Friday, February 28, 2014

5 of 7: Why we love our school

I had a short "work" day Tuesday, so I had time to pick Olivia up from school. As I was making the half-hour drive there, I thought about the many reasons we love our school and why we will gladly sacrifice to pay for her to go clear across the county to the only Catholic school in our area.

We always wanted to send our kids to Catholic school. It was a lovely idea, but I could never really articulate why Catholic school was "better" than public school for our family. All of the schools in our area get excellent "grading" by the state. Most of them get an "A" grade. There are no bad schools around here. But now, as we approach mid-second-semester of our kindergarten year, there are a few things that stand out in my mind that make this particular Catholic school the right choice for us.
Undoubtedly, in a local public school Olivia would have newer and more spacious facilities. My Dad, attending Olivia's Christmas program in our school gymnasium, recalled fond memories of himself playing basketball in the same gym (as the away team). "It hasn't changed much." (My Dad would have played there in the mid 1960s.) This is absolutely true. Our school is small and the building is old.

Public schools likely have newer and better access to technology. Our school has computers in the rooms, but we don't have a computer room. We don't have much of a library to speak of. (We make up for that by taking classes to the public library on a regular basis.)

What we DO have, I think, outweighs what we don't and makes Catholic education worth every penny we pay. Here is what our school offers us:

First and foremost: We get to talk about Jesus! This is huge. Aside from the daily trips to church for Mass or other forms of group prayer, the students pray in class. They have a prayer, over the loud speaker, each morning with announcements and each afternoon at dismissal. (I experienced this firsthand when I picked Olivia up a few minutes early and she insisted we stop in the middle of the hall and pray with the principal when he came over the loud speaker.) Each classroom has selected a patron saint. They have religion class...and it is a good one! They are learning actual stuff about the liturgy and why we believe what we believe. She comes home and explains things to me that she learned in religion class. I love this!

Oh, and my very favorite is when she starts singing a song they sing in church. They are in church about 15-30 minutes a day. Some days it is Mass, but when a priest is not available they go for some other form of prayer. The first time I heard her singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet around the house, I just about exploded with joy.

The point is that Christ is truly at the center of their educational experience. That, alone, would make her Catholic schooling worthwhile.

But there are other things that set this school apart.

There are 113 kids in the whole school, grades K-8. That translates to smaller class sizes and more personal attention from the teachers. But it also means that everyone knows everyone else. Olivia is friends with kids from her class, but she also has friends from all other grades. The kids are expected to treat each other with respect and watch out for each other...and they do! I'm sure there is some level of bullying and "mean girl syndrome", but if there is, it is not evident to me and kept pretty well under control. It appears that the overarching attitude is respect and that the peer pressure leans heavily toward keeping the bullies in check. Bullies don't tend to like to be bullies if it makes them overwhelmingly unpopular.

In other words, it is a positive school culture.

That positive culture bleeds over into her long bus ride too. The bus, in my childhood experience, was an awful place where big kids bullied little kids and taught them horrible words and songs and phrases. But her bus is full of kids from her school, so the "respect culture" bleeds over into their (long) bus ride. It is excellent.

There is a collaborative spirit in the school. For example, the kindergarteners have "reading buddies" from the 4th grade who read with them once a week and help them sound out words. This helps the kindergarteners, but it also give the 4th graders some leadership and service experience.

I just love it so much. Yes, these kids learn the basics of the standard curriculum. But they learn so much more. They learn that they are a part of a bigger family of church and community. They learn to care about each other and reach out to one another. I feel very comfortable allowing this school to help us raise our children to be responsible citizens and good Christian examples in the world.

I'm participating in Jen's 7 posts in 7 days at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

4 of 7: Kid personalities, part two: Martin

Yesterday, I talked about Olivia's unique personality. Martin is very different from his sister, and, I think, complementary. It makes for a great sibling relationship.

