Changes, Changes and More Changes

Yesterday morning I submitted the last of my paperwork related to Zee's home school semester. It felt great to send out confirmation of having accomplished and exceeded all our learning goals in the last 6 months. As family we are very happy with our home school experience. It worked for us, took the pressure off during a time of crisis, allowed us to divorce her emotional health from her academic well-being and let us focus on doing the work that needed to be done. We all got to know each other in a deeper way. We have gained a greater appreciation for the work dedicated home educators taken on, and appreciated the incredibly generosity of all our friends who have helped us learn the ropes.

But as successful as our home school experiment was, we have yet to commit to do it again in the fall for a couple of different reasons. The first is that Zee wants to return to school. She misses the social aspects of school, misses seeing friends on a daily basis. As a family of introverts we have always struggled to give our resident extrovert enough social time despite playdates, youth activities, group exercise classes...she loves being around people.

Secondly I have accepted a full-time job* (scroll down for more). This is actually not a huge obstacle to us continuing to home school because of the way we had already structured things, but it is still a consideration. Undeniably my return to working full-time means my schedule will be less flexible, so a greater part of the home school and family life responsibilities will fall on Chris.

Is Zee ready to return to the classroom? Hard to know. She is motivated to be there, but hasn't been tested by the challenges of the classroom regularly so we don't know how successful she will be once she returns. We are waiting to make our choice till Zee returns from summer camp. She will be attending a sleep-away YMCA for two weeks starting mid-July. We hope she has a fantastic time, but how she comes through that experience will greatly influence our decision about her fall schooling.

**** The new job. In late May, around the same time I was handed my contract for another year at RCS, I had an abrupt realization that I needed to move on. I've been wading through the red tape to retain my teacher certification with NYS. I finally had to face facts, my part-time hours at RCS had not allowed me to rack up enough hours to be able to apply for my professional (vs. Initial) certification document. Mercifully I was granted an extension by the State of NY after I committed to looking for full-time work this year. I have loved working at RCS. I had incredible colleagues, who faithfully and diligently worked under difficult conditions to provide an amazing education to their students. Working at RCS been a sacrificial ministry. I chose to work many hours beyond what I was contracted to do, at rates below what I could have been earning elsewhere. However I had incredible freedom and support. I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was vastly upgrading the education of my children. It was a calling and a ministry. A RCS, I had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the table, to serve a parent, a volunteer, a board member and also as teacher. I saw on a daily basis the dedication and love for Christ my co-workers exhibited, and their desire to do the best they could do with little money or resources.

After prayerfully considering my options I told RCS I wouldn't be returning. I know I disappointed many. I had many tearful hugs. I also received so many words of appreciation and encouragement. I will treasure all those words as I strive to let go. I am trusting that God will inspire people to pick up what I have let go of and accept that they will do it their own way.

Not having sought full-time work since I started at RCS, I was pleased and surprised by the incredibly positive experience I had job hunting. Within 3 weeks of starting my job hunt, I had been invited to interview for four different positions, interviewed at two districts, received offers from both and accepted a fantastic position. Starting in September I will be a middle school librarian at a large diverse school about 1/2 hour drive from my house. I am very excited about the school, the new opportunities I will have there, along with new challenges and learning opportunities.

So that is what is new with us. We have many fun summer plans ahead: Camp for both girls, a fun trip to NYC for Chris and I, and trip to Florida to see my Dad, before we return for orientation days and back to school shopping.

Thank you for your continuing prayers and encouragement.

Processing: The Gap between inspirations and aspirations

I love going to conferences. I'm blessed in every way when I can pack up and take a break from the everyday hustle and concentrate on learning and listening. For me conferences are not just opportunities to listen to speakers but opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I learn something from every interaction, not just in the workshops or presentations, but at the breakfast line and luncheon table. I've only been here a little over 24 hrs and my mind is bursting.

