Monday, October 31, 2011

Homeschool Recipe

Homeschooling was always something we considered, and as preschoolers it was easily accomplished. Well, I say easy, but it wasn't. It took time, resources, and some more time. In hindsight, yes it was a lot of work but it felt easy because the kids and I had so much fun! I set up our first "Mommy School" in our kitchen and would have a color-of-the-week, letter-of-the-week, shape-of-the-week, famous-person-of-the-week, and daily crafts and activities. Sure, it was work- but most of the work was the prep. I found myself working for hours to to prepare fun half hour lessons for the boys. I poured over books, worksheets, and websites- I wanted to learn as much as I could about educating my sons. Harrison happily "colored" (which was basically eating crayons) while I worked with Carter. To this day Carter can point out and name many of Vincent van Gogh's paintings, can remember making those crafts with me, and has fond memories of me teaching him. (Carter's visual memory is off-the-charts gifted.)

Fast forward. A few years of early childhood education (*cough* day care *cough*) and a year of public school later...

Here we are... back at the kitchen table... 

But- it isn't working........

Um... hm... what's going on here?

It did not take us long to realize the curriculum we had chosen was not working for our family. We had decided to spend our first year homeschooling by using a k12 online school. When the k12 boxes came I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to open them!!! I set up the classroom in our livingroom, and we got to work! And then... we got stuck. Carter seemed unhappy. Don't get me wrong, he was happier than he ever was in a brick and mortar school, but he wasn't loving the learning process as much as I knew he could. We moved rooms and set up the classroom materials in the dining room, changed a few tactics, and tried a different approach to the material. Nothing changed. We moved around again and set up a homeschool room. Harrison asked to start sitting in the homeschool room and participating with us. It helped to have the boys together, but Carter was constantly on edge. We started having Harrison's bird, Blue, in the room with us- it seemed to ease Carter considerably. Things got a bit better- but not really... Carter got frustrated, angry, and really started to push back. It felt like homeschool was ruining our family life. Carter started to act out, and even run away. We felt helpless.

After some practice and working out a routine I could manage to fit Carter's school, Harrison's school, and my school in a day, as well as most of the household chores. However, unless I was totally "on it" things would slip through the cracks. Carter's school was taking more time than anything else in our lives (6 hours of me sitting next to him, talking at him, and him doing busywork), and it felt like a huge burden. I found myself second guessing homeschooling, but when I talked to Kurt about it he reminded me how beneficial homeschooling is for Carter. So- I knew what the right thing to do was, but it was stressing all of us out- what do we do?

One of my friends also homeschools. She is a great lady, and we occasionally exchange phone calls during mid-day tantrums or end-of-day cool-downs. She is so carefree and chill, it is nice to know that her kids drive her nuts sometimes too! She talked to me about the homeschool program she was using and I was floored- her's sounded like so much fun! I talked to her about mine and she was supportive, even though it sounded like a nightmare. Her son was grasping concepts faster, with less time spent on school. How? Different learning style. With her support, and the support of Kurt, I started shopping for a new program. It didn't take more than a few days for me to announce that we were not doing k12 next year. A few weeks later I decided we would drop k12 as soon as I was finished with fall semester. And a month after that we decided to pull Carter out of k12. Carter is no longer in the k12 program.

After researching and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I decided to take the rest of the semester and follow this recipe. As with all recipes, I am sure we will tweak it a bit every so often or change parts here and there, but for now- this has brought success, happiness, and a real LOVE of learning back into our home:

  • 1 Carter
  • 1 Harrison
  • 2 Parents
  • Carter's interests (volcanoes, firetrucks, Captain Underpants, and Bad Kitty)
  • Harrison's interests (animals, Caillou, holidays, food)
  • Library cards for the entire family
  • Internet Connection
Put these together, add whatever we feel like, and voila! Learning is fun!

We are currently doing a mixture of unschooling and unit based learning. I think unschooling is the best way to go, but in the event we move to another state and the boys have to take standardized tests, I am going to be sure they are prepared, so I try as best as I can to integrate "Core Subjects" Carter and Harrison get to rotate weeks and choose the topics we will learn about in detail. I take them to the library, supervise their use of internet research, and I supplement their learning with ideas and print-outs from a variety of homeschool sources. My current favorites are:

Usborne Books- Awesome. So awesome. So very awesome. Science, History, and a zillion other things. These books are seriously awesome. The science books are very impressive- they are full of really fun experiments! Carter enjoys science (he will tell you all about states of matter!) and these books are perfect for him!

Spectrum Math- Carter doesn't mind math worksheets or workbooks. And this one is excellent for him. He enjoys doing math at a very fast pace, and I enjoy that we can go at whatever speed works for him. 

Get Ready for The Code: Harrison loves these! He can sight read a lot of words, but we are building phonics now and this is great! It also helps with his handwriting. 

Explode The Code: These are just enough. So many phonics workbooks were either too long in a sound or too brief. These are perfect for Carter. Also helps with handwriting. 

Handwriting Without Tears- one of the things that shocked me the most was that Carter was incorrectly writing more than half of the alphabet but tested 100% at his last school. Ugh! These books are great- they start simply and work up- love them! Even Harrison likes it! 

