universe answered back dressed as a 4 year old pushing his brothers around in plastic tubs, "Mom, you can't have chocolate until you've cleaned. Chocolate is a treat.... Your room is a mess. We do work first before treating ourselves."

They look like they would escape if they had the muscle control.  Smile, boys!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thomas Talks

I do not write down what Thomas says often enough. For us, it's a real mixed bag. Some things Thomas says are interesting & very smart. Other things...well, I'm left either scratching my head or just laughing because he can be so random. Here are a few nuggets from the last few weeks.

After overhearing me talk about my sister's wedding shower on the phone
Thomas: What’s a wedding shower?
Ashley: “Oh, it’s where we shower someone with gifts.”
T: “Oh, I know the perfect thing you can give Amanda!”
A: “Yeah?”
T: “Yeah, your shower head. Just unscrew it and wrap it up and you can buy a new one sometime soon when we go to Target.”

Thomas: Would you mind lifting me onto the bed? I can’t climb up because my hands are unavailable.
Ashley: Okaaaaaaay

T: Wanna hear a joke?
A: Sure
T: Why did the booger cross the road?
A: Why?
T: Because he got run over by a truck.
A: That makes no sense.
T: It’s a joke. Laugh.
A: [fake laugh]
T: See! It’s funny.
The real deal. True life: I've got 3 kids.

Thomas: [staring at me…]
Ashley: What?
T: I see more of those dead hairs Daddy was talking about.

After seeing me struggle significantly while assembling his bike
Thomas: [puts hand on my shoulder] I hate to say this….but I don’t think you’ll ever learn how to build this.

An hour later when I'm still assembling the bike
Thomas: Okay. How are you doing here? Are you ok? This is difficult for you, isn't it?

His photography skills are just as developed as his joke telling. 

Thomas: “Okay. I’ve got a game. It’s called Penis.”
T: “1st question: Do girls have a penis?”

Thomas is playing with his Legos & talking to himself while I sit on the couch & read
Thomas: "Oh. I said shit. I'm not supposed to say shit. Shit's a bad word. Sorry I said that mom. I won't say shit again."

Thomas: “Is today Boston?”
Ashley: “What?”
T: “Is today Boston?”
A: “Are you asking what day of the week it is? Boston is a city. Today is Wednesday.”
T: “Ah, Wednesday. Correct.”

Thomas: “Mom, would you let me in the sun room please?”
Ashley: “Sure” [opens gate to Alistair & Emerick excited to play with their big brother]
“Be kind.”
T: “Oh, I will. I won’t even try to hurt them.”

In the car & Alistair is making happy baby noises
Thomas: “Alistair is talking back here.”
Ashley: “That’s right. He’ll be saying words soon.”
T: “Hey. He just said boob. He said boob!
A: “Oh?”

T: “Oh, we’re not talking about your boobs. We don’t talk about women’s boobs. That would be very wrong.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Offline Appetite

I just finished reading Jane Eyre for the first time. I happily contemplated Jane’s two mile walks without ear buds, no impulse to start Runkeeper or snap a photo of the blossoming crepe myrtle. An imagined interruption of that kind, her pausing to comment on a friend’s selfie at Starbucks, amused me. It erodes that carefully cultivated image I have of her deep-rooted virtues made possible by difficult work. I closed the book now and then and wondered if we can still yearn for things and for people when we churn our experiences and thoughts onto social media just minutes after they drip into our laps. I think there is a place for waiting & withholding and I wonder what that should look like for me. How it could look like.

I love how summer pulls us away from the screens. A pool or a lake haven’t yet caved to accommodate the iPhone, at least not if we want to have much fun. All the long hours of sunlight urge us to venture to the park, take a walk with the family, or sit on the porch past dusk even when it means cursing mosquitos. Last week, at my in-laws’, I took several trips to the hammock to lose myself in a canopy of green leaves and soft blue. Its lull away from all those things blazing bright inside my phone’s screen was a very welcome and mysterious one.  

