Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Children and Schools

We have had a variety of schooling experiences over our 21+ years of raising children.

Just to give you a picture of where we are right now, we have:
1 Senior in college
1 Freshman in college
1 Senior in high school
1 Sophomore in high school
1 8th grader
1 6th grader
AND a husband who is a professional student....

We have had children in public schools in 4 states, and have homeschooled in 2 states.  Jason and I never attended public schools...we were both products of private Christian schools.

While our children have been in public schools, we have experienced a LOT. We have seen schools that ranked among some of the best in the nation, AND schools ranked as some of the worst.  We had a child attacked and permanent damage done, for which no one was held accountable.  We had schools on lockdown.  We had some exceptional teachers, and some that were not-so-good.  We had a teacher proposing to meet with a teenaged child in her apartment, alone {she was fired}.  Our children were exposed to other children on drugs, children who were abused, and children who were abandoned.  Our children have also experienced a high quality education, musical and sports opportunities, for which there has been a high level of support on all levels of the schools.

Our children have been able to take languages - Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, German, Italian, and French, as well as Latin.

All of our children have had musical opportunities as fit their giftings - one plays the flute and piccolo, and is learning guitar; one plays all brass, percussion, and saxophone; another plays flute, piccolo, keyboard, and saxophone; one plays French horn/mellophone; and 4 have been in singing groups.

One of those children is going on to study music on a college level, and has thought about going back and teaching music on a middle school and high school level.

I have been thinking recently about the opportunities our children have had, at relatively little cost to us.

Our oldest child was in public school in South Carolina for Kindergarten (when she took Japanese) and for most of her 1st grade year, and then we moved a second time within that year, and started homeschooling.

There was a point in time where homeschooling was the only option I was comfortable with using.  I bought into the thought-process that if *I* did everything right (homeschool, no TV, no R-rated or PG-13 movies, limited vaccines, correctly disciplined, memorized enough Scripture, attend AWANA, attend the right church, etc.), my children would turn out "right".  Yeah, that turns out to have been [at least] misleading, and likely blatantly false.


We eventually put our children back into public schools, first in Montana, and then when we moved to Virginia, and now in Massachusetts.  I was petrified.  I had never had much exposure to how public schools worked, or what was expected of parents.



For the most part, life with children in public schools has been good.  The school system in Virginia Beach offered opportunities that we really benefited from...an academy system within the district, with specialty schools, International Baccalaureate middle and high schools, GREAT band programs, peripheral music programs, exposure to students from a WIDE variety of backgrounds and countries, and a host of really good kids that our kids became good friends with.

So far, our experiences with the schools in Massachusetts have been positive, as well.  The schools are much smaller than those we experienced in Virginia, with a much lower student:teacher ratio, more money for special things like iPads for all of the kids 6th grade and up, and no band fees for involvement in the band and guard programs.  We have also not had to purchase school supplies, which is a VERY welcome break from our experiences in Virginia, Montana, and South Carolina.

Back when we had our first child, and I thought about sending her off to school, the thought was overwhelming, and I couldn't see very far into the future.  Now that child is a college senior, and is putting together funding to take her GRE and apply to grad school.  I don't know what the future holds, for any of my kids, but I know that God is in control of that just as much now as He was way back when I thought *I* was the one determining how well they turned out in the end, and I am very grateful for that!!  I am also grateful that our country provides for the education of its citizens, and for the variety available within the public school system.

Friday, September 18, 2015

No-Man's Land

It's lonely out here.

People don't understand me.

I don't fit their little boxes.

I think I'm okay with that.

See, we USED TO fit the box of homeschoolers.
Now, 4 of our kids are in public schools, one is in a public university, and another is at a Christian college.

We are a military family...
...but that didn't start until a LONG time after we were married and having kids.  8 years to be specific.

I grew up Mennonite.
He grew up Baptist.
We don't really fit either of those labels.

We are anti-vaxers...
Until we are NOT.

We are mostly conservative.
Sometimes we could be called liberal.

I am a country girl...
but I really love the diversity of city life.

And home....yeah...
South Carolina is where I was born and raised, where we were married, where we had our first 4 children.
Texas is home to my heart...and where #5 was born.
Montana was home for a while, and is where #6 was born.
Virginia was home for 7 years...and so very many friends are there.
Massachusetts is home for now.
He also considers Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina....
I like what Pumba said in the Lion King... "home is where your rump rests!"
Or, where the Navy sends us....

We reside in No-Man's Land.
It's lonely out here, but I think we like it.  At least we've gotten used to it.....