TumbleBooks eBooks- a great site with books online. There are options for the books to be narrated (I love John Lithgow's children's books and I am happy he narrates his books!), optional quizzes, book report help features, and more. Check to see if your local library has a subscription that comes with your membership! If your child is in school, call the school librarian or teacher and ask if they have a subscription you could use!

Enchanted Learning- amazing site with tons of ideas and printouts. I actually bought my membership with them when we were a part of k12. I was super bummed that there weren't a lot of Columbus Day activities in our curriculum, so I searched online and found this site! There were so many neat ideas, print-outs, activities, and themes! I was thrilled! This has been a great site for coming up with ideas for projects that coordinate with the kids' interests. Fire Fighter math? Jack O Lantern matching? Perfect! 

Starfall- ah yes, a classic. Carter and Harrison both enjoy this site, but both enjoy different parts of the site. I love that they can pretty much run the site without any help, and even the "games" are educational!

As I start to name these I realize I have a seriously giant list, and I add to them almost every day. I think I will make a separate page for all of these, for any parent who would like ideas.

Anyway, our new homeschool recipe has resulted in almost instant success. Carter and Harrison BEG to go to the library and get new books. Their favorite section? NONFICTION! They really do want to learn all about the world around them, and by stepping back and letting them take the lead I am happy to help them figure things out. This is very fun, because as I "teach" them, I am learning about things too! (I thought Mount St. Helen was a large eruption, but then we learned about the Toba super volcano!) 

Like I said, I do not pretend to believe that this will always work for us- but this is what is working for now, and everyone is happy and thrilled to learn! (Books make up over half of their Christmas lists!!!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making your home a haven!

There are so many wonderful things about living in an area with four perfect seasons. I have always especially been fond of the colder seasons- I am one of those nutty sweater people who would rather wear five layers and sip hot cocoa than wear a tee shirt and Capri pants. (Favorite sweater seen below- click the picture for info. My friend Sara makes them by hand!!!)

Last year, right around this time, I accepted a "Fall Challenge." I had never done a challenge online before, and the thought of it was pretty neat. All I had to do was challenge myself to follow through on the suggestions offered by Courtney, over at Women Living Well. I can remember last year- it was very chaotic and stressful. I found so much comfort in the suggestions that were offered in the challenge. The simple, inexpensive, and blissful suggestions really brightened a very dark time of our lives.

The first week of October: Buy a very large candle, and light it every day. Each time the light catches your eye, say a prayer for peace in your home. This was amazing. That little light quite literally got us through some of the darkest days of the year. I loved this part of the challenge so much I continued it through the holidays. I can remember a critic of the idea sitting at the table, talking to me, and hearing all of the noise from the children in the background (3 boys under 5 years old = loud) snidely commenting, "I don't think your candle is working." The candle is not meant to change our situation, it is meant to remind us there is light in every situation. Gratitude first.

The second week of October: Play soft music everyday. Focus on peaceful words and maintaining peaceful relationships. This message is so important! The woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies. ― J.R. Miller I know that most people find it horrible, but I start playing Christmas music during this week. I enjoy the "Classical Christmas" station on Pandora- the music is beautiful and uplifting! I am also a huge fan of Jenny Oaks Baker and adore all of her CDs.

The third week of October: Find spots in your home that are visually stressful and do something to change them. While you are working on cleaning up clutter, look at your spiritual clutter. This week is always so wonderful! I love it because while I am clearing up a stressful part of my home, I also work on something stressing my heart. What I find to be helpful is either completely redecorating that small part of the house, or completely "gutting" it and throwing away or donating a lot of the items. Then, when it is all cleaned, buying or making something beautiful to fill that spot helps remind me to keep it spotless. As far as the spiritual clutter goes, I adore taking this time to look up General Conference talks about some of the major concerns, questions, or stresses in my life. For example, reviewing a very recent talk by President Uchtdorf brought tears to my eyes when I read:

As a child, when I would look at the little forget-me-nots, I sometimes felt a little like that flower—small and insignificant. I wondered if I would be forgotten by my family or by my Heavenly Father.

Years later I can look back on that young boy with tenderness and compassion. And I do know now—I was never forgotten.

And I know something else: as an Apostle of our Master, Jesus Christ, I proclaim with all the certainty and conviction of my heart—neither are you!

You are not forgotten.

Sisters, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love.

Isn't that beautiful? I loved it. Yes, this is a perfect time to look at any spiritual clutter and clean it up!

The fourth week of October: With a candle burning, and music playing, have some tender moments with your family. Be sure to take extra time to really listen to the members of your family. So often it is easy to get caught up with all of the work we have to do! Carter's schoolwork has to be completed, Harrison's schoolwork needs attention, my own twelve credits at the University have demands, housework is never ending, and dinner always needs to be served. So many things on the to-do list can often overwhelm and take away from the things that matter- creating lasting and beautiful memories with our loved ones! By reminding ourselves to slow down, and focus on what really matters, we are more likely to take the time to play, laugh, and enjoy our families.

