adoption reflections: 15 months in.

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So it’s been 15 months since we adopted our boys. I’ve sat down maybe half a dozen times this summer to start this blog post, but I always end up feeling cotton-brained. Perhaps that’s a reflection in and of itself.

But here I am today, finally, with a few thoughts from someone who’s very much still in the thick of it all:

We’ve come a long way.
I just cannot believe how different things were in our home, even a year ago today. We were smack in the middle of The Crazy, and I wish so badly that I could comfort that momma and tell her, “It’s going to get so much better, I promise. You will survive this. Your husband will survive it. Your kids will survive it. There will be moments of peace in your house again.”

It’s actually a comfort to think there’s a good chance that the me of next year may look back on today and say the same thing. Because even though we’ve come a long way, it’s still really hard sometimes.

I remember tucking one of the boys in bed after a particularly difficult day and praying, “God, please change this child’s hard heart.” And suddenly the thought struck me, almost like an audible voice: “Julie, what about your heart? Yes he’s a sinner and he’s wounded on top of that, but his acting out is producing all manner of rage and impatience and self-righteousness in you.”

I felt immediately convicted and repentant. It’s true.

And so now instead I pray, to paraphrase a Ray Cortese sermon I heard once, “Father, please change the hardest heart in my family: mine.”

Thanks be to God, I’d say that we’re growing in the right direction, all of us.

 

Shared memories are priceless.
The very best part of reaching our one-year mark as a family of six was knowing that Gabe and Noah had experienced a full year of holidays and traditions and travel with us. It became exhausting to try and prepare them for every new experience, mostly because I know they recognized they were the odd ones out, who didn’t know about the particular person or place or experience, and that caused them anxiety.

By now it’s impossible to overemphasize the power in simple comments we hear, like, “Noah, last year I got to put the star on the Christmas tree, but next year it’s your turn,” or “I don’t want to go back on the big green water slide at the church retreat,” or “Daddy, will you buy lots of fireworks for 4th of July this time?”

I can tell Gabe still holds some of that anxiety, because every plan or errand of the day is peppered with, “Have I been there before?” or “Have I seen that before?” But as he sees, again and again during our week, that yes, he has been there and seen that before, I pray it gives him a sense of settledness and place in our family.

 

Love grows. So does trust.
It takes time to grow love and trust. If there was one thing I could tell parents who are adopting older children, it would be, “It’s okay if you don’t immediately feel love for this child. Don’t panic. It will grow with time.”

Our social worker told us that adoption is like an arranged marriage; you make the lifetime commitment first; then you let the affections follow. I guess I’d tack on that, like any marriage, arranged or not, you can’t sit idly by and just wait for the warm fuzzies; you have to fight for them. You have to move in the direction of love — move toward this other person — even on the days you don’t feel a bit of it (perhaps especially on the days you don’t feel it).

So I guess it requires this mixture of waiting and work that I’m still scratching my head to get right.

I remember sitting on the sofa next to Gabe on the first day that he and Noah were in our house, watching cartoons and asking, “Can I hold you?” I carefully reached for him, and when he didn’t resist, I pulled him onto my lap. He didn’t even turn to meet my eyes, just gingerly perched right on the edge of my knees, eyes glued to the TV screen. It felt surreal to have to make a conscious decision to sit and hold my child on my lap for the first time. But we were strangers to each other.

In our first weeks with the boys, they allowed us to hold them, yet their bodies were rigid. We peer at photographs from those days and see them in our arms yet twisting away from our bodies.  Not only that; they would let anyone hold them. I was gripped with fear and jealousy when Noah ran away from me at the playground, arms held up, to the first mommy he found who had a snack.

In the beginning I felt like they showed affection to everyone but David and me. And of course it makes sense: we were the scary ones, the ones who wanted to get close. The ones who set boundaries and made them eat healthy food and carried out consequences when they disobeyed.

And yet, sure enough, love and trust were being built up, like the colored wooden blocks of a child’s tower, in millions of small moments. In some mysterious way those moments even include discipline and the setting of boundaries. Many times I’ve wanted to speed up the process, for all of us. But that’s not the way humans work, especially humans who’ve had trust broken.