Monday, September 14, 2015

Accumulation of Stress

In research, and speeches, and articles all over we are all told to reduce our stress loads.

There are dire warnings about the health effects of too much stress and prolonged stress.

I know all of this.  REALLY.  Intimately.  I've only been reading those articles and that research for most of my adult life.  I have been passing that information along to friends and family and clients.

And yet...

Remember the old tale about the cobbler whose children have no shoes?  Ahem.

KNOWING things is much different than applying them.

Frankly, I didn't think I was under *that* much stress.  Oh, I admitted at times that things were getting a bit out of hand.

Like, when I was a full-time grad student, working part-time from home, trying to keep up with 6 children, and my husband was deployed...for a year.  THAT was a little stressful.

Or the year when two grandparents passed away, we went through some major relational upheavals, and Jason changed jobs, AGAIN.

Or the year that the world was supposed to end, I had a baby (25 days late!), Jason had an affair, the house was going into foreclosure, the car was repossessed, we moved, and we dealt with some other major relational upheavals.  Yeah, that year was stressful, too.

But, in between those REALLY stressful times, life was pretty smooth.  Things would settle down, life would be "normal" for a while, and I would have said that my stress levels were minimal.

About that.

I just sat down and wrote out a timeline of my life.  Through EVERY year.  ALL of the major events...those ones that are listed in charts as the ones creating the most stress...job changes, moves, children's births, financial strain, relational strains, separations, deployments, deaths....all of it.

That timeline was very telling.  Those times that I thought were "less stressful"?  Not necessarily.  Because in the almost-23-years we have been married, I was able to list ONE YEAR that did NOT include a major stressing event...most had multiple stressing events.

All of this made me realize that I have been VERY stressed for a VERY long time, and that it is time to make some changes.

I really don't know what those changes will be...Jason is still in the military, so the moving-every-few-years is not likely to change...and the children are growing up, which means more changes (hello, empty nest - well, that's a FEW years off, anyway!).  All I really know is that I really need to be LESS stressed for longer periods of time, and that needs to start now.

Friday, September 11, 2015

This day in history....

"A date which will live in infamy..." ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Roosevelt was speaking to the nation and the world regarding the events of December 7, 1941, when he spoke the above words....yet, those of us who lived through the events of September 11, 2001, could apply them to that date, as well.

National Parks picture
I have been thinking about those events, after reading through a note I wrote in 2011, when we were approaching the tenth anniversary of the hijacking of 4 airliners, the collapse of the World Trade Center, the destruction at the Pentagon, and the heroic measures of the passengers aboard the flight that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

One of the realizations I had this morning is that we now have 14 years of children who do no know life prior to the increased security measures implemented since 9/11/01.  My oldest four children were 1, 3, 5, and 7 years old when the attacks happened.  Even the one who was 7, and is now 21, barely remembers life prior to the attacks.  I was 3 months pregnant when the attacks happened.  My now-13-year-old and my 11-year-old have no inkling at all of what life looked like prior to 9/11.

I have family who were freed from the concentration camps in Europe after World War II.

My father was inches from being drafted in Vietnam.

My father-in-law served on the ground war in freeing Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

I look back at those events with interest, but little horror, because I did not experience them.

I am certain that our children will do the same with 9/11 and the ensuing Second Gulf War.  It is inevitable.  It is how we survive, psychologically.

As humans, we were not created to experience sin, nor the results of sin.  And yet, because of Adam and Eve's original sin, we do not know life apart from the results of sin.  We suffer at the hands of others, we get sick, we die...all the result of sin.

And yet, we need to remember.  We need to be reminded regularly how life was prior to 9/11, and what changed, and all of the freedoms and lives that were taken as a result of the attack on our country.

We also need to be reminded, as believers, that our hope is not in our country, or in the comforts and freedoms we enjoy here, but our hope is found in the person of Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice He made for us so that we can experience a bigger and better freedom than any offered by this country we live in and love.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ebb and Flow


Growth for someone who has lived all of their known life with PTSD is an interesting phenomenon.

People, even some close to me, don't see PTSD...they see an adult woman of 40+ years, educated, somehow having arrived, and with my life pulled-together.

Those people only see what I let them see.

My closest friends know I struggle.  Some of them are aware of the days when I am struggling. Sometimes I call them, sometimes I message them on Facebook, or text.

Even then, they only see the tip of the iceberg.

Most of the time, I tell no one.  The dark is too deep, the pain too immense, the questions too hard to answer.

