Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Attempting to Micromanage in the Early Years

Chocolate chip pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

The baby is nearly seven months old and, slowly, ever slowly, life is becoming more predictable. Therefore, I hatched an (old) new plan to make our school time More Organized, and positively militaristic . . . like Institutional School!

I sat down and I created a chart.

It was such a beautiful chart.

I created four columns, one for each child, and many rows for each time slot or "rotation," if you will. Rather than spend my school time trying to teach John and Mary while frequently shooing away Margaret and Joseph, and juggling a baby on my knee, I would engage everyone.

This would be my very own One Room School House!

If our American Pioneer children were successfully educated in a one-room schoolhouse, why not my children? (Because the American Pioneer schoolhouses had no one under about age eight or nine in them, right? That's why . . . )

Each child would be engaged with her loving mother. Yes, I realized it would be hard to teach a 3-year-old how to sit at the table with us, and even the 4-year-old, but I'm already struggling with their regular interruptions for fighting because they're being left bored and unsupervised. I would "pick my poison" and having them totally engaged with me would be better.

My beautiful chart showed the work we would do before breakfast, during our school morning, and in the afternoon. Every time slot (which I estimated at 10-20 minutes each, depending on the subject) had every child occupied.

Perhaps my readers would like to relish this chart like I did . . .

I, for one, didn't hear God guffawing at my attempt to make my life with five children nine and under as militaristic and predictable in its organization as an institutional classroom full of same-aged students, a teacher, and a teacher's assistant. But maybe you could see the punch line before I did . . .

Today I tried to follow my new chart.

Today . . . when the children slept too late, so the up-early-baby was falling asleep in his high chair during breakfast because we'd already run up against his first nap time.

Today . . . when the exhausted baby didn't nurse to sleep quickly, but required me to attempt about six times to sneak away before I was successful, during which time the children were left unsupervised downstairs watching a video for History ("The Early Christians").

Today . . . when I was trying to juggle simultaneously cooking a meal for a parishioner who just had a baby. so I was teaching Memory Work while marinading chicken.

Today . . . when the baby's first nap was ridiculously short, so he woke up with a piercing cry when I was literally pulling out our first textbook.

Today . . . when the baby screamed inconsolably for about an hour, so loud that the children couldn't hear me screaming out instructions, nor could I hear them answering me from two feet away. (As an aside, I think he was teething because I can see the white tooth trying to bulge through and he returned to his chortling happy and flirtatious self soon after I gave him ibuprofen.)

Baby passed out from exhausted crying after the ibuprofen kicked in,
Mama trying to teach spelling while everyone whispered

By the end of my morning spent trying to soothe a hysterical baby while teaching school according to my new schedule, I was screaming at the top of my lungs and slamming my hand on the desk, revealing just how thin is my emotional reserve, my cushion that makes me think it is me responsible when things are going well and which is revealed to be as sheer as veneer when things are going badly.

I have to face that Home School is not School at Home. It doesn't look like how I grew up attending institutional schools, nor probably should it.

Little tiny children, especially those five years and under, and particularly babies, cannot be organized into a rigid chart. Their sleep fluctuates, they have urgent potty and diaper needs, feeding requirements, random illnesses, and big, strong emotions.

Homeschooling when one has a range of children, down through the young years, like I do currently is like running a daycare for tiny tots and then trying to teach elementary school in the same room, at the same time. Nobody would do that because that would be crazy, right?

So, I will return to the beloved spiral notebook lesson planning with my trusty No. 2 pencil that has served me so well for nearly the last year. I will return to trying to have a daily big vision without micromanaging the minutes. I will return to keeping all the children close enough to me but without planning their every minute. I will return to continuing to try to teach my older two students to work independently on as many subjects as possible.

I can only hope that our Home School is living life at home, raising our family, while we guide children toward a love of self-directed learning.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

First Confession for Mary

Mary Genevieve participated in the sacrament of her First Confession on Saturday morning, praised be God!

Before her First Confession

Now, I think the devil was after us yesterday and that he really didn't want Mary to receive this Sacrament or for our family to have a peaceful, joy-filled day.

I was, frankly, clueless about how this first sacrament is celebrated. I am an adult-convert, so my first confession was not done in a class full of children. Also, when John had his first confession three years ago, I was four days postpartum with a baby who couldn't nurse and whose weight was plummeting into the 5-pounds, Chris took our son to his sacrament on our behalf, and I was in such a fog that I didn't even mention it on my blog (and you know that's bizarre!).

