Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Romeo and Juliet

Today marks a first for my kids:  Together with all of the kids of our Learning Centre, they'll be a part of four performances, over the next three days, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  Hundreds of tickets have been sold, costumes and sets are ready, and the play's looking pretty darn good!  My kids have very small roles, and only Matthew has a few lines, but they've been a part of it from the beginning (in early January) until today.

The practice schedule has been growing in intensity over the past few months, and for the past two weeks we've been at rehearsal every day, for hours.  Everyone's pretty tired and a little testy, and tempers are fraying around the edges.  But the kids have done it and I'm so proud of all of them.

This morning, though, the kids and I are relaxed - we're hanging out in PJs at home and watching tv...just waiting for the day's activities to begin.  We have to be at the theatre early afternoon, to do a last run-through, and then the opening night is tonight at 7:00.  There are two performances tomorrow, and a final one on Thursday afternoon.  Then there's the after-party for our Learning Centre families on Thursday evening.  And on Friday morning, the kids and I will be back in pyjamas and will stay that way until at least noon!

It'll be nice to get back to our usual life in a few days - everything has been hijacked these last weeks, getting ready.  Hijacked in a good, but all-consuming way.  All of the moms have had big jobs to do, too:  Play directors; costuming (my word we have skilled costumers and seamstresses in our group); props and sets; marketing; cooking for the masses so that the others can focus on the play jobs; program design; writing bios of each of the kids to put up with their pictures outside of the theatre; and so many other jobs that moms have just taken over and completed!

When we joined the Learning Centre in fall, I was anxious about these weeks - it was my biggest anxiety point, actually.  I didn't know how the kids would respond, I didn't know how to juggle our usual other activities around this big one, I didn't know how much 'value' my kids would get out of it, I didn't know how any of us would handle any of it.  It's been a seven-year tradition for our LC to put on a Shakespeare production in spring and so I knew that we would be involved...I just had no idea what that would look like for our family, and the impact it would have.

But the kids have learned and grown so much.  I have two young children whose first language isn't English, one of whom still struggles with vocabulary and grammar and language retrieval - and although they don't have speaking parts this year, my two little Ethiopian-born children come home at the end of the day and recite other people's lines verbatim as they act out scene after scene, using Shakespearean language and loving it and understanding it!  My oldest and most sensitive, with so few lines, has worked through huge anxiety about being on stage and so visible, and has come out excited and ready to go.  They are all three fully, fully engaged with what's happening today and the rest of this week, and are totally pumped about it.  They've learned about how theatre and rehearsals work; they've learned the painstaking progress that needs to be made line by line, movement by movement to get from the beginning to the end point of a run-through; they've learned how to stand/sit still as watchmen and how to move/think like servants; they've learned that once a run-through is complete, it needs to be done again...and again, and that they need to make adjustments along the way and to remember all of the changes and which exit/entrance they are to make that's different than the time before; they've learned about teamwork and have watched more experienced kids work at memorizing an incredible number of lines in their larger roles; they've watched as pretty much every kid (including themselves) have struggled through being sick with the flu and still coming to practice and croaking out their lines; they've had to work through conflicts with peers as tempers have frayed and energy has faltered; they've seen a group of moms working hard together to make this all come together; they've had the opportunity to be mentored by older, more experienced kids in the LC; they've had lots and lots of opportunity to be involved in our incredible in-house acting classes (led by moms who have more skill at this stuff in their pinkie fingers than I will ever have in my lifetime!); they've been interviewed and filmed on camera by two professional documentary guys who have been coming to rehearsals off and on for months because they're preparing a documentary about our acting troupe; they've gone through daily team-building and trust-building warm-up exercises; they've actively participated in seven or eight improv classes to get them used to performing; they've eaten lunches and snacks with their peers and parents every day for the past couple of weeks and twice a week for six weeks before that; they've have come home exhausted and energized and sometimes frustrated and always with a gazillion questions and comments; they've fitted costumes and experienced the rush of excitement that comes from being on stage in full dress; and on and on.

