Monday, August 22, 2011

New Beginnings

Today is the first day of school - not for my children, but for me. I recently decided to go back to school, a decision that was not made lightly. I am already very busy - I am married, I have a home, I have four children who are active and involved in sports and extracurricular programs, I homeschool (a full-time job in itself), I work as a project manager (20-30 hours/week), I need to exercise to stay sane, and I enjoy having enough down time that I feel rested and refreshed. To add going back to school to the list seemed no only impossible, but downright crazy.  But impossible or not, crazy or not,  I've decided that it's time.

I was in law school when I found out that I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was lucky that the school allowed me to switch to part-time status after she was born and I kept going. But hopping on the Metro or driving down Connecticut Avenue to meet my husband and exchange the baby for a backpack was difficult for me. I remember pumping breastmilk in the student bathroom, wanting to die of simultaneous embarrassment and exhaustion. I remember falling asleep trying to finish my Contract Law reading with my baby sleeping in my arms. Looking back, I can see that I had many big changes all at once and on the inside I was overwhelmed - I'd graduated college in the spring, married in the summer, moved across country, started law school, and was still trying to figure out how to manage all of the above when I found out I was pregnant. When my first was 6 months old, I realized I was pregnant with my second daughter (which helped explain the exhaustion) and reality set in - I didn't want to juggle children with law school. I wanted to be fully present at home. So I put my law degree on hold and decided to go back after a year or two.

Flash forward two years, and I had three babies and one more on the way. I also had no interest in becoming a lawyer. So I officially withdrew from the University (it was not easy to do - this particular school values their near-perfect matriculation rate and they worked hard to keep me going). But even looking past the actually schooling, I knew that 80-hour work weeks were not something I wanted. So I left that behind. However, I didn't leave behind the desire to eventually pursue a higher degree. I figured that once my girls were in school I would have more time to devote to myself and my interests.

I didn't count on becoming a homeschool parent. Homeschooling has been wonderful and I wouldn't change it. I don't have plans to stop homeschooling, though you never know what is around the corner.  But certainly homeschooling for me meant that my idea of going back to school went on the back burner. Especially since my girls are very close in age - having very young children all together means lots of parent time. Over the years I've toyed with various schemes and plans for going back to school, but for one reason or another (all valid reasons I think) I didn't follow through.

Until now. Currently, my youngest daughter is seven, and while there is no denying that she is a handful and requires more of me than my other girls did at age seven, she is no longer a toddler clinging to me at all times. And the girls are gaining independence every day. Clearly they are my priority and they still need me, but I am able to grab an hour here and there. And my plan is very simple - take one class at a time. And keep doing this until I'm done. I'm certain that at some point, I'll be able to take several classes at a time, but I don't want to have to think about that time. I'm focusing on the first class.

And that class starts today... wish me luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Outside the Box

Well, or maybe inside the box if I'm being literal....
My youngest (who is most definitely an outside the box thinker who marches to her own drumbeat - and any other cliche you can throw in there) is addicted to re-purposing boxes. It doesn't matter the size (she has used teeny, tiny boxes that came in a kit to build furniture and held the nails), the color, the shape. You name it, she can find something to make out of it. Today, I found her in the recycle bin. She had already pulled a big box that came from Swim Outlet (new suits for the new swim year - and I kid you now, this box arrived looking as though it had been run over by the delivery truck), several raisin boxes, a black box that came from what? I don't know (must be something my husband had), and a box that some dried beans arrived in when I ordered them in bulk. She turned these items into a cool little car with a steering wheel, side mirrors, a center console and a radio. It also has a handy pull made of hemp twine in case you feel like pulling it instead of riding in it (or if your American Girl doll wishes for a ride).

I wish I could find our camera snap a photo of her sitting inside her box. Too cute. I hope it lasts until tomorrow as I suspect the camera is in my husband's truck...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Link - Free Audio Books

I've added a new link to my left sidebar (Homeschool Stuff at Your Fingertips) and it is definitely worth checking out if you're an audiobook lover like I am. It's called Books Should Be Free and the website houses free downloads (to be played in either MP3 or iTunes format). All of the available titles are from books in the public domain, which means that there are many, many classics to choose from.  The iTunes files download in podcast format (which is great - no making specialty playlists) and only take a short while to download. And so much better than the scratched CDs we've been getting from the library. We now have many hours of happy listening ahead as we drive to and from our activities, programs and clubs.

Happy listening! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Activities, Programs and Clubs... Oh My!

I remember when my firstborn was a tiny little baby, I sat nursing her while watching Dr. Phil on Oprah. I remember clearly the topic had to do with over-scheduled children. And I know that I sat there, agreeing with Dr. Phil and shaking my head at the mom whose children had activities every day of the week (sometimes two or three in the same day). I thought, what is her problem? Can't she see that it's too much for her children? I will never be like that! Sheesh!

Ah, the good old days when I knew everything and was so sure of myself.

Flash forward eleven years... I have four girls very close in age, and as I'm looking at the activities for the upcoming year I feel myself reddening. I'm still no where near the level of the mom back from the 2000 Oprah show, but I see that we're also not relaxing at home every evening listening to the crickets and drinking lemonade. Sigh.