One day last week I asked Gabe if he wanted to lay down on my bed and take a nap with me. He’s done it before, and was happy for extra attention from Mommy; and so we stretched out on my bed in the slanting afternoon sunlight and I spread the green woven blanket over us. He lay there, very still next to me, for a couple minutes. I peeked over at him and smiled, and his whole face softened as he reached out for me. In the same moment that I pulled him close, he wrapped his limbs up in mine, even our fingers interlaced, and fell fast asleep.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. And it was beautiful because I had to wait for it, because of the tears and hurts and his often prickly exterior towards me. It was beautiful because I didn’t ask for it.

 

Grief is cyclical, not linear.

I should’ve known this one. Isn’t it true for adults? We’re caught by surprise when we think we’ve worked through something and moved on to a place of healing, only to have a song, a smell, a photo jolt us back to that hard place and cover us in waves of grief.

That’s how it is with our boys. We work through issues and think we’ve found a new normal, and then one moment something jerks them back to the pain and loss. It’s that much harder because they don’t have words to fully express what hurts. A lot of times it just looks like anger and acting out.

I long to be the kind of mother who lets my kids move through grief in their own time and their own way. I don’t want to pressure them, but I do want to talk about it. Honestly, sometimes it’s easier not to talk about it, especially when a child wants to pretend it didn’t happen. But I know that down the road of silence lies secrecy and shame. Emotions grow bigger if you stuff them, until one day they’re so terrifying you shut down to keep from facing them. And if you shut yourself down to the hard stuff, you shut yourself down to the good stuff too.

We are a family who talks about the hard stuff. Sometimes we just sit and cry and don’t talk at all.

I need so, so much wisdom for this process. Wisdom that I don’t have but I’m begging God for.

Of course we’ll be alert to the possibility of therapy in the future, but for now, we’re so thankful to see good fruit from grieving. We’re thankful that those moments are now the minority and the boys are growing happy and silly and affectionate.

 

The kids are alright.
Probably the question I am asked most often right now is how Judah and Amelie are doing, one-year post adoption. Of course it was a huge shock to their system, adding two rambunctious little brothers to our relatively quiet home. There have been tears and anger and struggle.

That’s a big reason that we chose to hunker down and focus on the boys’ behavior and obedience right away; we wanted to pave the way for good sibling relationships. The only way I know to do that is for mutual respect in a household. We don’t allow name-calling or put-downs. Our house is a safe place. I didn’t want the boys to have the reputation as the wild little brats who constantly terrorize their siblings. I knew that with love and consistency they could rise to the challenge.

And they have! Of course they’re still little boys, and Judah and Amie have had to change too — to become more flexible and open-handed with their things and (hardest of all) with their parents. It’s been infinitely valuable for them to have their world stretched by their two little brothers.

Today I say with gratitude that they have good relationships with both their brothers, and are still growing even closer. Gabe and Noah are learning to be kind and considerate. Judah and Amie are learning to use gracious words with their brothers and not expect the worst from them, but to give them a chance to show they’re growing and changing.

I’d say their struggles at this point are just normal sibling frustrations, as differing ages and a couple of wildly different personalities clash. Even with those normal battles, one of my greatest joys in life right now is seeing all four my kids grow in friendship with each other.

 

I love my life.
David was eating lunch with a friend and they talked about kids. His friend said, “I’m a two-kid person and my wife is a six-kid person, so I guess we compromised by having four kids.” He asked David about him and me and David said, “I actually think Julie and I are both two-kid people who suddenly found ourselves with four kids.”

That made me laugh because it’s so true.

We’re both of us introverts and can be fussy and particular and easily-annoyed. We are control freaks who like a clean house and quiet mornings to sip coffee and read. Two kids was awesome. Four kids is kind of nuts.

Four kids is not clean and quite. Four kids pushes and pulls and chafes against all our quirks. Four kids does not make for quiet mornings to sit and sip coffee. Four kids raises our blood-pressure.

In short, four kids is probably the best thing God could’ve done for us.

And you know what? We love our life.