Mary has been doing her catechesis at home with us, instead of in the inconveniently timed Faith Formation classes at church, and, while I know her catechesis is very good, this means I miss out on pragmatic details like what to expect at First Confession with all her classmates from church.

Devouring her new book back at home

The devil first poked a stick into the wasps' nest in a dramatic way: we woke up Friday without heat downstairs. Just a few weeks ago, our upstairs heater breathed its last, we patched it together, and now the downstairs has failed. These are old units, and we are experiencing temps down into the 20s, so we scheduled a company to give us a consultation as soon as possible . . . in fact, the next morning, right during Mary's First Confession.

No problem, right? Chris would stay home and deal with the repair man, I would take Mary to church . . . with the baby, as always . . . 'and, hey, would you also take Margaret with you?' (who is currently our most cantankerous child and the one we try to separate out from the gang often). I figured I was dropping off Mary for this sacrament, so I could use the time to have some one-on-one time with Margaret, which always helps her be sweeter. Win-win.

The girls bickered badly the entire drive to the church, and I was so deflated from being entirely impotent to stop fighting among my children for so long (and I know mothers who currently have large families of littles know exactly what I mean), that I just prayed my rosary, loudly, and cried while I drove. I'd given up and just figured God had to handle it at this point.

We arrived at church and I checked in Mary, asked when I should be back to get her. The nun and teachers were so nice about it all, assuring me that they would especially watch out for her, and so forth, leaving me kind of confused. Why especially look out for her? Aren't they looking out for all the 50-odd children being dropped off?

I was literally walking out the door when I saw inside the church that every other child had at least one parent, and often both parents plus all siblings, sitting with him or her in the pews! This was a Wonderful Family Event, with everyone dressed as if for Mass, being supportive, making fond memories.

I was mortified at my total ignorance and failing. I had already sent in Mary alone, and she was kneeling dutifully, starting her Holy Hour, her little veiled head alone in the pew.

Consultations ensued, I called home to Chris, and then I dragged my crawling baby and 4-year-old-who-never-stops-speaking-or-making-weird-noises into the church to sit with Mary and Be Supportive.

That lasted about ten minutes.

Then I took my loud little ones out to the narthex (a church lobby, for any readers who don't know church lingo) to wait for an hour. We could not use either cry room because both are adjacent with thin walls to the Confessionals themselves, and we could not wait outside because of temps barely out of the 30s. It was an awkward hour out in the narthex, still trying to keep my baby from repeatedly crawling to the lit prayer candles and pulling up on the candle stand and my 4-year-old to please, please!!! stop squeaking so loudly and treating the tiles like hopscotch.

Doesn't she look like a more mature Catholic?

Of course, the devil didn't entirely win: Mary had her sacrament. She came out smiling so shyly and told me all about how it went, in gushing words from my Big Girl Catholic.

The day continued to be 'off,' though . . . I tried to combine needed errands with having a girls' morning out: We went shopping for shoes at the consignment store (big emotions there), and we tried to buy craft supplies to make St. Valentine's Day cards--but there was no red construction paper in the whole store and the girls actually got into a physical brawl in the aisles--and I tried to take them to lunch at a fun soda shoppe to celebrate Mary's First Confession, but there was standing room only, so we settled for drive-through fast food.

And, really, the rest of my day went about the same . . .

So, I failed at having peace all day, but Mary got her sacrament! Ha, so there, Satan! One more Catholic on her way to a life of Confession and the Eucharist. Sometimes the battle doesn't look pretty--this didn't look like a picture perfect family day of a first sacrament--but a win is a win in the end.

Friday, February 5, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday


I was positively fĂȘted this week! First our anniversary, then my birthday--what fun!

A final anniversary surprise from Chris was that he sponsored the flowers at both the church where we married and our current parish on Sunday in honor of our anniversary.

My birthday was darling, with doughnuts in the morning, and various friends sending well wishes, flowers, and a balloon! Chris and my/his parents showed such thoughtful attentiveness through their gifts to me.

Flowers and a balloon from girlfriends

My dad--an inveterate bread baker himself--knows that I'm a couple of months into my latest 'streak' of trying to bake all our own bread. He gave me The Bread Pal: a most excellent guide for slicing homemade bread in thin and even slices.

