Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In Which I Honor Jan

Yesterday I lost a dear friend/mentor/mother figure and kindred spirit, Jan Brinkerhoff, to her battle with cancer.  In losing her, my mind has gone back over the memories, lessons and example she was to me--and I wanted to write them down.  I know my words will be inadequate in expressing everything she was and everything thing she has meant to so many people, but I hope it gives the slightest glimmer into the woman that she was, and the legacy she left behind.

As a girl, I knew all my friends' parents. I would happily greet them, and them me. I enjoyed being in their homes, and felt like they enjoyed having me there.  But being in the Brinkerhoff home was different. None of my friends' parents greeted me with hugs and kisses, asked how I was doing, and genuinely cared about the plights and joys of an 9 year old the way they did.  Being in their home was magical, and I felt like family.  I remember Phil taking us to Chuck E. Cheese (where I first discovered that Ali hates cheese, a dislike she has to this day), and Jan getting Cinnabon (the new big thing in the 80's!) on Saturday mornings after a sleepover.  We swam in the freezing pool and played our favorite game--where you couldn't touch the ground, so you had to come up with very clever ways to get around the perimeter of the house.  My memories of being there are all happy, and I cherish them.  In my mind's eye I see Jan at her kitchen counter, talking with me and sharing insights and advice that has stayed with me my whole life long.

Jan was the epitome of class. Her elegance and style was impeccable. She was never flashy, but understated and perfect.  I recognized this at a very young age, and I remember complimenting her on the way she always looked so pretty.  She then explained the basics of building a wardrobe with timeless pieces in neutral colors, then adding accessories to add flair and style.  I was 10.  I also had a mullet and a mis-matched outfit on, so you can imagine that it seemed like a world away when I would ever "build a wardrobe". But wouldn't you know---I think about what Jan said almost every time I go shopping.   As a tween I went through the "uglies" something fierce.  You know....that time when you are no longer a cute little girl, but you haven't hit puberty and everything is just a little askew? There was no part of me that could have been considered cute.  And yet, Jan very thoughtfully held my hands as I sat on her couch one night and told me how beautiful my fingers were, and how perfectly shaped my nail beds were.  I'm sure she never gave that conversation another thought--but I have held that compliment with me my whole life.  Years later after I had my first baby, I visited with Jan and Phil in Jennica's home in Philadelphia.  Bennett was about 6 weeks old, and I was embarrassed at how big I was. I had gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy, and I felt ashamed at my size.  When I saw Jan, she of course hugged me, and complimented me on how nice I looked.  I told her how I felt about my body and she told me I needed to be patient with myself.  That it takes time, and that I should enjoy this time with my baby instead of worrying about fitting into my old jeans.  I've had 4 babies since then, and I remind myself of her advice every single time.  She had such a gift of making people feel so valued, and loved.   Being with Jan made me feel like my best self, and I came away from every single interaction with her feeling happy and uplifted.

There are certain things I didn't realize about Jan, and her incredible grace and strength until I became an adult myself.   The house the Brinkerhoff's lived in when we were kids was high on a hill in Hope Ranch.  It was gorgeous. It was Jan's dream home, and to me it seemed like a castle.  When I was in junior high, they moved from their hilltop castle to an apartment in town.  It honestly never occured to me to question why.  I enjoyed hanging out at their apartment just as much as I did their big house on the hill.  It was still the gathering place for tons of friends and activities--and to me, nothing had really changed.  It wasn't until much later that I learned about how Phil had lost his job at the bank, and how they struggled.  Monetary status defines so many people, and the loss of a house like that would cause so many people to become bitter and angry.  Not Jan. Her home was a place of love and warmth and happiness--not because of the size of it, but because of the people who lived in it.  I didn't fully appreciate the measure of her character until I understood the details surrounding their move years later--though none of it surprised me at all.  She handled their challenges with optimism, grace and faith. As always.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of having Jan and Phil in my home, where they'd come to visit and support Ali as she ran the Chicago marathon.  I was going through a really rough time with my family following a very painful estrangement.  She listened as I told her about how hurt I'd been, and how I had lost hope of things ever being repaired. There was never any judgement as she listened and gave some excellent advice that helped change my perspective--and ultimately led to healing my heart.  I replayed that conversation so many times in my head as I tried to apply her message of forgiveness.  My ability to move forward was, in large part, because of Jan. It wasn't long after that that she started her battle with cancer. 

Less than a month ago I was reunited with the Brinkerhoff family as we celebrated Ali's wedding.  I was able to spend a little time with Jan, and tell her how much I loved her and how grateful I was for her friendship.  It was painful to see her in a wheelchair, struggling in her own body.  So much of what made her Jan--her amazing conversational style, her smile, her wit---was gone, but her spirit was the same.  I felt so blessed as I sat in the sealing room of the temple with their family as Ali was married for time and all eternity. The spirit of love that filled the room was overwhelming to the point that tears ran down everyone's faces.   I was so comforted as I was reminded that families really are forever, and that our relationships will go beyond the veil of death. 

