Making Holiday Memories That Last!

I absolutely love this time of year! I have so many fond memories as a child that I find myself sometimes going a little overboard trying to bring that specialness to my own children — so much so, that I can even resemble Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”! It can be stressful!! So, I began to think back and evaluate what I really remember as a child. Honestly it wasn’t any of the presents I received or all of the holiday parties we went to. It was those simple traditions that we did together as a family. One of those memories that stands out is of us making sugar cookies together. We made them every year and have carried that tradition on with our own children.

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What is it about cookie-making for us? It’s not that they are yummy, or pretty, or messy, or fun….well it’s actually all of that plus more! It’s that we do it together. We get flour on our cheeks and frosting on our fingers. We laugh, talk, create, and eat. Togetherness is what creates the memories that really make an impact on our children’s lives!

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During the month of December, I like to switch up our curriculum and take on a more simplified and holiday-focused theme. We learn compassion through gift giving and random acts of kindness. We learn counting and calendars through our Advent calendar. We read classic Christmas literature and poems and work on math, science, and home skills through baking. We also tie in art and music through special church programs and creative crafts we do. We help feed the homeless, and collect items for those in need. There are so many different subjects you can tie into Christmas-themed projects. But, to really make whatever you do memorable, do it together as a family!

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Just for you, here is my late mother’s tried and true sugar cookie recipe!

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Momma Cat

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We had a couple of stray female cats that showed up last fall, and one ended up pregnant. This cat really liked being outside and wandering around. When she had her babies (seven of them!), she quit going outside and stayed in a box with them. She hardly left the room she was in. She took good care of her babies, giving them baths, feeding them, and making sure they were safe.

While we could take lessons about God from this, I was impressed how like this we should be as mothers. She was willing to give up her freedom and rights to take care of her babies. We need to be willing to change our ways or plans and what we do to fit the needs of our children. Too often, we get tired of changing diapers, picking up toys, washing dishes and clothes, but these only last a little while. Our first work is to raise our children; everything else should come after that.

My favorite quote on motherhood from Ellen White, from Ministry of Healing, in the chapter on “The Mother,” pgs. 377 and 378, says, “There is a God above, and the light and glory from His throne rests upon the faithful mother as she tries to educate her children to resist the influence of evil. No other work can equal hers in importance. She has not, like the artist, to paint a form of beauty upon canvas, nor, like the sculptor, to chisel it from marble. She has not, like the author, to embody a noble thought in words of power, nor like the musician, to express a beautiful sentiment in melody. It is hers, with the help of God, to develop in a human soul the likeness of the divine.”  (My emphasis)

Dirt Trails and Little Boy Tales

This post is one I wrote a few years ago when my sons were four, six, and eight, but I still find it relevant today. With summer vacation already underway for some, or just around the corner for others, it’s good to remember what’s important, and what’s not (as important). While this is geared more toward parents of boys, parents of girls can take these lessons and ideas to heart as well. My prayer is that you and your family will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord this summer, that you will remember mud puddles have a purpose, and that God is faithful to complete the good work He has begun in us and our children — no matter how many times you have to scrub the floors or walls because somebody “forgot” to wash the mud off before coming inside.

The first time my boys got to play in the dirt, it was love at first sight, and the love affair has only grown over time. There’s something about dirt and gravel that is good for the heart of a boy. With their trucks and tractors, my children excavate roads, parking lots, and lakes in our driveway. They then use the hose to fill these creations with water, which of course, creates mud. By the end of the day, they are thoroughly covered in dirt and grinning from ear to ear. Life for them could not be better.

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Despite being a mom who likes to have a sparkling clean home, I understand the importance of letting my boys be themselves. So often our society tries to fit little boys into molds that are decidedly not little-boy shaped. They must sit still at their desk while doing lessons, they must not get too dirty or climb too high, they must not rough-house and tumble about with their friends. This mentality causes all kinds of pinching, chafing, and general grumpiness, because boys were meant to be — well, boys! They were meant to conquer, overcome, and use their strength (preferably to help others). When our culture tries to make being a male unacceptable, we are left with a generation of boys who are trying to figure out just who they are and what it means to be a man. Extreme aggression and machismo, as well as low self-esteem, can all have roots in boys not being allowed to be themselves. They feel that they have everything to prove, or that there is no point to anything, and have given up.

My husband and I certainly do not have all the answers, but here are a few of the rules that we live by at our place. This doesn’t include rules that help with health and making family life run smoothly (although those are certainly part of our everyday lives); this list includes rules that help a boy know who and what he is (though many can be applied to little girls as well).

