Making Room for Memories

“Right-Sizing” – What does that mean to you?

An amazing friend, whirlwind of an entrepreneur, and superb organizer (Yep – she’s really a Certified Professional Organizer) uses this term, right-sizing. In essence it means making decisions about the “stuff” in our lives – not necessarily down-sizing in massive amounts. These decisions allow us to flourish in our lives and not drown in our things. After learning more from Tammy about right-sizing, I realized that this is precisely what my grandmother did a few years ago. Today I’m sharing that story of Making Room for Memories in a guest post – so stop by Tammy’s site at We Love Messes to read more!

Below is a sneak peak…

Making Room for Memories
Making Room for Memories

Right-Sizing and Our Grandparents
At first I honestly thought it was morbid and creepy – doling out personal belongings as if a loved one has passed while he or she is still alive. But now I’ve realized the benefits are about more than an organized home before dying – they’re about living a calmer, more fulfilled life. I guess Tammy would call this “right-sizing”!

Read more at We Love Messes!

Busting My Pity Party – and Being Thankful for the Moments

pityAll my Pity Party was missing were balloons and streamers – and a great big attitude adjustment by yours truly. For a few weeks I’ve been looking to May 2nd with a knot in my mother-belly and a woe-is-me feeling of resentment. I’ve been resenting not being able to be everywhere at once, not being in charge of an Almighty Calendar, and not being able to do everything I want to do.

May 2nd will be an amazing day for my three boys – in completely different cities. And since I can only be in one place at one time, I will miss being by two of their sides, taking in the magic of their growing years, and sharing in the moments. So I’ve been perfecting the Pity Party and letting myself be swallowed by the idea that I can’t be everywhere for every child.

My Pity Party thankfully was busted. You see – what I didn’t bother to remind myself is just how lucky and blessed I am to have three sons who each have such wonderful opportunities and plans that I will miss something (and a beautiful daughter who is helping in the chaos). It is a gift that each one, in his or her own way, is leading a life filled with energy, passion, a bit of mischief, and a lot of determination. Even when that takes them in different directions from yours truly.

The true bust of my Pity Party came when I read the post of another mother. For her – May 2nd will have what she hopes to be wonderful moments – but will also likely experience what I imagine to be moments of true grief (not this Pity Party kind of sadness). May 2nd for this mom is her son’s 20th birthday. And she won’t be able to be with her son, either, to celebrate in his moment, for he now celebrates his birthdays in Heaven.

She could – without any argument – have the biggest Pity Party imaginable. Instead, she is planning the kind of celebration that comes from recognizing the blessings, remembering moments, and celebrating with faith the gift of life. In remembrance of Matt, a young man I remember as a younger boy with a gentle older-brother guiding hand, his family wants to mark May 2nd with Random Acts of Kindness. To further bust up my Pity Party I plan to participate in this celebration and use the list inspired by Matt’s personality and favorite things to share some wonderful moments with others.

There are moments when we realize that we got it all wrong. For me – my attitude about May 2nd is one of them. Sure, I wish I could be there with each son during his moments, but I hold in my heart that at the end of the weekend I’ll get to see pictures, hear stories, and relish in their tales of adventures and moments.

My oldest will morph from teenage boy to young man as he wears his first tuxedo and attends prom. I won’t be there to take the pictures, try to straighten his hair one last time before he leaves, or let a tear slip as he escorts his lovely date out the door. But I’ve asked his date to make sure he cooperates for lots of pictures and I’ll hear from my husband how our son looked in his penguin suit.

My youngest will have a day filled with hour after hour of rehearsal for the following day’s ballet performance. Yes – I’ll see the performance – but it is the rehearsal day when I feel like it is my Mom-Duty to calm his nerves, run like a chicken to find his lost ballet slipper, and help apply the stage make-up he detests (big sister to the rescue). So I’ll let that go and look forward to seeing his exhausted smile at the end of the day – the one that says he is enjoying life and giving it his all.

My middle son I’ll have the pleasure of accompanying to the State History Day competition. He and his project partner have worked extraordinarily hard to make it here and I am thrilled to see them perform their project.

