Anya’s 10th Birthday Letter

Current Mood:thankful emoticon thankful

Current Music: the kids playing video games together

Happy 10th Birthday, Anya!

You are becoming a preteen, but you understand the responsibility that comes with getting older, so you are perfectly happy to put off drama and boys for a later date and stay a kid as long as you can. I won’t pretend I’m not grateful for your wisdom that ironically helps you make more mature decisions, and I’m always so proud to hear how steadfast you are in your interests and beliefs no matter what your peers do to belittle them in the name of appearing more grown up. You don’t understand their rush, and I am so very glad that you feel comfortable talking to me about everything and discussing our opinions on how to handle social pressures and whether something is actually appropriate for your age.

Despite having to have some conversations about what growing up has in store for you, you have somehow maintained a youthful innocence that I adore. You believe in magic. You unashamedly love everything pink and sparkly, princesses and unicorns, playing dress up, watching Sailor Moon with me, and creating fairytales of your own. You have aspirations in the arts, especially dance, music, and storytelling, and have developed a recent fascination with mythology and astronomy that reminds me of my own middle school years. You are my mini me in so many ways, and it’s humbling and comforting to know that you are proud of that.

I hope you will never be afraid to talk to me, to ask your questions and tell me your views. Sometimes you blow me away with your observations about our Christian faith and the way the world works. You wear our shared Asperger’s diagnosis like a badge of honor, and I’m thankful that somehow I’ve done enough of this parenting thing right to give you a firm foundation in your sense of self that took me decades to even begin to achieve.

Don’t let anyone dim your light; the world will be a better place because you dare to dream and shine even against the bleakest darkness. Be exactly who you are, always, magic and all. We love you and are so proud of the young lady you are becoming. Happy Birthday. 💖🦄👑

Our Fall 2019 Homeschool Routine/Schedule

Current Mood:productive emoticon productive

Current Music: the kids watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers on Netflix

I know how much everyone that homeschools (or is thinking about it!) loves to read details of how others make it work for their family, so I decided to share how our routine has changed going into this school year. I have officially started to lean in a more relaxed direction, so we don’t strive to check every box or even complete curricula within the calendar year anymore. Instead, we just take it one page/lesson/chapter at a time and move to the next book on our list as we complete something. It has made a world of difference in my stress levels and given the kids a bit more free time because we aren’t frantically trying to get all the things done by a certain timeframe. Ironically, after beginning this method sometime during the course of last school year, we actually made it through more materials than we had in previous years. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being more in control of our learning instead of it controlling us, but whatever the reason we’re sticking with it moving forward.

This year, we have a 5th grader, kindergartener, and little preschool-aged brother tagging along but not doing anything formal. Our week always changes a bit each semester as activity schedules change for our myriad of extracurriculars for the older two, including dance, gymnastics, piano lessons, and Girl Scout meetings and events. We are also not morning people and choose to let the kids stay up a bit later than most because it works for us. We’re usually up around 9 or so in the mornings, and bedtime for the kids is around 9PM, though sometimes it gets closer to 10 depending on the day. All three kids have a chore chart in order to earn screen time that includes making beds, completing school and piano practice, cleaning up any toys they got out, and asking if there’s anything I’d like their help with. They complete these at their leisure, other than school/piano since it’s built into our routine, and no one is allowed to do any electronics that take up the TV and will be distracting to those still working until everyone is done with school. If they choose to use their screen time while a sibling is still working, they must use handheld devices with the volume down or headphones in. Sometimes we limit the amount of screen time more than others, but if they are using educational apps or taking their own breaks to play pretend or with toys or do something creative, I feel less need to step in and require them to turn off the electronics for a bit.

During my eldest’s independent work, I’m free to work on my own grad school assignments, administrative stuff, etc. and complete any chores I deem necessary for the day. I will say, that I hired out regular house cleaning a long time ago, so my husband and I mostly worry about clutter, laundry, and kitchen-related duties in between kid wrangling and our other commitments for work and education. Our school day lasts as long as it does because my eldest wants to listen to her sister’s read alouds and sometimes takes her time working through her subjects while listening to music and interacting with everyone else. She knows she only takes her own time if she dawdles too much, as I require her to work through all her subjects before she can call the day done on the school front.

Here’s a little breakdown of how most of our school days go:

10:00 AM Kindergarten Bible, History, Literature/Poetry, and Science Read Alouds with Mom
10:30 AM Kindergarten Math, Handwriting, and Phonics/Reading with Mom
5th Grade Independent Piano Practice
11:00 AM Kindergarten Independent Piano Practice and Computer Keyboarding
5th Grade Spelling with Mom
11:30 AM Kindergarten Complete for the Day
5th Grade Bible, History, Literature/Poetry, and Science Read Alouds with Mom
12:00 PM Lunch – 5th Grade Read Alouds Continued with Mom
(Independent Audible and/or Internet-Linked Resources while Mom prepares food)
1:00 PM 5th Grade Independent Science, Language Arts, Computer Keyboarding, and Math
3:00 PM to 4:00 PM School Day Ends as all subjects are completed

