Ahhh our favorite time of year… NOT back to school, or *new curriculum time*. Ok, it’s not our favorite time, but it might be MY favorite time! I love all of the new and innovative curriculum coming out for homeschoolers. We are secular but we’ve found a lot of value in some non-secular curriculum as well, as long as the religious aspects are easily taken out and not central to the learning process.
So what are we going with? This year the girls are actually doing two different curriculum for all subjects, although there is quite a bit of crossover in Social Studies. They are also doing music from the same curriculum, as well.
I’ve been eyeing Oak Meadow forever, and this year we are finally going for it! I found the course books used and for sale, and decided on the grade levels based on the interests of the girls. With an all-in-one curriculum like this, each subject may not be at the correct level. For example, my “fourth grader” is probably at a grade 1-2 level in reading and language arts, maybe lower in writing. But she is definitely able to do the grade 4 social studies, science, and art. So I decided to do read-alouds with the literature, and supplement the reading and writing just a little with something at her level. Our “fifth grader” is probably just below fifth grade writing, but as far as grammar and reading she is right there.
OM covers a variety of topics in science, which I felt like we will enjoy this year. We spent a year covering earth sciences, then a year doing the animal kingdom. We’re ready for a little more variety. 4th grade is very much about making observations and coming to conclusions from those observations, and 5th grade really starts using the scientific method. There is some astronomy, using a microscope, some physical science, and still quite a bit of earth and animal science which both girls continue to enjoy.
We spent a year doing the basics of government, citizenship, geography, and light generic history. Then last year we covered ancient civilizations with Torchlight, from the stone age to the Romans. I think the girls absorbed about as much of that as they could for their age, and it was very continuous from our earth science (history of the universe and earth), to ancient plant and animal life, to evolution and early human civilizations. So now we are going in the direction of local history, our state and country. 4th grade OM focuses on local topography and history, and 5th grade begins with early explorers from Europe. I do not want a Euro-centric history, however, so we are pulling from Woke Homeschooling‘s “Oh Freedom” curriculum, which tries to tell American history from the perspective of people of color, especially indigenous Americans and black Americans, although there is good focus on latine Americans later on. So, we will have our book basket time all together doing readings and activities from Oh Freedom, as well as from our local Ohlone tribe who put out their own curriculum about the tribes of the Bay Area. I’m extra excited about that, because what a wonderful thing to have access to! A curriculum for grade-schoolers written by actual tribe members, about the history of where we live! I could not believe it when I stumbled across it on the regional park website in our area. I hope something like this is or becomes available everywhere!
5th grade will ask the student to do a lot of her own time management. She’ll be assigned readings that relate to social studies, and have to read it in a certain time frame. It will be up to her to decide how she wants to accomplish that, so that will be interesting! She actually has quite a good grasp of grammar concepts, thanks to The Good and the Beautiful language arts program. She knows parts of speech, parts of a sentence, can diagram sentences, and name a lot of literary devices. A lot of it is a bit useless, honestly, so we are just going to stick with the grammar in Oak Meadow, which seems more practical to me and more focused on actual writing mechanics, which is what she needs help on. A lot of paragraph and report writing this year. Our fourth grader will be able to do the OM4 language arts assignments in the beginning (verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc) but it may be over her head after a while. I will keep using the exercises from TGTB level 1 for practice, that book is almost finished. I’ll also use Wild Reading 2 for her, for hands-on practice and nature-based reading. TGTB readers are just too dry and vanilla for me, and their coursework is so grammar heavy. I do think identifying nouns, verbs, adjectives etc is necessary, but the more advanced sentence diagramming is not so much at this age. I like the proofreading exercises, so we may ultimately try something like Fix-It grammar or something like that.
We will continue with The Good and the Beautiful Math 4 for our fifth grader, because she is a little more than halfway through and has made good progress. She has asked for a little more variety and hands-on stuff, though, so I will be adding in books and games/activities from Wild Math 4. When she’s ready for level 5, I’ll see if I want to continue with TGTB 5. I do have Wild Math 5 and can keep using that for supplementing or learning. Maybe that’s all we’ll need, since she does have the basics down at this point. For our 4th grader, we’ll keep using TGTB 3 (old version). She really enjoys the slower format, and the games like Sodoku and pentominoes. For her, we will be doing a LOT more of Wild Math 2, since she very much enjoys and needs tactile learning to be engaged.
I don’t have any particular music curriculum. I guess I’m making my own. We will start with The Story of the Orchestra to gain familiarity with each instrument, and the accompanying music that goes with the book. We’ll also read about early composers and musicians, making sure to highlight contributions by women and BIPOC figures. We’ll read some fun books about music terminology, like tempo and dynamics. Finally, we’ll keep doing the recorders and practicing reading music and keeping rhythm in that way. I myself and practicing banjo and fiddle, and we have the piano and a guitar, so if at any point the kiddos want to try those instruments, they are available.
Art is included in the 4th grade curriculum, and related to the science activities, so that is easy to do. For fifth grade, we will start off using Blossom and Root Math in Art Level 2. We did part of level 1 a few years ago, and I already own level 2, and I thought it would be a good level for her to explore different kinds of art and artists.