Now I can entrust my kids to cut their own toast in the morning without hacking off a three-times too wide slices of bread.


One day the girls asked me to print out some color-by-number princess pages from online for them. I had a few moments, so searched on Google Images, but, in a streak of bad luck, the first five or six I clicked on were for purchase instead of for free. I was flustered and hurried, so I said the girls would just have to do without as I wasn't finding any free printables quickly enough.

To my delight, I heard one say to the other, "I know! Let's go make our own!" They raced off and later, the four-year-old returned with a Princess color-by-number sheet for me to color. She had coded her numbers so I would know which color was which. Then I was supposed to color in the 'gemstones' on the princess' gown.

Margaret's story, written all by herself

Having an emerging writer means learning great deciphering skills concerning both spelling, (lack of) punctuation, word order, and word placement on the page. The above reads: "Super Girl. Once there was a girl and a cat. The cat ran away but Super Girl came and saved the cat. The End."


How quickly Mama takes for granted having a Big Helper to take everywhere with her, such as taking 7-year-old big sister to help me with the baby at my doctor's appointment.


Milestone alert! Thomas is officially crawling at 6-1/2 months old. One week ago, I could leave him sitting on the floor, and the next week, I can't leave him in a room with an ungated stairway down--saved him just in time!--or near the bathroom, where he can crawl in the wink of an eye to retrieve the toilet brush from behind the bowl--didn't save him in time from those germs!

Thomas can go from sitting to crawling to tummy time and push back up on all fours and back into the sitting position. He can even pull himself up almost all the way to standing! However, the big lug cannot roll over anymore.

He learned how to roll over both ways at an age-appropriate time, but then grew so fat that, at 22 pounds, he can't roll himself. Now, if I want to leave him for a moment and know he won't crawl away, I lay him on his back and he is stuck there like a happy beetle, chubby limbs flying akimbo in the air.

In other baby news, he took even more to solids this week and went from eating 1/2 teaspoon in a sitting to eating 2 oz in a sitting, crying more for every bite. Today he tried a muffin and liked that too!


The Laundry Update

As my friends saw on Facebook, a few weeks ago I posed a question about the various ways parents teach children to do laundry. Does Mom just do it all, teaching the kids in a crash course before they fly the nest? Do all the kids pitch in with Mom for a laundry folding party? Does Mom hand off laundry formally to the children, and, if so, do the children have ownership of their own basket or do they "take a day" of the family laundry?

We had a very fruitful and active Facebook thread conversation with something like fifty contributions! I learned that many different ways work for different families.

We are now several weeks into our new laundry experiment.

The boys' room has a new laundry hamper and the girls' room has a new laundry hamper. John is 9, so I've given him ownership of doing all the boys' laundry. He is actually quite enjoying and taking pride in his new responsibility . . . until it comes time to put the laundry away. He struggles with that last aspect of the chore, as do so many adults, but I'm not too worried about his transition.

Mary is 7 and expressed interest in taking over the girls' laundry, so I'm letting her try. She is showing two years' less maturity in it all, with erratic interest in actually doing the laundry when the hamper is full. If she isn't ready, I'm just going to take it back over due to her youth. In the meanwhile, I have been engaging her to fold the rest of laundry with me and that change is going very well.

Overall, now I'm doing clothing laundry only two days per week instead of six days per week. I am delighted about this!!!


More thoughts on how I love the flexibility of homeschooling . . . I still enjoy Right Start Math very much, and John is moving along through it well.  I noticed that Right Start was dabbling in introducing multiplication, so I paused those daily lessons and diverted John to doing Math-It's "Timz It" program in order to learn and then memorize his times tables. I just love how Math It teaches these things that must eventually be memorized so very much . . .


In your charity, please pray for our Mary (7) who is having her First Confession on Saturday morning.

Check out more 7 Quick Takes Friday over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mary's Violin After a Year and a Half

Forewarning: This is a "grandparents' post," meaning that I think only close family members will really want to listen to this many video clips of my daughter playing violin. But, of course, anyone is welcome!

Her favorite practice spot by the window

I haven't filmed Mary playing violin in months, so I took advantage of a baby sleeping on my back during today's thorough lesson in which Mary's teacher ran her through her Suzuki Book 1 repertoire. That day they weren't working through the variety of non-Suzuki songs she plays as well (e.g., Over the Rainbow, Brahm's Lullaby, Ode to Joy, America, Greensleeves, Battle Hymn of the Republic, El Condor Pasa).

