The Road to Morning Time: A Pregnant Pause

There are some aspects of pregnancy that are hard to recollect now. Brain damage from sleep deprivation will do that to a person. While this brand of selective memory loss is certainly essential for the perpetuation of our species, there are some parts of pregnancy that were so joyful (or dark) for me that I will probably never forget them.  My children were still very young when my sixth and final pregnancy  began nearly five years ago. Everyone was still four and under. It feels crazy just writing that.  But that was my life back then– My Big Fat Gestating, Lactating, Homeschooling life. (Officially calling dibs on that for a future book title).

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Morning Time was short and sweet back then. A prayer, a song, a story and they were off. When we first started morning time, food was the major draw and I was the only one at the table not wearing diapers.  After a solid year and half things were slowly progressing upwards. I finally felt like my PPD/PTSD was at a manageable level and I was enjoying life with my boys. We were on the home stretch of grad school and flat broke. We lived in this little yellow bungalow I had loved since I was a girl. Hubby built a brick pathway and a white picket fence around the front so I could plant a beautiful garden. It was healing  to be out there with the boys. We would often bring in flowers to set on the table and they became part of the simple beauty of our morning time. I didn’t have a plan for each and every day, but we were consistently reading something and we were always singing hymns we learned at Bible Study Fellowship.  I woke up craving that simple time every morning. 10-20 minutes of peace before the boys were unleashed upon 1100 square feet.

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Then I got pregnant.

Again.

I kept it to myself for two weeks, trying to shield my poor husband who was wearily working through his dissertation. I probably would have kept the secret longer but my girl Whitney Houston died and as we watched the livestream of her funeral my hormones took over and I weepingly confessed all.

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You know that bone deep exhaustion that comes with those first weeks of building a human inside your uterus? When all you want to do is hibernate but the tiny humans that live with you are flat out not having it? Then the morning sickness kicks in and you spend most of your day heaving in the bathroom while little fingers are poking in from under the door and a little lisping voice is asking “Mommy! Mommy! Wath that noithe? Are you vomiting again?”  Yeah, Morning Time is hard to do when all that is happening!

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This was the season in our lives when Morning Time briefly became Afternoon Time. We didn’t start our days out together singing. We started our days out caring for one another. Even the littlest one recognized that Mommy was ill and needed help. My hubby would get up before the sun to do some research, then he would wake the boys, change their diapers and feed them breakfast before heading out the door for another day of grad school. I would often walk out of the bathroom after a bout of morning sickness to find the hallway littered with “gifts.” Treasured cars, trucks, dinosaurs, animals, all waiting for me, carefully put in place by three tiny boy warriors with hearts growing in empathy for their mama. This was the season when one of my sons emerged as a natural caretaker. When someone needed something and I was unwell, he would go and solve the issue or find what was needed. One son emerged as our resident encourager. He would walk over and sweep the hair off my forehead as I lay on the couch nursing the baby and he would say “My poor sweet girl, you are doing such a great job Mom.”  Then there was the baby, just over a year old. He didn’t care when we had morning time, he cared when he had Mommy Time.

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Mommy time always trumps Morning Time.

After all the nausea passed and the day was half over, the boys would go down for their naps. I would rest a little and when they awoke we had our Afternoon Time. It was a sweet way to transition out of nap time. A snack, a song, a story, a prayer, a handful of flowers. It was peaceful and purposeful. It was not part of the original plan, but its what worked for that season.

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On the really bad days, there was no Afternoon Time, and the world kept turning and the children kept growing and we would try again the next day.

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We moved across the country when I was about six months pregnant. This upheaval led to two months without Morning/Afternoon Time. The longest stretch we ever went without.  It was a hard period in our family history, but we were blessed to be near my husband’s family and to have access to a wonderful amount of nature!

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Once we were settled into our new space I realized that I was ready to have Morning Time again. We had barely gotten into the habit when our last little boy came lightning fast into the world and everything turned upside down again for a few months.

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But by now we had seen and tasted the beauty of Morning Time. We all loved it. We all needed it. Morning Time was here to stay. Now I set my eyes on stretching their ability to linger at the table, to long for more beauty and more stories. I was mere months away from meeting Charlotte Mason and the boys were growing by leap and bounds. In many ways we were crossing a bridge together, the bridge that would take us to a whole new world of learning that would change us forever.
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Stay tuned for our next installment of the Road to Morning Time: Bridging the Transitions.

