One Day in an Elevator

Motherhood is full of lessons in humility, isn’t it?  Just when I think I’ve got it in one area of parenting, something will pop up to serve as a reminder of my kid wrangling deficiencies.

Last Monday, I had a full day scheduled.  At co-op, I kept busy with teaching the Bible devotional, a soccer class, an art history class, and an elementary Spanish class.  I remembered to pack the kids’ lunches and homework assignments.  The kids were all having a stellar day, behavior-wise.  As they played in the gym with their friends after Monday school was finished, I thought that the whole day had gone incredibly well.  I may have had a thought or two of how exceptional my parenting skills were to have warranted such a good day with the kids.

So, I confidently assumed that it would be a great idea to take the kids to the mall on my own and get the spring clothes shopping done.  Normally, taking the kids to an extremely stimulating place like the mall by myself would never, ever be a good idea.  But with the events of the day so far unfolding so well, I ignored that cautionary voice in my head and proceeded to browse the racks at JCPenney, trying to find shorts and shirts that fit Gabi correctly.  Things spiraled out of control pretty quickly.  Hosanna didn’t want to sit in the stroller.  The boys kept taking things off the shelves and whining about when was it going to be their turn to pick out clothes.  I should have stopped the whole shopping trip then before it got worse, but I stubbornly was determined to finish the shopping. The air conditioning at the store was broken.  I was sweating as I tried to hurry along the clothing selection, and the kids kept asking if we could go buy something cold to drink.  Finally, I found most of the items we needed and purchased them.

I still needed some more shorts for the boys and decided to go out into the mall to another store.  First, we had to get to an elevator to get the right floor.  I maneuvered the stroller throughout the store, looking for the elevator.  Mikey found it, and as we entered the elevator, I realized that Gabi and David were missing.  I ducked out of the elevator to see them slurping to their hearts’ content at the water fountain.  “Hey!  Get over here, guys!  The elevator’s here!”  I called, and then turned to see the elevator’s doors close.  My heart sank.  My 5-year-old and my 2-year-old, strapped into a stroller, were on an elevator by themselves.  I grabbed my older two kids and frantically pushed the elevator button.  As soon as the next elevator came, we rushed down to the first floor.  No Mikey, no Hosanna.  I hit the elevator button again.  There was a ding, the doors opened, and there was Hosanna, all alone in her stroller in the elevator, looking confused.  Where was Mikey??  I left Hosanna with her older siblings with strict instructions to stay right by the elevator and watch for their brother.  Once again, I boarded the elevator and headed back upstairs to find Mikey.  As soon as the doors opened, I could hear sobbing.  Poor little man – he had done the right thing and gone directly to a store worker to get help.  I comforted him, and we headed downstairs together.  By some miracle, the other three were still there, waiting by the doors.  Amid a chorus of “you left him all alone, Mom” and other guilt-trip-inducing comments, we made it out to the next store where I made outrageous promises for milkshakes before dinner if they would just cooperate long enough for me to get the boys their shorts.  Just as I was at the register to pay for my items, I got a text from a friend.  “How did the fitting go?” I read.  Oh, snap! I had completely forgotten about Gabi’s fitting for an American Girl fashion show she is going to be in next month.  I had twenty minutes to get there.  I hustled the kids out of the mall and into the van, promising over and over again that we would get milkshakes just as soon as the fitting was done.

We got to the fitting in the nick of time.  A friend happened to be there at the same time and gloriously offered to watch the boys while I took the girls inside.  I warned him to keep them away from elevators and happily took him up on his offer.  A stop for milkshakes a little later and I was never so glad to finally be home.

Every day, the Lord sends me plenty of moments to humble me and to remind me that I am dependent on Him.  It’s just that every once in a while, He allows me to fail in a spectacular way to reveal that I don’t have it all together.

I mean, sometimes I leave my children on elevators!

What Do You Do All Day?


