Family Time

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It seems like everywhere we go the questions are the same. Kids are spoken to in terms of their grade level. People wonder if they're excited to go back to school. They always want to know which school they attend. Random strangers in public settings seem to always approach my children this way. I'm pretty sure it's always one of my first questions to new children I've met too. A child's education is such a huge part of their life that that's how we identify them and classify them. It's a conversation piece because they spend so much of their lives in an educational setting.

Lately we're fielding questions about who our kids' teachers are going to be this coming school year as well. Their friends want to know if they'll see them in class. I figured I should probably make some sort of formal announcement.

So the answer is me. This year, I'm their teacher.

I have enough reasons for this that I could write a novel. That list of reasons has grown and grown over the years. I've wanted to homeschool for a long time. Kyle hasn't had such a favorable opinion of the whole thing. Finally, he's agreed to let me go for it. He'd be the first to tell you that he's still not in love with the idea, but out of respect for me, he's letting my mom heart take a stab at it this year.

I know I don't owe anybody an explanation as to why we've chosen to educate our kids at home this year, but I also know that questions will still inevitably come. I'll spare you from the aforementioned novel's worth of reasons and just share with you my main one.

Every year when I would drive my kids to school on their first day, we would have a similar conversation. I would tell them that I didn't care what their grades were. As long as they did their best, that was enough for me. I cared about whether or not they were kind. Period. That's it. I never wanted to hear that they had made any other kid feel like less than they were. I never wanted them to participate in bullying another child or hurting another child. I never wanted to hear that they had been disrespectful to their teachers or anything less than polite. I wanted them to be honest, helpful, decent, and above all, kind. I care about my children's characters more than I care about calculus or reading fluency or social studies.

We are a busy family. We have five children with a broad range of interests. The majority of my children are gifted athletically. They love to play sports and I love to watch them to play. Because of those interests and talents, a typical day at our house looked exactly like this last year: bus ride, school, bus ride, sports, homework, and bedtime. That was it. No family dinner. No time to spend talking individually with my kids about their day. No time to build those characters I'm always so concerned about.

We've become a culture that worships busyness. We feel like the more activities we involve our kids in, the more opportunities they have for success. The time kids used to have to run wild and free, to explore, and to create are all but a memory.

We are also a family that believes in and worships a loving God. In this home we pray and read scriptures. In this home we learn about the character of the Savior of mankind and we try to instill those traits in our children and ourselves. We try to serve and to lift and to leave this world better than we found it.

So in a nutshell, we're homeschooling this year because I want our family life to look differently than it does. I want time to spend with my children teaching them about integrity, goodness, and kindness. I want to instill in them a love for God and the rest of humankind. I want them to have time to run around being silly and enjoying nature. I want baseball games that interrupt dinnertime to be irrelevant because we had breakfast and lunch together already. I want my kids to learn that when they encounter struggles academically or in any other way, that they have a family of supporters here to help and to lift.  I want my children to know that in their mother they will find someone in their corner who cares an infinite amount about who they are and what they choose to do with their lives.

Basically, this is me taking my family back.

I have a secret. Okay, it's not so much a secret as it is a tool. My number one tool.

I have five kids. Five. Energetic. Kids.

IMG_7586 blog Some days they are bouncing off the walls. Literally. Tanner damaged the drywall in one of my parents' bedrooms. With his head. Just ask my mother.

Sometimes they get downright snippy with each other and I wonder how we go from a loving family to the breakfast scene in Cheaper by the Dozen. Bonnie Hunt is masterful. "Okay. Mom's losing it!"

Some days nothing I do has any effect. On those days I feel desperate. I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I feel like we're all going to end up regretting what happens on those days.

We're outdoorsy people. We love being up in the woods or at the beach or in the park or anywhere really. Sometimes we almost quit before we quite make it there. A few weeks ago we had one of those days.