MFW ECC: Introduction Part 2

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Latitude, longitude, elevation-depth, physical maps, political maps, historical maps and more!

This whole week felt like one big adventure. Every time we read about a new kind of map the boys would insist on making their own version of that map. My favorite was the historical map of the city three of them were born in. They drew out the streets they knew and placed symbols for all the major things that happened in our family history. We live at sea level so the elevation-depth map was a challenge until my son decided he would make a pretend one out of legos for Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  We read “Nate the Great and the Missing Key” and basically went outside and recreated the book. It was so much FUN. I find that when kids are laughing, they are learning things they will remember for long years to come.

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We continue on in our geography study using Pin it! Maps. My eldest is “visually disorganized” (ie possible dyslexia) and it is very, very hard for him to make sense of maps. So these maps are a valuable tool for him, it makes the map a 3D experience and he can organize locations and features in his mind and process them in a kinetic way that connects it all together for him.

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We labeled maps and memorized our address again. Global Art was a hit this week but sneak peek: they weren’t so thrilled with it in weeks to come. I’ll share more about that next week.

This brings me to my classic week 2 reality check. Every year I sally forth into new curriculum with stars in my eyes and by week 2, I am having to really readjust a few things.  This year it has hit hardest with science, art and the crazy amount of busy work involved with the MFW Geography book. Sometimes it takes a while to find your groove. Its ok to not use every singe item mapped out for you in the manual. We are in the midst of that process now.

This week I took a hard look at our science. Guys, I officially loathe Book of Animals. Its out of our lives for good. Pin it! Maps has a HUGE section of free resources. We printed out their Biome sorting cards and had a blast sorting cards while reading about the various biomes. We also read a few living books that helped us build relationship with these biomes.

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After an hour of sorting biome cards and telling stories, I cut a large sheet of kraft paper from our butcher roll and placed it on their school table. They began to draw biomes with pastels. I brought out several safari toobs and placed them on the table. I said, “Boys, tell me what you know about biomes.” And they poured out what they knew in words and stories and pictures. The map eventually became a story book and a living creative nonfiction writing exercise. Soon, they were narrating in a visual, kinetic way,  the Kipling stories we had read that morning at breakfast. They ended up taking several exams within that frame of time and they didn’t even know it.

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Side note: I never knew how much my kids were absorbing from Chris and Martin Kratt until we hit the biome unit. Those two and the Frizz have my back.

I am totally ok with that.

Also, we skipped the world cake. I know, I know, I am horrible.

Our preschooler was losing his mind that day. I mean, end times preacher during election season, losing his mind. The thought of pumping him with food dye (which makes him manic) made me want to throw the cake at the kids and flee for the hills. I looked at the older two and asked for mercy. They said what they really wanted was chocolate pie. So we bought instant pudding and ready made crust and called it a day.

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I’ll end with this. My second born has really blossomed lately with his handicraft work. This is the child that is always looking to invent something. If I do not give him something purposeful, meaningful, USEFUL, to do, then he will get up to no good. And he can tell the difference between a big job and distraction, so I have to give him good things to do. This is what makes him tic. Art and handicrafts give him joy and daily purpose during the down times in our schedule.  It took time to teach him these skills and I had to be intentional in following through with his lessons. He has started using his skills to minister to others. Helping me crochet a blanket for a new baby, knitting a scarf for my father in law, sewing my eldest son’s favorite stuffed animal back together. He was such a terror when he was two and I was in despair when he was three. But time is passing and that intentional repetition and consistent habit training have paid off. He still has a long way to go, heck, I have a long way to go too! But I see God’s hand working in his life and that blesses this weary Mama’s heart so deeply. There is no quick fix when it comes to “tough” kids. Sticker charts, programs, gimmicks, etc, they don’t stick around. Heart transformation and intentional habit training through repetition and lots and lots of prayer is what really “sticks.” When it comes down to it, I don’t care about correcting behavior as much as I care about building character.

So if you are in the thick of it this week with a difficult child, train your heart to see beyond the behavior and take a good hard look at the character. Pick one habit and do everything you can to hammer out that good habit in your child over a long period of time. This mothering business does not fit the mold of our fast paced “answers NOW” world. Take your time, friend and give your little one time too.

