Tirzah Mae writes

Tirzah Mae loves to write.

Her little notes are strewn about the house and on every available surface (I haven’t had the time or energy to repaint basically the whole basement after last year’s great graffiti-ing. Sigh.)

Anyway, now that she’s doing phonics, her invented spellings are improving. She doesn’t always sound them back out when she’s reading them back to me, though – so I had to laugh when she read this:

Tirzah Mae's writing

“Tirzah Mae
Beth-Ellen
Wrecking truck”

I had to tell her that I didn’t think her memory served her correctly, since that last line clearly says wrecking BACKHOE!


Color Kits, LEGO dolls, and grasping babies

The LEGO set Tirzah Mae and Louis got a few months ago didn’t have people in it – so they made some of their own.

LEGO people

Also, no longer contented using MagnaTiles to build structures, Tirzah Mae has turned them into “color kits” that she uses to decorate her own hair and my hair.

Me with my MagnaTile "color kit"

Shiloh is going through a leap, which means rather less sleep for mama – but it also means she’s intentionally grasping at toys hanging from her play gym and moving them about while talking excitedly.

Louis continues to delight in knights and swords, and has added a tin can rerebrace to his armor.

Louis with sword and armor

Beth-Ellen is determined to prove my earlier lament about timing wrong by potty training diligently.

Life is good in these parts.


There’s never a right time

Motherhood seems to be a juggling act, balancing two competing truisms: “You can spend three months teaching it now or you can wait two months until your child is ready to learn and get it done in just one month” and “If you wait until the right time, you’ll never get anything done.”

I rarely seem to get it quite right.

Take potty-training, for example. I prefer to potty train in summer, if possible, since then I don’t have to worry about changing all sorts of layers every time there’s an accident. Furthermore, I know that new babies can prompt potty-training regressions.

So when Beth-Ellen showed interest in potty-training last fall… I said no. I said “Next summer, after we’re settled in with the new baby.”

Now next summer is here and she’s ambivalent. She’s gotten used to walking around in a wet or soiled diaper. She’s gotten over the discomfort. She’s learned to ignore the body signals she was paying attention to last fall.

Did I miss the window? We’ll see. But even while I know I couldn’t have done it then – in addition to the aforementioned considerations, I was also in the throes of a pretty terrible depression and first trimester exhaustion, which influenced the decision rather a lot – I still second guess the decision.

Then there’s the school year. I made the decision to do year-round schooling based on my observation growing up that the beginning of the school year was a pretty stressful time because it generally coincided with a rather time-intensive harvest and canning season.

I would be wiser than my mom and would structure my school year so I could take time off or lighten my load during those types of seasons.

So I planned to start this school year as soon as we were settled in with the new baby.

Which is a terrific idea. But just as I’m almost ready to add the final touch to the schedule (the math and phonics programs)? I visit my family and they gift me zucchini and cucumbers and beets (Thanks mom and Daniel!) Of course, I can’t say no to such a generous gift, especially since I opted not to garden myself this year.

And so, here I am, finishing up starting school while shredding and freezing zucchini, making dill pickle relish, and canning beet pickles. And, like my mother before me, I’m going to bed exhausted from the effort of starting school and homemaking and parenting and canning. (Although my food preservation efforts are paltry compared to hers, so much so that it’s barely worth mentioning my not-even-two-dozen pints of canned goods when I consider her 300+ quarts.)

We can plan our timing, and we ought, to the best of our ability with the information we have. But ultimately, as Gandalf says in The Fellowship of the Ring: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Or, as a far wiser one than Gandalf says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

And so, as mothers, we must look to the Lord each day, trusting that he has the proper timing in hand and that he will grant us the grace to potty train the child and get the canning done and whatever else he gives us for this day and the next and the next.


Last first day of homeschool

As much as I want to do everything all at once, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself it’s to not overdo it by trying to overhaul everything. So while I would have loved to have started off homeschool with a bang, I chose instead to start it slowly…very, very slowly.

Tirzah Mae is kindergarten-age this year and she’s been eager to get started. I was eager too, but didn’t want to start something I couldn’t sustain, so I kept telling her we’d start once we got settled in with Shiloh.

