Thursday, June 19, 2014

Turning Points

Sometimes when you look back over your life and the decisions you've made, you can see turning points. Before that time, you were heading in one direction and then you clearly made changes to go in a new direction. Unexpected things can happen along the way, once you make that change.

When I look back, I see two clear turning points that coincided to compel us to make changes to our lives. Before them, Siegfried worked and I stayed home and took care of the children. We lived frugally but never could get ahead at all. We believed in being open to children and had six of them. We homeschooled. We lived in the country. These parameters defined the limits of our lives.

Rumbles of a change started in 2005 with the birth of the twins. Suddenly I couldn't take care of the children all by myself and my husband needed to get more involved. In 2006 I started my first Books and Brownies blog and began reclaiming myself and my interests. We weathered two bouts of unemployment. I read the book Hirkani's Daughters: Women Who Scale Modern Mountains To Combine Working and Breastfeeding by Jennifer Hicks (even though I wasn't working and wasn't planning to) and realized that, contrary to what I had thought, it was possible to be the kind of mom I wanted to be and still have a career.

All of that led up to the third bout of unemployment in early 2007, when Siegfried and I thought (we're slow on the uptake sometimes), "Maybe this whole one income thing isn't really working out. Maybe having two jobs might be a good thing." And I decided to put together a resume and start looking. I subbed a little and got two part-time jobs pretty easily, and I began to dream. So that was one turning point.

I don't remember exactly when the other turning point occurred. I'm pretty sure that I was talking to my friend who also has seven children around that same time, and I said simply, "I didn't have all these children just so they could live in poverty in the middle of nowhere." And as I look back now, that statement has guided our decisions. It definitely was a turning point, as I began to ask myself how we had ended up in that situation, and how we could get out of it.

And now we have. After seven years of hard work, we're on the verge of moving out of the countryside and into a town with plenty of opportunities. We gave up homeschooling as a lifestyle and realized that school can be great too. We both work and we both take care of the children, and it's improved our marriage. I am more understanding of him; he is more understanding of me. We have a little more money, and hopefully that will improve more once I get my PhD.

The unexpected thing, to me, was that I enjoy working. I am much happier having a career in addition to being a wife and mother. To my surprise, the children have greater opportunities with me working than if I had continued to stay home and devote myself to their education!

Congratulations to us! I don't know where we would be if we hadn't turned when the road called for it. I don't want to know, actually. I'll just continue on my merry way.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Classic "Books and Brownies" Post

So do you really want to know why I'm starting a PhD program? Do you? Do you? Do you?

Because it can't be harder than this -
A Week in the Life of a Postpartum Homeschooling Mother of Seven 
(originally published September 12, 2008)
Monday morning while cleaning the twins’ disaster of a room (note to self #1: duct tape their arms to their sides so they can’t make messes faster than I can clean them up), the dental office called.  "Gawan needs a cleaning."  I told them that all my children did, except Parzival. (He squeaked out of it because he has no teeth yet.)  So they said, "Can you come in tomorrow?" They must have had some openings and said, "Who can we call who has a lot of children?"

My immediate reaction was "No, I can’t come in tomorrow."  (note to self #2: go with immediate reaction!) But then I started rationalizing that we are not doing full school right now, and so it would be better to do it now rather than later. "OK," I said (note to self #3: make appointments at your convenience rather than the office’s convenience).

We arrived on time. 5 children, 5 cleanings, 0 cavities, 2 referrals for orthodontist appointments.  Oh, and Isolde needs sealants on her new adult teeth.  And make an appointment for six months from now.  (note to self #4: I have no idea what I will be doing six months from now, but I bet it includes either books or brownies!)  So, "Can you bring her in Thursday morning at 8 AM?"

