McKearney Marie: What I have learned about God through my dogs, and an obituary.

As the mother of Moses laid him in the reeds at the river’s edge, entrusting him wholly to your care because she could no longer keep him safe, so we lay our pet in this place. Keep her safe in your love until we come, and give us Grace to come when you call us, as she came when we called her. Forgive us those times when we did not love your pet as you would have us do, and accept our thanks for your having given her to us for her time on earth. 
~from a funeral service for a dog

1Forgive me for being away from the blog the last several days. I have been going through a very difficult time, and I just haven’t felt up to taking the time to sit down with my thoughts. Between my grief and the intense pain in my right arm and hand, blogging was just not something I could bring myself to do.

Above is a picture of my beloved prissy little pricness, McKearney Marie, three months before she joined our family. We have loved her so much. She’s been a delight with her prissy little prance and her silly polka-dotted feet and antenna ears. This baby girl was a joy to everyone who knew her, and a great comfort to me in a time of grief before.

It was the first weekend of October, and the weather was perfect – not too hot or too cold. Leaves were turning bright colors, and the world was getting ready for winter. My son, our next-door neighbor, and I went for a long hike with my dogs, Mandy, aged 10 and Finny, who would soon be a year old. It was our last hike with Finny. He was poisoned that night, and died two days later. We had a friend help us with everything. We buried him in the backyard, under his favorite digging spot. We gave him a sweet memorial service, and we said our goodbyes. We were heartbroken. More heartbreaking, though, was the discovery that the people who had poisoned my sweet puppy were merely children. They were sent to various detention centers, some for longer than others, all with the hopes that counseling might help them. It was a difficult time for everyone.

We were determined though. We had room in our home and our hearts for more than one dog, and we were not going to be broken by the loss of our Finnegan. We were working with a few groups to find the right dog to fill that space. And we were doubly blessed! We buried Finn on Monday night. On Wednesday, we made a thirty minute drive to pick up Kearney, a border collie and corgi cross breed who just won our hearts. She fit right in, and we all adored her.

Two weeks later, we were a bit overwhelmed, but extremely happy to be introduced to Joey, who would become the third member of our doggie family.

 Oh, how we loved these dogs!  We have all been doing well, working hard on Joey’s fear aggression and nervousness around strange men, Mandy’s dumpster diving, and Kearney’s need to bark at EVERYTHING that happens outside. They’ve all made a lot of progress, and we were all getting along swimmingly.

Until Thursday night.

Thursday evening, as we were getting ready to leave for baseball practice, we heard a scuffle in the front yard. I ran out the door to find the beginning of a dog fight. Kearney attacked Mandy, our ten-year-old black lab. The best we can figure, Mandy had found something that Kearney wanted, and Kearney attacked. It had happened before, but always ended quickly as soon as I stepped in.  Not this time.  Mandy tried and tried to get away from the fight, but Kearney was, as my friend put it “battle blind” and kept lunging at her. I tried everything to safely break up the fight – shouting, clapping, separating them with the lid of the toy box, spraying them with water. Kearney kept coming. Finally, I grabbed her scruff, and I got bitten pretty badly. But it gave Mandy time to get away, and once Kearney realized she was biting ME, she backed off immediately. It was too late though.

The vet said it was obvious that Mandy was trying very hard not to hurt Kearney, but she had to protect herself too. She didn’t want to hurt Kearney. My poor girls. My poor, poor baby girls. Kearney was badly injured. We honestly didn’t think she’d make it for more than a few minutes. But she was a tough little girl. She curled up in the corner next to the porch.  We brought her a blanket to make her comfortable and a water bowl.

Thank God, my Mandy was mostly unharmed. She’s got a few abrasions we’ve been treating, and she was given some antibiotics to be safe, but she is, for the most part, fully recovered.

