river : mine for eight years

Hey River, my sweet boy. Today was your eighth birthday. Get ready, because I know I've said this in previous birthday letters to you, but eight... EIGHT. It just sounds so big. I have the plan to someday print all of these up for you in a book and give them to you when you're an adult. Maybe when you're eighteen. That's only ten years from now. TEN. That's not long. That's double your sister's age. That's how long you've been alive, plus two. That's only one year longer than Daddy and I have been married. And you know when we got married? A couple weeks ago. Because that's what it feels like. 

Someday, I'll be sitting there, formatting a Shutterfly book or whatever new fangled website there is, with tears glistening in my eyes by the light of my computer screen, as I copy and paste this eighth letter. I'll think, "Oh goodness! That's right. I remember this day. That seems like just yesterday. Oh how the years pass so quickly. It's almost cruel. What would I give to hold the long, lanky body of my eight-year-old River, or hear his tiny eight-year-old voice, or see him scaling a wall out of the corner of my eye even though I've told him ten dozen times not to climb the walls? Why wasn't I more patient? More understanding?"

Oh, the regrets, my sweet boy. I'll have them. I already do. I don't think a single mother doesn't have a regret or twenty. But you know what the regrets remind me of? They remind me of grace -- beautiful grace. Both yours and God's. Grace to start over every day. Grace, every time I say I'm sorry and you throw your arms around my neck and kiss my cheek and say, "It's okay, Mama. I love you."

They also remind me of the gift you are to me. They remind me that everything -- every frustration, every tiff, every sleepless night, every argument, every exhausted moment -- was completely worth it. That even though those may have been the hardest days, I would take those hardest days in an instant. I would relive them if I could. Can you imagine that? My hardest days with you are still my best, best days. Someday, my door frames will be clean from dirty foot streaks because you'll be 18 and definitely (hopefully) not climbing my walls anymore, and the funny thing is, I'll probably miss it. I'll chuckle to myself and probably wipe a tear then, too. Because everything you do, everything you touch, means something to me.

River, every year, I sit down and think about the wonderful, unique things about you that I love, the things that make you YOU. And nearly every year, they're the same. From the time you were one-year-old, I have known you through and through, my little person. It's mysterious, this mother's knowing of her child. This year, I want to say how proud I am of you. You've worked so hard in school, and I love seeing your love of reading blossom. Part of me takes pride in that, because I taught you to read, but part of me knows I had little to do with it. It's your own hard work, determination, and bright mind that has accomplished this. I just gave you the tools. I want you to remember this about everything you do in life. You are capable and clever. You will do great things.

You are snuggly, sweet, and positive. You are compassionate, empathetic, and kind. You are brave, daring, and energetic. You are analytical, clever, and perceptive. You fix things. You figure stuff out. You need proof. You don't need approval. You do things because they make you happy. You explore and design and invent. You are wise and know you are loved by God.

You are good. You are created by God, and you are good, and needed, and you have purpose. Right now... not in the future. Right now.

I love you, River. Happy birthday, my sweet boy.


why we chose to homeschool : part two

Click here to see part one.

Even though we were six months into public school, it still didn't fit naturally into our life. I'd always planned on homeschooling and longed to pull him out, and my heart was restless; however, "it just doesn't feel right," didn't seem a good enough reason to make a drastic decision in the middle of the school year. As I said in part one, I began to pray a very specific prayer that something would happen to show me without a doubt that we should pull River out and start homeschooling, but that my little boy would be protected, no matter what that was.

One morning, a week or two into this fervent, very specific prayer, I lay in bed, the sunlight streaming into the room, my four-month-old peacefully asleep beside me. I'd spent the night sick, and John was getting River ready for school and out the door. I heard River's little voice outside my room, "But I want to give Mama a kiss goodbye!"

"Mama is sick, River. We have to let her sleep," John whispered back.

Thankful for John and also for the fact that Austen, who was three at the time, was still sleeping, I dozed off back to sleep. It must have been about 45 minutes later when I heard a sweet, little voice say, "Hi Mama." I turned around to see River standing beside my bed. I was momentarily confused -- John must have brought him back home, but why? "Where's Daddy?"

"He went to work," was his matter-of-fact reply.

Chase wriggled awake and I blinked as my sleepy mind tried to decipher what was going on. After a few more questions for River, I figured out that John saw him on the bus as usual, and from there, the kids were dropped off at the school; but instead of going to his class, River walked a mile home by himself in a neighborhood without sidewalks, down a street near a lake.