It's been a huge learning!  Talk about school in action...life learning!

My role has been rather minimal, truth be told.  I've occasionally felt a little on the side lines, being new both to the Learning Centre this year and to this whole Shakespeare production experience.  I have no experience in theatre and am frankly in awe of the other other moms who do these things that seem so foreign to me and who are so amazing at bringing out the best in the kids.  I've picked up odd jobs here and there (from errand running to ironing fabric and bits of marketing), and every day for the past two weeks another mom and I have shopped for, and prepared lunches and snacks for 38 people so that their entire focus could be on the play.

But it's been a learning experience for me, too, in so many ways, and mostly a relief, given my anxiety in fall about how this would all come together.  It's been relationship-deepening with the kids and moms of the LC (and there's not really a better way to build attachment with a large group of kids than to have the opportunity to feed them good food for a couple of weeks!).

And mostly what I see is the solidifying of community.  During the two years prior to joining the LC, those years when I had switched to a looser, unschooling approach towards educating the kids (what felt like a huge gamble at the time), I was really needing and seeking more of a community of like-minded people.  I needed, and felt like the kids needed, a group of people that we could meet with regularly, really regularly, and get to know, and get to support and be supported by.  Prior to that, we had developed wonderful friendships with other homeschooling families, and they are still wonderful friends.  But it still somehow felt a little like we were all little silos, functioning independently of each other and getting together whenever we could.  I needed community more regularly, if that makes sense; particularly given that I felt out on a limb with the change in direction to a more unschooly approach.  I needed for us to feel like we had a place to go, a community to take part in on a consistent basis.  It feels like that for us now.  It feels like we have some roots dug in.  And it's a good feeling.

So as we launch ourselves into three final days of Romeo and Juliet, as the kids and I get to do something entirely new to us, I'm excited.  And so excited for my kids.  These days the conversations around our house revolve around everything Shakespeare and theatre, and today anticipating the stage they'll be performing on, the kids can hardly wait to see what it means to be on a real stage, with wings and a green room in the back for waiting in between scenes, to experience what it's like to be under stage lighting, and to have an audience.

Break a leg, my darlings!

"For never was a story of more woe [t]han this of Juliet and her Romeo." (5.3.317-318)

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Further Puppygate Update

Just a quick note further to my last on the puppy situation.  Last week, I had a chance to talk with a couple of vets about our original puppy's heart murmur issues.  Based on those conversations, and a desire to relieve my anxiety about the situation, Geoff and I decided to tell our breeder that we would prefer bringing home the alternate puppy I recently chose.

We made the decision before finding out the final test results of our original puppy, because there was a risk that the heart murmur would partially heal and that the breeder would consider that sufficient for us to hold up our end of the contract; but I just know that, even if it was mostly healed up, I'd always be anxious that the pup would just up and die one day all of the sudden...and I just didn't want to start out with that as a real possibility.  I also realized that bringing a new puppy into our family should be a joyous experience and that I'd only been anxious about it since learning about the health issue.  So we called it,  and we're moving on.

The new pup is adorable as well; rather unique in colour for the Havanese breed, and seemingly very, very gentle and docile (which, according to Cesar Milan of The Dog Whisperer, is the way to go when choosing a new puppy).  She'll be ready to come home around the end of April (or the first week of May), and my excitement about our upcoming family addition is growing again.

I can hardly wait to introduce her to you!

Even more so, I can hardly wait to finally be able to let our kids in on the surprise of their young lives!!!  I'm telling you...Seth is going to pee his pants.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Puppygate - An Update

Well, for those who have expressed interest in the news about our hopefully-soon-to-be puppy, this is for you.

First, I should remind us all (and I do include myself in this reminder) that the puppy prospect is still a complete secret from the kids...so far we've managed it, though I goofed up once and had to back-pedal big time.  But they have not one hot clue that their lives will change sometime over the course of the next month.

