Thursday, June 30, 2016

Self-Learning Is a Necessity

As we take about three weeks off of school between closing out the last academic year and beginning a new one, I am making final my curriculum plans for three grades: Fourth, Second, and Kindergarten. (I will publish them on this blog, as usual.)

Recently, I had a chance to speak in social settings with some professional school teachers about homeschooling, and the questions were so interesting because it had been years since I had 'stepped out of my bubble.' Virtually all my friends and mentors are homeschooling mothers, so I forget that homeschoolers are atypical.

"But how will you do it? How do you teach all the lessons to all the children?"

The answer is that I don't: It wouldn't be possible. As a homeschooling mother, I am noticing increasingly the necessity in our family to have my children self-learn as much as possible because of the sheer number of subjects I must teach.

From everything I've read and from inquiring of more experienced homeschooling families, by high-school the students should be teaching themselves their own courses and managing their own time. And isn't that the goal? A high-schooler is on the cusp of adulthood, when, theoretically, he or she will be able to get a full-time job, marry, and raise babies! If that young adult can't navigate a textbook or course on a subject he wants to learn, then, Houston, we have a problem.

How we get from these early elementary grades when a lot of hand-holding is required to an independent, self-guided learner in high-school is something I'm trying to learn along this journey.

This year, it looks like I will be teaching daily:

K- Math
K- Phonics
K- Music Theory
K- Penmanship
K- Catechism/Religion
K, 2, 4- Spelling (separate lesson for each student)
2- Math (unless I can transition her to Teaching Textbooks, so she can learn via computer lessons)
4- Composition
CCE Memory Work to all
CCE presentations every other week (children still need hand-holding for those)
Read aloud literature to all
Morning Basket to all

My mind is whirling with realizing just how much there is to teach, even when I've been intentionally teaching the children to be as independent of learners as possible. I still have to teach all the subjects to the Kindergartener, along with Spelling and Math to the other two grades, Composition to the fourth grader, and some more odds and ends . . . while supervising their other subjects, grading everything they complete, keeping the children on task, and occupying the three-year-old and almost-one-year-old (the last of which, at one time, seemed like a full-time job to me).

That is more than a full day!

Learning how to use Teaching Textbooks (math) on the computer

Subjects that the children must learn themselves with minimal supervision:

2, 4- Catechism/Religion
2, 4- History
2, 4- Geography
2, 4- Grammar
2, 4- Literature
2, 4- Penmanship
4- Typing
2, 4- Math
4- Latin
K, 2, 4- Instrument practice and Music Theory
2, 4- Science

I continue to try to wrap my mind around how this is all done. I know it's possible because I see families much larger than mine thriving and producing well-educated students! Step by step, we will get there!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday: Traveling Home from Buffalo

Chris, Pop-Pops, and the three older kids escorted me and the two littlest to the airport on Tuesday morning. We decided to take me to the airport extra early so that I could have my husband's help returning the rental car and getting all the car seats checked in, as I didn't have enough hands; this allowed Chris to get on the road for his 12-hour drive home.

I took the two little boys to a sit-down breakfast at the airport before we found an empty gate in which to run, run!, RUN! off some energy. (Honestly, I felt like such an oddball parent because all around me all the children were zoned out with iPhones and iPads in their hands, wearing their headphones, down to the age of one years old, while I spent three hours walking the terminals with my two little boys in order to wear them out. I did recognize one comrade-in-arms: a married woman traveling alone with her four-year-old boy and twin two-year-old boys, and without even a stroller! We were on the same flight, and she did the same thing: taking them running all over ahead of time. You go, Sister . . .)

Running in an empty terminal

In an answer to prayer, Joseph remained the one child who hasn't caught hand, foot, and mouth yet, and Thomas seemed well (had no bodily fluids coming out that shouldn't be coming out).

Thomas fell asleep in my arms 15 minutes before boarding, which was bad timing because then he woke up when we boarded and remained awake until after we landed (his only other nap being twenty minutes in the car). Meanwhile, Joseph was awake and exuberant for the whole flight (to the consternation of the young man in his 20s who was our seatmate and who presumably didn't have much experience with children), falling asleep during the final five minutes of our descent (the entirety of his nap for the day). Oh well, that is how the cookie crumbles!