I’ll have both girls continue with Nessy Fingers for typing a few times a week. The fifth grader is done with formal handwriting practice, she just needs to actually slow down and make sure that her printing is legible. I’ll also have her do a fair amount of her writing assignments in cursive for the practice. The 4th grader is going to do another practice book from TGTB for both printing and cursive, and then another cursive practice book after that. She is really only just starting cursive, still.
Last year I designed a unit study-type curriculum based on Torchlight Level 1 (for history and geography), Blossom & Root 3 (study of the animal kingdom), and The Good and the Beautiful for math, language arts, and handwriting. We also did typing at Typetastic and Nessy Fingers, cursive from various resources, and Brave Writer Dart series plus a flex class on Outschool. As usual, we kept changing things, and in the end I am pleased with how the girls are finishing. That is to say: strong!
The biggest challenge? That’s easy. Two little boys aged 2. They are impossible to do anything around, as they are loud and rough and just plain wild. What really helped the most this year was sending them to a friend’s house once a week for several hours. Also helpful was when they went to bed. This coming year they will be at preschool and we are SO. GLAD. Homeschooling should feel like a total breeze compared to what we went through this year!
4th Grader Our fourth grader started the year truly struggling in math. She hated it and had a lot of anxiety and mental block in the beginning, to the point where we were actually becoming concerned. We had her tested by the school district after the holidays, and strangely… she stopped fighting math right after. She even started saying it wasn’t so hard anymore! Huge turn around there! For math, we used The Good and the Beautiful level 4 math (old version) but we had lost the 2nd book of level 4… so we switched to the new version which is only one book. I thought she she would be able to start about halfway through the book, but NO. We ended up doing a lot of the beginning of the book because she didn’t seem to be clear on most of it. The backtracking worked, I guess, because she has finished very strong. We have not had a meltdown at all over math for more than two months!
3rd Grader My active strong-willed child, she often becomes frustrated when she can’t catch on to something right away. She really hates instruction, preferring to figure everything out on her own. Even so, she claims that math is her favorite subject. She finished The Good and the Beautiful level 2 books (the old version) after the holidays, and is plowing right through level 3! We are still using the old versions, because I find them to be slower paced with more opportunity for games and activities, like the pentaminos and soduko, which she really enjoys.
Mom rating for our math curriculum choices this year: A. We have liked The Good and the Beautiful math because it is all in one book and has lots of variety and colors. The spiral approach is reassuring to me, as well, and prevents us having to “re-teach” everything over and over. It does mention God or the bible once in a while, but those parts are easily skipped over or left out or even changed into a discussion about religion and different schools of thought. Both girls advanced a year’s grade level, and both seemed to have solid understanding of what they learned. Most importantly, they are both finishing the year saying that math is one of their favorite subjects. That’s a win!
For next year, I would like to have more math games, math books, and hands-on math just to get us away from book work more often.
4th Grader I didn’t intend to use just The Good and the Beautiful for Language Arts, but it really worked so well for us to have such an open-and-go curriculum. I started out the year having our 4th grader reading one novel, a chapter or so a week, and doing various activities from the novel’s Dart from the Brave Writer program. She read The Rickshaw Girl, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Peacemaker, The Year of the Dog, and maybe another I’m forgetting in this way. It was good, but then I got bored with doing a Dart every time. We switched it up a bit with Heartwood Hotel, Ways to Make Sunshine, and a few more books, just printing some activities from TeachersPayTeachers to go with the reading. Finally, she read Kensuke’s Kingdom and did a Flex class on Outschool which had some quizzes and writing assignments. Honestly there wasn’t much to do with the Flex class so I wouldn’t do that again, most likely.
Our biggest goal for the 4th grader was to get sentences down and then paragraphs. She really felt daunted by paragraphs for most of the year, but the last month something seems to have clicked. Her grammar skills are really very good. She worked her way through TGTB level 3 without any problem, and we started skipping the readers and all of the dictating because it got dry and boring. She then started level 4, which was actually much better in my opinion. The grammar seems pretty easy for her, so she has pretty much mastered 4th grade grammar concepts in my opinion. More importantly, she is finally writing paragraphs without crying. She has learned ‘The Writing Process’ sucessfully and is just now writing multiple paragraphs without tears, editing/proofreading and making her final drafts. We’re super proud of how far she’s come! She’s also reading for fun a lot, too, and quite thick novels. Reading was a big struggle for this one earlier in her elementary years, so boy am I glad we started homeschooling and she could slow down and go at her own pace. It’s a joy to see her interested in a good book!
Speaking of struggling reader… the difference here is that she never realized she was “behind”. She has been homeschooled since first grade and usually a solid two years behind “grade level”. But who cares! Because this year something has clicked, and she began plowing through The Good and The Beautiful Level K like it was child’s play, and now has almost finished level 1 (which is about 2nd grade level in most schools). Much much more importantly, she enjoys reading and feels very proud that she can now decipher signs and other text. She has never gotten an A, a C, or any other grade for reading. It now seems ridiculous, like grading someone for how they grow in height! They just… do when they do. And you just… support them as they go! We provided phonics lessons, we provided lots of reading and books, we never told her where she “should be” or that other kids her age were “already” reading other things. She’s going to be reading novels in no time now… the important thing being that she can get information and enjoy it! She particularly likes to learn about animals, so reading will be her best tool into gaining the knowledge she’s always seeking.
