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Hard Assignments

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As our family finished creating a mission statement over the break, one of the principles that made it on the list is “We don’t give up,” or as it’s remained in my mind, “We do hard things, we persevere.”

This week of starting back to school has been an essay on doing hard things.  On the first day, it was hard to get up at a decent hour and accept that the day was not our playground.  That morning I pushed all five of us through the motions anyway.  As we sat down to sketch together in the afternoon, I thought we were on the other side of hard for the day.  And then I heard, “I just can’t draw, I can’t do it, I won’t do it!”

I looked over at my eight-year-old, earnest in his fears and self-doubt, his face scrunched in a ball of misery just like the paper crumpled in his hand.  He didn’t have to sketch with us, it was the first day back to school after all, I could have let it go.  It would have made my own sketching time much easier if I’d released him from trying.

“Buddy, we’ve been talking as a family about how we do hard things and we don’t give up. Don’t give up, keep trying.”

And then I added other words about how his drawing didn’t have to look just like the cup of hot chocolate he was trying to sketch (that’s right, I’d even sweetened this sketch time with hot cocoa and homemade cookies).  And his older sister helped by declaring her drawing wasn’t going as planned so she was going to free herself from being realistic by doing a one-line sketch instead.

With enough cajoling, he eventually finished a sketch and I knew there was a small notch on his belt of belief that he could finish what he started, a notch that would help with the next challenge that was sure to come.  I put his finished sketch in a frame and that night I was a very tired Mama who was glad we were a family who did hard things.

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The “I can’t do it!” theme has been persistent this week.  Wednesday it was multiplication, Thursday it was another drawing assignment and another math assignment.  There’s been shouting, thrown objects, and general mayhem that’s made giving up  quite appealing to all of us.  Along side my son’s energetic rant, I’ve carried on my own inner monologue a few steps away:

He needs to learn how to do hard things.  He needs to gain some drawing skills so he can gain confidence.  He’s got to learn how to deal with frustrating problems” (notice the subtle turn here) “I just can’t do this.  I don’t want to do this.  I can’t teach all of my kids these skills, I can’t face these problems everyday, there’s got to be someone else who can do this instead of me.  I just want to stop.”

After my own rant ended, another voice began:

But Aimee, you’re trying to quit, just like your son, you need to learn how to persevere, how to overcome hard things, just like your son. 

Now I didn’t like how the tables were turning on me at all. I didn’t like the suggestion that I had as much to learn as my children about overcoming obstacles and pushing through problems.  I wanted to think of the beautiful release of quitting without equating it to my eight-year-old balling up his drawing and throwing it in the garbage. I wanted my internal fit to look a little less childish than my son’s, but it sounded mockingly the same.

I realized that I was in a hard place and it wasn’t that easy to push through the moment, which turned me toward empathy and grace for my son.  If I couldn’t instantly conjure the strength to get to the other side of my challenge, then I couldn’t expect such a quick turnaround in his countenance either. I had to do more than get frustrated and impatient, I needed to come along beside him, be intimate with his struggle, and call with him to the Lord for help.

This week my son and I have pushed through some hard things.  He’s gotten out new paper and tried again.  I’ve sat beside him. He’s wisely taken a break from a project, with plans to return to it when he’s ready.  I’ve allowed him the space to struggle. He’s gotten my help to finish a math assignment. And I’ve stayed, minute by minute, hour by hour. There was some chocolate involved in the day, some frustrated words, as I’m sure there will be tomorrow.

My son and I both have assignments in front of us daily.  I’m handing out his assignments and God’s handing out mine (of course, God is actually teaching us both).  Today I got a little notch on my belt to remind me next time I don’t have to give up, that I can push through hard things.

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Looking Back for the First Time

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(Trying on Pirates of the Caribbean hats in DisneyWorld, 2013)

I confess that our family is usually sliding into the new year, exhausted from the harried month of December, a little frail from managing chores and sibling bickering, and not too excited about the three months of shut-in still left of winter. We’re usually in survival mode and stumble right past a time to reflect at the close of the year.