Mary is 7 years old and has been playing violin for 18 months.

Joseph is mesmerized by Mary's violin

Given that I grew up watching my mother play the fiddle, it is emotionally meaningful to me to see this daughter of mine take to the violin. In fact, I asked her tonight whether violin or piano was her favorite, and was surprised to hear her say (at least in that moment!) that violin is her love.

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"


 "May Song"


"O Come Little Children"


 "Song of the Wind"


 "Long Long Ago"




 "Perpetual Motion"


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mama's Birthday

For my birthday, I made lemonade out of lemons . . . 

Last night, the 6-month-old very uncharicteristically screamed from 1:30-3:30, then woke crying again at 4:30 and 5:30, followed by the 3-year-old being up for the day as normal at 6:00. I came downstairs to face the last year of my thirties and bleary-eyed to find the only source of coffee in the house was a nice fresh can of whole coffee beans--when we do not own a coffee grinder! And my work-from-home husband would be on business travel all day.

So, I loaded up my five blessings and headed to the neighborhood Dunkin' Doughnuts to buy birthday doughnuts to share and enough coffee to last me all day.

Then a dear girlfriend whose husband is also out of town invited me to ditch my normal afternoon household duties to join her at her house for a playdate and delivery pizza dinner to celebrate my birthday. I really appreciated the conversation, fun, and distraction!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reading Aloud Challenge

We completed the Read Aloud Revival 31-Day Winter Read-Aloud Challenge!

Visiting Amelie's in reward for another great week of music practice

I admit, this required work on Mama's part. My children were interested in participating because of the prizes drawn out of a hat at the end, but they still required reminders daily. Mama's brain is about ready to explode with everything I have to keep track of, so adding one more item (times three kids) wasn't nothin'. I asked them a couple of times if they were really still interested, and they expressed firmly that they were and requested that I give them daily reminders.

Who needs to eat a croissant when one can eat up this big guy?

At Quiet Time, I would often ask the children if they wanted to take turns reading aloud to me while I lay down on the couch for half an hour, and they'd leap at the chance. We did all manner of reading aloud: one sibling reading to another, a big sibling reading to a little sibling to occupy her during school time, reading to someone at their nap time or bed time, reading to a visiting grandparent.

John started a new book, "Crossbows and Crucifixes" by Henry Garnett, which intrigued Mary so much that she has insisted on being present for all of John's reading aloud because she wants to participate in the story. Just this kind of sibling togetherness was the topic of an entire podcast published by Read Aloud Revival some months ago.

John reading aloud to us at Amelie's

I think the point of the Read Aloud Revival was to give kids a reason (prizes) to rediscover the joy of reading aloud to other people. Before we had radio and then television and now the Internet, people--families--made their own entertainment for each other, some of which was playing music for each other, much of which was reading aloud to each other. I'm always striving to introduce more of that interaction into our family--and battling the allure of television and screen time makes it a never-endingly uphill battle.

Mary finished "Heidi" by Johanna Spyri

I felt like the whole month of parental reminders and nudges was worthwhile when we were at Amelie's on Saturday, sitting down to eat pastries, when one child remarked, "I sure wish we had brought a book to read to each other."

Mama replied, "Well, isn't it fortunate you have me for a mama? Look what I have in my purse . . . "

A bookworm never leaves home without a book!

John and Mary read the required 25 of 31 days in order to enter the drawing for prizes over at Read-Aloud Revival. About a week earlier, Margaret had come to me in such a mature way and said, "Mama, I think this contest is too old for me. I want to stop doing it." I was proud of her! (FYI, the event was for ages 3+, so pre- or emerging readers were allowed to open a picture book and tell the story, as they know it, to anyone who would listen.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday


We are excited about our home team going to the Super Bowl this year! The children colored Panthers helmets to celebrate the news. Margaret felt very clever remembering and writing down "A Christmas Story" quote to her drawing: "P.S. Yl soot yr i ot"!

Margaret just loves coloring and writing these days. I often stumble upon her coloring quietly in the Colorama book--where she'll stay for an hour!


The cough and fever slowly made its way through the kids, John first, Joseph and Thomas second, and then the girls. I took the boys to the doctor and, happily, they had no infections (e.g., ear).