*************************************************

Good days are sunshine, and flowers, and birds singing, and a lot of accomplishments.

Bad days are grey, and dark, and ruminating, and sad, and a lot of time wishing I were in bed.

Good days often come in clumps...when it is sunny outside, when I have places to be and things to do, and people depending on me.

Bad days come in clumps, too.  Winter is hard because it is already grey, and cold, and requires time be spent indoors.  But is also grey when it is raining outside, or when I didn't get enough sleep, or I had nightmares, or I am in the middle of over-analyzing the last discussion I had with someone who never called back, or never emailed me, or who didn't acknowledge my existence at church.

Unfortunately, bad days happen more often than the good ones.

**************************************************

I have grown a lot in recent years.

I have a name for that looming entity that threatens to engulf me from time to time.

I recognize when I am starting to go downhill now, and am able to do things to change the momentum, and change my direction.

I recognize triggers.

I know I hate the grey.  I know I love the sunshine.  I had four REALLY GOOD years.  Yes, there were hard days in there, but that was FOUR years of progress.  A LOT of growth can happen in four years' time.

I know that my dark days NOW are different than they were before, BECAUSE I have a name for it, BECAUSE I have known days without the clouds, BECAUSE I have grown.  The dark days are NOT better, but different.  They are still deep and dark and sad, but I have HOPE now.

And HOPE will get me through these dark days.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Resetting ME

This morning I sat down to read my Bible study (because it's tomorrow, and I'm hosting, and you know, it'd prolly be a good idea for me to have actually read it...), but was quickly distracted by all that I had to get done, and a million other thoughts.

This study already promises to really challenge me where I need it.  After all, what mom doesn't need some "encouragement" to work on decision-making, and being tuned-in to God, so that we make our BEST decisions?!?

Meanwhile, there is SO MUCH else going on in my life...when isn't there??

I am "breaking in" a new counselor, and part of that includes bringing her up-to-date on my life.  Heh.  In order to do that efficiently...because I'm good like that (HA!)...I sat down and wrote out a time-line of my life, which included major events in my life.  Things that *might* have contributed to my current stress level.

Gulp.

There is a LOT that has happened in my life.
20+ moves.
Births of 6 children.
Grad school.
Children moving out.
Husband's grad school.
Deployments.
Deaths.

The thing I realized, as I put this all on paper, was that I haven't had a break.  In almost 23 years of marriage, I have *1* year where there was *not* a major stressor.  I KNEW I was dealing with a major build-up of stress, but I never really put it all together as to how much stuff had built up over the years.

Our most recent sermon series (finished Sunday) was called Reset, and dealt with the idea that God set aside a day every week for us, His creation, to REST and to RESET.  While we HAVE made a day of rest a priority for most of our marriage, the recognition that I personally have not been able to relax was a light-bulb moment.

So, I'm looking forward to a chance to reset my stress levels, and decision-making...right after I get back from my job interview this afternoon....

(You can go watch the whole Reset series HERE.)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Guilt vs. Reality

Who knew that parenthood would be so horribly guilt-inducing, and failed to tell me about this phenomenon?  Because I want to blame my lack of preparedness on YOU, all of you who neglected to tell me this piece of information.

On any given day, there are bucket-loads of guilt careening around me, picking up speed as I go through my day, logging in to the computer, and seeing all of the lovely things my other friends are doing or have done with their children.

Please note the piles of boxes
to the left, which have since
grown to unmanageable
proportions. 
I see beautiful, clean homes.

Mine is decidedly NOT ready for House Beautiful.












Only 4 of these are mine...the
unsmiling one in the back, in particular.
I see smiling, happy children, in matching, or at least coordinated, brand-name clothing.

Ha!  Smiling, sometimes; matching...rarely.  Brand-name?!? NEVER.

I see perfectly coiffed pooches, behaving the way well-trained indoor dogs behave. 

There are spots in my carpet, new ones appearing regularly, and he hasn't the decency to even look ashamed of himself.

I see creative decorations.
I see imaginative, fun, and educational trips.
I see lots of time with extended families.
I see fit parents, teaching fitness to their children.






And then I look at my REAL life, and I feel guilt.
I feel guilty for choosing to attempt to live debt-free instead of racking up credit card payments for vacations we cannot afford.
I feel guilty for valuing time with my children over having the "perfect look"...for myself, my children, or my house.
I feel guilty for taking my children to other places, away from extended family, living in rental homes, using furniture scarred from many moves.
I feel guilty for the losses of friends, the familiarity, the place to call "home", the pets, the time with grandparents and cousins, and siblings.