My immediate reaction was, "Are you insane??? Get six children up and dressed and ready and nursed (OK, that’s just one child actually) and get to the dental office which is a half hour away by EIGHT AM????" (note to self #5: CHECK NOTE TO SELF #2!)  But then I started rationalizing (note to self #6: rationalizing on no sleep is dangerous) that we already needed the van on Thursday to go to ballet, so my husband would not have to drive the gas-guzzling truck another day just for Gabrielle to get her sealants, AND we weren't doing full school yet so it would be better to do it now rather than later.  "OK, " I said (note to self #7: consider appointment with psychiatrist).

Tuesday evening I received an email from Isolde’s tutor asking if I wanted to meet for a session the next morning.  Considering that adding that in would make me have to take all the children out 4 mornings in a row, I was cognizant enough to type politely, "I’m sorry, I won’t be able to do that." (note to self #8: scratch the psych appointment – you’re not completely gone yet).

Wednesday evening I left when my husband got home to go to a homeschool support meeting, taking the baby along.  I was looking forward to relaxing, chatting, and possibly getting some ideas I hadn't heard of before since the topic was dealing with little ones while homeschooling.  I figured the baby would sleep and nurse, nurse and sleep – he’s only a month old and that’s all they do, right? (note to self #9: they also cry)

I drove home thinking, "I should have gone to the La Leche League meeting instead and dispensed all my great nursing wisdom to new moms with one baby, instead of going to a homeschool meeting where, even though I have graduated one child who received a full scholarship to college, I felt like an utter failure as a homeschooling mom."  I had listened to everyone’s lovely ideas and suggestions and known without a doubt that none of them would work in my family situation. (note to self #10: do NOT give in to depressive downward spirals)

I stopped at Food Lion and the baby continued to cry through the entire store.  The cashier was terribly concerned that something was wrong with him (I guess she never got note to self #9), which stressed me out.  Sometimes I just want to be invisible, but for some reason when you are pregnant or have a baby or go out with 6 children, you are not allowed to be invisible, which is probably a huge part of the stress I was feeling this week.  I got home and told my husband about all the suggestions and all the reasons they wouldn’t work and his reply was, "We’re doomed." (note to self # 10: try not to take hubby with you on depressive downward spirals)  I then called Beowulf to help him with his German homework (note to self #11: homeschooling doesn't actually end, you just do it at midnight on the phone).

In all my depressing my husband, I forgot to ask him to wake me up the next morning in time for our 8 AM appointment.  "No problem," I thought at 3 AM, "Parzival usually wakes up around 6ish."  (note to self #12: a baby is not a reliable alarm clock)  I rolled over and saw the clock said 7:14 AM.  Did I mention the dentist is a half hour away?

We were twenty minutes late.  I had hopes that, since only one child was being seen, it would be faster than the appointments on Tuesday, but after an hour of sitting in the full waiting room refereeing little boy quarrels, I decided all little boys needed to go outside to the van, where I proceeded to referee little boy quarrels in privacy while ignoring the fact that they were making a mess (note to self #13: see note to self #1 and consider applying said duct tape to their mouths too).  When Isolde finally came out, I quickly scrapped any thought of doing other errands and drove straight home to have lunch.  (note to self #14: skipping breakfast while nursing is a bad idea.  Skipping breakfast while nursing after having skipped dinner the night before is a worse idea.)

In my two hours at home before leaving for tutoring and ballet, I called a friend who also has a lot of children and very little money and confirmed my initial suspicion that none of the lovely ideas floated around at the homeschooling meeting would work for us. I had to cut the commiseration short to get to tutoring on time.  It went much better this week because I had the good sense to corral the twins in the double stroller while in the library. (note to self # 15: everything goes much better when the twins are corralled)

After errands, I stopped and picked up some Japanese food because I was starving and headed to ballet, where I ate the entire thing (it usually makes 2 meals) while managing to spill soy sauce all over the baby’s blanket. (note to self #16: keep baby out of path of sauces)  Then I managed to knock over a cup of water as well. (note to self #17: if you ever need to wake Parzival up quickly, dump a cup of water on him.  Works like a charm!)  Unfortunately, the water did not take care of the soy sauce issue.  Then I decided to stay away from liquids for the remaining time at ballet. (note to self #18: lack of sleep could be the cause of the spilling problem)

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.  I was absolutely physically exhausted. (note to self #19: DO NOT EVER TAKE ALL THE CHILDREN OUT IN THE MORNING AND AGAIN IN THE AFTERNOON AGAIN!)