I want to build better boundaries. Thomas may talk a million words on a screen-less trip across Missouri, but it’s a delight worth the work. It is easy to let Netflix finish the day, Paul on one couch and me on the other, but I would rather argue with him over how to spend that chunk of money we have set aside than let the time roll by untapped. I want to weave in intentional work to preserve the time I have with my loved ones.  It is so easy to cave.

Twinsies (Thomas and his Papa.)
My answer for feeling good about all that noise online is to stop thinking about all that noise online, or at least for chunks at a time. An easy step, a first step, is saying no. It’s as if I give myself permission: you don’t have to bring the phone with you. And then I have a little arguing with myself and finally a voice wins with, “Really? No one cares!”  Baby steps in cleaning up my mental diet are walking without the phone, going to bed with the phone in the other room, heck, just leaving it alone for a bit.

I have to wonder when I’m scrolling feeds, is there something that I need: love? attention? affirmation? connection? answers? a sense of achievement? community? If I’m able to answer that question and my time and attention isn’t already needed elsewhere, the world wide can be a wonderful thing. Truly! But if and when I’m distracting myself away, splintering my love, attention, focus and all for something mindless, I have truly missed out on the blessings right in front of me. Gifts that are not promised for any other future moment than the one I'm inside.

If time online leaves me feeling empty or fake or unsatisfied or chained, I must feast on other things. Namely, nature. Easily, family. Predictably, books. But other things too. Things that take more work, things that require a little more simmering and self-control, a little more time to grow before bearing fruit.

My heart is craving a healthier offline appetite. The salad doesn't always sound good, but McDonald’s just isn’t leaving me full.

As they say, moderation in everything. And yet, I don't think you can get too much time like this--- in the woods with family. Delicious! Seconds please.

When we talk about Facebook and blogs and Instagram and all the things online and how they aren't good, let's turn our gaze to the things that are. I know my garden needs a bit of care, that I live in a neighborhood shaded by trees, and I have hundreds of recipes calling my name and a four year old happy to play sous chef. I don't feel disheartened by the things in screens, but I do know their power to fix us quick, sell us cheap & to slice up a mystery that sometimes would be better left savored elsewhere & by someone else. It's the good things that our attention should be fixed on, those things that usually take a lot of quiet, invisible, tiring work but with a greater, fuller, satisfying reward. Sure, screens vs. our time away from them isn't a fate of either/or, but it definitely can't be all, all the time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The #1 Thing I Believe About Education

It was so difficult to write and publish something with a title containing "the #1 thing I believe". It could have just been about making a bed ["The #1 Thing I Believe About Making a Bed"], and I would have felt myself winded from the effort of asserting my opinions on bed-making which start and stop at-- make them as often as you can. Also, the post turned out just about as dry as that leftover pizza I heated up and then forgot about in the toaster oven for about thirty minutes yesterday while I was distracted by diapers on the verge, a 4 year old terrorizing us with his ninjabatman skills, and the kids in general coming at me like a herd of drunk alley cats. Yes, this post is as dry or dryer than that piece of pizza. I tried to slip in a joke about a rabbit, but it didn't work. With all that said, please read on. I would love that very much.

We are considering home-school for Thomas, but it has little to do with a decision against other forms of schooling and everything to do with the natural progression of things in motion. However, Paul and I have a foundational understanding of our role as parents that helps us embrace homeschooling just as much as it would help us abandon it in the future if/when needed.

We see ourselves as the primary teachers to our children for as long as they are in our care. We are very aware of the great influence we have in their lives and know this to be a noble responsibility as well as a true joy.

Paul and I were both raised by intentional parents who cultivated a love of learning, and a path to that, well before the force of the classroom. Reading was widely encouraged. Kids were expected to handle weighty responsibilities. Independence was earned and respect to authority was given. There were dinner table conversations of weight. No meant no. Hard work offered no shortcuts. T.V. was generously limited.  Not too dissimilar, I imagine, from the home you were either raised in or are now day-by-day cultivating.