Of course, “settled in” is a nebulous concept and things change so rapidly in the early weeks that it’s all you can do to keep up… but when Shiloh was a couple days shy of a month old we were ready to start Phase 1.

Phase 1 was the resumption of Reading Time.

We’ve been doing reading time after breakfast for about a year now (if I remember right.) The kids like to linger over their breakfast and I’m frequently impatient to get started on my to-do list. Sitting waiting for them to finish up was excruciating – until I realized that was the perfect time to do read-alouds.

In the past, Reading Time has been whatever picture books I’ve got out of the library, but now that this is officially school, I’m being a bit more systematic. I’m not super convinced that kindergarten requires a whole lot of “subjects”, but I did want to at least introduce the concept of subjects. We’ve done this using the Core Knowledge book What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know. Each morning, we read a nursery rhyme or poem and then we get into our subject. We rotate through literature (mostly folktales), history and geography, and science topics from the kindergarten book, reading one story or section per day. After our “subject work”, we move on to the next picture book in line in our goal to read every book in the library (right now we’re reading lots of Tomie dePaola and Anna Dewdney, two very delightful authors!) Finally, we close out our reading time with the next chapter in our chapter book. So far in the 2020-2021 school year, we’ve read Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwood and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We’ll start Betsy MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-wiggle tomorrow.

The second phase in our homeschool calendar was the resumption of Singing Time near the end of June. I’ve been doing some variation on Singing Time since Tirzah Mae was two, but it seems I tweak it a bit every year. This year, I’ve got folders for “current work”, “recent review”, and “long term review”. Every day, we sing every song in the “current work” folder (one “Sunday school” song, one “ordinary” children’s song, and one memory verse). We sing whatever song and recite whatever verse is at the front of their respective “recent review” folders. And we sing whatever song and recite whatever verse is at the front of the “long term review” folders. Once a week, I add a new song or verse to the “current work” folder, moving the older song from that category back to the “recent review” folder and the oldest song in the “recent review” folder back to the “long term review”. This way, we sing a song or recite a verse daily for three weeks, then every other day for three weeks, and periodically review thereafter. All told, we sing four songs and recite three verses daily.

The third phase of our school program is Activity Time.

Activity Time rotates through six different themes: Visual Arts, Cooking, Gross Motor Activities (P.E.), Musical Arts, Sewing, and Sensory Activities. I have lists of potential activities in each of these categories, but I try to be pretty flexible with these. So when we read about how Henry won the free-for-all in The Boxcar Children, we ran footraces in the yard, taking turns yelling “Get Ready, Get Set, Go!” and then racing full-tilt from fence to fence. I had an Introduction to Instruments and Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” out of the library one day so we listened to it while playing with playdough (a double-whammy of musical arts and sensory activities). For cooking, I have a list of skills I want Tirzah Mae to develop over the course of her kindergarten year, and I have a spreadsheet set up where I note each date that we work on a skill and the date that I consider her to have mastered it. I’m also keeping a list of each recipe she’s worked on and any notes about what she did, what needs more work, etc.

Thus far, all these phases include all four of the older children (although I often have variants for the different children in activity time – Sweet P (a young 2) has significantly different cooking tasks than Tirzah Mae (5.5) does.

Phase 4, which we started last week, is where some additional differentiation sets in. The three oldest gather for Calendar Time after I’ve put Sweet P down for her nap (she’s the only one still consistently napping, although I insist that everyone still take a rest time.) For now, we sing either the days of the week or the months of the year and we count to today’s date on the calendar. I will probably add a few more things to this time as we go along (in past years, we’ve done weather and the alphabet song at least), but for now, we’re establishing the pattern of calendar time.

After calendar time, Beth-Ellen goes to her room for a rest time and I worked individually with Louis and then with Tirzah Mae on Math. For these early years, I’m using Shiller Math, a Montessori-based math program. The first kit covers preK through 3rd grade and both Tirzah Mae and Louis did some of the activities last year. Shiller Math is grab and go – it’s fully scripted and the kit has all the needed manipulatives and materials, so it’s been pretty easy to get started.

