Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

And, I- I took the one less traveled by.

Somehow we survived this week. Fifteen weeks left until the end of this semester, minus two for Fall and Thanksgiving break.

I so appreciated all of the encouragement and support that I got when sharing the beginning of our new journey. I noticed several people who said they thought I made it look easy and it made me want to run to them and hug them and say, “It IS NOT easy. Don’t let my positive attitude used to defend my goal setting fool you into thinking that I’m not scared, intimidated, and already exhausted!”

I’m approaching this biting off more than I can chew experience as positively as possible. By saying this is no different than other adults going back to school, that doesn’t mean that it is easy for them or for me! It’s certainly not as easy as I remembered it, and jumping head first into junior year after more than a decade away from formal learning has been a shock to my system, to say the least.

The kids have done so well with their schooling this week! Our new language arts program is just right up our alley and I can already see them learning and growing from it. We have always been hippies and run wild and free with no schedule, so this very structured day has been a big adjustment for us all, and by the third morning we were all waking up exhausted. I hope that this weekend will be the what we need to start our next week rested, refreshed, and ready to learn. And hopefully we’ll adjust sooner than later!

This first week was a short school week, by one day, and I still

• taught 12 math lessons

• led 2 art lessons using pastels

• and 1 science lesson intro to energy

• listened to the kids read 12 total chapters

• read aloud 5 chapters in Charlotte’s Web

• cooked dinner every night

• got the kids out in nature almost every day

• made it to run group twice

• read HUNDREDS of pages on political science, interpersonal conflict, and psychology.

•Turned in three assignments and took two quizzes by Friday

•turned in 4 more assignments before Sunday

• lived my most uncomfortable life being required to video myself responding to discussion prompts and then post them for strangers to respond to.

• changed 30+ diapers

• cut the crust off of 2 loaves of bread

•took 12 pages of notes from my readings

• all the other normal mom stuff

• Didn’t get the cute pictures I thought I would of all of these things

• had to talk myself out of quitting at least 10 times

Here’s hoping that we can make it through week two!

Waaaaay back to school

So, I’ve been keeping a little secret.

Maybe not a secret. More of a dream. A heart wish that I’ve been protecting and only sharing in whispers with very few people when it came up so that I could explain my “why” in hopes that I would only receive encouragement, sunshine and rainbows.

But recently my whispered dreaming was unwittingly let out of the stall it’s been kept in, and so since it’s out there now:

I’m starting back to school!

Today!!!

Back in the spring I had some personal experiences that made me feel strongly I was meant to finish my bachelor’s degree. Now. With 5 kids, while homeschooling. The thought was intimidating and I figured I wouldn’t be accepted back in after all of these years, or my credits wouldn’t still be valid, or it would be too complicated and time consuming, too expensive. For the sake of saying I tried and didn’t ignore a prompting I reached out to the school half heartedly. From there the process was the easiest, most fluid process I’ve experienced since before becoming a mom. My GPA was a good bit higher than required for being accepted back into the university I attended before, all credits accepted and transferred from when I went to another school for a semester, I can finish online for half the cost of on campus, and then qualified for some financial aid! Every reason I had not to do it essentially did not exist. Before summer came I was registered for classes.

Crazy, right?!

Obviously, this is no small task. One of my main reasons for not sharing with people has been my very real fear of failure. Balancing our life is already quite the undertaking; what if my family doesn’t let me study and I fail?? What if the kids stay sick all winter again?? What if my family thinks I’m a selfish jerk for needing to spend time on something for **gasp** myself after committing every breathing second of the last 13+ years growing, birthing, nursing, diapering, cooking, cleaning, potty training, butt wiping, schedule balancing, school teaching, reading, writing, arithmetic-ing, field tripping, and figuratively back seat riding to six other people?? Meh. I know my people. They’re great people. Encouraging and supportive people. Realistically, at some points they may have those feelings, but we’ll work through them. We’ll be ok. I do still worry about finding quiet time or dealing with sickness.