I had to be taken to the emergency room. The bite went into the tendon of my right forearm, and is very painful, but it will heal. The ER took x-rays, gave me a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster, a shot of antibiotics, and cleaned out and dressed the wounds. They offered me a shot of pain medicine, but it would have required a bed and a two-hour stay. I declined, and was discharged from triage with vicodin and augmentin.

When we got home from the hospital, my Kearney had moved onto her favorite seat – the cushioned bench on the front porch. I couldn’t move her inside without hurting her more, so I covered her with a warm blanket, and sat with her for an hour. I just held her beautiful little head and told her how much I loved her, and that no one was upset with her. We knew she didn’t mean to hurt anybody. She was just being a dog, and sometimes, dogs fight. Unlike people, they don’t have free choices. They are servants to their animal nature, and no training will change their nature.

Our vet determined that there was nothing we could do for her. For many reasons, it was time to say our goodbyes to my beautiful princess. First, she was in agony. She was suffering greatly, and it was obvious. The vet hesitated to give her anything for pain because of the risk of more bleeding and because of any effect it might have on her temperament. We did NOT need another dogfight. There was no guarantee that she would recover, and her injuries were pretty bad. Then came the risk of future aggression. She’d gone after Mandy before, but never to this extreme. It had escalated out of control, and there was no telling what or who she might attack next.  We really had no choice but to go ahead and put an end to her suffering.

I spent most of the rest of the day sobbing my eyes out and being thankful that my son had gone to his dad’s for the weekend.

I tried to stay focused on the things for which I was thankful, but at the same time, my heart was broken. I ached for my baby girl. And every time my arm or leg would throb in pain, it only made the pain in my heart more potent. Oh, Kearney! What could I have done for you?

In my grief, I called my dear friends in Saint Louis, and they, as always were a great comfort to me. I spoke to Isaac about dogs and salvation, and found we shared a similar view on many points. I wanted to share some things with you all, because they have helped me before and are helping me greatly now.

The relationship we have with our dogs is a mirror of the relationship God has with us. The more I think about this, the more I realize how very true and beautiful it is. When we lay Finnegan to rest in the backyard, part of our prayer was “Help us always to come when You call as our dog always came when we called.” How poignant are those words?

We train our dogs to be obedient to us. The goal is that they are 100% obedient to our commands, but we know that when they are not given commands, their doggie nature will take over, and we love them all the same. We are different, in that we are capable of overcoming our “doggie” nature, and making the free choice to be obedient always, but if we admit it, we aren’t always obedient. But the Master is still there with a pat on the head, a rub of the belly, and an overflowing bowl of mercy for us when we paw at the door, so to speak.When our dogs are not obedient, we correct them, because we are training them in large part for their own safety.  Sure it’s CUTE when we have a dog who is an agility or rally champion, but at the heart of it, we train tricks so that we can train recall, “leave it,” “drop it,” and the like. Once the dog has good recall and will give me her undivided attention when asked for it (I say “focus,” and expect eye contact until my dog is released to “go play”), I know I can keep her safe from most situations. Was it extremely precious that my Kearney would literally dance for her supper? Of course it was. But more importantly, Joey can focus on me when he is terrified and wants to jump at a stranger, and Mandy will come every time she is called NO MATTER WHAT. She even tried desperately to get away from a dogfight because she heard the sound of my voice. How true is that of our Master and us? Obedience to God is not expected so He can show us in some great, cosmic trick-dog championship. He requires our obedience for our own good.

In the Holy Scripture, we read (St. Matthew 11:29) “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  To our dogs, I would say, here, baby, let me put this collar, and tag, and leash on you. You are my beloved pet now, and I will be gentle with you. I expect you to behave, but I have kibble, blankets, a warm place by the fire, and unlimited belly-rubs for the rest of your life. Sure, I have expectations, and you will be corrected when you pee on the floor or dig in the trashcan, but I am quick to forgive, scratch you behind your ears, and take you for your walkies. It’s not so different, I think. My dogs understand it pretty well.

