April 2014 archive

I do not understand

I’m almost 38 and I do not understand.

I do not understand what real sacrifice is, I do not understand how to love unconditionally, I do not understand gut wrenching compassion, I do not understand true affliction, I do not understand.

I am not wise in my own eyes and cringe when people would suggest so. That isn’t to say I have not gained some wisdom over almost four decades, I’m not a numb-nut, but I know the foolishness of my heart, the doubt and fear I wrestle with, my questions about my faith, my emotional teeter totter I get on each day. Although I come full circle back to Jesus I sometimes come unwillingly or shuffling my feet.

My heart can be very tossed about. I stand firm one minute and crumple at the next. I see Gods work in the world and marvel then I see the depravity of man and I waiver in my trust in an all powerful God.

I am surrounded, SURROUNDED by broken and hurting people. IN MY INNER CIRCLE. My heart feels stretched, fragile, thin. I’m not a melancholy. My deep laugh lines around my eyes are proof that I laugh and smile A LOT. I never tested as that personality trait and yet the older I get the more serious I seem to get. The more urgent I feel it is for me to cast aside anything that distracts me. I don’t want to waste time, money or resources on the “ashes” of this world…all that will rust, fade, be consumed by moths. “To what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” Matt 16:26

I was kneading bread yesterday and trying to flatten it out with my hands instead of a rolling pin. It didn’t take long before I tore holes in it. I tried to repair it but it looked battered and scarred. I pinched it over and over down the middle seam but it wouldn’t hold together. Isn’t that how we feel? Isn’t that how Christ left this earth? Battered and scarred and yet beautifully victorious over death? There is precious in the hard. There is beauty in the scars.

In my adult life I am learning a lot about what I missed. The gaps and holes in my theology. The misnomers, the lies I’ve told myself and just plain ignorance.

In the last few years I started to read and research what Advent is around Christmas time. How the month of December is actually an opportunity to have a heart attitude preparing me for the birth of Christ. It’s not about December 25th. It was never meant to be about one day. It’s an attitude and perspective that lasts more than a day.

Currently I am learning more about the season of Lent. Not because I am Catholic but because it too is a beautiful way to prepare my heart for an entire 40 days on the life changing sacrifice of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It isn’t about giving something up in a heroic or noble fashion…it is about creating space in my mind and heart. Abstaining or “giving up” something for 40 days is symbolic for all the things that rule, consume, or have authority in my day and casting them aside to keep my eyes on my Savior only profits my soul.

I am in a posture of student. I am learning so that I may then teach my kids. Let me share a few things that are my current “textbooks”. They are pinching together my torn dough.

I can watch this video by the great Brennan Manning and I am bent straight over in worship. All the things I do not understand, God does. He is infinitely compassionate, full of wisdom and understanding and unconditionally loves AT ALL TIMES. It is His nature, it is who He is. Do yourself a favor and take two minutes to watch this. Receive truth.

I’m currently reading book after book by Edith Schaeffer, wife of famous theologian, Francis Schaeffer. She writes with the seasoned writing that only a long life lived in obedience and sacrifice can yield. My heart feels mentored by her words. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. (or any book by her) She comes directly to grips with the eternal question of why we face suffering and affliction in this life, showing us how to trust in God alone for comfort.

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If you want to learn more about how to truly love people and live a life of humility then please….do yourself a favor and watch this powerful, funny, poignant, and honest message by Francis Chan. I keep coming back to it.

If you want to learn more about worship this Easter season and music speaks to your heart like no other medium then do yourself a favor and listen to these songs if you don’t already know them. They are on repeat around our house.

If the Easter season is hard for you, you feel dry and hopeless and guilty for feeling so then you want to read this blog that doesn’t mince words and a woman who writes with more adjectives than I could ever begin to spit out on paper. Read this entry by Ann Voskamp

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May we all press deeper into the Saviors arms this Lent season. May we understand his compassion, wisdom, and love a little more. He promises if we seek Him we will find Him. How I want this.

Happy Easter!

“You’re moving to the country?” A before and after post.

If you haven’t taken the time to read my about page (tisk tisk) then you might not realize that Ryan and I made a major decision almost two years ago to move from the city out to the country.
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Now we aren’t living on a farm raising animals and living off the land….baby steps, baby steps people. However, we do only have three lights in our town, one grocery store, and two major fast food chains representin’ There are more trucks than cars and I read that the population is around 1,400. So just sayin….. It’s country for this girl from Syracuse, New York and Ryan from Boston, Massachusetts.