So sick, he fell asleep while I was reading aloud
I always think it remarkable that kids with coughs can seem to be getting better during the daytimes, but the nighttime reveals the truth of their hacking, wretched misery, depriving Mama of sleep. I made a prudent choice for my own sleep-deprived mental health and to avoid excessive loss of temper to do half-time school all week.

Sick, red eyes at the doctor's office

Lots of baby cuteness this week . . .

Thomas has now tried about one scant teaspoon each of sweet potatoes, bananas, carrots, and avocado--the latter of which is his top favorite, causing him to learn forward and open his baby bird mouth for each bite.


Thomas can't pull up to standing, but if I lean him against something, like the crib rail, he can hold himself. (Safety note: He never gets laid in the crib while awake, and he can't pull up, which is why the crib mattress isn't yet lowered.)

You know your six-month-old is a big ol' baby when one easily makes the mistake of putting the three-year-old's shirt on him, and it fits pretty good. Also, I learned this week that he's no small three-year-old: we went for Joseph's well-child visit, and he is in the 94th percentile for height and 84th percentile for weight. (I looked at my past records to learn that our first three kids were pretty consistently in the 40th to 50th percentiles.)


This baby is so close to proper crawling!

My books, organized so neatly by genre, are already in danger, as we are all too soon about to enter the stage in which the baby crawls to bookshelves and pulls all the books off the shelves repeatedly. Look what this boy is doing already this week!


Sleeping boys are so precious!


As I've said, I love the aspect of homeschooling that one can speed up or slow down per subject, per kid, as needed.

Last year, I determined to teach John cursive because he was in second grade and that's when one "should" learn. His fine motor skills were not ready, it was a crash-and-burn situation, and I gave up. Somehow, over the summer--and, frankly, we'd entirely dropped penmanship as a subject for about a year during our survival months--his fine motor skills made a big leap in ability and his script handwriting became much better. A couple of weeks ago, he's the one who picked up his cursive penmanship book and began writing and it was so much better! (No photo of his work.)

In the meanwhile, Mary (first grade) has taught herself cursive from John's copybook and Margaret (4) is desperately trying to copy her big sister.

So, John was "behind" on cursive and two kids are "ahead" on cursive, so I'm going to start teaching cursive to all now. I love that flexibility. My first step is to start writing all their daily assignments in cursive to accustom them to reading it. They scoffed at me, informed me that they could read it just fine, and proved it to me. Who knew? Not me.

Mama writing in cursive

And then we'll launch into cursive penmanship lessons!


I will tolerate much in an effort to keep the three-year-old happy and calm during school. On Friday morning (home sick from CCE), he was sitting on my lap--of course, not happy elsewhere--putting star stickers on his face while I taught math.

Cute boy with star sticks on his face,
John doing spelling on the floor in the background

So focused on teaching math to Mary and dictating spelling to John was I that only after school, after teaching lessons, after scolding with solemn face at times, was I in the bathroom and notice that the boy had put star stickers all over my face as well! I must have looked pretty silly while I doled out discipline at times, but the big kids never said a word!

That's some disciplinarian!


Bonus reading: two articles on technology and children that crossed my computer screen this week . . .

"A Thought-Provoking Experiment Showed What Happens When Children Don't Have the Internet for a Whole Day" (and really, would this be much different with us adults?)

"Ten Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned"

Check out more 7 Quick Takes Friday at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy Tenth Anniversary!

Ten years ago today . . . 

And ten years later . . .

The family looking at Mama and Daddy's wedding album

The family looking at Mama and Daddy's wedding album

Margaret solemnly presented me with a "diamond" necklace for our anniversary.

Roses from Chris
Family celebration for our anniversary: Our cup runneth over!

We went out for dinner as a family for our anniversary, which was festive. Chris and I were praying the whole time for success and it was one of our best dinner outings ever--despite the fact that the two littlest boys were sick and were both ready to go to sleep for the night as we were instead loading up the car at 5:30 to go out to eat! The children showered us with homemade cards and artwork. A good time was had by all.

Chris and I plan to go out alone-with-the-baby to celebrate this weekend when his parents come to visit.

I've been thinking a lot this week about how ignorant I was ten years ago about what life would look like. I certainly thought that ten years in, I would know how to be a good wife, a good mother, and a good homemaker! Each day, we're trying to figure it out.

And on that note, I share this nice blog post I came across just yesterday: "When You Think Your Love Story Is Boring" by Lisa-Jo Baker