We had told the kids we were going for a hike. The morning was awful. Fighting, crying, screaming, terrorizing. We almost bagged the whole plan because we couldn't even get them out the door in under 30 minutes. I could feel my remaining hair falling out.

We persevered. And I've never been more grateful.

Our feet touched down on that mountain soil and it was magical.

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I kid you not, in less than ten minutes my kids were smiling. They were helping each other not to get hit in the face by branches in the denser areas. (My husband is a walking GPS so we pretty much shoot from the hip. Unless you want to be eaten by mountain lions, I wouldn't recommend this route unless you have one of those in your family.) The kids were suddenly chit chatty. And they even liked their parents again. They wanted to discuss everything about the wonder of God's creations. And when I say everything, that's exactly what I mean.

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Thank you free range cattle for giving the boys the opportunity to explain to their sisters how different your poop is from elk and deer.

IMG_7579 blog IMG_7597 blog IMG_7599 blog Life was good again. We spent time together, we learned, we grew, and we were happy to do it. Fresh air is one of the secrets to a happy family life. I firmly believe that. I also believe that hiking up and down hills for 3 miles works the edginess right out of children and adults alike. In a matter of a few hours we were all each other's best friends again.

IMG_7602 blog IMG_7600 blog IMG_7595 blog Basically what I'm saying is, to save yourself from moments of desperation, just go play outside.

The Miracle of Books I'm not a parenting expert. If I were, there wouldn't be fingernail polish on my daughter's bedroom wall . . . or a fitted sheet in my garbage can that was cut by scissors. You'd also probably be dazzled by my children's perfect manners and impeccably clean finger nails.

But despite our mistakes and occasional dysfunction, I have discovered something that helps things go right. It softens moods and inspires laughter. It helps bind me to my children and helps them find common ground with each other.

What is this miracle, you say? Books.

I know it might sound silly or so ridiculously simple that you won't believe me. But it's the truth. I read to my children. A lot. And when I do . . . magic. They pile up, they snuggle in, they giggle, and they find commonality. A day gone horribly wrong can turn out miraculously right with the words of a simple, children's book.

I was thinking a lot about this today. I have several kids not feeling well. There are some high-stress health situations that we're battling. Moods were edgy. Fights were frequent. Until Avery walked up to me and placed a book in my lap. "Read book," she stated simply. I picked her up and put her in my lap. "Thank you," she smiled (her new, favorite phrase . . . which is a huge improvement from her fascination with shouting "butt crack" every time I changed her diaper . . . and yes, I wish I was lying). I started to read Snowmen All Year by Caralyn Buehner. In seconds, Haylee was at my side, giggling about the snowman learning to dive and swim in the pool. Then Tanner started listening. Even Hunter propped his head on the back of the couch to look over my shoulder. A good book changed everything for awhile.

On days where everything else goes wrong, sometimes I forget that reading a book together can help solve it. I'm trying harder to remember. So as I was thinking about this today, I began to smile about some of my kids' favorites and I wanted to share them with you.

1. No, David! by David Shannon

No, David

This book will always be a favorite in this house. My kids snicker with delight over David's shenanigans. They love him. He's real. He makes mistakes. And he's loved.

2. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Alexander Honestly, it's the same with Alexander. Real is funny. It just is. Even kids relate to it.

3. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

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We love all of Laura Numeroff's If You Give books, but this was my favorite as a kid and so it's the one I always read to my kids. And hey, it's good for teaching cause and effect too.

4. Not That Tutu! by Michelle Sinclair Colman

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This is an adorable, little board book that my girls love. Taylor is obsessed with wearing her tutu (which they can totally relate to, I assume). It's Avery's favorite book, hands down.

5. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

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All of Karma Wilson's Bear books are excellent. My kids find every single one to be engaging. Plus, Jane Chapman is a fantastic illustrator, so there's that.

6. Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow  by Martha Freeman

mrs wow My kids love her "lazy, crazy pets." They think this book is hilarious.

7. Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

Can I Play Too Gerald and Piggie are favorites at our house. The illustrations are so expressive and really make the books great. This one is one of my boys' favorites. My 8 year old laughs hysterically every time we read it.

8. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen

The dinosaur books are great. And funny. This is one of my personal favorites.

9. Corduroy by Don Freeman

Corduroy I loved this book as a kid and my kids love it now. I don't even know what it is about the book, but they enjoy reading it over and over.

10. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed  by Eileen Christelow

Five Little Monkeys We love the five little monkeys. They're adorable. Enough said.

I hope you and your kids can enjoy some of the same moments that we do as we read this books. And please, share your favorites with me! We're always looking for more great books to read together.

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Why I'm Breaking up with my Smart Phone

As featured in The Reflector:

I don’t know what it is about the beginning of each year that makes us think it’s the appropriate time to change something we actually thought of back in October, but for whatever reason we wait. Maybe the symbol of a fresh start is inexplicably motivational. Or maybe it’s our way of delaying the hard thing we think we want to do.

I’m a pretty self-motivated person. If I become aware of something that I need to change I typically just do it as quickly as the change personally allows. But this year I joined the throngs of resolution makers as I put off something that I knew I should do this past fall.

What sort of thing would make me drag my customarily forward moving feet, you say?

I’m breaking up with my iphone.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not actually getting rid of that phone. I’m not exiling it to a deserted island and I’m not trading it off for one of those flip phones that I’m certain will soon join the ranks of vinyl records and eight track tapes. The dynamic of our relationship is about to drastically change, however.

I would wager to say that most people have had a breakup like this. The relationship just isn’t working. For whatever reason it has become an unhealthy situation for you. The relationship no longer inspires you to greatness, but instead stands in your way. Your significant other didn’t do anything wrong. Yet something in the quiet recesses of your soul tells you that you’re not on the right track. You worry over the decision. You lose sleep over it. You don’t want to sever all contact and you may even want to remain friends. There’s a delicate balance there and it’s difficult to accomplish.

That’s what’s happening here. A smart phone is not a bad thing by any means. Technology is amazing and it has given us the capability to accomplish a lot of wonderful things. If you’re not careful, however, it also has the power to take over. Somehow everything on that phone becomes more important than everything off of it.

I know this sort of revelation might come as a shock to some, but I used to be able to wait to check my email until I put my kids to bed and sat down at night at my computer. Weird, right?

I also used to not be driven towards little bits of mindless drivel that people like to share on the internet. Now I can’t look away. It seems that nobody can. I love seeing photos and hearing updates from friends and family that I don’t get to see much, but I don’t honestly care what the kid I went to high school with ate for dinner or need to see any more posters of cats or be told to keep calm about one more thing. I am calm, okay?

I used to be able to wait until I walked in the front door to hear and return telephone messages. I also used to like actually talking to people. With my voice.

Would you believe that my memory was uncommonly sharp because I’d have to give myself mental reminders of things that I needed to do when I got home? Now I just type a note in my phone.

I’m a photographer. How shameful is it that I just snap photos with my subpar camera phone instead of lugging my nice camera around? In an emergency it’s great. As the tool by which my entire life is documented, not so much.

My relationship with my phone is making me sluggish. It’s making me lazy. It’s making me spend way too much time doing things during the middle of my day that I used to save until the end. This relationship is making me edgy. It’s making me inattentive. It’s making me snap at my sweet children when they interrupt my reading something to show me the contraption they made out of yarn, paper clips and masking tape.

Mostly this relationship doesn’t inspire me to greatness at all. And I expect that from a relationship, otherwise there is no point. I don’t care if a relationship is so awful that it drives me to my knees, as long as it’s enabling my growth. That’s what relationships are for.

So this relationship changes today. My phone and I are no longer together. We’re just friends. If I don’t respond to your email or your facebook message or your text right away, it’s because I’m busy living my life. I’ll respond in my down time when my kids don’t need me to laugh at their jokes or help them with their homework or teach them how to do somersaults. I’ll get to my work after my kids are asleep like I used to. It worked fine before. I’ll check in on the world of my friends when my husband doesn’t need me to listen to how his day went at work or to cook his favorite dinner.