At swimming lessons, a curious mom asks me why my kids are not in school.  When I reply that we are homeschoolers, her next question is pretty typical: “Oh my, that must be so hard!  What curriculum do you use?”

Two years ago, it would have been easy to answer that question.  “A Beka Books,” I could say confidently, as if having some acknowledged set of curriculum automatically ensured the success of our homeschooling.  Now, it’s definitely more complicated.  “None?” I think to myself.  “Well, I guess technically that’s not true.  We use Math-U-See for arithmetic, although we often veer off that course with a variety of other math tools and activities.”  I decide to be straight-forward.  “We don’t really use curriculum.”  Her eyebrows shoot up, and she voices her concern.  “How do you stay up with the schools?  How do you know for sure your kids are doing all the things they should be at their grade level?”

“Well, I’m not really concerned at keeping up with the schools.  And I’m not worried about their level of work.  They’re all doing great.”  This answer is followed by a look of confusion.  She shakes her head and then asks, “If you don’t use curriculum, what do you do all day?”  Before I can respond, the whistle blows, and three dripping, happy children run over to grab their towels.  Both of us become immediately engaged in wrangling our children, collecting our stuff, and heading out the door to the next thing.  And I never get to answer her question.

What do we do all day?  There certainly isn’t one word or phrase to succinctly answer that question. What we do is definitely more exciting, more effective, and more expansive than curriculum could ever be.

We start off our day with our Creator.  Every day, we begin with worship songs, prayer, Bible verse recitation, and Scripture reading.  This gets us in the right frame of mind (heart, really) for the rest of our day.

Usually, Bible time is followed by mathematics.  Some days, the kids learn a concept from the Math-U-See program and practice it with the blocks and a worksheet.  Other days, we pull out one of our many math board games and practice time, measurement, multiplication, fractions, and a host of other mathematical concepts.  The younger ones help me sort the laundry and count the colors – six blue shirts, four black ones, etc.  My oldest wants to make banana bread.  With the size of our family, the recipe has to be doubled, and she practices multiplication and fractions to accurately accomplish that task.  If we are out of the house, the kids take turns in the van giving each other math problems to solve orally.  This usually gets pretty competitive and has resulted in my kindergartener learning some rather complicated sums to keep up with his siblings!  Probably my kids’ favorite ways of doing math are Legos and computer games.

Next, we make sure to cover the language arts.  This of course varies according to the age of each child.  My 5-year-old practices his letter writing and letter recognition on the Ipad. Some days, he spells out words with magnetic letters on cookie sheets or cuts and pastes letters to match pictures.  He and I spend a lot of time reading on the couch together.  Besides learning about a variety of topics, he is hearing over and over again good sentence structure, proper expression, and a wide range of new vocabulary words.  He is not yet ready to read; so I read to him, and we play Go Fish with our alphabet cards and sound out words in Dr. Seuss books together.  My 7-year-old has just really started to hit his stride in reading.  He likes routine; every day he does a phonics worksheet to practice new skills before we tackle reading together.  Some days he chooses books off our reading shelf so that he can read all of it himself, and others, like today, we pick a library book, and I help him with the hard words.  He is very memorization-oriented; games like Sight Word Jenga and a multitude of phonics computer activities have really helped him.  He generally hates to write, but if I hand him a list of his favorite Skylanders characters to copy, suddenly his interest is increased.  My 8-year-old loves to read.  Most days, she reads independently and then reports to me what she read.  Occasionally, she will read aloud with me to practice expression.  She practices her grammar with worksheets and computer games.  Our unit study has been about frogs: so part of her language arts class each day is to pick a particular kind of frog, research it, and then write about it.

After these basic subjects have been covered, we delve into our unit study.  As I already mentioned, currently our unit study is frogs.  Also, all three older children have taken an intense interest in geography; so we are exploring that as well.  This weekend, we will be starting our garden, which will then become part of our unit studies. We accomplish our unit studies in all sorts of ways – reading books from the library, watching videos on our subject, finding interesting (and reputable!) websites to learn from, doing experiments, making crafts and art projects, re-enacting historical events, reading literature and poetry that correlates to our topic, visiting museums and other locations, keeping notebooks of everything we have learned, cooking and baking, playing games, making maps, etc. I am using Pinterest to help “plan” our unit study activities – it is extremely useful to put all my ideas in one place.  In a future post, I will detail a unit study we did earlier this year and explain how I organized and planned all of it.