Immediately, my heart sank. One of the first things I had noticed about River's school at the beginning of the year is that drop-off and pick-up times seemed hectic. Although there was an attempted routine for these times, it was sort of a mess, and in the mornings I always noticed several children of different ages waiting outside with only one very distracted and busy adult to oversee things. It would be so easy for someone to snatch a child, or for a child to wander off unaccompanied, and for no one to notice in the midst of it all. I was always so worried that something could happen during these times, especially because my particular child has always been impulsive and off in his own little world, but I tried to ease my mind and not let myself worry; however, I knew now that this is exactly what had happened with River.

In spite of myself, I laughed wryly. Are you kidding me?! I thought. It was almost unbelievable... I had prayed for a clear answer, and that was exactly what I got. You may see it as grasping for straws, but I see it as a direct answer to my very specific prayer. "Let something happen to show us loud and clear that we should homeschool -- but please protect River."

I called John and was straight to the point. "River's here at the apartment. He walked home from school. I don't even know if anyone has realized that he's gone!"

"I guess we're homeschooling now," John said. We were on the same page!

Yes, after this whole ordeal, of course we had many talks with River about what a serious situation this was. He has always been impulsive and brave, much to my dismay. He is as friendly as can be, and I've always said, while shaking my head, that if a stranger ever came up to him and asked for his help to find a lost puppy, he would happily oblige. (I can say with confidence that now, at the age of nearly eight, he would not do this.) Thankfully, he didn't inherit my sense of direction, and was able to make the mile-long walk home without getting lost, even though we had only walked it twice.

Every family and situation, every mother and child is different. But for us, for me... I never felt at peace sending River to public school. I know to many people, walking a mile isn't a big deal. I know cases of child abduction have gone down significantly since the 70s. (And I know some people can't fathom a 5-year-old child "disobedient" or "out of control" enough to walk home from school without permission. I am not interested in talking to those people. Bye Felicia!)

But this is, and will always be, a part of our story. I entrusted the care of my child to adults -- several adults. Adults I had never met! That's a lot of trust right there. I know, I know millions of children go to school every day and are taken care of and have wonderful childhoods and never walk away from school unnoticed or harmed in any way, but I also know that now, River is where he needs to be, and I have never second guessed our decision. Despite the situation and the thoughts that filled my mind of a thousand different things that could have gone wrong on that walk home, I felt a sense of peace from the moment I realized I had my answer. I knew after that day, I wouldn't be sending my child back to school, and that it was going to be okay.

There were a lot of positives surrounding our public school experience, but I think I knew the answer all along, and that's why it never settled in my spirit. We were meant to homeschool. At least now, at least with these three kids, at least today... we are supposed to homeschool. That may change in the future! And I'm okay with this. I'm not scared, or worried, or concerned in the least. If, next year, I feel a complete change in my heart, do a 180 and send all my kids to public school, that's going to be okay, too. I'm confident that when we follow God's gentle nudges, he works in really cool ways. And when life doesn't work out the way we expect, he can still use these things for good.

There is no black and white when it comes to homeschooling. I am not interested in the school of thought (see what I did there?) that homeschooling is the only way! When we keep our minds open to the unexpected, we give God the "permission" to give us some pretty eye-opening experiences. I love homeschooling and I'm excited to see where we're going to go in the years to come.


secret life of mothers

On my mind today is a story my mom recently told me. We were taking a walk and I mentioned how much shorter a mile is to me now than it was to me when I was little. I told her, "I can't remember where we were walking, but we had to park somewhere down town when I was eight or nine. I remember you telling me it was about a mile-long walk to where we had to go, and I thought it took us forever to get there. I couldn't believe it was an entire mile."

"Oh, I know exactly what you are talking about!" She continued to tell me about that day. I was in Girl Scouts and our troop was going to be on a float in a parade. She was getting over a kidney infection, but she didn't want me to miss the parade and she was a leader in the troop, so she took me despite the fact that her back was still very sore. Since there was no parking in the area where the parade was going to take place, we had to park the car pretty far away. There was no sidewalk so she couldn't take the stroller and had to carry my chunky 18-month-old brother the entire way, in the middle of summer, in the Texas heat.

I never knew all she went through to get me to that parade! My mom never complained about being a mother. Of course, I know some days were hard, but I don't remember that my mom was in pain, or that she was uncomfortable with a sore back carrying my little brother for a mile; I just remember having a ton of fun at that parade.