These are the gifts my family is experiencing May 2nd. We will also share in the gifts of Matt’s birthday celebration. If you’re like me and are ready for a diversion from your own Pity Party, I encourage you to step outside yourself and celebrate with these Random Acts of Kindness. For it is in all these moments that we find the beauty and peace of lives well-lived.

Standardized Tests – Are We Losing Focus?

standardized testsTeachers, parents, and students all face the stress of superfluous standardized tests. Teachers are accountable for training students to take these exams – and pass them. Parents are often responsible for making sure their children are constantly preparing for these tests. Students have perhaps the biggest burdens of all: they must not only repeatedly attempt to regurgitate information in the forms of shaded bubbles, but they bear the labels those test results give from the earliest ages. Average. Below-Average. Above-Average. They also suffer the unintended consequence of missing out on the opportunities to learn how to learn. Instead they are all too often in classrooms where teachers must teach to the test.

Author and outspoken critic of standardized testing (among other failures in education), Alfie Kohn digests and dissects the increasing ritual of testing students in the United States. In his article Standardized Testing and Its Victims, Kohn submits eight facts that support his theory that standardized testing is in part ruining our schools. Among these facts, Kohn disseminates the ever-increasing trend to test more and more, and to place increased value on standardized tests as well.

Kohn is not alone in his distrust of and distaste for standardized tests. Professor Rhona Weinstein reports on research that demonstrates that standardized tests are actually eroding the education of our children. Kohn, Weinstein, and others like Sir Ken Robinson, find many reasons why standardized tests are not leading our children into brighter futures, but instead showing them a limited viewpoint of themselves, as if they are seeing themselves in a mirror which is mostly covered in black and only allowing small glimpses of reflection.

  • Few countries around the world place the emphasis on standardized testing like seen in America. These other countries do not routinely test children younger than high school age, and are countries with high academic outcomes.
  • Standardized tests pressure teachers to teach to the test. The job requirements to end the school year with test scores of certain marks take away from the job description of actually teaching children.
  • Schools that focus on standardized tests are sometimes forced to decrease classes and opportunities for arts, physical education, social sciences, and more so they can devote more time to test prep.
  • Standardized tests measure students’ abilities to answer finite questions in limited areas of focus. They test a student’s ability to weed through possible answers, make guestimates, and interpret the language on a test.
  • Education in America is at risk of losing teachers who have the passion and ability to educate children who can think for themselves. The New York Times reports that the pressures to increase test scores results in schools unintentionally making the difficult job of teaching even more demanding, and less rewarding.
  • Students who can afford more tutors and rigorous test preparation courses might be able to improve their own test scores, but then increase the already growing gap between socioeconomic groups.

Even among these voices of reason, there are those who feel that standardized tests are the best ways to measure our children’s performances in school and their preparedness for their futures. Some researchers report that standardized test scores are among the best predictors of college and graduate school performances. However, perhaps this is because those students who are able to “test well” are the same students who are able to “test well” on in-class pop-quizzes and the regurgitation of information in college courses. Perhaps both standardized tests and college grades are not the best predictors of life successes and abilities after all.

As Kohn writes, “The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.”

About 12 years ago my oldest took her first standardized test, and I was anxious and wracked with self-doubt as the “teacher” in our homeschool. At the age of 7 and homeschooled all of her life she had never taken a standardized exam. I felt as though I was about to be assessed more than she, and the future of our academic choices resided in those test results. Although Iknew she was extremely capable and bright, I did not know how she would perform on a test where each circle needed to be shaded precisely and she could not question the questions.

Fast-forward many years and I now know the truth about standardized tests. I know before my kids take their exams if they are passing or failing math, excelling in reading, or surpassing expectations – I don’t need a test to tell me that. My kids don’t need a test to show them how much they know or don’t know. Every year now they take the exams, as mandated by our state’s homeschooling laws, and the kids actually have fun with them and have learned to look at them almost as a game. We don’t fret over scores or fear time limits. The scores are just a generalized glimpse of a small portion of their abilities, but they don’t reflect all of who they are and who they are becoming.

I, and teachers and parents like me, can spend countless hours injecting the precise materials we know will be tested into our kids, but we won’t be teaching our children lessons that will let them succeed. They won’t learn to learn and think for themselves, and they won’t have the opportunities to be creative, insightful, and questioning. Without those qualities, what will our future look like?

