Monday, August 17, 2015

And Away We Go!

Homeschooling our kids is something James and I started discussing before we were even married. I was homeschooled starting in 6th grade and continuing on through graduation and felt very strongly about giving my future children the same sort of education.

Over the past year or so, I've sort of dabbled a bit in homeschooling Sam. He is still little so it was more playing than anything else. It's been nothing short of awesome to watch him learn about the world around him. He's just so eager to know things. So fun! 

He recently turned 4 and is suddenly wanting to know what letter words start with, and asking me what sounds certain letters make. He has the most amazing memory and is so very obviously ready for more than what we've been doing so far. So, Pinterest at the ready, I started to piece together a plan for the year. Nothing very serious. We're not following any sort of curriculum and I'm not planning on bogging him down with a ton of worksheets. Very much "Sam-led" learning, with just a little structure ;) 

Knowing that we will have a new addition to our family in just a few weeks, it was important to me to plan out several weeks of lessons and activities so that I wouldn't have to worry about it on top of preparing our home for a new baby. I wanted about 6 weeks worth of prep done to take us to the week before I'm due, and then we'll be taking a break. So that's what I did! 6 weeks all prepped, planned and ready to go! 

Today was our first day! It went remarkably well! I'm sure our 'schedule' and routine will shift and change throughout the year, but for now it worked perfectly for us! Here's a peak into our day! 

6:40am- Kate woke me up 10 minutes before my alarm. I had wanted to give myself a little quiet alone time before the kids were up. Lately they've been getting up between 7:30 and 8, but, well... the best laid plans and all that ;) Lucky for me, she was happy enough to talk and sing in her room for a while and I still had my time. 

7am- I did my own devotions. I use the app "First 5" by Proverbs 31 Ministries. It's awesome and I highly recommend it! You set an alarm on your phone so that the short, concise devotion is the first thing you do before getting out of bed. Wonderful! 

I did some morning chores before getting the kids too. Since it's Monday that meant getting our sheets and towels into the wash. 

7:30- Kids up! Sam immediately wanted to do school. I had to convince him to play for a little while so I could make us breakfast and get everybody dressed. He and Kate played in the playroom while I emptyed the dishwasher and made breakfast.

8:00- Breakfast and devotions together! This was a very sweet time that I think is going to end up being my favorite part of the day. We read a little of the Bible (the passages surrounding our weekly memory verse) and today's reading from a preschool devotional I bought a while back. 

8:30- Sam was beyond ready to start school by now so he willingly cleaned up toys while I cleaned up breakfast. Which was obviously awesome ;) 

Now we were ready to start! We are planning on starting each day with "Circle Time" (obviously not actually circle time since it's just me and Sam, unless Kate decides to join in!) We talk about what day it is, what season it is, and what the weather is like. Then we go over our weekly memory verse (Sam's memory is astounding! He's very good already at memorizing verses so I might choose some longer ones as the year progresses!). We chat a bit about the letter (although we're emphasizing SOUND rather than letter name) and the week's theme. This week, to get us started, our theme is "All About Me". Today was just learning and talking about how God made all of us to be special, and chatting about our family. 

After our 'morning meeting' so to speak, we'll be having some fun with various rhymes, finger plays, songs, and games promoting gross motor skills. Today we did a rhyme called "God Made Me" and then played a round of "Where is Thumpkin" using the names of our family members for each finger. 

After our circle time is over is when I plan on doing quiet, sit down activities. Things like matching card games, coloring, practice writing, etc. Today we did a little 'worksheet' of sorts all about Sam. Keeping it simple to ease us into this new routine. Kate joined in for some coloring! 

After our quiet activity is when I plan on doing experiments, sensory play, crafts, activities, etc. Followed by (or preceded by, or interrupted briefly by, whatever seems to work that day!) specific work on letters/sounds. I'm using ideas from the booklet "A Home Start in Reading" by Ruth Beechick. 

Today we used stickers to mark on our map where members of our family live (and some friends too!)

I knew our craft for today would be messy and I wanted to keep it til the end, so we did our letter activity now. Since 'A' is our sound of the week we went on a scavenger hunt for things that start with 'A'. Kate got a basket to fill too ;) Sam really enjoyed this! We'll be repeating the scavenger hunt every Monday I think for each of our sounds of the week. 

Now we were ready for our craft! Sticking with the "All About Me" theme, Sam was going to paint a series of pages to spell out his name! Kate just painted one ;) 

And that's it! All this took about an hour and 15 minutes (not including Bible time during breakfast) which seems to have been the perfect amount of time for a busy 4 year old. Future lessons might be a little longer depending on their content, or I might save some activities for later in the afternoon. The way I structured the 'school day' into chunks (Bible, circle time, song/rhyme/gross motor, sit down activity, letter activity, craft/experiment/game) makes it super flexible! We can add in as much or as little as we want to each individual section. 

I am so happy with how our first day went and so is Sam! He really had a blast and that's the most important thing! We are ready and excited for tomorrow! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Transitioning and Our New Normal

6 months and 3 days ago my mom snapped this picture.

James' last hour or so wearing his uniform, and the last time we saw our little red house in Heroes Manor.

It's taken me 6 months and 3 days to get a blog post about our huge life change written because that's how long it's taken to feel somewhat settled and somewhat 'normal' again.

When we found out that James would be getting out of the Marine Corps, plenty of people told us how hard it was going to be. We figured they had to be right to a point, but we were going HOME, how hard could it be? 

Hard. So. Very. Hard. At times seemingly impossible. Hard for me, hard for James, hard for the kids, hard for our family, and hard for our marriage.

