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Birthdays come and birthdays go.  Children eagerly count down the days to their birthdays with unbridled enthusiasm.  We adults…not so much.  Birthdays sometimes lose the thrill for us because, well…who really looks forward to getting old?  I know this morning as I awoke to my new age of 49, my first thoughts were, “I am now five years older than my sister would ever be, and I am only six years from the age when my mom died.”  Such morbid thoughts to begin a birthday!  I know.  Probably not the best mindset with which to begin a day, but that’s where I was….until I opened my computer.

My sister-in-law had sent a birthday message wishing me a day full of blessings and asking what I was going to do to celebrate.  I responded with, “Thank you. For my birthday I will do school, make dinner, possibly make an apple crisp so Jeanae can sing happy birthday to me. I’ll try to sort through the mail. Living large on my 49th birthday!”

To that she replied, “Living a normal life for your birthday is really special! I really mean that. Reminders of David make it clear that normal is simply amazing!”

Wow!

Her words pierced my heart.  Her words were the perfect gift to me today.

You see, I have a brother (Dave) who has been fighting for his life for three years next month.  On November 21, 2011, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) — the worst, most aggressive type of leukemia.  For three years, he has been in and out of remission, fighting for his life, and praising God the whole way!  If he had the chance to live one day without cancer…one day with a normal routine again….one day being able to walk again….if he had a day like that, he would be rejoicing from the mountaintops.  Aren’t I lucky to be able to spend my birthday living a normal life….Normal is Simply Amazing!

A few days ago, we were listening to Dave’s latest message via the internet.  He is a pastor of a large non-denominational church that he planted, and he is still preaching when he can.  This particular message he had to video tape rather than deliver live to his church, but it was still full of wisdom and depth.  My little girl always grabs a scrap piece of paper and her Bible to take notes when we listen to Dave.  At the end of this latest message, she came to me and said, “The only thing he told me to write down was ‘Jesus is Grace'”.  I smiled, told her that’s all she needed to know.  Then I promptly wrote to Dave to tell him because I was so touched by the simplicity of this message getting to an eight year old child as well as this 49 year old mom.

10:19:14 Jeanae's Message notes

Dave wrote back the next day happy that I had told him the story.  He also told me: “Every day is a gift – getting to email you is a gift.  I’m much weaker these days.  Not sure what our Heavenly Father has planned for me.  Just
wanting to make sure I’m glorifying Him.”

Wow again!  And, yes!

Every Day is a Gift!  Normal is Simply Amazing!  Jesus is Grace!  These are the gifts I received for my birthday!  These gifts are precious and priceless!

I had a good birthday!


I don’t know a whole lot about a lot of things; but after spending hours sorting through thousands and thousands of photos, these are things I know to be true:

  1. Perfectionism still occupies way too much space in my brain.
  2. The probability is slim that my son will have the best 15 pictures for his banquet, but he will have photographs to share.  So there’s that.
  3. I have had some good hair days, some bad hair days, and some oh-my-gosh-I-would-delete-this-photo-if-it-weren’t-for-the-adorable-kid-on-my-lap hair days.
  4. We have been to Disney World more times than any family should, but I’m glad we did (for the children).
  5. My babies grew up all too fast, and I wish I could have a do-over sometimes.
  6. It’s never too late to be present.
  7. I miss the sweet innocence and wonder of babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.
  8. I really miss the newborn baby smell!
  9. I miss the simplicity of life with all little ones, messiness and all.
  10. No home I have ever managed has ever been, or ever will be, featured in Good Housekeeping magazine; but there have always been smiles (and tears) and love happiness amid the messes.
  11. I must take time to sort through pictures little-by-little instead of only when I need/want to find one certain photo.
  12. Never stop taking photos.  Pictures really are worth 1,000 words….even if I can’t remember dates, times, places very well.  I love the story photographs tell.
  13. I miss Colorado more and more with each photograph.
  14. The lump in my throat hurts when I see photographs of my sister with my boys, regretting the fact that she never met my daughter.
  15. The absence of my big boys throughout the current days is felt in my heart as I can still hear the laughter, crying, excitement, and whining when I see the pictures displaying all of them home all day.
  16. We are not getting any younger (or skinnier)….my husband and myself.
  17. Photos are treasures to be seen and shared, not filed away for a day that may never come.
  18. With some photos I am mentally transported straight to the time and place, remembering the scene as clear as if it were taking place right now.  Others, not so much.
  19. My kitchen island is big.
  20. I am blessed beyond measure!

Oh my, I’m doing a terrible job keeping up with writing memories for you kids.  I’d like to say that it’s because I’m too busy making memories with you, but that would not be entirely true.  I’ve also been a little obsessed watching the first four seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD.  It took me until Part 7 in Season 1 to realize that it is NOT DOWNTOWN Abbey, but Downton Abbey.  But, that’s another story, and now that I have to wait to find Season 5….

