Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The One Conversation that Convinced Me to Homeschool

For many years, I was the person who always said, “I will never homeschool. It’s great for other people, but I know it’s just not for me.”

I reasoned that you could get a great education from homeschooling, but you could also get a great education from regular schooling, and I saw no reason why a busy mom—already immersed in cooking and cleaning and tending to babies and running a home—would want to add the strenuous task of organizing and implementing her children’s entire education on top of everything else. I figured that moms with more energy or organization than myself would be great homeschoolers, but I just wasn’t interested.
Despite my declared lack of interest, I seemed to have conversations about homeschooling everywhere I went. In college I happened to have several close friends who had been homeschooled, and the topic of education came up from time to time, as they all had loved their homeschooling experiences. 

I got a lot of opinions about homeschooling from them, everything from “X curriculum is the very best!” to finding out that some were able to take math classes and play on sports teams at their local public high schools. 

I also quickly learned that the oft-cited “socialization” concern is groundless. Some of my homeschooled friends, of course, were shy or introverted, but many were among the friendliest and most popular people on campus. 

One friend wisely pointed out, “I’d argue that us homeschoolers have better ‘socialization’ than kids in regular schools, because all day we are out interacting with people of all ages from different parts of society—while they are stuck in a classroom all day with just the same group of people their own age, for decades.” 

From these friends I learned to have a healthy respect for homeschooling—and a great deal of respect for homeschooling moms!—but I always maintained that “it just sounded like too much work.”

Then, ironically, I fell in love with and married a man who had been homeschooled. He was very enthusiastic about homeschooling and told me many things he loved about it, such as the self-direction that taught him responsibility and allowed him to explore topics outside the curriculum as they interested him. He also had loved that he was usually able to finish his schoolwork by lunchtime, so he could spend his afternoons engaged in the imaginative and open-ended play that children love and that we know is so good for them. 

He didn’t just tell me why he had loved being homeschooled; he also said he hoped I would consider homeschooling our future children. Once, when we were engaged, he even told me that one reason he wanted to marry me was that he "could tell I would make a great homeschooling mom.” I didn't really take this as a compliment at the time.

Before we got married, I told him several times, “I don’t want to homeschool. I don’t plan to homeschool. It sounds like so much work and stress and hassle. I will be busy enough keeping house and raising kids [and working, although I didn’t know that at the time]. There are plenty of great schools out there and our kids will go to one of them.” He always listened and nodded, and replied, “We don’t HAVE to homeschool. We have plenty of time to decide. Just learn more about it before you make up your mind.”

I promised to learn more, but privately, my mind was already made up; I could never see myself as a homeschooling mom.

Then one winter day, when my oldest was just a baby, a friend sent me a Facebook invitation for a talk on homeschooling sponsored by a local church moms’ group. The speaker was a homeschooling mom of twelve and the talk promised to be informational, offering pros and cons for those who weren’t homeschooling yet but might in the future. Most importantly for me, there would be other young moms with babies there. I figured I might as well go, fulfill my promise to Frank to “learn more about homeschooling,” and hopefully make some new friends.

The morning of the talk, I trudged through the snow, my chubby baby bundled in his carrier on my chest, to knock on the front door of a pretty Victorian home. Inside, I eagerly accepted a mug of steaming coffee and plopped on a comfortable living room sofa, propping my baby on the floor in front of me with a toy. 

Perhaps 6 or 8 other moms were there, mostly women whose kids were too young for school yet. Like me, they were researching their options before the time came to make a decision. Our friendly small talk hushed as the speaker entered the room and introduced herself. We were all eager to hear what she had to say.

The speaker didn’t waste any time getting to her reasons to homeschool. “The first thing I want you to consider is the economic argument,” she said.

I leaned forward, curious. I had heard countless arguments in favor of homeschooling, for moral or religious or intellectual or cultural reasons, but I had never heard an argument from an economic perspective.

“One year’s tuition at a Catholic grade school will cost your family, on average, $5000,” she said, “and often a lot more. Then consider if you have a large family, and you’re paying that much for child after child. Perhaps there is a sibling discount, but these days, it may not be much.”

I had never looked up the price of Catholic-school tuition, so I nodded, intrigued. Since that talk, I have looked up tuition for various local schools, and found that that her tuition estimate is indeed accurate and actually on the low end for local schools.

