Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When the cat's away...

the mice will do wild and crazy things like... eat dinner at McDonald's.

Aloneish

Friday evening Danny left for another missions trip to Malawi, so it's just me and the kids here for 17 days. I'm thrilled he could go and support our dear friends, Brian and Anita, but we miss him already! He misses us too and asked if I would post a few kid pics here for him. So here you go honey, the three cutest kids on the planet (IMHO!):

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Job perks

While I was at the hospital meeting little Harper, Danny was at work meeting this guy:
While not nearly as cute as my niece, Bono's pretty cool, huh?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Meet my beautiful new niece, Harper Catherine, born this evening to my BIL Brian and sister Sarah. She came out with sweet strawberry blonde fuzz, creamy skin, and a chin dimple to match that of my favorite newphew and her proud brother, Lincoln. What a great gift from God!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Following Daddy down memory lane

Danny's favorite hot dog comes from a dive called Cupid's. It's housed within a time-worn hut, set on a parking lot adorned with only a few concrete tables and rusted-out umbrellas. Since it's adjacent to Danny's alma matter and childhood home, he has fond memories of downing a few in between classes or after a long day of yardwork. I'm convinced that it's appeal comes more from the nostalgia than the cuisine. Hot dogs in general are not at the top of my list, but ones doused in runny chili and prepared in conditions of questionable cleanliness are quite near the bottom. To my dismay, however, it seems that Alyssa and Parker are taking their Daddy's side on this one. Take a look at their faces after their first Cupid's dogs and tell me what you think:

And just a bonus shot for you of our Parker Monkey cause he's just so darn cute! Stay tuned for pictures of my brand-new neice, scheduled to appear tomorrow!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

So much for “never”!

We’re about to embark on a path I was certain I would never trod. I will soon become what I’ve often said I would never be. Our family is going to transition into a lifestyle I never thought I would embrace. Would you believe that we’re going to try homeschooling?! If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably groaning, thinking we’ve just strapped our children with a social handicap or sub-par education. I’ve known my share of odd and/or under-educated homeschoolers too. (Though, to be fair, I’ve known at least as many who are articulate, well-behaved, fun, and bright). We definitely understand that there will be some challenges ahead, but believe that the risks are outweighed by the rewards… at least for our family.
This choice was precipitated by a recent change in Danny’s schedule. Up until three months ago, his work followed the school schedule perfectly: he left by 5:45 a.m. and was home by 5:00 p.m. He always had weekends and school holidays off. Even with a full day of school and an early bedtime, Alyssa saw her daddy for at least 2 ½ hours a day. We’re now adjusting to an 11 a.m. start time – putting the end of his shift at around 10 p.m. – and a mere 45 minutes or so in the morning as a family of 5, which is marred by the rushing around of getting out the door to go to school. The four of us then have a great lazy morning together of playing, eating breakfast, riding bikes, reading - all the stuff we used to do together in the evenings. It works, but it’s just not complete without Alyssa. Next year throw Parker into the mix with 2 separate start and end times, and family time will be limited even more. School is just inconvenient. Of course we recognize that convenience alone shouldn’t be the sole basis for a decision like this, but if the kids’ formal education can take place in 3 hours instead of 7 ½ (+ homework), starting at 11 instead of 8, packed mostly into Monday-Thursday (leaving P.E., field trips and other fun stuff for Fridays when Danny’s home all day), and scheduled around the vacations we want to take instead of the vacations the state says we can take, how can that be all bad? We would rather our kids spend time with us than wasting it on things like lining up, passing out papers, collecting papers, recess, lunch, movies, teaching to the ESL’ers, dealing with discipline issues, and the list goes on (not that valuable life lessons can’t be learned through those things, just sayin’ that there has to be a more efficient way). The last two weeks of spring break have been a little bit of heaven around here. The kids have gone on all kinds of bike rides and runs with Danny (Alyssa included!), we’ve been able to sleep in a little, spend the night at grandparents’, let Reagan nap when she wants needs to instead of when it fits with the pick-up schedule, go away for a couple of days, stay up late with our Bible Study students, and just enjoy our little girl. I’m under no illusion that homeschooling would be a total break from routine or responsibilities, but it would be flexible and far less time-consuming.
Which leads me to another compelling “pro” for our family: extracurricular activities. We want our kids to be involved in soccer, dance, T-ball, swim team, church events, music, AWANA. We believe that God can use those kinds of activities to teach them about teamwork, taking on a challenge, and submitting to a leader, or to develop life-long habits of health and discipline. We just don’t think they’re valuable enough to sacrifice the majority of our family time to enjoy them, so up to this point we’ve generally said no. But with homeschooling, we can potentially free up an extra 3 hours each morning and make the afternoon running around to such activities less of a drain. I know plenty of people do it all – I just don’t think I can – nor do we want our kids or our family to be that busy.
Our hope is that involvement in these activities outside of school (in addition to, potentially, a homeschooling group, and the many kids in our neighborhood), will counteract our one big fear in this endeavor: socialization. I used to think that traditional schooling was The Way to turn out Normal kids. I am now willing to admit that kids can learn social skills outside of that environment and that I don’t necessarily want our kids to be normal. We want them to be godly, and they can learn that as well, if not better, outside of the peer pressures a school would provide. It’s okay for them to be odd if normal means being up on the latest trends and acquainted with age-appropriate vices. And have you ever noticed that there are strange kids in schools too? It just seems that if you’re strange and homeschooled you’re that way because of homeschooling. I know our kids will face those stereotypes, as will Danny and I, but hope that we can overcome them and prove the naysayers wrong.
A social benefit we hope our kids will receive is lasting friendship with each other. A consistent theme among homeschoolers we’ve known is a genuine love for and enjoyment of their siblings, no matter the difference in age. Despite the importance I’ve always placed in my mind on friendships from elementary, Jr. High and High School, and my many “friends” on Facebook, I can count on one hand the number of real relationships I’ve maintained from my pre-college days. Danny is the exception with many great friendships dating back as far as elementary school. My sister and I another exception in that we’re incredibly close while she went to private school and I went to public. I’m not saying sibling affection can’t happen outside of a homeschooling environment, or that valuable relationships can’t be formed early in life, but I’d rather give my kids the best possible chance at being friends with each other than at being the most popular kid in school.
Another potential challenge is, of course, the academics. I might be totally na├»ve here, but at this point I think I can handle the challenge of teaching. Undoubtedly there will be days that prove to be much more trying than I’ve anticipated. I know God will teach me patience and if the kids learn nothing else they will hopefully see the result of His sanctifying work in me. But He has given me some life experience and an education that leads me to believe we’ll be okay. I taught kids piano for several years, and have taught college now for five. Teaching someone to read admittedly seems a little daunting, but there is curriculum for that, right?! (Which I should probably be researching that instead of blogging!) For all my lack of early-childhood-education knowledge, however, is the real benefit of knowing what my kids are supposed to be learning and reinforcing that in everyday life. Once I figured out that Alyssa was learning about money in school we could count coins together waiting for our food at In-N-Out. When we discovered she was a little wiz at decoding but not as strong in comprehension, we could focus on asking her questions about what she’d read instead of just letting her plow through. If I become her primary teacher, I’ll know things like this immediately and first hand. We’ll be able to spend extra time on the areas in which our kids struggle, as well as challenge them in the subjects in which they thrive, instead of just teaching to the middle. I mean this as no indictment of teachers in general or Alyssa’s teachers in particular. We have loved both of Alyssa’s teachers thus far and firmly believe that the majority of teachers do the best possible job within the many constraints of the system. However, we would love to be able to give our kids more personalized instruction, supplemented by experiences outside of the classroom, and rooted in a biblical way of looking at life.
With all of my defenses here, which is by no means a comprehensive or even convincing list, I do want to reiterate that we know this is not a perfect solution. If it were we wouldn’t have struggled over our decision for as long as we have. Public school isn’t perfect, private school isn’t perfect, and even the best homeschooling isn’t perfect. There are pros and cons to each, and our list of pros and cons will certainly be different at this time next year. We’ve prayed about it, talked about it, discussed it with other parents from both sides of the fence, found support from both of our families, and ultimately determined that this is the best choice for our family at this time. We think it will be fun, we know it will be hard, but we’re really looking forward to have our three favorite little faces here all day every day, at home, with us.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Essentials