Martin is a lover by nature. From the time he was born, he has always loved to cuddle and snuggle and kiss and hug. He will stop in the middle of playing to come over and give me a hug or snuggle on my lap for a few minutes, and then he'll run off to play again. It soothes my soul.

Martin is also a helper. If you ask him to help pick up, he does, with gusto. He pays attention to specifically what you are asking too. Toys don't go in random boxes...they go in the right box. He is careful to make sure that the job is done right! And then he comes to seek a high-five for his efforts (a request which is always granted, of course).

All toddlers are at least a little self-involved. Anyone who has taken a child development course would know that. But Martin...he is also so very concerned about other people. If anyone sneezes or coughs or gasps in shock or surprise, he is right there saying, "OK, Mommy? OK Daddy? OK Sissy?"

He pats your back when he hugs you. He is liberal about blowing kisses. He waves at passing cars in the parking lot at the grocery and says, "Bye, bye!" As if the people in the passing cars are old friends.

This kid is so social, but in a different way from his sister. Olivia, at this age, wanted to get attention. Martin seems genuinely to want to just relate to people. I can't even explain why I know this to be true. It is something about his demeanor. He exudes empathy and concern and interest. Of course, his attention span for any one thing or person is short-lived because, well, he's 19 months old. There is so much to learn about the world and only so many hours in the day, yo.

Martin loves the sign of peace at church. He demands to be put down and walks around to everyone in a 2-pew radius to extend his hand and offer "peace! peace!" It is his favorite.

My boy is a comedian too. He loves to be funny and seems to know when he is being funny. He loves making people laugh.

He is a musician! This was unexpected. We knew early on that Olivia was a performer. But in the last six months or so Martin has started singing (and dancing) along. The other day, Olivia was trying to pick out, on the piano, a melody to a popular song. When she missed a note, Martin chimed in with the correct note in pitch-perfect voice. It is going to be so fun to watch him develop that talent!

Martin is definitely a mama's boy and not nearly as extroverted as his sister, but he has his own unique and delightful traits that are showing just a bit of what he will become as he grows. I can't wait to learn more about that!

I am delighted that these two kids seem to complement one another. Olivia loves showing off, and Martin loves laughing at her when she does. He waits for her at the door when the bus comes at the end of the day, and he offers her a hug and then runs off to invite her to play. There is a little more rough housing than I care for on most days, but they just love being together. It is such a blessing.

I'm participating in Jen's 7 posts in 7 days at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

3 of 7: Kid personalities, part one - Olivia

My kids are so different. SO different, you guys. I am learning to be thankful for their differences and their unique and delightful personalities.

Let's start with Olivia, the beautiful, strong, independent one. From the time she could crawl, she earned the nickname "Dynamite" from her grandpa because she was always on the move. If she could reach it, climb it, jump over it, hang from it...she would. Fearless. Independent. Has a mind of her own.

When she was a baby, we had serious doubts whether she (or we) would survive her toddlerhood. She was the toddler who ended up standing on the counter and you had no idea how she even got there. She got her first concussion at 16 months, hanging from our newly-installed play structure tower, which led to our first ER visit. She just didn't seem to understand her limits or the meanings of the words "danger" and "no".  

I'm pleased to report that as she matures, she is getting better and better at understanding and following established rules and respecting boundaries. She still likes to test the limits. I think it is in her nature to do so. She is an adventurer, a leader and a hands-on learner.

When she gets home from school now, we always talk about her day. She tells me, in detail, about certain lessons or projects they did at school and then she usually has follow-up questions. She also talks about her friends and the made-up games they play at recess. I love this. It shows me how bright and inquisitive and social she is. She is really in her element at school.

We do rote bedtime prayers, and then we always add personal intentions at the end. Olivia, when she is focused and not goofing off, always has great prayers. She prays for her 97-year-old great-grampa. She regularly prays for people who don't have houses "that they don't be too cold and they find places to live so they don't have to be homeless." She prays for priests. She prays for birthparents. She prays for kids at school who are out sick. Her prayers are most often for others and very rarely for herself.