I've always felt incredibly grateful for my public school education. To me, it was more than adequate.  And yet, as I get older the picture come to focus a bit differently.  While I wouldn't subtract praise from some truly great teachers I had, I also see now that those things I was gleaning from school largely stuck because of the foundation I received at home. 

I saw how true it is that parents are the primary teachers in the six years that I taught in public schools.  It was the young adults already equipped with values like a sense of purpose, integrity, and a healthy self-esteem (from what I imagine was a good mix of hard work and lots of love at home) who most effectively absorbed the information and opportunities in my classroom. 

As a bonus, some kids arrived in my classroom with experiences. They happily shared that their parents talked to them one-on-one or that they had been to a play or to another state or had visited a battleground. These kids really experienced a rich boost in learning. They had the exposure and were ready to run!  

Parents provide those hooks with which their kids can hang that knowledge coming at them.  Parents are the first to show and show and show what this world is about and how a child should carry herself in it. It is my belief that particular school programs make much less difference in a student's knowledge base than that frame of reference provided to them at home. 

I also experienced such sadness for kids who were starved for attention, words, experiences, or simply just love, and came to school each day actively looking around for a substitute for that void.  These kids are found in any classroom setting distracting themselves from learning because they've got other pressing needs that has them all but gnawing on wood.

So it is like this.  Deciding on where our kids attend school matters. However, I don't think it matters nearly as much as the effort, thoughtfulness, dedication, and love put forth in a home.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher's magical touch, for this thing they can't possibly do themselves, well, they might be a little bit wrong.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher to teach ALL the things, then, yes, they're mistaken.

Tremendous praise is due to the wise parents who entrusted their kid to me in the classroom, and yet never let their kid's physical distance be a reflection of a total release of that very special and also important role they earned when the stick turned blue (or two plus signs appeared or said pregnant or whatever it was that it did.)

If Paul and I go forward with homeschooling Thomas, it is because we are so convicted that parents are already educators that our hearts were found open to it.  And if we don't home-school, it will be because we know there is no system, school, or teacher who has enough power to completely overthrow all that brainwashing we've been doing this whole time.  [See, I did try one joke.]

We don't see any form of schooling as a hill worth dying on whether that be public, private, or home-school. There can be so much tension clouding the conversation of educational choices. Parents are twitching with anxiety in comparison, guilt, doubt, or financial burden. Maybe it's best we rest a bit with our choices. We do what is right for our families with the resources we have. We try our best. We change course when needed. Children are much more flexible and adaptable than we give them credit.

Moreover, we know this: no matter where our children put pencil to paper, it is the untold hours of discipline, training, teaching, conversation, and love that we have poured into them each day that they bring to that desk. There will be other things at that desk too. To start with, likely a spicy word carved in with only the flare boredom can muster. But it is my observation that these less savory bits of education, inevitable in every single possible setting we sniff out, matter a great deal less to a child sent with a heart and mind already stuffed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bloglovin' Add

I just started reading blogs via Bloglovin'. I'm not sure what took so long. Let's add each other! :)

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Son Won't Be Going to Preschool

My 1st classroom was in small town Sparta, MO, not far from where I live today. At my arrival, it held an enormous wooden teacher desk, student desks, textbooks stacked on the heating unit, and not a single bookcase (until I later begged, borrowed, or stole from elsewhere in the building). The room was large and the south wall was comprised of tall windows offering a view of Bradford pear trees. The space was a blank slate, especially if I ignored the clumps and clumps of chewing tobacco which had been spat on the windows from the outside for what I imagined a declaration of summer's commencement or some measure of the success which had preceded me.