If we have extracurricular activities, which we do at least three or four days a week, we usually have to leave the house anywhere between 1 PM and 3 PM to arrive on time. The 5th grader takes anything she hasn’t completed with her in a backpack, including her iPad for access to her online math software and internet-linked materials. Because we finish anything that requires my help or participation by the time lunch is over, she is able to easily work on her own in the car and while waiting if the activity we’re at that day is for the kindergartener. Other school years we’ve usually had one day that’s heavier on being away from home than others and so instituted four-day school weeks a long time ago. This year, things are more spread out, but my eldest decided she would rather take work on the go and still get a third full day off each week than to divide the work we do into the times we are home around activities throughout the week. So, for this semester, at least, we take Friday’s off from homeschool work. The kids get a three-day weekend, aside from any extracurriculars we may need to attend on those days. It can make for some full days for the 5th grader Monday through Thursday because she is basically doing school and/or activities until dinner if we aren’t home all afternoon, but she still prefers it, and we’re usually home a day or two each week for her to finish up at normal time and play for the two or three hours until dinner. I also really enjoy the three day weekends for extra time to get things done for myself that I’ve maybe been putting off during the first part of the week while working with the kids.

Sometimes, our school-day mornings get away from us, and we don’t start school until 11 or even noon, but everything can still be done by dinner because of how we organize our work and don’t take on more than we can handle in any given subject each day. My eldest is given a lot of freedom with the order that she does her independent work in, which has helped a lot with previous issues dragging her feet through her work. We work together to find the best curricula that fit her needs and meet my requirements if something isn’t working for her or is causing a lot of pushback. By getting to choose which things she does next as she works, it gives her enough control to not feel like she has to fight me about getting the schoolwork done, even when she’s having a rough day. By switching to a relaxed next page/lesson/chapter methodology, even on the worst days, she can complete every subject easily by dinner because the work required in each subject is in small, manageable chunks. Going into this semester, we have so far had the least stressful experience of homeschooling we’ve had since she began more formal work in 1st grade. I’m a recovering box checker, and the benefits are definitely encouraging me to stay on the proverbial relaxed homeschooling wagon!

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I should have had a baby this week. Our family should’ve grown by one to reach a grand total of six. I should’ve been watching Anya and Marie fawning over a new brother or sister, while Benjamin’s adorable fascination with babies overwhelmed us all with an overload of cute. He would be the sweetest, gentlest of big brothers. And I hope someday he gets to be one; but, unfortunately, that day isn’t today.

Today, I’m grieving the loss of a child I never held or named. One that existed only for a moment in my mind’s eye. The pregnancy was unplanned, but I fell in love the second that pink line appeared. I wasn’t ready for another baby, it’s true…but during the twelve or so hours between that positive test and the first signs of miscarriage, I convinced myself otherwise. I got excited. I daydreamed. I hoped. And then, as quickly as it arrived, that hope vanished.

I spent several weeks in a pretty dark depression, one I posted about online here and there without revealing the reason. I wasn’t ready to share just yet. I usually share everything, but this was my first loss. Every other pregnancy has ended in a beautiful baby placed in my arms and sent home with me to grow into the three amazing children that we already have. I never once for a moment believed that this one would be any different…until it was. It happened in November, just before the Holidays, which I’m sure didn’t help matters.

It still feels surreal that I was pregnant at all, while at the same time it seems impossible that the pregnancy was so short-lived. The kids don’t know; it wouldn’t be right to tell them and put them through this grief, so as parents we are mourning alone. There aren’t any more babies in the cards for us right now; the housing situation and lackluster medical care options available to us here in Okinawa just aren’t something I want to deal with through another pregnancy. My last overseas birth resulted in an intense postpartum depression that kickstarted years of autistic burnout from which I’m still not entirely recovered. My health is an issue, too, and I need to figure out what is going on there before I add anything else to the mix.

But, logic doesn’t sway the longing I feel for another baby or the intense reaction to the loss of this child we weren’t expecting. The kids are always asking when they will get another sibling; they have baby fever worse than I do, it seems. It fills me with joy to know that the love they have for one another is so strong and sure, that the idea of adding another member to their bond is a given to them. There is no fear or jealousy, just…love. And a desire to nurture and care for one another that seems innate to their precious little personalities. Knowing how much it would add to their lives for this child to have become reality makes it that much more difficult for me to process and bear.

I know it’s not the thing I should want right now; that it makes absolutely no sense to even consider it until I am healthier and preferably when we are no longer stationed overseas. I think it scares me a bit to know I’ll be in my mid-30’s by then, and considering the alphabet soup of diagnoses already present in our family that rolling those dice becomes exponentially riskier by then. It makes me feel like a clock is ticking, but life circumstances dictate that I must wait and potentially miss the opportunity to have another child entirely.

