Thursday, September 27, 2012

Homeschool For Mommy

In recent weeks, a few things have been brought to my attention, bringing my intelligence into question (such as right, now when I tried to type "intelligence" and spell check had to remind me how to do it).

Anyway, I began homeschooling Elijah at the beginning of the month. This homeschool curriculum (couldn't spell that either), begins teaching cursive in Pre-K and Kindergarten. They believe it is actually easier to learn that first because of the swift, fluid motions and rarely picking up the pencil. It makes sense really. The teacher's manual asks that the homeschool instructor writes the student's name on the top of his school work until he has learned how to write it himself. It actually referred me to a guide where I could get a refresher on how to write cursive letters in order to do it properly, thus enforcing good writing habits in my child. I didn't need that. I was a pro. Besides, it's not like there are any particularly tricky letters in the name, "Elijah."

So I wrote it on his very first assignment:

But even as I wrote it, I realized I was not as confident as I thought I should be. See that house? This is taught by referring to the upstairs, downstairs, and basement, so the children get the reference of where their pencils should start and stop with each letter. As I have gone farther into the lessons, I have realized there are many things wrong with how I wrote his name, and so I have had to refer to the silly guide.

Would you look at that? Huh. As it turns out, I didn't remember the proper way to write about 90% of the capital letters. In fact, I don't ever remember learning to put two different loops in my capital E, my 'j' was supposed to touch the basement floor and didn't, and my letters were supposed to be slanted (you  must slant your paper for proper effect), and they weren't. FAIL. Also, would you look at that Q. It looks like my number 2, which is also wrong according to this guide.

This upset me. I used to be a really good speller. I hardly ever missed a word on spelling exams from elementary through high school. That was already going down hill, and now I realized I no longer knew how to write properly. Bummer.

But it gets worse. About a year and a half ago, my parents bought Elijah a box of K'Nex that was meant for children over the age of 5. They figured it would be something fun for us to do with him. It turned into something he would only do with us because the pieces were so small and the designs so elaborate, that he couldn't really make much with them at the age of 3. This then turned into something only Jelani could do with him because I quickly learned that I couldn't design a single one of the planes or cars that were pictured in the instruction manual. I couldn't even figure out how to get the wheels attached to the legos so that they would rotate properly. Jelani laughed at me, and I gave up. I don't like doing things I'm not instantly good at. True story.

Then the other day, Elijah got an early birthday present from Aunt Kristin and Uncle Stew. It was a younger version of K'Nex designed for 3 and up.

We dumped the box out and I began exploring what could be built. In no time at all I had built a helicopter, a race car, and a truck.

Look what I can do.

So, as it turns out, ages 3 and up is more my speed.

I have decided I am incredibly grateful for homeschooling. If not for homeschooling my children, my mind might just continue turning to mush until my level of intelligence (darn spell check popped up again) is comparable to an infant. Now I have the chance to relearn everything I forgot I ever learned. Who knows...maybe by the end of the year I will be brave enough to get out the 5 and up K'Nex again.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


When I was 4 years old, and in preschool, my parents were called in to talk with my teacher around graduation time. I was going to be 5 that August, and so, logically, would be beginning kindergarten. The teacher, God bless her, put it somewhat delicately to my parents that while I was quite smart, and there were no concerns about me academically, I was...well...socially backwards. While other kids loved playing with each other and participating in all of the hands-on activities, I would cower in the corner, and often even cry at the idea of interacting with others. I actually remember crying about not wanting to finger paint, or maybe, wanting to, but being afraid and nervous to do something that involved interacting with others. I was shy to the point of craziness, and, though I would meet the September 1st cut off by three weeks, the teacher advised my parents to hold me back a year and repeat Pre-K. I was too young to be embarrassed about it, but I'm a little embarrassed now, to admit that my parents now have two videos of me graduating Pre-K. Though I absolutely refused to get up and go get my diploma...both years...I guess they felt it was important that I still participate in the ceremony.

I grew out of that. Basketball helped me to come out of my shell, ever so slowly, and by high school I was participating in skits and plays and making a fool of myself in front of the whole school just for fun. I excelled both athletically and academically thanks to (I believe) that extra year, and I'm really grateful for that decision my parents made all those years ago. Now, in an age when everything has a diagnosis, I'm very glad that they didn't have me tested for being such an oddly, abnormal child.

