A Report Card, of sorts

When I interviewed at the little civil engineering firm where I ended up working during and after college, my would-be boss told me that the company was his "Grand Experiment."  He put all of his eggs in one basket, took a huge step of faith, and decided to go into business for himself.  It was risky, but the potential payoff was worth the risk.  To be on his own terms, working for no one, and doing it because he wanted to not just for a paycheck, motivated by the need to provide for his family and the passion he had for what he did.  It made me respect him, right off the bat, for doing something I was certain I'd never be brave enough to do myself.

And yet...our homeschooling experience has been a close parallel.  I prefer not to think that I'm "experimenting" on our kids, and I choose to think of it, instead, as our "Grand Adventure."  But the fact remains, it took a step of faith.  It feels risky.  I'm motivated by my duty to my family.  Dare I say, it's become my passion?

Friday was the last day of school for our public school system, which means my children will be thrilled to know that the neighborhood will be teeming with friends during the daytime once again.  And while we have plenty of schoolwork left to do, we're taking liberties on when and how to finish, and I'm choosing today to evaluate our second homeschool year.  Consider this our report card - largely in the form of Facebook statuses sorted by "homeschool" tag.

July 22, 2013Fact: Starting homeschooling with a four month old was a whole lot easier than kicking off the school year with a 16-month old.

July 30, 2013 - Tomorrow, I'm surprising the kids with a toga party to celebrate the end of our ancient history studies from last year, you know, 8 days into the new school year. Because this was no small feat. And because we can. Sparkling grape juice and cheesecake for everyone! I don't know how this whole "teaching kids" thing is working out, but "class" parties? I can get behind those.

July 31, 2013 - I really had no idea that this little "Roman" party would be such a hit with the kids, but it was the perfect way to wrap up our last history book and kick off our new one. Togas, laurel leaf crowns, cheese, sparkling grape juice (and a seemingly drunk Sarah in every picture), scepters and new Constantine shields (that actually serve a practical purpose for protection from nerf gun bullets)...I think we can call it a success.

August 12, 2013 - Home Ec Lessons for the 1 year old.

Today was a great day. Watched Ben lose gracefully at Uno with approximately 100 cards in his hand not once but twice. Found Abby, my active, outdoorsy, extrovert quietly reading on the couch without being coerced, and for a moment, felt like we had something in common. Utilized the running app on my phone to track Ben and Abby's runs (Abby did six 0.14 mile intervals around the cul de sac). Watched Sarah's imagination in action as she created an original masterpiece using every.single.piece of her Polly Pocket collection. Enjoyed singing one line of a song at a time to see how many beats it would take Leah to dance along with the tune.

August 25, 2013 - near Gunpowder, MD, Today, I got to travel through the dump truck body capital of the world and saw a sign claiming that I was, indeed, in McDonald's country. I'm happy to have left those in the dust and able to report that I have reached the breakfast meat capital of Maryland (my parents' house). Night everyone...and thanks for the prayers!

September 6, 2013 - near Dorval, Canada, Watching planes take off from the Montreal airport out of our hotel window. Made it through customs without declaring two rogue apples and a bag of grapes...now we're nothing but a family of rebellious produce smugglers. Tomorrow the Sheppards hit French Canada.

September 11, 2013 - near Chippawa, Canada, Spent the day admiring God's amazing power in nature, complete with a gorgeous lightning display out our hotel window over the city as we drift off to sleep. If God can create waterfalls and lightning, He can take care of Leah's burn and forgive me for my error in leaving hot coffee where she could reach it.feeling humbled.

September 24, 2013 - Today's studies included a rousing performance of Mary Poppins' "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" by yours truly. Pretty sure the kids would rather be back in "real" school when I pull stunts like that.

September 26, 2013 - We found the "good" in coming home to a backyard that looks like a hayfield. Who needs a cornmaze? We just cut our grass roomba-style. Then run in the paths...while wearing a cape. (Weird homeschooled kids.)

October 22, 2013 - Abby and Sarah go entrepreneur and sell flowers for a penny as practice for the upcoming yard sale.

October 26, 2013 - At 36 weeks gestation, we had a yard sale to raise money for the Samaritan's Purse Christmas gift catalog.  The kids sold cookies and coffee with much gusto.  Pretty sure they profited more than me!  It pays to be cute and enthusiastic.