I’m just too busy right now for a relationship that’s not actually making me any better.

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I'm sort of obsessed with Christmas. I'm not going to deny it. I'm totally proud of it. I'm also obsessed with Christmas movies and this will also not be denied. I watch them all year. Give me whatever speech you'd like about encroaching on other holidays because it won't phase me in the least. I love feel-good jolliness all year long. Christmas movies are uplifting and warm and sometimes even cater to my romantic heart. Besides, if you don't like Christmas movies, it's quite possible that you have no soul.

So I either buy or rent or watch on Netflix, any Christmas movies I ever get my hands on. I won't claim to have seen them all, but I've seen a lot. I also won't claim to love them all because sometimes the acting can be incredibly poor. But I love a lot of them. Give me a good, cheesy, romantic story with good acting and I'm yours. If any of these ten movies hold claim to cheesiness, I'll warn you, but will not apologize for the sappy genius.

Okay, so here goes, in no particular order . . . good Christmas movies can't be rated without offending the season:

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1. Irving Berlin's White Christmas
- I don't care who you are. I don't care if you like dancing or singing. If you can't appreciate Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye's artistic talents, then you probably shouldn't watch Christmas movies anyway.

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2. Dear Santa
- My family loves this one. It's one of our favorites. It's a romantic, feel-good movie that focuses a lot on hope and service to others. I seriously probably watch it once a week. All year.

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3.It's A Wonderful Life
- I shouldn't even have to say it, but this is a classic. And I prefer it in black and white, but they sell both versions. James Stewart is fantastic and the story is uplifting and wonderful. It's a must watch every year.

12 Dates of Christmas 4. The 12 Dates of Christmas -  I can't find this to purchase anywhere, but it's on Netflix. It's a great movie. It's like a holiday version of Groundhog Day. Can't go wrong with that. Plus, if you watched Saved by the Bell and were in love with Zack Morris, it's like a trip down memory lane.

the-santa-clause 5. The Santa Clause
- I love this movie and it's not just because of Neal's ridiculous Christmas sweaters. It's a warm and kind of healing movie, I think.

MostWonderfulTimeOfTheYear1 6. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
- Love it. Period. Just a warning though, if you have little kids who still believe in Santa Claus, I probably wouldn't let them watch this one. It will get them asking questions you don't want to answer. I've never let my kids watch it, but I do all the time.

600full-miracle-on-34th-street-screenshot 7. Miracle on 34th Street
- There are several versions of this movie and the new one is actually good too, but I still like the classic the best. The magic of Christmas right there.

BoyfriendforChristmasStill2 8. A Boyfriend for Christmas
- This is probably the cheesiest of all my picks, but it's still totally cute. Just a good romantic comedy. Totally worth watching.

Christmas Shoes 9. The Christmas Shoes
- If you don't feel like crying . . . well, okay, or completely sobbing . . . through the entire thing, then don't watch it. Luckily for me, I don't mind shamelessly blubbering. If a movie is capable of capturing heartbreak and happiness at the same time, this is the one. Great movie. Plus, Kimberly Williams-Paisley rules. And actually, there are two sequels to this which are also good.

still-of-macaulay-culkin-and-joe-pesci-in-home-alone-large-picture 10. Home Alone
- I've been watching this since I was a kid and I still love it. Funny and yet works in the hope of the Christmas season. It's an incredibly well-done film.

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Step 1: Go ahead. There is no shame in letting them believe they're doing a fun, Halloween activity. And in their eyes it really is fun. Pumpkin bags at Wal-mart are $.97 each. I don't think there's really any argument to be had here.

Fall Chore Tips for KidsStep 2: Let the baby walk around eating Cheetos. Trust me, this is a win-win situation for everyone.

You're so very welcome.