Okay, not in every moment. But in big, broad strokes, we love our life and we want our life. Two two-kid people followed God and were pushed beyond what they thought they could bear and came out the other end with this life that’s loud and colorful and messy and so very rich with people.

I hope and pray that all of these children make us a little less fussy and particular and easily-annoyed.

We’re growing to be four-kid people. And we’re happy about it.



mnm camp.

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Last week my mom, my mother-in-law, and my brother’s mother-in-law joined forces to put on a cousins camp for our kids. My parents live in Blythewood, just a few miles outside of Columbia. David’s folks live around the corner from us. And as of this year, my sister-in-law’s mom, Barb, lives in Kenny and Shari’s neighborhood. Thus, the three grandmothers plotted a week of fun for the six cousins.

Shari’s mom is “Mimi,” my mom is “Nina,” and David’s mom is “Mum-Mum,” and so they very cleverly created “MNM Camp.” We kicked off the week with the 4th of July cook-out at Steve and Linda’s, and for the next four mornings, the kids gathered at one of the grandma’s houses.

They had a camp theme: The Three Little Pigs. They did story time, crafts and games, a song, made t’shirts, and memorized a Bible verse. On Friday afternoon, we all gathered at Mimi’s house for their final production, which included a play called The Fourth Little Pig.

The kids all had a blast at MNM Camp, and could hardly wait to wake up and go back each day. And of course the moms had a blast too! We soaked up our free mornings.

Thanks, Mum-Mum, Nina, and Mimi, for giving our kiddos (and us!) such a special week!

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amelie turns 7!

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We had a wonderful time celebrating Amie’s birthday last weekend. Her request, instead of a party, was to go to the American Girl store in Charlotte. Our family watched the three boys on Saturday morning so that David and I could take her.

First, we had to stop for breakfast at Amelie’s French Bakery in Rock Hill. Their pastries are divine and Amie got a complimentary eclair for being a birthday girl (and yes, everyone loved that her name is Amelie)!

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We’re so proud of Amie for saving her allowance all year; in addition she asked for birthday money from family so that she could buy a new doll. She perused her AG catalog for weeks and decided on “Julie” before we went. I thought for sure she might change her mind when we arrived and she saw all the options, but she stuck to her decision. She loved circling the store multiple times though to check out every piece of merchandise. David was a great sport to follow her around the girliest store imaginable.

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We had such a fun time together! She did a great job of not asking for anything else. After she made her final choice, David walked in the mall with her so that I could add a couple little things from us and her brothers to open on Sunday, her actual birthday.

We celebrated with the family Sunday afternoon with swimming and cupcakes.

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Amie is a mature, thoughtful girl. I’m amazed by her generosity, compassion for others, and ability to read and respond to people’s moods. She’s the peacemaker of our four kids. She’s very shy when meeting people or around people she doesn’t know well, but becomes quite the outgoing talker with close friends and family.

She loves to cuddle, sing, and play pretend. She’s an extrovert and we’ve always struggled to teach her to self-entertain, but recently she’s made herself a secret “fort” in our front yard. She likes to go out there by herself and collect nuts and seeds and make fairy picnics. It makes me so happy to see her growing into herself and being at peace with being alone.

She desperately wishes she was a “good reader like Judah,” even though I tell her over and over that reading comes at different ages for different people. She doesn’t always enjoy school work, so I changed some things in her homeschool curriculum for this year, to try and help motivate her. When she finds something she loves she’s a hard worker.

She’s creative and loves fashion (and makes lots of “fashion girls” from a new art set she got for her birthday), drawing and painting, and wants so badly to learn to sew. She adores animals.

We’re very, very thankful for our girl!

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big kids’ bedroom makeover.

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I’m so excited to finally share with you our big June project!

Since we realized that we can’t have a second bathroom or a fourth bedroom this year, David asked me, “What’s a smaller change we can make that will help our house feel more livable?”

Well, I instantly knew the answer to that: “A bedroom makeover for Judah and Amelie.” I knew they’d be fine with sharing a room awhile longer if they only had more space in their room, and if it was a peaceful, inspiring space that they actually wanted to spend time in. In fact, I’d been secretly plotting out the makeover for months — just in case the addition didn’t happen this year.