Halloween: Focus your attention to the kitchen, the heart of your home. Cook things with pleasing aromas. Remove all discontentment with your home or family, and give thanks to God for the home God has given you in which to create your own haven for your family. This was the best part of last year! My soul felt more calm and relaxed from already being reminded of my priorities, from saying so many prayers, being surrounded by beautiful uplifting music, and having cleaned out my clutter. This was the cherry on the top! Last year we cooked "Dinner in a Pumpkin" (we will be doing that again, this year!), lit extra candles, and spent time together. I had filled the house with warm scents, and when the children went trick-or-treating they returned to a beautiful and calm home. I cannot tell you how many people that came to our door would put their heads inside the house and say, "MMmm, it smells so good in here!" Children who were just trick-or-treating could feel the warmth of the home! Imagine how nice it would be to always live there!!!

I am thrilled to do this challenge again this year. Yes, we have had a few rough days this month, but overall, our stress level is pretty low and things are wonderful! Could they be better? Sure- but that isn't the point. The point is in MAKING our home a haven!!! Where there is room for improvement, we can improve!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Harrison!

Harrison had a wonderful birthday! The events of the week have left us all a bit rattled, so we were very thankful for the chance to kick back and have a good time!

The day started with Kurt and Carter taking an entire truckload of boxes to a local charity. We have been so blessed with so many material possessions, and as we look at what the next chapter of our lives will bring, we realized we were ready to part with things that we no longer love or no longer use. It felt wonderful! We still have a lot to do, and sort through, but getting rid of an entire truckload was great!

After the donation drop, Kurt took Carter to pick out Harrison's birthday gift, and they stopped at Starbucks to pick up hot cocoa for the family! What a treat! Since we don't eat a lot of sugar, that was a pretty fun way to start the day!!!

After enjoying our cocoa, the boys showered and wanted to do gift exchanges. Harrison was SO excited about gifts that he literally leaped from the shower, pulled his towel on, and raced to the table. It was pretty adorable to see him so excited, so we humored him and allowed him to open gifts right there! So fun!

After we were all dressed we went to Barnes & Noble and Harrison got to pick another gift! He had received a gift card, and he really enjoyed getting to pick anything he wanted! He looked around the store-browsed books, Lego sets, and toys. He decided on a stuffed Smurf toy- he loved it!

 (Carter took this random picture right before we left the house- I love it!)

Harrison got to choose his activity, and of all the dozens of things we suggested, he asked us to take him and Carter for an afternoon at the park. I won't lie, I was pretty darn shocked! No golfing, massive jungle-gyms, bowling, swimming, movies, or beaches- nope, he just wanted to spend time together at the park! We had such a good time! We all played on the equipment, played on the huge piles of new wood chips, and then had a blast laying on the grass and rolling down hills! Great time!

When we were finished, we went home and played Legos and played with Harrison's new remote control Star Wars Toy. Harrison's parakeet, Blue, loved it! Blue really enjoys the sound of Legos being tossed around, and often sings songs that try and match the sounds- so cute! Blue has been spending more and more time out of her cage, and she is getting really comfortable with our family. It is very nice to see her bond with all of us!

We finished the day with gluten free cupcakes (woah! sugar high!!!) and sang Happy Birthday to our little spaceman!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


For 2 1/2 hours my son, Carter, was gone.

We had argued all day. He was so irritable and generally disagreeable, he wouldn't stop misbehaving. It was the worst day he has given me in a very long time. I told him to go to his room to rest, my youngest and I retreated to my room to do the same. A few Hello Kitty episodes later I went to get my son from his room...

He was gone.

I called for him.


I went in every room.


I ripped through closets, tore apart laundry baskets, hollered his name.


I stopped, stood straight, closed my eyes... felt the stillness that comes from emptiness. I knew it...


Harrison, my youngest, was in another room. He could feel it too, once I stopped moving. For a moment, we both stood- listening, searching, feeling the air. Yes, we could feel it. Silent, stale.


His little body released a haunting shriek- his best friend, his brother, his roommate, was not with us. He quivered, his face red, his eyes instantly swollen and overflowing with tears. He stood, his wail piercing our walls, shaking, screaming, his yell bearing the pain of his soul. He knew it...


I told him to stay at the door. He did. We both knew, we both understood. He listened. He waited. Mom can fix it... Mom will fix it. I ran outside. Rain. Cold. Storm. Wind. I ran. Must not go far. Harrison needs me. Must look around close. Must run. Barefoot on broken stone pathways. My body felt nothing. Must run.


I screamed for him. I screamed and ran. I questioned a man, he knew nothing.


I ran inside. I told Harrison to put shoes on. He did, no socks. He looked at me, anticipating my lecture. Don't care. Panic.


What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? Phone. Where is my phone? Where is my phone? Where is my phone?


Call Kurt first. Need Kurt. "Carter is gone!" Kurt is too calm. He doesn't understand. Carter is gone. Gone. Gone. Kurt is on his way. Kurt will make it better. Hang up phone.


No. Kurt will make it better. Force breath in body. Breathe in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out. Movement outside. Man with a dog. Not Carter.


Kurt calls back. Asks me to repeat myself. I walk outside. I cannot hear Kurt. I cannot answer questions. I feel the wind. I feel the air. I do not feel Carter, he is not here. I stand in stillness, waiting to feel his presence. I feel nothing.


I hang up on Kurt, he is looking for Carter while he drives. I cannot answer questions. I cannot hear questions. I heart nothing. I need Carter. I need my son.


Dial 911. How do I dial? What button makes the keys come? Shaking fingers touch 9 1 1. Voice answers, asks me my emergency.

"Gone. My son, my son is gone!"