“Then let’s consider what it costs to homeschool,” she said. “One year of homeschooling—including all reading materials and workbooks, detailed lesson plans, grading help, and even phone support to an educator as needed—will cost your family, at the absolute most, $500.”

My jaw practically dropped to the floor. I had no idea the cost difference was that much. I also didn’t realize the extent to which an established curriculum does the work of lesson planning and course-material selection for you, so that homeschooling your children can be far less strenuous and exhausting than I had imagined.

“Homeschooling costs less than 10 percent of what Catholic school costs, and even less if you factor in the hidden costs of school, such as uniforms, school fundraisers, and commuting expenses,” she finished up. “If you homeschool, what could your family do with all the money you would save?”

I had never considered this aspect before. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My friends who were homeschooled have amazing stories of weeks spent driving around the country, doing schoolwork on the road while they toured redwood forests or Civil War battlefields in the cool of autumn while other kids were in school. Nowadays there’s a trendy moniker for traveling while homeschooling—“road schooling”—but many of my friends’ parents were doing it before it was cool. 

Some even took international family trips, visiting Lourdes or the Vatican together, taking advantage of cheaper travel deals at times when most American children are in school. It all made sense now; these trips were not only opportunities to enrich their homeschool education, but were actually MADE POSSIBLE by homeschooling and the money these families saved, not to mention the flexibility in schedule. (Certainly families may be able to take trips like these while sending their children to regular school, but they would be a lot harder to afford or find time for.)

Yet my initial thought—the lure of travel and adventures made possible by homeschooling—is not the biggest draw for me. Yes, a family could afford to take better vacations at more convenient times if they homeschool. But more importantly, a family could afford a better quality of life overall. Money saved by homeschooling can be used to pay off parents' student debt or save for a house (or pay a mortgage). Or it could be used to get housekeeping help: A dear family friend who homeschooled her nine (!) children recently told me, “If you can possibly afford a cleaning lady while you are homeschooling, do it! I didn’t have one, but it was really hard, and I would have been able to do a better job focusing on my kids’ education if I had had someone to help with the cleaning.” 

For many families, the money saved by homeschooling could be used for services like cleaning or cooking help, freeing up Mom’s (or Dad’s) time to focus on teaching. This realization answered my concern about homeschooling being "too much work" for the mom. Schooling on top of cooking, cleaning, and running a home sounds overwhelming. But schooling alone sounds like an exciting intellectual challenge, and I'd gladly outsource cleaning to make homeschooling my primary "work" in the home. 

Most importantly, however, is simply that homeschooling may make it possible to be open to having more children. When I talk to other moms, either at the playground or in online forums, again and again I hear women say, “We would like to have another child, but each one is so expensive. We need to pay for daycare and save for braces, for college… and grade schools aren’t cheap, but we want them to get a good education.” So they decide not to have that second or third or fourth child so that they can afford a better quality of life for the kids they do have. Personally, as one of seven kids, I know that I would rather have my siblings than any material possession or amount of money in the world—but that’s another blog post. Simply put, homeschooling drastically reduces educational costs, making it possible for couples to afford more children while still ensuring the same quality of life and great education for each child.

I find it a little funny, looking back, that years and years of conversations about homeschooling with friends and even my husband left me unconvinced. Yet this one brief conversation, in which a stranger simply explained the economic advantages to homeschooling, made me a “true believer” and I’ve never looked back. Now I’m the one talking up the benefits of homeschooling to my skeptical friends.

I know there are countless excellent reasons to homeschool that are entirely unrelated to economics. Everything from family unity to parent-child communication to sibling bonding can be enhanced by a positive homeschooling experience—not to mention the child’s growth in personal responsibility and opportunities for intellectual stimulation that benefit the whole family. I know all these things, but at the end of the day, it was the “numbers” argument that won me over. It’s such a simple reason to homeschool, but to me, such a good one. After all, what COULD we do with the money we would save? Our oldest is only two, but I’m already dreaming big!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Our painless 3-step weaning process

Friends, I've been meaning for months to write and explain why I've sort of dropped off the face of the blogging earth. I've mentally composed a novel's worth of explanation, but the short answer is that, as my son gets older and as I've gotten older, I've become concerned about privacy on the internet in a way that didn't occur to me when I started this blog at age 19.  I don't think I will ever share about my life as openly as I did in the past, but I would like to share bits and pieces and not stop blogging altogether, because I love the little community I've found through writing here.