I feel a little anti-social right now writing and trying to process instead of sitting down at hotel bar networking, but I felt a stronger than usual need to think and process on my own tonight. I feel caught in that productive discontent of sorting through the inspirational, convicting, challenging and occasionally frustrating things I've learned & trying to think about what things I want to bring back and do & which of those things I can realistically tackle.

This school year I made a choice to scale back some of my efforts, to reserve my energies and not over perform to the sacrificial degree I had done in the past. That was not a easy decision. I love my school, but it is a part-time position that I was treating and working as if was full-time because I love them so much. But in the long run it wasn't fair to my family nor did it set up the realistic expectations. I advocated for myself, and was able to get a schedule that didn't set me up for overwork. I've asked for help more than I've ever have in the past, and said no to things that couldn't accomplish within my paid hours. It has been hard to scale back my expectations of myself but it I needed to pull back in order to respect myself and my family.

I thought I knew what I was going to do with the time I was reclaiming. I had plans. I thought I would sub more, clean more and catch up with everything but that wasn't what I've ended up doing. While I am reading more and writing more (which I deeply love to do), in the end the majority of my reclaimed time has been taken up by unexpectedly by homeschooling. While there is still a gap there between what I aspire to do, and what we have been able to do, I've at least I had the time to try to tackle it.

Despite my greater than usual need to pull back and process I am as always incredibly thankful of being been able to come. I know that I can't aspire to do everything I'm inspired to do, so I'm storing up some of those big ideas for later, and I will content myself with the smaller ways I can improve my practice.


When I want to do.

I don't know about you but I'm a very practical person. I like to be able to fix and do. I have a hard time listening to people vent without suggesting solutions or taking it as invitation or request to take over and fix the issue. This can lead to unwarranted frustration when the solutions or fixes are not wanted or in fact requested. Over the years I have learned to set boundaries, learning to ask and double check to see if people in fact want me to take over or help them. I've learned that there are some kinds of venting that I can simply listen to, and learned to excuse myself from the conversations I can't handle listening to without intervening.

Last week in Sunday School we were watching the second 1/3 of a video on the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We talked about his ministry and activism in Germany as part of the resistance movement against the Nazis. As those conversations are wont to do, we ended up at the end of class talking about Putin and the ISIS, and what kind of responses our nation and we as people should have. A few people suggested bombing or military intervention, others like me didn't feel that would be the right response, but we all understood the desire to act, to do, to not simply stand aside and watch atrocities occur.

Afterwards I was talking to a friend, and I tried to express how saying, Pray and actually praying in the face of injustices, atrocities, feels so small, so feeble, so inactive. But again and again, it should be where we start.

Nearly 8 years ago I was part of an amazing conversation with a nun at Coptic Convent in Cairo. She was serving as the interim Mother Superior, and welcomed our small tour group into her office for tea, when we showed up at the convent to see some of their amazing icons on the wrong day. It was a Friday, a day when the convent is normally closed to tourists and open only to friends and family. She would have in her rights to simply turn us away, but instead she welcomed up and treated us like family. We asked her questions about her life in the convent. She told us she had not left that convent for over 50 years, only seeing the friends and family when they came to see her on family Friday's. We asked what it felt like to see the world outside the convent walls change as dramatically as it had in her lifetime and how she felt about being cloistered within the walls of her convent. She responded by telling us about her call to a life of prayer. How she dedicated her life to it as she saw the Coptic church in Egypt face greater and greater persecution and upheaval. The certainty and peace she had in her call was a powerful and unexpected lesson.

I am in no way saying protests, calls to action or even military interventions cannot be the right response, but over and over for me, I need to remember to pray, especially when my first desire is to move and act under my own power.

When a friend calls or texts with tough situation, I will always offer my hands, my sympathy but I need to remember that it is no minor thing to say, "I will pray".

Praying is a surrender, a sacrifice of my will to God, and to say, "this is not something I can do alone". It is often painful, quiet and lonely but we are called to pray, and I so often need to remember that.