I’ll admit, I started out my daydreaming with a poor attitude — the big kids’ room is basically a small box (10 ft by 10 ft), with a small, box-like closet. We’d organized every few weeks for the last year it seemed, purged and shoved toys up into the attic, and yet it always felt cluttered.

 

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The kids’ one request? No bunk beds.

My one request? More storage. And also: to get as many things off the floor as possible. Finding non-floor storage solutions is a tenet of small-house living.

Other than that, I struggled to find direction for the kind of change that would solve our problems and have a big impact. Two single beds would prevent the dresser drawers from opening. I wanted to remove the toy shelves but didn’t know where to stow toys and books.

But Pinterest and IKEA saved the day, my friends!

I finally thought to search, “shared sibling rooms” and stumbled upon a treasure trove. Suddenly I felt better. Lots and lots of kids have to share rooms across our country and around the world. Even boys and girls. Even older than 8 and 6. It was when I found photos of apartment living that I truly began to find the inspiration I was looking for: a way to make a small bedroom work for two growing kids.

So I began to plot out my vision for the room: I wanted it to be modern and gender-neutral, yet also cozy. I found some photos that showed using a book case or piece of furniture to provide some separation in the room. And at the last minute I had the idea of using Gabe’s kids’ bed (larger than a toddler bed) for Amie, and just purchasing one twin-sized bed. This opened up more floor space.

And with that, David spent the three extra days off he had at the end of our beach vacation making my vision a reality.

It was a lot of work, you guys. So much that we became very, very thankful we decided against buying a bigger house and moving. Moving — whether bedrooms or houses — is not for the faint of heart!

But, I’m so happy to say that the work paid off! The room is complete, and everyone loves it, most of all, Judah and Amelie.

 

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We went with gray walls because this room will eventually belong to just Judah (fingers crossed). I wanted to test out colors but there was no time for that, so we chose Valspar Woodlawn Colonial Gray from Lowe’s, the gray that we have in our kitchen/dining room, and we love it. Isn’t it amazing how transformative a new paint color is?

 

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David not only painted the walls (which were the same beige as when we bought the house), but the ceiling too. Word to the wise: no matter how much fun it looks, don’t hang those glow-in-the-dark stars on your kids’ ceiling. They’re impossible to remove without taking paint off as well. I can’t believe I consented to hang them in not one, but both of our kids’ rooms. Oh well. So I pulled and scraped off dozens off bits of putty, then David painted the ceiling a nice, clean white. His dad hung a ceiling fan to replace the builder-grade light fixture.

 

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I opted to go with no curtains because it made the room feel bigger and brighter.

Probably the very nicest part of the bedroom makeover is the part you can’t readily see: David built storage shelves for the kids’ closet . . .

Before:

 

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After:

 

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I bought plastic storage bins from Wal-Mart. I like that they’re clear to show contents, and can be switched out as the kids’ interests change. We searched for a really good LEGO solution, but in the end Judah just wanted the two big open bins. They’re easy to pull out and make for simple clean-up.

Amie’s perpetually afraid of someone bursting into the room without knocking while she’s getting dressed. Clearing out the closet gave the kids a little privacy to change clothes. If the closet door is standing open and you’re behind it, you have time to holler out as someone’s walking in.

It’s the little things, people!

 

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My second burst of storage inspiration came from IKEA in the form of these under-bed bins. We removed the kids’ dresser and gave it to the little guys, and all their non-hanging clothes are in the white bins. The green bin is for “treasures” (i.e. projects, Happy Meal toys, birthday cards and bits of paper we never quite know what to do with).

 

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So far the bin system has worked great; of course the kids tend to stuff clothes inside and we have to periodically organize them, but we did that with the dresser drawers too.

Shari and Barb made the IKEA trip with me over the Bedroom Project weekend (it’s an hour and a half away in Charlotte). We took the little guys with us so David could work on the bedrooms, and we all had a great time. I tried to be super-organized with my list, and of course three grown-ups for two kids was a great help.

