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If you were reading this blog about four years ago, you would have seen a lot of posts about homeschooling.  It was my first year teaching Lorelei at home, and I was full of plans and eager to share them.

Lorelei spent her first four years of schooling at a parochial school.  It’s an excellent school, and her former classmates seem to have been very happy there.  But Lorelei was showing signs of stress and anxiety from the ever-increasing amount of homework, even in the summer time.  And I wanted to spend more time with my last baby.

Lorelei First Grade

Lorelei’s first day of first grade

Sending her back to “real” school eventually was always my plan:  when we would do it and where she would go were left TBD by needs and circumstances.  All I was sure of was that the transition would occur before high school.

I’ve homeschooled four of my five children for varying amounts of time, and it’s been a different experience with each of them.  I’ve come to realize that homeschooling does not provide the best learning environment for every child.

I am not sorry that I removed Lorelei from an environment that was stressful for her.  At home, we were able to recognize that she suffers from anxiety and take steps to combat that.  I was able to get to know her very well, and to spend time with her, and we are very close.  And she was able to devote extended time to non-academic pursuits.  Lorelei has always loved art, and I’ve been amazed to watch the changes in her pictures over the years.  She also became involved in an online group devoted to making music videos, and I was beyond impressed to see how she navigated the online community and taught herself skills both online and off.  I learned (and I think she did too) how very capable she is.

She also played outside a lot, as children should.  And remained a little girl longer than it seems most girls are allowed to these days.

Lorelei on the rock

Lorelei playing outside

Lorelei 13

Lorelei on her 13th birthday

But the academic side of homeschool was a real struggle.  Part of that was my change in circumstance from the last time I did this. I’m at home, but I’m working several hours each day, and I have to get things done.  But part of it was Lorelei herself.  When I taught Teddy at home, for example, I could read off a list of assignments and he would do them on his own.  Lorelei would complain and resist and insist that she couldn’t understand; she would freak out about possibly putting down the wrong answer even though her mother was the teacher and there were no grades; or she would go off to work and never return for her next assignment, and I wouldn’t even notice because I was so busy.  Every day, every subject, every assignment was fraught.  There were many days when we didn’t even attempt school, and we both felt guilty about it.

I’ve always known Lorelei was smart, of course.  She made high grades when she was enrolled in school.  But I had about decided that although she was a very capable person, she just wasn’t academic.  We all worried about what would happen when she returned to school.

Lorelei started eighth grade at the local public middle school in early August.  And she is thriving.  The transformation has been remarkable.  First progress reports are in and she has straight A’s.  Her Language Arts teacher has commented more than once that Lorelei should be teaching the class.  Her Social Studies teacher asked her if she would like to be in the Honors class.  Her art teacher invited her to apply for Art Club membership.  She joined the Book Club.  She comes home chattering animatedly about her classmates.  She stays on top of her homework without prompting.  And she joined the Youth Group at church to continue her religious education without complaint, and is enjoying that too.

So what happened?  Where did this motivated, happy, energetic, self-directed, intellectually curious student come from?

summer 80

Right after her getting-ready-for-school haircut

The answer, I believe, is that Lorelei is an extrovert.  She is drawing energy from the school environment and applying it to her studies.  It never would have occurred to me that this could be a factor–she wasn’t pining for school by any means; she was happy to have been removed and enjoyed being with me.  But the evidence is clear:  Homeschooling was not an academically good fit for Lorelei; traditional schooling is.

Again, I have no regrets about removing Lorelei from school.  The homeschooling experience may not have been an academic success, but it was valuable in other ways.  And she is quickly making up any ground she may have lost.  But I also have no regrets about putting her back in!

Some people–I was one of them once–are very tied to a certain way of educating their children.  “This is how our family does things,” they think.  For me, it was the ideal of having all my kids graduate from the parochial school attended by my sisters and me, and then going on the be members of the third generation of our family to attended Knoxville Catholic High School.  Family circumstances and the individual needs of my children forced me to rethink and relinquish plans I thought were set in stone, and my kids are the better for it.