I’ve had a few very supportive reactions to this quietly shared plan. People who have encouraged with no “buts”… BUT I’ve had more of these conversations:

“Yeah, I’m starting back to school in a few weeks”

-Wait. What?? You, or the kids? *Me.

-You? Are you still homeschooling?? *Yes!

-Well, that’s not going to work. You should send them to public school. How are you planning to do that? Do you have help during the day? *The same way any adult with a full time job would do it. We’ve been homeschooling for almost eight years, it’s pretty routine for us at this point. Teaching (and raising) our children is my full time job. This is no different than any other adult human going back to school while working. In fact one of my professors is finishing his PhD while teaching! I don’t need to quit my “day job” to do this. I worked full time while going to school before. I have a husband who is incredibly supportive and home in the evening.

-Oh. Well, what are you studying? *My major was psychology. I had 60 credit hours devoted to that major/degree. It’s not an online option currently but my credits transferred well into a few options and the one I felt most drawn to is Peace and Conflict studies.

-What? What can you even do with that?(not to be confused with “Cool, what do you want to do with that?”) *More than I could do without it. Honestly, more than I could with a bachelor’s in psychology. I have a few big dreams that may or may not ever come to fruition. I’m protecting them. They’re mine and they’ll help me stay motivated. There are a few very basic careers it would qualify me for and some really awesome, off the beaten path careers as well. But, if I never do anything with it besides show my kids that education is important, you are never too old to pursue dreams/goals, and moms are smart people who can accomplish hard things, then it will be worth every bit of work. If I need it, it will be there. If I pursue a related dream career, it will be there.

*blank stares* Well, good luck

**End scene w/ my nervous laughter and borderline panic attack**

Truth is I am really nervous because it’s been a while since I set such an ambitious goal and now failure would be public, but the people who matter most would know and they would love me anyway. If this is too much, next semester we’ll adjust as needed! At least now everyone else will know why I’m even worse at responding to text messages or answering calls.

Now, the important stuff!

The kids have decided to start back to school with me instead of sticking to our usual day after Labor Day start schedule!!

This will allow us to be on the same schedule and have the entire month of December off, together! This year they are starting 7th, 6th, and 2nd grades, respectively. We’ll also have the two tagalongs, one of which will be getting some preschool in, hopefully. We’re trying new language arts and science programs that we are thrilled about and sticking with our tried and true for everything else. The new programs take a lot of extra work out of the equation for me and are amazing, so far! We’re super excited that some of our favorite people are starting homeschool this year and we’ll have the opportunity to spend more time with them and hopefully get in some fun field trips along the way, and hoping to spend some time with some of our fellow OG home school kids.

It’s going to be a busy and exciting school year for our family!

Seven years old

Dear Parker,

There will never be a year that your birthday rolls around and I am not reminded of how I thought you would never be mine. The losses that we went through to get you here and the promises that I made to God if he would just give us the child who we prayed for. The healing that your birth brought to my existence.

You are so full of love and life. Every day with you is an adventure and after two kids with lots of anxiety you have been our great adventurer. Watching you experience new things is a joy that my heart so needs. Fear isn’t in your bag of emotions. Sometimes that isn’t the best thing. You are the personification of “a bull in a China shop” and there isn’t a single day that passes without you breaking something. There are 6 years between you and Konnor, but only one pant size. You hate being made to learn in a formal way, but your curiosity makes you my easiest child to teach as long as you think it’s your idea. You are always by my side in the kitchen, learning recipes and techniques. Your soul needs the beach the same way mine does. You want to fish and shoot and do all of the things I assumed my life would be full of with four little southern boys. You love all of the things that your Grumpy does. Every night that you lay your head on your pillow, I am confident that you squeezed every drop of fun and laughter out of the day behind you. Most of our best belly laughs can be contributed to you. At this age, cooperation isn’t your strong suit, but I know that in coming years we will only grow closer and ai pray that I can help guide you to the life that will bring you closest to God and your dreams.