So what do we have going on this year? Well, some of it remains to be ironed out. One major factor (issue?) for our schedule is swim team. Swim teams can be a big commitment - but in our case, I've scaled down the number of practices we attend to the bare minimum required at each level. However, I still have four kids on the team, many at different levels, so the practice times do not necessarily overlap. This leads to me being at the pool at least four times a week. No good solution there. But I digress.

One thing that has seriously helped me retain my sanity is keeping all activities to "after school" hours. By this, I simply mean afternoons and evenings. I used to try to take advantage of homeschool classes that met in the mornings, or swim practices that meet in the middle of the day ... and I found that we were unable to accomplish anything after we got back home. I typically avoid anything that begins before 2pm, although I make an exception for rollerskating and bowling (both begin at 1pm) as they are on Fridays, and Fridays are usually our light days.

Even if we're not doing school that week, I don't enjoy breaking up my days in the middle. I find it makes the days feel rushed and we "lose" time. For example, last year I took the girls to homeschool swim practice a few times. We had to leave our house at 10:30am and we didn't get home until almost 2pm. By the time everyone showered and had a snack, it was almost 3pm. I have to start on dinner around 4pm, so to me, almost the entire day was shot at swim practice. Not worth the effort.

Here is the very, very tentative* plan for the upcoming year (still very subject to change):

  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Drama Class - Sept. - Nov. (early afternoon - only 3 girls)
  • Zumba* - this is a free class at the Y; the kids love it, but I'm on the fence about trying to fit this in (afternoons)
  • Book Discussion at Library - this in only once a month for my oldest
  • Junior Leaders - evenings (only 2 girls)
  •  Book Discussions and Library Programs - typically 2 -3 times per month (afternoons)
  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Music Lessons - all four girls (this is an all afternoon affair)
  • Swim Practice (evenings)
  • Family Bowling League* - my husband and I are considering this as our family would be a team and it seems like a fun program - it meets Oct. - April (evenings)
  • First Friday - American Girl Club (afternoons)
  • Second Friday - *Book Club (I'm still working on getting this together - afternoons)
  • Third Friday - Homeschool Rollerskating (afternoons)
  • Fourth Friday - Homeschool Bowling (afternoons)
  • Swim Practice (very, very early morning - 6am)
  • Swim Meets (typically once or twice per month)
  • Volunteer at the Food Bank (whole family, twice per month)
  • Fellowship and Religious Education Classes (we'll be going at least twice a month as my husband and I are team teaching the Grade 3-4 class)
What's Not on the List?
  • One of my daughters has wanted to do football since she was about 3 - this year the Y is offering a co-ed flag football program. If we agree to sign her up, this would mean practice once a week and a game on Saturdays.  
  • Cheerleading at the Y - several of the girls have asked to do this every year, and every year I say no. I will probably say no again this year, but we'll see. The problem is timing - it's Tuesday and Thursday evenings, which conflicts with many other things. On the upside, it's only for 4 weeks.
  • Various programs that come up throughout the year - we take the girls to many symphony and orchestra performance, plays and musicals; we attend programs at our state and local parks; we attend programs offered through the YMCA; and we usually go on several homeschool field trips with other families
  • Everything my husband and I do that doesn't involve the kids! 
I think that covers everything I can think of for now! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's in Your Mouth?

As all children do, my girls have been losing their baby teeth for a while now. Very recently, the girls became more excited by their teeth than they have before. Losing teeth is interesting in that there is no set schedule - kids lose teeth when the teeth are ready to fall out (or, as in the case of one of my daughters, her adult tooth comes up and the little one still refuses to budge so it is pulled). But there is no timetable, and as such all four of my girls have lost the exact same teeth. Yes, my 11-year-old and my 7-year-old are apparently on the same tooth trajectory - four down, sixteen to go.

This weekend, my oldest noticed another tooth is (finally) loose. This spurred the girls to discuss what they remembered about their teeth (which was actually a rather impressive amount compared to what I know about teeth), re-read some books we have (like Why Do My Teeth Fall Out?), and led my oldest to find a diagram of the mouth (complete with the names of all the teeth), print out a copy for each girl, and then have them black out which teeth they've lost.

I thought that was pretty smart. In fact, I wish I had thought of it earlier.

But I'm glad she did. Now they can keep track of which teeth they've lost, who has lost what, and where they stand with the tooth fairy (at $1 a pop, the tooth fairy is so far only out $16 - not bad). I'm thinking this would be a fun way for a parent to start off a unit about dental hygiene... especially if a loose tooth is involved.

Monday, August 1, 2011

WANTED: Motivation

It's that time of year again! Time to look at what I've got, figure out what I still need to get, and get organized. I know what works for me - breaking everything into weekly "chunks" and organizing by the week. I know what I have to do. I even have the house to myself for a few hours each day (Grandpa generously paid for sailing camp for the four girls so they will be there four days a week for the next two weeks).

But I'm lacking motivation.

This happens to me every summer, so I'm not surprised. Today I allowed myself to take a much need break. I watched a movie (highly recommend it: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead), went to a book club discussion, and ate my favorite snack (carrots and hummus). It was lovely. I'm even skipping my regular exercise class tonight in an effort to totally soak up the laziness of the day.

So what does this mean?

Tomorrow: reality check! I need to get moving and find some motivation. I keep hearing the Marine Corps running chant in my head. It goes, "Get motivated; be dedicated!" Maybe if I keep that phrase running in my head over and over tonight, I'll wake up raring to go tomorrow!