As far as literature, I always have an ambitious list. We read several of the same books as the 4th grader and really enjoyed them, plus some additional classics, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist series, the MadamePamplemouse series, and Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos series . We read through her stack of books that were Christmas books, as well, including A Wolf Called Wander and Coyote Peterson’s book of animal adventures. Many of our reading choices came from Torchlight Level 1.
Mom Rating of our Language Arts curriculum this year: A- Torchlight had great suggestions for some read-aloud bedtime books, and The Good and the Beautiful really solidified grammar knowledge for our oldest and helped with word decoding and reading practice for our 3rd grader. Dart and TGTB both got a bit dry toward the end, however.
We did the same social studies curriculum for both girls, and it came from Torchlight Level 1. We used Curiousity Chronicles as our guide through all of the ancient civilizations in chronological order, starting with the Stone Age and ending with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Ancient Egypt was a big hit, as was the Stone Age, but I think many of the cultures just went in one ear and out the other for the girls. I hope they at least came away with an understanding that as humans, our history of civilizations is worldwide and very old. We took some interesting field trips, including to a local Egyptian museum which was quite good. We talked about the beliefs of native people and introduced the concept of conquering civilizations and how they often oppress or destroy those whose lands they seek to control. We have ended on Maori and Aborigine people, and I think we are in a good position to start introducing our state and national history next year. With a solid foundation of what a “civilization” is, and how one can often be detrimental to another, we can talk about how our own country came about, why slavery existed and how it still affects our country today, and how we came to live in our own state instead of the natives who came here first.
Mom Rating of Social Studies Curriculum this year: B+ B+ only because I built much of the curriculum myself, meaning I took the themes and subjects from Torchlight and found similar books, or books not mentioned, videos, movies, and field trips that related. That’s totally ok, and I enjoyed making my own curriculum. Torchlight ended up being more of a reference than a program I followed, though. While I did find their booklists helpful, I did not stick to their timelines, schedules, or assignment sheets at all, and we did our own thing with science. Torchlight doesn’t include language arts or math.
Both girls did science together, just as they did last year. We had a truly great experience with Blossom & Root Year 1, earth science, and finished with their dinosaur unit, so we were well prepared to take on Year 3, which was the animal kingdom. (We skipped year 2, plants.) Essentially, I used their subject order, their book and video and activity lists for suggestions, but also built in my own activities and books and videos. Again, I mostly used BR as a resource for building my own curriculum, just like with Torchlight. My 3rd grader especially enjoyed studying each type of animal very thoroughly, and they both have a great grasp on animal classifications and life cycles, as well as the effects that humans are having on their existence. They ended the year this week with an animal report (I got two different templates from TeachersPayTeachers) and poster presentation. I was very proud of their end result!
Mom rating of the science curriculum this year: A- B&R is a great curriculum for starting new homeschooling families off on the right path. I really learned how to tailor curriculum to my own family and lifestyle from them. They were the perfect age for animal studies, and I highly recommend bringing in great movies that teach better than a textbook. Like watching Free Willy to learn about Orcas, for example. Naturally, we visited the zoo, aquariums, and watched local wildlife, including bird watching. This was a basic intro to all of the different kinds of animals in the animal kingdom, and it kept us interested. I think we are a bit ready to move on, now, to physics, space, biology, etc.
Handwriting and Typing This year both girls worked on handwriting with The Good and the Beautiful, as well as cursive workbooks. Our 4th grader has very nice cursive and our 3rd grader now has the basics. In addition, they are getting a grasp on typing with the proper hand position, thanks to Typetastic and Nessy Fingers.
Art and Music We did several handcrafts this year, including finger knitting, wood carving, and clay (again). The girls were introduced to the recorder, and we’ll pick it up again next year. Additionally, our 4th grader took homeschool group art classes at a local studio and the 3rd grader took a weekly drawing class on Outschool.
Ranching, Farming, Hiking, Survival Skills The girls continued to attend a local program for both homeschoolers and after-school students that has kids outside no matter the weather (as if the weather changes much in CA), gardening and harvesting and preparing food, both from their crops and from gathering edible plant life, hiking, plant identification and medicinal uses, raising animals, survival skills like shelter and fire building, archery and pottery, woodshop, and social-emotional skills and team building with their groups. Our initial attempt to have the girls in the same group failed, so by moving the 3rd grader down a level, it all improved and they both made friends and enjoyed their day there. I can’t say enough about how great this place is for kids! In addition, the 3rd grader continued riding lessons twice a week, and began cantering this year!
Needing a change for the new year, we joined the Wilder Child Moon Club for 2022. The girls studied the moon extensively: its phases, its orbit, what its like to be an astronaut on the moon (I highly recommend Astronaut, Aquanaut: such a cool book!), what ancient civilizations called each moon of the year and why, and how to track the phases of the moon and witness some of its major events, like eclipses and super moons. We’ve also done Moondalas with each new moon to set intentions, and read stories about the topic coinciding with that particular moon. (Snow Moon, for example, included books about snow, both fiction and non-fiction, and snow activities and videos.) I have personally loved feeling more in sync with the moon.