If you asked me four years ago would I consider moving out to the country I would have emphatically said “NO…not for us!” How I need to stop saying definite “no’s” to anything. Those are the exact words I end up eating for a meal in the future. God has a beautiful sense of humor and timing.

Three years ago Ryan and I began to discuss who we were and who we weren’t; where are we going and what are we willing to leave behind. Our marriage was finally on healthy and level ground, our last baby was born, financially we were the most stable we had ever been and we saw our hearts were longing for more…much more.

We knew we didn’t want the “American Dream” of accumulating “stuff” and “wealth”. We wanted simple, we wanted financial freedom, and we wanted space to open up our home to others as a place of rest. It simply wasn’t happening at our little bungalow in the city. As cute as she was, she was small and it was noisy, and our kids had 1/10 of an acre to play on. There is nothing wrong with this, we LOVED living there but somehow we didn’t want it any more.

Isn’t she darlin?
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And so two springs ago we started looking not knowing exactly what we wanted but as I mentioned before, I just know it in my gut when I see it. For many months it was a series of dead ends. In fact I wouldn’t even allow myself to look in the county we currently live in. Seemed “too rural”. One day after a frustrating run down on the MLS I decided to pop in a few zip codes I hadn’t searched when I found our house. I didn’t know it at the time only that I LOVED how rustic it looked, 2.5 acres of private land and decent square footage.

We thought this house was in the woods when in actuality it is on a random one street neighborhood. It’s random because out here you don’t find many neighborhoods, everyone is spread out. There are only about 15 houses on our street but everyone has a few acres so you don’t really see each other. The benefit of both worlds. Consequently, it is my running joke that my kids are neither “country smart, nor city smart” because we live in some hybrid world.

When we hit our beautiful driveway I got emotional. Driving up to the house is beautiful with this winding LONG driveway with gorgeous pines everywhere that opens up to our home. I checked the listing again, WHY IS THIS IN OUR PRICE RANGE???? This neighborhood is way too nice for us to afford and the land???? What was going on?

As soon as we entered the home and were punched in the face with smoke and pet urine I was keenly aware that this house had been trashed before the bank got it. It was DISGUSTING, filthy, reeking, and run down. The bank did a courtesy paint job to “neutralize” the walls but nothing and I mean nothing could cover up the foul sites and smells. Only a handful of people ever got to experience the house in it’s raw state. The history on this house is there were 5 dogs, multiple cats, 8 ppl (most of whom smoked) and somehow in two years they ran this house into the ground.

You know what…I didn’t care, I just knew this was our house and it was going to take SOOOOO MUCH work but we could shine this piece of poo into a pearl with the help of many around us. If anyone has purchased a foreclosure then you realize it is a mighty battle of jumping through hoops, ups and downs, and twists and turns. It was so stressful but when our family stood in the back yard of the house after we put our offer in and we held hands and prayed and asked God to make a way for all this to happen….we prayed believing.

THat post is for another day of ALLLLLLLL God did to get us to close on this house on June 20, 2011. We had 10 days to make it livable before we were moving our family in. This required all hands on deck pulling 12+ hour days painting every square inch we could, having the hardwoods refinished, ripping out the foulest urine carpet you can imagine, sealing subfloors, and cleaning every surface area.

I’m going to start out showing you a few rooms and faces of people that made this transformation possible. WE COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT ALONE. I don’t have pictures of everyone that showed up and dedicated countless hours and talent to our home. People who babysat, hauled supplies, moved us on a cloudless 98 degree July day, ect… YOU GUYS we were humbled to tears that we are loved so well by our community. How do people do it alone?

So here she is the day we called her “ours”. You can hardly see her because of the big trees in front and one is literally laying on the roof split down the middle. Dad and his chainsaw to the rescue.

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Much better.
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Look at that huge wrap around porch!!! My favorite. All the awesome men in our small group painstakingly ripped out those huge boxwoods, tilled up all 160 sq feet around the porch and mulched and planted landscaping last spring. SO MUCH WORK!!! They were beasts.
(Current porch/house shots in a few weeks when spring hits a little harder here)

BEFORE SHOTS OF LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM FLOORS

The floors were stained with cat pee, dirt, soot from a kitchen fire and just plain sticky and nasty. I had no idea if they could even be saved!