Now, about 25 years later, I realize that in the past 5 or 6 years, I have slowly reverted back to that awkward little girl, who would cry at the thought of playing with people she didn't know. Becoming a mother has enriched my life in more ways than I can even count, but in one small way, it has hindered my growth as a productive person of society. My priorities have rightly shifted. Spending time with my kids and my husband, and getting sleep, have become the most important aspects of my worldly life. At one point, while living in North Carlina, I could sometimes go weeks without any stimulating adult conversation. I had Jelani who was exhausted after work in the evenings, and one friend whose little girl I watched. Sometimes she'd stay and visit when picking up her daughter, but often she had to get right home (and who could blame her), to eat and get her daughter ready for bed to do it all over again the next day. I slowly reverted back to that shy and awkward little girl. And let me tell you, social awkwardness is not nearly as endearing in a grown woman.

In college, given one night, I could have a new best friend. We'd bond over fashion, sports, or sometimes even just the same interests in men (boys). Instant friends. I have some great memories with people I have never seen again since. Now I laugh as I realize that it just took me 3 years to become friends with a handful of women from our church who I now, occasionally hang out with outside of church! THREE YEARS! Part of that is just being busy, and not having as much free time to just get together last minute. Things like that need to be planned weeks in advance now, around children, husbands, jobs, and family commitments. Maybe it's a good thing it has taken this long to get to know these ladies, because they've had less time to observe my serious awkwardness.

See, last summer, Jelani finally made plans to get together with an old college friend of his and his wife. They hadn't seen each other since our wedding in 2006, and I had never hung out with them at all. We were having a great time with them. They had a daughter about Elijah's age, and the kids were having fun as well. At one point Jelani stayed at the table chatting with his old college friend, and I went out to the swing set with his friend's wife and the kids. We got into a conversation about birthday cake because her daughter's birthday was coming up and she was getting her cake from Wegman's. I'm not sure if I just didn't know how to contribute to the conversation, or if my brain just took a major break on me, but I mentioned how I make and decorate the kids' birthday cakes every year, and I wouldn't feel right buying a cake now because of the standard I had set for myself. I didn't say that exactly, but that's probably as bad as it sounded. What a pretentious cake snob I must have seemed to her! She gave me a strange look. I instantly knew that what I had said sounded so much worse than what I had meant, but, not really knowing how to fix it, I changed the subject. We haven't heard from them since, and I don't know if that's just because life is busy, or because I'm a moron.

Wegman's cakes are awesome!! She's a working mom! I don't judge that at all. I set that standard for myself because that's just what I do. I'm home, I have the time, plus I love to bake. But I'm absolutely positive that what I said, in that moment, sounded like, "You suck as a mom because you don't make homemade cakes for your child's birthdays." Open mouth. Insert foot.

Similarly, while telling a story to some church friends about when Elijah was a baby in North Carolina, I made a comment about how where we were living at the time was the Mexican capital of North Carolina....??? I know, right? I merely meant that Concord, NC has a very high population of Mexicans. I did not mean it negatively in any way, but for a brief moment (though I may have imagined it) there was an awkward pause and at least one subtle gasp. I continued with my story and chose to ignore it. I later e-mailed the ladies involved in the dialogue, who all laughed at me and understood. Pheww.

I also, may have recounted a story from high school about how a deer used me and my dad's van to commit suicide three days before hunting season....get a funeral of a friend who had, in fact, committed suicide. I had told that story multiple times before, but at that moment, it was wildly inappropriate. We went from laughing and reminiscing about that accident years ago, to an awkward silence in which I felt like a total, insensitive, jerk face. Again, I moved on, choosing to ignore it. At that point, I'm pretty sure I would have made things worse by apologizing and drawing more attention to it, but who knows.

This is why I have a soft spot for politicians who are constantly teased for sticking their foots in their mouths in one way or another. They very well may not have meant what you thought they meant, and, speaking from experience, taken out of context, just about anything can sound pretentious, insensitive, or discriminatory.

There are others I refuse to open to public scrutiny, and others still, I am sure, that I don't even remember. If you are someone who has been negatively affected by my social awkwardness, I sincerely apologize. And for the friends I still have, regardless of this disease, I am grateful. Perhaps when my kids grow up and leave home, I will relearn the skill of interacting with others, but for now, I will talk to you from behind my computer (sometimes still awkward) and cry about wanting to hang out with you, but being terrified to do so, at the same time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Udder Classic

Since bringing Isaac home from the hospital, there has been an ongoing dialogue about breastfeeding in this house. Though we try to remain tactful and careful about our wording, most conversations are completely uncensored.