Emotional growth and Growth Mindset
We did all sorts of stuff here… sibling relationship programs, Big Life Journal, Mom/Daughter journaling, plus lots and lots of library books that went along with the theme. We talked a lot about making and learning from mistakes, anger management techniques, setting goals, resilience, being kind to yourself and to others. Our 4th grader did a whole Empathy workbook and our 3rd grader worked through the whole ADHD and Me workbook. It’s hard to say if they can really use what they learned, but at the very least they have an awareness and it won’t be brand new information to them as they get older. The sibling programs are a work in progress and we just keep finding as many resources as possible to help them with their animosity toward one another. Helping our older girl understand ADHD and trauma behavior in her younger sister was a big focus for us along with empathy. And both girls often feel a lack of attention with the boys taking the lion’s share of it all the time.
What Didn’t Work
It sounds so sweet and good, but I just couldn’t pull it off with any regularity. Plus, I don’t want the toddlers breaking my beautiful tea set. So, maybe when they are at preschool next year, we can try to do it at least a little bit more. At the very least, we will read more poetry!
Big Life Journal curriculum
Don’t buy this pdf. It’s redundant, and so is the podcast. It literally repeats what is in the journal itself. Just the journal is good enough, and a quick google search for “growth mindset books for kids” will bring up lots and lots of excellent lists that you can find at the library or as read-alouds on YouTube.
I was initially excited for this resource. The girls had a few good experiences, including a MineCraft group, an art class, and escape rooms. The Flex classes were pretty disappointing, though, and unfortunately we just can’t seem to be home on time or at the right times to pull these off consistently. I do think the online gaming with friends is particularly good for my 3rd grader, so I may try to find a time that I know we’ll have to be home in the future for these groups.
The Good and the Beautiful readers
Some of these are really boring. It’s always sort of a very vanilla story without any real complex problems. I opted to use level 1 readers from the library instead. No one wants to read things that are boring!
Game Week We never did it. I think it will just be easier to add games into the actual daily schedule. After all, we had plenty of weeks without any school due to sickness or vacation!
Main Lesson Books I’m not totally giving up on this, it just wasn’t in the cards this particular year. First of all, my 3rd grader just ended up drawing on every page all the time, so her MLB was full of this and that way too soon. I still love the idea, and as we’re going to use Oak Meadow next year, I’m still planning to try again! We ended up not even using them the 2nd half of the year, because I’d run out of creative steam. It was open and go curriculum for the main subjects or nothing.
So there you have it! The last school year was a great success, in my opinion. The girls both advanced even more than one grade level in math and reading/language arts. There were way fewer arguments and hardly any tears over any writing or math at the end of the year, and we all learned a lot about animals, the moon, and hopefully ourselves!
I have not been blogging much. Life with twin toddlers, homeschooling, and my job has really been a lot, and to be honest, I struggle with my mental health on an almost daily basis. The days that I’m home with the kids without my wife I find especially taxing. I often cry. I am so sensory defensive, that the constant noise and touch really puts me on edge. I also have a hard time with visual clutter, and I’m sure that you can imagine there is SO MUCH mess and clutter with four kids! We did clean out our garage and back patio to use as space, which was helpful, but it is also more space to clean up. It seems impossible to keep on top of everything.
I used to be the type of mom who prided myself on taking the girls on adventures, learning from exploring our local area as well as places farther away. It is just too much with all four. Even the trips we have taken have felt almost unbearable and miserable to me. I never dreamed I’d be the type of mother who finds mothering so painful. I might be getting old… I feel I’ve aged 10 years or more since the twins were born. My face in the mirror is one I hardly know. My energy is always low. I feel it’s hard to get up and get moving all day long. I’ve had labs done, and nothing physical has shown up. I’ve lost over 20 pounds, and I still don’t feel better. I have a job that for the most part I like, and find fulfilling enough. It’s not like it’s an amazing dream job, but it’s good enough that I’m content to stay there for a long time. I have a wonderful, happy marriage. I enjoy homeschooling, planning the curriculum, learning alongside the girls, and spending much more time with them than I would get to if they went to school.
But I struggle. I struggle so much. The mess, the screaming and shrieking, and the toddlers clawing or jumping on me really make me feel a sort of insanity. I often burst into tears when they make yet another huge mess. I feel knots in my stomach thinking of spending a whole day doing that. Do other twin moms (or any moms) also feel the same? Maybe we are all sitting in our homes, silently drowning. Maybe it would have been easier if my sister, friends, or other family members were around. Maybe I have developed more mental health problems than I had the first time I had a toddler. It’s hard to say.
I have stopped writing. I stopped blogging or journaling. I have stopped sharing myself much with the world, except for some facebook posts of events or shared instagrams about certain topics of interest. There just isn’t much to share. The same droning on and on, mindless venting and complaining about toddlers, messes, finances, and all of my parenting mistakes. I have stopped wanting to travel, or at least the thought of traveling with all the kids is a strong deterrent. There are some places in this country I’d like to see, but I no longer care if I go to other countries. This was such a huge desire for my whole life until recently, it feels shocking to write it, but also it is very true. I have stopped enjoying it when I do travel. I just want to go home and be done. I am unable to financially afford 6 plane tickets to anywhere, in any case, even to make it home to see family in Michigan. I have developed a fear of flying that I never used to have. I feel like avoiding it altogether. On my days off, I have started wanting to just… stay home. Not go to parks or museums or anywhere. Just stay home, and bear it. Everything feels much too hard.