I have no real memory of last night aside from making brownies (I always have energy for that!), reading two paragraphs of the biography of Joyce Kilmer to my daughters, which we have been reading since, uh, June, probably.  (note to self #20: try not to let birth of new baby interfere with read-aloud schedule), and answering their question for the million trillionth time that no, I have not heard from the friend they want to go visit and I would tell them the exact minute that I do hear from said friend. (note to self #21: call friend this weekend so dear daughters can move on to asking me a different question fifty thousand times)

Obviously not having paid any attention to note to self #12 from Thursday morning, I assumed I would be awake in plenty of time to take the baby to his ultrasound at the hospital at 10 AM. (note to self # 22: have husband teach me how to set alarm clock)  When I woke up the clock said 8:47 AM, leaving us one hour and thirteen minutes to get everyone fed, dressed, and buckled in the car and then drive thirty minutes to the hospital, find a spot in the parking deck, park and unbuckle everyone and corral the twins in the double stroller (note to self #23:  good job paying attention to note to self #15!), plop baby in the sling and walk to the hospital, and find out where exactly we were going.

We arrived 20 minutes late again.  After playing laboratory rats in a maze (with lots of bystanders thinking, "Look at the mother rat with all her little rat offspring!") we found Children’s Radiology.  Parzival was quite patient and good with women pouring gunk on his head and trying to see inside.  The results seemed reassuring and we were cleared for takeoff at 11:30ish. I left my cell phone at home, and I have broken every watch Roger has ever given me, so I didn’t know what time it was exactly.  In the elevator I got a bit dizzy because I had ignored note to self #14.  I got in a minor panic at the van because I couldn’t find my house keys although I knew I had them.  Turned out they were where I normally put them in the double stroller compartment thingie.  I stopped and bought us all some bagels to hold us over until we got home for lunch. (note to self #24: children eating bagels at noon IS lunch!)

When I got home, Siegfried called to hear about the ultrasound and then told me to rest that afternoon.  Resting consisted of nursing the baby, washing dishes because our dishwasher is broken, hanging laundry because our dryer is broken, putting the twins down for their nap and then going back in every five minutes to put them back in their cribs and turn the light off while saying firmly, "Schlafenzeit!" and then finally giving up and going back in two seconds after putting them in their cribs to inform them cheerfully, "Naptime is over!" so they don’t think that they are declaring their nap done while trying to write a blog post. (note to self #25: check dictionary for definition of rest)

The little boys were all starving at five and wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.   They hadn’t had a snack and the bagels were a long time ago so I let them while putting water on for spaghetti for dinner. When they were still eating at 5:30, I decided to call that dinner for the little ones so they could go to bed early. (note to self #26:  sandwiches at 5 is dinner)

Siegfried got home and installed a childproof doorknob cover on both sides of the twins’ door because, in addition to recently learning how to climb out of their cribs, they have also gotten quite adept at opening doors, and find it great fun to open their door while "taking a nap," scream into the hallway, and then slam the door shut.  I got the twins ready for bed while Roger was on the phone with the dishwasher repairman, but then could not get their door open to put them to bed (I’ve never been good with locks or doors).  The baby had to nurse, so the twins got a reprieve until Daddy was done on the phone. (note to self #27: really MUST work on door opening skills when I have a spare moment)

Finally, the twins are asleep, exhausted from a hard day’s work of causing chaos and mayhem wherever they go, Ryan is in bed, the girls have gone to bed with nary a whimper about not reading to them since I am eating my dinner (the bagels at noon were a long time ago, and brownies aren’t that filling), and Roger and I are watching the last episode of Dallas on our current Netflix disk.  Sue Ellen is pregnant!

