The Eye of the Beholder

The other day, my husband was staring morosely into the mirror. He actually apologized to me for his thinning hair.

“Honey,” I said, “Do you see the shiny hairs on my head?”

“Shiny hairs? No, what are you talking about?”

“Look at my part…do you see all those shiny gray hairs there?”

“Mmmm…I suppose there are a few…”

“Yes, and I suppose your hair is thinning.”

Truthfully, love is blind. I have quite a bit more than just a few gray hairs. And yes, if I compare my husband’s head to photos taken 4 or 5 years ago, the difference is noticeable. But we, thankfully, don’t see that about each other.

Similarly, when I read about a “day in the life” of another homeschool mom, I wonder where she has the time and energy to do all that. I write about my own day, and I think I am describing the gray hairs, but nobody seems to notice them.

Really. Let’s get past the running at 430 am, ok? Let’s look at children who have to be dragged to the school table, children who cease their dutiful labors the very minute I leave them unattended. How about the laundry that isn’t done or the dishes in the sink? And what’s up with not realizing until too late that I should have started those pork chops an hour ago?

And what’s missing from my day? Snuggling on the couch with my children and a pile of books. Baking something for dessert. Playing a board game. Doing a craft…or at least letting my kids play with Playdoh. It’s not that we don’t do these things, because we do. Sometimes. But not as much as we used to, and not as much as I would like. And I just have to accept that this is the way it is right now. It is a temporary thing, and as long as I hold on to that vision of where I’d like to be, we’ll get back there eventually.

Fritz is currently working on a new poem for memorization: The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The blacksmith labors from dawn until dusk with each day much like the last.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

His is not an easy life. There is no lolling on a porch swing watching the sun set or savoring a good book. But he puts in an honest day’s work and sleeps well at night. This is how I see my current life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to prove my mettle – to prove to myself that I can do this hard job.

But, oh! for a cozy fire, a cup of tea, a clean house, a good novel, and nothing much to do!

A sliver of my life

I’ve just read Celeste’s post about how proactively busy her homeschooling/homemaking day is. Incredible. I think I must have had that kind of energy at some point, but not in recent memory. She’s very pregnant too. And she’s not the only one. Frequently I read account’s of someone’s day, and I just don’t know how they do it.

My day, yesterday, just doesn’t seem to be nearly as productive.

OK, I was up at 420 am and went for a 30 minute run with the dog in the freezing cold. I don’t know any other bloggers who get up so early, and I’ll lord over you all what little superiority I may have in that one regard. Then it’s morning prayers with Bill before he leaves at 530 am, and computer time until about 630 am. Pete gets up at some point in there and joins me on the computer.

The next two hours are spent showering, getting dressed, eating, feeding children, squeezing in an occasional email, checking my calendar, pulling meat out of the freezer for supper, unloading the dishwasher, and searching for dry underwear for Jenny. I think I may have rotated the wet clothes into the dryer, but can’t swear it.

At 830, the kids are chased upstairs to get dressed while I look at the lesson plans and fill in a two-day checklist for each child. At 9 am, I call the boys down. Billy still isn’t dressed, but I tell him to come down anyway. He runs away. He gets sent (dragged) to my bathroom (the most boring room in the whole house) and told him he must stay there until he’s ready to comply with household SOP. I start school with Fritz, quickly running through the memory activities: states and capitals, Latin and Greek roots, his new poem, the list of dates from history he needs to know. I go up to check on Billy, and sure enough, he darts across the top of the stairs trying to return to the bathroom before I catch him. I go back downstairs and retrieve his clipboard, some pencils, a page with 5 sentences he needs to copy for his reading, and then 3 more pages. At the top of one, I write, “I’m sorry, God.” One another, I write, “I’m sorry, Mom.” And on the last, I write, “I will obey God and my mom.” I tell him to fill the three sheets with those sentences, copy his reading sentences, and then he’ll be “allowed” out to come out to finish his schoolwork.

I assist Fritz with whatever he’s working on, give him some additional instruction, and then turn to Katie. We do math, and her reading. We review the latest story from the Bible – Manna from Heaven – and she happily occupies herself with drawing a picture for the story: huge disks of bread falling on people’s heads.

Billy has completed his handwriting tasks and comes downstairs to do his math and other assignments. While I work with him, Fritz completes a few things and then goes off to do 10 minutes of piano. He’s working on a level 2A version of Fuer Elise and it sounds lovely. Around 1040 am, he is permitted to take recess. I don’t get recess though, because Billy doesn’t get recess. We sit and go through his schoolwork.

