Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Son Won't Be Going to Preschool

My 1st classroom was in small town Sparta, MO, not far from where I live today. At my arrival, it held an enormous wooden teacher desk, student desks, textbooks stacked on the heating unit, and not a single bookcase (until I later begged, borrowed, or stole from elsewhere in the building). The room was large and the south wall was comprised of tall windows offering a view of Bradford pear trees. The space was a blank slate, especially if I ignored the clumps and clumps of chewing tobacco which had been spat on the windows from the outside for what I imagined a declaration of summer's commencement or some measure of the success which had preceded me.

I was 22 and poor. I eventually pieced together resources to house in room 34, but it was slow going.  One of the first things I did that summer was cut out a blown up quote to glue onto bright paper and hang above my white board.  It took up space & allowed a few students to think twice in a moment (or hour) of boredom.

"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." 
~Mark Twain

It's a seven year leap from that 1st classroom to today, and now I've found myself in the home piecing together my own child's education, his schooling, and the blank slate filling in with color.  Paul and I have been bouncing ideas, concerns, and questions about homeschooling. My friend, Elaine, also has a 4 year old boy and so we've been feasting on homeschooling ideas and concerns together, unpacking our honest feelings for discussion. And as always, I'm reading lots about how kids learn. And all of this is important in taking our next steps as a family in the direction that is right for us and for Thomas, but it's not as notable as the magic in front of me each day.  

Thomas is constantly learning throughout the day at home. Usually, it is on his own time and turf. Making his own connect-the-dot pictures or mazes, cutting out stars for pretend boomerangs, painting, studying something and figuring out how it works (and sometimes driving up by blood pressure as a by-product). We devote a good chunk of time to reading before his nap and spend other times throughout the day spontaneously listening to and looking at words. He picks up information throughout the day in the formal sense (how many legs a spider has) but also in the informal as well ("no, a mommy usually just nurses her own babies, so Aunt Andrea won't be nursing your brothers").  And I definitely don't limit our understanding of education to amassing information or bolstering intelligence. I do what I can to give him life skills, teach him his manners & morals, foster virtues, and ignite his passions.  When those things stick, I feel it's a miracle, but it definitely is not random. 

The longer I'm at home, the more I see preschool for what it is--an excellent experience for children in an outside-the-home child care environment. It gives women who juggle full time jobs or other pressing priorities along with being a mom the gift of knowing their child isn't missing out on exploratory activities and learning experiences.  This is all fine and good until the mother at home internalizes her working friend's kid's attendance at preschool as a reflection of something she must make happen as well. A mom who listens and cares for her kids will intuitively arrange activities or encourage learning or teach skills with hardly a second thought. The pressure to invite formality, I feel, is an unnecessary one. 

I've made a conscious choice to not put Thomas in preschool at home or anywhere else.  I'm not purchasing curriculum or planning activities or pushing us through a series of hoops.  I'll share in another post what I will be doing this upcoming year with him but for now I'll sum it up as this: I will do enough to prepare him with the necessities should he land himself a seat in a formal classroom, but primarily I will be focusing on those things I'm already doing: giving him space & tools to explore, learn, read, and grow. It's pretty simple. 

A gun will shoot this fall at the race to start the school season. My stomach will lurch just as it did last year when my Facebook feed was filled with [am I seeing this right?] photo after photo after photo of "1st day of preschool" sign-holding cuties.  Somehow, in the 25 years since I went to half-day kindergarten, we've grown to assume preschool the norm and often regardless of the economic or working situation of parents sending those kids.  You're sending him in the fall, right?

I don't see anything wrong with parents sending kids to preschool. I just don't feel we (and that's we as in the Anderson family) need to, and I've also felt for a while now that, in answering untold women in public asking me if he will be going this fall or confirming that he's already there (even after we've discussed I stay at home), it's a lot just to say "no, he's just staying home with me."  So I thought I would share that with you just in case you felt or feel it too. 

I always loved that Mark Twain quote hanging bright in my classroom because it applies to all of us. Public schooled. Private schooled. Schooled by your momma. Or, if you're my husband-- a taste tester of many forms of schools & in different places. We all have the capacity to refocus and remember to be lifelong learners and break the confines of the classroom or our degree. However, the easiest way at the age of 4 for my son (and in our situation mind you) to not have his schooling interfere with his education is to not have schooling at all.  