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MFW Kindergarten: Us!

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I was thrilled that MFWK’s U-Us unit coincided with our first week of MFW ECC. My little guy vividly remembers when his older brothers did this unit because our whole family joined in on the fun. We played all kinds of sensory games and laughed so much that week. Their favorite was an old youth group game called, “What is Your Foot Touching?”  <—pretty self explanatory/traumatizing. The minute I said, its time to learn about “U-Us” he said, “Can my foot get to touch the tuna, Mom?”

We played many of the games again. Blindfolds, mittens, taste tests, listening games.
I pretty much recreated every single game from this page. We loved using our sensory doh from The HomeGrown Preschooler and we used the book “Can You Hear It?” for many of our touch, sight and listening activities as well. Who doesn’t love running around to “Flight of the Bumblebee” wearing only your underwear and a set of fabric wings from Magic Cabin?

But our favorite add-in this week was a celebration of my guy and what a special kiddo he is.

Before he was born I was advised to abort him.

I look at him now and I cannot fathom life without him. What a joy and a gift he is!

So we decided to turn the U unit into a party. I started by telling him the story of his life, which he already hears from time to time. He loves the part when I say NO to the abortion and YES to life with him. He asks all kinds of questions about his birth and what he was like as a baby.

As part of the celebration he got to pick an activity every day on top of what we already had planned. These activities would be led by him.

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First up, he wanted his own cursive book just like his brothers. I had an empty Classical Conversations Timeline Prescripts on hand and he has taken to it like a duck to water. He likes to teach me how to form the letters after his brother teach him. The next day he asked to bake his own bread.

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A day later, he asked to play in the mud. “Its for sensory reasons, Mom. Don’t forget I am supposed to study the five senses and mud is something you can use all five with.”

Let your child pick an element and then show you how they can investigate that one item with all five senses, though we don’t recommend mud. He says its a bit too crunchy.

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Our favorite kid’s microscope ever on the face of the planet is the Brock Magiscope. Definitely pricey, so we asked for one last Christmas. We use it several times a week and it was out quite often for this unit. So many things to look at up close! A strand of hair, a nail clipping, a drop of saliva, a drop of blood and since injuries abound amongst my children- cells from an almost healed scab (yuck).

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On Thursday, he asked to go to pottery class for a visit with his teacher and friends. I love watching him work in this class. He is gaining confidence every time we go and its amazing to hear him relay what he has learned.

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Nature walks and poetry tea time with his brothers rounded out the week. The regularly scheduled nature walks are one of my favorite things about MFW. Don’t skip them!! pretty  please?

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Since the week coincided with his older brothers lessons, I set his table up with eeBoo Children of the World cards along with a few other books and toys of interest. This was a nice spot for his older brothers to come and visit between subjects. I love how well everything fused together.

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Heres the whole crew working on different things for school all at once. Lest you think I have it all together, when I snapped this picture I had a three year old on the floor by my feet screaming his head off and a load of clothes in the wash that needed to be rewashed after sitting in the machine for three days. Cheers.

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Confidence

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We had a lovely January with AYOPS.  This is one of the first months that our littlest guy was willing to tackle the large majority of projects and activities listed. These past months, I have increasingly felt his need for a little boost towards independence. We planned with his special needs in mind and picked out a number of things that we felt he could now handle on his own and we set about adjusting his atmosphere to ensure that he could tackle his new goals.

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We started with a small waldorf style baby doll.  This new friend engaged in all the activities with me before my son did. After watching for a minute or two, my son would jump in, eager to play and help his baby in case it ran into trouble. These two played in their bear den on bear day for hours! He taught baby how to clean up the toys and how to make the bed. I think this was an important piece in helping motivate our son to join in. It also took some of his focus off of his own experience and helped him learn to care for someone else and work on his empathy skills. If you have a little one that is reluctant to join in certain activities, I encourage you to think outside the box and try different ways of engaging them in play. We tried many, many different ways and experienced a multitude of failures before finally finding success this month!

I bought a wooden closet doubler rod so that the younger children could find and choose their own clothing each day. Everyday shirts are now hanging on the lowest bar. Shorts are in the baskets on the floor. Pajamas and underwear are in the dresser. The drawers are much less crowded now so its a snap for them to find what they need.

