Thursday, April 23, 2015

Joe the Bullfrog

After the sorrowful loss of our baby robin--poignantly, we found the nest several days too late--we have a new backyard "pet": a frog!

Peering around the digging pit

The children came running inside with their mud-encased feet screaming breathlessly about having found a huge frog in their digging pit--this is the area in the backyard where they are allowed to dig to their hearts' content and which is currently muddy from rainwater.

A frog settled into an abandoned Frisbee

I believe they have found a true Bullfrog (Rana Catesbeiana)! Despite all protests and pitches, the children are forbidden to disturb the amphibian or try to make a "new and better" home for the critter they have named Joe.

Believed to be a bullfrog

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Our Grand Day Out

Today we enjoyed a Grand Day Out from our typical routine. Is anyone else always a little stung when the kids cry joyously, "Yay! No school today!"? 

We had scheduled dental appointments in the morning, including the first one for Margaret (4), about which she was excited.

Witnessing children reading in waiting rooms causes strangers to ask me, "Do you homeschool?"
Joseph--'reading' upside down--kept announcing, "Chapter One!"

Mary (6) kept leaping out of her chair
to tell me excitedly what was happening next
in the story of the Civil War.
Despite the fact that this pediatric dentist's office has a TV-viewing room and a video-gaming room, this Mean Mama packs books for the children and makes them read.

I told them that their big treat was going to be watching the movie playing during their actual dental exam, thereby making myself look magnanimous when really I was reinterpreting the inevitable, considering that there is a TV screen mounted in front of each exam chair!

When Joseph (2) kept asking, "When is my turn?" the friendly dentist handed him his own pair of sunglasses, invited him onto Margaret's chair, and gave him a 30-second examination plus his own "goodie bag" of toothbrush accessories.

Joseph and Margaret's first exams

For an enjoyable change of scenery, I took the children out to lunch instead of packing Yet One More Brown Bag. In fact, I realized that I had an opportunity to shop for John's needed Mass pants, so I took us to lunch at the food court at the mall.

The mall!

Likely, only my oldest children have ever been in a mall and then probably as toddlers. Mary (6) walked through a department store, particularly the shoe and makeup departments, with her hands clutched to her heart and a look of adoration in her glistening eyes.

These kids don't even come with me into the grocery store, so seeing thousands of items of gorgeous clothing was a new experience for them.

I'd like to give kudos to the South Park Mall for its fabulously well-designed family bathroom. It is a spacious, rectangular room with an adult-sized toilet plus a preschooler-sized toilet, a diaper-changing table, a comfortable sofa, and an adult-sized sink plus a child-sized sink. Taking four children and hauling this pregnant belly to the restroom in public is daunting anyway, but the South Park Mall designers made it quite convenient!

The children saw a real live 'mall cop' riding a Segway and pointed in awe. "What's that?!" I explained that a Segway is a riding device to save people like security guards from exhausting their legs all day. One of the children commented sagely, "It has a gyroscope in it. Two wheels just don't balance that way."

Riding in the elevator, someone exclaimed, "This elevator is amazing!" Then the elevator voice announced, 'You have reached the third floor.' My child gasped in hushed tone, "And it talks!"

The talking elevator

I buy almost all of the children's clothing used at consignment and thrift stores or receive it as hand-me-downs, but John needed some new Mass clothes and I've found those are one thing it can be easier to buy new. So, probably for the first time, I took the children to the mall and we shopped for John, which surely made his head spin. I showed him how it worked to go try on clothing in the dressing rooms and the girls could not be pulled away from the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in front of which they were inventing interpretive dances to the department store Muzak.

Mama had been smart at our overpriced lunch by confiscating the cookies that came with each child's meal. I spotted those cookies and thought, "That's motivation!" When it was time to leave the mall and the children wanted to examine everything sparkly or neon in the shoe department, I announced that kids buckled in their seats in the van would get cookies . . . and out we marched!

Lastly, we buzzed straight to swim class and to drop off a delivery to complete our Grand Day Out.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

Bonus Reading: "Are These Just Words or Do We Really Believe It?" On children being "blessings," yet much of what we voice are complaints.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"The Cat in the Hat"

Our last children's theater of the season was Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat." It was delightfully zany, just the way children enjoy.

Joseph stayed in the play area of the library being watched by our dear friend Mrs. D---- and her young tots.

When we were driving away, I asked the children what were their favorite parts of the play. Each child piped up, including Joseph (27 months) who answered, "Playing with Millie!"

Emergency Essentials

We were warned of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and hail on Monday evening. The weather had just passed through Atlanta and was headed east our way.

The essentials

At the dinner table, Chris prepared the children (not in a scary way) of a possible tornado and reminded them of our safest room where we would hide, if need be: the downstairs bathroom.

Mary (6) decided that prudence dictated she excuse herself from the dinner table momentarily to retrieve the absolute essentials, which she placed in the bathroom: the books she's currently reading (she could be in there a long time) and her beloved Monkey.