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After refinishing but before staining. I CRIED!!! They looked BRAND NEW!!!

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A few faces that helped make the living room, sitting room, and dining room possible!!!

My wonderful neighbors. With only a handful of houses, what are the odds you know your neighbors and that they went to your church? Only Jesus. They were selflessly there every day helping.

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Ryan and Todd being all tough.
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OK…now the fun part. BEFORE AND AFTERS

This is the Living Room Before (before floors refinished)

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AFTER

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BEFORE
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AFTER

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Before you say anything about how clean it is or organized…please know I have the exposure up so you don’t see the gray stains on the carpet, finger prints on the windows, layer of dust on the furniture, and I put all the random stuff laying around in the room adjacent. Let’s get real. I wish my house stayed picked up, clean and nothing was stained. Not reality!

Basically, everything in that room is second hand/consignment, from Craigslist, hand me down, or from the Habitat from Humanity. That is how I roll with decorating. Hodge Podge of crazy deals smashed together. Wall color is MoonShine by Behr. My dad built the paneled wall behind the couch last Christmas for me, we spray painted the brass fireplace black, painted the interior door chartreuse, changed fan/light and that’s about it for that room besides decorating.

Because I love hearing about deals and steals here is how this room plays out. Couch is IKEA but we got it used off Craigslist for $400 (sold some of my old furniture to pay for it), coffee table $30 from Craigslist, comfy chaise bought off a friend for $50, Orange wing backs straight from my grandmas house 1970’s Ethan Allen, Huge cream shag rug was $1000 originally but we got for $100 from Habitat for Humanity, hutch/desk- Craigslist $25 I painted it and put Anthro knobs on. Toy Chest- hand me down from Ryan’s parents, TV stand $15 from Fred’s Junk Store (I painted it and Anthro knobs), Big Clock- Big Lots, huge Candlesticks are banister scraps from a salvage yard. Painted with Annie Sloan. Old Filing Cabinet (our DVD holder) $75 consignment, chartreuse velvet desk chair- $20 consignment, shelves up staircase are scrap molding I found at a salvage yard and painted, apple crate top- yard sale, old Vanity Fair “Men of the Day” prints- salvage yard. Curtains are from Pier One. Pillows are from all over. Wish list- wood panel or detailing over fireplace.

The Dining room has gone through two transformations. I just recently neutralized it. I LOVE CHARTREUSE. I love this room in the day time but at night it just made skin and food look nasty and it bothered me. Sorry…may seem petty but for $20 I can change a room with paint! This is the only shot I could find of it chartreuse.

BEFORE- Gotta love that sweet 80’s light

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AFTER take one

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AFTER take two

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BEFORE- kitchen in to dining room

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AFTER
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The bottom gray looks blue in these pictures but its just two levels darker than the Moonshine on top.

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Steals and Deals in this room are: That giant burlap/iron light is from Decorating Outlet in Richmond (Shades of Light discount store) Originally $1000 we got for $100!!!! Made the room! Table from IKEA, chairs from consignment store $125 for 6. Still haven’t decided what to paint them. Sadly one broke a few weeks ago, I have the bruise to prove it. Tin trays and old gate on wall from salvage yard. Yellow vintage highchair from antique store $20, yellow table planter- consignment $8, rug I dragged back from Kazakstan in 2001. Mucho sentimental and great colors! Curtains from Lowes.

Last room is a little sitting/mudroom area. This room is the bane of my existance. It’s so hard to stage. We tried it as the dining room first, then an office and its just morphed into a sitting, dumping ground of sorts. Ideally, I would like to do built ins all around the sides and top of window and built in bench under the window to have proper storage that is more hidden and organized. But for now…this is it.

QUASI BEFORE- had already painted, floors still unfinished.

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Steals and Deals for this room: Linen drum shade a whopping $119 at Decorating Outlet marked down to $19 (YES PLEASE), Coat rack- Free just painted it, End table-$15 bought off friend, Curtains- IKEA, Gorgeous leather chair snagged at Ryan’s work at Moore and Giles at a ware house sale. Originally over $1000 got it for $75. It’s so buttery and beautiful.