Before I have my second baby, there are a few things in particular I want to blog about - specifically because I have information to share that I hope can be helpful to someone else. (This is the #1 reason I see for continuing to blog, actually.) And I'm due this Saturday (!!!) so I'm going to try to shoot out a few posts this week before I forget.

Also, just for future reference, I'm going to refer to my son as "Iggy" when I write on here. I'm not going to go back and change all the times I used his name in the past, because ain't nobody got time for that, but I want to be more cautious in the future so I figured a pseudonym would be a good reminder to myself to be vague.

Alright, so here is the first topic I wanted to blog about: weaning! Oh, fun! Any non-parent readers, feel free to click away now. ;)

When my son was born, I never set a breastfeeding goal for myself, but vaguely figured I'd wean him after a year, according to AAP recommendations.* But then I happened to get a baby who utterly despised solid food (he's still super picky, big surprise) and literally would not eat more than a bite of anything until he was about 14 months old. So I kept nursing him, pretty much so he wouldn't starve, and then it became part of his naptime and bedtime routine so I couldn't see a good way to stop. To be honest, I was dreading weaning. I'd heard horror stories of how hard it could be, and I was just sort of terrified at the idea. I thought it would be really difficult and drawn-out and emotional.

But in fact, it was the opposite of that. The entire process was shockingly easy and painless. I decided to get serious about weaning him the week after he turned two, and he was completely weaned within a week. I still can hardly believe how easy it was. So I figured I would share what I did, in case you are like me and don't know where to start.  These ideas might not work for every kid, but hopefully they can be useful to somebody. :)

(Quick disclaimer: I decided to wean because nursing had become increasingly uncomfortable once I was pregnant, and I figured just over 2 years was a good time to stop since the WHO recommends nursing for 2 years. But I wouldn't say anyone else should wean their kid at the same age I weaned mine, and if you're breastfeeding an older toddler than mine, more power to you!)

First, I polled my Catholic moms' group on Facebook for weaning advice. I took the tips that came up the most frequently and adapted them to fit my situation. Here is what I did, in three consecutive steps:

1) Nurse for ten: I started by telling my son that we were going to play a new game called "nurse for ten," that is, I would (very slowly) count to 10 and then he had to be done nursing on that side. He could then "nurse for ten" on the other side, but after both sides, he was done for that nursing session. Fortunately he thought this was a hilarious game, laughed about it, and didn't argue.  (I've heard of people doing the same thing for the duration of a song, such as "You are my sunshine," but in case he protested the idea, I didn't want him to have negative associations with any songs so I decided to count instead.) As he got used to the idea, I gradually counted a little faster each time, so that by the end of the week it really was just ten seconds.

2) Offer a cup instead: After he had "nursed for ten" on both sides, I brought a sippy cup of milk into the bedroom, and offered that instead of nursing if he asked for any more milk.

3) Bore 'em to sleep: One of the biggest concerns I had about weaning was that Iggy was nursing to sleep up until the week he weaned. I had no idea how I could get him to fall asleep without it! Fortunately, I was inspired by hearing about books that parents can read to help kids fall asleep. I figured I could probably make up my own story to fill the same purpose. Once he had nursed and had his sippy cup of milk, I would tell him a very long, extremely boring story. It was always the same story about him walking through the zoo saying good night to all the animals he passed as one by one they went to sleep. My dad often likes to come pick up Iggy on his bike and take him to the nearby zoo, so I used that familiar event as a springboard for the story. I used a very soothing, low monotone voice to tell the story, dragging out the words, trying to be repetitive and dull, and pausing frequently to yawn. It worked like a charm.