Address? I forget it. It takes a moment. She is nice, kind, asks me to be calm. I breathe. Address given. Officers on the way. She stays on the phone, but I do not hear her. I am busy listening, listening for Carter. Neighbors come out of their homes. It has been less than five minutes, but feels like eternity.


Kurt gets home. He finds me standing outside. He holds me, tells me he will find Carter, leaves. Kurt will fix it. Kurt will fix it. Kurt will fix it. I go inside. I go inside but I cannot sit...


I start to clean. I don't know why. I move, I pace, I straighten. Less than 3 unnecessary trips to the kitchen with individual dishes and the doorbell rings. I am holding dishes. Carter's dish. Lunch dish. Carter doesn't eat eggs.


Police come in. Two tall men. Harrison smiles. He is happy they are here. "You will find my bro-der!" He is sure. They say they will try, pat his head. Harrison corrects them, "You will use your super-guy hero power and find him!" They smile. I cannot smile.


They tell me statistics that I do not hear, it is supposed to be comforting. They tell me kids this age hide, they assure me he is hiding. They ask to search the house. Yes. Go. They go up stairs, but I know what they will find, nothing...


They talk on their radios. They speak in quiet voices. They look into the hall, close a door, speak louder. They slowly come down the stairs. They look at me with kind eyes. They see pain. I do not see anything. They leave the house to look outside. More police arrive. A woman, and a man. The man is told to stay by me, and make me calm. I cannot be calm. I need my son. The man tells me to sit. I sit. Blind obeying, my mind is not working.


More police. Harrison is getting impatient. He is angry. Why haven't they found his brother? The police ask questions. I cannot understand. They call Kurt, they tell him I am hysterical, he has to answer their questions. They hang up on him when they think they see Carter. I run. It is not Carter. I cry harder.


They tell me to breathe, they tell me he is probably just hiding. They tell me children this age just hide. They keep telling me kids hide. They ask me where he likes to hide. Carter does not hide. They tell me it will be okay. I cannot believe anything will ever be okay.


More police. More police. More police. More search the house. More search the neighbors. Neighbors knock, police answer, police talk to them. I am told to sit. Harrison is told to sit. We sit, bathed in warm lamplight. Carter out in the dark cold. Harrison understands. He is angry, he wants to go search. I want to go search. We are told to sit. Sitting does not help. Sitting keeps us still. Stillness allows the grief to cover us, drown us, we cannot breathe. We see nothing but flashing lights and badges. Kurt calls...


Still gone. More police. More questions. Same questions. What happened? Why would he leave? Where would he go? What school does he attend? Who are his friends? Where are your extended family? Where do you go on walks? I give answers. They send people. Nothing.


Kurt has covered miles. It is raining. He has gone everywhere. He screams for Carter, but not too loud, too loud may scare him. Trying to sound cheerful... getting harder to call his name when the wind is howling. Faint voices, what is it? Children, children are out looking for Carter. Neighbors are out looking for Carter. Church members are out looking for Carter. I am not out looking for Carter. I am commanded to sit. By doing nothing, I am drowning in my grief. My mind will not stop, it travels to dark nightmares soaked in evil. I try and push them out. It cannot be done. Dark. So dark. Where is my son...


Harrison sits on my lap. Harrison tells me he loves me. Harrison hides in my arms. Harrison curls up into me. Harrison looks with big eyes, he needs his brother. I need to help. What can I do to help? Harrison needs food. I get him some food. He spills it with shaking hands. We do not yell, we do not fuss. Clean it later. We cry. We cannot eat food. We hold one another.


I am told to sit at the table. They say there is more light at the table. I sit in Carter's seat. Carter is not in his seat. This is where Carter eats dinner. Carter did not have dinner. Dinner is burned, I forgot about dinner. I do not shut off the dinner. I keep it burning. Carter must have hot dinner. Thoughts are not forming, my mind is only on Carter. I sit in Carter's seat, place my head in my folded arms. I want to be Carter's seat- I want him here with me.


Paper: official, white, glaring. Pen: sharp, black, firm. Fill out a statement. Things are not looking well. More police. Search the pond. Search the creek. Search the neighbors' homes. Start calling for him on the PA. Plans. I find my voice. Carter can swim. They say hypothermia. I see Carter, frozen, blue. I try and push it out, I try and see the white paper. I cannot see past my tears. I cling to the chair- Carter's chair. It has to be Carter's chair. It can be no one else's chair. I need my son.


There is talk of detectives, search areas, ranges, and more units. There is talk of who will stay with me. There is talk in whispers. Same neighbors check in, discouraged he is not found. It is dark. They do not try and contact me, the police are everywhere, they stop everyone who comes near. They hear me but they do not see. The neighbors do not want to see. They want to help, but they do not know how. I do not know how. I pick up the pen. I still cannot see the paper.


I pick up my phone. I need a friend. I need to tell a friend. I call. No answer. I call, she answers happily. She hears my voice. She is concerned. She asks questions. I do not understand. I tell her I need help, I tell her I need prayers, I tell her I need the Church. She sounds confidant. She is calm. She is smiling. She is thoughtful. She will call me back. I hang up. I sit back. I see the paper.