Meanwhile, on the road, the two girls (who had the fever about 36 hours prior) were breaking out in the telltale spots, and the car passengers passed the time by mapping and counting their spots.

New River Gorge, WV
The "car team" made it home around 10:00 at night, and I was so glad they joined the "airplane team" safe and sound. Thank you, God!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday in Buffalo

I dub Monday "The Three Hour Tour" (cue Gilligan's Island music) . . . 

We have been staying at the beautifully appointed home of cousins A and G, who were out of town the prior few days, but were coming home. They needed to sleep in after a grueling travel day, so on Monday morning, we decided to load everyone in the car to pick up doughnuts at the local Tom Hortons. It's quite a challenge to keep five children quiet in a sleeping house, so this was a good idea!

Upon waking, four of five children were sick, but they're not so miserable as with something like chicken pox that they are flopping about: they're pretty cheerful with their fever, spots, and contagion.

I had thrown on yesterday's outfit and my teeth and hair weren't brushed, while John and Joseph were still in their pajamas (to be fair: tee-shirts and soft shorts/pants, but still . . .). I ran back in the house to grab shoes for the kids, just in case for some unforeseen reason they would step out of the van. Then I thought, "Maybe I should go grab their bag of medications . . ." but I didn't want to go back in a second time when we'd be back in half an hour.

After picking up doughnuts, we thought, well, maybe we'd stay out a while longer and explore Tonawanda, the township of Buffalo where my parents in law both grew up as children--just a couple of blocks from each other. The children were fine--and they'd subsist on the three doughnuts holes each they'd eaten for breakfast for a while yet.

The home where Chris' paternal grandmother lived with her elderly stepfather until their deaths

The home where Chris' paternal uncle C and his bride A raised their three children
--just around the corner from his mother

The 1,100-square-foot home where my mother-in-law was raised, just several blocks from her future husband, had two bedrooms: one for her parents, one for guests. The eleven children lived in an attic bedroom with a sheet down the middle dividing boys from girls. And today's parents sometimes complain if so much as two children have to share a bedroom! And we (the societal 'we') think our 3,000 square feet just isn't enough!

The home where my mother-in-law was raised

The Amigone Funeral Home is a longstanding business named after the surname of the founding family,
but remains a bit of a point of humor: Am I Gone?

The tour was going well until the baby began crying vociferously, so much so that I had Chris pull over for me to investigate: Poor Thomas had had a big bout of diarrhea, his second since the day before, confirming for me that he is fighting this cocksackie virus as well.

It was so bad people, so bad. We found a local drug store where I purchased baby wipes (because I had run out), Ziplock bags to contain the fouled clothing and to dispose of the hazardous material, and paper towels clean up the car.

It took a half hour to clean up Thomas.

And instead of high-tailing it back to the house before Thomas got sick again, we decided to throw caution to the wind and continue on to Niagara Falls. Now we had a fresh pack of wipes and paper towels, right?

We would be unable to visit the Cave of the Winds, as planned, because we didn't want our contagious children around a lot of people. We figured we'd just drive as near as we could get to the sights, but we were pleased to find a free place to park and walk somewhat close to the falls, so we could see the top from the distance.

The views of what little we could see were majestic . . . although my landlubber kids seemed almost equally excited by seeing seagulls up close. "Look, Mama! Seagulls, seagulls!"

Note that John and Thomas are in sleeping clothing, and none of us girls have so much as run a brush through our hair. Nobody has brushed teeth.

"Baby Thomas, please don't have diarrhea while you're on Mama's back."

By now it was about 10:30 and those three little doughnuts holes were not holding the children's hunger at bay any longer.

We decided to extend our "dash to the doughnut shop" farther by meeting Chris' parents, an uncle, and an aunt at the cemetery to clean grave stones and pray for beloved aunts Veronica and Genevieve. But that meant first getting lunch at a drive through (avoiding going inside public buildings!).

By now the baby was utterly wailing and it occurred to me that I hadn't offered solid food to the poor guy at all that day, so we pulled over and all I could give him at that point were torn up bits of French fries, plus I nursed him again. He did love those French fries.