I normally try to stay away from the "I deserve" mentality, but I really think that after this week, I deserved exactly what I got tonight: Dallas, Enrique CDs, brownies, reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, cuddling my cute baby and being thankful he’s healthy, and sharing it all with my friends via this blog.  Good night, and let’s pray that everyone in Texas is safe tonight! (note to self #28: get some sleep!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The March of April May Do Me In

I haven't blogged since March. Unlike other times when I didn't write, I haven't mentally composed entries and then not gotten a chance to write them up. I just haven't even had the mental space to even think!

In March I was still waiting to hear from some programs I had applied to. Then I took a long solo road trip to visit Beowulf and take him his things that were left in our house. I visited my aunt and uncle and met a new cousin, visited old friends, and then went to visit a university. I loved it so much I didn't want to leave! Then I drove 11 hours home and collapsed. I still hadn't heard about funding.

In April, I was still waiting to hear from some programs and about funding. I was checking my email every two minutes and finally resorted to only allowing myself to check it between episodes of House of Cards. Then I got sick and watched about twenty episodes in two days, so there went that. As of April 15, when I had to tell universities yea or nay, I *still* didn't know about funding! I decided to tell my favorite university that I was coming if they were offering me funding, and deferring till the following year if they weren't. They replied that they would put me down as deferred. Then followed a long, upsetting exchange where I found out that they had known since February that they didn't have funding for me but didn't tell me so that I could look for another source. My eczema flared horribly and I thought, "Here's the proof that it's stress-related!" I thought I was going to have to wait another year, which meant staying at my job which had taken a nose-dive and also finding a new place to live as we had already arranged to move out of our house. We spent Easter weekend looking at possible rentals. I had already planned at trip to Alabama at the very end of April and had hoped that everything would be settled by then so that I could relax, but now it looked like it wouldn't be. I could still apply for funding but wouldn't know until mid-May or later if I got it, so we didn't know if we should look for a short-term rental or long-term or if we were staying in our current state or moving to another state! And we still have six children at home and jobs that we were trying to take care of and do during all this!  Siegfried (my husband) wanted to take a long weekend and go visit his mom before we had to move so he decided to squeeze it in before my trip to AL. I took him to the airport Friday afternoon, then went home and picked up my daughters from school, then took some of the children home and older daughter Isolde to ballet and then went to look at two possible rentals. The first one was adequate, but the second one I absolutely, totally loved! It had a gigantic map of the world in the foyer, and the entire house was gorgeous. I drove back to ballet, called Siegfried who had just landed, and told him about it. He said if I loved it that much to just apply for it without waiting for him to see it. We hung up and I checked my email and there was an offer of a teaching assistantship from the Spanish department. I literally (and I do mean literally!) could not believe it. Twenty minutes after seeing a house I loved and feeling like I was all right with staying for another year and THERE IT WAS - my funding! Now we had to decide our entire lives by Tuesday, the day my husband was coming back. Great timing! I asked all my friends for advice and most said to follow our hearts. The only reason to stay was that we both had jobs. I felt like I was choosing between financial security and our vision for our lives. I ended up writing a list of reasons why we wanted to move and then evaluating which option met the most reasons. Monday night when my husband and I were supposed to talk about it, instead he was really upset about something with his mother, which he told me, which got me really upset, and then we still had to decide our lives. We decided to go for it! The next day I accepted the assistantship and contacted the landlord of the house I had looked at while visiting the university, picked up my husband from the airport, went to work the next day, and something else really upsetting happened! I still hadn't packed for my trip and I was leaving right after school. I went home and threw things in a suitcase and drove eight hours to Alabama.

And that was April. If you thought that was a long paragraph to read, try living through it!