I got a certain journal for Christmas that I wanted, and have yet to even open it. I can only rarely do things I like (read a book, do a puzzle, sit quietly in nature) so most of my “down time” is spent on screens. I sometimes want only one thing: to sleep. Sleep just a little more. I am often very homesick, but not for any home that exists anymore. I miss my grandma’s house, my grandparents, knowing that I could “go home” and they would be there. I miss lying in the comfortable saggy old bed in the parlour bedroom, listening to the news from the livingroom that my grandparents were watching, moonlight coming in through the window over our fields. I miss feeling that I was walking on the blades of grass, small stones and dirt paths, that my ancestors walked upon, and knowing I was in my place. I miss the smell of Midwestern rain, the crisp fall breeze, the damp grass in the morning, the silence of a snowy day. Sometimes it feels like I will never truly be home again. Certainly, the property being sold to people I don’t like, makes it impossible to even think of that place as home even by association.
Mostly, I miss feeling that I am a person of my own. That I have a self. It is hard to remember that feeling, even. Who was that person that loved to travel? That sang along passionately to favorite songs? Who liked to do things, got excited, had things to write about? I barely know.
This is perhaps just what it means to grow old. Maybe my grandmother felt the same sense of loss and distance from her younger self as her children got older. Maybe by the time they were grown she was someone else entirely. Maybe she wished she could get a little bit of the younger woman back, or maybe by the time she was my grandma, she no longer wanted to. I wish she was here to ask.
I introduced my wife to binge-watching. Orange is the New Black is the perfect first-time binge-watch. I love re-watching, too. Takes me right back to days when M was a baby and I’d put her down for the night and watch it on my phone until 3 am. All the old Alex and Piper feels. I never made it past season 5, so maybe this time I will.
The one thing we got to do outside of the house, in months, was rained on. But we did it anyway. We went cherry-picking! By the way, it never rains here. But naturally it rained that day. We saw it through, though, and ended up with 26 lbs of cherries. If you didn’t know, that equals about 18 pies. I’m so not making 18 pies.
I’m so excited to go home, sit on the dock, watch the sun set, feel the breeze, listen to the whispers of everything that has happened within me. I know they are there. Sometimes I feel my lake whispering to me, sending me blasts of damp leaf fall wind, or intensely silent snow-soaked nights. I hear the chirp of birds on sunny, early mornings when the lake is like glass, and it feels like anything at all is possible. Then the hot, slow and lazy summer afternoons, grass mowers droning and jet skis whining. I taste Miller Light and hear water rhythmically lapping at shore, my feet immersed in cool waves. I feel younger, and immensely old.
Sometimes I fantasize that I can buy back my grandma’s house, now that it’s all fixed up. We’d raise our kids on the hillside, building snowmen in winter, eating pears from great-great grandfather’s pear tree in the summer. We’d buy eggs from down the street, we’d spend mornings fishing for minnows, we’d have our homeschool sessions under the shade of the maple. The Christmas tree would be set up in the living room where generations had their Christmas mornings. I’d hear the house settling at night as the moon shone in from the South West through the old parlor windows. This fantasy makes me feel tremendously whole and, as joy rises from my inner being, I take a deep breath. It would be stunningly perfect, but so would a great many things. Life is never as we hope, and often better than we plan. Let’s see what the future actually brings.
I had originally started my trip to California with the goal of traveling most of the year, and spending summers at home in Michigan. It definitely didn’t turn out that way! Although I would still ideally love to be traveling much of the time, there were so many reasons that I changed my plans. Primarily, because I fell in love with an amazing person who stole my heart and even made me want to get married (something I swore I’d never do!). She couldn’t leave her town, so I more than willingly moved there.
But that wasn’t all… my daughter didn’t turn out to be the type to do well with full-time travel. While she loved trips, she wanted to “go home” more than anything after a week. When she realized we were staying in California, it set off years of “I miss Michigaaaaaan!” crying spells. She still tells me, 3 1/2 years later, that Michigan is still home. She has a lot of anxiety, and moving didn’t help that one bit. In fact, it set her back a lot in terms of hard behavior… so there was no way I could keep moving around with her. She’s my heart, my everything, and I’d do anything to give her the stability she needs to be happy. To this day, she still wants to go back to Michigan, but she also loves her home here. She’s a total homebody! Who knew?
Then there is work. I seriously cannot do travel nursing… I’m just not flexible enough to keep learning different systems, different rules, different places that things are kept. I only somewhat enjoy and get satisfaction from my job when I feel a sense of mastery and can move up in the hierarchy ladder. So when I went to Stanford, I decided that would be it for me. I’m staying until the bitter end. And it was 100% the right decision! I love my unit, I love all of the experience I’ve gotten, I love being part of committees and doing charge nurse. For the first time in a very long time, I like my job and feel invested in it.
