On Independent Study.

Ali has a lot of free time compared to most children her age.

She’s nearly nine and in the third grade, which is prime time to be besieged with the first loads of homework. But since we homeschool, she escapes this fate.

I am never one to tell people that they should homeschool, nor do I dare think it is right for every child or family. However, the one benefit that is fairly global is the extreme efficiency of time. We are done with school at lunchtime. There is no need for homework, because teaching one-on-one takes so much less time. There might be afternoon educational outings such as nature walks, visits to the zoo, and children’s museums, but all post-lunchtime education is purely fun.

Ali also fills her free time by busying herself with independent learning. She’s a little geek, after all, and adores using her afternoons to pursue her own interests of study.

(It’s like I’m homeschooling her, and she’s unschooling herself. It works for us.)

Ali’s current three favorite self-inflicted “textbooks” are Extreme Planet (subtitled “Not for Parents”), Guinness World Records, and Space: A Visual Encyclopedia.


Each has been scoured and studied countless times (except for Guinness, which is pretty new but getting devoured by the day), and each comes with its own unique set of experiences.

Extreme Planet started out as a library check-out that Ali found beloved enough to beg me to allow her to take it to her grandparent’s to show them (because it was Not For Parents and she needed someone legal to show the magic that was found within), and after enjoying the book with her, my Dad bought her a copy to keep.

Not that I’ve read it because ACCORDING TO THE RULES I cannot, from what I gather, Extreme Planet is full of facts and pictures of the most extreme items in nature. I have built my assumptions about the contents from events surrounding this book. Such as when we were at the beach (and had our fabulous babysitter Sarah along.) We were all playing in the sand when Noah casually mentioned, “The bedtime story Sarah read us last night was about BUGS in your BUTT!!”

I looked at Sarah with wide, amused eyes.

“I swear I didn’t pick it! Ali had that book and they picked the page they wanted me to read!”

Then Ali added, “And anyway they were bugs in ANIMAL’S butts, not human’s butts.”

Well that makes it better.

Guinness, the newest treasure trove, was on Ali’s “Absolute Must” list of items she had to take with her to stay at Gramamma’s house last week. I asked her if she was going to read it with my mom, and she said, “Well actually we’re going to look through it together and find a record we can break so that I can be in the next book.”

When I picked her up, I asked if she was able to break a record.

She sighed.

“Not yet. All of them were either super dangerous, like how many candles you can fit in your mouth WHILE LIT, or they were stuff you just couldn’t do, like having fourteen fingers.”

I felt like I should apologize to her for not taking some Class IV drug while I was pregnant with her so that she could have fourteen-and-a-half fingers.

And then there’s the Space book. She’s fascinated by Space and knows significantly more facts about our universe than I do. She can quickly name all the planets in order (I cannot even name them all), can explain what would happen (theoretically) to an astronaut who got sucked into a black hole, and can share information about every celestial body.

One day last week, she disappeared into her room for a few hours after school. I figured she was reading. She came down for dinner, then disappeared again. While I was doing the dishes, a mysterious invitation showed up on the kitchen counter.


I wasn’t exactly sure where Space was, but walked up to her room on a hunch. She peered around the corner, and I took in the slightly messier-than-usual state of her room.


Then I started looking closer. And was drawn in by the detail of her interpretation of space. Our galaxy was all present, including clouds around the sun and a warning not to get too close,


An (angry) alien resident of Neptune,


A black hole made out of recycled glow sticks,


A Lego satellite,


And the moon, complete with a (GIANT) NASA spaceship on it.


And then there were the other galaxies. They were magnificent, creating an environment of intrigue and imagination.


This one made me realize I needed to introduce her to the show ALF.


And the planet that she’ll be introduced in a few years, poor girl.


There were three imaginary galaxies containing dozens of planets, all labeled and decorated.


Before bed, Chris helped her add even more details to her diorama, including rockets and meteors.



So that she could share her fabulous creation, I told Ali that our neighbors and their nanny could come over to visit Space the next morning.

Ali hurried through school, fretting that she needed enough time to make some last minute arrangements to Space before introducing it to a crowd.

I checked in on her, and she’d rearranged the galaxies so that she could create a path.