In case you really want TMI, this is roughly how the story went: One day Iggy woke up from his nap, and Grandpa was there. He said, "Iggy, would you like to go to the zoo?" Iggy said, "Yes!" First Iggy had to get ready. He put on his shirt... he put on his pants... then he put on his socks... and he put on his shoes. Grandpa buckled Iggy into his seat on the bike and put on his helmet. Then Grandpa and Iggy said, "Bye Mommy!" and off they went. Grandpa pedaled the bike, faster and faster. The wheels went round and round. Finally, they got to the zoo. They went walking to see all the animals. First they saw the polar bears. They were splashing and playing in the water and having lots of fun. But they were sooooo tired from their busy day that they wanted to go to sleep. They lay down in their cave (YAWN) and closed their eyes and went to sleep. Just like Iggy. Good night, polar bears. Next Iggy saw the lions. They were roaring and shaking their big manes and climbing on the rocks. But they were sooooo tired from their busy day, that they wanted to go to sleep. They went into their cave to lie down, and they closed their eyes and went to sleep.  Good night, lions. [You get the idea. I went on to describe each animal in turn and how the animal had so much fun with their busy day that now they are sleeping, just like Iggy.]

It was pretty much like brainwashing him to sleep. He was so comfortably familiar with the story that if I broke script to ask, "And what do you think the penguins were doing?" He would yawn and say "Sleepin'." He learned to fall asleep listening to the story instead of falling asleep nursing like he used to do. And it only took about a week of this 3-step process for him to be done nursing completely.

*Although I didn't plan to nurse for two years, I'm glad I did. I know that the WHO and other organizations recommend nursing for two years, and I'm happy to know he got all the health and immunity benefits of breastmilk for that long. I also really enjoyed the bonding and snuggling, and thought it was a lovely part of our relationship. Hopefully (fingers crossed!) I would like to nurse my next baby and any future kids for two years as well.  :)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Barbershop Quartet :)

Happy to announce that...

Baby #2 is due October 22.

We are over the moon excited!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Walking with Him

Tuesday was one of those days where I felt like I had it all together.

I woke up early, worked out (with a little helper crawling underneath me while I attempted push-ups and adorably imitating my squats), and took a shower. Boom. Mom achievement unlocked.

I made a healthy breakfast for my boy and me, got us both dressed and bundled in innumerable layers against the Chicago January cold, and drove to drop him off with his babysitter (who also happens to be my sister. Hurray!). I even stopped on the way to drop off a UPS package. So far, so good.

While my sister watched the little man, I focused with laser-like intensity on work. I crossed six things off my to-do list. I got positive feedback on a project.

I drove home, put the little man down for a nap, and tidied the house while quickly eating lunch. The members of our church's moms' group trickled in for the monthly Rosary play date. I served tea and hot chocolate and homemade cookies, and felt cozily domestic.

The ladies left and I made dinner, again with a little helper by my side. We drove to the airport to pick up Daddy, who had been out of town on a work trip. He came home to a clean house and delicious meal. After family dinner, I put the baby to bed and finished my evening with some quick yoga and painting my nails.

Finally I sat in my favorite chair to rest for a little while. The night before I had begged God, "Please give me the grace to get everything done that I need to do tomorrow." Now as I surveyed the day that had passed, I thanked Him for answering my prayer. The day had unfolded perfectly according to plan. "Thank you for helping me get through everything I needed to do today. Thank you for walking with me today, Lord."

The next morning, however, could not have been more opposite.

We woke up late so I skipped the work-out and shower. A hasty breakfast of buttered toast would have to do.

Again I dropped off my son, but today the emails were less uplifting. An important email hadn't been sent. I was running behind on a project that was taking 5 times longer than it should have. My to-do list was growing longer and longer. I felt frustrated and stressed, but finally had to stop working and go home for naptime.

Once he was sleeping, I made a pot of tea and settled down to work. Now, I thought, I would finally get the peace and quiet to salvage the rest of my day—until I was interrupted by the sound of coughing from the bedroom.

I went in to find my poor baby throwing up all over the bed. I held him and tried to wipe him up, but he threw up again and again, and finally I just let the sheets catch it all. Alright, forget about working. The baby went in the bath, and once he was clean and wearing fresh pajamas, it was time to strip the bed and wash the sheets.

But the fun was far from over. He threw up again and again. We went through numerous outfits and towels laid on the bed. Finally I started to just catch it in my hands rather than go through another outfit. I had to laugh at how classically "mom" that was to do.