So, you may recall that the puppy I chose weeks back (these eight weeks seem like forever already) was diagnosed with a heart murmur two days before we were to bring him home.  I was pretty disappointed for a day or two, but then adapted to the situation.

My adjustment to the new circumstances was helped along by a sense of relief, to be honest.  These three weeks (starting now) are the very busiest of our entire year - our Learning Centre (LC) is less than three weeks away from putting on four performances of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (open to the public in case anyone wants to buy a ticket...it's gonna be good) and we are in full time rehearsal mode now...as in, all day every day starting tomorrow (the full time prep was to start today but too many kids are struggling to get over the flu).  I had been quite anxious about how we were going to make the new puppy situation work, given that we'll be away from home most of the time over these few weeks.  I'd  obtained permission from the staff of the church where our LC meets to bring the puppy in with me every day - I had planned to wear him in a sling or have him in a kennel near me for the entire time we'd be away from home.  When I was originally put onto the wait list for a puppy, I had been told that it would be June or July before we'd be home with a puppy - so being surprised with our little guy a few months earlier than anticipated had been a little bit worrisome given our schedule these weeks.

So I've got to be honest in saying that it's easier right now without a puppy around - it's busy and anxious enough around here at the moment.

What's really important in all of this is the puppy.  The long and the short of it is that we decided to wait until mid April to have his heart re-tested.  He'll be about 12 weeks old at that point and if the heart murmur is to close up, the biggest likelihood of that happening is by 12 weeks.  (who knew?)  I really, really wanted to bring this little guy home regardless of his health situation, but I just couldn't bring myself to do that to my kids - it's one thing to own a puppy that then gets sick, but completely another thing to knowingly bring a puppy into our lives who might drop dead at any second, in the presence of two kids who have already known far too much trauma.  That decision wasn't so hard to make after all.

Anyway, if the murmur closes up, the puppy is ours to take home in 2-3 weeks.  That would be the most awesome scenario.

Given the prospect that it might not heal, a friend and I also went out to visit the breeder again last week.  She allowed me to choose an alternate puppy that she will commit to not selling until we know what's happening with our little guy.  The alternate puppy is a female, and she'd be available to take home towards the end of April or maybe the beginning of May.  She's a lovely little thing - beautiful colouring (sort of tobacco-reddish that will likely fade a little into a red gold when she's an adult) and a lovely seeming and very laid back disposition.  She'd be a wonderful choice as well, and my heart was drawn to her more than to the other puppies that I was allowed to choose from.

It was strange to visit with our original little guy last week, when I went out to see the other pups.  I noticed distinctly about myself that, even while I played with and cuddled him, I wasn't inclined to use his name and I didn't hold him for quite as long as I've longed to in past visits.  My heart was definitely a little guarded, scared to attach even more to the little fellow.  But still...he really is so delightful.  He's a large puppy (given that it's a small breed) and looks like a fat little sausage being held up by four short legs - he has a huge amount of energy, is very social, and bounces on all fours when he wants to play.  He's adorable and very sweet...and into chewing shoelaces!

Anyway, in just over two weeks, we'll know what the situation is.  Either we'll bring home our original choice, or wait another couple of weeks to bring home the little female.  Either way, it'll all be good and our lives are going to shift a little to accommodate our newest family member.  I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Sometimes I despair that my middle child will never read.

(That grammar sounds off to me...should it be that I despair that he will ever read?)

Whatever.  I am so discouraged.

This morning, after a period of time when he wanted nothing to do with anything reading-related, Seth went to our library and pulled out an early reader - about a super hero rescuing people being held captive by a bad guy.  I was quietly happy to see that he was voluntarily pulling out a book.  I casually went and sat down near him with a cup of tea I'd just made.  He was staring at the pictures and then suddenly pointed out a couple of words to ask me something.