B is for Boys – Raising Gentlemen in a Digital Whirlwind

datingBoys are creatures of impulses, ingenuity, and energy. This can make for an amazing combination and forces with which to be reckoned. It can also make for a terrifying journey for parents of boys in the digital age.

The familiar buzz of a cell phone, alerting one of my kids that he or she has a new text message. The low rumble of someone’s phone on vibrate, crammed up against the couch cushion and a pile of homework, is a familiar sound. From seemingly nowhere this digital world appears – and as parents we are making up the rules as we go. Certainly my childhood memories of dragging the phone cord through the hallway and praying its ring didn’t wake my parents at a late hour don’t prepare me for this. This constant connection we now all have with each other – and strangers around the world.

So it begs the questions: How do we teach boys to be gentlemen in a digital world?

There are no lessons I can recall from my own childhood experience, no words of wisdom my parents gave me about cell phones, emails, and webcams. The most extravagant our home got was having a separate children’s line installed so my parents could finally have free reign on their phone (yes – before the options of call-waiting), and computers were fancy typewriters incapable of instantly sending pictures and videos.

Raising Digital Gentlemen

Technology has changed the game when it comes to raising our boys to be gentlemen. As the mom of three boys, I desperately want to guide these gents to become men of integrity, compassion, and strength, all the while growing into gentlemen. Like so many other parents, however, I am learning that these boys are in the fight of their lives to become true gentlemen. Technology challenges their decisions and their moral compasses.

I’ve decided that I can’t throw away the computer, ditch the cell phones, or hide my kids in the basement, which leaves me with only one option: I need to find ways to raise digital gentlemen.

Cell phone etiquette – Most kids don’t actually use their cell phones for talking – they are texting or Snap chatting or IMing all of the time. We should not be surprised to know that more than 40% of teenagers can text while blindfolded. It is what these kids include in their messages that we need to target.

  • Keep the conversation going about respectful texting – just like the birds and bees conversation, this shouldn’t be just a one-time deal.
  • Give concrete examples about what might be disrespectful to send in a text message to a young woman. I always tell my boys to remember that at any given time the text message they send to a girl could be read by her father, so always imagine her father reading anything you have to say.
  • Set guidelines for texting. It is never the right way to as someone on a date – or break off a relationships. If my kids are mature enough to be in relationships, that means they are mature enough to treat the other person with enough respect to do these things in person.
  • Help them understand not to settle arguments or make decisions via text. Way too much is lost in translation.
  • Get to know the acronyms that kids are using in their texting – and make sure they know what they are sending and receiving.

Pictures and video on demand – Just because your kids can take a picture of themselves and post it for the world to see doesn’t mean they should. Teaching discernment to boys about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate images and videos is a challenge, but even more challenging can be helping them to make wise decisions with the images and videos that are sent to them.

  • Redefine privacy for your boys. Make sure they understand that just because they might receive a message doesn’t mean they should send that message on to others or keep it stored on their computer or phone. Not only are there risks of becoming unwittingly involved with child pornography issues (even when a girls sends a flirty picture of herself), but boys are also at risk of contributing to the invasion of privacy of someone else.
  • A frightening statistic shows that almost 90% of teens’ flirtatious, racy, and sexually charged pictures (which – as much as we don’t want to admit it, they do take), are found and copied by parasite porn companies and reposted on pornography websites. Make sure your boys understand the risks involved and the dangers (legally, emotionally, etc.) for being any part of this scary trend.

Digital footprints – What kind of digital reputation does your son have? Help him make sure he has an online image that reflects him as a gentleman.

  • Know what pictures your son has online, and who is tagging him in their images (he can be tagged, even if the photo is not of him). Teach him to discern which images to post, and which ones to delete, but most importantly, which ones to never take.
  • Make sure your son understands how his comments online can either show him as a respectful young man, or as one who discriminates, demeans, or disrespects.
  • Colleges, athletic recruiters, and prospective employers look at digital footprints. What does your son’s footprint reveal about his life?

It can be hard enough to wrangle these grass-stained and forever wrestling boys to gather politely at the dinner table. When we add technology into the mix of raising gentlemen, suddenly parenting feels like a steep climb up a mountain, with no protection from the elements or a GPS. But don’t give up. Keep climbing – our sons need us to be the trail guides.