I try to convince myself to be content. I have three amazing kids; I need to be okay with this being it for me. They need to be enough. And they are. I had already accepted that three might be all we can handle for a multitude of reasons…but then that test turned positive, and it just completely wrecked all of the delicate scaffolding built through the mental gymnastics of putting the tangible realities ahead of my emotional desires.

I’ve been slowly rebuilding it, knowing that the best thing I can do is concentrate on myself and providing the best possible childhood for Anya, Marie, and Benjamin right now. They are here and need their mother; that keeps me going. I know I am blessed to have never experienced the loss of a pregnancy before now. I know the statistics. But that doesn’t dull the pain of knowing what could have been.

Anya’s 9th Birthday Letter

Happy 9th Birthday, Anya!

I can’t believe it’s your last year in the single digits. You have such big dreams, and it never occurs to you – not even once – they may not come true. You happily spend hours of your Saturday every week at the dance studio, and you practice piano diligently, never trying to get out of it or cut down the number of times you play each song. You live for music, dance, and every art form you can get your hands on.

You are so much like me at your age in that way. Your love for all things princess, magic, and sparkle has been lifelong. You are a diva through and through, in the best possible way. You love anything Barbie and can never have enough pink or glitter. You don’t let what other girls your age like or dislike define what you surround yourself with, and you love your brother and sister fiercely, never embarrassed to play with them or enjoy the things they love with them.

You excel in your homeschool work and read through novels like it’s nothing. You have come so far with your fears and struggles the last couple of years, and I am so proud of you for talking yourself through trying new things and foods, determined not to let Asperger’s hold you back from those things which anxiety can make difficult. You will use the gifts being on the spectrum has given you and continue to overcome the obstacles in order to be the best possible version of yourself, of that I have no doubt. You may have to work harder than the neurotypical girls to get your muscles and movements to cooperate, but I know you will never stop fighting to be the professional ballerina you dream of becoming.

Our home will forever be filled with Nutcracker music, and the look of joy on your face when you are on stage doing what you love will always be one of my favorite things. I am so proud of you, each and every day. Even when it’s hard. Even when we argue because we are too much alike. Even when we disagree because of the ways we are different. You are the little girl who made me a mother, and I love watching you grow into a smart, beautiful, creative, dedicated, and nurturing young woman as the bittersweet years race by. Hope you feel like a princess today. We love you! 💕

Anya’s 5th Birthday Letter

Happy 5th Birthday to my beautiful and amazing daughter Anya! I cannot believe you are 5 years old already. But here you are, in kindergarten and reading on your own, wanting to pick out your own clothes, insisting that the only acceptable adjective to describe anything is “pretty beautiful”, and loving any reason to dance, sing, or throw a party. You remind me of a mixture of two of your favorite TV show characters: Foofa from Yo Gabba Gabba! and Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And maybe all that slightly spastic joy over the little things and the high pitched voice you use when speaking to babies would annoy the bajeezus out of some people, but I find it all to be endearing and a symptom of the rose colored glasses through which you view the World around you.

I hope you never lose that joy and optimism that everyone can be the best of friends and every day holds at least one reason to shout hooray and jump up and down giggling with glee. There are people that will try to take that from you, but I know that you’re stubborn enough to make it hard for them. You’re my little diva who always wants to be the star of the show but would never deny anyone the chance to be the star of their own or to share in yours if they are without. You are the only kid I know who at 3 years old was excited to pick out gifts for other children’s parties and sit to watch as they opened presents, anxiously waiting with a smile to see if they liked what you chose. You still do that, and I love it so much. It makes me feel like despite the days we deal with tantrums and moments of entitlement from the excess we sometimes give you, that somewhere along the way we are doing something right.

You walk up to kids you’ve never met in the store and offer them one of the toys you are carrying to play with and ask if they want to play together. You light up like nothing I’ve ever seen when it’s time to go out on stage for one of your ballet recitals, and I know that love is something you’re going to carry for a long time. You love your baby sister so much it’s almost too much sometimes, and you never want to leave her alone or stop playing with her so she can take a nap. You are equally Daddy’s girl and mine and love to spend time with both of us making memories whether it’s watching Pokemon with Daddy or baking in the kitchen with me.

You love going to the movies and having popcorn and M&M’s, riding in public transportation like trains and trolleys, and anything dessert even stuff I wouldn’t have touched as a kid that has almonds or peanuts in it. You can hardly be considered picky anymore as you’ve decided in the past year to be a “big girl” and now eat several green vegetables including spinach and broccoli – even requesting seconds of the latter. You’ve branched out to soup, bacon, mashed potatoes, rice, and more that I thought you would never touch.

I’m so proud of the big girl you’ve become as I watch you grow more determined to succeed at everything you do no matter how small or large the task. You’re going to do great things one day because you won’t take “no” or “it’s too difficult” for an answer. As far as you’re concerned, you can do it all. Even be a “ballerina princess queen mommy fireman” when you grow up. And it won’t surprise me the least when somehow you do. Mommy and Daddy love you so very much, Anya. Stay hopeful, confident, and loving towards others. You’re amazing in everything you do. Happy Birthday, my first baby girl.