November 28, 2013 - Christmas came early for the Sheppard household in the form of a giant "turkey." 

January 17 -  This has been a taxing week in the life of our homeschool, and as a result, in the life of our home We encountered some very serious heart issues, and while it broke my heart to have to deal with them, I am counting it a joy. Because I had the opportunity *to* deal with them. I might have missed the chance to help my child learn and grow from the experience if they weren't with me on the day to... day. I don't say this as a condemnation of public school, but rather as a reminder to myself that the reason I do this at all is *for* the hard days, so I can address the heart issues, so I can understand my children, so they can mature, and so that I can be sanctified. We have so much to learn. And I'm glad we can do it together. Even and especially when it feels impossible.

Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain. - Author Unknown

January 27, 2014:  Homeschool field trip of the awesomest kind - a trip to the urologist.  (Hey, I didn't learn what a urologist was until I needed one.  These kids are ahead of the curve.)

January 30, 2014:  This morning's writing passage about smallpox inoculations prompted a lengthy discussion about epidemiology, inoculations, personal medical history, and modern vaccination practices. I think this is what homeschooling is supposed to look like.

February 1- 12:  Disneyworld!!!

February 14, 2014:  This morning while I folded some clothes, Ben held Noah and followed Leah around. After about 3 minutes Ben looked at me and said, "This is hard. I don't know how you take care of 5 kids."

February 24, 2014:  Some days, we practiced being weird, unsocialized homeschoolers by going to a playground as often as possible.  When everyone is crawling up the walls, feeling irritable and frustrated, the best remedy is  to go to the park.  And pick weeds flowers.

February 27, 2014:  There is no shortage of conversations like this one -

Ben: (reading from his grammar book) "Edward Lear was a book illustrator. He wrote nonsense poetry in his spare time." (Contemplative pause) Did he like grilled leeks?
Me: Who?
Ben: Edward Lear
Me: What's a leek?
Ben: I don't know.
Me: I didn't think so. How would I know if he liked grilled leeks?
Ben: I don't know. What's a leek?
Me: This is the weirdest conversation I've ever had.

March 14, 2014: I just got legitimately schooled in My Little Pony Memory by a four year old who then gloated with, "I'm the BOMB!" That brought me down a few notches. #usedtobesmart

March 28, 2014:  It is 7:09pm on Friday night. I'm sorry to report that this is the time when my ears can no longer stand to hear one more word or stray noise. I cannot answer any more questions. And my body cannot tolerate being leaned on, pushed, thrown up on, or stepped on one more time today. I love my kids, even on days like this, but sometimes bedtime feels a little bit too far off.

April 3, 2014: The day we finished Ben's fourth grade grammar text. And the day I was WAY more excited than he was to realize that we were able to *complete* something in the same year we missed a month of school for an epic travel adventure, welcomed a newborn, and reared a two-year-old. The story isn't over yet. Phew.

April 10, 2014:  People frequently wonder what I do with the babies while we're schooling.  I don't know.  We just do what we can when we can.  And sometimes they go out to the playground with their big sister, take off all of their clothes, and run around the backyard.  Standard stuff, you know.

April 24, 2014-  We practiced cultural refinement at high tea with Grandmom.  It was a success - nothing broke.  But they may need to re-stock the sugar cubes.

April 30, 2014:  I never cease to be impressed by my girls' ability to make messes, but I think what's even more impressive is their ability to play with even the messes that they make. This morning after dumping out the contents of the hole-punch, they used the holes as bubbles for their doll bathtub and confetti for their My Little Pony party. What imaginations!

May 1, 2014:  They are either so excited to read their library books, they couldn't even wait until they got in the van, or I was THAT slow at loading Noah up. Maybe a little of both.

May 13, 2014:  I was all proud of my kids when they encountered a pint-sized bully on the playground today. One stepped in to help the victim and another stood up for herself when the bully tried to push her. Then I got off my high-horse and remembered they are just one mistake away from being the bully. Every one of us needs grace. Because we can never be good enough.