Dark clouds at the Horizon

Ocean view

One of the magnificent pleasures of our Maunabo apartment is it's fantastic ocean view. I love just sitting in the living room, reading or writing and being able to look out at the view. It is always captivating, always changing. I love watching the clouds roll in from the northeast. The Trade Winds bring us all sorts of skies. Some are bright and clear, some hazy with "Bruma", but most often full of big lazy clouds.

Playa Larga, Dark a Clouds

Today as I prepared coffee and breakfast I watched a bank of extremely dark clouds appear on the horizon, deep gray sheets of rain trailing behind it into the ocean. As I looked out I wondered what it meant for our day. Will the bank of clouds roll past us or over us, will we be able to go down to beach or be stuck in the apartment. Should we try to wait it out, or run out and do what we can now? After much internal debate I decided that even if all we could get was 15 minutes at the beach before it started to pour it would be worth it. Soon everyone had changed into their bathing suits, grabbed towels, chairs, bogie boards and books and climbed into the car. We got a lot more than 15 minutes. We had 45 before the first light sprinkles urged us to pack up. And when the rain didn't follow us in-land, Zee and Chris enjoyed another half hour in the pool. We took a chance, and didn't keep the specter of dark clouds keep us from doing what we wanted to do.

Bogie boarders wade in surf

I've been thinking about that morning sky all of the day. Right now Zee's mood swings, and flash meltdowns are the dark clouds in my horizon. I think it of them often as I evaluate my daily plans. I evaluate how challenging certain social situations might prove to be, how difficult it could be to leave and often question future plans. Will this be okay or will this push her over? Will I be able to go to that conference I booked? Are our sight-seeing plans too ambitious? Am I helping her enough or too much? There are lots of great days where no plans are upset, we try new things, and have a lot of fun. Some days are long days, where everythig goes great, till it suddenly doesn't, and of course it is front of people who don't understand or have any context. Other days are filled with a string of mini-battles and situations, not a single one terribly remarkable or difficult, but still exhausting. Most days I feel like, like I felt this morning, determined. There are dark clouds, and many challenges ahead. I can make plans, and give myself appropriate expectations & the clouds might miss us and we will have a better day than expected or we might get drenched and overwhelmed but it is better to get going and enjoy the day we have been given, instead of sitting inside and wishing we had a different one.


What I've Learned so Far (Day 22):

-That if I am left to my own devices I will go to sleep every night by 9:30 and like it (this is my kind of sabbatical)

-That routine is my best-friend, but that I can just change it when it is isn't working.

-That it is completely okay to say no. Not coming to that I wasn't planning on doing I don't know the answer to, I'm not answering that call right now.

-I am not going to get everything done and the world is not going to end.

-People are willing to help if you tell them how, but that sometimes feels like more work, but it is worth it if you can let go of it.

-Some people have lots and lots of advice, but the best people just pray, hug you and make you laugh.


We are down to our last three days on our own and we are doing well. Chris should be getting here sometime Wednesday. We are eager to hug him and welcome him home. I don't know how our new routines will work for Chris, and I know we will have a lot of adjusting but we are looking forward to it.

Homeschooling (Day 16 of school) is going great. Zee is rolling right along with the curriculum. She still has very rough days emotionally,but we are all a lot less wrung out about it. She is sleeping more, eating more and that is such a good thing. Homeschooling gives her the time to process her feelings and I am glad we are giving her the time.

I want to thank of all of you who have checked-in with me, offered to help or actually helped.  I came close to wearing a sign saying "I'm FINE!' but I do appreciate the thought. And I appreciate those who gave my girls rides, or watched over them, when I couldn't. 


Cocooning -- Day 12

IMG_4703It is really cold outside, but we can't just stay home everyday. There is school for Aay, Karate practice, Drs & Vet appointments to go to, groceries to fetch, church activities & meetings to attend.  However I feel we have been cocooning or nesting these past two weeks.