May started with a lovely vacation with my sister in Alabama (despite more upsetting news from work), and then went into high gear with informing my job that I was leaving, trying to figure out when to move out of our house, rehearsals, showcases, recitals, plays, concerts, packing, packing and more packing! To complicate things, we aren't moving directly to our new state, but the children and I are spending the summer with my mother while Isolde does a five week ballet intensive. We secured the house I had seen in our new state but couldn't move in until the end of July. So the majority of our stuff needed to be put in storage pods and then shipped there, while I also needed stuff to occupy the boys for five or six weeks in another state, while we would still be living in our house here for a few weeks. Oh, and did I mention that we still have six children at home and jobs to do? Yeah. May was nuts. It ended with our movers not showing up to load the pods.

And now it's June. The end is in sight: the end of school, the end of packing, the end of living in rural isolation, the end of stressing about our house. However, we still need to find a place for Siegfried to live for the summer, and he still needs to find a job in our new state or we will be living apart for a while. know Kriemhild couldn't stand to be parted from Siegfried!

And that, in a very big nutshell, is why I haven't had mental space or time for blogging.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wait - Is This An Anti-book Message?!

I had a thought the other day - it's been years since I read a marriage book. Yet somehow, without the sage advice of authors peddling various viewpoints, my husband and I are just as happy as ever, if not happier, despite massive amounts of stress.

It's also been years since I read a parenting book. The last time I tried was in 2011 - a book called "Raise Happy Children - Raise Them Saints!" which I got at a Catholic bookstore. I never got very far in it. I don't remember specifics, but I do recall being appalled at bad logic and horrible hyperbole. And yet, somehow, my children are still good kids, mostly well-behaved, loved by their teachers, respectful, and they still love God, my husband, and me.

I'm thinking there might be a lesson here.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Change the probable no to a definite no for the PhD program. However, the same school offered me a spot in an intriguing MS program, which I am considering.

So I guess now I actually have options! So exciting!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Count

PhD programs applied to: 8
Definite no: 2
Probable no: 1
Haven't heard: 3
Finalist for program: 1
DEFINITE YES: 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Is Sustainable Homeschooling?

A year and a half after we stopped exclusively homeschooling, I am still processing our homeschooling years and what they meant to me. Tonight I had an opportunity, thanks to a fabulous group of women, to get together with other homeschooling moms (I'm not being sexist; no dads were present) and discuss the idea of sustainable homeschooling and what that term means to each of us. My intent in writing this blog post is not to outline our discussion but to hit upon some of the areas that we encountered again and again as we told our stories, and to further develop my thoughts about the concept.

Sustainable brings images to my mind of agriculture, of business, of harvesting trees and fish, and other areas like that. The overarching concept is not to ruin something so that it no longer exists, i.e., it can be sustained indefinitely. We don't eat so many wild salmon that there aren't enough left to reproduce, so that we can continue eating salmon for generations, for example. If homeschooling is a positive thing, and even though I am no longer exclusively homeschooling, I believe that it most definitely is for many people, then we should want to do it sustainably, so that our families can reap the benefits and mitigate or eliminate the disadvantages.

My concern, which comes from my experiences as a long-time homeschooling mom of a large family and from my observations and conversations with other homeschooling moms, is that a large percentage of homeschool moms are not homeschooling sustainably. Instead, they are burning themselves out. The disadvantages create a vicious circle, a downward spiral, that leads to a mom always feeling worn out, incompetent, and overly stressed. At the same time, homeschooling rhetoric demonizes school, and so the mom ends up feeling trapped.

I didn't realize that I felt that way until the day my principal mentioned at a faculty meeting that she was considering starting an elementary school, and I felt like I had been let out of prison! Words cannot adequately describe that moment. Once that happened, I could not, no matter how I tried, stuff those feelings back inside of me. But public school was not an option. Until there was no other option. And then I tried it, and it was fine.