Better safe than sorry.

Squeezing Margaret In

On Monday I was able to leave Joseph napping at home where Chris was working while taking the other three to swim lessons.

Reading a "fluency page" in All About Reading

This freed me up to give Margaret (4) a reading lesson while we waited for her bigger siblings.

Reading a real story in All About Reading

In All About Reading 1, she graduated to starting to read her first Real Story in a Book. This is a milestone for a little one about which she was excited. I chuckled to see the same psychological or emotional hurdles that my first two readers had to overcome. Even though Margaret can read many words in a row from a practice page, but she clammed up at a Real Story . . . in a Real Book!

"Mama, there are so many pages!"

"That's okay, we're just on this one page."

"There are so many sentences!"

"But we're just looking at this one word."

So, as I've learned, we proceed slowly. Even though she can read more, I don't want to overwhelm an early reader, so we read just the one or two sentences in the story before she is daunted, then we pick it up again later.

Reading a real story in All About Reading

I suffer Homeschooling Mother Guilt that I can't give my third child the same attention as my first or even second received. Part of why #2 read so early is because she demanded lessons, which I had time to give her. Now #3 demands, begs, and wheedles for reading lessons also, but I only have time to sit with her maybe once or twice per week for ten minutes. In order for us to finish the older children's schoolwork, I am working with them intensely (even with their increased independence) from 9:00 to 11:30--which is my goal for stopping time. After that we're busy like clockwork with recess, lunch, afternoon outings (e.g., swim), tidy-up time, dinner cooking, dinner eating, reading hour, and bedtime. What am I supposed to cut out of our days?

So, my wishing-to-read-more Margaret waits for me not-so-patiently and I wonder how on earth I will, in just over a year, add a real Kindergartner into our mix.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nice Little Bird

On Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in a lawn chair on the driveway, watching the children play. My precious 27-month-old walked over to me from across the yard, saying soothingly, "Nice little bird. Nice little bird." He had something in his hand, which I presumed was a rock or bit of broken branch.

As he got closer, I saw fuzz!

I ran over to him to free a wee nestling from his fingers and saw it was still breathing.

Newborn baby bird

We asked Joseph to show us where he found the bird and we searched the area high and low--all the trees, the 20-foot shrubs, any crevices or nooks in the brick wall of the neighbor's home. We couldn't find the nest anywhere.

Any time the baby bird heard us or felt us jiggle his bowl, he opened his mouth wide for food. So pathetic!

I searched online: our local raptor center receives only raptors, and neither the SPCA nor the County seem to take birds. The various online sources for wild birds all described creating a "false nest" for the bird and hoping the parents will find it.

A false next, built according to instructions

Unfortunately, as we had tried to prepare the kids, the bird was not found by his mommy and daddy, nor did he survive the night. In the morning, we buried him.

A rock marks its gravestone

Our six-year-old chose to skip French toast breakfast and sat outside in the rain by the bird's gravesite for nearly an hour.

Our four-year-old drew a picture of the baby bird falling out of its nest, with the caption, "I love the bird that fell from the tree."

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? 
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." (Matthew 10:29)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Recital April 2015

On the heels of a dinner date with my 8-year-old, I had two other special times with the other children!

Dressed in pink and ready to go
On Saturday, the girls and I went to the ol' Super Cuts for hair trims and then shopping at the consignment store to fill in the few gaps in their spring-summer wardrobes.

Then on Sunday morning, we split Masses (due to Joseph being out of sorts), so I got to take only Margaret with me. It was delightful to hear her four-year-old chatter without her being interrupted or correct incessantly by bigger siblings.

On Saturday evening, John and Mary performed in a recital. Their teachers like them to perform every couple of months to learn about the art of performing and also to have incentive to bring their pieces up to the standard of being performance-ready. Unfortunately, we had only four days' notice for this recital (when we realized we were booked all the way through the next two months, so we'd better get on the recital calendar ASAP), so their songs weren't as polished as they might have been.

Nonetheless, they enjoyed their time, especially at the reception afterwards!

Mary performed three variations of Suzuki's "Twinkle" (one not recorded) and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."

John performed "Indian Dance," "Pyramid Power," and "Softly Whisper."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

One-on-One Time with Children

On Friday evening, my big eight-year-old son took me on a dinner date. It was at Daddy's gentle suggestion, but John did all the nervous asking and hosting of the outing. He took me to Olive Garden, to which the thrifty boy had a gift certificate, and he paid for the remainder with his debit card, which I let him carry in his pocket for this event. (Did you know when you open a child's bank account nowadays, instead of receiving the little paper tracking books we received as children, the child receives a debit card? Makes sense in this modern world.)

After a number of silly photos . . . 

Always a jokester

. . . we got one handsome picture.