Virtually everything in the room you can see, except for the ceiling fan and the white cube shelf, is from IKEA. What can I say? I really like the store. I did lots of price-checking and they still have the best prices on the whole. Plus a lot of their furniture is trimmer and smaller, so it works well in our house. The kids now have a bottom sheet and a duvet instead of a bedspread.

The cube bookcase houses books, instead of toys, and both Judah and Amie are quick to reach for books with their own stash so close by. They enjoy feeling like they each have their own little space within the room, but told me they like being able to peek through the shelves and chat at night.

 

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Judah struggles to fall sleep at night, so I made sure to buy an upgraded mattress for his new bed. He loves it! He chose the Harry Potter Hogwarts crest poster from allposters.com, and I found the frame at IKEA.

I had lots of ideas for wall art, but in the end we all agreed that we like the walls mostly plain; it also seems to make the room feel larger.

 

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After plotting everything out, I was delighted to realize that even with un-bunking the beds we could fit a little arm chair. So the kids have a reading corner. The shelves are for them to display collectibles and creations. Judah painted the Harry Potter picture from memory during an art lesson with my mom, and it’s one of my favorite things he’s made.

 

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David moved the kids’ hooks to behind the bedroom door. I love that even though they’re becoming “big kids”, there’s still a weapon bin behind the door. Just in case.

I moved their laundry basket to the hall closet.

 

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The bedroom makeover has already brought all of us so much joy.

Judah and Amelie love to hang out in their room now. When their cousins come play on Thursday afternoons or Amie has a friend over, everyone can fit easily in the bedroom. Everything has a place and is easily cleaned up. David can now sit on Judah’s bed for a game of Pokemon, and I’ve found myself curling up on the chair in a patch of sunlight to catch up on blogs.

All of the changes we made will transition easily when we do get that fourth bedroom. And if you were wondering, yes: Gabe and Noah now have the bunk beds. Their bedroom update is coming up soon!

 

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I don’t want to get all mushy, but there are two things I’m really, really thankful for after this project:

1. A husband who understands and loves me with my quirks. David knew a house project would make me feel better this summer, and threw himself into it with such a sweet, happy demeanor, that he made it fun for all of us. He let me spend money to make the room really fun. He used his three days off to serve his family, and we’re all so thankful for it!

2. Judah and Amie. Of course they’ve been disappointed, like we are, that they aren’t getting their own bedrooms for awhile. But they rallied so quickly, and love and appreciate their new room. With normal exceptions, of course, they’re very sweet to each other and such great buddies. I love their friendship and I love that they still enjoy being together in one bedroom.

Looking back over the worst of my house angst this spring and summer, I’m so thankful we decided not to move. No, our house isn’t perfect. Yes, changes will eventually have to be made. But the bedroom makeover project is once again proof of how much we all love our home. We’re so happy to be here!

One last time . . .

Before:

 

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During:

 

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And after!

 

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Since starting this blog post, our building contractor put us down to break ground for our master bedroom addition in January. We can’t say that we were surprised with this news, and we’re so very glad we did the bedroom makeover in the meantime!



4th of july.

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David’s parents hosted our family 4th of July pot-luck celebration this year. We had some very tasty food and drinks and topped the evening off with fireworks. Steve and Linda’s backyard is a wonderland of fun, even in 98-degree heat, and Steve’s addition of a 30-foot tether-ball game was a big hit, no pun intended. A great time was had by all!

 

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elmwood roy lynch park.

I want to practice photography more this summer, and in the past I’ve been spectacularly terrible about taking my camera out and about. Most of that is because I’m picky about taking photos: I want it to be a cloudy day, and I don’t like photographing indoors. But I’m trying to stretch myself by showing you some of our favorite haunts around Columbia.

Before we bought our house, we rented an adorable and decrepit 1930’s bungalow a couple miles away in Elmwood Park. We adored that neighborhood, particularly the fact that we could walk to the neighborhood playground — although back then it was sort of a sad hodge-podge of dirty sand (the kids loved to “treasure hunt” in it), broken playground equipment, and a little sprinkler splash pad that never turned on. Elmwood is a beautiful historic neighborhood, and so its park always seemed a bit incongruous.