See, a long time ago, maybe over a year ago now, Elijah discovered nipples. I say 'discovered' because it was literally as if he had never noticed them before. He was in the bath tub and suddenly asked, "Hey! What are these?" as he looked down at his chest.

I stuttered, not really knowing how to respond other than honestly, so I answered, "Uh...well...nipples."

He then noticed them on Chastity too, because they bathe together, and so the question turned to, "Do you have them too, Mommy?"


"Can I see them?"


"Does Daddy have them too?"


"Oh. Yeah. I have seen his," he said, matter-of-factly.

We then had the conversation about why boys can take their shirts off and girls cannot.

Once, after that, Elijah used the word "nipple" in a random context, just goofing off, and we both protested. I could just picture my child singing a song about nipples in church. After all, after Elijah discovered that boys have a penis and girls do not, he spent a couple of months asking the men in our family,"Do you have a penis?"

"Don't talk about nipples!" Jelani and I both yelled to him, and so, being the good listener that he is, he didn't bring it up again.

But now, the topic has resurfaced. When I first brought Isaac home, and he was still learning how to latch and stay latched to me for nursing, I had difficulty using the udder cover I had purchased specifically for keeping Elijah and Chastity out of my business. Yes, it's a blanket that covers the breasts (and baby) while breastfeeding, and it is, in fact, called an udder cover. Do I like the fact that my breasts are now thought of in the same context as the udders of a cow? No, I do not, but can we just move on? Thanks.

Anyway, quite tired of the battle of trying to keep hem...udder cover over us while Isaac thrashed and lost his latch repeatedly, I stopped using it for a day or two just so that we could get the hang of this first. Hoping to keep the kids out of my face about it, I announced that I needed a little privacy, at least until the baby was on and eating, and that they should stay on the floor playing. Well done. That was like announcing to some middle school boys that you were going to take your shirt off, but that they shouldn't look. The pull of curiosity was too strong. Elijah was trying very hard to be a gentlemen, so he would cover his eyes when he talked to me, but Chastity ran right over to me and leaned over my lap while I was trying to feed the baby.

Looking somewhat disgusted, Chastity exclaimed, "Mommy! Why did you put that in his mouth?!"

I explained that that was where the baby got his milk from.

Elijah then chimed in, having seen his cousin take a bottle, "No, babies get milk from bottles."

"Well, some babies do," I responded.

Elijah looked conflicted. "But Isaac gets it from your...your...?" He trailed off, not knowing what to call them.

I didn't finish his sentence, but Chastity did, "Nipples!" she proclaimed.

"We're not supposed to talk about nipples, Chastity!" Elijah yelled.

Oh boy. I explained to him that it was ok, and that Chastity wasn't exactly wrong. Jelani was laughing.

"Why are you laughing, Daddy?" Elijah asked. "Is it because I said, 'nipples?'"

Neither one of us could control ourselves at that point, and I had to come to terms with the fact that my children, as well behaved as they may be, just might be the children in church to inform everyone about nipples.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

It Pays to Poop

When you look up information about potty training, no one really tells you how long it's going to take. Do you know why that is? Because no one really knows! A doctor will tell you that girls tend to potty train between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. But boys? From 18 months through 4 years. And no one really talks about the worst case scenario; actually taking all the way through 4 years. Let me tell you, it happens.

Elijah was two and a half when he began staying dry through the night and throughout nap. I got really excited thinking this was going to be a piece of cake. By 3 he was wearing his "big boy pants" all day and all night, but we still had issues with him pooping. The basic problem; he didn't want to. He would hold it until it made him sick, and little bits would sneak out occasionally in his underwear. Then, when he would try to go, it was so much that it would hurt. He then became afraid of pooping, and thus began the vicious cycle.

Between ages 3 and 4 we had moments where we thought we'd concurred this beast. Every now and then he would tell us he had to go, and he'd go, and we would praise God with a joyful noise, certain that we'd turned a corner. But then he'd go back to business as usual. We never knew when it was going to strike. I would try to keep track of when he had pooped last so that as we neared the end of that week, we'd avoid taking him anywhere so as to avoid having to clean up a mess in a public place. Our method worked quite well, usually, unless we took him to a playground. Apparently it's a lot harder to squeeze the poop back in while you're running around and the muscles are loose.