A baby shower for my newest niece recently prompted a visit to the Great Hall of Pacifiers for the Newly Parenting (otherwise known as Babies R Us). Experienced parents recognize that 95% of the stock in this mammoth emporium is either totally unnecessary or easily substituted with a less trendy, less expensive alternative. Fresh parents (myself included, once upon a time) tend to see it as The Solution to all of the nervous anticipation associated with being responsible for a new life. And not just any life, but a life utterly incapable of communicating by any other means than sobbing. Like so many others, I registered for baby care items I ended up rarely using in hopes that they might make this new journey a little less treacherous. Fortunately I also received gift cards from wise older mothers who knew I would need a little time to figure out exactly what I would need to care for this precious package. Much like brides who have never cooked have difficulty identifying the essential implements for their new kitchens, it's hard to expect someone who has never parented to pick out the perfect gear for the child they've never met. Turns out, kids don't need much more than a basic car seat, diapers, wipes, a comfy place to sleep, and a pacifier or ten. And, in Parker's case, this most essential of child-care items: Who would have thought that this little belt (an item, incidentally, not even stocked by 'R Us) would prove to be an invaluable asset in raising my son. Like many adoptive parents of Vietnamese children, I've found that American baby clothes are tailored to fit the chubbier end of our growth charts. My decidedly non-Vietnamese baby boy engaged this device early on to prevent his pants from slipping off his very narrow bottom - a problem exacerbated by potty training completed long before he grew out of garments designed to accommodate a bulky diaper, or grew into those fitted with adjustable waistbands. Now I face the same problem with a very-typically narrow Vietnamese baby girl body, but without the fortunate advent of belt loops. I'll let you know when I track down the female equivalent of this fabulous accessory, at Babies R Us or elsewhere. In the meantime, Parker will still be begging for his belt - now employed in the essential role of sword-sheath-holder.