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I have a large intimidating binder and a husband who is a lawyer to bring with me to IEP meetings.  I send emails to teachers, I have conferences with the principal, I advocate relentlessly even when it makes me uncomfortable.  I have become THAT MOM, and I don’t care if people at school don’t like me as long as they accommodate the needs of my brilliant and quirky son.

He was out of the ordinary from the moment of his birth.  He didn’t walk until 17 months, and didn’t get into trouble the way his big brothers did.  He had a vivid imagination, spending months at a time insisting that he was a pirate named Captain Cutler (one of many identities he assumed), and once scandalized a patron at the local Shoney’s who asked about the stuffed ostrich he was carrying by announcing: “It is the Ostrich from Hell.  Its name is Blood.”

Read the rest at Not So Formulaic.

 

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Well, this has been a busy week!

John and I got back from Georgetown Sunday evening, and I was right back into summer adventures with the kids the following day, when we visited McClung Museum.  This is a mostly unsung treasure on the University of Tennessee campus.  The kids have been there many times but it had been a few years.  Notable to me is that they now take time to read the descriptions on the displays.  We spent two solid hours here.  I loved the temporary exhibit, “Pick Your Poison,” an historical treatment of recreational drug and alcohol use, but as always it was the Egypt exhibit that enthralled Lorelei and William.

summer 7.jpg

Tuesday was hiking day, and because we got a late start we kept it very local, heading to Melton Hill Park about ten minutes away.  William thought it was beautiful although he decried the level of garbage we encountered along the woodland trails, this being the type of park where teenagers (and others) congregate to do sketchy things.  It was also super hot that day and I really thought I might collapse but I soldiered on.

summer 8

Wednesday, as I mentioned before, we have a standing appointment in the morning.  Plus William had yet another dentist appointment that afternoon.  So we again kept it close to where we were already going to be and visited the KARM thrift store in Bearden.  I don’t know if it’s weird but my kids love thrift stores.  On Wednesday I got to have a little summer fun of my own when my cousin quite unexpectedly invited me to go to a Journey/Def Leppard concert!  She was nuts about Journey when we were teenagers and I thought she might have a heart attack!

summer 10

Thursday was animal day this week (Lorelei and William think every day should b e animal day).  We went to the zoo.  William and I had an appointment at 9:00 a.m. to talk to the volunteer coordinator about his plans to volunteer there next year.  This forced us to get there really early and we discovered this is a delightful time to visit the zoo while escaping the afternoon heat.  We also experimented with letting William wander around by himself some in preparation for dropping off at the zoo to spend the day there alone sometime soon.

summer 9

Lorelei and William look for the otters

Today, Friday, I begged off because I was lunching with a friend and attending funeral services later, and also needed time to get work done.  And tomorrow we are hitting the Farmer’s Market again, this time with Emily along.  I think William would enjoy it but I’m not sure whether we will be able to talk him into it.  I’m guessing not.

Tune in next week–I’ve got at least one really exciting thing planned!

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You’ve probably seen posts like this and this extolling the virtues of the summers of yore and planning to recreate them.  Heck, I might even have written a post like that myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I loved my childhood summers.  It sounds idyllic when I talk about it, and I really think it was.  I remember sleeping late and watching game shows, daily swims at the neighborhood pool, long walks around the subdivision, wearing bathing suits while riding our bikes, chasing lighting bugs and playing games outdoors in the dark, the hum of the streetlights and the songs of the cicadas.  I’d love to go back and do it all again.

But that neighborhood pool shut down years ago, and we live in a neighborhood that comprises three cul-de-sacs.  My kids don’t have friends their age nearby, plus they are also antisocial and frankly don’t care.  It’s also about ten degrees hotter then it was during my childhood and we don’t have a shady yard like the one I grew up with.

I’m all for leaving kids unsupervised and unscheduled while I live my own life, but kids nowadays when left to their own devices are apt to fill that unscheduled time with actual devices.  William likes his computer, Lorelei likes the videos on her phone, and they both like watching movies way more than they are going to like spending time outside in the blazing 90 degree heat.  They do play outside, I promise–but with much more interesting things to do inside than existed back when there were four t.v. channels on a good day, they aren’t going to want to spend a whole day out there.

So this summer I am going to get up early and try to get as much done and then in the afternoons I am going to take them on some kind of adventure.  Some of them will be longer than others but the goal is to do something every weekday so that we don’t all spend the day staring at screens.