“I want it like a museum,” she explained.


Our friends came over to observe. Ali was sure to instruct them to stay on the paths provided, but offered a thorough tour of every feature.


Including, of course, a light show.


And throughout all of the many versions of Space, her precious book sat watching, propped up on a chair leg, intensely proud of the creativity it inspired.


Epic Camping: The Downs.

Read Part One and Part Two here.

Yesterday, I showed you the beautiful moments of our camping trip. Today, I unweave the rest of the story.

As I mentioned in my first post, Chris and I have never tent-camped with children – we used to do it pre-kids, but not since – the whole waking up with the sun, bad dreams, hearing every sound and moan that the little cherubs make – it’s not for wusses. And we’re wusses. If we can stay in a cabin and not sleep with our kids, why would we all sleep crammed in a piece of fabric?

Because camping is awesome, that’s why. And Chris wasn’t coming along and I was up for double the adventure. Because adventure is awesome, too.

We had a last minute state park reroute the day before we left (stupid Labor Day crowds), so I woke up at 6:45am on Thursday to get out the door and get our spots before they were all gone.

I was ready to leave a 7:45, which is pretty commendable for all that must be packed for a camping trip. I called the state park to make sure they still had three spots together. They did, but they would go fast. Oh – and by the way – the only way you can rent spots is if you have tents to set up on each spot IMMEDIATELY – your car there, your money, and even your placard that they insist you post on your site – those proofs are not enough. Tents must be assembled. Immediately.

I knew my parents would not be ready anytime soon (Mom had just started packing), and I suspected that Lindsay was not ready to leave at 7:45 am. So I called them and concocted the plan: I drove to Lindsay’s, picked up her tent, then drove to my parents and picked up their tent AND my Dad.

We arrived around 10:30am – not as early as I planned, but we had three tents. Which was good, because the park ranger asked us at the front entrance: DO YOU HAVE YOUR THREE TENTS.

This particular State Park will go down in history as the most OCD State Park Ever.

But it’s pretty.

And so began The Great Tent Assembly – something I hadn’t taken part in at least nine years.

Dad and I put together the first two tents, then took a lunch break, during which Lindsay arrived, so she and I put together her tent while Dad supervised.

The kids, meanwhile, were all asking to go to the playground. Every two seconds.

We delayed the hot walk, and instead put them in swimsuits to wade in the lake (which we later found out was against the rules – swimming at the beach only. It doesn’t matter if you got up at 6:45am to get a lakeside spot.)

When Ali got out, she went in our tent to get something. Then called out, “Mommy!!! Will you come get this earthworm out of the tent?”

I went to save her from certain death, and scooped up what I thought was an inchworm onto a piece of paper.

Then I looked at it. And its circular sucker for a mouth.

It stood on its backside and silently screamed at me through that large, round opening.

OH. My gosh.

This ancient creature was no inchworm. She was a leech. And she was leaving circular bloody spots on the paper as she crawled along on her mouth, clearly having lunched off of my daughter.

Ali said, “There must have been at least two, because Eli pulled one off of me, too!”

I didn’t get a picture of The Leech Attack because we passed him around to study her. And when Lindsay took her kids up to the bath house to get cleaned up, I had finally caved and taken my kids to the playground that had been there since the extraordinarily creepy 1950s,


so I missed seeing the much bigger leech she pulled off of Andi – the one that decisively made a popping feeling when she de-suctioned it.

(For the rest of the weekend I tried to get someone to lure a leech out for a photo, but no one else was interested in getting in the water after that. No idea why.)

When we got back from the playground, my Dad told all the kids to get all the firewood out of his truck and bring it to the fire pit.

There were 18 stairs down from our cars to the camping spot, so this was no small task. There was much moaning and sweating of children, but they obliged.

Until Noah started screaming manically from the truck – so much so that I didn’t even look because I just assumed it was not my kid. I’d never heard him scream like that. Mom ran up there to see what was wrong. He was the lucky kid who had picked up a log that was covered in fire ants. His arms sprung up with dozens of bites, and he even got a couple on the palms of his hands.

(Meanwhile, Chris was enjoying a nice, quiet, direct flight to Dallas. But no matter.)