So that is a few of the before and afters of our home. A robber would probably be disappointed upon arrival but we sure love it. It is comfortable, lived in, colorful and US!! About once a month I move furniture around and swap out pillows from one room to the next so you never know how things will look a few weeks from now. Thats how I avoid spending money by just rearranging what I already have!

Last photo of how little the kids look when we moved in.

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Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Tipping Dominos

This is the extent of my homeschool mom career. Right here on these two slips of papers.
(Actually we started August 21, 2013 but I couldn’t find his his practice sheet)

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Five months.

Five long, hard, refining months.

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On February 3, 2014 I walked an excited and shy Bennett into his kindergarten class. I helped him hang up his coat, kissed him on the lips, went back to my car and burst into tears.

Only a very small handful of people even knew Bennett was starting “big school” for the rest of the year.

I know myself now. I needed to be sharply in tune with God’s voice over decisions this big and if I was polling every family member and friend on their opinion about my child then I would drown out the Lord’s voice. This was a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE decision for our family and only Ryan and myself were going to answer for it some day.

There were no Instagram or Facebook photos to commemorate the day. Ryan snapped one picture on his phone so we had one memory. It isn’t to say we didn’t make a big deal of it, we did. We all mustered up the joy and excitement that he deserved for this monumental occasion.

Now if you didn’t read my last post then you might not know where this story is coming from.

Picture a movie that starts out with a scene that is basically the punchline and you are scratching your head going what? who? why? when? Then the screen goes black and they flash a date or time on the screen. This is my black screen with white text. I just gave you the punchline now here is the back story.

AUGUST 2013

When we decided the first week of August to make the plunge in to homeschooling I felt like the 11th hour worker. As much as I have been around homeschool moms I knew NOTHING about curriculum or structuring my day or should there be no structure? Do I do classical eduction or create my own hybrid? Do I set up a classroom in part of the house or do it at the table? Should we do it all in one lump or break it up over the day? Do I wear sweat pants all day or just part of the day? That one I was clear on….ALL DAY BABY!!!!

So I nervously attended one curriculum book fair and felt dumb, overwhelmed, and ignorant of this whole world. I had three major pluses going in though. Bennett was a full grade ahead academically thanks to his STELLAR pre-K. He was reading and writing by the end of the 4’s class….BOOYAH (people still say that right? oh they don’t…my bad, my bad) So I decided to jump to 1st grade and that we would only do school 3-4 days a week so I had lots of time margin. My second plus was I had a friend who has the same age son and they attended the same pre-K so they were academically on the same level. Naturally, I did what any smart mom would do and shamelessly mooched her entire curriculum choices for the year. Oh you bought that? Yeah me too! Thanks Candace….I owe you big time for helping me unclench my butt cheeks after looking through curriculum catalogs! Last plus was Benentt’s age. In Virginia you don’t have to do the paperwork for the government declaring anything about your child until they are six. Avoided that whole deal. Whewwwww……

So there we were on that fateful Wednesday. We took pictures of the kids outside and Bennett wore a brave face. This was the first day of school in August for both kids.
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We dropped Chloe off at school. Bennett stood at her classroom doorway and cried. I could hardly make eye contact. I was so torn because my heart was breaking that she was going to FULL day, public school. Two firsts for her/us. So I was crying because I was sad to be apart from her. Then I had to look in the eyes of the kid that is broken hearted walking out of the school he wanted to go to and head home with me. I know homeschool is NOT a punishment but in Bennett’s mind it felt that way and to be honest…I felt that way too. We were both sentenced to one year mandatory home prison, I mean homeschool.

The first day I tried big time. I set up everything all cute for him, Name tag, juice and candy treat. I introduced myself as Mrs. Portnoy and welcomed him to my class. We said the pledge (I know…it’s not easy being this cool) and prayed. Deep breath. I actually had sweaty pits as if someone was watching and judging me. I can’t help my type A-ness. (sorry for the midget pictures, had to pull from my instagram feed)
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First day wasn’t too bad overall. A little resistance from him on writing but after about two hours we made it through all four subjects. We survived. Neither of us cried. The day was neutral.

Neutral.