Just after 11 am, I call Fritz back to the table. We continue to blow through his list of assignments: science text, grammar lesson, reading out loud, math…oh, we don’t blow through math. He enjoys lingering over math, savoring every drawn out minute of his worksheet, seeing just how long he can prolong the pleasure of staring at those problems. I notice one section of three problems where it shows students how to add columns of numbers from left to right. I look at the teacher text, work the problem to get a feel for it, realize that after you total them left to right, you still have to add the final numbers right to left, and put a big X over the section telling him he will not learn how to do it that way. What stupidity. If I, an adult, had to quickly add a bunch of numbers, I would use Excel or a calculator. Or I would take my time and do it right. I just don’t see that this “shortcut” will do anything but add confusion. And I looked ahead in the text and they have no other problems like this in the next few weeks, so even they aren’t pushing the method. This is the third time I’ve disagreed with their methods given to teach students how to solve problems. Thank goodness math doesn’t intimidate me.

Around 1130 am, Pete is whiny and needs to go down for a nap. The boys have assignments. Everyone is instructed to be quiet and work. They know the drill. I take Petey upstairs. All I need is 10 minutes to put him down. Within 2 of them, I hear a party going on: laughing, running, playing. It takes an extra 5 minutes for Pete’s eyes to stay closed. I’m a little mad. The kids are chastised and returned to their seats where we finish the majority of the work by 1215 pm.

Yeah, break time! We have lunch, and the kids watch Nick Jr while I check email. At 1 pm, I tell them it’s time to go back to school, but they beg for an extra half hour of TV time. Since they are so far along, I tell them it’s OK, and I spend the next half hour entering receipts into Quicken and getting some bills paid. They return to school with little complaint and are done by 2 pm. However, Fritz needs to work on a report about extinct and endangered animals for cub scouts, so we head to the computer. We learn about the Carolina Parakeet (gone) and bats (6 species in the U.S. are endangered) and learn reasons why animals become extinct. We are thorough, because it is interesting, and this continues until 4 pm.

Fritz wants to play at friend Caleb’s house. He gets his watch, I set the alarm for 5 pm, and he takes his bike to go the two blocks. I clean up the kitchen and do basic domestic chores and finish my pot of tea. I planned to make pork chops, but realize the cooking time is over an hour, and I just can’t do it. This typical situation makes me want to kick myself. Quick switch to Tuesday’s planned food: chicken. Dinner’s almost ready, it’s 515 pm, and no Fritz. We eat at 530 with still no sign of him. At 540, I call Caleb’s house. He’s not there. He had come by at 4, but they were leaving to run errands. I call my friend two doors down: not there. I call the next likely spot another 3 houses down: why yes, he’s there and they’ll send him home. This is not the first time he “hasn’t heard” his alarm, nor is it the first time he has “forgotten” to call and tell me his change of locale, but it’s the first time he’s done them both at once. Yes, he’s grounded this week.

At 620 pm, a neighbor comes to take Billy to his scout meeting and at 645 another neighbor brings her kids over so she can go to our “town hall” meeting. The kids watch a movie while I clean up the kitchen. Billy returns at 720 pm, Bill gets home around 815 pm, and the neighbor gets back around 915 pm. The town hall meeting was pointless. “They” feel good about listening to our complaints, but do nothing to address them.

Except for watching my friend’s kids and my kids being up an hour later than normal, this is a typical day. And even though the kids went to bed late, they fell asleep immediately instead of bouncing around in their rooms for a half hour or more. The last thing I did before heading up to bed was to put dry clothes (unfolded) in a basket, wet clothes in the dryer, and dirty clothes in the washer. Some days I’m more on top of things like laundry or dinner prep, but usually schooling three kids fills my day so completely that household responsibilities are squeezed in at any available moment. If the breakfast dishes are in the dishwasher before lunch, it’s a real good day. If none of my kids run and hide when it’s school time, I consider myself lucky.

And if at the end of the day, I can lay my exhausted head on a pillow and can breathe a contented sigh knowing that I have taken care of all the truly important things and can optimistically hope to accomplish a few bonus things the next day and can be thankful for this labor that fills my day and tires my body but invigorates my soul, I know that I am blessed indeed.

And, praise God, that is most typical of all.

The frozen tundra

The current temperature here in pre-dawn northern Virginia is 20 degrees, and, according to, it feels like 5 degrees. I’ll second that opinion. It was pretty tough getting myself out the door to go for a run, but somehow I managed it. I keep thinking that I hear the baby cry, but it’s really just the wind howling. Brrrr.