It started as lark, last Saturday, I had grabbed one of the blankets from my bed to cuddle up with and read in Chris's big chair.  I was feeling not quite sick, but worn down. I had spent all morning driving the girls back and forth from Choir & Karate. Zee came to check on me, said I looked like I was in a cocoon. She brought me snacks, and water, climbed into cuddle with me. It was a lovely way to spend the rest of my afternoon.  All this last week whenever one of us feels tired, fussy or out of sorts, Zee suggests we cocoon.

We have also been nesting.  I haven't been home for most of the day this many days in a row in years outside of summer vacation.  The house is cleaner than it has been since I started working. I actually moved furniture today to dust & vacuum.  I deep cleaned the kitchen, even wiping down walls. It is isn't all I do everyday, just something to do, something to burn up the energy I would normally use up at work.
There is no way I will be able to sustain this when I get back to work in February (sorry Chris!), but it is nice to do it anyway.  Nice to tend to parts of my life that have been neglected, to tackle projects I always mean to do when we have a school break but I never do because all I am good for then is a good books and stiff drink. This isn't vacation, but it is still something restorative.

I am thankful for this time cocooning and nesting.

Impostor Syndrome

Homeschooling has been going well, it has been fun to order books, to experiement with our schedule. Instruction has been going well. But there is nothing like filling out paperwork to remind me how much a big deal this is.

I've been a teacher in New York state for almost 5 years.  I write lessons plans all the time, I have only received overwhelmingly positive evaluations for my teaching style and effectiveness and I am responsible for the library and computer curriculum of a small school, yet none of those experiences have activated a sense of being an impostor more than filling out homeschooling paperwork for our school district.

I feel the weight of the responsibility of what we are taking on.  Intellectually I know that the curriculum I have put together for Zee is top notch. That it is challenging, and on par with what she was receiving at school. In order to reassure myself that we will not be doing Zee a disservice, I have turned to friends who have been doing this successfully for years for advice and guidance.  These friends have been incredibly generous.  They have shared their intent to homeschool letters, copies of the their individualized home instruction plans (IHIPs) and pointed me to trustworthy information sources. I am so glad for their example. 

In my faith walk, in my careers, in any new endeavour I always feel a need to find mentors I can trust, because it can be terribly easy to make things harder on myself than it needs to be or to make bad choices based on lack of information. Sometimes we need to blaze new trails, but why reinvent the wheel if someone else has done it already. We will be making a lot of important choices on our own for Zee in the next little while, and I am going to work as hard as I can to make sure I am making those decision in the best informed way possible. 

A conversation I had last week with Aay's piano teacher, emphasized to me how good it is to be nervous and to be open to question about our choices.  Ms. W was wishing us luck on homeschooling and promising to intervene if we started wearing jumpers and bonnets. Turns out she grew up with reformed hippie parents who decided to out counter-culture the counter-culture, by taking up homeschooling in the late 70's- 80's. They made lots of questionable choices and she said she has plenty of horror stories to share, classes she didn't get to study, censored textbooks & materials. We talked about  how her brothers had to demand access to the courses their parents were ill-equipped to teach them, eventually persuading her parents to allow them to leave homeschooling for a traditional high school. Her stories were familiar, but thankfully not something I have seen play out recently, as my friends who homeschool go out of their way to find the right instructors and opportunities for their children.  I don't doubt there are many parents who homeschool out of fear and who are ill-prepared to take up the responsibility, but I am thankful that this isn't our situation.



What is missing

Tomorrow it will be a week since Chris left for Sabbatical.  We hear from him every other day, and I love hearing how well things are going.  He is running into old friends and professors, he is enjoying the classroom discussion, and today he will spend the day with his Grand Rapids family.

At home we are missing him. Last night at bedtime I had my sometimes-so-grownup teenager, ask if she could curl up with me at bedtime because she was missing her daddy.  Not long after midnight her sister (who always wants someone to curl up with) joined us.  

In so many ways our daily routines have not changed. I still get everyone up in the morning, make lunches, ferry kids to activities, make dinner. We are getting everything done but we still missing Daddy.  We miss his music playing in the afternoon, we miss his presence at the table, we miss him sitting on the couch beside us. They miss him nagging them to take their showers or clean up their stuff.

