Thursday, March 19, 2015

How on Earth Do You Homeschool With a Baby in the House?????

Photograph by Pleasant Trees- Photography by Felicia.  Many thanks for capturing this special
homeschooling moment with the five of us!

At a recent OB appointment, the nurse asked me if this was my first baby.

"Oh no!" I replied. "I have three at home.  Eleven, nine, and five."

"Oh, well at least they are in school." She responded.

I didn't bother to correct her.  I chuckled to myself at all her words implied.

Kids are hard work. (Yes they are.) You've already got three, and now a baby too. (That's above the average by two) That's not going to be easy.  At least three of them will be gone all day.

I really wasn't offended.  Of course, the truth is that my children are not in school.  They are at home with me all day. We home school.  Even though this method of education is becoming more and more popular, the norm is that most children enter daycare early in life and then proceed from there to preschool and kindergarten in some sort of public or private school.  This is not an unloving decision, by any means, on the parent's part, it is just the natural course of things.  My choice to keep my children home is still something that is considered unusual.  No one ever assumes you homeschool.

Admittedly, I am starting this piece before baby number four arrives.  We are just two weeks away from that blessed event!  But it certainly has crossed my mind- how am I going to do this? I have children in fifth and fourth grade, a five-year-old in kindergarten, and an infant perking in my womb.  Once he makes his great escape, he will no doubt be quite attached to me and my breast and I'll be relegated to a lot of chair time feeding him.  So how on earth will I continue to homeschool my older three children, and do it well?

Yes, it does occasionally make me panic.  But in general, no worries.  Many mamas have gone before me in this venture, and what I am constantly reminded of is that the home school and the brick-and-mortar schools just can't be compared as far as effectiveness and purpose.  Indeed, the goal is to give children an education. But what an education is takes on a whole new meaning when you choose to homeschool.  For us it has, anyhow.

I remember when I had Petite, my third baby.  My older two were only six and four, so were in their early days of homeschooling.  Yet very important years. Mister was reading, Brown-Eyed-Girl was just beginning to learn her letter sounds.  I remember being tired the first few weeks of Petite's life. She was born in late August and we had started our school year a week or two before she was born.  After a short hiatus, we picked things up again.  I don't remember things being too crazy overall, though I'm sure we had our days.  What I remember most clearly about that school year was our very last day in May.  Petite was about nine months old.  I was working with her big sister on letter sounds and we were saying "e-e-e-e" together, the soft "e" sound.  Suddenly, little Petite starts parroting us.  "E-e-e" she gurgled.  We all three looked at her in surprise. And laughed and laughed, joyously!

Truth is, my children had such an amazing opportunity to watch their baby sister's first year unfold because we were all home together.  They saw her learn to crawl and walk, to start making sounds, and grabbing things.  They would occupy her and play with her on the floor while I got some things done.  They experienced her first phonics lesson!  What a rare opportunity, full of moments that could never be duplicated.  They would have missed it all if they were in their separate classrooms in a school away from home.

That is what I most look forward to when I think of homeschooling my children with another baby in the house, over five years later.  The memories that will be made, the bonding we will all have, will be irreplaceable.  The education they will receive just by having an infant in the home will be invaluable.

I don't doubt there will be days I want to pull my hair out, lock myself in my room, or cry right along with the baby.  But I know how extremely special these days will be to all of us.

So... I've got the will and the heart for this, but practically speaking, how on earth will my children continue to get an education?  The academic part, that is.

One of the major things I have done this school year is move toward handing off some of the essential subjects to electronic curriculum.  I started my son on Teaching Textbooks math, a CD-ROM program, at the beginning of the year. It includes all the lectures and solutions for a full math year.  I just this week started Brown-Eyed-Girl on the same program.  I also recently discovered the free online program Xtra Math, which helps kids memorize their math facts.  Each lesson is about 5-10 minutes, and tells the kids when they are done.  I also purchased Rosetta Stone's new online reading program for Brown-Eyed-Girl at the beginning of the school year.  She is a slow-to-warm-up reader, and I felt that I just wasn't methodical enough in my teaching.  This was the best $99 I spent this year because her reading is steadily improving, and she is also getting instruction in spelling and other reading elements such as homonyms, syllables, synonyms, sentence structure etc.  These computer based programs still require my help at times, and definitely need monitoring for progress and to make sure they are truly doing the work, but they have taken a burden off my shoulders in these essential subjects.