Sometimes it is hard to see through Olivia's frequent attention-seeking behavior. But underneath all of that is a little heart that cares deeply about other people. I pray that we can cultivate her caring and empathetic tendencies as she grows so she can use her leadership gifts to make a difference in her corner of the world.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two: Martin.

I'm participating in Jen's 7 posts in 7 days at Conversion Diary.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2 of 7: Of house and home

Yesterday's cold, which was contained with occasional tylenol, has morphed into a sinus-pressure, head-two-sizes-too-big kind of ordeal. I feel awful. Everyone slept all night and still I feel exhaustion in my bones. And Joe is in Baltimore until Friday. I could cry.

Instead, I'm going to put on my big girl pants and do this blog thing. Today's topic: Choosing happiness with your house.

Yesterday, my SIL sent a link to a realty listing of a house they are buying. It is beautiful. It is a sprawling ranch with approximately a billion square feet (mostly unfinished basement) and four acres of land. Absolutely perfect for my brother and his family of seven who have been crammed into about 1400 square feet up to now. This house is appropriate for their family size, and it is long overdue.

Posts like this, though, always leave me with just a little tinge of jealousy. Our house is nice, but wouldn't it be nicer to have a basement and storage and an extra space for an office (instead of having the computer in the dining room).

Every time I get frustrated with lack of storage or clutter pile-ups and wish for a different, larger house, I think about the things I love about THIS house.
  • There are just enough bedrooms.
  • Our screened porch is a very pleasant and enjoyable family space.
  • We have a great back yard.
  • We live 5 minutes from Local Theme Park, where we spend our entire summer. I'm really not sure what we would do if we moved within the same county but  further away from Local Theme Park. We kind of live there in the summer.
  • There is not too much space to clean (although sometimes it FEELS like too much). 
  • Everything is on one level, so it is easy to keep track of the kids and not be afraid that someone is pushing someone else down dangerous stairs (ahem).
  • The size of our space forces us to be intentional about simplicity.
I think that last one is the one I think about the most. We try to make the most of our resources and not live outside of our means. Living in a smaller space forces us to be more judicious about what we buy and what we hoard keep. It helps us to be less attached to our belongings and more willing to give away things we don't need or use. And (I hope) it helps our kids learn to be less focused on the things in their lives and more focused on the people in their lives.

So, when I get frustrated with our house size, I think about all of the things above and I choose to be happy about our house. And then I clean and throw things out to make it feel bigger. :)

I'm participating in the seven posts in seven days link-up at Conversion Diary.

Monday, February 24, 2014

First of seven: Spring cleaning

I'm jumping on the bandwagon over at Conversion Diary and posting every day for seven days. At least, I think I am. Joe is out of town this week, so we shall see.

I know the weather has turned when everyone in the house gets a horrible cold. Olivia had it. Martin has it. Joe is getting over it. And now it has hit me. And Joe left today for a week-long business trip. Perfect.

I am coping with this turn of events by taking lots of cold meds and cleaning everything.

Cleaning projects make my week go faster. While I would much rather be curled up on a couch with a good book, that, somehow, ramps up my anxiety by the end of the day. Perhaps it has something to do with wanting to finish the story and not being able to do that in the face of, you know, being present to my kids at the end of the day.

Anyway, cleaning, if done in manageable portions, makes the day go quickly and makes me feel like I accomplished something important. Never mind the fact that I have two reports for volunteer organizations that remain undone. We will not speak of that.

Today's project: Under the master bed. I discovered two things. First, this is where all of the dust in the entire universe collects. Second, our mattress is the heaviest thing ever.

I managed it, and now my back hurts. I will console myself with some peppermint tea and a nice little reading break.

Also, I promise to be more interesting at least once or twice this week.