In a few days I will fly to Texas to celebrate her life, and laugh and cry with my friends as we remember Jan as a wife, mother, sister and friend.  She was an angel on this earth, and while I am so sad she's gone, I can't help but feel profoundly grateful.  I'm grateful for her life, her love, her legacy, and most of all, grateful for the knowledge I have that I will see her again. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

In Which We Homeschool: Part II

For the second part of this post I thought I would address the most commonly asked question I get about homeschooling, and give a run-down of our daily schedule.

"Don't you worry about socialization"? 

I have several answers for that one.  First of all--If you've met my kids, you probably noticed they are incredibly social. I've never been concerned with their social abilities. They have social skills in spades.  But in answering the question generally I would say that school does very little to foster socialization. 99% of the time in school they are told to STOP socializing. They get maybe 30 minutes in a school day to just socialize without being told to stop.  Kids socialize in spite of the school structure, not because of it.  Additionally, my kids have neighborhood friends, church friends, sports-team friends, and friends we've made being part of our homeschool group.  Most important to me is the fact that they are friends with each other.  Their bond as siblings has gotten so much tighter in the last year. They are all on team Malleycat, and it's awesome.

So what does a day-in-the-life-of-a-homeschooling-malleycat look like?

Once everyone wakes up and gets dressed we do breakfast, chores,  and then we get started with school around 9 am.  We all start with prayer and read scriptures. Then I give Bennett some independent work--like spelling, handwriting, or journal assignments while I start Lincoln and Eloise on Math. While they do their worksheets while I get Bennett started on Math.  As he works on his worksheet, I read with the Twinkies, after which they do handwriting or journal assignments.  Then they take a break while I do grammar and writing with Bennett. Then we take a break for lunch.

What is Oliver (age 3) doing during that whole time you ask? And what about Cooper (age 1)?  I haven't required anything formal from Oliver this past year--but he is all about "school"! He loves to be in the room with us (at our dining room table) working on puzzles, drawing pictures, doing his preschool workbook, or playing with the math manipulatives.  As a result he has learned a TON just being in the room with us.  In fact, he has started reading!  It's amazing how much of a sponge he is.  I plan to start working with him more this next year, and I can't wait! For the bulk of this first year Cooper has napped during a big portion of our schoolwork. Now that he's given up his morning nap, he is generally content to either watch Sesame Street, have a snack and play while we get our stuff done.  I'm not quite sure how that will change this next year, but we will go with the flow.   After lunch we do history a couple days a week, and the other days we do science.  All in all, we are totally done with school within 3 hours. It's fantastic! We have the rest of the afternoon to go on field trips, play, read, run errands, or whatever else we want.

Having that extra time makes things like sports practices or other evening obligations so much easier.  Gone are the days of feeling like we were constantly in a rush, with barely enough time to get home from school, do homework, go to practice, eat dinner and go to bed---only to repeat it the next day.  Gone are the days of Bennett coming home from school and starting a fight 5 minutes later. Nowadays it's actually pretty rare for there to be fighting in our house. Our home is peaceful, happy and calm.  It's my favorite place to be.

Another reason I love homeschooling is that I have time to teach my kids "life skills". My kids (ages 8 and under) can make their own lunch, chop veggies, vaccuum, clean bathrooms, change sheets, unload a dishwasher, fold laundry and put it away. We have the mentality in our house that everyone pitches in and the work gets done fast! When we were dealing with the hustle and bustle of the regular school day along with all our other obligations there just wasn't much time to dedicate to life skills--and the burden largely fell to me to do those things.  That's not to say I couldn't have found time to make sure those things happened with the kids, but more often that not I would find myself saying, "It's just easier if I do it..." thus depriving my little darlings of cleaning a toilet! Not anymore! When they used to complain about putting laundry away I implemented the rule that if you complained about it, you put everyone's laundry away. That only happened a few times before they learned that complaining about it never makes it better! Most of the time they do their jobs happily and sometimes without being asked. That makes for one happy mama.

Of course it isn't all rainbows and unicorns.  Teaching 5 year olds to read is possibly the most frustrating thing I've ever done.  I've made my kids cry during math because I lost my patience.  Sometimes I wish I had more alone time to just go to Target by myself in peace. Sometimes my house is messy because there are so many little bodies dirtying it faster than it can get cleaned.  But at the end of the day, teaching my kids at home has been the most rewarding job I've ever had. I am constantly learning right along with them, and I love that feeling.  I love seeing them excited about what we're doing, and being part of that process.  It is my absolute honor and privilege to be their mom.

Raising and educating kids is all-consuming for any parent, regardless of how you choose to do it.  I'm a big believer that what works for one family, doesn't necessarily work for another--so I hope this is read with the understanding that I in no way think that my way is the only way one can successfully raise bright, hard-working kids. I'm just thrilled to have found such happiness and joy in taking our journey into homeschooling, and thought maybe this would provide some insight into what really goes on in the life of a homeschooling family!