So often, advice to new homeschoolers is to focus on the three Rs.   Don't worry about science and history and art etc. But for me, those are the things I want to focus on!  The three Rs are the tedious subjects.  But of course, they are the foundation that needs to be built strong.  I have a lot more confidence that my children are getting that foundation now that I have passed math and some reading instruction off to a methodical electronic program. And there is definitely progress!  This  has also allowed me more time to spend with my up-and-coming reader, to make sure her foundation is being built.

As for science and history and literature, I still head these subjects up, doing lots of reading aloud and discussion with the kids.  We are following loosely the My Father's World Rome to Reformation curriculum.  So our history this year began with Ancient Rome and will progress through the Middle Ages and age of exploration.  We use several different resources, but my favorite history resource is The Story of the World by Susan Weiss Bauer.  We actually have this narrative of history for children on audio CD, so we take advantage of our time in the car to get history lessons.  We are using Apologia's Young Explorers Astronomy this year, another text that I read aloud to the kids and then they do the notebooking activities that come with it.  We are also listening our way through The Chronicles of Narnia series on audio book when we are in the car, and we are all loving this!  Again, employing electronic resources is a life saver, and a great use of time in the car!

And of course, I am always reading a book aloud to the kids.  This is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling, and also another family bonding time.  We've built so much"history" together just by sharing these stories.  With a nursing baby, and all the time I'll be spending in a chair, reading aloud will continue to be a major part of our homeschool.

Another fact of life I have come to embrace this year, is that our school day may take ALL day.  We will rarely be done by noon, and shooting for that only causes me and the kids stress. With each new school year, the work load increases on my children and on me.  With each new child, it does too, of course.  I have learned to become so much more flexible with our day.  While trying to keep everyone on task and doing productive work, I'm also giving them some freedom to take a break when need be.  We don't allow any television, video games or fun computer time until at least four o'clock and then, only when all their work is done.  I'm trying to place more responsibility in their court, and recently implemented the ideas in this blog post about using a simple notebook to assign work.

Flash forward:

Baby B is now two weeks old.  We took a week off from school and picked it up again this week.  On Monday, B had his first check-up with the doctor.  Grammy came over to watch the older three, and they worked on their to-do lists from their notebooks (mentioned above) while I was gone.  Later, we read from the Bible and our current read-aloud, The Door in the Wall.  We finished up the Mars notebooking activities while B  was sleeping.  The following days have been similar.

The kids' doctor is very supportive of home education, and she rightly said to me at the baby's appointment, "You make it work because it is important to you."

I don't consider the work I do here at home any easier or more difficult than the work other moms do.  It takes discipline to get up every day and do the thing you have committed to do and do it diligently. Although the dynamics in our home have changed, of course, with the arrival of a new baby, and there will be days that we don't get it "all" done, education will continue to be one of our top priorities because, for us, it's more than books, it is a lifestyle.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


"Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"

Genesis 18:14

The morning of March 6th was below freezing.  While we should have been nestled, snug in our beds, Josh and I were awake in an otherwise empty house. He had his usual toast loaded with coconut oil and peanut butter.  I had a very small cup of black coffee and several cups of water.  We brushed our teeth and checked to see if we had forgotten anything.

And then we ventured out into the freezing cold to get to the hospital by 6:30.  Our baby was going to be born today!

One of the last photos of me pregnant, at registration the morning Baby B was born.

I was in good spirits. Just the day before, I had been anxious and emotional, but this morning I was calm.  I hadn't been awake all night worrying about my first ever surgery and all the  potential "what-ifs".  I was purposely avoiding those thoughts and trying to focus on the incredibly surreal event ahead.