We enjoyed the visit to the cemetery and it was so good to let the children out of the car to run in the grass with the cool breeze blowing on our skin. They certainly couldn't infect any 'residents' of the cemetery with their virus!

We visited with each other, we cleaned up some overgrown adjacent stones, we shared stories of "Vron and Gen," and we prayed.

Cute baby-in-the-vase photo

It was nearing one o'clock and I had by far exceeded my daily allotment of planned spontaneity (see here) and, like a determined and ruffled little homing pigeon, was desiring to get back to home base and do things like brush my teeth and get my boys out of pajamas.

When we walked in the door, we handed over a dozen doughnuts we had bought for our hosts . . . six hours after we'd stepped out to run a quick errand!

The afternoon was blessedly quiet and restful, and then we ordered pizza and Buffalo wings while we received three families' of visitors who wanted to see us before we left. (These were all families of adults, no little children coming near our bug.) In the evening, John really enjoyed playing basketball, billiards, and catch with a baseball with his 16-year-old cousin M.

Despite the baby happily staying awake till 10:30 at night, Mama held on to her peace by a thread, which was its own small-m miracle.

Tomorrow, we travel home!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday in Buffalo

Sunday did not turn out quite as we had hoped, but there were still sweet and bright moments.

For Mass on Sunday, we found a parish offering the Latin Mass in downtown Buffalo: St. Anthony of Padua, which is a historic, ethnically Italian parish.

It was a beautiful old parish full of charm and a bit of quirkiness, like electric candles and a crucifix in the narthex repaired with duct tape. Chris had visited there twice before in prior years and says the parish has made some good repairs.

There were many statues, nearly a dozen, in the narthex, and there has been put up a glass wall separating the narthex and the church proper so that those with loud babies can stay in back without disturbing the Mass. I enjoyed strolling Thomas along and reading the amazingly Italian names of all the family donor names on the wall!

There is an extensive and interesting museum in the basement which I was greatly looking forward to exploring after Mass, but more on why we didn't do so later.

The parish offers coffee and doughnuts in the parish hall weekly, but this week had a potluck as well to celebrate their priest's one-year anniversary installed at this parish. We had planned on going out to breakfast at a restaurant, but had our fill at the church.

Fr. Justus joined us at our table to eat, so we got how he came from Africa to America. The parishioners were so friendly, including one lady who introduced herself and turned out to be a Margaret Anne (same name as our daughter) and whose father was named Joseph Anthony (same name as our son).

The children flocked around a piano and took turns playing. Eventually, my rather quiet children each took his or her place, at which point a number of the grandmothers and grandfathers of the parish gathered around to offer praise.

One gentleman was so very kind, as he came over to introduce himself with tears starting to brim in his eyes, saying repeatedly, "Thank you for sharing your family with our parish! I hardly have words!" And he described how he had noticed our daughter sitting alone in the front pew (as she does at our regular Mass at home--it's just her preference so she can concentrate), kneeling with a straight back, and how moved he was, how he elbowed his wife to look at her. His joyful watery eyes moved me so much. He said, "You can come to our parish any time! You'd fit right in!"

We were walking to the car when John (having just played the piano at length) asked me to look at his palms, which were covered in red spots (oh--I feel so bad for spreading these germs to those piano-playing boys!). I groaned as I thought of that single sore he'd shown me in his mouth the day prior. I check his mouth: full of spots. I asked him to take off his socks and shoes and, despite his protesting that his feet were just fine, he obeyed and discovered his feet were absolutely covered in spots.

We sat in the car with 'Dr. Google,' decided this was almost assuredly hand, foot, and mouth disease (cocksackie virus), and then navigated our way to a local pediatric urgent care, forgoing the parish museum and the planned tour of the neighborhood were both of Chris' parents grew up.

The doctor at the urgent care declared John the ninth case of hand, foot, and mouth disease she'd diagnosed that morning alone. She said it is 'running rampant' in Buffalo right now, that the incubation period is 24-48 hours (so John caught it here), and he really could have caught it anywhere: a child, an adult, a door knob handle, a restaurant, anywhere.

