Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's here!

Take a deep breath...

Do you smell that? That, my friends, is the sweet smell of spring.

I just love spring. The sun is out on a somewhat consistent basis around here (I use the term "consistent" loosely... this is Washington, after all.) and my three growing young boys can really get out and do what their little bodies long for all winter long... They can soak up the chilly spring sun. They can drag 50 pound sacks of play sand to replenish the sandbox for the season. They can clip away at the remnant blackberry vines out front and make a cave to be their fort (for a few months anyway, until they start growing like mad again and become a wild mass of prickers with a promise of future blue-stained faces and batches of jams and cobblers...). They can ride their bikes in the driveway. They can delight in the discovery of a lizard named Alex near our front walk that we released there just before the real cold of winter set in - and find joy in knowing he survived the cold and will likely remain as our wild little pet friend. They can tie together sticks and random garage bits to make eccentric creations used for who-knows-what purpose. They can rediscover bugs - and their mom can realize that it only takes one winter to wipe the memories of bug names from her children's minds (how can one forget the name of rolly-pollies!?). They can play until far after lunch is normally served while Mommy tidies up the oh-so-messy garage a bit. Then they can eat their (late) lunch at the picnic table under the playset in the back yard, dirty hands and all. The swings get swung. The mud gets trampled. The back door rug gets filthy from little shoes stomping in and out through the day. Plants get discovered, buds are noticed. Swamps (or the more P.C. term, wetlands...) are explored and boots are filled with water. There are at least 5 pairs of filthy socks in my laundry tonight... and I only have three walking children! Girly Pie can get her first real taste of spring as an aware little gal. Goose can run around with any random empty container as a hat on his head. There are smiles. There is chasing and Frisbee throwing. Faces are flushed, freckles begin to peep out already. Grass is there to be wrestled in. Brothers are there to entertain, play, plot and chase together.

Yes. Spring is here. And it is good. I do so appreciate the seasons that God made for us. I love when each new season begins, and I am most definitely ready for the ending season to turn over to the next one.

And one more thing that hits me each year as each new season approaches... Last year's spring was the same in many ways, but very different, as well. Life with a growing family of young children really shows you just how much can change in a year.

Sure, the crabapple out back is getting ready to bud out again at the same time it did last year. Yes, the same flowers (at least those that survived out record snows this year) are peeping out their little heads. The world is still very much the same.

But suddenly the one and a half year old baby brother from last spring is now a two and a half year old boy - and he can keep up with much of the play. The large wiggling belly that I was so sure was our fourth baby boy - our expected child whom we had not even met at last spring's beginning... is now a beautiful 10 month old little girl. I will not be bending over any garden beds this summer with a big belly. Instead, I will be mastering the hike hold with my Moby wrap so that Girly Pie can ride on my back in style while I plant a (very) few veggies to enjoy this summer. Last year's four and six year old boys are now five and seven. They have big plans for the warmer weather, and it's clear that they are getting the skills, experiences and knowledge to pull off a lot more exploration and creation this year, and that they will not need nearly as much help from me as I am used to giving.

My family is growing and changing. These little people are in constant motion. Last spring was wonderful. I cherished my fourth pregnancy, I drank up every moment of expectation and anticipation. I loved watching my boys as they explored the world around them.

And I will never get that spring back. Never again will I be largely pregnant with my fourth child while my boys enjoy a spring at 6, 4 and almost 2 years old.

So with that perspective in mind - along with Psalm 118:24's reminder to rejoice in this day that the Lord has made... I intend to make the very most of this spring. Never again will I have 7, 5 and almost 3 year old boys to watch master the outdoors. Never again will Girly Pie discover the yard for the first time. Never again will my baby girl take her first steps and celebrate her first birthday. Heck, I'll never again be twenty-anything come June. ;o)

So today was wonderful. It was so good to just be there, present and watching the bustle around our little corner of the world, so full of life and smiles and happiness and busy-ness and projects and discovering... And it felt so good to know we get a whole season of this ahead of us.

I won't even get into the figurative parallels here with life's changing seasons... but I'm sure you can see that for yourself.