That is the word I would use for all five months of homeschool. I felt neutral about it. There were days I didn’t mind it and days I HATED it but the majority just felt neutral. We tried different things. Doing everything in the morning, doing all of it in the afternoon, breaking up throughout the day. We did school at the table, outside and at this great vintage desk I scored.

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I would say at least once a day Bennett pushed back. Usually not too hard but some days we would have a 30 minute stand off. I made a pact to myself not to fight him so I would simply walk away and tell him “Let me know when you are ready”. We managed to get through it 3-4 days a week.

Here was my prayer “Make me fall in love with it Jesus!” I desperately wanted some switch to flip in me that made me fall in love with homeschooling. I wanted to pull Chloe out and make this our new normal. I truly believe in it and love the freedom it affords.

It wasn’t for me. I only loved when it was over. I did not drink the Koolaid.

I was sad I didn’t even like it. I basically floated in this neutral place that was mostly void of feeling. I KNEW it was the right thing for Bennett. HE WAS NOT READY FOR SCHOOL. I do not believe my problem needs to be your problem and therefore I didn’t need to send him to school because “I couldn’t deal with him.” God gave me a brain and intuition and I knew we were setting him up to fail if we sent him away with the emotional maturity level he was at. I was a former teacher….I am sensitive that one kid can drain a whole classroom and I didn’t want that for Bennett’s sake or the teachers sake. I wanted to be the one shaping his heart and emotions. A teacher balancing 20 other eternal beings can’t work with him the way I can. I knew this was the greater lesson in him being home, not his academic success.

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I could tell about a month in that Bennett was starting to show some true signs of emotional self control. There was definitely progress being made, this was not for not. I too was having my own heart renovation of sorts. I was learning about obedience and submission. Not in a martyr way, more in surrendering what I thought this year was going to be for myself and allowed the Lord to renovate my expectations. This was a maturing process for me too. I may be 37 but there are days I was in my bedroom room pouting, crying or kicking a rock. Did I believe God is good and good would come from this? I did! That’s why I stuck with it. I saw both of us were learning really important lessons. I wanted what James 1 talks about…”Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I have no desire to stay the same Kelly I am today. Help me grow Jesus, help me grow.

The problem really came in a different form about November…..

Whose got two thumbs and could rival Bennett in emotional out burts?

This guy…
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Not one but both of my boys are emotional freak balls. It seems so ironic that my girl is so calm and level headed and my boys can’t keep it together if their life depended on it.

So having a 2.5 year old milling around while you homeschool is not easy. I seriously do not understand how parents with multiple kids (toddlers and babies) homeschool.

I sent him to “Leap Frog school” (video) for the first 30 mins a day, gave him busy bags, tried to distract him in another room but it was basically futile. If he came anywhere near the table while Bennett was schooling Bennett was completely derailed and a fight would break out. Not one but two tea kettles at full boil.

I am not a loud person, I don’t like attention, I don’t do well when there is chaos around me, I JUST WANT IT TO STOP!!! So I found out I have an alter ego and that she likes to yell to get control. Yes…lest you imagine me sitting in my room at night polishing a halo that image is smashed. I turned in to a full fledged screamer. (Hangs head in shame).

I remember when Chloe and Bennett were little they hit a rut where they couldn’t be in the same room together. It was a long year that broke my heart but they/we got through it. Those two are AWESOME together now. Hours and hours of play with nary a fight. I have the foresight to know that this “rough patch” the boys entered in November would not last forever but for now it was absolutely paralyzing in our home.

I would not be exaggerating to say that from sun up to sun down the boys fought. Rhett is VERY much like Bennett in his emotional craziness. The only difference is…he is two and he snaps out of it quickly. The two of them were a match and gasoline and I spent the majority of my day and energy breaking up fights, separating them on different floors, punishing, redirecting, etc… I was EXHAUSTED and beyond frustrated by 10:00am each day. I felt myself slipping away slowly and this uptight, short tempered, impatient, sad mom started to take over our home. Everybody was losing. I was crying all the time and felt overwhelmed by the boys. Again…homeschool wasn’t a big deal…it floated out there neutrally….it was the emotional temperature of our home that was taking the ship down.

There were a few observations Ryan and I started to make. We let Bennett start sports this year. We noticed when he was around boys his own age he stopped talking in his mousy voice and talked in his “big boy voice”. He took correction from the coaches very well overall without crying ( I mean he cried sometimes but not in a way he stood out). Basically, we were very impressed that he seemed “normal” on the teams. At church he always did great! No problems, no emotional spells, good listening and submitting to authority.