 Just as we learn the rules that God has for us, our dogs quickly (with some consistency) learn our expectations for them. They KNOW when they have done something wrong. And they CONFESS it. Now, they don’t go to a priest, say their prayers, and ask for forgiveness. No, they tuck their tails in, duck their heads, and show me what they’ve done. Even after the seven years of serious abuse my labrador suffered before she came to me, she isn’t afraid that I will punish her harshly. She knows I will be quick to forgive her, but she shows me that she acknowledges that she did wrong.  If only I could follow her example all the time! Because my God, like her mistress, is quick to forgive when I acknowledge my sin. When I go to Confession, I know my sins are forgiven. Does it mean I’ll never dig in the trash again, so to speak? Well, I am NOT a dog, so the answer is “hopefully, but probably not.” No, like a dog, I will keep trying, failing, and asking for forgiveness, until someone puts in a cabinet door to keep me out of the figurative trash. As a human, that responsibility may well fall on me. As a pet owner, I can put up a door for my dog. As a person, I have to change my habits, my thought patterns, my behaviors. Either way, there is much to be learned about Confession, repentance, and forgiveness here.
I have even learned a lot about parenting through training my dogs. Yes. Parenting.  See, my dogs respond best to praise and rewards. There was NOTHING Kearney would not do for a belly rub. Mandy would walk through fire for pepperoni. Joey? He likes a good combination of affection and food, and he’s learning well. They don’t need harsh punishments, especially when they don’t know what they’ve done wrong. They need consistency and positive reinforcement. They need a firm “No! Leave it!” when they’re getting into something wrong, and then they need to hear “good girl!” and get a treat when they leave the bad thing behind. Yeah. Sound like any six-year-olds you know? Because it sounds a lot like mine.
We really can learn a lot about our relationship with God if we think about our expectations for our dogs. The more I think about WHY I expect the things that I do, the more I begin to understand what God expects from me. My dogs are faithful, loyal, protective, slow to judge, quick to forgive, willing to admit their wrong actions, always wanting love and mercy and a good old fashioned belly rub. Is it really that simple? Well, no, but I don’t suppose it’s much harder than that either.
But on to the big question my son asked: Is Kearney in heaven?
I don’t think anyone can answer that for sure, but here’s what I can say:
It seems to be that the Orthodox position is that dogs have souls, perhaps not the same sort of souls we have, since mankind is special, but they certainly have souls.
Metropolitan Kalistos (Ware) seems to believe that there will be pets in heaven. In hisThe Orthodox Church, he says “Christ took flesh – something from the material order – and so has made possible the redemption and metamorphosis of all creation – not merely the immaterial, but the physical” (emphasis his!). All creation? Well, certainly my dogs were created by God! He also says that ” the earth “was created by God, currupted through the fall, but redeemed with us in Christ…” (emphasis mine).
So, while there seems to be no official Orthodox position, I have known several Orthodox clergy who would contend that our pets will are included when all creation is redeemed.
It makes sense to me, since God teaches us so much through them, and gives us so much comfort through them.
So I continue to believe that Kearney and Finny, Nemo, Fibi, Snoopy, and Charlie will not just cease to be. If nothing else, it gives me some comfort in my grief to trust them entirely to God’s care, as he trusted them temporarily to mine. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I was not the best master I could be for your creations! Have mercy on me, a lowly and humble sinner!
The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have is in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. … He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of this world. … When all other friends desert, he remains. 
— George G. Vest, US Senate, 1884

ADHD, Ritalin, Valerian Root, Homeschooling, and Objections

medium_8385313496How’s THAT for a title?

I was talking the other day with someone whom I care about very deeply and utterly respect. I won’t go into the details of this person, but I will say that this person is by far my strongest mentor in life. Dude was there and being his usual self.

