Hi there! I'm still here! I've heard from a few of you who have missed me, which is so sweet, God love ya. I have not wanted to blog because my camera cord is MIA...and my scanner is broken. I have ultrasound pics to post of our new little one and can't post them! And every time I think about posting, I think, well, that camera cord is surely going to show up any time now...so I wait. And it never shows. I was going to scan the ultrasound pics, and when the scanner quit working, I had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of the pictures and posting *those*, and then I couldn't find the camera cord...sigh. And I haven't posted recent pictures of the kids in *so* long. I have a couple more places to dig in, and if that cord doesn't show itself there, I will have to just go get another one I guess.
Since we can't post the pictures yet, I will go ahead and just say it...we are expecting a little girl! We're very happy about it. Maria will be graduating high school a little more than three years (sniff), and it will be nice to have another girl in the house for Tessie to be all, you know, girly with.
Anyway, I thought I'd jump back in here with a series of posts about what life around here looks like now. I really feel like I'm getting better at this big family thing. Having a couple of big kids helps *a lot*...and I have worked hard this year to really learn what works for *us*. This book has been very helpful.
If you are struggling to figure out how to make it all work, I highly recommend it. If you don't struggle with organizing yourself, or if you grew up in a big homeschooling family, it might not teach you a lot of new things. But, if like me, you have experienced the pain of the learning curve...this will help.
So, I will start off by giving a few general tips that have helped us, and then I will talk about what each day looks like around here. Because for us, each day of the week is very different. Some days we have therapy, some days we have classes and errands, some days we attend daily mass, some days we are lucky enough to be home all day. Combine it all with a husband that works three 12 hour shifts a week (always on different days!),,,and let's not forget the ever-changing needs of babies, toddlers, and special needs kids...the ones that thrive on (haha) routine...I really needed to come to terms with it all and figure out what worked and toss what was not working.
So, some general thoughts....
1. Train your kids to work. For real. I don't mean just "make the bed and feed the dog work". I mean, a child over the age of 10 should be a working and actively contributing member of the household. A child over the age of two should be learning how to become one. A teenager can be trained to do anything you can do. My kids have heard me say more times than they want to remember that 200 years ago a boy Kain's age would be working on the farm every day, and a girl Maria's age would be married and raising kids of her own. Ironically, once they are old enough to be truly helpful, they start to act like boogers about it at times. I think this can be especially true of homeschooled kids because they tend to have more free time in general than public-schooled kids. If left too much to their own whims, say while Mom is too busy fighting the urge to vomit from the couch to keep up well with what chores and schoolwork is being done, things will slide fast. They will very quickly adjust to slacking off and fight having routine restored. When my kids complain about chores, I will often point out that they still have far more free time than I do, and they can't deny this. It is good for them. Truly. They will grow up to be adults who expect to work, and that is a good thing.
2. Play together. Expect them to work together, and then relax together. Work together to pick up the house at the end of the day, then sit for a dessert and read-aloud. Work together to do weekly cleaning chores one day a week, then pop some popcorn and have a family movie night. Observe Sunday as a day of rest as best you can. Let them see you relax on Sundays too. Enjoy the day together, and then point out that when God created one day a week as a day of rest, he also created the other six days as days of work. Man was created to work. And when they complain to me on a Friday, I will often say, "Fridays are not a day of rest. On Fridays, we work." But even during the week, have downtime built into their day, time to build forts and romp with the dog and build with legos.
3. Make work fun. Put on music, work together as a team. I have, in the past, sent the kids off to work alone. This doesn't work very well for me. I have more kids that need direct supervision than kids I can send off to do something satisfactorily alone. And no one likes to work alone. Work together, be encouraging, set a time limit so they know what to expect, and don't be a grump about it. Be someone *you* would like to work with.