By age 4 and a half, when this battle still hadn't been won, I was at my wits' end. In the time it was taking to potty train Elijah, Chastity began and nearly finished potty training, taking her just over a year. Now we were about to have another baby, and I refused to go on cleaning poop out of Elijah's underwear weekly. I had tried a sticker chart, chocolate candies, and various punishments. Nothing had worked, but then, an opportunity presented itself; an opportunity that I shamefully grabbed a hold of.

For Elijah's third birthday we had gotten him a beta fish. He thought it was the coolest thing. Unfortunately, only a few months after he'd gotten him, the poor fish suffered a horrible death. In our previous apartment, we didn't have heat in the bedrooms. We went out of town for the weekend in the middle of winter and had left the bedroom doors shut. Betas need to be warm, and so, when we returned Sunday night, the poor thing was gone. We disposed of it before Elijah had even seen it, and later explained to him that his fish had gone to be with Jesus.

"Like Great Grandpa?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"Like Patch (my parents' dog)?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered again.

And that was the end of that conversation. During the course of the year that followed he would ask about his fish again, and I'd give him the same answer, but then he started thinking about it harder.

"But, Mommy, it's my fish. When is Jesus going to give it back?"
"Well, when things go to be with Jesus, we won't see them again until we go to be with Jesus too." I don't know why, but I was seriously trying to avoid any word within the word family of "dead." In hindsight, I realize I should have been more clear.

Then, in June (Elijah now 4 years and 8 months), he spent some time in children's church with the older kids, and they talked about Heaven. It was then that he finally asked the right question, one I couldn't avoid: "Mommy, why did my fish go to Heaven?"

I panicked. I ransacked my brain's thesaurus for any word other than "died," but I came up with nothing. I couldn't avoid it any longer. "Well," I responded, slowly, "because he died." The word seemed to hang, suspended in the air, slowly coming out of my mouth, as I watched it register with my, not quite 5 year old son. And then, one year and five months after the fish had "gone to be with Jesus," Elijah crumpled down on the couch and sobbed, because for the first time, he understood what that meant.

It broke my heart. I wanted to instantly run out and buy him another fish, but I was conflicted, because that very same afternoon, he had another one of his "I refuse to poop" accidents. I couldn't reward him for that. And that is when the evil, shameful plot entered into my mind.

Jelani and I discussed it, and agreed. We got a piggy bank out and told Elijah that every time he pooped, when he had to poop, without pooping in his pants at all, he could put a quarter in the bank. Once he had enough, he could buy a new fish for his tank. We had to emphasize the "when he has to poop" part, because that was the problem. He needed to stop holding it and just go, even if that meant he had to stop playing for a minute, and even if it meant pooping every day!

Chastity wanted to get in on the action, and at the time she was still wearing a diaper to bed. She would sometimes wake up dry, and other times not, and so we told her every morning she woke up dry, she too could put a quarter in the bank for a fish. The tank had a divider, so they could both pick out a fish when they had enough money. It proved helpful for Chastity, and I immediately realized she was peeing in her diaper out of convenience, not because she was actually sleeping through it. We were able to transition her to big girl pants for bed within a week.

Even more miraculously though, Elijah never pooped in his pants again, and he began pooping in the potty every single day...sometimes even twice a day! Putting money in that bank became the number one priority, even above receiving a chocolate candy. Beta fish vary in price, so we just got a $10 roll of quarters out of our account, and agreed that once that was emptied into their bank, we'd let them pick out fish.

After about a month, we'd reached the goal, and headed out to a local fish place. They were thrilled.

Meet Fishy Fish and Housey House. <---I have no idea...

Because of my shameful plot, I believe it was doomed from the start. Strangely, Fishy Fish and Housey House only lived 3 days, leaving this Mommy to explain death yet again to, not one, but now two devastated little children. Thankfully, the pet store replaced them free of charge because...well, that's not supposed to happen.

So here's Fishy Fish II and Housey House II. Of course they kept the names.

We've had them for over a month now, and they are doing great. More importantly though, both children were completely cured of all potty training issues before baby #3 joined us. Elijah continues to ask to put money in the bank after pooping. It's not always quarters now, but whatever we have lying around.

I have children who have been conditioned to crave chocolate immediately after pooping, and now they believe that it pays to poop.

What has Mommy learned? Keep trying until you find something that works!