May 16, 2014:  It's 9:45pm on a Friday night. Ben just completed Lesson 120 in his math book. 5 lessons in 3 days because he was ready to be done with it for the year. There's not enough time or space in a FB status to convey how big a deal this is other than to say I almost cried real tears of joy for him. Math was his albatross. And he conquered it. He's celebrating the way any 10 year old boy would - with a cup of decaf hot tea and a good book. Wait...

(Seriously, this one warrants its own blog post.  Eventually, maybe.)

May 19 - Finally broke down and signed up for a free trial of abcmouse.com for Sarah.  Tell me why I didn't do this months ago.

May 20 - Some days, you just have to do some hardcore, physical labor in the form of mulch.  You may or may not do this in public school (I mean, I hauled mulch in high school to build our nature trail, but I'm not sure that's the "norm").  I do know that school doesn't get cancelled for everyone when a shovel comes down on one student's foot.

And there's today.  And tomorrow.  And whatever they might bring.  I'll tell you this.  I am not the person I was two years ago before we dove into this thing.  In a good way, I think.  I hope my kids are able to say the same. 

Better go - summer awaits. 

Mulching with a Herd

I'm not a doctor. Or a nurse. Or anything even remotely medically related. There's a reason. I was not created to be. I lack composure in emergencies. Pretty sure this is a necessary skill for the medical profession. Dirt. That's what I do. Play in it, design with it, tell people where to put it and how much to use. In high school, on my Envirothon team, I was the "soil specialist" (NERD ALERT). So, it probably wasn't all too surprising when I went the way of civil/environmental engineering as an adult. Glorified dirt play.

I don't do a lot of civil design anymore, but by golly, sometimes I just need to play in the dirt.

Cue the mulch man.

We mulch because 1) I have this phobia that roaches (also referred to as "Palmetto Bugs" in these parts to make them sound less gross) thrive and live in the popular alternative - pine straw 2) I think it looks nice and 3) it requires less maintenance than the aforementioned pine straw.

For instance, our last mulch job "lasted" us four years.  The neighbors might contend that it didn't technically last that long.  I'd probably agree with them.  It was looking pretty rough out there.  I might not have much of a green thumb, but I sure can grow a flowerbed of weeds.  You see, as much as I want to play in the dirt, I also lack the luxuries of "free-time" and "babysitting services"...because, well, I don't want to pay for the latter and the former is self-explanatory. 

Free-time and babysitting be darned.  This week, I had enough.  Outside we went, the five kids and me, to tackle the mountain (or five cubic yards, whatever) of mulch.  It was like a sweatshop.  Pretty much in every way.  Child labor, sweat, all of that stuff.  I learned a lot about my kids from this little exercise which turned out to be a lot more involved than simply spreading mulch.  It required weeding, trimming, laying landscape fabric, pulling out and relaying pavers, hauling bricks, hauling weeds, then, and only then hauling and spreading mulch. 

I had one kid working to pay off a debt.  One kid working because they were born to be a willing hard worker, as long as I "pay" her with words of praise.  One kid who loved to just roll in the dirt.  One who copied whatever the others were doing.  And one who didn't contribute much, but yelled at us from the comforts of the swing and exersaucer.   

As we sweated and hauled and shoveled and took turns watching the baby and delivering cold beverages and had to take breaks every 20 minutes because of a crying child or bathroom break or hungry baby or heatstroke, I thought (possibly contrary to what most might think), "Man, this is the life."  I think we were created to do hard things.  Not necessarily hard, intellectual things but grueling, hard laborious things.  We have "come so far" technologically.  Working smarter and not harder is the motto of the times.  But, is that really a good thing?  We're saving time and effort so that, what?  We can go inside, sit on our duff, and stare at a screen?  So we can eat chips and get lazier by the second?  Look, I like to eat chips and stare at a screen, but neither of those are as fulfilling as getting dirty and working up a legitimate sweat.  I sincerely hope this is something I can pass on to my kids.  It's certainly something my parents and grandparents taught me.  And it's something I can see my children marveling at as we read Farmer Boy and hear how hard Almanzo and his family worked.  And as we read the Little House books and hear how tough, yet simple and happy life was for the Ingalls.  I'm not a homesteader.  I'm just a suburban chick with five kids who relies heavily on pre-packaged foods to get through my day, but I do believe in hard work.  I believe that easiest is not always, in fact probably rarely, best.  I think we are teaching our kids that everything is okay as long as the job gets done.  It's not.  Not if it got done the lazy way.  There is value in sweat. 