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I set out a small stool by a mirror near the doorway. The boys can now sit and brush their hair each morning and have a place to sit while they practice getting their little legs into their shorts the correct way.

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All this new responsibility gave our youngest the burst of confidence he needed to finally potty train. I’m still a little shocked at how quickly he managed to train. To be honest, I have been dreading this since we left our first evaluation at the special needs center. By the grace of God, potty training took all of two weeks and its stuck ever since!

Suddenly, our guy was on a maturity spree! Clearing dishes, picking up toys and even wanting to help in the kitchen. I’ve always encouraged him to help with chopping, measuring, sorting, etc. in the kitchen. But now there is no invitation needed. When I walk into the kitchen to make dinner, he is usually waiting for me, apron in place and hands washed and ready to work.

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I cleared out the lowest shelf in our kitchen and put all of the children’s dishes and cups there. I included several small pitchers for them to fill and set on the table and use for mealtimes. The boys have a designated drawer in the kitchen containing tools they have been trained to use. Crinkle cutters, apple corer slicers, egg slicers, potato peelers, etc.
They can reach everything they need to make their own snacks and to help with meal prep.

I love watching him work with his hands. Zero hesitation these days!

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There are still several sensations that he cannot bear to endure or process. But look at the boy in the photo below!

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A happy, messy, shaving-cream-out-the-nostril, joy soaked little guy. He radiates confidence now and that encourages me to keep pressing forward.

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The whole house continues to demand “preschool time.” I have now placed the eldest children in charge of the AYOPS activities. They love setting up for the activities and then “helping” their little brothers.

Our favorite activity this month was block painting. Everyone was eager to jump in and lend a hand. We were a multicolored mess for a few days (if you use Sargent Art Watercolor Paint, beware of STAINING!) but the boys were thrilled with the end product.

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We love our brilliant collection of colorful wood blocks. Every time I pass by that pile I recall the beautiful breezy afternoon we spent together, laughing and painting and telling jokes.

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This was the 5th month of our curriculum and it still doesn’t feel like I have spent the last five months marching my children through a curriculum. We’ve been making memories and learning together and having the most glorious time playing at just about anything you can think of.

We finished January with newfound confidence, enhanced skills, hearts bent on helping and a tremendous sense of peace with our special needs homeschool journey.

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MFW Kindergarten: Looking Back & Getting Ready

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We started our first day of Kindergarten this morning. Its our second time with MFWK and I can’t help but smile as I think of the sweet year ahead and remember the sweet year long since passed.

I spent months preparing for my first year with MFWK. I was still in traditional school mode and I basically made an exact replica of my old classroom here at home. I had file folders bursting with notes and crafts and handouts. It took many months of hard headed trial and tribulation before I realized that old dog just would not hunt anymore.

I remember feeling two very distinct emotions as I began that first week. The first was the predictable, “how are my babies old enough to be in kindergarten?” The second, “how do I make sure they learn everything they need and also prove to everyone around me that this was a good idea?”  I felt like I was under a microscope lens. As if everything my kids did in public and their answers to every question hurled at them by relatives, would be the rubric by which to evaluate our school’s success or failure.

God was gracious in destroying my pride that year. Throw in a midyear move to our current farmhouse (which included a month long indoor renovation) and two younger siblings aged 1 and 3, and you’ll understand why all those misplaced scholastic ideals were quickly (and mercifully) obliterated. I was a woman undone. That was the year that I learned not to see my younger children as distractions but as my reality, worthy of careful and thoughtful treatment as I navigated our days. I cried a lot. It was a great year.

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The first big change came with how I viewed our school area and materials. We have a designated classroom now. Its lovely and I am so very thankful for it. But when we started out, we gathered around the dining room table and I kept all our supplies on the bookcase behind it. I loved it. There are times when I miss it!

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I had a small quote written out on my planner that year.

“A mother’s heart is the child’s classroom.” Henry Ward Beecher

It reminded me every day to take care of my own heart. This was far more important than the state of our actual physical classroom. Did I spend more time researching curriculum or surfing pinterest for activities that correspond with “Jj-jewels” that day than I did with JESUS?