A month or so ago, I was having a terrible time getting to sleep because it was so hot upstairs. Finally, I adjusted the settings on the thermostat to turn the heat down earlier in the evening, and I closed the vents in my bedroom and the upstairs hall. Now, it is comfortable by bedtime and by early morning is snuggably-cold in my room. This makes it even more difficult to get out of bed at o-dark-thirty. But here’s my theory: it’s really cold outside. If I am nice and warm in the house, then I won’t want to go out there. I may as well be cold, and get myself moving to warm up. All I have to do is get myself out of bed, and once I am vertical, I will be so cold that I will hurry up, get dressed and start running.

Bill does not like this theory. He doesn’t want to get out of bed, and he isn’t going for a run. He is not interested in standing on a cold bathroom floor while shaving his face with numb fingers clutching the razor. He is afraid that hypothermia-induced confusion will prevent him from finding the coffee maker. And he gets really annoyed when I come back from my run and start shedding layers and looking really hot and sweaty while he sits there chipping away at the layer of ice forming in his bowl of cold cereal.

Before I headed out this morning, I manually turned the heat up for him, and I’ve promised him a reevaluation of my temperature and time settings. Now that winter seems to have arrived, I’m afraid I may find him frozen stiff one morning. I wouldn’t want him to be late for work!

The Kitchen Sink

Since everyone is doing it, here’s my kitchen sink:

kitchen sink

I have a lovely view of my neighbor’s kitchen window. Fortunately, they keep their blinds down all the time, so I’m comfortable leaving my blinds up all the time. I want to be able to catch every tiny ray of sunlight I possibly can.

Note the pile of dirty dishes. It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday, so there are breakfast, lunch, snack and even dinner-prep dishes in there. On the window shelf is my Kitchen Madonna, the baby monitor, a candle, and a vase for pens and pencils. Bill bought the cross hanging from the window in New Mexico.

To the right of the kitchen sink is this typical view:

little helpers

I love having a peninsula. I am much more accepting of my little helpers if I can keep them over there and not in my own work triangle. Even if I’m only doing the dishes, I almost always have company and the peninsula is a great spot for snacks for whoever feels the need to bend my ear.

Free labor supply to end in 10 years

Yesterday, in an effort to get all of us out the door in time for the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby Races, I asked Fritz if he would get Pete dressed (dry diaper, shirt, pants, socks and shoes). I have only asked him for this level of assistance perhaps two or three times. Since I was brushing the girls’ hair, Pete was only a bit wet (not stinky), Fritz generally enjoys caring for Pete, and Pete is usually very cooperative with things like this, I thought it was a good time to ask for help. All went smoothly, with no struggles or complaining from either boy. However, Fritz did have one comment:

“You know, Mom, in ten years, I won’t be around to do this any more.”

Without batting an eye, I responded,

“In ten years, I expect Pete will be able to get himself dressed.”

Wearing aprons and building bridges

Go, Kitchen Madonna! This girlfriend has an article up at Catholic Exchange about wearing aprons. I confess, my apron hangs on the hook far too often. My friend, Rachel, always has her apron on when I stop over, and it’s just so darn practical. I really must start an apron-wearing habit. From KM’s article:

And go ahead, on Career Day at your local school, invite a girl over to see what your life is like. She most likely will have no idea how to hold a baby or how to make a stew or how to bake a casserole to take to a bereaved family or how soft your apron is for drying tears.

This made me laugh! At least once or twice a year, I get mail from my alma mater requesting assistance in finding internships for engineering students (I earned a BS in Civil Engineering). Of course, the mailing is intended for alumni who work for businesses that allow career-shadowing for a short period of time or who hire students to get some good work experience during the summer or for a semester. I am always tempted to offer a shadow-job to any of the female students who want to see how my engineering degree is being put to good use: building skyscrapers and bridges from Legos, explaining reinforcement techniques of Playmobile castle walls, and making sure that Thomas train track is intricate but doesn’t get trains stuck in a one-way loop.

It’s a tough job, my job, and awfully intimidating to a twenty-something girl with blueprints in her eyes. But perhaps if she spent a week or two shadowing me, she might be encouraged to give it a try!

Memory Lapses?

Every so often, Bill and I have the following conversation:

Me: I’ve never seen that movie.

Bill: Yes, you did. We saw it together. Don’t you remember {this scene} or when the guy {does this}?

Me: No. Really. I have never seen this movie.

Bill: You saw the movie, Michelle. I remember we went out for ice cream afterwards.

Me: No. I have never seen this movie. That was your other wife you took.