So, I don’t travel around the world for now (well, no one is at this point, thanks to ‘rona). I do get to experience beaches, cliffs, forests, hills, and all of the varied ecosystems around the Bay Area! I’m also close to one of my favorite cities ever, San Francisco. And I make the best money a nurse can make, on top of it all. I don’t have a big old farmhouse withe nooks and crannies like I’d like, but I still have my lake cottage and I have big goals for it. It will be my dream escape as I redo it from top to bottom. We have taken lots of trips to national parks, Disney Land, and Washington (my wife’s home state), and once we can move around again, I’m sure we’ll travel farther out once more. (Hello, cheap flights to Hawaii from the West Coast!)
And lets be real… one day all four of our baby birds will fly the coop, and we can travel and do whatever we want. Hopefully with our grown up kiddos, too!
I can’t believe I haven’t written since the twins were one week old! I guess I’m just too exhausted to do much of anything. They had a good sleep routine going, then at five months something changed and they refuse to sleep in their crib. We just took it down, we’re going to put them on a mattress and let them sleep there. How the heck else are we supposed to get any sleep? Life with twins is maddening, frustrating, daunting. I love them, they make me cry at least once a week. Partly because I had such an easy, happy baby the first time around (they aren’t so easy, either of them) and partly because there are two of them. And partly because we have big girls that I wish we could give more of ourselves too… I just feel mostly defeated, a lot of the time.
In other news, we’ve been sheltering in place since before St. Patrick’s Day here in the Bay Area. We love the homeschooling. We were just about ready to quit half of what we were doing because our schedules were too grueling. Both of us working, school for Ms. 8 and two different homeschool programs for M. Horseback riding, art lessons, piano, therapists… and babies that screamed in the car. It was not doable. I was a hamster on a wheel that wasn’t running anymore, just spinning like a half dead corpse. Homeschooling both girls has been great. Not having babies scream in the car while we’re stuck in an hour long traffic jam has been great. Having more time together, as a family, has been great. Not living according to so many time schedules has been an utter relief. It was the break we needed.
But now… I’m feeling a little desperate to go somewhere and do something. I’m feeling more than a little homesick for Michigan. I’m nostalgic and moody and longing and feeling a bit like a lion pacing in my cage. The beaches are mostly closed… our trip to Legoland cancelled… you know, all the things that make life fun. I’m an ICU nurse and I have seen some COVID deaths (two, exactly) but for the most part, we never got a surge. We prepared for it, and crickets. We closed down our COVID units. My 20-bed ICU had only two beds for COVID patients, and then we ended up just not taking them at all as they went to a designated unit. Sounds like there were places hard-hit, like NYC, but the Bay Area wasn’t one of them. I’m on the neuro/medical ICU and we are filling up again with the usual… strokes, head bleeds, cancer, GI bleeds, neuro IR post-caths, sepsis, and vent weaning. I’m in charge a lot now and enjoying that role. Even though I left my beloved U of M hospital behind when I moved, and I have nothing but good things to say about them, I’ve grown more as a nurse out here. I’ve been charge nurse, I’ve been on the shared leadership council, I now have three years of experience in trauma, neuro, and surgical ICU (as opposed to just medicine in MI). I’ve been a wound warrior, a MICU champ, and a break nurse. It’s more rewarding. I love my job again. I’m starting to finally have work friends. It was meant to be.
But my dreams, oh my dreams. My psyche is still spinning in confusion. I’m in Michigan at the hospital… but wait, I don’t work here, do I? Maybe I’m per diem, while visiting. But what about Stanford? No, I have to get back to Stanford. I work there. Then I go and interview at Michigan, maybe I actually work there again. The confusion in my subconscious rears its head at least once per week. Previous relationships surface and I often go along in a dream before realizing, wait I’m married, wait where’s my wife? It’s like too much has happened in too little time, and the parts of me below the surface are barely here yet, struggling to keep up. I wonder if the people from my past dream about me, or if I was more easily discarded by their psyches as they moved on to fresher meat. Or are all mistakes, the ones that were people, ghosts that haunt us until the end?
I had this idea that this summer, while in Michigan again finally, I’d go back to the hospital. I’d walk up the sidewalk and into the main entrance. I’d stroll past the cafeteria and the giant fork. I’d use the far elevators to go to 6D, my old unit of 7 years. Where I learned to be a bad-ass ICU nurse. Heck, I’d even stroll through 4C, the first unit I worked on. I’d eye the stairwells I used to sit in. I’d climb up the play structure by the yellow parking lot. I’d say an official goodbye and maybe the dreams would settle down, and I’d finally be catching up with myself. Thank you, Coronavirus, now that will definitely not be happening. Plan #238 ruined. I’ll have to just drive by the outside… an outsider, no matter what my subconscious may think.