I text. I cannot text. My fingers do not work. I have to. I must ask. I must knock. I must beg for help. I shouldn't have yelled. It cannot be over. Not like this. No. Not happening. This is not happening. This is a nightmare. Wake up. I manage to type on facebook. I ask for prayers. I need prayers. I need help, and I need it fast. God will hear, he must. I need my son. It has been more than two hours.


Warmth. It is not much, but it is there. In my heart. It feels like a small blanket, just from the dryer. Very small, inside. Warm. Prayers are being said. Hope is being given. We will find my son. I wait...


Minutes later, a man calls the police. He lives more than a mile from here and he found a small boy. I am told a boy was found, but they do not know if it is my son. The blanket stays inside me, but the outside is numb. I have no reaction. They had already seen boys and thought they were Carter. I am numb. They tell me they think it might be Carter, I have no reaction. I am off. Units are everywhere, one is there almost instantly. An officer goes to the couple's door, he sees my son.


They tell me to call Kurt. Kurt can come home. Carter was found. I call Kurt, he sounds relieved, astonished, thankful, cautious. He is home very quickly, he was nearby.

Not home.

What is taking so long? I pace. I need my son. Give me my son. Kurt enters the house, he is wet from rain. He still has his work clothes on. His shoes and tie are ruined. We do not see- we will see later. For now we only see each other. I see see Kurt and break down. When he embraces me I fall into his arms. He holds me. He is strong. He makes it bearable. I feel weightless. I feel tears. I feel Harrison. I feel Kurt. I need Carter.

Not home.

Kurt calls his boss. Talk of schedules. I am confused. Kurt and I bicker. Police break it up. I am not understanding. Kurt is not understanding. Where is Carter?! We stand, go to the door. Wait. It feels like forever. Only three minutes? No. It was forever. I was there. Trust me. Forever.

Not home.

In Carter's eyes: Another unit arrives. They talk to my son. Give him a sticker. Lecture. Question. Lecture. Question. Ride in a police car. Confused.


The house is surrounded by police cars and SUVs. They are parked diagonally because there are so many. Police come through the door. Kurt and I stand, run, wait. Police file in. There he is.


I see him. I see my son. I see my baby. He is the same. I gave birth yesterday, he said his first word yesterday, he turns his head when I say funny words yesterday, he loves chicken-noodle-dinner yesterday, he dances with Elmo yesterday, he sleeps in a toddler bed yesterday, he got his first train yesterday, he sang his first song "Jesus once was a little child like me" yesterday, he tells me I'm his princess yesterday. I see him. I run. I grab him. I lift him off the ground. I hold him. I cry.


Kurt takes him. Police file out. We thank and thank. They smile and nod. They take their white paper. They forget the pen. There is no statement. He is here.


Carter is confused. Why didn't Momma come get him? He was lost, he couldnt find a train. He needed a train to go to California. He would only be gone three days. Geez Momma, why didnt you find me if you were scared. He is confused. He demands no more questions. I cry. He gets upset. He doesn't understand why I cry. Kurt tries to explain. Carter doesn't understand. We all hold Carter. We try and stay calm.


Carter is cold and hungry. We try to feed him. Dinner is ruined. Ice cream. Carter loves ice cream! We take him to get ice cream. Kurt and I hold his hands. We cannot let him go. No, cannot let go. Harrison holds his shirt- each of us keep hold. Cannot let him go.

Ice cream.

Carter is normal. Carter is happy. We get stares. It is obvious we have been crying. I realize what I look like. I am a mess. I do not care. I have my sons. I have two sons. I have them both, I am happy. Carter eats ice cream, wants to go home and sleep. We take him home, he gets into a shower, it is hot and warms him. He is happy. He sleeps. Harrison knows Carter is on the top bunk. He is happy. He sleeps.


We do not sleep. We don't want sleep. We reorganize the homeschool room. We cannot sleep. Too afraid to sleep. We move Carter to our bed. We lay awake, holding him. He gives half-asleep smiles when we touch his face. He feels loved, and we love him. We worry for Harrison. Harrison cannot wake without Carter. Poor Harrison. Too much for a little guy. We move Carter back to the room with Harrison. We tuck them in, kiss them again. We go to bed. We cannot sleep. Too scared. We cry again. We pray together. We cry more. Sleep takes us.



He is here. Sleeping. Make the bed. Iron Kurt's clothes. Kurt does dishes that we forgot about last night. Kurt leaves. Harrison wakes. Harrison asks for snuggles with Mommy. We cuddle- I praise him for being so helpful and brave. We talk. He loves our special time. I open the door, I check on Carter. Carter is not in bed. I scream. Carter answers from downstairs, annoyed with me. He already promised he wouldn't leave again, what is the big deal? He doesn't understand. He was looking for Daddy. We call Daddy so they can say hello- we are all here.


The new perfection.

I must have checked on my sons 15 times today, if not more. I held their hands, snuggled them, kissed their faces. Carter was gone for more than 2 1/2 hours. We were told he was found over a mile away, one day soon we will walk there, and we will thank the couple who found him. Carter said the people who found him were nice.