I heard moms say tonight that they are tired, they don't have time to plan, they have no time in their houses by themselves, they never get a break, they don't have money to hire help or to fund outside activities, that there's chaos frequently, that they have to be everything (teacher, psychiatrist, chauffeur, etc), that their children have special needs that require a lot of time and effort to handle, that they don't understand a certain child...the list goes on.

One realization I had a few years back was that often, when homeschooling moms have an issue and they discuss it with each other, the answer is frequently some additional thing the mom should research or try to do. I remember a conversation with a mom trying to solve all my issues for me by suggesting thing after thing that I could do. The issue is - homeschooling moms don't need more to do! They need less to do!

I already had a tendency to maximize my time before children. I always had something to read with me. I would work on something during commercials while watching sports.  Even when I had twin babies and a two year old and had to go out somewhere, I would STILL bring something to read or do with me, even though I didn't have a prayer of ever getting to any of it! I kept trying to get more out of my time so that I could do even a fraction of what was on my plate, when really I needed to do less. The last year of full homeschooling, as I pulled out of the driveway on my way to go teach, I heard the Alan Jackson song "It's Five o'clock Somewhere" with the line, "This lunch break is gonna take all afternoon" and it hit me that I had not planned a lunchtime for myself in my schedule! I had figured out when the children would eat, but not me.

Then it dawned on me that we have a word for that in English: workaholic. Because I didn't have a regular job, it never occurred to me that I didn't know how to take a break. I was never recharging myself! If you don't plug in your electronic device to charge, it will die and won't be able to do anything, and that was where I was headed. That day I forced myself to take a fifteen minute break to do nothing, and it was very difficult. I ended up calling my husband the last half of it.

However, the thing that concerns me the most after the discussion tonight was how many moms feel like they've lost themselves. I completely lost myself in the first nine years of homeschooling. I gave up everything I was interested in outside of my children, homeschooling, and parenting. Starting my first Books and Brownies blog in the summer of 2006 was the first step back to finding myself. Even the title was a step in that direction because I love books, and brownies, and alliteration. Because of all of the above issues: exhaustion, stress, lack of finances, long driving distance, no babysitters, etc., I never did things for myself. That was eight years ago, and I'm still recovering myself. I don't want to see this happen to other moms! There has to be more to your life than being a homeschooling mom.

Being a mother can be all-consuming. Being a homeschooling mom can be more so. Linguistically that makes no sense because if something is already all-consuming, it's consumed all and so there's no more to consume! It's easy to fall into because you are constantly surrounded by everything you need to do, every dish you need to wash, every child you need to spend time with, every piece of laundry you need to fold, every curriculum you need to research, every bed you need to make, every meal you have to cook, every subject you didn't manage to get to today...the list is endless.

In my last desperate attempts at trying to make homeschooling work, I seriously considered renting a house just for homeschooling, so I could achieve some separation in my worlds. My thought was that all our homeschooling things would be there and organized, we would get dressed, pack lunches, and go over there to do our work, and then come home when we were done. I still think the idea has merit even though it would be expensive. When we first started homeschooling, my oldest was friends with a boy who lived in a house that already had a wired workshop on the property, so they used that as their schoolhouse. When we moved into our house, it had four bedrooms plus a den, and at the time we only had three children, so we could have easily made a room our schoolroom. However, my husband wasn't in favor of that idea and I didn't insist, so our homeschooling materials were all over the house, which some would say integrates life and learning, which is true, but doesn't take into account a mother's need for some mental space!

I don't know what will come of the group that met tonight, or what schooling decisions we all will make for our families in the future. But I am elated that people are having this conversation and that there are moms willing to discuss the drawbacks of homeschooling, because I have met homeschooling families who will not admit that there actually are drawbacks! This attitude leaves moms feeling isolated and alone, like they must be doing it all wrong if they're not 100% ecstatic every day to be with their children. If we can have honest discussions about the difficult areas, we can begin to solve those issues so that homeschooling can be truly sustainable.