The classroom that matters to your little one is the classroom in your heart. Fill it with God’s word. Cultivate things that are true and good and beautiful in your own heart so that you can share it with your child. This is far more important than having the “latest, greatest” in your home. There is no piece of curriculum that will hold more influence over your child than the words from your mouth which flow out of your heart.

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I am blessed to have very patient children. They put up with a lot that year.

While I quickly learned that traditional school would not fit within the walls of our home, it took a long time to figure out just what kind of school we were. Take heart, you don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. Take time to uncover this treasure and make thoughtful decisions about what you bring into your home to meet your children!

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By the end of MFWK I realized a few things:

What we are learning matters far less than who we are becoming. This helped me meet my children right where they were and helped me refrain from dragging them to where I thought they should be.

I fell in love with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education and did everything I could to embrace that style of learning. MFWK was the perfect starting point for us.

I spent a lot of time making sure our home was their home too. I made sure our home was a safe and loving place to learn about truth, goodness and beauty. I gave them more responsibility. I lowered the expectation down from ” perfect child robot” and taught the boys to not hide their sin away from their Mama and Daddy. To tell the devil they wouldn’t be keeping sin a secret, to parade it out in front of us so we could help them confess and move closer towards holiness and healing. We emphasized the redemption and joy to be had from making the most of our mistakes.

Reading brought us together. We read a lot of books. I mean A LOT of books.  There were stacks all over the house and some week we went to the library every other day for various story times and to get new books.

The great outdoors are not to be missed! We spent a great deal of time out of doors. Long walks at the park or simply playing in the mud outside for hours. We took advantage of all the free activities and learning opportunities our community had to offer.

Free time matters. We didn’t schedule the kids to death. They had tons and tons and TONS of free time. This gave them the opportunity to build, play, create, savor and discover.

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There are zillions of extra materials and crafts and songs and stories out there that can be added to MFWK to “beef up” the experience. The truth is, keeping it straight out of the manual is more than enough for your kids to have a beautiful year. This year I will be following the manual as closely as possible. We may add a few things we have done before that proved to be great fun, but if I add anything it will be activities or experiences. I won’t be adding extra busywork or handouts just for the sake of adding a check mark to a list that only exists to make me feel better. No two homeschool walks are the same and you may eventually come to a place were handouts and tons of busywork make sense for your family, but I do everything I can to encourage those with littles to keep it as simple as they can in those early years when hands on activity and PLAY are so very valuable to little ones.

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So here is the plan for MFWK this year:

1. Spend time with God prepping the classroom in my heart so that I will have plenty of truth, goodness and beauty to impart to my children.
2.  I have organized our year into 27 manilla folders. This is a very, very high tech system so try to keep up as I explain. You put student sheets inside the folders and you write ideas, supply lists, book basket picks, etc. on the outside of the folder. Stick it all in a basket and then pull it out as you need them. Mind blowing, right? Hasn’t failed me yet!
3. Keep up with our regularly scheduled nature walk.
4. Keep up with our morning basket! One piece of art work or music, a few poems and a book so we can start out day appreciating something lovely. Wonderful suggestion for books can be found over on Ambleside.com.
5. Let my littles be little! There will be plenty of time for writing and advanced math and homework in later years. The clock is ticking and they deserve to enjoy every second of early childhood without all these hideous expectations from a standardized scopes and sequence world or the demands of an anti-homeschool relative.
6. Eat dinner together as a family every night.
7. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. We work hard on Saturdays and we rest hard on Sundays. We cuddle up and read books and we spend time together.  French toast matters to these little hearts. Our attention as they talk and talk and talk, matters too. Having a day set aside for God and family helps us make these vital life connections, breathe life into our tired souls and help propel us forward into the next week.
8. Set up a special time for K schoolwork while the 2nd/3rd graders do their independent work. Even though its the second time through, #3 deserves a special year too! We’ll be adding a decoration to a shirt each week along with coloring in our badges because little man loves to wear fun shirts!
9. Expect fun, not perfection.
10. Take lots and lots of pictures. I just realized that I only have a handful of pictures from our first time through MFWK. I was too uptight back then!  Sad. I am resolved to take more PICTURES!

 

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And that is the plan. Lets see how MFWK goes this year now that I have learned to relax and my philosophy of education has become more focused.  I am embracing this year with #3 as a sweet time of fellowship of fun. Blessings to you on your MFWK journey, friend. I hope it draws you and your children closer to God and to each other.