The words he was pointing to read:  "But something..." and then the sentence carried on.  He asked whether, if he only looked at the letters up to the letter e (he pointed to the letter e; he didn't say the letter name) did those words read "release the people now"?

I held back my disappointment and suggested that maybe we could take a look at the words a bit and figure out if he was right.  I asked him how many words he had asked me about.  He said the words out loud again:  "release the people now."

"Four," he answered.

"Right," I said.  Then I asked him to count how many words he'd pointed out in the story.

"Seven," he said.

"Not quite," I said cheerily.  "That's how many letters there are, but let's see how many words we've got."  I asked him to find where the space was between words and he found it.  Then I asked again how many words we were looking at.

"I already said - seven."

Crap.  I have gone over this stuff with him a thousand times.

But I cheerfully explained (for the thousand and first time) how words are separated and pointed out that there were two words that we were looking at.

I then suggested that we try sounding out the first word:  But.

"R-o-t," he sounded out, using a long 'o' sound.  It sounded like one would pronounce the word rote.

I worked it out with him, and all was good.

Lizzie came into the room just then and saw the word I was still pointing to on my lap.

"But," she read after only a second.  "But what?" she continued.  She's getting great at reading short (three and four letter) words, and she's always willing to try.

Then I told the kids they could watch a little tv for a few minutes.

I went upstairs and cried.

For Seth.  About Seth.

We have sounded out words/letters for 3.5 years.  I read to the kids for hours and hours every week. They listen to audio books.  We look at letters and words on everything.  I break down words constantly.  I have taught him letters and letter sounds using every method I can find - using visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and whatever other ways I can dream up and research.  We've worked at 100 Easy Lessons.  Sometimes I think he's on the verge of connecting all of the dots, and sometimes he can even sound out short words.

But then he goes through periods of time, as I know has been happening the past couple of weeks, and it's like his brain has shut down.  I actually think it's his brain working on some other big thing right now and so his language and vocabulary and ability to do something like look at letters just tanks.  It's always like that when he's in this cycle.

And then this morning I just thought as I cried:  I am failing at this; he is never going to read.  He is such a bright, curious, observant, loving boy.  And he'll never read.  What do I do?

I know I'll get my equilibrium back.  By tomorrow I'm sure I'll be able to say that yes, someday that beloved boy of mine is going to read.

But today?  Today it just all feels a little hopeless.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Decision Required re: Hypothetical Puppy Situation.

So...the hypothetical canine friend we hoped to add to our family this weekend may end up being just that...hypothetical.


I learned this evening that said canine went to the vet today for a final check and for the insertion of an ear locator chip.  Turns out he has a heart murmur.  First time in our breeder's 16 year history.  This means that he may be just fine for the next 12-15 years; or he may die any time between now and then...just kinda fall over with heart failure.  The vet was apparently hard pressed to believe this to be true of our puppy because he is the biggest and most active pup in the litter and this would not, in her experience, be consistent with him having this issue.

So...the options:

1.  Still take the puppy this weekend, at half price, and no health warranty.

2.  Wait until April 12, when the vet will take another look at him to see if the heart murmur closes up; apparently in puppies, this is a good possibility by the age of 12 weeks.  If we wait, and he's fine, our contract remains intact and the health warranty included with it remains valid for two years.

3.  Wait until April 12, and if the heart murmur doesn't close up, we can still take him for half price with no health warranty.

4.  We could choose, immediately, the other male puppy she has right now.  A replacement pup.  Apparently the colouring isn't quite as lovely on the other male, but whatever on that issue.  The 'problem' with this option is that the alternate pup was born just three days ago and won't be ready for taking home until mid-May.  In the grand scheme of things, two more months isn't that long; but my worry is that enough people know of our plans that there might be accidental leakage of the news to the kids.  The other hard thing, to be honest, is that I've already started attaching to the dog I chose; I've visited him four times and I'm rather bonded.  The prospect of 'simply' replacing him with another puppy is a difficult prospect for me.  Also, all of our momentum and preparation has been towards this weekend and it's frankly a little hard to shift from that...but again, in the bigger scheme of things, this probably shouldn't matter too much.