So I’m using this quarantine to try to lose weight, because seriously, I’ve gotten FAT. My wife doesn’t like the way I talk about it (and I try not to in front of the girls), but I actually reached obesity BMI at one point so that’s not going to work out for me. Last year I lost 11 pounds doing fitness blender and not eating anything artificial. Having those babies destroyed that loss and threw a few more pounds at me on top of it all. So since March I’m back to daily workouts with fitnessblender plus some power walking. And better eating. I’m back in the overweight category, thank god, and if I want to be in the ‘normal’ weight zone I’ve got to get down another 27 pounds. I’m convinced I’ve got this, though. If I do my working out, and eat well, it will get there. I’ll be back to my pre-California weight. Eventually. By my June MI trip I’m at least hoping to get to my pre-twin weight, which is now 8 lbs away! At the very least, I’m getting stronger. Can actually do sustained runs of jumping jacks, have increased the weights during strength training, and I’m ready to start jogging. I’m 35. There’s no reason for me to be out of shape. I’m freakin’ young, dammit. No reason to feel so gross and homely. No reason to live entirely in yoga pants. Right???
I’ll let you know how it goes. Hopefully in six months those before pics will be paired with some after pics that will be awesome.
By the way, we found RHUBARB for the first time in 3 years in California. Going to chop it up and freeze it so we can make the correct kind of birthday pie.
Well, we’ve been home for a week, and we’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to manage these two little ones at night. One night they took turns feeding, like a never-ending round robin, and that for sure is not sustainable. Everyone told us, “feed them at the same time! Wake the other up! Keep them on the same schedule!” and now we know why! Last night they decided to have a party at 2am, for two hours. But at least they had the same party at the same time.
The weekend was long. We are a family that normally goes and does stuff every day, so to just stay home in the hamster wheel of feeding and changing was absolutely exhausting. I’m not saying I’m excited to go back to work (um, no), but I am looking forward to the twins getting a little bigger so we can go out and about again.
The grueling schedule and constant work are finally taking their toll on M. On me. Maybe on everyone. The babies cry, the babies fuss, the babies are only happy milk drunk at the breast. The big kids feel shut out and left out. We are tired; the shininess of something new has faded into something else… parenthood. It’s a marathon, as they say, but newborns can be especially thankless in that way. Maybe they’ll just have to fit into our life, we once said casually, because of course, how else do you go from 2 kids to four? And then twin newborns laugh at your plans via scrunched up, red, and furious faces. Fists balled, legs kicking in spasms… no, we are not going along with any of this. We are doing what we are doing, and you will come to us on your knees!
Today I thought, oh gosh, I’m not going to make it through. Through this hour, this day, this week. I go into the bedroom and lie down, trying to claim my body as my own, until a baby is plopped down into the crook of my arm. I can’t help it, tears are making their way out. My daughter is raging outside, frantic in her dysregulation. It leaves me with a hysterical feeling, like the household is this monster come to life, coming after me. My wife notices and somehow scoops up babies, children, everything, and closes the door. Outside all is turmoil, but she’s left me with a couple precious hours to have my own body. When I wake up I do feel a little better.
The babies look at us suspiciously, either that or with wide-eyed surprise. How did this all come to be?? And I think, gosh boys, I’m just doing the best I can. I brought you here and now I’m scrambling to stay upright. I say outloud to my girl, honey I’m sorry. This is hard, isn’t it? It’s just hard. But please, just be quiet. Just stop being so damn upset.
Every night I look forward to morning coffee. I look forward to picking up my girl from field trip “school”, even though she hates transitions and I have to demand that she leave the van and come with me at pick up time. Still, I look forward to seeing her again after only four and a half hours of separation. Being together is sometimes so difficult, but being apart is unbearable. As much as I am the stabilizing force in her life, she is that in mine. We keep each other in orbit, and when one is beginning to spin out, the other reciprocates. We then pong off each other into the ether. But I can’t do any of this with out her.
We have twinsies! We are beyond exhausted, running on only a few hours of sleep per night. Good god. The first 24 hours was the hardest, because the boys were starving and frantic for milk that hadn’t come in yet. We had to start snaking a little tube into their mouths while they nursed and feeding them. They are great breastfeeders, there just isn’t enough colostrum to fill their little tummies! So basically they were nursing and fussing around the clock, until we started supplementing. But my wife’s milk is coming in more and more, so we’re hoping for a great first weight check tomorrow!
The birth went smoothly, and we had only two small snags: Baby B, Basti, lost too much weight the first day (11%), and Lindsey fainted after her first shower. But everything went fine other than those things!
I missed M, my original baby, while at the hospital for 3 days. We’ve been delirious, hallucinating even, on so little sleep. People have sent food, and money, to help us, which is a godsend. My mom has helped by staying at home with the girls, making breakfast, doing laundry, and so many people have chipped in to provide transportation for the big girls’ school and other things. It honestly takes a village, and I haven’t been afraid to ask for help! We’ll take all the help we can get!
One funny thing that happened is that we got a good look at the placenta after, and it appears not to be a single placenta, as all the high-risk perinatologists thought! It is, instead, two placentas fused together. Incredibly rare! But this also means the boys could be fraternal, not identical! We’ll only know by doing a DNA test. The pathology of the placenta will also confirm that it was two placentas, not one.
From Minnesota Center for Twin and Family research:
Though fraternal twins have their own separate placentas, sometimes the two fertilized eggs implant close to each other in the uterus, which can result in their placentas fusing. The two fused placentas look like one placenta, causing them to be mistaken for identical twins.