There are no words that have ever been spoken that can accurately express my overwhelming emotions during that time, and even now. I always considered myself a very capable and strong woman- but this ended all of that. I was useless. I could literally not think outside of my pain. The police needed pictures and I couldn't figure out how to get my printer to print... not because I had never done it, I have printed thousands of times, but because there was a period where I could literally not read the word "print" and somehow I had forgotten all of the buttons and keys on a computer - everything looked Greek to me. Nothing made sense. I could not think my way past him being gone. The police asked about his past "running away" - I couldn't understand. No, he didn't run away- he is just gone. No, not taken, gone. I couldn't wrap my mind around very simple concepts like, "run away." I couldn't do anything. The police were amazing. They handled everything. They knew what to do. I can sit back now, and be amazed at planning, training, and execution they did. They went door to door, searched bush to bush, and drove for miles. They had people in vehicles, on foot, and with dogs. They were perfect. They talked to Carter, they talked to us, they were brilliant.

Those were the worst two and a half hours of my life. Those hours felt like weeks. Everything was in slow motion. It was hell. It was a very real hell on earth.

I cannot be without my children. They are everything to me. I am so very overwhelmingly extremely thankful to have them home, warm, and safe.

I pray to God that the mothers who read this NEVER go through this. I pray that my children understand the things I teach them, and they absorb the dangers of which I warn. My heart aches for the mothers whose children are missing for extended periods of time, those mothers will now forever be in my prayers. I pray for the safety and wellbeing of the brave officers who brave the world's storms, searching for the lost and protecting us all.


I pray you all have this.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Things I wish I had known...

Carter and Harrison-

The other day I was cleaning my kitchen when an old memory crept back into my mind:

You were both very small - both under the age of two - and I was frazzled. I had been trying to keep the perfect home while my marriage was failing, Daddy was never home, I was trying to pick up work on the side, and your grandparents and our extended families were far. We had moved to a new area almost a year before, and we didn't really know anyone very well, and I was feeling more overwhelmed than I would have ever believed possible. Despite all of this, I demanded perfection from myself.  I was so overwhelmed there were days on end that I didn't get a shower, or bother getting dressed. I was totally spent on my house, home, and service. I had demanded so much from myself that I had never, ever, left both of you with daddy and took a break. What was breaking, however, was our home. But nothing I ever did felt good enough. 

Work a little harder. Clean a little better. Wake a little earlier. Push a little further. Do a little more. DON'T BE LAZY, I told myself. These were my mantras. 

As the memory ended, I looked around my home today. You boys were running around playing happily, my happy husband was coming home to spend his lunch hour with us, and I was feeling warmth in my heart. How did I get here, from there?

Many believe it was because of the babies. Sure, two children under two is a VERY huge job, but really, that wasn't it at all, you little guys were not the problem. It was ME. (And despite what others insist, it was NOT postpartum depression... I will explain more later)

I wish, so much, that I could go back in time to my 2006 family. I wish I could hug myself, and tell me to be brave, and that things will work out to be better than I ever imagined. I can't do that, but what I can do is offer some of the things I learned over the years to you guys, for your families. I don't know where you will live, what you will do, who you will marry, or how many children you will have (Yes, Carter, I know right now you insist you will marry Kayla and have one single child, a boy, named James- but things have a way of changing!) but I do know that most of these things are universals that can be applied to many parts of your lives. While many of these were written from my role as your mother, I REALLY HOPE you understand that it is NOT just your wife's job to do the housework. NO NO NO NO. More on that later, but do NOT skip over parts of this that "don't apply" to you (in your mind...).

1) Sleep matters. Get around 8 hours of it, at least 5 nights per week. Your chores can wait until the morning, your email can go unchecked, your social networking will not crash down- go to bed. If you have infants in the home, NAP when your babies nap!!! (I never did this, I really should have!!!)

2) Nutrition can make all the difference! Don't eat gluten. Like, ever. If you are feeling really sluggish, look at your sleep, stress, and nutrition- how are they going? Try and manage nutrition as best as you can by only filling your home with healthy things. By healthy- I mean look at the biochemistry of the inputted calories and how they react with your body. If you do have a craving for something unhealthy, it is not as easy to indulge if it is not found inside your home. Indulging is NOT the end of the world- but don't make it easy. Do not feel like you need to eat something just because someone handed it to you- especially if it was well meaning home or visiting teachers, family, or a friend. Just smile politely, thank them, and then either pass it to your neighbor, donate it to a food bank, or toss it away.

3) Forget about your weight. Seriously. Forget it. There WILL be a time in your life that working out will fit in, and that you will have the time to devote to getting your healthiest self. If you have very small children, this may not be the time, and that is OKAY! I have gained and lost a lot of weight over the years- and for what? Most of the time I was gaining I was obsessing about gaining. Don't make that mistake. Just realize that weight is not stoic and that things will change when you are ready to change them, but don't kill yourself doing it right now if you don't have the time. Try to live an active lifestyle, eat healthy foods, and have fun moving your body- if you are doing that, chances are you will not have a huge problem.