I decided I should write.  And I started, but then things like this happen:

  1. I have to volunteer for stuff for all my kids’ stuff.   Hmph!  This takes time, you know.
  2. I got an email saying I need 15 pictures of my senior for sports banquet.  What!  How am I supposed to find the best 15 pictures of this one kid in the midst of 40,000 digital photos (some of which have been deleted)?  This, too, takes time.
  3. Every stinking single time I try to write, a kid wants to talk and talk and show me stuff and, yes that’s what makes these memories to write about; but ….. This takes time you know.
  4. Every time I go to someone else’s house, I am compelled to compare my kitchen island to theirs and start obsessing/compulsing over mine.  This takes more time than I can explain.

And, so, as I began searching my mess of photos for my son’s banquet, I again realized just how important it is that I write this stuff down for you kids because either we have been to Disney World too many times, or my memory is completely gone or both because I cannot for the life of me remember the years to put on these photos.  And, I can’t get past these photos to find the ones I need for my kid because I have this OCD thing about going in order….blah, blah, blah….  But, I would very much like for you to all have your memories in writing and/or in photographs, even if I’m not keeping up with either very well.

Anyway, finding myself once again frustrated with trying to remember made me stop for a second to write something down for you kids….something….anything….just so you know I’m still here and still wanting to write for you.  But, now I must go try to figure out the years for these photos.  I’m sure I’ll be back soon as there is much in my little head I want to write down for you, and I’m sure this whole photo mess will become tiresome after I find what I need for now.  Until then, keep studying hard, playing hard, singing, dancing, drawing, calculating, and be good, kids.  I love all of you.

 

After being a mother for nearly 21 years to six children, I’m always amazed when a new experience in the mothering department comes my way.  Today was one such day.  Today I experienced being a Backstage Mom for the first time.  Try not to be too jealous.  It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.  But, it is what my life was today, and I was happy to get to be there to experience just a taste of what the theater is like as my three youngest are in yet another play.  The two youngest have asked me recently if I was ever in a play.  Hmmm.  Yes.  I was in a play once.  I had one line.

The play I was in was a high school play….not even really a play.  Our school put on a big production each year called Eagle Antics; and if I remember right, it was a compilation of several small skits.  I never had the opportunity or good fortune  to participate in plays like my kids have.  For them, each play has been a different experience…..some children’s theater only, some teen theater only, and some allowing for all ages of children from kindergarten thru senior in high school.  But, this latest play is a community play….a musical called Meet Me in St. Louis and it runs for three weeks.  The cast ranges from age 6 to 86; and with this type of production, they asked for a mom to volunteer to help backstage for each show.  Today was, of course, my turn.

While my three youngest have participated in plays before, I had never done more than merely get them to their destinations and show up to watch at the end.  This time I got to witness a small portion of the amount of work these people pour into their art.  All of them, young and old, are there because they love it; and it shows.  Everyone was helping each other prepare, each member (no matter the age) pitched in to help keep props organized and moving.  All cast members knew exactly when they were needed, and they were ready.  There was no stage manager back there because there was no need.  These people love their craft, and they all work together to put on the best show possible.  I was impressed.

So, why was I there?  I was wondering the same thing for the first hour or two.  But, around the second act, I learned the need for my presence as some of the girls/ladies have some quick wardrobe changes that couldn’t possibly be unbuttoned and re-zipped without help.  They each appreciated extra hands helping when I was available for them, but none of them waited for help.  They each stayed focused, helped each other and the show went off without a hitch.  In fact, it was happily and exceptionally delivered by all cast members whether they had a lead role or a small ensemble part.  They really worked as a cohesive family….a true team.

When well-meaning relatives ask what sports my kids are doing, and I answer with, They are doing theater now; I get the same polite but don’t-you-know-kids-need-to-be-in-sports-all-the-time-or-they-will-grow-up-to-be-freaks kind of look I got when they first found out we were homeschooling and socialization was the question.   (And, as a side note…several of those same cautious, questioning relatives are now homeschooling their children, too)   I think I get that questioning look from them because we tend to glorify sports in our society, but other activities such as the arts receive little-to-no accolades.  That’s just the way it is.

And, even though I’m no stranger to strange, questioning looks from others, I usually find myself explaining how my kids get to do one activity at a time….more or less justifying why they are not in sports.  But, after today, I see there is no need to justify anything.  I saw how hard those little actors and actresses work.  I witnessed how they are handling their roles with maturity and sincerity.  I took note as to how very much they are learning and growing and developing not only as actors, but also as human beings.  And, I’m very proud of my three for getting out there and trying, doing, and living.  They are more than happy to be spending their free time at the theater.  In fact, just tonight they began lamenting the fact that the play will be over by the end of October and how can they possibly live through November without getting to go to theater every day!  They absolutely love it.