We have some good friends that have led us (by example) to a different path this year. Each year their family (of 7) head off to a cabin over New Years Eve and Day for some intentional family time.  They look back over their year and scrapbook their highlights together, answer questions about the past year, write notes to people who have blessed them, and look at their goals for the New Year.

New Traditions

We didn’t have plans to head out of town over the holidays, but we are trying to adapt some of these traditions into our holiday stay-cation. Over the last two days we’ve looked at a slideshow of pictures from the past year and answered some questions over hot chocolate and dinner. In the next two days we’re hoping to bless others with some written words of thanks and talk about our family vision, goals, and calender for the New Year.

As I sifted through pictures for our slideshow, I was surprised by all that had happened since January.  Before answering the questions and looking at the photos, my view of the last year easily gravitated toward the challenges, but after our family time I realized that in the midst of the challenges also came many blessings.

Here our my top 10 family moments of 2013:

 #1 Art Show

In January our family took an intense and wonderful art class with Carla Sonheim and to celebrate our hard work we had an art show at our house.  Aside from reading stories out loud together, art time is my favorite time at our house.  And it was a treat to share it with others. (Highlighted here at Carla Sonheim’s blog!)

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#2 The last semester of our Homeschool Co-op

For two years we were blessed with a sweet, sweet homeschool community.  About six families who shared a similar love of all things creative met once a week.  We had book club, art classes, PE, and in the final year a drama class and a writing class.  For the brief two years we shared a creative place, laughter, children inspiring other children, and an absence of many of the rules that govern boys and girls in traditional environments. In the photo below, our friend Jennifer (author and writing teacher)  is celebrating our 11-year-old  as a writer by giving her a new name. (check our Jennifer’s online writing classes)

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#3 The Boy Finally Loves to Read

Even though our son has had the ability to read for a few years, this March he finally got it. He finally found the treasure hidden between those pages of little black words. For days I found him with a book at the table, on the couch, in his bed, and left him in the car in the driveway as he lived in the World of Story.  A life-changing moment for an 8-year-old.

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 #4 Making Movies

This was the year of IMovie and Fireborn Studios.  The kids have made about ten movie trailers this year, starting with the first, The Adventures of Spy Dog.  My 13-year-old can do things with computers I could never even dream of doing.  We put all of their work on DVDs and gave them out as presents this year.  In our house, everyone gets to be a star, even the four-year-old acted in her own documentary trailer about the life of a ballerina.

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#5 A Summer Worth Savoring

The end of the summer found me wishing for more.  Instead of anxiously needing to go back to routine and structure, I wanted more time at the pool and the absence of managing school. It was a summer of the swimming and…well, whatever surprises the day might hold.  I also had the luxury of time spent writing and getting some constructive criticism from a friend.

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#6 DisneyWorld

In the Fall, my in-laws treated our entire family to a trip to DisneyWorld.  They paid for accommodations, park tickets, and meals for a three-day trip.  I thought this would be a stressful trip. It was, instead, our best vacation.  We haven’t really had many true vacations in our thirteen years of family life.  It was an incredible gift to cast off any worries about our mundane chores and meal preparations.  Instead we woke up each day with one precious goal: go have a great adventure.  We rode scary roller-coasters and watched the magic of the kingdom work its way through each member of the family.  Our four-year-old has started a fund to go back.

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#7 Dance Class

In the Fall, we joined a new co-op after our beloved one I mentioned earlier in this post, finally disbanded.  Life instantly became busy and stressful.  My favorite time of the week became our four-year-old’s dance class.  She’s the baby of our family but in this class she was the oldest, the leader.  I don’t know what’s more delightful than watching a dozen 2 to 4-year olds skip, march, and curtsey their way through classic musical songs.

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#8 Our Eldest Daughter Participates in Her First Large Scale Theatre Production

If joining our large homeschool co-op came with great challenges, it also came with blessings, usually tied up together as I mentioned above.  She auditioned and got a part in the Fall drama in Shaw’s Pygmalion.  It was a twice a week rehearsal commitment and I also helped with costumes. Many times throughout the process I regretted that we’d gotten involved with the play, which made us the busiest we’ve every been with outside commitments.  But as often happens, Play Week arrived and it felt worth it.  She is certainly in her element when she’s performing.

