When I haven't seen someone for a few months, this is inevitably the question (or a variation of this question) I am most often asked. The funny thing is, we've had so many changes in our family life over the last year, I am not exactly sure what specifically they are asking about. In response to the many facets of this question, I give you this post.
So...how's it going with home schooling? Uh, OK...I think. It still surprises me just how drastically the decision to home school has changed our family and daily life. Over all, the kids are doing well. I ask them periodically how they feel about home schooling, and they all three say they like it better than "regular" school (Does that make me "irregular" school?). It is a lot of work. A lot. I like the curriculum we are using - it is very straightforward as far as what to do and how to do it, but the just plain "doing it" of home school is time and energy intensive, whether you are the student or the teacher.
If I had to guess, I would say the kids most enjoy their history curriculum, which is online. And funny. I try not to take offense. We are studying Old Testament and Ancient Egypt in history, and I am continually amazed at how much they have learned and retained. Least favorite subject varies by child and assignment. Alina would definitely say math, regardless of assignment, day, temperature, location, amount of sleep, direction of the wind, etc. etc. Jude grumbles most about Grammar. Calvin considers every subject and every assignment a personal challenge, and so he likes most everything...until he doesn't. They do a good job most days of plugging away and completing their work, and we enjoy the process more often than not.
There are some great things about home schooling. I love the time with the kids. I really do. I am no saint mom, and I definitely have moments of "where is the nearest closet I can lock myself into alone", but actually I don't feel the need for "me time" any more now than I did before home schooling. (Time to go to the bathroom? Yes. Time to get groceries and run errands? Yes. Time to nap? Oh my, yes.) I love that we set the priorities of our time and energy. Make no mistake, school is very clearly their job, and we take it seriously, but we also have the luxury of working it around our life instead of working our life around school and home work. For instance, Jude came to me a few months ago feeling sad about animals that were in shelters (darn that SPCA commercial with Sarah McLaughlin's haunting song and all those sad puppy and kitten eyes!), and so the three of them decided they wanted to do something to help. We took a donation of laundry detergent to our local animal rescue, and now we are weekly volunteers there in the cat rooms. (Yes, it is as cool a volunteer gig as it sounds. We literally play with, brush, pet, and hold cats and kittens for two hours on Tuesday mornings!) All three of them love going and feeling like they are contributing to solving a problem in their community, and I get to coach them in communications skills, professionalism, and serving. We just wouldn't have the time if the kids were back in "regular" school.
Of course, there are some real challenges with home schooling. Education is a really big deal to Mark and I, and so I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to not only teach the kids, but to help them love learning. I want them to discover their passions, explore ideas, and learn how to learn, not teach them information for "the test". Problem is, they actually still have to be able to pass "the test". (Insert heartburn and self doubt here.) If you wonder what your insecurities are, I suggest you home school. They will bubble to the surface in no time. Am I pushing them enough? Am I encouraging them enough? Do they have enough time in this subject? Are they progressing well in that subject? Do we need to be having more fun? More structure? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I am constantly having to remind myself to take the advice I give to the kids nearly every day - just do your best. But without anyone to tangibly evaluate our progress each day, how do I know if my best is good enough? Pep talk. Followed by self doubt. Temporarily alleviated by another pep talk. But then faced with near paralyzing self doubt. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I know it is our first year, and everyone says the first year is the hardest (just like marriage), so I think if we survive unscathed having learned some things and still enjoying each other's company we will call it a success. I don't know if we will always home school. Mark and I will decide each year and for each child what we think will be best for them. This is where we are now - joy, laughter, online history, bleeding ulcer, and all.
So...how's it going with Alina? This is what I automatically assume most people want to know about when they ask how "it" is going. The specific answer depends on how much time I have, who I am talking to, and who is around at the time, but the long and short of it can be summed up in one word.
There is nothing easy about adoption and there are some real, specific challenges when adopting an older child, but even with all that factored in, I can tell you having our daughter is simply a joy beyond words. Just like with the boys, Mark and I daily express to each other just how blessed we are by our children. In some ways I hate to gush too much, because I want to be real and say that there are hard moments (the seven hour math day - you do not want to know). I know families who have been through this process and who are dealing with very difficult adjustments that make me weep and pray for them daily. We deal with issues other "normal" families wouldn't even be able to think of. But even with all that said - we are doing really, really well. The convincing evidence is that every day feels like an every day. This is our new life, and now it just feels like...life. A really good and mostly happy life that isn't much on the inside like many other families we know in real life, but we don't miss the "normal" they have at all.
I give most of the credit to God and Alina. God blew our socks off with this child, and she came to us willing to share her heart. Of course, our lawyer in Latvia and Alina's foster parents are also never far from our heart either, and we are thankful to them in ways we can't quite express. God made beauty from ashes, and even with the hard days and the unique challenges we sometimes face, it is more beautiful than we could have asked or imagined.
Alina is doing well with her school work. She is progressing along with her math (although with muttered, "boo"s , "yucky"s, and "I hate math"s along the way...), and her conversational English is out of this world. She is doing great with reading comprehension, and this week she checked out her first chapter book out of the library and is on chapter 4. Huge deal!
She is being fit for a back brace to help stabilize a curvature of her spine that was discovered in Latvia. As of now, she will only have to wear it at night, and we are hoping and praying that it keeps her curve from growing worse as she grows taller. She isn't happy about it (what girl would be?), but she understands it will help her in the long run and has grudgingly agreed to wear it each night when we pick it up in a few weeks.
So...how's it going with your spiritual health? If I were still Swedish Lutheran, this probably wouldn't come up, but you know us Southern Baptists are all about checking in on each other. I'm...OK. I am loving this "read through the Bible in a year" that I started doing, although I have had to double up on days now and again when I get too busy. I will be relieved to be out of the book of Job and back in Genesis (it is chronological), because about three chapters into Job's friends talking, I begin to hear Charlie Brown's teacher when I read what they are saying. Because we are required to do a Bible curriculum for home school, I have opportunity aplenty to discuss spiritual things with the kids, share my heart with them, and be challenged daily by questions. I just bought the book "Made to Crave" and I fear I am in for a real spiritual whuppin' when I get past the introduction. God is dealing with me about some specific areas of my life and heart, and while I have a significant amount of fear about the non-metaphorical "come to Jesus" meeting ahead, I am so glad for a God who loves me too much to leave me right where I am.
So...how's it going with everything else? Karate is good...although I took a three hour boot camp yesterday and even though while writing this post I have sunk down in the couch cushions so far my back is where my rear should be, I am far too sore to do much about it right now. (Here's hoping Mark gets home soon to pull me up...gently.) There is a family in TN who are traveling in two weeks on their first adoption trip for two girls, and I am so excited for them I could cry or scream or hide in their suitcase. Cried today at church while singing "Amazing Grace" because it reminded me of my Gram, and while I am SO happy she is with Jesus, I miss how much better my life was with her here. I'm missing my extended family lately, but they're just in Pennsylvania, so I am hoping to travel up there sometime this winter for a weekend of sled riding, snowman building, and grandparent doting. I am not terribly happy about the AFC Championship game - the Patriots and the Ravens? It's like choosing which fungi you most want growing under your toenails. I have begun the preliminary planning for the 2012 Ann and Ang vacation that will hopefully take place in March. Ang and I saw Diamond Rio at the Grand Ole Opry recently, and it was one of the highlights of my life. Marshall the dog is doing well, although he got into some snacks leftover by the kids, and he is eminating an odor that would make a garbage man or proctologist cry. Good thing he is so cute.
Whew. So...that's how it's going.