Which is why I didn't give it two thoughts when I asked Sarah to fill up her little red wheelbarrow and bring me another load of mulch yesterday afternoon while Abby and I pulled up pavers and laid landscape fabric.  And even when I heard the bloodcurdling scream, I just assumed she landed in an antbed, the way Sarah always does.  As she rounded the corner with a hobble, I did a full body scan only to find her entire foot covered in blood. 

I repeat.  I'm not exactly the best in emergencies...but this isn't my first blood-covered Sarah rodeo.  I assessed as best I could that there was a huge gash on the top of her foot.  I soaked a towel, wrapped her up, put her in the van and sent the rest of the kids inside.  I, somewhat frantically, enlisted a dear neighbor to watch them and I took her off to be stitched up.  Sarah had stopped crying.  I wish I could say the same about me.  She was just calmly holding her foot listening as I explained to Sam that it was a lot like the forehead gash of February 2011, but possibly a little worse.  Maybe deeper.  Seeing how brave she was just made me braver.  It should have been the other way around.  When I got off the phone she looked at me and said, "Mommy, I prayed to God that this won't be worser."

Stop the train.

How perfect is that?  I cried a little harder for a second and I held her hand and said, "Sarah, there's not one single thing you could do better than that."

I ran her into the doctor's office like a crazy groom with his bride, and they stitched her up.  She only fought back some tears as they numbed it up with what appeared to be a comically-large needle of Lidocaine.  45 minutes, six stitches, and two lollipops later and my girl was as good as new.  Well, you know.  Close enough. 

The challenge remains to keep her off of it for a couple of days, but she's experiencing very little pain for what looks like a pretty gnarly wound.  That girl.  She's awesome.  This experience most definitely was not worser.

We talked about it later, and what happened was that she tried to upgrade from her plastic shovel to an adult-sized shovel.  It was bigger and heavier than she could handle and she dropped it straight down on the top of her right foot, just behind her big toe.

How blessed we are that this was not a much bigger injury is not lost on me. 

Do I wish Sarah didn't need stitches?  Of course.  Do I regret spending two and half days doing exhausting labor with the herd of Sheps?  Not for a minute.  Would it have been easier to hire someone?  Absolutely.  But easiest isn't always best. 

Besides, if Sarah didn't provide me with opportunities like this one, I might spend the rest of my life a chicken and never learn to be as brave as her.

Yadda, yadda, yadda...the yardwork is finished now.

I'm going to eat some chips and stare at a screen. 


Never Will I Ever

I have to make this quick because we are Screen Fasting this week (well, these four days) and, when you make your ten year old abstain from all things "media-related," you better believe he will watch you like a hawk at the first sight of a smartphone.  Or an iPad.  Or a laptop.  The kid wouldn't even cut me a break to look up the Wednesday penny item at Publix.  (But I outsmarted him and I sneaked my phone into the bathroom and locked the door.  Then I hid it in my armpit when I came out in case he was waiting for me, which he totally was.)  At any rate, I caught him doing this earlier today, so this screen-free thing must be doing him a little bit of good.

Your eyes do not deceive you.  That's a book and sunshine.  I love it.  (Not to brag or anything, but he's finished 5 books in the past 4 days.  Because he "doesn't have anything better to do."  It sounds to me like he has found his "something better.")

Anyway, time crunch, since I'm defying my own screen ban.  I just wanted to say that I have said a lot of nevers in my day that have turned around and become my reality.

I will never live in the South.
I will never have more than two kids.
I will never be a stay-at-home mom.
I will never homeschool.

Funny, right?

Well, how about...

I will never be the mom who drags her five kids to the closest Starbucks on May 6th for a half-priced Happy Hour Frappacino with a two year old who has no shoes but plenty of spaghetti sauce all over her shirt, a four year old wearing a long turquoise and green floral skirt with a hot pink and orange ruffle tank top, a seven year old wearing normal clothes but with hot pink water shoes on her feet and a pair of wireless headphones from the minivan's DVD player draped around her neck.

I will never be the mom who lets her kids go out in public without brushing their hair first. 