And finally, there’s today. Today, Tirzah Mae and I started phonics. While Tirzah Mae and I have worked about a third of the way through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, I knew that I didn’t ultimately want to teach phonics using that book. It was a great resource for working towards Tirzah Mae’s goal of learning to read while mama was enduring a difficult pregnancy, but the lack of a logical framework for understanding phonics was driving me bonkers. So today we started American Language Series K Phonics, the same phonics program I used when I learned to read 30 years ago (albeit with a different name).

Tirzah Mae on her last first day of kindergarten

And with that we have completed our last first day of homeschool (for this year).


Snapshot: Every Book Needs an ISBN

About a year ago, our library switched to using the “Beanstack” app to record reading challenge participation.

This was a great boon to me, as our children participate in the library’s “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” program, which involves recording each book the children read.

Back when recording books meant coloring in a little circle for each child on a piece of paper, keeping track of that paper, and returning it to the library, I rarely logged the kids’ reading.

Now that recording books means pulling up the app on my phone, selecting who listened while I read, and scanning the book’s ISBN, the kids are well on their way to recording their 1000.

And now our children are all too aware that books need ISBNs.

Tirzah Mae has been making all sorts of books, full of invented spelling and delightful illustrations. And every book has an ISBN.

Every book needs an ISBN


Snapshot: Family Fun Day

We have been trying to have at least one “family fun day” per month, in which we all do something special together – but since most of our possible out-of-the-house activities are either closed or not particularly suitable for a family with a newborn in the time of COVID, we had to get inventive this month.

Watching a movie from inside the tent

So we set up the tent in the living room and watched The Court Jester. The tent kept the kids mostly contained and mostly not fighting. The knights kept Louis interested. The princess kept Tirzah Mae interested. Shiloh kept me occupied with breastfeeding.

It was a success, I think.


Snapshot: Shiloh Vera Leigh

Shiloh Vera Leigh arrived on the outside on April 20, 2020.

Meeting Miss Shiloh Vera Leigh

She had a tough go right off and was in the NICU for a week, but we have loved spending the last three weeks with her home getting used to life as a family of SEVEN!

Chillin' with my hand above my head

Shiloh is a delight, whether chillin’ with her hand above her head or making sour-puss faces (or really doing just about anything!)

Sour face


The Way He Should Go

“Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” ~Proverbs 22:6 (maybe in the 1994 NIV?)

We sang the proverb along with Steve Green’s “Hide ’em in your heart” album.

I heard the same proverb referenced by all sorts. The self-confident parent, sure they were doing it right. The despairing parent, wondering where they’d gone wrong. The parenting guru, assuring Christian parents that if they followed his patent-pending discipline program they’d be guaranteed their children wouldn’t stray.

What I didn’t frequent hear was what “the way they should go” consists of.

If I had to hazard a guess, based on the context of the conversations I’d heard, I’d guess “the way they should go” was all about moral behavior.

Today, I don’t hear that proverb so frequently.

I wonder if, in part, the fruit of the last generation’s claim on that promise has soured it.

Far too many parents are reaping tears when they felt they had been promised otherwise. They had raised their children according to a good moral standard. They’d raised them to obey. And now those children are chasing all sorts of things their parents taught them to avoid.

I thought of the proverb after a little exchange I had with Tirzah Mae this morning.

Tirzah Mae: “Did you know that Jesus has a heavenly home?”
Me: “Is that so? Can you tell me about Jesus’ heavenly home?”
Tirzah Mae: “Um, no. I don’t really know anything about it, I just heard about it somewhere.”
Me: “Would you like to learn more about it?”
Tirzah Mae nods in assent.
“Where do you think we could find out more?”

And so we were off to John 14 for a little Bible study that touched on the Trinity, heaven, and the exclusivity of Christ.

And that’s what reminded me of Proverbs 22:6. Thomas asks “How will we know the way?” and Jesus answers “I am the way.”

As parents, we have a high call to train up our children. But what way are we training them in? Am I training my children in instantaneous obedience to me? (I wish I could figure that one out!) Am I training them in Judeo-Christian morality? Maybe I’m training them to be nice?

All of those have a place, I think, but I don’t think any of those are what Proverbs 22 refers to when it says to “train up a child in the way he should go.”

Instead of simply training in instantaneous obedience or good moral values or a nebulous sense of kindness, I am called to train my child in Christ. I am called to point my children again and again and again to Christ. Christ as their only hope of righteousness. Christ as their only means of accessing God. Christ as the one who loved them first and enables them to love others. Christ as the way.