I find myself stretching to do things he normally does. I've tickle-cuddled Zee and Aay, because they miss that from him. I've put music on the stereo, or invited them to watch a movie or tv show with me. Without Chris, we so prone to sit alone in our different spaces in the house and do our solitary things.  

It makes me think about what people miss about us when we are gone? What we don't realize we need and take for granted.

When I told Chris on the first day how Zee was blasting her dance music because she missed him, he said "She misses the fact I am noisy?". That is not it,  I think she misses the fact that he fills up our quiet with invitations to interaction.

I am not Chris, and so I can't fill that void, but we are filling out days with other interactions. Zee is our extrovert, so she always asks for what she needs,  sometimes it can feel exhausting but at least I know when she needs from me.  So Zee and I have been working through a really fun set of vocabulary puzzles together called "Daily Word Ladders" whenever she feels lonely, she comes to ask if we can do a page or two.   I am still trying to figure out how fill what is missing for Aay.  Last night it was cuddles, so maybe that will be what I do.  To just hold her for a little while each day.

I am missing the person who daily cares about all the stuff we do. Who cares as much as I do about the girls. Who runs up to tell me about some trivia, news or internet fight because he thought I would like to hear about it. The person who interrupts me when I get too deep into my introversion.

What is missing?  It is a who, we miss you.



Checking-In: Day 4 of Homeschooling

I want to thank everyone who reached out to checked-in with me via email, phone, text or message to make sure we are doing well. We are.  Despite it being incredibly cold outside, our house is warm. Chris is doing well in Michigan.  He has called and let us know that the class is off to a good start and he is enjoying the experience.

On the homeschooling front so far we have settle on Math always being the first thing we do. Getting that done and out of the way each morning is the best.  Social Studies and Science work best when we make it very interactive, alternating reading the text together, so we can discuss issues/questions as they come up.  ELA is the most satisfying. Our Read-out-loud time (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen), Independent Reading time (Eragon by Paolini) and writing and reflection prompts are working well. Sometime today we will get our new grammar/vocabulary workbooks and we will add them to our routine.  It is just so nice to be able to move through the material without confusion and tension. Zee loves that I can help her with her work without her having to explain to me what has been covered. She is not trying to justify why she didn't finish something or con me into believing she did it already.  This isn't to say that it has been without occasional grumpiness at her assignments, she still does not like some of the stuff that is harder for her to do.  

One of the hardest things she has to do is going to the therapist every week.  I love that we can take time for a trip to the therapist without sacrificing classroom time, or worrying about how emotionally exhausted she is afterwards.  She can save up her emotional energy for dealing with difficult stuff at therapy and I hope this will help her make good progress. Everything isn't magically better (yesterday evening was rough, with conflicts with her sister during Koinonia), as she has so much work to do on herself but this is huge benefit to us.

What is odd for me right now is trying to adjust to being at home full-time without getting too used to it. It is nice to look around and see my counter because I am caught up on dishes, or to tackle some of the clutter on the kitchen table, but I have to remember this is not my real schedule. One of the things we will need work on together is not just figuring out the homeschool thing, but how to best fit it in to our "usual" family schedule. I might have a lot of free-time right now, but I won't come February. Zee has been waking up early to make sure she can kiss her sister Aay goodbye in the morning so we are getting a earlier start to our school days than I anticipated.  This might be a good habit to keep, when I have to go back to teaching three days at week.  

I am making sure to take some time for myself. I' am keeping my Tuesday morning running dates and I'm taking time to read and write on my own. Since Chris isn't home I have no guilt whatsoever about going to bed when the kids do.

So we are doing well, but as always keep praying for us.

Day One -- Homeschooling & Temporary Single Parenting

Today was a very big day in our household. 