Today, it was Gross Pointe Blank. I know the premise of the movie, but I swear I never saw it. It came out in 1997, which is pre-children. It’s possible that I saw the movie. It’s possible that I completely put it out of my mind, like one of my old telephone numbers or addresses.

Bill has been somewhat at a loss since the only classical music station in the DC area was bought out and went to a “we’ll play whatever we feel like playing” format. A PBS station has begun playing classical music for part of the day, but last night it was doing Jim Lehrer’s news program instead. He was scanning the radio waves and came across Blister in the Sun which brought back memories of being really young, really carefree and “spinning” (dancing) until the wee hours of the morn with his really young, really carefree girlfriend (moi).

Ah, youth.

We couldn’t remember the name of the band (The Violent Femmes), but the internet is oh so helpful in providing answers instantaneously. We came across this video with scenes from and references to Gross Pointe Blank, a movie I have never seen. Really. I think. I’ll add the movie to my Netflix Queue, we’ll watch it, and then we’ll have the following conversation afterward:

Me: Hmmm. It seemed vaguely familiar, but I really don’t remember seeing it before.

Bill: You did see it. Don’t you remember I left the lights on in the car and had to get a jump from that old man in the blue Ford Taurus who served in the Korean War and had 5 kids, 20 grandkids and the next day was his wife’s birthday and he was at the mall buying her a diamond bracelet like she always wanted and they could never afford? Remember?

Me: Seriously, when did you have time to lead a double life?

I have started a movie log. From this point forward, at least, I will be able to clearly know which movies I have and have not seen. This won’t help me much in recalling details from days that happened 10 or 15 years ago – Bill and I go back to late 1989 (oh, gosh, is it seventeen years already?) – but by 2020 I’ll be prepared to defend my “I didn’t see it” claims with a list of titles.

Banana who?

If you think the knock-knock joke with the punchline “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana again?” is bad enough, how about listening to two boys debate back and forth how many times you should say “banana” before you say “orange”?

Fritz: You should say it twice. Listen: Knockknockwhostherebananabananawho Knockknockwhostherebananabananawho Knockknockwhosthereorangeorangewho orangeyougladIdidntsaybananaagain?

Billy: No, no. It’s better if you say banana three times. Like this: Knockknockwhostherebananabananawho Knockknockwhostherebananabananawho Knockknockwhostherebananabananawho Knockknockwhosthereorangeorangewho orangeyougladIdidntsaybananaagain?

And so on. If I hadn’t already lost my mind years ago, surely, surely this would send me over the edge!

Sad times

I’ve been fighting tears, somewhat unsuccessfully, since Saturday when we learned about this helicopter crash. Although each individual soldier is important and special, three of the soldiers involved worked at my husband’s office. He knew them all.

Today it is unthinkable, but there is no official count of the number of American casualties on D-Day. A low-ball estimate of 2500 is an incredibly staggering number. I can’t imagine my mind trying to live through that time and trying to grapple with that magnitude. But my guess is that you would just go numb. I mean, really, how many tears can you possibly shed in one day? And when the next day and the next and the next bring you the same news but with different names, at what point do you just dry your eyes and get on with life? Imagine the horrors of September 11th repeated over and over again for years.

When you spread out the same number of deaths over a much longer period of time, the pain is prolonged. There isn’t the anesthetizing effect that thousands dead in one instant has. When a dozen die, you can read every news article, every bio, every obituary. You have the luxury of mourning. But when over fifty thousand lie dead or wounded after three days fighting, as they did in the town of Gettysburg, there is no time for tears. You pick up your shovel and join the other women, children, and old men left to deal with the mess. And you pray you don’t recognize any faces.

Yesterday, our FRG had a special meeting to state what was known, to ask for support for any future assistance we might offer these families, and to discuss ways to help them. For a week or two, volunteers are needed to answer phones in a call center, and my neighbor and I will take turns watching the kids or working the phones. It’s not going to be a pleasant task listening to people cry on the phone, answering their questions, directing them to services, but I suppose it’s better than digging graves or dressing wounds. Fritz was over at my neighbor’s house yesterday afternoon and told me that she was baking cookies (and gave him one!). Today is her turn to do phone duty, and I’m sure she is planning to take those cookies to the call center. I spent my afternoon online looking up ideas for services we might offer the families. We’re keeping busy. We’re doing something, because that’s how we deal with it. If we do this, will it make it all better?

One of the soldiers has three adult children, one has five minor children, and one has two boys ages 9 and 5. One woman in the FRG said that the 9 year old asked his mom if he and his brother never fought again, would Daddy come home? If he does this, will it make it all better?

If only…