So off I go to sleep off a good day's living. I cannot imagine being more blessed than I am. Thank you Lord, for this beautiful life you have blessed me with. I do not deserve it, and yet I am so grateful and humbled to live it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A blessed reminder...

While meandering through some new blogs today, I saw a bible verse quoted in one very nice blog. It's a verse I have read before, but it affected me in a new way this time.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Now, let me just say that I do tend to pray almost constantly, and I am one to give thanks in just about every circumstance. I tend to be a the-glass-is-half-full-thanks-to-God kinda gal, anyway. But that first part... "Be joyful always," is the part that struck me this time. I know for a fact that I do not sound joyful when I scold my kids (no matter how gently) for the umpteenth time in a day for not doing what I asked the first time I asked it. I know that if you asked them, they'd tell you I'm a pretty happy lady most of the time. But the Bible says it right there, plain as day. "Be joyful ALWAYS..." No little escape clause about being joyful "most of the time," as far as I can see.

So that is the verse I will be writing out on a note card to hang on my kitchen cupboards when I finish this post. That is the verse I will be memorizing this week (or month, depending on how reliable my Mommy-Brain is at this time...). That is just what I needed to hear.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A full house

Twin babies, twin two-ish year olds, a five year old, twin seven-ish year olds, an almost nine year old and an eleven year old.

That makes nine, in case you were counting.

That was the count of children I had for the day, and will have on and off for the rest of the week while Mary Grace is out of town. All her beautiful children get to come play at our house on the days that their Daddy could not get off of work.

And do you know what? We had a really great day. The only bummer of the whole day was my darling little Goose and his afternoon meltdowns from skipping his nap and then pooping in his pants, which is never a fun thing for anyone involved.

But back to the fun stuff.

Every one played great together. The big kids all did their schoolwork with no grumbling whatsoever. The babies napped well (well, MG's babies did... mine not so well, but it worked out in the end). Meals were simple and the kids helped a lot with setting and clearing the table. Girly Pie and Manolin had a great time crawling and bouncing all over each other, which was really stinking adorable. Oliver and Goose had a gleefully joyous time chasing each other around and whacking one another with half deflated mylar balloons. We made a fun craft with the five-and-overs, and most of them really enjoyed learning the exciting art of finger knitting. We set plans in motion for our big teddy bear party that we'll be doing on Friday when we have them again for the whole day. The kids all got gloriously muddy stomping around in the wet March grass and muck. They all even did a major cleanup before MG's crew left, and the house looks as good as - or possibly even better than- it did when they got here.

So all in all, I think I could do nine kids after all. Not quite sure about the whole twin thing though... Two toddlers and two babies make for very, VERY interesting meal times. As in, I'm still starving. I don't think I ate anywhere near an entire meal all day.

But other than crazy feeding routines, it really was just one of those days filled with happy giggles, creative endeavors, smiling babies and helping hands. This whole big family thing really is a beautiful thing.

Now if only I could convince my hubby of all the beautiful rewards that come with a REALLY full quiver...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fun... and tasty, too!

I just saw the pictures from our last time doing this little project, and thought it might be a nice thing for anyone to do some rainy or snowy day as true spring approaches, but hasn't quite landed yet...

Here's how you do it: hand the kids a bag or two of marshmallows and a box of toothpicks... and let them go at it.

I usually get a bag each of small and large marshmallows. And I always tell my boys that they can eat a few of them right away. Then I just make sure they know that the main goal is to make things, and not to eat them. They of course do eat a good number of them, but the real fun is in watching them build with the materials.

We've made robots, cars, people... and lots of many legged marshmallow spiders. It's just good, tasty, sticky fun.

Girly Pie isn't sure what she thinks of all this sticky nonsense...

... But Finny sure likes it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quality over Quantity

For the first year or two of homeschooling when Punky was a preschooler, I was so focused on doing everything perfectly, and on him doing so much more than was necessary for a 3, 4 or even 5 year old.

In hindsight, I realize that I really needed to relax.

A lot.