I was 22 and poor. I eventually pieced together resources to house in room 34, but it was slow going.  One of the first things I did that summer was cut out a blown up quote to glue onto bright paper and hang above my white board.  It took up space & allowed a few students to think twice in a moment (or hour) of boredom.

"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." 
~Mark Twain

It's a seven year leap from that 1st classroom to today, and now I've found myself in the home piecing together my own child's education, his schooling, and the blank slate filling in with color.  Paul and I have been bouncing ideas, concerns, and questions about homeschooling. My friend, Elaine, also has a 4 year old boy and so we've been feasting on homeschooling ideas and concerns together, unpacking our honest feelings for discussion. And as always, I'm reading lots about how kids learn. And all of this is important in taking our next steps as a family in the direction that is right for us and for Thomas, but it's not as notable as the magic in front of me each day.  

Thomas is constantly learning throughout the day at home. Usually, it is on his own time and turf. Making his own connect-the-dot pictures or mazes, cutting out stars for pretend boomerangs, painting, studying something and figuring out how it works (and sometimes driving up by blood pressure as a by-product). We devote a good chunk of time to reading before his nap and spend other times throughout the day spontaneously listening to and looking at words. He picks up information throughout the day in the formal sense (how many legs a spider has) but also in the informal as well ("no, a mommy usually just nurses her own babies, so Aunt Andrea won't be nursing your brothers").  And I definitely don't limit our understanding of education to amassing information or bolstering intelligence. I do what I can to give him life skills, teach him his manners & morals, foster virtues, and ignite his passions.  When those things stick, I feel it's a miracle, but it definitely is not random. 

The longer I'm at home, the more I see preschool for what it is--an excellent experience for children in an outside-the-home child care environment. It gives women who juggle full time jobs or other pressing priorities along with being a mom the gift of knowing their child isn't missing out on exploratory activities and learning experiences.  This is all fine and good until the mother at home internalizes her working friend's kid's attendance at preschool as a reflection of something she must make happen as well. A mom who listens and cares for her kids will intuitively arrange activities or encourage learning or teach skills with hardly a second thought. The pressure to invite formality, I feel, is an unnecessary one. 

I've made a conscious choice to not put Thomas in preschool at home or anywhere else.  I'm not purchasing curriculum or planning activities or pushing us through a series of hoops.  I'll share in another post what I will be doing this upcoming year with him but for now I'll sum it up as this: I will do enough to prepare him with the necessities should he land himself a seat in a formal classroom, but primarily I will be focusing on those things I'm already doing: giving him space & tools to explore, learn, read, and grow. It's pretty simple. 

A gun will shoot this fall at the race to start the school season. My stomach will lurch just as it did last year when my Facebook feed was filled with [am I seeing this right?] photo after photo after photo of "1st day of preschool" sign-holding cuties.  Somehow, in the 25 years since I went to half-day kindergarten, we've grown to assume preschool the norm and often regardless of the economic or working situation of parents sending those kids.  You're sending him in the fall, right?

I don't see anything wrong with parents sending kids to preschool. I just don't feel we (and that's we as in the Anderson family) need to, and I've also felt for a while now that, in answering untold women in public asking me if he will be going this fall or confirming that he's already there (even after we've discussed I stay at home), it's a lot just to say "no, he's just staying home with me."  So I thought I would share that with you just in case you felt or feel it too. 

I always loved that Mark Twain quote hanging bright in my classroom because it applies to all of us. Public schooled. Private schooled. Schooled by your momma. Or, if you're my husband-- a taste tester of many forms of schools & in different places. We all have the capacity to refocus and remember to be lifelong learners and break the confines of the classroom or our degree. However, the easiest way at the age of 4 for my son (and in our situation mind you) to not have his schooling interfere with his education is to not have schooling at all.  

And now your thoughts: What has been your experience with giving your kid/s the preschool experience, in or out of the house? Do you homeschool your kids? If so, when did you "start"? 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oh Boy/s

A couple tears roll down my cheek and I wipe them away in the dark. It’s the winter of 2009 and I’ve just been told the baby inside me is a boy. The prominent display of his man bits laugh at my quiet sadness.  A mother to a boy? What does that look like?