Have I explained my angel to you yet? He’s fantastic, really. He is six years old, bright as sunshine, sharper than a tack, sweeter than honey, and a COMPLETE “pistol” as my mom would say. For a start, he is a six-year-old boy. That in itself is enough for a whole lot of crazy cakes waiting on my plate. But wait! There’s more. He has attachment issues (enough that it matters to his therapist, not enough to really label it a “disorder.” We know exactly where it stems from, and we’re doing the best we can to work with him on it.).  He ALSO has ADHD. Not surprising. His father and I also have ADHD. So, combine those things, and it’s a mess. He’s tough to handle on a good day. Now, I am not complaining. It is what it is, and we do the best we can.

But anyway, tangents aside, we were discussing his behavior, his social skills, and all that while he was outside playing. He’s really well behaved for a kid with the challenges he has. But he has major challenges, so he’s not actually “well-behaved” at all. Ever. We’re working on it. But I digress. This person, whom I deeply respect and admire as I have mentioned, has been a completely invaluable resource this school year. She taught in early childhood classrooms for most of her adult life, and she has a slew of brilliant ideas for my little man. She has helped us with lessons, field trips, projects, presentations, you name it! But, sitting there the other night, watching my son’s typical actions at the end of a long day, she points out that in a classroom he would have to learn to sit still and be quiet, and all the other things kids learn in primary school classrooms. She tells me “I don’t believe in homeschooling for most kids, and this is why.”

So I want to answer this to some degree. Obviously, I disagree.

I had intended at the beginning of the school year for him to start in the local primary school. I love the way the school system here is designed. Primary is K-2, then elementary is 3-5, middle is 6-8, and high school is 9-12.  Now, if I designed it, I might separate out the 8th and 9th graders and put them in junior high, but that’s me, and obviously, I am quickly becoming a homeschool mom, so my opinion doesn’t matter a lot there. But I do love that K-2 is in their own school.

Well, we started the process of signing up for Kindergarten in the primary school, and it was a nightmare. Dude was just beginning to recover from a pretty traumatic event in late spring/early summer, and was just starting therapy. We went to the school for his first assessment, and he refused to cooperate. Now, this was a simple assessment. Count the blocks. Count them by twos. What sound does each letter make? Write your name. Stuff like that. Simple things that he could do forwards and backwards. Well, true to form, he refused to participate at all. But, also true to form, instead of saying “I don’t want to” he said “I don’t know.”

Let me back up. When we got there, he was actually pretty excited. But then they told him he had to go with them, but Mama couldn’t come with him, and he FREAKED OUT. I have mentioned the disordered attachment issues, right? Well, a big part of that is a very POTENT fear of being separated from his mother and he had JUST, less than a week prior, been pretty darned traumatized in a situation that stretched the limits of that fear.  I had explained this to the school before we even arrived, and reminded them when we got there, but there was no budging, and Dude would NOT comply with the testing process.

So, afterward, the teachers approached me and told me that he did not even know how to write his first name. That’s complete nonsense. He knows how to write his name. Moreover, he knows how to write his full legal name (which is not the name he goes by, and the child has two surnames for crying out loud) AND he can spell, if not write reliably by that point, his baptismal name: Angelos. He can count to 100, group items with according to whatever category you tell him, and count by twos without help. He knows not only the NAME of each letter, but the sound(s) it makes, and can tell you a few digraphs like -ph and -th. So I showed him the same cards in front of them, turning it into a game for him, and he knew far more than they asked him to know.

But that wasn’t acceptable to them, and they wanted him assessed to be placed in special ed. I spoke to the therapist, and I continued to speak to the school about this. I refused to have him assessed for special ed. He doesn’t need it. He just needs somebody to understand that he DOESN’T have a problem learning. I refuse to have him treated as if he is “dumb” or “bad.” Because, you see, they labeled what happened as “misbehavior.” Also, they refused to allow him a SECOND assessment once he’d had a chance to recover somewhat from his recent trauma.