In my heart, I know that we are doing what God wants us to do, where He wants us to be.  But, meanwhile, there is this huge hole that gets bigger with each Pinterest and Facebook post that shoots a dagger of "what-if", and "if only" into my already aching heart.

The reality is that social media has given us expectations of ourselves and of each other that are unrealistic.  There is NO WAY one person can possibly do all of the things that show up as possibilities and that become part of what we believe to be expected of us.

Reality is this:
I am not, nor will I ever be, a blonde bombshell.  Six pregnancies made that very clear to me.
My family is happy, whether they smile in photos, or not.
I do not care about brand-name anything (except maybe cars), and I HATE to shop, so all of the sales in the world will not convince me to become a mall-rat.  EVER.
We have debt.  We are trying to pay it off.  We will NOT go into further debt to do things that are out of our reach anyway.
I don't care if my house looks lived-in.  It IS.  We will be comfortable here.

Frankly, I don't know how people fit in all of the living they do.  I don't understand how they have the finances to do things.  There is such a short time-period between itty-bitty baby and grown-up adult-child, and during that time we have to work, and pay bills, and live...and during those years, how do people have the time or money to do the big amazing things that I see them doing?

So, since I can't go back and add money to the accounts of days-passed, or time in which to do things, I am doing my best to enjoy the days I currently DO have with my children...sitting at our messy, scarred-by-moves dining table, eating our meals together, telling our stories, and living life together...without guilt.

Of Shopping and "Preppers" and Fear

I read a blog this morning that made me cry.

It was a blog about a mom, preparing to take her children back to Africa, and trying to figure out how much to buy, trying to plan ahead for an unknown period of time.

It made me cry because I see myself in it.

No, I am NOT going to Africa (that I know of).

I cried because deep inside there I have a fear.  There is fear of an unknown future.  There is fear that I won't be able to feed or clothe my children.

I find that I constantly feel like I *should* be preparing for the inevitable loss of job, income, housing, transportation, for the imminent collapse of the economy, for some national disaster that will isolate or leave us without resources.

This could have been our pantry
- minus the sturdy shelves.
I grew up in a home that was very much into apocalyptic thinking LONG before it was "the thing" to do.  My parents have been "preppers" since the 60s.  I cannot remember a time when there was not talk of stockpiling food, of having alternate sources of energy, of being prepared to live off the land.

As far as I can see, this thought-process is based on FEAR.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of conspiracies.  Fear of deprivation and hunger and loss of liberty and beloved things and/or people.

Living in fear is an exhausting thing, and prompts all kinds of reactions and responses from people.

There are a HOST of mental health conditions linked to fear:  Hoarding, anxiety, OCD, and all of the -phobias, to name a few.

We attempt to regulate and manage and control and mitigate as much risk as possible to prevent things we fear.

And yet....

I am a Believer.  I truly DO believe that God loves me, and wants me to let Him take care of me.  And a constant refrain that He gives revolves around fear, or more specifically, NOT fearing.

All throughout Scripture, God's people are admonished, commanded, and encouraged to NOT live in fear.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9 
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
"Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”  Isaiah 35:4
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  Matthew 10:28
"In God (I will praise His word),
In God I have put my trust;
I will not fear.
What can flesh do to me?" Psalm 56:4
 So we may boldly say:
“The LORD is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”  Hebrews 13:6
I am truly bothered by my own and other believers' responses to our circumstances.  I think my responses (and that of other believers) betray my lack of trust in God.   I think my responses show that deep down I don't believe that God loves me, that I don't think He will care for me.

So, though I am not PLANNING to go to Africa, I recognize that my fear drives me to act as if I live in a place where God can't or won't provide for me every need.
"And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19
Just another thing to work on...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who DID I Marry?

When we got married, I thought I married a romantic.

Boy, was I wrong.

At some points in the last 23 years, I thought I married the wrong person.

That was also wrong.

At various points along the way, I thought I was married to a prospective Marine, a college student, a pastor, a door-to-door salesman, a construction worker, a truck driver, a security guard, a prison guard, a Navy supply guy, a potential Navy Chaplain, a grad student, a sandwich maker, a desk-sitter-behinder, a world-traveler, a stay-at-homer, a soft-ball aficionado, a lover of football, and NASCAR, and basketball, and bowling, and baseball.

At various points along the way, any one of the above could have described my husband, but they were not HIM.