Chris left for Grand Rapids Michigan this morning. He will be there for most of the next month, serving as guest lecturer and co-teacher for an interim class at Calvin College. The class will be reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace. Chris will be lecturing on the religious life and conversions depicted in the novel.  We are hoping that this time away from the pulpit, and pressures of everyday ministry, help him return refreshed and renewed when he is done with his Sabbatical.  

I've been asked a lot about how I feel about him being gone for so long, and all I can say is that I encouraged him to do this and I support him.  Everyday life will be strange.  Not having another adult to decompress with, to comfort and encourage me will be hard, probably harder than I can anticipate. I am a very independent person, an introvert and generally happy doing my own thing, but I am surely going to notice his absence, and not simply because the garbage & kitty litter will need emptying. People have asked me how they can help support me. And I am struggling to figure what to answer. I just don't really know yet.  Maybe a meal will work, even if my girls are picky, maybe just checking to see if I need to get out for some adult time will be the thing.  I just don't know. 

The second momentous event in our lives is the fact that as of today we have started homeschooling Zee.  Aay went off on the bus back to RCS without her and that was weird, thrilling and frighting.  Zee has been emotionally struggling with school for years. About 5 years ago Zee was diagnosed with ADD, and we went through the whole ADD medication rigmarole for about 2.5 years. The drugs were very helpful in helping her settle down and focus long enough to learn to read and write, but eventually the side effects of insomnia & suppressed appetite were just too much to ignore.  She would have successful school days but become an emotional mess due to lack of sleep, low blood sugar and over-stimulation at the end of her days.  So after playing around with various dosages, and types of meds to the point she said she felt like a science experiment, 2.5 years ago we took her off the ADD meds and tried to make it work at school without them. Academically she has done well. She struggles with organization, and sometimes rushes through it, but she loved to participate in class and was certainly learning even her homework was late and somewhat messy. Socially and emotionally she really started thriving at home, looking happy, healthier and better rested, however school became a battleground.  Her impulsiveness aggravated conflicts at school, her disorganization made it so she was often defensive and aggressive with her teachers. So last year we found her a good psychologist, who understands her and together they are doing a good job helping her figure out better ways to deal with stressful situations.  She has made incredible progress in being able process and control her emotions  but  despite learning a lot of techniques and the school making huge accommodations to help her deal with stress/difficult situations, we felt things were escalating negatively at school.  Essentially school provided too many conflict opportunities, and there were too many variables for her to cope with on a daily basis.  We felt we were setting her up to fail each day.

As parent, I have always felt my job is to equip her to be the best person she can be without crushing all the tender parts that make her who she is.  Zee is an amazingly bright, creative, open-hearted and happy kid and we hated that this was not who she was at school.

After talking to her teachers, the principal, her therapist, Zee, and crying and praying at ton we decided that the best thing we could do for her was to pull her for the rest of the school year  Which posed an incredible challenge for us. How can we homeschool when I work part-time  & Chris full time (and he would be out of town for month!). But things fell into place. I reached out to lots of our church friends who homeschool for advice and resources and we now have a pretty good idea about how this will work. The school graciously offered me a leave of absence for the month of January. I will be on call for tech related emergencies, and providing virtual support.  We found a wonderful sub, who is willing to take on my classes as long as I keep writing the lesson plans.

When Chris returns we will alternate the home schooling responsibilities. I will be able to go back to teaching my regular schedule. Thankfully Chris has flexible schedule, and the ability to work from home when needed and be able to provide supervision and instruction to Zee during my work-days.  

Today was day one, and it went really well. We picked up where she had left off in her math book, we worked through the next part of her social studies chapter, reviewed her science lesson together and then did some ELA work.  In retrospect tackling science straight after math and social studies was just too much. So tomorrow we will flip the order around and see if we like it better. We cuddled, we laughed, and school wasn't this dreaded anxiety monster. She missed her sister and her sister missed her, but she is peaceful and so is our home.  

So please pray for us as we try these new things.  We are trying to figure things out, so this might not work out, and we might need to try something else, but I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do it.