Cooper Gray: Young, Wild and Three

Dear Coop,

I love sharing your seemingly dramatic birth story, and I love how it is so fitting to who you are and how you live. You are brilliant, like no child I’ve ever met; and you’re beautiful. Breathtaking. So great at communicating and when you want to cooperate you are so pleasant to be around and enjoy life with. You are you, and since birth you’ve been able to throw tantrums like I’ve never seen. You’re so often my greatest challenge. You are the best of your father and I, and sometimes the worst, too. There is no doubt in my mind that you will grow to be the kind of man that will move mountains. Your determination is unmatched. I pray that you will always use your talents and intelligence to follow Christ. If we can survive this year we will surely go places, kid.

McKenzie is 11

Dear Kenzie,

Another year has passed and with each passing year you are more of a blessing than we could have ever imagined. Your kindness and desire to be helpful are often the only things that get me through a day. There is something in your spirit and presence that is a salve for the rest of us. You heal so many things, and breathe grace and life into so many days. Sometimes I worry that it may be a burden to heavy for an 11 year old girl to carry. You are a dreamer and a doer. You aspire to things that make me so proud. Athletic, creative, artistic, and full of charity. My joy is made full in you.

I pray that in the coming years, as you go through so many changes and life experiences that you can keep your tender heart and the kindness that makes your mamas heart so full.

You are so loved, my dear girl.

Women of God Know

This morning as I was trying to get everyone out the door to go to the library to start a project for school, Graham decided that after not sleeping last night or napping this morning, he needed to nurse to sleep. Right that very minute.

When he woke up we all got ready, found the last two books that were due back three weeks ago and made our way to the van where Cooper Gray tripped and fell on the cement. I was wearing Graham, and the big kids were all carrying stacks of books so I had to crouch down and hold both littles to try to comfort Coop, who was wailing loudly at this point. One side of the van to buckle one, the other side to buckle the other. Caught a glimpse of my pale, unwashed, make up free face and greasy hair in the rearview and prayed no one would see us today. And I wondered what the neighbors must think of the circus it is every time we leave the house with all five kids.

As I got out to unload kids one of my beautiful, showered friends pulled in right beside of us. I hit Graham’s head while unbuckling Coop and we walked in together, with a screaming baby, before going our separate ways. I wondered if she ever just looks at me and wonders why I can’t get myself together.

We survived the library, got what we needed and got out. Coop threw a tantrum all the way to the car until he suddenly got quiet beside the car and climbed in without complaint. I was grateful since all of the people trying to tell you who to vote for were sitting out front and watching us. I wondered if they were judging me for having so many kids when I can’t control this one. As we were backing out he started screaming uncontrollably and I look back to see that he had found a tiny bird egg in the parking lot and crushed it, spilling the contents all over his hands and the book in his lap. We drove home with two screaming littles, three stressed out bigs, and me, worrying about what kind of diseases we’d have by the time we got home to wash hands. And when we walked in Graham coughed until he puked all over us, both.

It wasn’t the most pleasant morning. Not the worst, either. But, it was the kind of morning that left me feeling tired and ugly and out of control. And unimportant. I was grateful when I walked back out to the van to unload books and found that my beautiful friend who is also one of the kindest people I know had left before us and put a sticky note on the windshield for me. I stuck it on my water bottle, hoping I’d get to see it again today.

After getting Cooper settled, making the kids lunch, and giving the big kids all their assignments I had to get Graham all cleaned up and since the sink was empty I decided to bathe him there because I love to take pictures of the kids when they get a sink bath.

And while standing there, loving on my perfect little Byrd this quote from Neal A Maxwell came to mind:

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.”(“The Women of God”, found here)

I found so much comfort in being reminded that I chose this life because I knew it was what is most important.