I am so thankful for my mom today. I never truly understood or appreciated all she did for me until I was a mother, and I hope I am able to give my own children good memories and that I do it with grace, as she did. I am so thankful and honored that God has trusted these three beautiful little souls to me.

Happy mother's day to all my beautiful mama friends out there... mothers with one or twelve children. Mothers who are going it alone and hardly get a chance to breathe. Mothers whose children were brought to them through adoption. Mothers with aching hearts, who have lost babies before they even took their first breath. To women who have lost mothers and spend this day in mourning. And to women who long to be mothers. To women who act as mothers to the lost and lonely. I hope you feel loved and appreciated today, and if you don't, know that God sees the sacrifices you have made for your children with your bodies, your minds, and your hearts.


new year resolution update!

Start running again. I haven't started running yet, but y'all, I can feel it in my bones! My legs are practically aching to get out there! I miss running so much. The only reason I haven't is because I want to get a check up before I do, but since I hate making phone calls and I hate going to the doctor's, I haven't done this and probably won't. I'm a fairly healthy human being, but I've been really fatigued lately and want to check that out. I need to just start running anyway. 

No Facebook during the day. Ugh, goodness. I was good about this for maybe 3-4 weeks... maybe a month. Then Facebook took control of my life again. I gave it up for Lent, so I haven't been on it at all since the beginning of March, but slowly it's being replaced with Reddit and interesting online articles. I think what I need to do is make a no hopping on the internet while my kids are awake rule. And possibly a no using the computer before I've read an actual book or spent 20 minutes writing or drawing rule. Sigh. I am a child.

Eat like I love myself. I am really thrilled to say that I have been doing this fairly well! Yay! We got in such a bad habit of eating fast food over the summer during our move. I couldn't cook for about two weeks before we moved, and then on the 8-day roadtrip from Washington to Pennsylvania, practically all we ate was fast food. Then there was the whole unpacking my parents' house... moving to our house 3 months later... it was just a nasty circle of nasty eating habits. I really fell back on the convenience. So I made the resolution to completely stop eating fast food, and I have stuck to it. I've eaten fast food twice that other people picked up for me, and we've eaten at Chick-fil-a twice on our own accord. And that's it. I'm very happy. I have completely stopped buying cookies/chocolate/candy (I get bad about this over the holidays) though I have succumbed to my biggest weakness several times -- breakfast cereal (though I haven't bought any in about three weeks, because I really am trying to eat it less. It's crap, there's no way around it). I've been making bread and broth again, and trying to incorporate more of the healthy foods that we used to eat regularly, like grass-fed beef, grain-free sweets, etc. I feel really good about how we've been eating, and though it's not perfect, it's a slow, uphill climb. 

Keep a budget. I did this for about a month. And while I haven't been writing every purchase down, I gave up frivolous purchases for Lent as well, and intend to stick with it after Easter.

Read a lot, at least two books a month. I am not reading as much as I want. I don't know why I am having such a hard time with this. My attention feels strained and stretched. I sit down and within a few sentences, my mind is wandering. It's not for lack of good books either, my brain just feels in a frenzy. I need to get back into the habit of reading. My brain needs to chill tf down.

Drink water. Great start, then it tapered. I am consistently dehydrated. It's bad.

Be in bed at a reasonable time. I have been going to bed at 11 every night. This is HUGE. I have always been a night owl. I can't believe I'm actually going to sleep at a reasonable time every night. I don't know what else to say except that I may finally be an actual adult now, so that's cool.

Don't nag. I kinda forgot that I included this, so I can't update on it. Will work on it now. Heh.

Create. I've been drawing more! But not as much as I'd like. Honestly I think it's because I have so many damn dishes to wash every day I don't have time for anything else. I'm only kidding a little.

Take a photograph a day. HA! *slinks away* I have been better about taking photos, though.

Start blogging again. I really have missed blogging and writing. I'd like to make my goal once a week. I'm getting there.

Embrace imperfection. I have been telling myself this daily, and it really does help. I am a recovering perfectionist. I am done, done, DONE letting perfectionism rule my life, stop me from doing even the littlest things, and paralyze me with fear.


why we chose to homeschool : part one

The story goes -- the one I've told and heard so many times -- that my mom began homeschooling me in first grade when the military moved us in the middle of the school year, and discovered I didn't know my letter sounds, much less how to read. Within a few months, I was reading on a third grade level; that's when she decided to keep me home, and went on to eventually homeschool her three younger children. My step-mom also homeschooled her two children, so it has simply been a way of life to me.