She confirmed that we shouldn't take the children to the crowning social event of this family reunion because this virus is so highly contagious. She regretfully informed me that I can anticipate all my kids catching it and, while the older kids might get a fairly mild expression, the younger ones would be very uncomfortable . . . those same younger ones I have to escort on a plane by myself in fewer than 48 hours. The doctor told me what over-the-counter medications will help soothe symptoms and told me to watch for dehydration if a sick child has such a sore throat that he doesn't want to drink.

Hand, foot, and mouth is very common, can be contracted repeatedly, and I know quite a few friends who've had it run through their family, but we happen never to have caught it before.

I am practicing my acceptance of God's providence that we are missing such special moments on the first family vacation we've taken since three summers ago. If bad things didn't happen, we would never have an opportunity to practice accepting God's will, right? I tell myself that.

Sweet swim dresses by Dressing for His Glory

Chris went to the party, at my encouragement, and I stayed back with the children, letting the ones who felt well enough play in a baby pool, then watch a movie and eat Popsicles. John couldn't swallow much.

John lasted about five minutes in the pool before deciding he felt too yucky and laid down inside.

Tossing the ball to the dog

Tossing the ball to the dog

By bedtime, the baby and both girls began showing symptoms, and two of the three were feverish along with John. Prayers are appreciated!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday in Buffalo

What a festive day was Saturday! I feel like we've returned to 'the Old Country.' For my husband's family, Buffalo, NY, is the Old Country, so to speak. This is where the roots spread wide and deep beneath the far-reaching branches of the Lauer family tree. (I had Chris sketch out a family tree for me as crib notes before meeting people.)

Our kids are exhausted on this trip. They're getting so shorted on sleep that they keep falling asleep in random places, including sometimes even the older ones.

Before 11:00 a.m., the baby had taken two solid naps.

We visited Cousin C's in the morning again for more tree climbing and general chit chat by the glittering pool.

The weather here is such a relief to the two families here from the South. We find it humorous how the local Buffaloneans are melting in the "humidity" and we are breathing deep the refreshing, brisk winds cooling our skin. Apparently it was 90 degrees today, but I wouldn't have believed you because it felt like 75. (And the cost of living here is so low!)

There are so many American flags and Virgin Mary statues around this town.

Then we drove by caravan to the famous Anderson's for 'beef on weck' and frozen custard. After the delightfully overindulgent meal, we drove to Corfu, the tiny village with the grandiose name, where Chris and his brothers grew up for ten years. More naps were taken along the way.

Joseph passed out from fatigue

Chris was able to tell many stories, but he moved away from the village when he was 10, so we really appreciated having oldest brother D-- with us, since he lived there till age 17 and could share with us many more memories. Corfu is a bedroom community outside of Buffalo--a tiny village so small it has only one stop light (but two bowling alleys and four bars!). A village so stable that Chris' brother D--- was commenting on which houses had been painted a new color (from his living here 35 years ago).

The boys' middle school: place of many escapades

The 'free' library? As opposed to a library for cost?

The decrepit old bowling alley has seen better days and is now for sale.

After hearing so many stories about Chris' family home in Corfu, I was very interested to lay eyes upon it for the first time! The home is on the right, and on the left is a small building also on the property which the family rented out . . . for a time to an ice cream parlor! Imagine the wonder for little boys growing up with an ice cream parlor next door!

When we pulled into the driveway we met a young married couple who was living there.  Chris told them that this was his childhood home and asked if they minded if we snoop around the outside. We stopped to closely inspect where the family had etched their family name 'LAUERS' in the sidewalk and placed all five boys' hand prints, as well as embedding a 1977 penny in the sidewalk.  Chris told the young couple that the sidewalk handprints belong to him and his brothers and the pregnant wife almost burst with emotion.

Cousins by the handprints

Children inserting their hands in their father's and uncles' handprints


1977 penny--Chris was seven the year Katherine was born
In the back yard, Chris pointed out twin pines that were the height of our three-year-old when he lived in the home.

Twin pines

A small town is full of character. D--- and Chris were able to point out the homes of so many character names I've heard over the years, this family and that family--oh, don't you remember that story? When the boys fell through the ice pond, where they went hiking and camping, the place of tragedy for the child who died in the town, where the escaped prisoner was found, the railroad tracks by the feed mill that were location of so much hanging-out time, the neighbor's home to which the three-year-old brother ran away one day . . . .