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#9 My Favorite Fall Day

While we juggled a new kind of school, dance classes, rehearsals, choir, and Boy Scouts, we had one of my favorite kind of days.  It arrived at the end of the fall trees.  This october was a struggle for me because it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death and he died when the trees were at full glory.  Usually the Autumn trees are my favorite seasonal decoration, but they brought flashbacks of pain this year.  It was on this day, one of the last days of our yellow tree in the backyard, that my soul finally found some peace with the beautiful, burning trees.  It was the kind of day I’ve always loved in our years of homeschooling.  All of us outside, art supplies spread out, creating new worlds on paper or in our imaginations.

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#10 Hutchmoot

When the Rabbit Room took reservations for this conference back in March, my husband and I both got on computers and phones and tried to get tickets, but we both failed as the conference sold out in less than three minutes.  As the October date of the conference approached, I went through all the stages of grief that we wouldn’t get to go.  About two weeks before the date, I found out a ticket had become available and I threw grief aside.  This is a community that feeds all the often denied places of my creative spirit.  A weekend of excellent music, authors, visual artists, and theater.  A place to say yes to the way God sculpted my art-loving heart. And then it’s so much more.  It’s a place set apart where the light of God blocks out the darkness that we muck through in our daily lives.

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A final note on the challenges of this year.  My kids are entering out into a bigger world, their faith and foundation are being tested.  It’s certainly arrived with a cost on our time and our way of doing school, and I can’t say what our plans are for this next year yet.  But it has also grown their character through the testing.  And it’s grown mine as well.

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Does Art Time Make You Want to Cry?

Almost immediately after I wrote my last post, I wondered if it might sound too idealistic to some of you: the family gathered together around the table, savoring the process of making art. You’re thinking of the many art times at your house that have involved a serious level of ugly-crying (both you and the kids) and you’re a little annoyed that I’m suggesting something different happens at my house.

How Art Looks at Our House, Sometimes

That morning we did have a great time, there were no tears, no crumpled papers, no “I’m not good at art” moments.  But we’ve had plenty of those moments, too.  I have one daughter who is a perfectionist and she can get very intense when she works on an art assignment (picture a creature from Poltergeist). I have another daughter who is quick to doubt herself and she often has to walk (stomp) away from her work for thirty minutes and approach it with a fresh perspective.  “I can’t do it!” is most often heard from my son, who’s been watching his sisters draw since he came out of the womb.

Give Me Product, Not Process

In addition, I’m aware that I can be a product-led mama.  I like things to look good with a capital “G”. I loved having an art show last year to display our family’s art work.  But that part of my personality can sometimes lead me astray.  I can end up framing the twelve-year old’s work, while tacking my four-year old’s art to the refrigerator, sending the younger child a silent message “Come back later when you’ve got some ‘real’ art”. When my twelve-year old was four, everything she touched with paint was as beautiful to me as a picture in a gallery. My, how expectations can rise.

Exploring Versus Mastering

Why, then, were we all relaxed during our last art session?  The project was open-ended. It was about exploring rather than mastering. We’ve done a few of these projects lately, inspired from a book called The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul. It’s a book that I checked out with my four-year old in mind, but it’s got all of us, ages four to thirty-six, following the scent of art to the kitchen table.

We need to play with art. We need to dip a lego brick into paint and put it to our paper without any pressure to produce something worth showing. We need to dip a q-tip in paint and see if we can create a face or a tree out of dots and then laugh if the face looks like a person with measles. Or possibly, like my son, we need to get a rubber ball and see how it works as a bouncing paintbrush.

A Little of Both

Now that some of my kids are older, we’ve leaned toward a focus on art projects that develop skills. That type of goal-oriented work has produced some great art and I enjoy seeing the skills show up in the sketch books and projects they do on their own.  But there is a place for both kinds of projects.  A child (or an adult) most likely won’t want to do the skill-focused projects if he hasn’t first experienced the exhilaration of making something with his hands, and continued to re-visit that freedom and joy.

Isn’t it true for many areas that combine skill and creativity?  Think of the hard-working ballerina who also loves to dance to the Beatles in her living room.  Or the classically-trained guitarist who plays in a Rockabilly band on Friday nights. We need to allow our children to play with art, and we need to play right along with them.