5.  Wait until April 12, and if the heart murmur doesn't close up, we could then choose to take the alternate male pup.  We've already paid the fee, and the two year warranty would transfer to the new puppy.  Our breeder was kind enough to offer this option, which means that she will refrain from selling the alternate male pup to anyone else until mid April.  This is the option she said she would choose if it were her; wait until April - if our current pup is ok, he's ours; and if he's not we can have the other.

Really??  I really can't believe this.  I thought it was all signed, sealed...and just waiting for delivery.  How discouraging.

Thoughts?  What would you do?  I think I know what we'll do, but I'd love some additional insights here.


Monday, March 9, 2015

So...IF One Were to Add a Furry Friend to the Mix...

...purely hypothetically, what kinds of things does one need to do or purchase before adding a furry friend of canine variety to one's household?

I am not saying that this is what we will be doing in our household in the next week or so, and my children would tell you with great certainty that there are no such plans in the works until the elusive when hell freezes over happens.

But if one were thinking of such a thing and intending to keep it as a surprise from one's children, what kinds of things would one need to do to prepare?  I have a small list going for such an occurrence, but I'm about twenty years post puppy experience, and about eight years post adult dog experience and I'm rather dim on details.

My list so far:
* food
* food and water dishes (any suggestions here...do you like those things that give out water on an as-needed basis, or just prefer to continually refill the bowl?)
* bed - I'm thinking sherpa bed because it's soft and anti-bacterial, but thoughts?
* kennel - how big a kennel does one purchase for a dog that (hypothetically) will grow to approximately 12-14" high
* a corral for when we're out of the house
* a puppy pad for the corral in case a little friend might have to use the toilet while we're out
* a sling for me to carry the hypothetical creature around in...to build attachment, of course...we are developmental theory advocates!

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Helpful tips?

Just hypothetically, of course.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Changing Daddy's Heart

Yesterday in the van the kids and I were talking (again!) about dogs, and Seth said, with great sadness, that Geoff would never, ever be willing to get a dog.  I said that I surely hoped that someday we would be able to welcome a dog into our family.  

Seth's response?  A big sigh, then...

"Well, it's up to God to change Daddy's heart now."

Love it.  

(And I wouldn't be surprised if God answers that prayer in the next, say, week or two.  Shhh....)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Matthew's 11th Birthday

I always have mixed feelings when it comes to celebrating Matthew's birthday.  I suppose this isn't all that unusual -just being a parent regularly entails mixed feelings!

A big part of me is simply happy to see my boy growing up and becoming such a fine young man.  He really, really is.  He's kind and generous, soft-hearted and highly sensitive, and a deep thinker on top of it all.  He loves God and has a personal relationship with Him, and seeks to listen to God's voice speaking into his life...what a great start.  Furthermore, the past few months have been interesting as we've seen some of the fruit of of our labour developing in him:  He's maturing and showing some awesome signs of emergence as a boy who is able to hold on to himself in face of different opinions surrounding him; he is usually quite thoughtful and considerate of those around him; and he is showing the beginnings of self control which, although most people think can be taught, is really a fruit of maturation rather than something we can teach our children.

So on the one hand, I'm so happy to see that the boy we brought into the world eleven years ago is becoming the kind of young man I dreamed he would be when looking down into that newborn face so innocent and untested.  Truly, what a gift of God.

On the other hand, I'm always so sad on Matthew's birthday.  Sad because I love this kid so much and because the closer he gets to growing up the closer we get to his eventual independence and departure.  As parents we all want for our children to grow up well and to emerge into the world as capable and contributing members of our society...but for me, that also marks a sad prospect for my life.  Totally selfish, I know.