4. Look around your house and your day with your brain on. Find the glitches in your day and fix them. Sometimes fixing the littlest thing can help a lot! I will use toothbrushes as an example. Toothbrushes were the bane of my existance. It's expensive, you know, to buy decent ones for a bunch of people. And then we would go through them five times faster than we should have because the little kids would cart them off and leave them on the floor for the dog to chew up, or I would find one in a hairy mess under the clawfoot tub, or one would disappear for days and then turn up in the laundry hamper after I grugingly gave up and bought another. Keeping up with whose toothbrush was whose was also an issue. The kids all have colors assigned for different things,,,towels, drinking cups, etc...but toothbrushes were the bugaboo. Consistently finding the right color was hard. And many little kids brushes are more than one color. And all it takes is one nifty new freebie toothbrush of their own picking from the dentist office to throw that whole system off completely. I found toothbrushes, name brand ones, at Dollar Tree. But those were even harder to find in the "right" colors. We tried labels (they peel off) and sharpies (they wear off too easily). Oh, the headaches! The woe! The gnashing of teeth! I finally came up with a solution. I bought some colored hair elastics from Dollar Tree, along with a dozen new toothbrushes. The hair elastics come in many colors. I took out the colors I needed for our toothbrush color-coding and put the rest with the hair stuff. Then I wrapped hair elastics around toothbrushes for each person in the house. White for me, black for John (because no one wants black or white!), purple for Maria, blue for Kain, green for Jack, pink for Tess, orange for Henry...the same colors as their towels and drinking cups. It's very easy to tell whose is whose, regardless of the color of the actual toothbrush. I have a stash of Dollar Tree toothbrushes and elastics in a cabinet, and when one goes missing it is a small matter to grab another. When the missing one turns up, it just joins the others...this is why Jack and Tess both have at least two toothbrushes right now.
5. Make some kind of schedule, or routine, and then learn to be flexible within it, but stick to the essential pegs of it. By this I mean, if you are "supposed" to do school from 9-12, and 12 comes and you haven't finished math, let it go. Move on and pick up where you left off next time. When it is time to start dinner, stop trying to finish up school and start dinner. Stop obsessing about making it through your "to-do" list to the point that family life suffers. Meals need to happen on time. Prayer time needs to happen. Outside time needs to happen. Bedtimes need to happen. Even when you are behind in your school work. Don't do school on Sundays. If you choose to do some school on Saturdays (we do), decide ahead of time how much and stick with it. Our days are *crazy* unpredictable. If you have special needs people in your house, flexibility is the name of the game. There are days where I spend all morning trying to get the boys through what should have been done by 9am. You do what you can do, and that's all you can do. Accepting this is essential to avoiding burn-out. And I've been burned-out. You are no good to anyone that way. Protect yourself from it. Build plenty of extra time into your school year to allow for this. We school year-round, always have, and this is why. There are 32 weeks in our syllabi, and 52 weeks in a year. I usually bank on 2 weeks of vacation at Christmas, 2 weeks at Easter (one this year because of the baby due near that time!), and 4 weeks over summer. That leaves 12 weeks of wiggle room...12 weeks of math starting late because of a lost book, 12 weeks of a child having a meltdown over grammar, 12 weeks of missing schooltime due to sickness, OB appointments, and visits to grandparents.
6. Read and see what works for others. But only fix your own life if it's broken. The blog-o-sphere is full of ideas, great ideas. It is tempting to constantly try out new systems, to read what someone else does and try it yourself even if what you are doing already is working just fine. What works great here may not work in your house at all. Heck, what works here now may not work here next week! This is just what's working now.
Ok, that's long enough. :) So we are doing better. Especially now that the nastiness of early pregnancy is behind us. Pregnancy years are terribly hard for me. I don't handle the first trimester well. I don't handle the last month well. I'm much happier and more functional once the baby arrives. I hesitate to post these kinds of things because, believe me, we still struggle *a lot* at times and things are far from well-ordered most of the time. But we have made a lot of progress. I feel much more at peace about adding a sixth child to our house than I did about adding a fourth or fifth. Weird, huh?
Next, I'll give a peek at each day of the week. This is for me...I always enjoy reading back and seeing what life was like when Jack was 7, and Tess was 3, etc.