This is a fairly common mistake; as many as twenty percent of all twin births are misidentified as identical or fraternal. This confusion is one reason why we take special steps, such as sometimes taking blood, to determine if twins are identical or fraternal.
So! They appear to not be mo-di twins at all, but fused di di twins! Crazy! Sometimes they look identical, and sometimes they don’t, so the jury is still out. Personality-wise, Mr. Joe is the stronger sucker, and usually more demanding as far as wanting to be held, or wanting to eat. Basti is more laid back, ok with lying flat in a bassinet to sleep while swaddled, and a sleepy feeder who sometimes needs lots of encouragement to finish a meal. They both weigh pretty much the same and were the same length. They have medium to light brown hair, and very dark blue eyes! They were both born with the same sacral dimple, no birth marks, and perfectly formed everything.
Over and out… struggling through the first stages of twin mom life, but happy to have them here!
The twins are still cooking! It’s just insane to me that they haven’t shown any signs of coming sooner! But, Friday is eviction day, and we are more than ready. It feels like staring at the toaster waiting for it to pop up… like it’s just taking FOREVER and you want to just pop up the toast yourself and be done with it!
M’s “school” year is going fabulously. I’m feeling so ecstatic about our choice to take her out of school. She is truly thriving without the constraints of the classroom, being physically told to hold still and also the lack of nature. She loves being in the real world, learning about what is in front of her. Her first week of “school” went like this:
Tuesday: Afternoon at the ranch, where she took a hike into the hills, picked cucumbers and ate them, and did crafts… came home with her shoes soaked in mud. Sign of a good day! (And a sign that she needs waterproof hiking boots for this program.)
Wednesday: Group planning with her “class” for the week, and then spent the day at the library… interacting with the librarians, checking out books to keep in the school van, playing school with her friends, sitting around reading with everyone, and creating an obstacle course outside.
Thursday: Went to a farm where she stalked the peacocks and collected their feathers, watched one-day old baby chicks (she’s obsessed with baby chicks), met a real live Blacksmith who helped her create an “S” hook out of clay, rode an old-fashioned train, learned about morse code and train engines, etc!
Friday: Spent the day at Pump It Up, celebrating their first week as a group for the year, having a blast!
So how does that sound for “school”, eh? I’m beyond jealous, because I think she’s one of the luckiest kids in the world! I wish all children had a chance to learn so much from the real world, and have fun while doing it. M says to me, “Mom, it’s not really even like school, it’s just having fun!”
Mondays are open for M, but quickly filling up, as she has play therapy in the morning, and we’re checking out a local art class for 5-8 year olds in the afternoon. She’s also still doing horseback riding on Thursdays after “school”! With all of the things there are to do and learn, who has time for school???
And M’s reading continues to blossom, without any formal help. Every night she asks me if she can read her “Learning Dynamic” series books, and she’s making her way through them nicely. She always begs to read more and I say no because it’s late and I’m tired! I’m still amazed that kids learn to read so organically, without formal instruction. But there you have it!
Our big girl, L, is also settling into the school year nicely, after initial resistance. For reasons I don’t go into in public, we need to keep her enrolled in a formal school. But the K-8 Montessori where M went up until now is a kind, loving place. I do wish L had more outside time and more freedom, but all things considered, it’s leaps and bounds above public schools (no grades, children decide which activities they do first, etc), and L enjoys her friends and teachers. She has community there and it’s like a family. She started off a bit resistant to going to school at all, but within a week that wore off and she’s ready and willing to go to school every day, which is a great sign.
Well, the countdown continues. Babies in T minus 4 days!
It’s back to school time… the time most parents love, and kids dread. Like, how sad is that, all these adults celebrating their children’s misery? Or at least something that seems to be causing a significant amount of stress and anxiety to their children. Anyway, we aren’t immune to all of the feelings that this time of year brings. We, too, want/need a break from caring for children sometimes. Our eldest also wishes that summer was not at an end, and that she didn’t have to go to school. We are trying to focus on helping her manage her anxiety and find solutions to her problems, however.
For M, though, she is spending the week with her mobile “school”, which is sort of an unschooling field-trip based program. From September through June she will spend Wed-Fri with her group and her teacher, exploring various parks and museums and community centers and fire stations and stores and beaches…. etc and so on. They bring a backpack with lunch, water, and a clipboard containing a pen and paper with an activity packet for further exploration and reflection on the day. I feel an enormous sense of relief, pride, and euphoria that instead of being virtually imprisoned in a classroom all day, she has spent her day doing this:
Yep, this is what her school days will look like… exploring creeks, and visiting and learning about rescued animals. Her teacher says, “She just loves the outdoors, animals, and nature!” Yes, she does. It’s definitely where she belongs. We also received a video of her today giving a presentation for the teacher’s camera about coyotes, and how she talks to them. She has a love of coyotes and wolves, among other animals. She has also made a new “best friend”, an 11-year-old girl who will be in her group! The mixed ages provides so many opportunities to learn and grow socially for children, and I couldn’t be happier to see the diversity in ages. There is definitely something to learn for everyone wherever they go… shoot, I wish I was going, too!
Who knew I’d ever be so jealous of my daughter’s “school day”???