School let out Wednesday and our first adventure, a tradition for the last day of school for as long as I can remember, was going out for ice cream.

Thursday I surprised them with a trip to Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue.

Friday we checked out the University of Tennessee Trial Gardens.

I’m not insisting they accompany me on the Saturday adventure, since that’s usually my day to do as I please, but Lorelei chose to come with me to the Farmers’ Market this morning.

market 1

I have many more mini-adventures planned, and I’ll keep y’all updated.  It won’t be a 70s summer, but I think it will be a good summer.

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It's so strange that autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying.- Unknown

As the year dies, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to musings on our own mortality.  For Catholics, Halloween is not only about pumpkins and trick-or-treating; it is the eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by the Feast of All Souls, days set aside for us to remember and pray for the dead.

As we get older it becomes harder to ignore the fact that every second that passes brings us that much closer to our own deaths.  Children, for whom time seems almost to stand still so that the time between Christmases feels infinite, usually don’t think about the inevitability of death as we do.

But children will encounter death, some sooner than others, and how we prepare them for this and help them deal with it when it comes is important.

There doesn’t have to be some big moment where you sit your kids down and explain death to them.  Better for it to be introduced early, before they can really comprehend it, as a natural process.  You can start with what your kids encounter as they play–dead insects.  If they’ve heard you talking about the fact that an insect is dead from infancy, they’ll always have at least a vague concept of what death is, which you can flesh out later when they have questions.  Tell them that the insect got tired and old and its body couldn’t work anymore, so it was time for it to die.

When they ask questions about their own eventual deaths or yours, it’s best to reassure them by saying that they–and you–are still very young and it will be a long time before you die.  There’s no need to muddy the waters at this point with discussions of death by accident or illness.  Sadly, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to answer those kinds of questions.

My children had their first close encounter with death when my grandmother died.  They were 16, 13, 12, six, and three at the time.  They knew Mima well so they were definitely affected by her death and I felt they should be a part of it.  We told the little ones that, like the insects, Mima was old and her body had worn out, but we also added that she had gone to Heaven to be with God as we all hope to one day. (I personally don’t think that it’s particularly necessary or useful to bring up the concept of Purgatory with little kids right when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.)

We took all the kids with us to the funeral home.  The open casket was at the far end of the room and we let the kids decide whether to approach.  Lorelei and her cousin Ella, who were three and five at the time, were interested and spent time looking at Mima.  William, who was six, did not want to look at her and stayed at the other end of the room.  The children also attended the funeral Mass and the graveside service.

It’s very important not to impose your own–or other people’s–expectations or interpretations on the grieving of children.  They may not look as upset as you think they should look, but don’t make assumptions.  When my dog was hit by a car when I was four, I was very upset, too upset to even talk about it.  I will never forget an adult making the comment that it didn’t seem like I cared very much.  So keep in mind that your children may need space to grieve, or they may need for you to draw them out so that they can express their feelings or ask questions.  I was very impressed by a friend whose husband died when their son was about ten years old.  He wanted to go sit with his friends at the funeral.  Some people might have insisted that he sit up front with the family but she gave him the space he needed and allowed him to find comfort with his friends.

Many children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet.  My children experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago, when we had to put our elderly dog to sleep.  Lorelei and William accompanied me to the veterinarian and we all supported each other.  I was proud of how brave they were and how they comforted our dog through the process, constantly petting him and reassuring him with loving words.  When kids lose a pet they will almost certainly ask you if the pet will go to Heaven.  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is that when you go to Heaven and want your pet, he will be there.

Like everything else, children will learn more from your actions around death than your words.  Do you talk about how you miss those who have died, or do your avoid discussing uncomfortable feelings?  Do you pray for those who have died and encourage your children to join in? (That’s when you can explain about Purgatory!)  Do you lead by example by attending funerals of those you know whenever possible and encouraging your children to come when appropriate?