Friday, February 21, 2014

On sleep and sunshine

1. Olivia has been sleeping better this week. Not so well last night, but better overall. It is a good thing, too, because she was not so well behaved at school on Monday and Tuesday. Her teacher and I discussed it. And then Tuesday night she slept some eleven hours and BAM. New, happy, cooperative kid. Sleep, man. It is a beautiful thing.

2. We still don't know why she is not sleeping. The source of her random fearful wake-ups continues to elude us. And somehow, it is easier to deal with this week because...

3. The sun is out! We have had four consecutive days of temperatures that allowed for outdoor activity! We even went to gymnastics last night with Olivia in shorts and a light jacket! Wonder of wonders!

4. I got to take a walk and/or ride a bike on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. My mood is much improved. I am looking forward to more of this. Lots more of this.

5. Martin, champion of sleeping all night, has been napping horribly this week. He has a cold and is all congested, so that is probably adding to his troubles. It has cut into my getting-things-done time, but I will take bad naps over bad nighttime sleep any day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentines Day: The exhausted edition

Happy Valentine's Day!
Heart 'do
I love my family and I love my life. I am more blessed than I have a right to be.

At this moment, though, I am not feeling the "love" of the holiday. I'm mostly feeling beaten down and tired.

Joe and I have never been big celebrators of this holiday-of-love with somewhat questionable origins. We exchange cards and say nice things to each other. Aside from that, circumstances of our lives seem to conspire against much romance in the middle of February.

Exhibit A: The winter that wouldn't stop.

It is cold. We are all wearing layers. It is very attractive.

Exhibit B: The unsleeping 6-year-old.

I have been roused from sleep by Olivia in the wee hours of the night for four consecutive nights. (Prior to the last four nights she averages one night wake up per three nights since December, so it's not as if this is rare.) She does not get out of bed. She shouts from her room, louder and more insistently with every passing second that I don't appear. I have never before been a particularly "light" sleeper, but she has conditioned me to leap from the bed at the earliest provocation and sprint across the house in order to stop her pleas from waking her brother in the next room.

You can imagine how such a thing would make it difficult to go back to sleep. Not to mention the constant fear that she will just wake up AGAIN the moment I drift off (which happens A LOT).

Now, occasionally, she will ask for a drink and ask me to put her earplugs back in and then she goes right back off to sleep. I'd say that happens about once in ten wake-ups.

The other nine instances are just hard. HARD. She has always been sensitive to stimuli, and she has an overactive imagination. She sleeps with a string of Christmas lights hanging on her wall and the bathroom light on. And it is (for her) not enough light. Some nights, I can tell she just wants company. She wakes up, like most of us do, at some point in the night and she simply doesn't want to put herself back to sleep. Instead, she wants Mommy to lay by her so she can toss and turn and keep ME awake, pelting me with questions every three minutes. "Is it almost morning time? Can I lay on the couch and watch TV? Can I have a glass of water?" And then whining if the answer doesn't make her happy.

Other nights, I can tell she is genuinely scared. Sometimes it is a scary dream or a startling noise from outside. If it is windy or rainy or (heaven help us) thundering, I can pretty much just write off the rest of my night as over.

I don't mind consoling her when she needs consoling or is really scared. What I have a problem with is letting her develop a habit of calling for Mommy because she happens to be awake and bored. When this is happening with great regularity, at almost exactly the same time each night (corresponding to that blip in her sleep cycles), I can't help but assume that most of her wake-ups fall into the latter category. And I'm not all that patient at 2 a.m.

So I am tired. So tired.

Exhibit C: My body has impeccable timing.

You know, when I got married, one of the things I was looking forward to about getting pregnant was that between pregnancy and breastfeeding and having a few kids close together, I could quit cycling for awhile (I was stupid. Naive and stupid.)

Yeah, that didn't happen. My body likes to remind me of this at inopportune times.

So Happy Valentine's Day, friends. Hope yours is warm and non-crampy and not riddled with exhaustion.