After 23 years of marriage, you would think I would KNOW my husband.  In fact, I thought I DID know him.  I know about his habits, his mannerisms, his patterns of speech, the way he twitches as he falls asleep, his smell, his smile, his favorite foods, and his favorite football teams.

However, there is more to knowing someone than knowing ABOUT them.

Knowing the inside of a person is every-so-much more important than knowing about their habits and their favorite teams.  Somewhere along the way, I also thought I knew the insides of my husband.

I know he loves God.
And I know he loves his parents.
And his children.
And me.
And I know he loves his country.

But there is lot more to him than all of that, and I had a different perception of who he was on the inside.

You see, background and experiences gave me a set of lenses for how to see the world, but also how to see my husband.

So the same teachings that said I needed to be a doormat, also said that he would walk on me.

That was wrong.

The teachings that told me I needed to wait on him hand and foot also told me that he EXPECTED and DEMANDED that I do so.

That was also wrong.

The teachings that said I had to dress in certain ways and behave in a certain manner also taught me that he would be unable to control himself unless I did everything right.

That was WAY off-base.

Those same teachings that said my actions would save our marriage, also told me that any misstep on his part was my fault and that he (and the rest of the Christian world) would blame me.

Wrong, again.

Obviously, there are some things I still have to learn about my husband.  I am so glad to learn that some of my skewed perceptions of him were wrong...and I am loving seeing the absolutely amazing man I actually married.  I am SO GLAD he is NOT who I thought he was!!

I happen to think he's a LOT better-looking now than he was WAY back then, too!!

Why I don't crowd-source my parenting decisions

Crowd-Sourcing: obtain (information or input into a particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet. (Source: Google)

Recent months have seen a lot of people crowd-sourcing a lot of things.  What to name the baby?  Encouragement to stop smoking.  Funds for people in need.  Prayers for friends who are suffering from one thing or another.  What to send the teacher at the end of the school year?  Where to find good clothes for the kids?  What to feed the kids?  How to get the kids to actually eat what we fix?

I LOVE my friends "in my computer". Really. I have a hard time finding local friends because we move so much, and some of my virtual friends I have known longer than I have been married (which is not-quite-forever, but pretty close!).

I have a LOT of friends I have accumulated over almost 23 years of married life, 15+ years of military life and living in 5 different states, in 20+ houses, attending 9 different churches.

All of those friends have different backgrounds, different life-experiences, and different expectations. 

Most of my friends are quite helpful, and will offer a lot of helpful advice, when asked.  Some will offer it even when they are not asked!!  

I even have a special group of friends that I got to ESPECIALLY for parenting advice.  

It would be (and IS!) really easy to jump on to social media and solicit input from the billions of people available online.  

However, there are some pretty good reasons I do NOT often crowd-source my 1200+ Facebook friends on most of my parenting decisions.

1. Different expectations, backgrounds, and experiences.  
Remember all of the different places I have lived?  All of those lovely people who are my friends? They each have different expectations of their children.  Their backgrounds are different than mine, and influence their decision-making processes in different ways than my background affects me and my children.  

2. Details.
I don't want to get online and give all of the details of everything that goes into WHY my children act the way they act.  There are things my children have experienced that my crowd-source has NO BUSINESS knowing.   And yet, those very experiences play a HUGE role in why I parent my children the way I do.  Additionally, there is no way someone who has lived in the same town for all of their life can understand the intricacies of a life lived in multiple locations, changing schools many times, and having friends spread out all over the world.  I can't expect them to help me make good decisions when there is no way they can know and understand all of the details.  

3. I am the parent.  
The idea that it takes a village to raise a child is a nice one.  It really helps to have input from others who love my children and want the best for them.  But, frankly, most of my friends do not know my children.  They have not set foot in my house (but please, we WELCOME visitors!!), and have not experienced life in our larger-than-average, dorky-crazy household.  They are NOT responsible to get my children out the door each morning to school, or to fix meals for them in the evenings, or to provide a roof over their heads and transportation to their 9-bjillion activities.   
JASON and I are responsible for that, and for all of the other things that come with having children and being adults.  Ultimately, no matter the input I get from other people, the decisions are MY responsibility.  Asking for too much input from others who don't have details, and don't understand our circumstances is just crazy-making.  

So, I do occasionally ask for input from my friends, usually from the small group that has known me for almost 20 years.  And, even when I do ask, I don't always implement everything...not because I don't trust my friends, but because I know my kids, and how our family works...and I know that not everything everyone else tells me is going to work in our household.