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  • Work hard at chores. Play harder. Physical work is fun and rewarding, and play is even more fun because of it.
  • Shout, holler, and yell.
  • Climb things.
  • Conquer your fears by trying new and difficult things.
  • Create your dreams and fantasies in bright colors using a variety of mediums.
  • Build intricate cities and roads out of stones, Legos, and sticks.
  • Always try to do better than you did last time.
  • Know the One in whom your strength truly lies.

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It is the desire of both my husband and myself to raise happy, self-confident boys who are ready for the challenges and joys of adulthood. Their future success lies in the freedom to discover their talents and strengths, and in the supportive environment we give them as parents. So, next time your little excavator comes in and leaves muddy footprints all over the floor, why not offer to join him in building the highway of his dreams?

Charlotte Mason Education, Part 1

When I first began homeschooling my children just over a decade ago, one of my favorite things to do with them was to read aloud. I loved sitting in a cozy space with my children all snuggled around me while I read great adventures and heartwarming stories of old. I was drawn to vintage curriculum used in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and I stumbled across Old Fashioned Education online. Little did I know this would be my introduction to Charlotte Mason education. I taught my children to read through McGuffey Readers and spent hours reading stories aloud to them after lunch. We used a grammar curriculum from the early 1900s, along with Dick and Jane books. Plus, we spent a lot of time reading aloud. I loved this time in our education.

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But, somewhere along the way I got burned out, life got hectic, the kids were getting older, and a new little one was on the way. I tried a bunch of different types of educational methods and just couldn’t find what worked. So, I resorted to worksheets. While it was easy, it was lacking in depth and passion. The kids weren’t enjoying it and neither was I. I craved something meaningful, enriching, and beautiful. I longed for that simpler time when the kids were younger and all we needed was a good book and time outside! And, then it happened! I was perusing Pinterest and stumbled across Charlotte Mason. I don’t remember exactly what blog post, quote, or picture drew me in, but it was like a fire was lit! All of a sudden I was excited again! I spent hours researching and reading everything I could get my hands on. The Charlotte Mason method of education was exactly what I had been craving.

So, who is Charlotte Mason and what was her method of teaching? Charlotte Mason was a British educator who believed there is more to education then just learning to take tests. She believed that each child is their own individual person, capable of dealing with a multitude of enriching ideas. She believed they are not just a blank slate ready to be molded. She said that education is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life. True education is about finding out who we are within this world that God created and how we fit into it.

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“An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life”

Charlotte Mason had three main principles that her method was built around. “Atmosphere” refers to the surroundings in which a child grows up. A child absorbs so much from their surroundings. In fact she believed that the rules that govern us as parents make up one third of a child’s education. “Discipline” is also referred to as “Habits,” specifically good character habits. This is another third of a child’s education. The last third of a child’s education is “Life.” This portion applies to academics. Charlotte Mason believed that we should give children and education that is full of living books, thoughts, and ideas, rather than dry textbooks, worksheets, and facts. The application of her educational method is based on this idea.

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Charlotte Mason believed in teaching subjects through living books. She encouraged including topics that were lovely, like poetry, composer and artist study, and nature studies. She was a huge proponent of children spending lots of time in nature, and believed formal education should wait until the child is 8-10 years old.

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I am still in the learning phase of this method of education, but I found that I could immediately apply her method while still learning. There are so many wonderful resources out there that have helped me.

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Further Links for Reading:

Next month I will cover Part 2 on how we are applying the Charlotte Mason Method with our children from toddler to middle schoolers.

 

Keeping It Real

If you’ve been following our family’s story, you know four things about us:

1. My husband and I separated in 2010 and narrowly missed divorcing. The fact that our marriage survived is nothing short of a miracle of God.

2. My husband and I are “unequally yoked.”

3. Our family worked our way into radical unschooling.

4. Our oldest son decided to attend a traditional school this year – a charter school.

I thought I would give you an update on Ethan. Because of a couple of those four things, our path has been anything but smooth and I hope to encourage – or commiserate(!) – with some reading this blog if your journey be similar at all to mine!

I just firmly believe that many times we, as human being and especially as homeschoolers, tend to hide our warts and exaggerate our medals.

There are some families who really do just excel, and I wish them the best and continued success!

However, that leaves some of us feeling like failures, not sure where to go to get encouragement, because if we admit to struggles to some family members or friends, they will obviously or subtly blame the act of homeschooling itself. Or our family dynamics. Or our personal faults.

It’s scary to be vulnerable. It’s scary to be honest. And yet, I’m going to be both on this blog today.

You see, Ethan is struggling.

The first semester of high school he did great! Got good grades. Enjoyed his classes! He’d finally gotten what he always wanted!

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Now reality has set in. He struggles with personality conflicts with two of his teachers — thinks one just isn’t adequately teaching the subject matter.