By Christmas time Ryan and I were in big discussions on what to do about the boys, homeschool, my emotional well being. It felt super lame to consider sending Bennett to school because I was having a hard time emotionally at home. But it isn’t lame. It was my heart and mind and all of us were suffering in different ways with the chaos the boys were causing. It’s hard when you are home 50+ hours a week taking care of your kids, making decisions on their behalf emotionally, spiritually, and behaviorally. Ryan is a SUPER dad but isn’t the primary care taker because of his job. I was feeling so pressured and overwhelmed on what was the “right” decision for all of us. I’m thankful he helped me pray through this decision and finally made the call for all of us.

I remembered our counselor once saying something so simple it was profound “If what you are doing isn’t working then tip a domino in another direction and try something different.” So we talked about it, prayed about it, gave it a few more weeks of reflection, spoke to a few people about this decision and waited for the Lord to speak.

In February it marked nine months since Bennett was in a classroom setting. Perhaps, just perhaps based on what we observed in sports and church that when Bennett is around kids his age he is now RISING to the emotional maturity level instead of being glaringly behind. Perhaps, just perhaps being around an emotional toddler all day was actually bringing him down. Maybe it was time to tip a domino in a different direction and see.

We were blessed to get a teacher that not only has 20 + years experience teaching kindergartners but she was also a believer at public school. When I met with her the week before we sent Bennett I was able to share openly about our decision to homeschool Bennett and our prayer and deep conviction to shape Bennett’s emotional and spiritual well being. She was so sensitive and caring I felt like we were passing a torch to someone who saw Bennett not just as another student but a little eternal being in her class.

Now eight weeks later we have seen Bennett THRIVING at school. He is so happy, we are seeing INCREDIBLE changes around our home with his emotional maturity, we could not be more peaceful about this decision as difficult as it was. It was the right time for him and it was the right time for me to have margin and time one on one with Rhett. When I get a note home from Bennett’s teacher saying “I love having Bennett in my class” my heart swells to the point of bursting.

The boys are still in a terrible funk but Bennett is handling it much better and I am not drained of all will to live by 10:00am so I am able to handle the fights and screaming with maturity and patience. Our home is peaceful again and I am getting some structure in my weeks that I have needed. I mean I launched this website the week after we sent Bennett to school so I have had my outlet back that I have missed so much albeit very sporadic when I write.

The God’s honest truth is I cried heaving cries when I packed up all the homeschool materials. I don’t even truly know why. I was sad it was over. Not because I wanted to keep doing it but because I liked having Bennett home with me. I grieved that I didn’t love it and I grieved that this year was so personally stretching. The rest of my tears I still don’t understand and maybe I never will. I am still open to homeschool in the future. I’ve learned to never say never to Jesus. So who knows….this summer a major life change is going to be happening which I will share in the near future. I have no idea of the next chapter God is writing for our family but I am excited to read it!

The Refinement of Passion

You could have heard a pin drop when the sonogram lady (I am sure there is a fancy title for her Sonographer? Sonoriffic? I don’t know) typed three little letters across the screen. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know this baby didn’t have three legs, we were having a B-O-Y.

Blink….Blink….a boy?

Yeah Lord….I was already freaking out about having babies back to back but a BOY???? What do I do with a boy? I fancied myself a mom of multiple girls. I’m so sad to say I cried after we found out. Not tears of joy but sad, bitter tears. Oh how I let satan steal my joy that day.

Fast forward to May 3rd, 2008. The doctor said “Reach down and pull out your son” and I did. One MASSIVE, adorable bouncing baby boy was pulled up on my chest all slimy and gooey and I didn’t care. I WAS IN LOVE. One look at those big brown peepers sealed the deal. Any fear I had about having a son was gone in an instant. That is not an exaggeration. I loved this beautiful boy from moment one. Bennett Wade Portnoy burst into the scene and into my heart.
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For the first 8 months I was convinced I had birthed a sugar cube. He was an angel baby, all smiles and sweetness. My one complaint was he was a barracuda nurser and until the day we stopped nursing I had scabs where you don’t want to have scabs. That memory hasn’t faded. I’m sure my “nibbles” (as Chloe calls them) wept in my sad, gray lifeless nursing bra at night while I slept. It was the worst of times…It was the worst of times. At least for nursing. Other than that…this kid was top shelf, GOLD!