I remembered that we needed to eat dinner that night and began throwing together a soup composed of "odds and ends from the depths of the fridge" while holding a sad clingy little boy. I texted my husband, "Be prepared to come home to a disaster." He mercifully came home soon after and held the poor sick baby amid the mess while I attempted to finish cooking and cleaning up the kitchen. The soup began to clump weirdly and stuck to the pot. Would it even be edible? In the midst of all this, I got an email about a work task I'd forgotten to do. Shoot. My husband came over to check on the soup, and when he commented on its weird texture, I was so frustrated I yelled incoherently at him. Shoot again.

Finally the soup came together somewhat edibly. We sat down and ate dinner together, then I finally put the baby to bed. Now it was time to make my shopping list for the next day's planned grocery trip and wrap up a bunch of loose ends for work. Right before bedtime, the baby threw up again, and we switched out the towel on the bed for the umpteenth time.

As I lay in bed that night, tired and defeated, I tried to turn my thoughts toward prayer. The day had unfolded nothing like I planned. But still, in the midst of the chaos and the mayhem, I knew that He had walked with me. Again I found myself saying, "Thank you for helping me get through everything I needed to do today. Thank you for walking with me today, Lord—for never leaving my side."

We all have those days. The great ones and the ghastly ones. Sometimes they come side by side. But hopefully at the end of either one, we can say, "Thank you, Lord, for walking with me today." That's all I ever want to say, at the end of every day—as long as I do, I know deep down that all is well.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in New Jersey

We had such a wonderful visit with our family in New Jersey the week before Christmas—although it went by much too fast!

We got to meet our friends Patrick and Jessica's darling new baby boy and enjoy some catching up with Serena and Anthony who are due next month with their first.

A trip to NJ wouldn't be complete without seeing Aunt Sharon and her family. She is the best for sharing stories about family history, and for Christmas she so thoughtfully put together a package for each of the Barber kids with a letter describing their great-grandma and a coordinating gift. Her son Josh picked out the best Christmas gift for Frankie (toy trucks—a toddler boy's dream) and to this day, if you ask Frankie who gave him his trucks, he will exclaim "Dosh!" Their dog Trixie also made quite an impression and Frankie is still talking about how he saw Trixie "eating! chicken!" that he dropped/threw on the floor.

I loved getting to meet more of Frank's extended family. They are such a kind and warm group of people, although I joked to Frank that I felt like I'd walked onto the set of Silver Linings Playbook. All the football talk about the Eagles! All the Jersey food (pork roll, anyone?) and Jersey accents! It was great.

There aren't words to describe how utterly spoiled we were by our lovely Barber family. They kept Frankie constantly entertained with everything from toy trains to building a gingerbread house—and eating lots of Grammy's goodies! They also babysat for us several times, and Frank and I got to enjoy the new Star Wars movie and Christmas Eve Mass baby-free. We spent Christmas morning with them before flying home that afternoon to spend the evening with my family.

Christmas morning was different than what I'm used to in that the Barbers all take turns opening their presents, opening one and then the next person opens one, around the circle until (possibly hours later) everyone is done. I'm not sure how feasible that would be with a lot of kids, but as much as possible, I want to do that every year! I loved it. How does your family handle opening gifts on Christmas morning?

My brother-in-law Ethan took a bunch of cute pictures of Frankie and I wanted to share them with you all. On a related note, Ethan is graduating college this spring and wants to work in graphic/visual design. Frank and I not-so-secretly want him to move out to Chicago. I figured I'd throw this out there—do any of you guys have a job lead for him? Thanks. :)

Oh hey :)

So Frankie is a skinny little dude and has an ongoing problem with his pants being too big for him. To remedy this, Frank bought him a pair of toddler suspenders that he uses kind of a lot (and is very proud of). We never thought about how sweet he looks in them until he was getting ready for Church on Sunday and wearing his tiny suspenders... while brushing his teeth with his banana toothbrush (another favorite activity)... and my sister-in-law snapped these photos:

He's a dapper little man. (But not a Dapper Dan man. Name the movie?)

And finally, here's Christmas morning with his beloved Auntie Jenna ("Nenna") and Uncle Ethan ("Eating"). Yes, he genuinely believes his uncle's name is "Eating." I won't tell you what his nicknames for my siblings are, but they're even worse! :p

Merry Christmas, friends. Happy sixth day of Christmas, and may you have a lovely new year!