Besides the many Virgin Mary statues and American flags (on 20-foot flag poles in the ground) in this predominantly Catholic and conservative area, there are interesting decorations, like the below wooden Statue of Liberty with a sign cheering about the upcoming presidential transition.

We were all curious about this storefront now for rent that advertised (twice) that it is a "sterile environment" where walk-ins are welcome.

We stopped in at the parish where Chris was baptized and received his First Holy Communion: these visits are so special to a Catholic. Next door to the parish was the rectory and next door to that, the home-and-office of the doctor in town.

The three youngest had napped for much of the drive through Corfu, and then any wakeful children had fought like cats and dogs, so we were so happy to head over to C---'s house (a different C) for a back yard birthday party.

Oh--and the back yards here are so charming and beautiful! Generally, I'm not seeing any fences in between back yards, so the huge back yards merge seamlessly into each other and one can see far down the street. If there are fences, they seem usually to be half-height chain link fences, so they create little visual barrier. This creates such huge lawn areas for children to run free!

Some family mystery is being clarified for me. I come from a very different family culture, much more New England WASP, for all its endearing qualities and quirky ones. (Need a primer on WASP culture? Go read "Cold Comfort Farm.") Chris comes from a huge, extended Catholic family, and this entire branch of it all live within three miles of each other: they help each other all the time, grandmas babysit many times per week, they zip over at the drop of a hat ('I've got to dash out, would you come get the baby in five minutes? Great!'). I can't even fathom how different (better) homeschooling-five-children-with-a-traveling-husband life would be with extended family support.

This event was a birthday party for a number four child turning one . . . and I counted twenty-eight cars parked outside for the party, the party which was characterized to me repeatedly as "no big deal, really casual."

The parents did an absolutely beautiful job with this party and it seemed bigger and more welcoming than my wedding. Chris' family members are always so open with hospitality, having people over with no notice whatsoever, cooking up huge amounts, visiting at all hours. This is not my strength (poor Chris' patience has been so tried in this area) and something that has remained a foreign mystery to me for ten years, but I am getting to see this trait so strongly expressed here that it is getting through my hard WASP-y shell. (Combine a WASP and an introvert and you've got a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton.)

The birthday party was baseball themed with darling Americana decorations everywhere (extra fun so close to Independence Day). Activities for the innumerable children were a kiddie pool, a Slip-N-Slide, football, water balloons, a swing set, and a baseball game. The snacks put out were a beautiful spread of chips and hot nacho sauce, pretzel bites, Cracker Jacks, Babe Ruth mini candy bars, red licorice, and so many cold drinks. Later the dinner spread was hot dogs from the grill, chili, pasta and green salads, and a rice dish. The Number One cake was absolutely precious . . . and all went well until Joseph (3) ate so much that he threw up voluminously right in the walkway by the deck where all the food was being served, and then he ran so fast down the driveway that he fell and, for the second time that day, busted open his knee so badly that the blood flowed down his leg.

John showed such joy playing baseball,
it makes this mother's soft heart want to enroll him in baseball (and I dislike sports).

I mean, seriously, for our one-year-old's birthday we might bake (buy?) cupcakes and have nobody over. It wouldn't even occur to me to celebrate with 'outsiders.' But look how much fun we had for hours upon hours, and we left with the party still in full swing! (And Chris' extended family wouldn't even recognize anybody being an 'outsider' because everybody is somebody and, hey, join the party!)

Playing football catch with Daddy

Mary, the little mother hen, was in heaven with so many babies present (at least eight babies under one, including two sets of twins). Here she made a "baby picnic" where she fed them all Ritz crackers and crooned over them.

After four events that day, and Joseph utterly melting down in screaming tears, we couldn't make it to our planned fifth, evening event hosted by my mother-in-law's best friend of fifty-odd years. We felt so badly about disappointing family who had put out a spread for us, but everyone just tumbled into bed like tired little puppies.

Tomorrow is another day of Mass and a BIG family party to welcome us out-of-towners.