Since we had found out that I had a complete placenta previa, back at our 18 week ultrasound, this pregnancy had taken on a much more clinical aspect than my previous three. Lots more ultrasounds, so many that they almost got boring, steroid shots, and planning for my first c-section.  While my doctor was very optimistic and never alarmist about the previa, he was also real about the possibilities.  Bleeding, hemorrhage, blood transfusion, loss of my uterus.  Miraculously, we were headed to the hospital at 36 weeks and 6 days gestation with absolutely no "bleeds" (as they are called) on record!  We had made it!

We checked into registration at the hospital and were brought to the labor and delivery floor, where everything takes place.  Memories of my previous births flooded back.  And I was surprised to find myself thinking "I'm totally okay with not going through labor this time around." Josh and I had some laughs over the cervical dilation chart posted on the wall of my room. Not this time around, we chuckled.

As always, I had wonderful nurses that filled me in on the details of what was to happen.  I had my first ever IV inserted (it took two tries. After the first, I started feeling like I was going to pass out.  Oh dear, I thought. If this is how my body is reacting to just an IV, I'm in real trouble! But thankfully the second attempt was successful.)  I met with the anesthesiologist, who was very kind and had a gentle sense of humor. He filled me in on what to expect from the spinal and that he would do everything and anything to keep me comfortable and feeling well.  I asked for a little extra relaxation medication once the baby was born and the surgery was being completed.  He said one of his most important jobs was to take pictures for me.  All of the staff I met were shocked that I had never had an IV or an epidural before.

As I walked to the OR, I told myself not to look around too much. I didn't want to make myself more nervous. The nurses and other staff were wonderful as they led me through getting the spinal (a breeze) and as they prepped me for surgery.  I began to feel very out of breath and the anesthesiologist quickly gave me something via the IV to bring my blood pressure back up. After that, I felt great the whole time.

My mom was brought in and we made light conversation as the surgery began.  We talked about my nephew who was flying in from Texas.  I felt things happening, but none of it was painful and it was actually comforting to feel something, as opposed to being completely numb.  It wasn't long before my doctor announced that he was delivering the baby's legs first- our little guy had gone breach at some point in the past two weeks!  I was getting so excited, as was mom, and nervous at the same time.  I started crying happy, nervous tears as I anticipated my little guy coming into the world. Similar to birthing naturally, I felt him slipping out of me and it was wonderful.  They told my mom to look over and see the baby and she gasped with joy.  When we heard his first cry, we both made happy exclamations!  It was the sweetest sound in the world!

My first picture with Baby B.  Safe and sound.

They showed him to me very briefly and brought him to the warmer, where mom got to cut his cord and help clean him up. I waited, quivering with excitement, loving his loud cries. It meant his lungs were in good working order and that he was strong and well.

And then, there he was, bundled up beside me.  Someone helped me put my hand on him.  He was so close I could barely see him, and he was more adorable than I could possibly imagine.  He stayed with me for maybe five minutes. I began to feel tired and more relaxed (the medication I asked for sinking in).  My mom and the baby's nurse left the OR to go meet Daddy and Grammy and Grampy for the first time.

The rest of the surgery was very relaxed for me. I just closed my eyes and felt like I was as light as air.  I could hear the small talk being made and occasionally some medical talk. My doctor talked to me every now and then. The anesthesiologist constantly checked in with me to be sure I was okay. Everyone was calm and relaxed and I thought, "Everything must be okay. The placenta must have come out just fine."

Nearing the end of surgery, my doctor told me things were going very well but that I had lost a lot of blood (later to find out, about 2 liters), but that they were able to transfuse my own red blood cells back into me using a device called a "cell saver". It collected all the fluids I had lost and separated them out, cleaned them, and allowed my own blood to be transfused back in. That was the final step of surgery for me.

My doctor also informed me that he had put a "balloon" in to help ease the bleeding from my uterus.  Stitches where the placenta had attached just didn't work.  Apparently this is a very new procedure too because several of my nursing staff had never heard of it.