If art times are stressful at your house, take a look at what type of projects you’ve been doing. Do you need to put away the “how to draw” books for a a little while? You might need to examine your own attitude toward art.  If you regularly announce to your kids “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint” then don’t expect them to have a brave attitude toward art. Do you send a message of product over having fun? Try a different approach this week.

Here’s to a great week of art!

Aimee

An artist who keeps these elements of playfulness and skill-building in balance  is Carla Sonheim.  She has two online classes coming up and I highly recommend you sign up for one and do it with your kids.   

Other resources:

 

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The Tempting Aroma of Art

I cover the table with plastic bags, set out the paint trays and the paint shirts.

“Are we going to do art Mommy?!” asks the 4-year old.

We’re the only ones in the kitchen while the other kids are laboring away at grammar exercises and studying science.

“Yes, we’re doing art, Goose.”

The 8-year old instantly appears in the kitchen and says, “What are you doing?”

“We’re doing art,” replies the 4-year old.

He looks at the collection of Legos, cookie cutters, and other odd bits I’ve amassed on the table beside the paint I’m squirting into trays.

“I want to do it,” he announces and dons a paint shirt.

Seconds later his 10-year old sister arrives, “Do what?”

“Art,” answers her brother.

“I want to do it, too!” she says as she grabs another shirt.

Then, like a child sniffing cookies fresh from the oven, my 12-year old follows the scent of art and claims her chair, too.

“I’d rather do art than science tests any day!” she announces.

For the next forty-five minutes we dip, mix, stamp, and admire.

Each of the kids have the same bits and baubles to work with, the same colors of paint, the same white piece of cardstock, and yet not one piece of art matches the one next to it. Piece after piece, the floor and the top of the washing machine are now covered with drying art, each a representation of the very unique being who created it.

Our breathing and minds are loose, we are doing something we are meant to do. Sure, the other tasks are waiting (and they will mostly get done) but what a gift to start here.

 

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Bring It On: The Journey to Find Our Summer Has Begun

 

Last year we seemed to misplace summer.

This year I’m itching all over for it.

Each summer has been encased in it’s own set of circumstances-pregnancies, babies, caring for an elderly parent-I’m still not sure exactly what I’m looking for this summer.  I have some fears about loneliness and an endless lack of shape to our day(which can end up as bored sibling fighting). But all the same-

Bring it on.

Good-bye to stacks of school curriculum and attempting to constantly motivate 4 small people, bring on the days of less mama-corrections and directions and more mama smiling and sitting on the floor.

Good-bye to structured learning, bring on the family summer bookstore and nature sketching with brand-new sketchbooks and pencils(shhh, don’t tell the kids).

Good-bye to heavy soups and flavorless grocery store produce, bring on the weekly csa box brimming with the ingredients for yet-to-be-discovered recipes, happy salads, and pasta with fresh tomatoes.

Good-bye “go on, you need some fresh air” says mama to the reluctant children, bring on strawberry(tart) kissed cheeks, bathings suits, and the smell of suntan lotion.

Good-bye predictable days, bring on days of adventure on land, on pool, on travel.

Good-bye limitations, bring on the possibilities.

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My Best Kept Secret

Take a visit to my other blog, A is for Anteater, to read My Best Kept Secret about why I teach our children at home.

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Midnight Ramblings Injected with Real Thoughts

The subject of homeschooling can really stir the hornet’s nest when it pops up in conversation.  The homeschool moms, understandably, have chosen their path for very specfic reasons and are living them out daily with a heavy dose of blessing and trial and they are going to talk about it with passion.  The public and private schools moms, their own reasons and journey firmly planted, are immediately put on defense and feel called in to defend their own very personal choice for their children, and stand up for their mama-hood. All in all, despite my usual stance of “this is what’s good for us, but it’s a choice for each family” I’ve experienced a few stings and been tempted, out of exasperation, to give a few myself.

We can talk about the hot topics-socialization, education of the teachers versus parents, moral and spiritual foundations, but I only find myself getting really worked up when I feel that homeschooling is attacked because it’s a deviation from generation upon generation of “this is how we do it”.  New=makes people uncomfortable= bad.  Most of my friends have considered and researched(much more than more myself I might add) the choices available for their child’s education.  They’ve prayed and discussed, finalized their stand, and walked forward with it.  But there is the group that seems to go with public or private because it’s what’s done.