I watched the play on Friday night.  No pictures are allowed.  About mid-way through my backstage mom gig, I realized I could get a few shots back there.  So I whipped out my phone.  The only one I got of my Jacob is a bit blurry and clearly doesn’t display how handsome he looks up there on stage.  I’m sure I snapped the picture quickly so I could put the phone away and help another actor.  But, here are a few pictures of my three little thespians either entertaining themselves in the dressing room, waiting for their time to head up to the stage, or backstage ready to go on.

Oh, and, just in case anyone is wondering about my one big line in my one and only play….I was supposed to be an elderly Spanish lady, and I’m not sure what the skit was about, but my line was:  “Hey, Bambino, how is cheese suppose to help us get along?”

10:12:14 Jacob Meet Me in St. Louis 10:12:14 Joseph -2 Meet Me in St. Louis 10:12:14 Joseph Meet Me in St. Louis 10:12:14 Meet Me in St. Louis

“What about socialization?” I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again….it is the most asked question I get regarding homeschooling. The most common comment I hear is: “I could never homeschool.”

To that I try to politely respond with, “Homeschooling isn’t for everyone.” It’s not, and it certainly is not my mission to convince anyone to homeschool.   I’m happy when I meet another homeschooling mom…someone who’s been there, done that…..someone who understands me…..someone to commiserate with regarding the frustrations…..someone with whom to celebrate the joys of homeschooling. But, it’s certainly not in my personality profile to try to convince anyone about anything. Clearly, this is why I would fail miserably if I ever had to seek employment in sales or law…..good to know.   I would never try to persuade anyone with their choice on how their children should be educated..

With that said, I do sometimes wonder to myself what they mean when they say “they could never homeschool”. Some people actually cannot, I know. They simply can’t do it because of reasons that are physical, emotional, mental, financial or something else. But, more often than not, what I think they are actually saying is they can’t do it because they don’t have the patience, self-discipline, desire, or knowledge. It’s when they think they don’t have enough knowledge that I question their statement. If that’s the case, I would have to believe that I have no business homeschooling.  Nobody knows everything. I certainly don’t know everything. In fact, the longer I homeschool, the more I realize how little I actually do know.

For instance, I don’t know why sometimes when I type a blog and hit the publish button that that blog disappears into the cosmic void (like it did last night).  And that blog is lost…..never to be seen again. I don’t know why other times I do the exact same thing, and it magically publishes the new post on my blog. This is a mystery to me. I don’t have the knowledge to explain it, nor the energy to rewrite it.  It’s gone.  And I move on.

A better example regarding homeschooling would be how I attempted to answer my youngest son’s questions in history a few weeks ago. We are currently studying the Middle Ages. We were reading about Muhammad and Allah and the questions were piling up in my son’s brain as he was trying to make sense of what we were reading compared to what he has been hearing on the news lately. He was confused about how this Muhammad we were reading about (which sounded like he had a pretty good plan when he initially established his rules) could be part of the same religion described with Muhammad.  What about the Muslims?  What do they believe?  What about Islam?  What is ISIS?  Was the Allah in the history book the same as our God? How did Muhmmad’s rules back then turn into what they are today? Who do they worship? On and on went his questions. I could vaguely answer some of his questions, but I was not confident enough to give him the most informed answers. So we researched together. We searched the web and the history books and the Bible until his questions could be answered with clarity. And, on that day, I was thankful we chose homeschooling as our approach to educating our children because I could take the time to do that with him. The day is ours to spend learning as we are led. Sometimes we don’t get to everything on our list; but as long as we are learning, I consider each day a success.

The point is: I didn’t know everything to answer his questions, but together we learned and discovered the answers. The goal with homeschooling is not to merely pass off all my stored up knowledge to my offspring. The goal with homeschooling is to teach them to learn, teach them to think, teach them to ask questions, and teach them to seek the answers.

Anyone who can teach a child to think and learn is someone who can homeschool if they so desire.

I’ve noticed a lot of families have what they call a Birthday Season.  Ours begins today!  My third son was born on October 1st.  Today he turns 18.  His exact birthday moment is 10:59 p.m. (MDT).  Now that we live in the central time zone it’s highly unlikely (and probably a huge relief to him) that I cannot stay up to give him a birthday minute kiss.  That’s okay.  I’m thrilled that he is happy, and he even let me take a picture of him this year.  I’ll take it.