And now your thoughts: What has been your experience with giving your kid/s the preschool experience, in or out of the house? Do you homeschool your kids? If so, when did you "start"? 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oh Boy/s

A couple tears roll down my cheek and I wipe them away in the dark. It’s the winter of 2009 and I’ve just been told the baby inside me is a boy. The prominent display of his man bits laugh at my quiet sadness.  A mother to a boy? What does that look like?

Flashes of rowdy, loud boys devouring claimed contents from my fridge and simultaneously throwing balls and emitting farts (one butt cheek lifted for effect) keyed up in my mind, I let the disappointment sit for a moment in my heart before I took a deep breath, looked over to my happy husband, and booted the negativity for some maybe, hopefully yet-to-be-known positives that are sure to show up with our….son. Wow, a son!

Little did I know. God had big boy-plans for me. Tap, tap yet-to-be-mommy, Ashley. Psst. You’re gonna have 3 boys---in a row...or I guess more like a triangle….but there’s gonna be THREE!!

Alistair found and enjoyed an uncapped marker and also, do girls play-bite shoes?

If it is a physical object, it has been in Thomas’s mouth. His crib looks like it wasn’t a baby who took up residence within but rather a beaver. For the first two years of his life, my stance insisted I was practicing for a quarterback position. Last week, he announced to me through the back screen door, “Mom, I had to go to the bathroom but I just peed right there in my puddle instead, so I’m good!”

Thomas is non-stop either physically or mentally and his strong will and persistent curiosity has me either moving, thinking, watching, teaching, or managing at all moments of the day. Then there’s the twins. Sure, they’re just about the easiest going babies I’ve ever met, but there’s two and they’re buddies and they will surely follow in Thomas’s path of turning carrots into guns and sticks into swords and wrestling/shouting/battle-crying/climbing/exploring their way into a madness with me on the edge, one eyebrow lifted for effect.

It was last Easter season during a car trip home to his parents’ that I spilled my emotions for our family of 4 guys and me. Would it always be that? Will I get overrun by all the guys? How do I raise the opposite sex? Will we ever have nice things? And seriously, I swear I can. not. take. farting so please help me out with this!

Before my feel-y self melted, my husband turned my thought process around and reminded me that we are not victim to our circumstances. As parents, we have the great privilege of nurturing our unique family dynamic. Ours happens to be three sons, so what are we to make of that? The possibilities are endless.  

It’s been a year now since that conversation in the car where Paul pumped me up for doling out project orders to my guy crew and putting trash duty on everyone’s shoulders but mine. I’m surprised what a difference a year can make for the heart. I cherish every day with my kids and the desire I may have had for a girl over 4 years ago has been trumped entirely by living a rich life with the gifts I have been given (even if that means being horrified by the state of the bathroom at least 3 times a week).

A great shift has occurred in my thoughts and I'm very grateful for this change. Instead of thinking about my life with three boys, I’m dreaming up and figuring out what I can do for them. It didn’t seem like I had much to offer at first-- My sword fight quickly dissolves into a dance party--but I’m a woman and I know how wonderful it is when men protect, provide, honor and respect me …. and also know how to cook a meal, iron a shirt, or run the vacuum without a second thought (I’m married to one!)

When I discipline Thomas now, a herd of invisible young women are at my back. Future classmates, crushes, a shadow-silhouette of a wife, an eager daughter.  I assert his responsibility to do right or the need to respect others and I think of how it is my job to help mold his character so he can see a woman's worth, a person’s worth, his worth, and treat all accordingly. It’s so messy most days but more and more I remember what my role is all about.

The humility and purpose in fostering their independence has helped shake me from silly things like fretting the inevitable ER trips up ahead or wishing I could use my spare time perusing Etsy for pink bows.   Being a mom is not about me. I love it. I really, really do and I would love it in any form.  I love tickle fights and building puzzles and adventures outside, but those are really just the perks. They're footnote blossoms to the more important thing-- those deep roots being formed within my gentlemen-in-training:  To seek truth. To know goodness. And to please, for the love of all things and your mother, only do “that” in a field, a bathroom, or on your way taking out the trash.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Alistair and Emerick!