Flashes of rowdy, loud boys devouring claimed contents from my fridge and simultaneously throwing balls and emitting farts (one butt cheek lifted for effect) keyed up in my mind, I let the disappointment sit for a moment in my heart before I took a deep breath, looked over to my happy husband, and booted the negativity for some maybe, hopefully yet-to-be-known positives that are sure to show up with our….son. Wow, a son!

Little did I know. God had big boy-plans for me. Tap, tap yet-to-be-mommy, Ashley. Psst. You’re gonna have 3 boys---in a row...or I guess more like a triangle….but there’s gonna be THREE!!
Alistair found and enjoyed an uncapped marker and also, do girls play-bite shoes?

If it is a physical object, it has been in Thomas’s mouth. His crib looks like it wasn’t a baby who took up residence within but rather a beaver. For the first two years of his life, my stance insisted I was practicing for a quarterback position. Last week, he announced to me through the back screen door, “Mom, I had to go to the bathroom but I just peed right there in my puddle instead, so I’m good!”

Thomas is non-stop either physically or mentally and his strong will and persistent curiosity has me either moving, thinking, watching, teaching, or managing at all moments of the day. Then there’s the twins. Sure, they’re just about the easiest going babies I’ve ever met, but there’s two and they’re buddies and they will surely follow in Thomas’s path of turning carrots into guns and sticks into swords and wrestling/shouting/battle-crying/climbing/exploring their way into a madness with me on the edge, one eyebrow lifted for effect.

It was last Easter season during a car trip home to his parents’ that I spilled my emotions for our family of 4 guys and me. Would it always be that? Will I get overrun by all the guys? How do I raise the opposite sex? Will we ever have nice things? And seriously, I swear I can. not. take. farting so please help me out with this!

Before my feel-y self melted, my husband turned my thought process around and reminded me that we are not victim to our circumstances. As parents, we have the great privilege of nurturing our unique family dynamic. Ours happens to be three sons, so what are we to make of that? The possibilities are endless.  

It’s been a year now since that conversation in the car where Paul pumped me up for doling out project orders to my guy crew and putting trash duty on everyone’s shoulders but mine. I’m surprised what a difference a year can make for the heart. I cherish every day with my kids and the desire I may have had for a girl over 4 years ago has been trumped entirely by living a rich life with the gifts I have been given (even if that means being horrified by the state of the bathroom at least 3 times a week).

A great shift has occurred in my thoughts and I'm very grateful for this change. Instead of thinking about my life with three boys, I’m dreaming up and figuring out what I can do for them. It didn’t seem like I had much to offer at first-- My sword fight quickly dissolves into a dance party--but I’m a woman and I know how wonderful it is when men protect, provide, honor and respect me …. and also know how to cook a meal, iron a shirt, or run the vacuum without a second thought (I’m married to one!)

When I discipline Thomas now, a herd of invisible young women are at my back. Future classmates, crushes, a shadow-silhouette of a wife, an eager daughter.  I assert his responsibility to do right or the need to respect others and I think of how it is my job to help mold his character so he can see a woman's worth, a person’s worth, his worth, and treat all accordingly. It’s so messy most days but more and more I remember what my role is all about.

The humility and purpose in fostering their independence has helped shake me from silly things like fretting the inevitable ER trips up ahead or wishing I could use my spare time perusing Etsy for pink bows.   Being a mom is not about me. I love it. I really, really do and I would love it in any form.  I love tickle fights and building puzzles and adventures outside, but those are really just the perks. They're footnote blossoms to the more important thing-- those deep roots being formed within my gentlemen-in-training:  To seek truth. To know goodness. And to please, for the love of all things and your mother, only do “that” in a field, a bathroom, or on your way taking out the trash.