4) Educate yourself! I learned this one a few years after Carter was born. Even if you are not in school, your education is not over! Read about ultrasounds, vaccines, food production, congressional bills, safety regulations, car seat reviews- READ THEM! Do not blindly follow rules, protocols, or advice. Read things and decide for yourself. This includes Church activities- read the scriptures, ponder, and pray- gain your own testimony! I cannot tell you how many times someone has heard our family doesn't (or does) X, and they will say, "But you must do X!" and when I simply say, "Why?" they have no answer. "Why are your school age children in car seats!? Don't you know boosters work just the same?!" "Don't you know you have to vaccinate them!? Vaccines are safe!" "Bread is healthy for you, your kids need it to grow!" We get it a lot- and I have found that because I have taken the time to educate myself on both sides of the argument or issue, I am better able to handle questions (or attacks) such as these. Generally, the accusing party is not nearly as knowledgeable as they originally believed they were. Even if they are educated on the subject, once they realize that I have also done my homework, they tend to back off. Don't fall victim to heard mentality- stay sharp and educate yourselves on things, especially when they involve the health or safety of your family. Good rule of thumb- if "experts" disagree on the safety of something, then it's a safe bet that you should probably look into it.

5) Follow your gut, but trust the Lord. I cannot possibly grace this with all of the times that I have found myself in a position where I felt so lost and unsure of WHY I got a specific answer to a prayer, but later it was perfectly clear. I cannot help but think of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (click to watch the quick Veggie Tales version, if you are not familiar with the story) and the faith that must have been exercised by Joshua to follow through on such a seemingly strange request from the Lord. It is important, boys, that you follow your gut. So often I have felt uneasy about something and then realized I shouldn't have done it. Other times, I followed through on my feeling, pondered it with prayer, and then was able to safely rest knowing I was doing the right thing. A few things have included: not giving Carter cranial skeletal reconstructive surgery, not immunizing Harrison, moving to Reno, and staying home full time. These were big decisions that "felt" a certain way, but were later confirmed by prayer. **There have been times where I would pray, and get an answer QUITE different from my knee-jerk gut reaction. Moving back to Salt Lake City, away from Idaho, was one of those times. Again, it all worked out for the best, but at the time, I was terrified. Yes, I trust my instincts, but I have pure faith in The Lord, and only He knows what is truly best for us.

6) "Less than perfect housework still blesses your home" - FlyLady. I found FlyLady in 2006 and I loved it! My house was ALWAYS perfect (Daddy's comment was, "Wow, when I married you I didn't think you would be able to keep a house this big so clean!"... Daddy was in big trouble for this, because 90% of our early marriage messes were Daddy's fault... more on that later). However, once little Harrison came along and Carter started to get into more trouble, the house needed more work. I embraced the FlyLady system, but I didn't really "get" her purpose. The idea behind FLY is Fully Loving Yourself. I was not doing that. I was going through the motions. The idea that "less than perfect housework still blesses your home" did not stay in my heart until 2010, when we were living with Sean and Uncle Brian. With six people in less than 1300 square feet (half of the six being little boys UNDER the age of six!) there was a LOT of mess to clean, in addition to a lot of regular traffic cleaning. I can remember sweeping the kitchen and crying because I had swept and mopped it the day before! In my tears I remembered, "less than perfect housework still blesses your home" and instead of allowing myself to feel guilty over not mopping right after sweeping, I simply swept, and walked away. It was amazing, it was freeing!

7) If you don't work, you do the housework, right? Wrong. So wrong. This one is really going to fluctuate based on your family and you will need to determine (early!!!) what kinds of family roles you both feel are appropriate. However- the things you found yourself agreeing to before the marriage, and the things you find yourself in five years later, may be quite different. It is important to understand that there are many different seasons to your home life. There are the dating years, the early marriage years, the baby years, the school-age children years, and so on. During these seasons, the level of housework will change, as well as the time that must be devoted to other areas (school-aged children are able to dress themselves and feed themselves, babies are totally adorable but helpless time-suckers). The first three years of our family were the hardest- not just because of you little babies, but also because Daddy believed that he didn't have to do anything around the house. Daddy only cleaned or did dishes if people were visiting, so when people visited Mommy would literally be sprawled on the couch, enjoying the first break she would have had for months! (Due to this, our extended families seemed to believe Daddy was a slave! HA! What a joke!) I understood that taking care of hearth and home were "my job", but Daddy felt that EVERYTHING in the home was my job- to the point where he wouldn't even pick up his own towel, put his own clothes in the hamper, or remove dishes from his own office. In short, Daddy was refusing to pick up after himself, and treating me like nothing more than a housekeeper. We didn't understand at the time- but now it is so clear why Daddy's position needed to be changed. Around the time Daddy and I separated, he took a 40 hour a week job. Because I was so busy going to school, working, volunteering, and doing other resume building activities, Daddy was actually home more than I was and therefore was forced to spend time with you and clean things for himself. For the first time ever, he realized home work is a VERY BIG THANKLESS JOB! The roles were totally reversed when I would come home late at night, toss my things on the nearest clean surface, complain that his dinner tasted less than wonderful, and then go to bed without so much as lifting a finger. I TRULY hope it does not take a role reversal for you to understand how difficult, time consuming, gulling, and often thankless being home full time is. Yes, your work at work is probably busy, stressful, and exhausting. But trust me when I can HONESTLY say, there are days where I would have PAID for the luxury of a commute, because just the idea of time by myself in a car sounded like a piece of Heaven. Help your spouse, by helping with housework- even if it is a single daily chore, it will help!