But still a handsome guy

I don't go on many errands so I don't get those opportunities for taking one child along for one-on-one time. I find it is a real challenge for Mama to leave Home Base, where I am simultaneously supervising one child practicing violin, cooking a meal, pausing to change a diaper, planning our meals for the week on the white board, and cleaning the kitchen. (And forget the whole first year of having a baby when I'm nursing my babies-who-don't-use-pacifiers every half an hour.) A husband just can't step into those shoes, so I find it so much easier to ask him to dash to Trader Joe's for these six items: he does that and has many opportunities to take along one child for special time. It's gotten so that he does most of our errands out of the home.

I hardly knew what to do with myself having just one child in my presence--and an older child with whom it is pleasant to interact! When I got to go two hours without making one behavioral correction, it left me reflecting how my voice is generally spewing corrections (which are getting more and more sharp and nasty) daily from waking till bedtime. Does a minute go by without my correcting somebody's behavior? Not too often. And that just plain isn't cheerful to be around! Giving and receiving so many corrections makes all of us crabby.

But I can't just remain silent about needed corrections times four kids--so what's a Mama to do? I don't know the answer. I do know that regular doses of one-on-one time with each child would seriously build camaraderie between us and that might spill over to more goodwill on the home front.

What do you do, Reader, to get one-on-one time within a large family? Especially one in which there are as yet no built-in babysitters (teenagers) and there are many small children who still need much civilizing?

(N.B. I'm 25 weeks' along now. Three people independently have already commented, "You must be due any day now!" I've tried to spare their dignity and reply cheerfully, "Oh, I have a while to go yet." But no, they each persisted in their folly: "Really?! When are you due?" "Let's see . . . about fifteen weeks from now." And then the poor blokes have nothing to say. I will try not to spend much time crying over my beach ball self and instead consider myself an ambassador for teaching through those awkward moments the good manners that one simply doesn't comment on a pregnant lady's appearance, no matter how huge, unless it is to bathe her in much needed comforting compliments about how lovely that color looks on her or her hair sets off her face.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Instructions are in the Details

Yesterday we all enjoyed a moment of levity, which was helpful in a week of sickness drudgery around the house.

It all began when I asked the 6- and 8-year-olds to clean up the kitchen from lunch. Typically, the 2- and 4-year-olds are fading fast during lunch, so I leave the kitchen a disaster area while I get them down for nap and Quiet Time. Then I return and spend at least 20 minutes of my beloved Quiet Time cleaning the kitchen; meanwhile, my perfectly capable Big Kids have been playing and romping around, leaving a big mess for others to repair--their understanding being nobody's fault but mine.

Yesterday it occurred to me (probably because I've been reading "Pioneer Girl") that they could make a lot of progress cleaning the kitchen while I was gone.

"Children, while I'm upstairs with the littles, I'd like you to clean up the kitchen as best you can, please. That means putting away the food, like peanut butter jars. Stack all dirty dishes in the sink for me. Wipe the table, sweep the floor. Be sure that you're both working, I don't want to hear that one child did it all!"

Too many suds

I returned and the kitchen really did look a lot better.

My 6-year-old was trying to hand wash the dishes and I noticed the dishwasher was running. I remarked that the dishwasher was practically empty and the new dirty dishes should be loaded into it--and why was it running anyway?

My helpful children, who have never been trained to run the dishwasher, had loaded it with Palmolive dish washing soap and turned it on.

Of course, it filled up with masses of bubbles, prompting me not to scream but to fall into the kind of hilarious laughter that results from exhaustion of cleaning up children's sick bodily expulsions all week.

I couldn't even deal with trying to figure out what to do, so called my husband in his business meeting--this is why I'd never have made a military wife--and he said he'd figure it out. He called me back and told me to soak up all the remaining Palmolive with paper towels, then run a few loads with white vinegar. (Full instructions can be found here.)

All's well that ends well.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring-Summer Clothing Turnover

It is that time of year again! I am using our Easter octave off of school work to clear out the children's winter and too-small clothing and replace it with spring-and-summer clothing.

Step 1. Wash all the children's clothing, darks and lights, in one day. Get it put away in drawers and closets. (This took me all morning.)

Step 2. Ideally on the same day (so no dirty clothing disappears into the laundry hamper!), go through each child's clothing. (It took me three hours to go through four children's clothing and I was really tired.)

  • A. Get rid of winter clothing and clothing that is too small--save good stuff, donate, or throw away what is too worn or stained.
  • B. Go into the clothing storage of appropriate size and get out spring and summer clothing.
  • C. As you're putting away all the good clothing, make exact counts of what the child has in each category. I like to remember: fewer outfits means less laundry!
  • D. When it is all over, look at the categories and make notes about the quantities of what items the child needs.

Voila! Due to hand-me-downs and buying earlier off-season, our kids need almost nothing purchased this spring, which is not so fun for me but is definitely way cheaper than a shopping spree, even at the thrift stores and consignment shops where I buy most of the children's clothing.