There will never be a moment in the future that I look back and think what a waste it was that I spent my time kissing ouchies, giving hugs, teaching my kids to read and research and count, teaching five people how important it is to be kind, and that I am ALWAYS here for them when other people don’t teach their kids to be kind to us. I will never regret that as imperfect as I am my days were spent teaching five people that Christ loves them and what he sacrificed for them.

I will never regret bathing my baby in the sink.

So, although it’s been ages since I went out in public showered and put together, or had a break to eat or pee or exist, and I can’t remember what it’s like to hold a normal conversation, and as hard as my days can sometimes be… I shouldn’t feel those things now, either. What I’m doing is incredibly important. It matters.

Today, in the midst of my exhaustion and in spite of Monday, I am so grateful for this calling that is so wonderfully mine.

13 years

Dear Jess,

Until this morning you’ve had no free minutes to sit and think about the last thirteen years. Despite the pressure to use special days as a way to share the highlights and paint a perfect picture, you have to admit that year thirteen was in the top three for hardest years in your marriage. Ever the realist. So mamy really hard trials that had to be taken head on. It was hard and humbling and spent mostly in prayer and waiting for the work you and Aarik have put in to start benefiting your family. So, as this day approached, and you’ve been busy fixing leaks, and trying to rearrange your house yet another time to make it feel like seven people can fit here, and dealing with sick babies, you haven’t looked at year thirteen very fondly.

But, then this morning, sitting home with two coughing, yucky nosed little people you could see a little more clearly, the whole picture.

While it’s easy to just look back on the last year, marriage is best viewed as an entire picture. The journey, to date, rather than a mile at a time.

There are some really hard times; miscarriages, job loss, financial issues, extended family trials, losing family members, car trouble, depression, stress, anxiety, leak after leak, stomach bugs, and sleepless nights trying to find solutions to your problems, or your kids’ problems.

All of these things are heavy and can feel like they will break you, or sometimes your marriage. But, when handled together, if equally yoked, they in fact make you stronger. Stronger, together.

At some points in the journey it’s all uphill in mud, and somewhere along the way you look at the person carrying the load beside you and wonder if you even know each other. If you even like each other. You wonder if the other person is pulling as much weight as you; if they care that you’re breaking under the weight of the load you have created, together. They may do things that drive you nuts, or seem thoughtless. Maybe they don’t help when you need it most, or become distant when things are the hardest. Maybe you hate how loudly they eat chips, or how they load the dishwasher.

But, when you get to the top of the mountain you climbed together and look at everything you’ve carried to the top on your backs, you have the sudden realization that you couldn’t have done it by yourself. Or, with anyone else. That maybe God yoked you with someone who carried more of the load and just complained less than you. Maybe they hate the way you eat chips and load the dishwasher, but they hide it better because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or value peace more than silence and cups on top, only.

As you stand there, looking back, you can catch your breath and see that while climbing that mountain, and the ones before it, you made a lot of beautiful, perfect people and memories that you wouldn’t have had you just been crossing the plains, together. You grew in love with the person you’re with. Not a fleeting, too goo eyed, head over heels thing, but a strong, steady, dependable love. If it had been an easier journey, maybe you wouldn’t have held so tightly to one another. Maybe you would have removed the yoke, because you didn’t really need it.

Turning and looking forward to the rest of your journey and seeing that across the valley there are mountains to be climbed, as far as the eye can see, you can take a moment to realize that you are blessed to have a life that isn’t what you had pictured fifteen or twenty years (and mountains) before. That everything you love, all of your greatest accomplishments, couldn’t exist without this person. And you are so blessed to have been given the gift and privilege to know what it feels like to overflow your home with what is meant to be in a home; love and family. So many people will never know that gift. But you know it, together. And you can throw a bag of chips on top of what you’re already carrying, hide a few more for days you need the quiet, and remember that you’re totally capable of loading the dishwasher, your dang self.

Here’s to thirteen years of learning, building, growing, becoming, forgiving, and loving.

And, thirteen more. And thirteen more.