I distinctly saw a shift in my journal entries at 8 months when Bennett got mobile. A little thing called “will” began to emerge and his halo quickly turned into two little horns. Not all the time at first, no no no….he didn’t change the game quite yet it was more of a little toot on the horn of Bennett making way for the STEAM ROLLER that was going to release at about 18 months old.

We had done bore ourself a quarter mule, a quarter tea pot at full boil, a quarter cry baby, and a quarter sweet boy all rolled in to one.

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Now let me stop and say THIS IS NOT A PARENTING BLOG. I am not giving you advice, I have not figured anything out, your child may be similar to Bennett but let me assure you…God made them unique so please read our journey and skim the cream and hopefully a few good laughs, encouragement and anecdotes while you are at it. This has been a LONG, hard almost 6 years but it is SO worth it for I am not the same mom I was six years ago. Like a knife on a sandstone rock, Bennett has both worn me down and sharpened me. I’m so glad God gave him to our family.

So Bennett had a few distinct “calling cards” in his toddler years. Hitting….Screaming….did I mention Hitting? He had an iron clad will, was easily offended (like don’t look at him wrong) and was a massive over-reactor. Everywhere I went I brought an emotional time bomb that WOULD and DID go off from sun up to sun down. These emotions were not fleeting either, he liked to marinate in his sadness or anger or offense. One never knew when one would be free from his emotional prison. We are so blessed to have so many “safe” friends that loved Bennett despite him being King Turd and whacking their kids all the time for no reason. You have to have safe friends.

Now I don’t want to be unfair to Bennett. His bad is certainly bad but oh man…his good IS SOOOOOOOO GOOD!!! He is by nature a “pendulum”. When he swings low he takes us all with him but when he swings high….well you can’t imagine a more sweet child. He is SO tender, compassionate, thoughtful, empathetic, spiritually sensitive, a BUNDLE OF FUN, massively athletic and coordinated, has a great work ethic and super affectionate. This has saved me from murdering him or giving him away on many occasions. Out of all my kids I actually get Bennett the most. I get passion and even though I was a very self controlled and calm child I get the ups and downs he “feels”. It resonates with my adult self. We say all the time if Bennett pushes all his chips in for Jesus then watch out…HE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD FOR CHRIST!! His name translates to “Blessing to go forth” You have no idea how much I’ve wept over the power of his name and begged God to make this his destiny. I believe He will.

I mean look at this kid!! What a doll!!!

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It’s not easy to parent. Even compliant children come with a different set of rules you must learn. When you have a child that is in a constant emotional frenzy you are forced to rise up and tame the colt. EVERY.SINGLE.EXHAUSTING.TIME. You simply can not give an inch. What Bennett didn’t bargain for is that he would get a very stubborn mom and I don’t back down (ask poor Ryan) but also a very empathetic mom.

Those moments when I’m literally pleading with him, “Bennett make the right choice” and I see him go face first into the wrong choice and I want to scream or face palm myself because my child’s heart sadly hit the buzzer before his head could think. I found myself pitying him many times over pitying myself. The compulsion of emotions seemed to win over reason 9 out of 10 times. Like a giant bully stealing his money EVERY day Bennett seemed trapped in a cycle of emotional fail. This bounced the ball back in my court to be consistent with discipline which is mind numbingly difficult. You have to have a strong resolve and many times my stubbornness was the only gas in my tank of parenting.

It isn’t until we look back that we see that indeed we are not on “a treadmill in the fog”. Lots of effort, seemingly going nowhere. When I look back to Bennett at age 2, then 3, then 4, I can tell we are actually moving this freighter forward and by golly…even dropping off some emotional baggage into the sea. The progress is slow and he likes to go back to Egypt on occasion (don’t we all!) but chugga chugga chugga chugga…we are moving forward as a family. God is doing something deep in him, hallelujah!