The little celebration with him was fast but pleasant.  Unlike years past when we have had all day to celebrate with him (one of the many perks of homeschooling), he went to school all day.  So for the first time ever we did school on a birthday because if the birthday boy was doing school, I figured the rest of us should too.  Instead of taking the day off, opening gifts throughout the day and fixing him his favorite meals; we waited the whole day to celebrate with him at the end.  He had a late soccer practice, the little kids needed to go to bed shortly after he arrived home, and the college kids needed to study.  So, just as soon as he walked in the door, we got busy with singing happy birthday and gifts.  I’m not sure if he noticed, but his little siblings even decorated for him.  I’m not sure, but I do think the big boys might still care if we decorate for them.  Either way, it was important to his little sister that we decorate.  So the Barbie Happy Birthday banner was taped up along with a homemade paper chain and a few balloons.  His “cake” of choice the past few years:  baklava.

10:1:14 Jordan's 18th b-day cake

And, as it will be for the next several months, my mind began to quickly shift to the wishes and needs of the next birthday boy.  All my boys except one were born in the fall.  My daughter was born in the winter, so our Birthday Season begins on October 1st and sort of ends on February 6th.  There’s that one birthday in the spring that I certainly don’t exclude.  He simply has his own season all to himself.  In a way, he gets the better deal….we’re not all “birthday-ed out”, we’re not simply rushing our minds and energy from one celebration to the next.  The rest of us get tangled and mixed in with all the holidays which fall in between October 1st and February 6th.  Sometimes it can get a little rushed and stressed as the celebrations continue one after another.

But it has always been my goal to give each child their own special day, let them know and feel and believe they are each valued and cherished members of our family.  So we Birthday On.  Each child is a gift.  Each are celebrated throughout the year.  They just get a little bit more attention on their one special day wherever it falls in (or out of) our Birthday Season.

Apparently mums are fall flowers.  Who knew?  Probably everyone except me.  In all my years, I never realized this until very recently.  My landscaping/gardening learning curve continues to slowly and steadily climb upward as I am consistently amazed by how little I still know.  My ignorance supply seems to be endless.  Lately, all I see in every store that sells plants of some sort are mums or chrysanthemums if I want to be exact.   Mums, mums, mums, mums!  So, one day last week as I was buying two new hedge plants to bring home and kill, I also purchased two giant mums (most likely destined to meet the same demise as the shrubs).  The sign said “annuals”, so I don’t think they come back every year.  But, according to a google search, mums do.  Maybe not all mums do.  How’s a girl to know?  It’s pretty much a crapshoot with me anyway.

Speaking of crapshoots…that’s sorta how I feel about the art of parenting from time-to-time….especially lately.  It doesn’t matter how many books one reads on parenting or how educated they are or how much experience they have….parents are all in the same boat with this gig.  The learning curve is winding, long and neverending….it’s full of surprises.  I suppose that’s good though.  It seems every age, every season offers an opportunity for a parent to doubt or second guess oneself.  For instance, learning to let a child learn to fall asleep by themselves — hard work.  Or, teaching a toddler to share toys — more hard work.  Allowing them to make mistakes and sometimes fall down so they can learn how to get back up and try again — very hard work.  Giving them room to make choices, but controlling just enough of each situation until they are mature enough to handle a little more leeway — hard, hard, hard.  Most recently, I struggle with one minute finding myself confident and sure that allowing them to bear the burden of paying their own way through college is the wisest decision I could make.  The next minute I am doubting that decision as I watch them struggle, penny pinch, and choose gasoline or school supplies over food.

In all these examples (and many more), the first thing I have always wanted to do is step in and rescue them.  I could.  It would be quick, easy, and I could help minimize their suffering or pain….for the immediate future.  In the long run, they would learn little and it would ultimately impair them.  So, five seconds later, I am back to believing with assurance that if I rescue them, they will not learn…they will not sleep (and neither will I), they will not grow and mature into the independent, caring, well-rounded adults I wish them to become.

It really is a balancing act to know when to lean in and when to step out.  Each situation requires careful consideration and individual attention….sometimes a firm “no”, sometimes tough love, and still other times empathy and compassion is demanded.  It’s the give and take, the push and the pull.  It’s learning when and how to lead and teach; then learning when it’s time to listen, extend grace, and guide by their side; and finally learning to find the courage to let them go.  In one word:  It is Exhausting!   Don’t get me wrong….it’s not all work and no joy.  The dance can be beautiful if produced with the right mix of planning, prayer, wisdom, grace, compassion, effort, creativity, freedom, boundaries, courage, strength, and discipline.  And, there is so much more that goes into this job called parenting.  It blows my mind.

I often find myself bewildered by both plants and parenting.  Luckily, the kids have fared better than the plants.  My poor plants.  One of these days I hope to figure out how to keep them alive longer.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep focusing on parenting well.  I believe parenting truly is the hardest and most fulfilling work I have ever attempted.  Even on the days that I feel like it’s pretty much a crapshoot, I am so thankful for this job!

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