My grandfather died when I was 13, and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  For years I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of “viewing” the body, and dreaded going to funerals.  But forcing myself to attend many out of a sense of duty and obligation over the past several years changed my attitude.  In one tragic week several summers ago, a high school friend’s son committed suicide, the father of one of Teddy’s football teammates died in an accident, and the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.  I took Teddy to the funeral of one father, and he accompanied me to take food to the family of the other one.  Set an example for your children with your actions when death touches you, and encourage their participation, and they will internalize the value of these rituals and will not fear them.

This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  For more writing on this topic, click below.

siena-sisters

blog hop death

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When I was a little girl, I hated going to Mass.

My father wasn’t Catholic, and we all know how hard it is to take little kids to Mass.  So for the first six years of my life, I mostly stayed home on Sundays with Daddy.  Sometimes we’d drop my mother off and then go out for waffles at Krystal, or drive around the cones in the parking lot, or visit the Torchbearer statue.  Other times we’d stay home and watch Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Either option was way more fun than church, in my opinion, and I was resentful when it came time to prepare for First Communion when I was told I’d have to attend regularly from then on while my sister got to be the one to stay home and have fun.

So the very first thing I resolved upon having children is that they would attend Mass every Sunday from babyhood on up.  That way, I reasoned, they would be used to it and accept it as just what you do on a Sunday.

We followed through with this, starting about two weeks after each one was born and dressing them in a special “first day at church” outfit that was my husband’s when he was a baby.

baby william

But we didn’t want to be the folks who just showed up for one hour on Sunday.  We wanted our kids to feel like a part of the community.  I joined–and later ran–the weekly Moms’ Group, which we attended weekly from the time I was expecting Jake until Teddy started kindergarten.  So my kids had friends to visit with at church on Sunday, just like I did.  We attended every parish social event.  John became very involved in the Knights of Columbus and our kids came along to Masses and picnics and even conventions.

john koc.jpg

When it was time for school we enrolled them in the same parochial school I attended.  With an occasional break for homeschooling, my first three kids were in Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, receiving an excellent religious education, making mostly Catholic friends, and benefiting from the intertwining of Catholic values into every aspect of the school day.

Kids in uniform with baby William

But we didn’t leave religion for school and Sundays! I minored in Theology at Georgetown and our family thrives on continued education, conversation, and debate.  So we discussed the faith, explained it, answered questions.  We owned and used a Catechism.  We talked frequently about the importance of faith in daily life, and how our values should impact the way we live in the world.    I chaired the Deanery Respect Life Committee and wrote for the Catholic press.  John rose in the KOC ranks.  Both of us served long terms on our parish council. And our kids heard about it all.

We said morning prayers and prayers before meals.  We had an Advent wreath and a Jesse Tree.  Our house was Catholic in appearance, with religious pictures and statues in almost every room, complete with a kitchen Madonna on the window sill and a picture of Mary hanging laundry next to the washing machine.

In short, we took the job of raising Catholic kids very seriously indeed.  I grew up hearing about “fallen away” Catholics.  I knew big Catholic families where one of the kids had stopped going to Mass.  I often wondered what had gone wrong with those kids, since personally I could no more imagine leaving Catholicism intentionally than I could imagine willfully ceasing to breathe.

So there you have my tips for raising Catholic kids.  I suppose I could have done more, but most of my child rearing happened before I discovered the Catholic blogosphere.  I thought rigorously celebrating Advent was pretty hard core.  I didn’t know anyone who had in-home rituals for celebrating every liturgical feast.  If I’d known about those celebrations, I would probably have incorporated some of that into our family’s life as well.

Honestly, I’ve written this post in my head for months, ever since I knew this topic was on the CWBN agenda, and I’ve been dreading it.  Because today I have five kids, aged 12, 16, 22, 23, and 26.  From my own experience and that of others I know that young adults are not always regular in their practice of the faith of their youth, for whatever reasons.  Typically this resolves itself after marriage and children if not before.  But without going into great detail because at this age their stories are not mine to tell, there is a real possibility that despite all this Catholic upbringing at least one of my kids will be in that “fallen away” camp, and I won’t pretend that doesn’t break my heart.

Whatever happens, I’m confident that many Catholic values are imprinted on the hearts of my children and that they possess a Catholic worldview whether they realize it or not.

Click below for more personal stories on keeping kids Catholic from the other ladies of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network.

keeping our kids Catholic

 

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I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while you can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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