Moving on.

Eli had jettisoned his shoes early into the trip, despite the ground being made up of approximately 47.8% duck poo. Of course, he managed to also gash that extra soft piece of skin between his big toe and foot. I found him sitting by my tent in a dirt pile, foot gushing blood, and he had it twisted up so that he could…no he wasn’t. Oh yes. Yes he was.

He was licking – nay sucking the fountain of blood off of his foot.

STOP IT!! Your foot is covered in duck poo and dirt!!!”

“But it won’t stop bleeding!! <lick lick> And this is the only way to get it to quit hurting!!” <slurp>

For the rest of the trip, anytime there wasn’t an adult around to forcibly stop him, he chewed the skin off around the gash, widening it further by the hour, and creating a five-star hotel for every piece of duck poo bacterium in the campground.


Naturally, on night one, the children had trouble falling asleep (“The creatures are too loud and I miss my noisemaker!!” /// THEY ARE YOUR NOISEMAKER GO TO SLEEP), and woke up at near-sunrise.

Around lunchtime on Friday, Noah told me that his ankle hurt, and held it up to show me.

I grabbed it to try and see what he was pointing to, and he had another complete meltdown. MUCH screaming.

Which is when I realized that his ankle was quite swollen – all stemming from a bite – that definitely looked like it had fang marks.

It didn’t look spider biteish at all – I should know. The fang holes were bigger, and the swelling was not at all red and was not around the bite, but extending from the bite.

Mysterious Bite

He seemed okay, though, so I didn’t do anything about it right away. Then then we walked to the playground again – half a mile of heat and sweat and misery.

I had just said how great it was that the kids had figured out the antique seesaws when Noah started screaming. Again.

Because the rusty, rickety seesaw had come down on his mysteriously bitten ankle.

It took long moments of withstanding cacophony to get him calmed down, and then a carrying him back to the picnic table in the sweaty sweaty 91 degree sun.

But even after he calmed down, he couldn’t walk. At all. And we needed to get back to the campsite to treat his foot.

So I hefted and toted my 46 pound child half a mile in the 91 degree direct sun, all while mentally awarding myself 2,300 calories of exercise for the excruciating effort.

I cleaned and medicated and pondered what it could be. Weird spider bite? Mild snake bite? I had no idea. Noah started walking again not too long after all the doctoring – at first he was hopping on one foot, then limping, then just barely limping.

So again, I let it go.

That night, I dreamed of running all night. I hadn’t gotten to run since Wednesday night, nor had I been alone for a single second. I was craving those miles and miles of quiet, child-free trails, and my subconscious knew it. I awoke wide awake at 6:15am – quite unusual for me.


Both kids were still racked out – this was my chance.


I ever-so-quietly got dressed in my running clothes, put on my shoes, and started writing Ali a note to tell her I’d be back, and that they could get out of the tent when they heard Gramamma or Pop or cousins. Our tent was in the middle campsite and my parents were nearby – what could go wrong? I wouldn’t go far. I was so desperate for a run. I needed this to survive.

As I was finishing my note, Ali rolled over and asked what I was doing. I whispered that I was writing her a note and to go back to sleep. Then Noah lifted his head. I told them both to go back to sleep. They closed their eyes. I snuck out and walked up to the bath house, guzzling a Five Hour Energy and nearly skipping at the glee of my future run. I walked back to the campsite to grab my phone and start running.

Except that Ali was looking out the tent window, crying pitifully.

There were ants in our tent – TWENTY maybe – and she was afraid they would eat her and all her stuffed animals while I was gone.

I knew she was exhausted, hence her reaction, so I got in the tent, killed the twenty tiny black non-biting ants, and laid down with her to try and get her back to sleep.

Noah was wide awake and was physically unable to whisper. Or be quiet in any way.

I knew, sadly, that my run would not be happening.

So instead, I walked my kids half a mile and rented a pedal boat, at 7am, and spent the next two hours pedaling all the cousins around the lake – again in the direct sunlight.


Then it was time to start breaking up camp – the much dreaded breaking up of camp. Oh my gosh so much carrying. So much sweating. So much de-tenting. So many stairs to our cars. SO MUCH HEAT AND MISERY.