And I can have confidence, not that I have somehow guaranteed that my child will never stray (as if that was in my power), but that I have done what I was called to. I will have trained my children in the way they should go, and when Christ calls them to himself, he will keep them to the end.


Don’t Try to Anticipate

Have you been searching through pregnancy blogs for lists of “lifesaver products”? You’ve been reading up on the “must-haves” for newborns too? And don’t even get started on the lists of things to pack in your hospital bag.

Poll your mom friends on Facebook and they’ll each have a different product they absolutely couldn’t have done pregnancy without.

It’s only if they’re moms of many that you’ll start to be able to understand the truth – there’s no way you’ll be able to anticipate which product is going to be your life saver for this particular pregnancy/delivery/baby.

I couldn’t have done it without my lace-up tennies in my pregnancies with Tirzah Mae and Louis. My feet swelled so terribly and got so painful, I needed the extra support. I only wore tennis shoes while hiking during my pregnancy with Beth-Ellen (and I did a decent amount since we traveled to Yellowstone and to the Rockies with Daniel’s family and mine during our second trimester.) This pregnancy? I don’t think I’ve worn tennis shoes even once.

I developed carpal tunnel during my pregnancy with Louis and needed braces. Wearing them each night (and sometimes during the day) made the days bearable. Almost as soon as the pregnancy test was positive with the baby we lost, I needed braces again – and the pain went away as soon as we miscarried. I had no need for braces with Beth-Ellen, and haven’t needed them in this pregnancy either.

I got a ginormous pillow in my third trimester with Beth-Ellen, when my belly made sleep difficult. This time around, I pulled it out in the first trimester, because my hips were doing something weird and I just couldn’t get comfortable. I slept fine all the way through with both Tirzah Mae and Louis.

Support hose were lifesavers for pregnancies 1 through 3. This time around, despite a bit of swelling in my legs, the support hose don’t seem super necessary – but I’ve taken to wearing compression shorts religiously, even to bed.

My hymnal was a sanity-saver for hospitalization #1. I sang it through cover to cover during my eight days of bedrest and the subsequent 26 days with Tirzah Mae in the NICU. Remembering, I brought it along when I was hospitalized with Louis – and barely opened it. On bedrest with Louis and as I prepped for my second unplanned c-section, it was the robes I’d brought from home that kept me grounded. I’m not sure I used anything I’d packed in my hospital bag for Beth-Ellen – not the clothing or the essential oils or the tennis ball thingamajigger or the popsicles.

Newborn Tirzah Mae lived in mama’s Moby wrap. Newborn Louis actually (sometimes) slept in the bassinet insert for our Pack’n’Play. Newborn Beth-Ellen used a swaddle. The elastic binder they gave me after Louis made such a difference in my ability to walk post c-section. It didn’t help the terrible abdominal pain I had after Beth-Ellen. I could not for the life of me understand the mesh panties and peri bottle after the first two – but I totally got it after Beth-Ellen. I spent obscene amounts of time hooked to a hospital grade breast pump with Tirzah Mae and Louis – and never pumped once with Beth-Ellen. It took five years of nearly continuous breastfeeding for me to first need lanolin. I’ve never, despite a super-abundant supply, needed breast pads to deal with leaks. Pantyliners on the other hand? Definitely a sanity saver.

Which is why it’s no good trying to anticipate what you’ll need for your pregnancy, your delivery, or your new baby. You are different with each pregnancy, your delivery is different, your baby is different.

Anticipate that you won’t have everything you want, that you’ll experience surprises, that you’ll have to adapt on the fly. Anticipate that you’ll spend some money figuring out what the fix is for that unexpected problem. Anticipate that you’ll be searching Amazon or sending your husband to the store to find some elusive product you never would have imagined needing.

Most of all, anticipate that God’s grace will meet you when you find yourself back in the hospital after you thought you were all clear – or when your daughter jumps into your lap and now you can’t move without excruciating pain “down there” – or when all your dreams seem dashed – or when you simply don’t know how to soothe that fussy baby. You can’t anticipate what the problem will be or what product will be your “life-saver”, but you can trust that God will be there amidst the unexpected – and that he will carry you through.