Surely I will never be the mom who doesn't even notice the unkempt hair and food-stained/mismatched/out-of-season/random attire until we have walked all the way into the Starbucks-inside-of-Kroger.

And I will never be the mom who lets the two year old chug a frappacino just to keep her quiet and prevent her bare-footed self from catapulting her body out of the cart while we wait what feels like hours for the other two drinks we ordered.

Except that I am.

Know what else I am?

The mom who looked at all of them with complete and total embarrassment for 0.3 seconds before I laughed right out loud and decided it just doesn't matter.

(Besides if I looked in the mirror at myself before we left, I'd have noticed that the only things that matched on me were the sties on my top right eyelid and my bottom left eyelid.  And my hair was not good either, because, let's face it...it never is.)

So that's the story.  We looked like homeschoolers.

I'm looking forward to finding out which "never" I break next.

Maybe we'll get a cat.

(Ha!  NEVER.)

And just for fun - some pictures of the kids...since I'm already breaking the rules.

Have a blessed weekend, all.

A Bit of a Brat

You might imagine that my college experience was significantly different from most, considering I got married my sophomore year and had a baby during what would have been the first semester of my junior year, had I not taken it off to, you know, well, have a baby.  School started back in the middle of August as it always does, and I found myself at home, sitting around and waiting for the kid to show.  Okay, actually I didn't do a lot of sitting.  Between the start of school and Ben's arrival, we moved from an apartment to our first home, so I was totally distracted with packing and unpacking.  Plus, my mother was there to help and wait for the baby with me.  And that, in and of itself, is an entirely different kind of distraction altogether.  (Love you, Mom!)  Anyway, I delivered Ben, the house was mostly together, my mom went home, and the dust began to settle.  It was just the three of us.  It was business as usual for Sam, who went off to class and work everyday.  And there I was.  At home.  With a colicky baby. 

While the rest of the world went on without me.

That's really what I thought.  I was in a pretty dark place. 

I love the luxury of retrospect.  I can look back on those times now and realize that I was so young, and so immature and inexperienced.  I was constantly stressed out.  Every single thing about being a wife and mother was so new to me, and I had to learn the hard way how to do both of them, which is to say I screwed up most days and did my best not to repeat the same mistakes the next.  I was more concerned about school and the classes I was missing than I was about being a good mother, simply because it wasn't exactly the way I envisioned things turning out.  In a word, I was a brat.  But, I'm able to look back on those days and use them as a learning experience. 

At least, that's what you would think. 

After I had graduated college, was established in my job, and found a church home, I remember lamenting the fact that I was unable to attend the ladies Bible study that took place on Thursday mornings.  I love a good Bible study, and nearly as important, I needed that sense of community.  I seemed to have that familiar feeling that something major was going on, and I was the only one in the world missing out on it.  I even planned to propose an alternative schedule to my boss so that I could take Thursday mornings off and make up the time elsewhere.  I never did, as it turns out, because I was laid off in November 2010, and the silver lining in all of it was that I could finally attend Thursday morning Bible study. 

Honestly, it was everything I dreamed of and more.  Close friendships, digging into the Word, challenging myself.

Then, Sam and I had this hairbrained idea to start homeschooling.  And I made this stupid Pro/Con list, absolutely sure that the Cons would win out, because it was the only thing that made sense at the time.  What do you suppose was right there at the top of the Con list?  No more Bible Study.

Obsessed much?

To make an already long story a little shorter, I attempted to have my Bible study cake and eat it too, and ultimately it didn't work out.  Turns out, homeschooling and attending a Thursday morning Bible study with no options for school aged children don't exactly mesh.  Having started the study this spring and knowing that today was the last session, I sincerely got my hopes up that I might be able to attend one more time, but came up short on finding someone to keep my 7 and 10 year old for the three hours, and so I started the day out disappointed and cranky.  Why?  Because, well, I'm still a brat.

You see, things don't always turn out the way I plan.  And while I have retrospect to teach me that God's plans are always better than my own, I still have a tendency to forget.  I'm an Israelite.  That's really all there is to it.

So maybe this is just a season where I "don't get to go to Bible study," but I have to trust that God's plan for me is bigger than the Thursday morning Bible studies I miss out on.  And I believe it is.


I think it's high time I stop being a brat.

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