 

A is for Asperger’s

A is also for Achieving with Asperger’s.

autismawarenessmonthA is also for Autism, and April, and Awareness. And all of those words roll into one lump sum of a corner of my world. My world, like so many other worlds of so many other people, is touched by a child with Autism. Within that spectrum lies Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that shares enough characteristics with Autism to share space under that umbrella. Under that umbrella you’ll also find Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD). That umbrella has a name – Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Have you ever tried to hold on to an umbrella during a wicked storm? Rain batters your face as the thin tarp of protection whips and flips above your head. This is what it can be like for a child to live under the ASD umbrella. The umbrella is there, but it is only there in spirit, not as a shelter from the storm. And that is perhaps how it should be. We should not teach our children to hide under the guise of the diagnosis. Kids can have Asperger’s, but Asperger’s doesn’t need to have them.

A is for Achieving with Asperger’s because if you know a single child with the condition, you have had a glimpse into a magical world. You know those Genie-in-the-Bottle type questions… If you could have 3 wishes… My wish would be to see the world through the lens of a child with Asperger’s. It must be a magical, sometimes confusing, riveting way to experience the world.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Get to know more about what it really means to live under the ASD umbrella. I can’t say it any better than this awesome video – put together by none other than someone achieving with Asperger’s. 

AFYI: My personal writing needs a kick in the pants. I’ve just been spending SO much time writing for others – which is a wonderful thing when you’re a work-at-home-mom who gets paid to write for others. But at the end of the day, I’m sure much to my husband’s surprise, I run out of words. At least words that make sense. So I’m joining the A to Z blog challenge, and I’m hoping that something as simple as giving me the starting letter will eventuate into words. Today – you guessed it – is A.

Homeschool Questions – Critics or Curiosity?

homeschoolAnswering Questions About Homeschooling

As wonderful as it is, homeschooling is hard. There have been days when the educational and life successes of my children has weighed so heavily on my mind and I wonder if I somehow forgot to teach someone to count by threes or how to identify prepositional phrases. These self-doubts weigh heavily enough. Then as homeschoolers we some days feel the added crush – from the in-laws, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store who wonders why you’re there with a full minivan at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. That crush can sometimes make those challenging days of self-doubt squish you more than a minivan full of your own kids – plus their friends – all piled in for “park day”.

I used to memorize statistics of the benefits of homeschooling, armed and ready to tackle the critics and the questioners. Then I realized that in a way my family was a curiosity more than something people were criticizing. Sure – there are still those critics who feel perfectly justified telling me of the multiple ways my children (who are all thriving) will undoubtedly be ruined by homeschooling. But for the most part, people are curious and sometimes it just comes out awkwardly and uncomfortably for all of us. Which is why over the years I have tried to move from defense – relaying all of the positives about homeschooling, to humorous offense – having fun with my life and being proud of our decision to homeschool.

Top Questions for Homeschoolers

(and how to answer them graciously with a side of humor)

Are all of these kids yours?

My stretch-marks would confirm for you that, yes, these children are all mine. My favorite one is the kid who brings me fresh coffee every morning (FYI – none of my kids bring me coffee in the morning so ergo I don’t have a favorite).

How can you stand spending so much time with your kids?

Before I know it there won’t be any choice and they’ll be off living their own dreams. When I am older and greyer I will probably spend sad moments in the bathroom when no-one comes knocking, needing to know at precisely the moment I sit upon the porcelain throne what we are having for lunch, where he put his math book, and how many pieces of gum I guess he just fit into his mouth.

(This is the question that actually bothers my children the most. They always remark about how sad it is to hear parents speaking of the relief they feel when fall rolls around and it is time to send the kids back to school.)

Do you work at a real job, too?

Nothing gets more real than taking on the responsibility for the education of children for 20 years. My paycheck must just be lost in the mail. (BTW – I also work at a real job as a writer and editor, but I don’t worry too much about handing out my resume. I also don’t ask other people for their resumes unless I’m working.)

Or

According to my coffee mug I am a domestic engineer.

How long do you plan to do that?

We “plan” to do this until it doesn’t work. Right now it works. It has worked for more than 15 years. I’m less worried about how long I plan to do this than I am with how can I make this continue to work for our family as long as possible?