Then we hit a major stumbling block in kindergarten when Punky started really balking at any work we did together and was really resistant to doing much of anything I asked of him, both in school time and even occasionally outside of it. Then when he was diagnosed with binocular dysfunction (two healthy eyes, both in perfect working order separately, that do not work well in coordination with one another) two months into his kindergarten career, I was forced to put the brakes on much of what I had set as priorities for our school time.

No more cramming in all of our school work in the hour window of Baby Goose’s morning nap. No more Math U See videos (actually we dropped it MUS all together for Punky – but only partly because of the eye trouble). Minimal computer time. Very short sit down and work periods, interspersed with regular breaks so his eyes could rest. And suddenly, on top of raising three small boys and homeschooling one of them, I now had to work eye exercises into the schedule four times a day for a very resistant little man who really did not want anything to do with any of it.

So we went back to basics and I eased up a ton. I dropped pretty much all bookwork for him and we just hit hard on the fun stuff (lots of books read to him and keeping with his interests more than mine). I knew at the time that it was God’s way of forcing me to slow down and back off with a little boy who was just not ready for a full academic schedule. He is a brilliant child, full of wonder, curiosity, imagination and insight – and I know that down the road he will be an excellent student. But he is just too full of life to sit and do much of anything at this point. And that is OK. There is so much for a little boy to learn that cannot be taught from any sort of workbook.

But now we’re a year and a half down the road and we’ve all learned new study and teaching techniques. We have some good patterns and routines down. Punky now knows how to eek out a couple of worksheets in a day without getting too worked up about it all. In fact he actually likes a few of them. He’s always been a math kid, but now he can do more than just oral problem solving with me – he is happy to work through his Singapore math book with no complaints at all. I don’t think that Punky would claim that much of his school work is his passion, but he does it all with a good attitude and I keep it reasonable enough that he’s not struggling to keep his attention on his work.

This year though, and most especially the last month or two, we’ve been working on a new principal though. Up until now, the goal has just been to get him to do the work, and to do it happily. I had so much backtracking to do to undo all the resistance I had unwittingly put into the child, that I took any piece of work from him as a good and finished product. The end result was a boy who was happy to do the work, but generally did it as quickly as he could with very little effort put into it.

So for now, we talk a lot about how school is his job, and how he should do the work so that he can feel proud of it. I have talked to him a bit about how much time a public school boy in first grade would spend each day writing and doing worksheets. I’ve reasoned that I am happy to give him less work, but that I do expect to see the work he does to be done to the best of his ability. I want to see those letters looking nice. It’s time to undo all the lazy writing habits that I’ve let slide for a while. I may only ask for one page in the math book, but I’d like to be able to see each number written in the book done neatly and well.

I know that he’s still not really passionate about “academic” work, and really at seven years old and still in first grade, I’m still totally fine with that. But I do feel like it’s time to start upping the expectations on the work.

So far it seems to be going well. If he writes his numbers or letters in a way that is clearly below his ability, I simply point it out, or circle it, and he needs to rewrite it properly. He never puts up a fuss about it, so that is good. And if only just for fear of having to write everything over, he is most definitely getting more careful about his numbers and his penmanship.

Now if only I could do a little better in modeling such a work ethic… I definitely tend to go with a “good enough” mentality for much of my work. But as we’ve explained to him with handwriting, we’re allowed to write it sloppily if we want, because we know how to write it nicely when we want to. That seems fair enough to me. And as soon as I see that he CAN do his work neatly and perfectly, I’ll accept a little more slack in areas that do not need such meticulous care. But for now, it’s quality over quantity for my sweet Punky Loo. I myself have a bit too much quantity in much of what I do to make quality the overriding goal in all that I accomplish in a day.

But I do still hope to make learning the fun way be the main goal of our schooling at this stage of the game. Even though Punky can and will do bookwork, I do not want to fall back on it as our main daily routine (easy as it may be...), just because I know that he does not find it satisfying, and I really do want to encourage a love of learning in all of my children.

So it's time yet again to pray and listen, and see what God has in mind for these little people I am blessed to call my children. And while I'm listening for His direction in this area, it can't hurt to make sure Punky's handwriting is neat and tidy. ;o)