A couple of days ago, I got a letter from the teacher he doesn’t like, his chemistry teacher. He’d gotten caught cheating.

Sigh.

Failure. My heart convicts me!

How is it that we take our children’s missteps so to heart, as if everyone doesn’t struggle, especially in their teen years?

That day, I met him at school to take him to work, and we ended up in an hour-long conversation. It started with him doing his level-best to push every button that I own, trying to make me angry. When that didn’t work, we moved into a phase of more productive communication.

Just to give you some background, once he got his driver’s license, we’d told him that we expected him to get a job to help pay his own expenses: car insurance and cell phone. He went out and got a job working at Burger King working 20 hours a week.

Working practically every Sabbath.

Another failure felt deeply.

Within the first week or so, I expressed my concern that a $9-an-hour job not jeopardize his education. He seemed more concerned with work and socializing than homework. Then I got the notice that he was failing a class (the teacher who wasn’t teaching right; “no one” was doing well in her class).

He assured me that he’d worked it out with her and turned in missing assignments.

Then came the email about the cheating (the teacher he had personality conflicts with).

The one thing that I wanted him to understand is that we don’t have all the answers. This is the first time we’re dealing with the issues of balancing work and school and his social life. Yes, Thomas – our son from Whitney’s first marriage – had lived with us during his high school, but his mom was perfectly willing to pay his insurance and give him spending money, so he didn’t have to work.

Thomas paid the price – and continues to pay – for that on many different levels once he was “on his own” as an adult…still expecting Mom to help pay for things.

We wanted better for Ethan, and one of the lessons we wanted him to learn is how to be responsible, how to manage and save his money.

But at the same time, our family’s finances did not rise and fall on him paying his portion of the now crazy-expensive insurance premiums or his cell phone. His father makes good money and we could do it; we just don’t believe that we should.

That day, the conversation veered back and forth. At first he denying cheating, blaming me for being forced to work; according to him, he’d been led to believe that if he weren’t working we wouldn’t be able to buy groceries because of the insurance costs {rolls eyes}.

When I proposed that he quit, suddenly he wanted to work, enjoyed having the money. And, once he’d calmed down he admitted that yes, in fact, he did cheat, but “everyone in that class does it.”

…{takes a deep breath and lets it out}…

This son of ours is an oldest child in every sense of the word.

I don’t know, perhaps your firstborns are responsible, willing to listen to advice, thoughtful and careful about the decisions they make. If so, you are blessed indeed!

I am the youngest child, and while I did my share of stupid things as a kid, I was still just not even a blip on my parent’s radar. I didn’t give them any cause to worry about my decisions (what they didn’t know couldn’t concern them, and I shielded them from many of my shenanigans). I never broke curfew. I listened and many times heeded their advice on grown-up issues.

So, I don’t understand this innate drive to go contrary to conventional wisdom! This need to make every mistake and jump off every cliff just to learn his own lessons! Why go SPLAT when you can observe and talk to those who have, and learn from their mistakes?

It has seemed like every single thing that I ever wanted that kid to do, he would subtly go the opposite direction. Sometimes not so subtly. While we have a really close relationship, there are times when I feel like I have very little chance to make a difference for him. He won’t let me.

He’s picked up every subtle, and not-so-subtle, cue about what I want him to do, and gone off in some other direction.

I guess that brings me around to this question, the question that probably haunts many of you.

What to do in the face of it?

I don’t know what you’ll do, but based on many conversations with my sister, who was the oldest, and her daughter, also an oldest, I am convicted that the only thing I can do is keep loving my son. Draw boundaries where I need to, but trying to “force” him to do anything – manipulate him into doing anything – will, in the end, drive him further away.

What I need to do more than anything is to show him that regardless of his decisions, regardless of his mistakes, regardless of whether I agree with any of the above, I love him and will be his safe place.

He’s 17 years old now. If I haven’t taught him my values (remember, I have a husband who doesn’t share them) and even more so lived them, then it’s way too late to try and force them on him.

And so, I do my best. Some days failing, some days succeeding. But the only hope I have is to show him God — the Father in the Prodigal Son parable who allows the son to make his mistakes, to go completely contrary to what he’s been taught, and who still loves, accepts, and welcomes his son back.

Hopefully my son won’t go completely away from “home.”

But in the end, if I don’t show my son that “religion” and God are all about relationship, then I’ve experienced the ultimate failure. I don’t want for him a shell of observance and rules. I don’t want an empty and dry heart sitting in a pew, following every jot and tittle. I would prefer a heart that has learned life lessons the hard way and been drawn back to a loving God to be in a living relationship.

And so, I man the oars and fight the fight.

To be continued!