No school today?

Oh my gosh – we forgot!!! (smile)

Or

We homeschool – every day is a school day. Poor kids don’t even get snow days or time off for parent/teacher conferences – that’s just me talking to myself – again.

What about college?

Been there, doing that. With one senior and one freshman in college what we’ve learned is that colleges embrace homeschoolers. In fact, in my daughter’s first semester one of her professors made a general announcement in class that in his years of experience, there are two kinds of students who do well in college: homeschooled kids and music students. They know how to independently study and ask questions.

Are you worried that your kids won’t be socialized?

If you mean socialization by spending 8 or more hours a day with age-segregated groups in a socioeconomically flat environment, then, hmmmm. Nope. If you mean the stereotypical kinds of socialization (prom, bus ride antics, etc.), some of my kids get that, too by participating in public school sports (and I’m pretty certain they would still thrive without those experiences).

Full disclosure – I know wonderful kids who attend public schools. Some of the best friends of my kids (gasp – my kids have friends!) get on the school bus every morning. My kids also have friends across age and experience demographics, and feel comfortable in a wide variety of social situations. They have the time to experience more in their homeschool classroom – their community (or wherever we happen to travel). Although some days I do dream of a day of seclusion from the rest of the world like those fake visions of homeschoolers so that I wouldn’t have to get out of my lounge pants and remember which activity needed the snacks and which community education class needed the samples of pond scum – you do not want to be the mom who messes up those two things. Socialization – check.

If you homeschool – how do you handle all of those questions from curious people?

I’ll Bring the Jelly Beans

easter eggs

Easter Lost

That first year Shari missed our Easter celebration was hard, but we knew that she needed to rest and keep fighting the monster of cancer. Her children still came– and together the cousins celebrated as they had since they were babes. They couldn’t remember an Easter apart.

The following year she was gone from this Earth. I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare the Easter celebration without her. For more than a decade she and I plotted, planned, and prepared as we brought our kids together for this special weekend. Our children, cousins by birth and close friends by gift, spent years of Easter weekends together coloring eggs and helping prepare special Easter treats. They readied their baskets cushioned with that cling-to-your-pants plastic grass.

Then it was our turn. Shari and I giggled as we collected those baskets and carried them away for our mission. Glasses of wine in hand we filled each with sugared treats, special trinkets, and memories. Then we devised hiding places – based on age and ability of each child – combined with just how mischievous we were feeling ourselves. Each Easter built upon the previous. No hiding spot was duplicated. No basket looked the same. Each tradition we shared with the kids solidified year after year.

Early in the morning the kids flung themselves out of bed and scrambled through the house to find their hidden baskets of treasures. After limiting the chocolate intake, we readied for church and the celebration of Easter service. My heart always lifted on these days, celebrating Easter together.

That first year with without her sagged my heart with the weight of grief. I was as empty as a plastic egg. I desperately still wanted to provide the kids – hers and mine – with their traditions. But I was without my traditions. There was no celebratory glass of wine. No stealing jelly beans for ourselves. No giggling. No laughing over devious hiding places. No wrangling kids with Shari the next morning to hurry to church and Grandma’s.

Easter Found

Here were these kids, though. They needed this tradition. I needed to do this for them – and for me. As Easter nears again, my 4th year without Shari here for Easter, I’ll be buying way too many jelly beans, watching cousins color eggs, and thinking of devious hiding spots for baskets. These cousins – some in college and all probably past the age of typical childhood holiday anticipation – will still celebrate together with one ginormous, loud, amazing sleepover. They will still search for baskets (and still eat chocolate for breakfast). In fact, last year I heard one cousin tell the other that when I no longer do this they will sneak into each other’s homes and hide Easter surprises. I looked up to the Heavens and smiled. It is our tradition. It is our Easter. Death does not take Easter from us. Easter reminds us that death does not remove our joys. Easter gives us the opportunity to see the light in the dark and feel the joy through the pain.

Shari is still here. Her life lives on. She is in the smiles of my niece and nephew, the beaded ornaments she made that hang year-round in my kitchen, and in the memories and traditions we shared. I count on the day that Shari and I will again rejoice together. I also count on my hope that she’ll have a glass of wine waiting for me. I’ll bring the jelly beans.