I watched a video today that I had to bring to my blog.  Set aside the opposing teams and listen. It’s a video to make you think.  And it’s for you, the homeschool mom, to consider carefully your purpose and methods for the precious time you have with your children.  And it’s for you, public and private school mom, so that you can consider what you hope your child will gain from the 13 or so years in the school system. How are you going to fight for that education model to help your children and their friends become more of who they are supposed to be, find their passions and talents, which will carry them through life not just through the successful admission into a college.  Whether you are at home or at school, do you feel like it’s a daily fight for your child to have the freedom to be him or herself, are they not fitting into your mold or the school system’s mold?  Maybe the mold needs to be broken and refitted for each individual child.  This is not a homeschool speaker encouraging people to homeschool.  It’s a well-educated, out of the box visionary, asking all of us not to accept the “always done it that way” just because it’s easier.  A change in our education goals is necessary across all gaps.

If you have 17 minutes, grab some coffee and a seat.

Click over to this blog to find the video.

You’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comments, but please keep respect and kindness in mind.  I’m not hoping to change minds, just to engage them.

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If you first found me while following my homeschool posts, I’ve got great news for you.  I’ve added a separate brand new blog all about our homeschool life. Abundant Life will remain a place to reflect, celebrate, gripe, and encourage about all aspects of life.  But if you want to get into the specifics of homeschooling with a family of 6, head over here.

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1 Part Photo/2 Parts Truth

Just like the written word or a photograph, my blog only reveals a partial truth.

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For example, I can show you this photograph of my stolen date out with Jellybean saturday morning and you might think “what a sweet relationship they have”, but today you would see the same daughter and I both with tears in our eyes as we worked through a tough start to our morning.

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I could show you this photo of  a craft we did today and you might think “they’re so artsy and fun, I want to do school at their house” but it would also mask that I woke up this morning wishing hard that I could stay curled up in the covers and call in my sick day(for the next month).  And that this project, though it will make a fun sign, was a desperate attempt to continue on with school-like activities today without trying to balance teaching all of the children separately(while keeping Sparkles happy).

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And when I show you this priceless picture of Sparkles, you might turn to your friend and say “what a beautiful family they have! Aren’t they blessed?” And your friend would nod in agreement as would I if I were sitting with you, because what could be more true?  But interlocked with that truth is how incredibly torn I’ve felt every day by my growing, changing family.  I spend what I consider way too much time wishing that Sparkles was still the sleepy baby on my chest rather than the one exploring our carpet with her mouth.  She wants to be anywhere but in my lap, and I think “really, are we already to that point?”. I don’t mean that light-hearted, because I have this desire to fight time, even though I know I would lose. I can’t look at one of my kids and feel simply glad they’re right where they are in life.  Each day passes with the conviction that I need to accept the seasons of my life(and my children’s).

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Here’s the final picture for the day.  This tree, which last week was radiant with it’s warm, orange cloak, is now entering the bleaker season of the year.  If this was the only picture I ever saw of this tree, I would be missing a greater truth. It’s hopeful green buds, the laughter of children playing around it in the summer heat, and then snow-covered in solitude, all of these together make up the full life of this tree.  This picture doesn’t make the other seasons any less true.

And with my life, as I struggle to see the greater truth, look with me at all sides. This side when laughing teeters on the edge of crying, hearts bloom and then darken, time selfishly moves on, and expectations grow weighty.  I’m claiming that this is not the only truth and in the end, will make the other side all the more illuminated.

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School Countdown Begins

I can feel it, I’m getting in planning mode.  Re-organzing the school room in my head, printing off sheets for my planner, finalizing curriculum choices for the fall.

One area that I’m still undecided is science.  At the end of last year we started Apologia, which has it’s on set of pros and cons.  This year I’ve got my eye on Noeo Science and just today learned about these Unit Nature Studies.  Right now Shining Dawn Books is hosting a contest, maybe you or I will get to try out their products free!  If not, they still look more than worth the money.

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