And school doesn’t stop after unit study!  Our goal is to foster a love of learning and to be always learning, whether it be helping a younger sibling understand his Lego kit’s directions or learning how to clean a bathroom correctly or outside observing a ladybug climb on our raspberry bush.

We have ditched the curriculum, and we are not looking back!


A New Season on the Spectrum


It was the end of another busy Monday.  I was bustling about finishing up dinner dishes and hurrying the kids through their bedtime routines.  In the dining room, David was sprawled on a bench, focused on his new Lego minifigures.  I walked past him toward the laundry room, arms full of damp towels, when I paused by the bench.  He was shirtless, and as he leaned heavily on one side of the bench to support himself, I saw that his upper arms were thinner than his forearms.  Much thinner, in fact, and I thought it strange that I had never really noticed that before.  His back was hunched and even sunken in a little.  I reminded him to sit up straight, and he grudgingly raised his upper body while still leaning to the side for support.  I realized that his muscle tone was sadly lacking.  Although not uncommon for kids on the spectrum, I certainly did not want to wait any longer to help him build up those muscles, and in the process, build up his confidence in participating in activities.

When David had first been diagnosed with autism, he qualified for physical therapy and fine motor therapy with a specialist at a wonderful little place called Neurotherapeutics.  For a year, I took him in once a week to work with his therapist Sally Ann on balance, muscle control, texture sensitivities, and more.  She helped him gain confidence in his body and worked with him on eliminating the toe-running and the constant falling.  In short, it was amazing, and we were very disappointed when insurance failed to continue covering those therapy sessions.  Life went on, and now, three years later, I was seeing a need for more therapy and wasn’t sure how to go about getting insurance coverage again.

But God always works these things out, doesn’t He?  The very next day, David came down with what I was sure was strep throat.  I managed to get him in to see our pediatrician that same day to confirm it, and while we were there, I asked her to take a look at his muscle tone and give me a professional opinion on what I should do next.  She wasn’t particularly concerned with what she saw, but she wanted me to have some peace of mind.  I walked out of that doctor’s office with a prescription for strep throat meds and a referral to the physical therapy department.  I was told that it could be weeks and even months before they would call to make an appointment, but the next day we were able to get him in for an evaluation with a physical therapist.

At that appointment, as I watched him uncertainly navigate the balance bar and struggle to toss the bean bags in the direction she instructed, I knew we were pursuing the right thing.  He needed this.  The therapist gave us lots of exercises to work on at home, with goals like “He will be able to successfully complete one sit-up at the next appointment” to guide us.  David was not thrilled at this new burst in physical activity.  He had always pulled the “give up right away” move in the past, but now he had to do bridges and “Supermans” and sit-ups.  I made him carry in the gallon of milk when I bought groceries and constantly challenged him to run wherever we were going.  By the third appointment with Suki, David started to look forward to therapy, and I was seeing some small changes already.  At that appointment, Suki had good news to share.  She had sent a referral to Neurotherapeutics, and we would be able to set up an evaluation with them soon.  Sure enough, Neurotherapeutics called to set up the evaluation appointment and to inform me that we already had insurance approval for twenty sessions with them, both physical therapy and fine motor therapy.

David goes to his evaluation there in a few days.  I am eager for him to get this help and thankful for the opportunity of it.  On Suki’s recommendation, we also got him into swimming classes to further strengthen his muscles.  All of this is a reminder to me that we have to be vigilant and stay on top of this whole autism thing.  When opportunities come up to help him, I want to be ready to take advantage.

And he’s convinced he’s going to be as strong as Ironman, so there’s that…