It took a couple hours of pouring sweat and folding and stair-climbing, but we finally got packed up.


Except that my car battery was dead – not too surprising since I’d been electronically locking, unlocking, and raising the back for days without driving it. Dad jumped me off, I left it running for a while. But when it was time to go, my battery was dead again.


Which meant that my battery was probably bad, which meant that I could not under any circumstances stop on the way home. Oh – and my cooler had also slowly dripped all night and soaked my third row seats. So yay for the smell of mildew.

I got home and I found my Wonder Woman inner being again. I unpacked that car with Hulk-like strength and grand amounts of longsuffering. I put EVERYTHING up. I unpacked all our bags, our coolers, and even our miscellaneous crap. I started a load of laundry. I bathed the filthy urchins. I checked everyone for ticks.


I had camped, DAMMIT, by myself, in a tent, with my kids.


…Except that in the process of the tick check, I found one extremely embedded in…guess who?? Noah.

Oh –and there was still the small issue of his mysteriously bitten foot, which was now purple and red and even more swollen.

This was the first time I had found an embedded tick since being a parent, so I called my parents to inquire as to what was the latest way to get ticks out.

Dad said he’d heard that if you put cooking oil on a q-tip and twisted it, you could literally unscrew the tick. This sounded easier to do than putting a burnt match on the tick’s back as my parents had done to me as a child, so I retrieved the oil.

The tick did not unscrew.

So then I tried the burning thing, and Noah completely flipped his lid. More screaming than ever, and wouldn’t let me get near him.

I talked him down off the ledge by asking him 565 times if he trusted me (he trusted me on the 566th ask), and then I burnt the tick.

Except that the tick was dead. So getting burned didn’t exactly make him jump out of his cave in Noah’s back.

Then I did what I should have done first and Googled “How to get a tick out” and found the CDC site. SO MUCH EASIER.

“Grasp the tick close to the skin with tweezers and pull steadily” – something my parents always told me NEVER to do.

(Sorry Mom and Dad.)

I tweezed out the tick, including his mouth parts, and then alcoholed Noah’s back.

Then I turned my attention to his purple foot.

It hadn’t seemed to bother him hardly at all all day today – except that he had a slight limp. But it looked so much more infected I felt like I needed to check. I texted a few medical friends and followed their advice – I medicated him again and outlined the swelling with a Sharpie and decided to wait until morning.

Oh…and all while I was pulling a tick out of my hyperventilating and screaming child and trying to figure out if I needed to go to an after hours clinic about his ankle……

Chris was riding to the football game. In this.

And all of this occurred because one fateful evening in July I took two Benadryl before dinner.

Epilogue: Thankfully, the next day, Noah’s ankle had improved drastically. Not as thankfully, the next night, Noah came down with croup. The children remember the trip as magical, and I actually enjoyed it too and never lost my cool – until Chris’ flight got delayed three hours. God’s grace was sufficient for me to camp on my own, but it was not at all sufficient for those last three unplanned hours of no Daddy.

The Great Questioning.

Ninety-three percent of the relationship between a mother and her children is comprised of answering questions. The same questions. Over and over and over.

They never tell you that in the parenting books. Or at the hospital.

“This is how you change a diaper…and here’s how you get them to latch on…and you need to clean their umbilical cord stump like this…and are you prepared to spend the next twenty years of your life answering the same pointless questions on repeat?”

I guess it would be a bit overwhelming to find that out when you’re just trying to figure out how to properly hold a freshly popped-out miniature human.

But it’s true.

_MG_9955The question pictured is less adorable than it appears.

All children’s questions can fall into these categories:

1. What is happening next?

Examples: What are we having for lunch? When can we see Gramamma and Pop again? When will I lose my first tooth? How many days until we go on vacation again? When can I get a parrot for my birthday?

2. Can I have?

Examples: Can I have candy? Can I have that toy? Can I eat my pancake even though it dropped on the floor? Can I have random object that doesn’t exist anywhere in the known universe except in my head?

3. Why not?

Examples: Why can’t I stay up until midnight? Why can’t I eat candy for breakfast? Why can’t I have the random object that I just made up?