The idea of sending my kids to public school was challenging and frankly, a little scary. Before we were married, John encouraged me to consider the fact that all children are different, and that we might have a child who would flourish in a public school setting. I was stubborn. I wouldn't consider it. Homeschooling my children one day was important to me; however, that was a pivotal conversation that planted a seed of curiosity and submission to God. I realized if I idolized homeschooling and would not consider even praying about other options, I might be resisting God's plan for our family. So I began to pray. 

Through searching and praying, I considered the many wonderful people I knew who grew up in public school; surely if their parents could raise such great human beings, I could too if this was what God called us to! I thought also of the amazing teachers who were friends of mine, who obviously loved what they did and made an impact on the lives of the children they taught. 

When I was pregnant with our third child, I couldn't see myself trying to homeschool with a brand new baby to care for -- the decision was made. River barely made the age cut to start kindergarten by a few days. He could stay home and start the next year when he turned six, but I figured sending him to kindergarten for the majority of the day would make the transition to three children a little easier. We went in with these thoughts: if public school worked out, then he would continue on to first grade. If it didn't work out, it wasn't a big deal; we would pull him out and I would homeschool him, which had always been the plan anyway. I knew my friendly, outgoing boy would love being around other children every day.

We really lucked out with River's teacher, a kind woman who got to know each child individually. Our philosophy of education was similar, and she shared in our concerns about the changes in public education, and how much testing and seat work was required of even the youngest students. When I hesitantly brought up the possibility of River having ADHD, and that I was thinking of homeschooling for first grade, she was surprisingly supportive. 

"I think that's a great idea!" she said. "River is bright. He's a problem solver and he thinks outside the box. He's full of energy and he learns by doing things hands-on; his ideas are abstract and he asks questions other kids don't think to ask. I'd be afraid that a traditional school setting would hold him back and discourage him as he gets older, but he could thrive with the freedom he'd have at home." She also shared her concern that being in a classroom setting, other teachers might push medication for his hyperactivity as he got older, but that it could probably be easily handled at home without going that route if we preferred not to. I appreciated her honesty and insight, and was overjoyed to hear these encouraging words about my sweet, curious boy!

Our experience with public school was overall a positive one. There were some things that came with the territory that were outside of our control. School lunches were awful -- there's no gentle way of putting it. I missed River more than I realized I would. Drop off and pick up time became more stressful with a newborn; I can't tell you how many times I had to wake Chase from her nap and bundle her up to get River at the bus stop! It was a disruption to our natural rhythm. The evenings were a whole other story: we would get home at 3:45, then it was a flurry of homework, make dinner, eat, bath, and bedtime... at the end of that ordeal, we were tapped out. River's teacher told us several times that he was so exhausted during the day and he needed more sleep, but he was already going to bed at seven, the earliest possible time.

John and I grappled with the lingering question: should we homeschool? What was the right choice here? I felt like there was no obvious answer. It would be so easy if River hated public school, or if I did. And there are no perfect situations -- I knew that if we homeschooled, there would be hurdles in that, as well. Perhaps the evenings would be slower and River would have more time to just be a kid, but anyone knows homeschooling isn't a walk in the park. It would take a lot more energy and preparation on my part, and was I ready to commit to that? I felt entirely ill-equipped. Considering all this, the few negatives I'd counted against public school were not enough to convince me that we should pull him out. Still, my spirit felt so restless. I wanted him home, but I couldn't make this decision based on my emotions.

I trusted that God knew. He knows River better than I do. He knows his future and the kind of man he needs him to be someday. He knows what he needs in life, education, relationships. I couldn't make this decision on my own. So I prayed a very specific prayer: please let something happen to make it loud and clear that we should pull him out and start homeschooling. Protect him, but make it obvious. 

Oh, yes. I prayed that. I trusted that God knew what I meant... he doesn't play games. He lifts us up when we have faith in him. I believed that he would take my prayer seriously and show me what needed to happen. I would take silence as the answer that public school was the right decision. I prayed that prayer so many times for about a week, and then I got my answer, loud and clear.

Part two coming next week! I really didn't want to leave you with a cliffhanger, but I also didn't want to give you a 3,000 word blog post... so I guess it worked out? 


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