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Finding Joy

I still get a lump in my throat when I remember our assessment interview with the local early intervention program.

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“What word would you say defines your son’s day?”

The whole office and the four therapists sitting in front of me blurred for a moment.

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“Frustration” I croaked. “He is frustrated.”

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They wanted to diagnose him with heavy words. They wanted to place him in a state run preschool for special needs. Schools that are underfunded and understaffed, filled with children that are not getting the attention they need and deserve.

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He was frustrated. He was limited to only a few words.

In the mornings he would often dig his fingers into my shoulders and arms, desperate for some kind of pressure relief.

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I made a decision.

A bold decision.

A terrifying decision.

The right decision for our family.

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I ignored the grim expectations and moved forward with our EI therapist and “A Year of Playing Skillfully” a beautiful play-based curriculum.

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We are three months into AYoPS.

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Ask me what word defines his day?

Go ahead, ask me!!!

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Joy.

The word is Joy.

Hallelujah! The word is JOY.

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Joy & PLAY & more JOY. That is the focus this year as he gains his freedom from the frustration that ensnared him before.

Thankful does not seem like a big enough word. Thankfull? Thanksoaked? Thankwhelmed? One of those. It overflows.

Your Littlest Inklings

 

I was made to be the mother of boys.

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Containing bugs, naming dinosaurs, tree climbing, up for adventures, making people happy with food, handy with a slingshot and always up for inventing something new.

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Born to do this job.

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Yet every once in a blue moon….

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When the house is overwhelmed by farts, potty talk, poop jokes and crying from the latest gonad kicking contest…

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I feel this way down deep pang of longing for a little girl.

For afternoons filled with high tea and Jane Austen. Mornings spent reading Anne of Green Gables or Little Women.  Sewing projects and canning jam.

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This longing has always made me feel guilty. I have been blessed with four healthy boys. My hands and my heart are full! How can I still want something other than what I have been given?

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I pondered this today as I chopped basil for my husband’s salad and washed mint leaves for our afternoon tea. Our second born walked up and asked, “Mom, I want to preserve this St. John’s Wart for my collection of herbs.” I glanced at him, “You are collecting herbs now too?” He smiled, “Yes! I want us to grow them and then I want to preserve them so we can use them at home for all these different ailments. Just like the pioneers did. Just like Ma Ingalls!” I grinned back at him, “That sounds like fun! Lets do it! Dad and I are putting the new garden in this weekend and I’ll make sure we get our herbs reorganized and ready to go.”

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Twenty minutes later the third born sauntered by, pantless, of course, arms laden with felt and a rapidly unwinding spool of thread. “Mom, can we make more Christmas ornaments?” We sat together for a few minutes, cutting scraps into shape and getting them ready to decorate. He looked up at me with his melting chocolate brown eyes, “I love making things with you, Mom.”

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Half an hour ago my eldest found me folding laundry. “Mom, remember that story about the four sisters? Their Dad is fighting in the Civil War and their Mom’s name is Army?”

I blink. “Marmie? You mean, Little Women?”

“Thats the one!”

“What about it?”

“Well, I wanna get the Audio CD out again and listen to it.”

“I thought you didn’t like it?”

“Oh no, I liked it just fine. I wanted to move on to Guardian’s of Ga’hoole because I was excited about owls at war so we never talked about it. But I liked the story for many different reasons. Can we listen to it again and then talk about it? Like we do with all the Narnia books?”

“I would love that!”

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I ran my fingers through his brown hair and said, “You know, CS Lewis and his friends were in a club of sorts. They would get together and talk about writing and life and books and faith. They called themselves the Inklings.”

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He smiled big at me. The gap where his two front teeth used to be drawing me in with its devastating charm.

“Mom, we should do that too!”

“Talk about books? I already told you we could.”

“More than that! Make a club. You know? Drink tea as long as it comes with shortbread and talk about our favorite books and stories we want to write.”

“That sounds heavenly”

He hesitated, head tilting to the side in thought,”And we can call ourselves…. Your Littlest Inklings.”

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“Or just, Littlest Inklings. What do you think, Mom?”

“I think I could not ask for more.”

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I wasn’t just made to be the mother of boys.

I was made to be the mother of these boys.

I am thankful to the one who made us all.