When I look at pictures we took the day we moved into my parents' house, I feel slightly sick to my stomach. Now, that's partially because I was getting ready to hit the peak of first trimester nausea and exhaustion (because yes let's add pregnancy and a third baby into this whirlwind of change!), but it's also because the whole process was just more emotional than I could have ever expected. We were beyond grateful for the help my mom and dad were giving us while we got on our feet, and we were over the moon to be surrounded by family again, but it wasn't feeling like home. Our lives didn't feel like our lives. I think we all just felt a little lost.

Once we managed to cram all of our belongings into a storage POD and any and all empty corners of Mom and Dad's house, barn, and garage we had to start trying to put together the pieces of a whole new life. The difficult part was finding out what those pieces actually were. 

Our game plan changed several times over the next couple months. We went back and forth about where James would go actually go to school, where he'd work in the meantime, where we'd live, when we'd actually move, etc etc so many times. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We argued. We argued a LOT. We were both stressed out and completely out of our element. James was trying to deal with VA appointments while also making decisions about his schooling that were going to completely shape our life. I was struggling through the first trimester of my pregnancy, dealing with a a 3 year old who was confused and acting out, a 1 year old who was boycotting sleep, and feeling completely lost and alone outside of the warm and fuzzy circle of military spouses I had left behind in NC. We butted heads. We drove each other insane. We couldn't agree on the right path for our family. I cried a lot. Sam's tantrums, unlike any he'd ever had in the past, were exhausting me and making me question myself as a mother. 

So how did we come out of that? We prayed. We prayed a whole lot. Eventually I was able to let a lot of my stress and worry go and just asked God, "Show me. Show me what we need to do." We relaxed a little bit. We started fighting less. Sam and Kate were adjusting better. The horrible tantrums stopped. (It really helped that the weather was warming up and my morning sickness was starting to let up!) 

Then things started to fall into place. James decided on a school. We found a town that was a little closer to school, but still less than an hour from my family and less than an hour from a birth center. We went to visit the town and drove by a house for rent that I had found online. Kind of on a whim we called the realtor managing the property. He was able to let us in to see the house that very day. It was small, but had all the things we had on our must have list. A garage, basement for storage, pantry, yard, and it was AFFORDABLE. After looking at the house we checked out the town a little. There were several restaurants where James was able to drop applications and they were all within walking distance to the house which was ideal as far as making a job work with his school schedule. We found a children's used book store and I started feeling a little giddy. Then we found a running store. I got tears in my eyes. I went in and talked to the girls who worked there for a little bit. When I went back outside to where James was waiting with the kids I said, "I think this is it. I think this is where we need to be right now."

After that day everything moved really quickly. Our moving date was only a few weeks away and James' first day of school was 3 days later. He hadn't nailed down a job yet, the restaurants were taking their sweet time getting back to him, but we both felt extremely confident that it was all going to work out. 

We moved in on a Friday and James started school that Monday. He came home from school that day and went into one of the restaurants in town to try and get some answers. He was hired that day and scheduled to start training the very next day. 

We had done it. We had pulled together our new life. Somehow we'd come out of those months of worry and frustration and we were okay. 

That wasn't the end of our transition, but having everything figured out made it easier to breathe again. Then we just needed to accept and settle into our new normal. Turned out that wasn't so easy either. 

We actually see less of James right now than when he was in the Marine Corps. Strange schedules and missing him aren't new to us, but doing it without being surrounded by a community of families doing the same IS. 

There's no, "Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but my husband leaves tomorrow and I need us to be the kind of friends who are as close as sisters. Like now." There's no "Welding student and server spouse" groups to join. I miss the community. I miss the camaraderie. I miss dinners with friends when all our husband's are gone so we don't have to eat alone with our kids. Again. It's different "out here" in the civilian world. 

We are so very, incredibly blessed to live close to family. That has been the saving grace in all this. We started attending my parents' church regularly and are starting to feel a sense of community there. We joined our local YMCA which gives me an outlet when I just NEED an hour break from being the sole caretaker around here most of the time. It has an awesome outdoor pool so it also gives me a great go to summer activity with the little ones, and a fun activity to do as a family on the rare nights that James is home. We love our pool evenings! We LOVE the children's book store in town and soon I'm hoping to join in on one of the group runs the running store here holds twice a week. I've reached out a little into FB land and joined a local mom's group. I've been busy planning our first real homeschooling year and I'm SO excited about all the field trip opportunities in the area! We've spent time with cousins and James and I were actually able to go out on a date for our anniversary. 

Our new normal still isn't easy. James and I are both completely exhausted by his schedule, but we know that it's temporary. He's not going to be going to school and working in a restaurant forever. In fact by this time next year he should be finished school, out of the restaurant business, and working as a certified welder. There's still some kinks to work out as far as balancing what little time we do have together, but we're getting there. I wouldn't say we're completely settled, but we are at least in the process of settling. 

Sam and Kate have adjusted awesomely well. At first the adjustment to James' schedule was really tough for them because he does come home between school and work to shower and change. It took some time for me to figure out how to smooth that transition for them. They weren't understanding why Daddy would come home, but then leave again right away. I know now that we need to have something to do right when he leaves for work. Either start a movie as he walks out the door, or head to the gym or the grocery store shortly after saying goodbye. 

So we're ok. This transitioning to civilian life thing has been the hardest thing we've gone through as a family, but we're ok. You have to go through hard things to grow right? You need to struggle a little in order to get stronger. We've grown and we are stronger. And with that growth and strength comes the ability to put aside all that worry and frustration from before and finally start to feel really EXCITED about the future. Because our future really is exciting! And we're ready for it.