However, this year the park was completely remodeled, and it couldn’t be more different. There’s a sprawling playground, trees that provide patches of shade, flowers, and a wide expanse of grass. And a splash pad! Ironically enough the splash pad was closed for maintenance when I brought my camera, but the kids still loved playing in the early morning cool.

I can’t describe how restful it feels to have this peaceful, green oasis right downtown. I’m sure we’ll log many hours in our new park.

 

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soccer camp.

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Hi there friends!

We’re enjoying our summer and managing to keep it just-the-right-amount of busyness. Last week David flew to Alabama for PCA General Assembly (an annual gathering of pastors), and Judah went to his first soccer camp at CIU. He had such a great time: learned some skills, saw some old friends and made new friends, and really liked his coaches.

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With David out of town, it was nice for me to have just three kids during the day; I was also thankful for help from family and friends. In the evenings, Judah, Amie and I made slice-and-bake cookies, cuddled on the couch, and watched episodes of The British Baking Show on Netflix. Amie jumped at the chance to sleep with me every night. It was a great week, but we were all very happy to have David back at 3:30 am on Saturday.

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We’re so proud of Judah for working hard at camp!



house therapy.

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If you remember my recent house update (and the update-to-the-update here), you know we’ve been waiting all year to hear back from contractors about our master bedroom addition.

Well here we are in June, still waiting away. At this point, we’ve let go of the hope of breaking ground in 2016 and we’re looking towards next year. But by now we’re at peace with that.

One of the best ways I know to find contentment in my house is to take a step back and say, “____ is what I really want to change right now, but that’s not possible. So what are one or two things I can change instead?”

Well we came up with a couple of medium-sized projects, one of which I’m almost ready to share with you.

In the meantime I’m glancing throughout the house and tweaking little things. I did another major purge last month (of course I did) and also some organizing up in the attic. I’ve finally come to terms with a houseful of small closets and have started viewing the attic as our big extra closet, albeit one with a rather rickety drop-down ladder. You’d be amazed at the pieces of furniture we’ve maneuvered up that small rectangular hole.

After the frenzy of moving into our house and decorating it room-by-room, I took a good year and a half off of Pinterest and Apartment Therapy. I needed time to just live in our space instead of seeing it as a project.

I loved the break. It quieted my mind. It taught me to be content. I turned my gaze toward other things.

But now, this summer, I’m back in creative-house-therapy mode, in a moderate way. I’m browsing my favorite design websites again, and finding little bits of inspiration. I’m “shopping my house,” as the Nester recommends, and rearranging. I’m wondering how I can add at least one plant to every room, and actually keep them alive.

I’ve got a list on my computer of little changes I’d like to make — things like finally adding some wall art in the bathroom and updating the light fixture on our front porch — and I’ll try to choose one or two a month, depending on the cost and space in our budget. I don’t do much shopping just for the sake of shopping (because I’m pretty terrible with impulse purchases), but it’s nice to have a running list of things I’m searching for, in case I stumble upon the perfect crock for kitchen utensils or slouchy book basket for the kids’ room, or laundry hampers that are on sale.

This is a delicate dance, because we’re trying to keep our house as trimmed-down as possible, in order to make it feel more spacious. So I’m very careful what I buy and bring into it. I purposefully don’t thrift-store shop — not because I don’t think there are great deals to be had, but because I don’t have space for all those deals.

But even so I find that I enjoy this dance of finding just enough and not too much.

More fun house updates to come — now what about you, are you doing any house projects (big or small) this summer?



school at home, part 1.

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What I understand now that I didn’t before, regarding my work, is that when you love what you do the drive you have is unstoppable and you will find a way to keep moving forward. I wake up before the rest of the house wakes up to learn, I listen to podcasts in the car and when I cook and clean to learn, and I read any spare moment I have to learn.

– Melinda McCoy via Design Mom

 

We finished our third year of home school at the end of May. The turquoise school cart in the dining room is cleared of textbooks, math flashcards, and random bits of paper, and turned into a summer art cart, year-end reports submitted, Judah and Amelie’s portfolios are complete, and we’re spending June taking a deep breath.