Before long,  I was being transported to the recovery room.  I was feeling good, but anxiously looking at the clock.  It had been about an hour since the baby had been gone and I was anxious to see him and try to nurse him.  About 10 minutes into recovery, Josh brought him in, all smiles. His blood sugar was a little low and I was able to feed him for the very first time, with no problems. Such a huge answer to prayer, as that was one of my greatest desires!

Our baby boy is absolutely perfect.  He was just an ounce shy of being seven pounds and was 20 inches long.  He is strong, a fantastic nurser, and beautiful from head to toe.  He is very calm and relaxed.  It truly was love at first sight and incredible joy at his arrival.  I don't feel robbed of having a natural birth at all.

The first day of recovery, I felt fine. The c-section itself was a breeze! I got out of bed in the evening, which was difficult, but okay. I slept with my baby inside my hospital gown all night.  It was heavenly.

Day two of recovery was very difficult. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort.  Since I had never had surgery, it was difficult to know what I needed for pain control measures, and I should have been taking more.  I was very discouraged, feeling I would never get better.

Our other three children came in the afternoon to meet their baby brother and there was much excitement!  Brown-Eyed Girl had been so excited for this moment and you can see the joy all over her face.  Everyone wanted to hold him and love on him.

We stayed for three nights in the hospital, longer than I ever had before.  Our nurses were absolutely wonderful and we were so well cared for.  The hospital is a very hard place to rest, especially the first 24 hours, but it was good to get my pain under control and have quiet moments with my baby.   And no responsibilities except caring for him and me!

At the beginning of this year, I began reading the book of Genesis.  When I read the story of two angels coming to visit Abraham in chapter 18, a particular verse stood out to me and has become my focus for this year.  When the angels told Abraham he would have a son in his old age, his wife, Sarah, laughed!  It was an incredulous, you're-absolutely-crazy, kind of laugh.  "And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh?... Is anything too hard for the LORD?" vs14.  In the footnote of my Bible, another word for "hard" is "wonderful".

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

I asked myself this question.

I found myself believing without a doubt that nothing was too hard for the Lord to do.  He could, of course, get me through this pregnancy without any major catastrophe.  

But did I believe that nothing was too wonderful for the Lord to do on my behalf?

I sometimes found myself thinking that there was no way I would get through without something bad happening.  God would still be good, he would still be there to help me, but something surely had to go wrong.

But I was challenged by this verse.  Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Like the father of a demon possessed boy in Mark 9, I believed that God was able... but I still needed help with my unbelief.

We have seen, through the pregnancy and the birth of our newest child, that there is nothing too wonderful for the LORD to do.  He is all that is wonderful, after all. We praise Him and thank Him for his tremendous goodness to us, for showing us his deep tenderness and kindness through all of this.

My first full day at home, I got up and made some coffee.  I took it back up to my bed, where Baby B lay sleeping in his little bed, and opened up my Bible to Isaiah 40. One of my favorite "mommy" verses is in this chapter and I wanted to remind myself that the Lord would tenderly carry me through this new season of life- three older children and a newborn!

"He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young."
Isaiah 40:11

As I read from the start of the chapter, however, another passage touched my heart.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.
Isaiah 40:1-3

When I look at these pictures of my family- my amazing husband, my four beautiful children- what I see is redemption.

I will never pretend that this is the life I dreamed of.

In fact, I was headed in an entirely different direction in my younger life, one that I thought promised joy and all the good things in life.  What I found was complete misery.  While I looked like such a good girl on the outside, I was on several paths of destruction that, had I continued, would have caused me much heartache.  And would find me living a very different life right now.

I was a deep, deep sinner no matter how clean and pretty I looked.  But at a very old-feeling 20 years of age, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.  Shortly after, I met my husband. We had a whirlwind engagement and marriage and fifteen years later, we are still in love, we have four precious children, and life is anything but boring.

Even though I am a housewife
A stay-at-home mom.

Not a lawyer.
Not a city-girl.

Truth is, this life is so much better than what I would have chosen.  My warfare is ended, my sin is pardoned, and I have received more than I deserve from the Lord's hand.

I see those faces, and I see what wonderful things the Lord is capable of doing in my life.

I am overwhelmed.

Welcome to our crazy little family, Baby B! We love and adore you!