4. Will you get me?

Examples: Will you get me some juice? Will you get me a snack? Will you get me that box of stickers on the top shelf of your closet that will almost certainly cause a landslide of other random objects to pour down onto your head?

5. Are we there yet?

Example: I know we just pulled out of the driveway, but by some beautiful coincidence have we also just arrived at our destination?

6. What does that say?

Examples: What does that sign say? How about that sign? And that sign? And that sign and that sign and that sign and that sign?

7. What does that mean?

Examples: What does vasectomy mean? What does episiotomy mean? What does incessant questioning mean?


Questioning has always been the biggest hobby of the shorter members of our family, but lately, we have been plagued (and I do mean plagued – like the-land-crawling-in-locusts-plagued) with the first category of questions. Our two children seem to be obsessed with the future, and spend 99% of the present asking about said future.

I don’t think Chris quite believed me when I told him how bad it had gotten (“Like locusts in your ears, in your cereal, in your toilet, in your sealed water bottle bad, honey”), because when I suggested we have a family meeting about this problem, he seemed to think this too drastic a step.

Until the weekend came.

“I’ll answer all their questions this weekend”, he vowed.

I readily agreed. It’s not that Chris is normally unhelpful – he’s actually the most helpful sort – but fathers have the ability to completely tune out children – especially their steady stream of questioning – in a way that mothers can only lust after.

Chris took the family to the mall to see a traveling Lego exhibit. During the entire tour of the mall, he was barraged with the locusts flowing from our children’s mouths.

“Are we almost there?”

“Can we go to the hot dog truck next?”

“When are we going to eat dinner?”

“When I’m ten do you think I’ll be able to do a cartwheel?”

“Are we going to eat dinner at the mall?”

“Can I have a car when I grow up?”

“Can we go to Build-A-Bear and make a Minion?”

“Can we ride the train?”

He answered each question with a carefully measured level of patience and ignored my smug sideways smiles.

Finally, he started answering with, “Just enjoy the present, kids. No more questions about the future. We’re at the mall doing something special. Just focus on that.”

The questions then got modified to focus on “the present”.

“What is the next Lego exhibit we’re going to see?”

“When will we find the Lego White House?”

“When we grow up can we make giant Lego sculptures like this?”

My smile began to have giggling sound effects as I filled with glee at not being the only one to realize that our children had jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole of endless parental inquisition.

We piled into the car and Chris sucked in a deep, calming breath.

I went ahead and said it for him.

“We need to have a family meeting, kids.”

“Okay Mommy!”

“Y’all have got to quit asking so many questions about the future. We can’t always, or don’t want to always, answer them. We will inform you what is going to happen next when when choose. So. We’re going to have a code word that Daddy and I will say when you’ve just asked a question about the future, and you’ll know that code word means ‘we’re not going to answer that and you need to not ask questions like that ever, ever again.’ So – what would y’all like the code word to be?”

(We’ve done this code word trick once before and it was a great way to not feel like we were nagging all the time. Ali was having a problem biting her lower lip and was therefore pushing her two front teeth outward, making the dentist threaten early braces. So we came up with the code word “strawberry”, and every time we said that to her she was to quit biting her bottom lip. It helped break the habit and we didn’t have to waste syllables constantly.)

Ali: “How about Snickerdoodle?”

Me: “Too long. I’m going to be saying this code word A LOT. I need something two syllables or less.”

Ali: “Then just Doodle?”

Me: “We like Doodle’s Sorbet too much. Let’s not sully that name.”

Ali: “Okay. Could we use a car name?”

Me: “Sure.”

Ali: “Hmm….Honda?”

Me: “Honda is perfect. So anytime Daddy or I say ‘Honda’, you both know what that means. Right?”


It took approximately two minutes.

“Where are we going for dinn—“ “HONDA!”

Then, at dinner, “When I’m twelve can I get a kitten?”

“That’s like the biggest Honda ever.”

Then, after dinner, “Where are we going next?”


“Are we there yet?”


“Are we close to there yet?”


It hasn’t slowed the questioning yet, but Honda is calling and wanting their royalty check.