Matthew also has mixed feelings about his birthday.  Although he recognizes that there are advantages to growing older, he also wishes that he were still nine years old.  He knows that he leads a very good life; it's a life that he loves just as it is.  A big part of him is grieving the passing of his early childhood years.

Matthew, as the meaning of his name suggests, is such a gift of God.  He was a long-awaited answer to prayer and the cherry on top of a long experience of infertility.  The years before Matthew were hard in this regard - it was such a painful experience to long so much for children, only to experience month after month, year after long year, of not having any...while everyone around us started and grew their families.  Fertility issues are not something I would wish upon anyone.

I remember vividly the moment I learned that I was finally pregnant; I fell on my knees in thanksgiving, and utter joy filled me.  All of the pain and grief of our infertility was still wrapped up inside of me, but that complex mix of emotions immediately and permanently changed me.  I am still affected by the complexities of those emotions, even now, years later after our family is complete.

There's something about waiting for so long that, I think, gives one a slightly different outlook on things.  It's ultimately why we homeschool; it's why we have chosen to raise our children using a longer term developmental approach; it's why I'm comfortable parenting differently than much of society around me encourages it.  I'm not parenting Matthew with a goal of good behaviour; I'm parenting him in a way that hopefully inspires him to follow God and to mature into his full potential.  Those who experience infertility react, undoubtedly, in different ways...these ways happen to be how I've responded.

Later today we will take eleven kids to Skyzone, a local trampolining place.  We will enjoy pizza and cake after an hour of jumping time, and I hope it's just the kind of celebration that Matthew envisioned.  He created the idea for his cake, which I have just completed.  It's a trifle cake:  Layers of chopped, two-bite brownies; homemade vanilla custard; and melted milk and dark chocolates.  On the very top will be piled diced pineapple.

For his birthday gifts, Geoff and I bought him a lego set (which I delighted to find a while back through amazon at 60% off regular price!), two books (Inkspell, to follow up our reading of Inkheart; and Horowitz's The Falcon's Malteser), and a simple watch.  Lizzie made a few "I Love You" kinds of pictures and notes for Matthew; and Seth has a pack of sour gum that Matthew will love.

There is more than one way to become a mother, as I well know, and Matthew was my launching point!  I am forever thankful.  Matthew, darling eleven-year-old boy, you are so very loved and we are so proud of you.  Happy Birthday!!

(from this morning)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I recently looked back through my blog for about fifteen minutes, in search of a post that I'd written that I wanted to send to someone who'd requested it.  I usually can't remember what I posted just two days before, much less a year or two or four ago.  While on the hunt through my blog, I read several other posts that I'd written a year or two back and I was struck at times by how much I liked what I was reading!

Huh, I thought on several occasions...that's not bad writing/that's a good thought, etc.

Lately much of what I write is drivel - stuff that's important in my or our family's life, perhaps, but certainly not as insightful as I'd like for it to be.  So often I think something like oh, I must write that - that's what I want to be writing about or something like that; and then I fail to find the time to write it down, or I can't get it down in a way that sounds right to me, or I start it well but it dries up half way through, and I eventually give up on it...and continue to write the drivel instead.

It seems rather synonymous with life, to be honest.  There's so much I'd like to be doing, so many things of worth to pursue, so much that gets half done; and then I get caught up in the chaos of the every day and the never-ending to do list, and I feel rather let down by the whole experience and by my own seeming inability to remain affixed to my priorities and goals.

The endless hamster wheel.  Don't you sometimes feel like you're perpetually on it?  Or maybe it's just me.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Music: Thinking Out Loud / I'm Not The Only One MASHUP (Sam Tsui & Casey Breves)

I'm already a big fan of Sam Tsui's voice and now, having no idea of who Casey Breves is, I'll have to add his voice to my list of voices that I think are awesome!

Here's a mash-up of Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" and Sam Smith's "I'm Not the Only One," sung simultaneously by Tsui (on the left) and Breves.  Enjoy!