8) Don't allow someone else to define you. We associate so many meanings with simple words. If I say, "What do you do?" generally it is followed by a reply about a job. Imagine if, instead of being defined by our paycheck sources, we were defined by our interests. "I am a computer gamer, avid sports follower, a bit obsessed with following technology news. Most days I would love nothing more than to spend hours having epic light-saber battles with my children, and cracking 'unfunny' jokes at my wife. For my paycheck, I manage a local retail store for a cellular company." That would by Daddy! Doesn't that say so much more about Daddy, than if he had simply listed his job title? After all, it is not our work week that defines us- it is what we chose to do with our free time. Do not allow someone else to define you, do not allow someone else's definition of you blind you to who you are. For years and years I allowed a few people to define me, and it affected how I felt about myself, the quality of my work, and even my own expectations and desires. The freedom that comes from letting go of other people's definitions and expectations is beautiful! The Lord gave me certain talents and weaknesses, and by trying to fit into someone else's definition and mold, I am not allowing myself to become the person He would have me be. If you are prayerful in your decisions and choices, you will find who you are!

9) Forget about the Jones Family! You know the age old, "Keeping up with the Jones?" Forget it! What works for the Joneses will NOT necessarily work out for you! A factor in many of our early family struggles was my desire to be like ____ family. I actually remember a few specific families that I wanted to not only emulate, I wanted to carbon copy! I wanted so much to be what I thought they were, have what they had, and do the things they did! I practically drove Daddy and myself completely bonkers! Once I started to become the person I truly am, I found that my desire to keep up with the Joneses disappeared. Don't read this wrong- there are still women that I admire, ask assistance from, and whose traits I would like to pick up. But no longer do I feel the need to completely change who I am- now I just find great skills, philosophies, or ideas that I would like to learn. Boys, just as I love you for you- I want YOU to love you for you, and understand there is no "correct" way of being a family, that is why there are no daily instruction books! Just follow the Plan of Happiness, and the rest will fall into place! There are so many wonderful ways to be a family, and what works for one family will not work for others- and that is okay! Do not put unnecessary pressure on your families to be something you aren't, and do not judge or belittle families who are different from your own- some families think it is neat that we homeschool, others think it is ridiculous. Some mothers think it was neglectful of me to go to Africa while you were young, others thought it was inspiring. DO NOT worry about the Jones family- only ever worry about the Lyle family!

10) "But you know, there's an old saying: 'Sometimes monkeys die.'" This may sound like a silly quote, but it is SO true in its intent. Sometimes things just happen, and we need to roll with the punches and carry on. I had such a clear idea of what kind of mother I was going to be. I had such a crystal vision of what my life would be like. It is not uncommon- this vision of a new mother, dressed in a beautiful white dressing down, sitting in a rocking chair by a window, happily nursing her newborn. The nursery is perfect, the sunshine is perfect, her face, hair, and makeup are perfect. It is perfect. What I didn't realize is that:

  • Sometimes children cry. That's it. Don't freak out. Other parents will not judge you by whether or not your children cry, but they may pay attention to how you deal with it. 
  • Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, to teach a good lesson. One time you were both under the age of four and we were at a McDonald's Playland. You both climbed to the top, and were laughing at me, refusing to come down. I bought two ice cream cones, and stood at the bottom, holding them up, so you could see them. You both came right down, giggling in anticipation! I grabbed your little hands, tossed the ice cream in the garbage, and took my crying children home. You never, ever, tried that again. 
  • Sometimes Family Home Evening is going to suck. You will spend an hour getting everything ready, for 10 minutes of what seems like not very much fun. Stick to it- great blessings await!
  • Sometimes your children will lose. When your children are young, your attitudes to these losses will matter more than the losses. In our home, DOing is what matters most- and as long as you did all you could, you did well.
  • Sometimes your child will not be the best. That does not mean your child is a failure, and it does not speak volumes about your parenting. Let it go. Someone is always first, and someone is always last, and occasionally your child will be first, and occasionally your child will be last.
  • Sometimes people will criticize how you parent. If you are finding yourself overly stressed or unhappy with your parenting style, maybe take a few minutes and think about the criticism. However, if you are happy, your child is happy, and there is peace- let it rest. 
  • Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Remember the Plan of Happiness, hold tight to the rod, and choose the right- you will be okay, things may be hard, but you will be okay.
  • Sometimes you will want to give up. Don't. Ever.
  • Sometimes you will need help. ASK FOR IT! If you are having family problems, I pray I am the kind of parent you can come and talk to. I pray that rather than offer harsh criticisms I offer loving kindness, a shoulder to cry on, and help.
  • Sometimes you will argue with your spouse. For the vast majority of marriages, it happens. 
  • Sometimes your children will be totally awful, and you will wonder what you are doing wrong. If this happens rarely, it is probably not you... if it happens often, maybe rethink something about your parenting style. 
  • Sometimes your marriage will feel like a car. If you drive it too rough, conditions are too harsh, and you are too neglectful, it may break down. Break downs are a lot harder and more expensive to fix than regular maintenance. Dates, daily prayer, remembering who you are, honoring your priesthood, loving attention, and time together goes a long way.
  • Sometimes you will be used as a tissue, a puke target, a jungle-gym, a towel, a magical protective force-field, a judge and jury, a security blanket, a portable chair, and bug slayer. Own these roles, they only last for a finite amount of time. 
  • Sometimes you will find yourself feeling so blessed, you will cry. It will happen, and it makes it all worth it!
There are so many things I would like to share with you, but those 10 will do for today. Just remember who you are, and things will be alright. I love you!