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There isn’t enough space to write the laundry list of things we’ve tried so no need to comment with suggestions. We’ve ignored bad behavior, spanked, separated from peers, taken away privileges and toys, left him home from outtings, used timers, incentive charts, and allowance. Recently we have found a TRUE punishment and that’s writing lines. HE HATES IT!!!!! WE LOVE that we finally have some leverage. Some things worked for a little bit but nothing changed his heart.

Truly, the most effective thing we’ve done is pray with him and give him a vocabulary for communicating with us. We talk about the fruits of the spirit and help him identify what fruit he was lacking and how to go before the Father who gives all spiritual gifts and ask him for more self control or more kindness or patience, etc… WE’ve memorized scripture on obedience and self control. We teach him about God’s character and how he is the GREAT RESCUER. Don’t we all need to remember we can be rescued from any and all situations of sin? We’ve held him when we wanted to ring his neck and we’ve cried in front of him so that he understood grief and sorrow over his choices. I’ve also had to humbly apologize to him many times for losing my temper and he has apologized countless times to me…unprompted. The bottom line is…we can’t control him. The quicker I came to that realization the better I was as a mom. Only God can change the heart, we are merely the rudder pointing him to Jesus. It is much bigger than nit-picking each individual situation of disobedience and punishing each offense. I’ve had to learn a lot about mercy and grace.

We sent Bennett to half day private pre-school last year. He did exceptionally well academically but it was apparent over the school year that he still was VERY emotionally behind his peers. He was a distraction often in the classroom and would get obstinent with his teacher. It’s heart breaking to get a call that your four year old is in the principals office. Something had to change. I didn’t want him thinking he was a bad kid or for him to resent school. Over the summer Ryan and I had to have lots of hard talks about if Bennett was truly ready to go to full time kindergarten. We also knew we were making the jump to public school now that we lived so far out. Two great unknowns.

A great majority of my friends homeschool and we live in a part of the country where it is VERY acceptable and not seen as something weirdos do, unlike where I great up in NY. Some of the best kids we know are homeschooled so I have a very positive taste in my mouth about it. The thing about homeschooling is it takes the mom to be the teacher. Ironically, I was a special ed teacher before having children but this was very different from what I knew homeschool to be.

It was an AGONIZING summer over what to do with Bennett. We told him early on in the summer that we were not sure he would be going to “big school” next year because of his behavior. I’m going to be honest, I felt sick inside at the thought of teaching Bennett and having a toddler around at the same time. I know who I am and I know who I am not. I have friends who are incredible with this age and stage of life and are thriving homeschool moms. I also have other women in my life that their homes are chaos, they are stressed, overwhelmed, resentful but are so committed to the principle of homeschooling that they are willing to sacrifice themselves, not in a righteous way but in a martyr way, on the altar of homeschool. I ain’t a martyr.

I am not here to debate homeschool verses public school verses private school. I am a huge believer in all three avenues because I believe every child is different. There are pros and cons to each. We have always been “wait and see” kind of parents as far as what works for one kid, might not for another and we need to be discerning year to year what is best for EACH child.

I can say I identify so much with the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord when it came to the decision of what to do with Bennett. God speaks through my gut. For those of you like me, you understand that statement. I knew back in June that Bennett needed to stay home and be homeschooled but I was terrified of what that required of me and I resented having to make the decision. I tried to deny my gut.

We’ve had babies since the first year we were married. This 2013/2014 school year was the first time I saw a little breathing space ahead. Just Rhett all day. One child home after three is a cake walk. I had dreams and desires of things I hadn’t done in years like sewing and painting and decorating. Finally working out and creating a new rhythm. These were not selfish thoughts. I love my children and know what a priviledge it’s been to be a stay at home mom. Those baby/toddler years require you to be full on, 24 hours a day. One can’t survive at that pace forever. There was a part of me that needed to submit to the Lord on behalf of Bennett’s emotional well being or I, like Jacob, might have my hip wrenched out of place and walk with a reminder for the rest of my life of what I should have done. Disobedience comes with a great cost.

The first week of August we told Bennett he would not be going to kindergarten but would be homeschooled instead. You ever broken your child’s heart but knew you were doing the right thing before the Lord? It’s a hard one to swallow. He cried bitter tears and I cried too. I didn’t want to homeschool and he didn’t want to be homeschooled. What a pair we were heading into the school year. What a journey we were reluctantly saying “Yes” to.

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This post is long enough. I will talk about homeschool experience in the next post.

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