We did it! We completed a whole, legal school year at home, in the midst of adoption and discipline and attachment and sibling adjustments.

Today I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment, coupled with gratitude, because of course I didn’t get here on my own. I had lots of help and support.

I think the thing I marvel most over is that we didn’t just limp along in this hardest-of-years. We actually thrived. Yes there were days I wanted to throw in the towel, but when I look back on the whole sweep of our year, it was my favorite homeschooling year thus far.

It just felt right.

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David and I knew that when we chose to adopt Gabe and Noah, we may be saying “no” to homeschooling in the future. We just didn’t know what their needs would be, what their personalities were like. What has worked so far may need to change to suit our changed family. So we decided to give it one year, both for the sake of family bonding, and to find out, Can this thing be done? Does it work for all of our kids? Does it drive Mommy insane?

So we embarked, however imperfectly. I made a plan and bought curriculum and enrolled the boys in our homeschool community, Classical Conversations. Gabriel spent this year in the 4K class, and Noah in the nursery.

I stumbled a good bit, and I was very, very tired — mostly with the interruptions and the discipline and inability to focus one one task more than three minutes (so I guess the answer is yes, some days it drove Mommy insane). But gradually it got better. And better. Obedience grew, attention spans lengthened, ability to self-entertain developed.

Not only that; we saw that our new boys were sponges. They wanted to be apart of everything. They did CC memory work and found countries on the map and drew pictures and colored and played play-doh and made many messes.

One thing I can say for Gabe and Noah is they jump into life feet-first with a zest previously unknown to our family. And in doing so they made homeschooling — harder at times, yes — but better.

Learning together at home gives me a chance to put aside the cycle of necessary busyness in my day (laundry, dishes, house-keeping), and engage my children. It is the best way I know as a mom to spend quality time with them.

I am not good at lots of things. I don’t do crafts or science projects, I’m not really a “teacher” per se, who writes my own lessons and stands at a whiteboard to explain them. I’m not good at math. I’m not quick to draw my kids into cooking or cleaning projects. I don’t do nature study.

But there are things I’m good at.

I’m good at discovering our family vision for education at home, and sticking doggedly to it. I’m good at creating a peaceful, colorful home that inspires us all to be learners. I’m good at researching curriculum, and tweaking subjects to better suit each child. I’m no school teacher, but I’m good at asking questions of experts and listening to wise counsel and being humble enough to change things I’m doing wrong.

I’m good at finding ways to compensate for my weaknesses (i.e. Classical Conversations and a math curriculum that’s scripted so I don’t have to teach it myself). I’m good at finding books my kids enjoy and reading lots, and also inspiring my children to read  just because they want to. I’m good at giving them art supplies and a big fenced-in backyard to make art and discover nature on their own.

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This year there are things I have done well, and things I’ve done poorly. There are areas I need to push myself in and change. And I am at peace with all of it.

Schooling my kids at home feels like discovering a job that I love. It’s not perfect; it’s definitely not always easy, but it’s beautiful.

And seeing it work for our family this year, in spite of some pretty big odds, gives me a new settledness in our journey.

Of course David and I plan to take any education decision we make a year at a time, a kid at a time. However. This year was the year I began to seriously contemplate homeschooling through high school. All the way. Yep, I know I could be crazy, and that’s why I said contemplate. I’ve long learned to give up saying “always” or “never” as a parent.

And so, at this point, all I’ll say is that we plan to keep on with our school-at-home journey.

So I spend my summer energy ordering curriculum for next year, getting our supplies in order, tweaking our daily schedule, squeezing in a few podcasts. I love the slower pace and freedom from school days, but I miss them too. I love hearing Judah ask if he’ll get to continue cursive next year and what his cursive textbook looks like, and what books we’ll be reading aloud together. I smile when Amie wants to practice reading together so she’ll get faster. I marvel that Gabe continues to find letters and practice their sounds.

Learning never stops.

I’m thankful for rest and I can’t wait for next year.