Pop pop. Bang bang. The big day is here. My little guys turn one today! 

Ya know, I envisioned this celebratory event a lot a year ago when I was looking like this:

Oh wait, that's my sister, Andrea, showing up for the party we threw for Alistair & Emerick last Saturday. You know she's carrying identical twin boys now too, right? And I'm being the super annoying anxious big sister sending her hourly texts about the boys' impending arrival....which is any day now!

Now here's me a year and two weeks ago thinking that the 1st birthday of my twins seemed a far, far way away.

But now we're here with one year old littles!! And it's wonderful!

I'll be reading their birth story later and probably cry. 

Things that took me by surprise: 
* how easy the twins are (ridiculously easy!) 
* how difficult transition to 3 kids was (to be fair, even transition to 2 would have been difficult for me)
* that I'm still nursing
* that I've been converted on babies. I've always liked small people once they can talk. I was pretty convinced babies were boring. But two babies! Who are aren't my first go round! And who play with each other! Give me some more! 
* what it feels to love two souls completely and entirely their own and yet also have this collective love for identical twins who operate as one unit 75% of the time --- it's crazy y'all & not easy to describe 
* how family members can, with some accuracy, tell them apart but each with their own clues...
               Paul - temporary differences (pimples, scratches, a tooth that hasn't broken through yet)
               Andrea - claims Emerick has crazy eyebrows 
               Amanda - shape of heads & eyes
               Thomas - [interviewed yesterday] "Alistair is crabby & Emerick laughs at my jokes" which is not entirely true but is a little because Alistair probably wanted my attention at that second and Emerick is at ultimate joy when Thomas is doing boy things with him....or....just around. 
               Me - uh, everything! facial expressions! eyes! all the things! 
* that so many people still can't tell them apart
* the number of times I would ask "so they do look identical to you?" because the boys just look like brothers to me. Maybe .5% of the time, I will look over and catch a moment where they look pretty similar but that's weird. 
* how much I loved cloth diapers
* how much I hated cloth diapers theverysecond the babies started eating food
* how many diapers I've changed

The things that were tough:
* month 3 when all the lack of sleep caught up to me 
* transitioning & balancing the needs of 3 kids (after being a working mom with 1 kid for over 3 years)
* SENSORY OVERLOAD on the daily. still.
* realizing my fertility is trying to kill me & so far doing exceedingly well
* discovering that even if I exclusively nurse twins for 7 months it may or may not help my cycle to return later than it would have if I had laid steaks and water bowls at their feet since birth. clue: didn't help.

Names we give them:  (and the ones that sound really dumb are from me)
* the babies
* this one
* that one
* that baby over there
* the one by you
* the twins
* my little viddles 
* Oots Koots
* nuggets
* these guys
* bubs [singular]
* bubsies [plural] 

The differences [that I tentatively present because they change often]: 

Emerick - the most laid back in all the land, content to entertain himself but loves his brothers so much, very happy, laughs easily & just learned how to stand unsupported 
Alistair - leader, interested in all things digital or mechanic, loves interaction with others, easily excited and is such a cute little talker! oh, and just learned how to clap yesterday which means he's right on time to clap for cake & all of us surviving a year! 

 And to top it off, a little nod to the year ahead.  I think part of the reason I enjoyed this past year so very much was because I braced myself for the hard and made mental space (and physical space for those of you who know and have seen the glory that is "the cage") for enjoying ALL the boys. ;)

So here are some things I'm looking forward to this year: Woohoo!!
* Words
* Walking
*  More cousins & playing with those cousins!
* Seeing their personalities shine & unfold & forge ahead!
* That feeling you get when your family is not us + baby/ies but just "us". The Anderson 5! As weird as it sounds, this might be what I'm most looking forward to--that sense of 5.
* Even more sleep forever and ever amen!

And this year wouldn't have been what it was without the huge support of family, friends, and my online community of mommas. I can't thank all of you enough for showing up & being there with us! 

Studio photos done by Delores Albers Photography!