Given his issues, I decided that schooling him at home would be better for him emotionally. I could have held him back a year and kept him at home, but then he’d be starting Kindergarten at almost-seven, and that’s not a good idea either. Especially when you consider that he FINISHED the state’s kindergarten requirements and the curriculum of a state school in OCTOBER. I have no regrets about my decision to keep him home, and I intend to continue to do so.

But what about all those classroom skills?

A dear friend and I were recently musing about the types of education available versus the types of students by learning type.  She asserts that the traditional public school classroom crushes little boys. I don’t disagree. The public school classroom is designed for visual learners. Yet, 70% of little boys are kinesthetic learners.

I am going to quote directly from the linked page for a moment:

If your child learns best by doing:

  • He works best in short spurts
  • His body may be in constant motion and he has high energy
  • Let him touch things
  • Use movement, games, songs, or silly rhymes to help him remember and learn new things
  • Kinesthetic learners learn bet by moving their bodies, activating their large or small muscles as they learn. These are ‘hands on’ learners or the ‘doers’ who actually concentrate better and learn more easily when movement is involved. the following characteristics are often associated with kinesthetic learners.

Kinesthetic learners:

  • often wiggle, tap their feet, or move their legs when they sit.
  • were often labeled hyperactive as children.
  • learn through movement so they often do well as performers, athletes, actors, or dancers.
  • work well with their hands so they may be good at repairing work, sculpting, art, or working with various tools.
  • are often well-coordinated and have a strong sense of timing and body movement.

So, I don’t know if you’ve checked around, but Kindergarten is not what it was *cough* years ago when I was there. It is no longer about stations to play in, do free art, home living, exploratory science, and movement. The kids at our local school, in KINDERGARTEN, are allowed free play for twenty minutes a day during recess, if it’s not raining or very cold. Other than that, starting at the kindergarten level, they are expected to keep their seats, stand in line, and remain relatively quiet. They’re not allowed to socialize at lunch even!

I understand the reasons the schools do this (okay, sort of. No. Not at all.), but does that sound at all like an environment where a kinesthetic learner is going to flourish? Overwhelmingly, the list above describes little boys. So, it would follow that, overwhelmingly, little boys are going to be in not-so-little trouble at school.

Let’s throw some ADHD into that mix, shall we? It’s no small wonder that so many school children are being medicated so young. I think it’s a tragedy.

But classroom skills are necessary for professional life! Are they? Are they really?

Certainly there is value in learning to work as a team, to wait one’s turn, and to listen politely when others (teachers, leaders, and fellow students) are speaking. Those are basic life skills. I don’t feel they require a public school classroom to develop. There are groups at church, sports teams, scout groups, and social outings that help. Is my son behind in this area? Yes. But again, consider that in addition to being a six-year-old, he’s also an only child, and he has those challenges we talked about earlier, not least of which is ADHD.  To be honest, I am thirty-two years old, I have ADHD, and I struggle with those things at times. For someone with ADHD, those skills don’t just CLICK because you sit in a classroom and get in trouble for NOT having those skills. They take a lifetime to develop. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it down perfectly myself.

But when we think about classroom skills at the primary level, we’re not thinking about the same things, I think. Someone told me that those skills learned in the primary grades (being quiet, being still, waiting in line) are NECESSARY JOB SKILLS. Moreover, they were also necessary for success in college.  I’ve been in and out of college for a while. In fact, I am in college now, and I’ve got to say, I have not had to raise my hand and ask permission to use the bathroom since 1998.

The Association for Psychological Science conducted a survey, asking professionals what skills they most wanted their college-educated new employees to possess. Here are the results.

  • Monitoring one’s own emotional expressions and responsiveness (e.g., showing interest in and motivation toward the task at hand)
  • Maintaining composure when challenged
  • Speaking and writing in a manner appropriate to the audience (e.g., different levels of formality in different contexts)
  • Being receptive to feedback and constructive criticism (e.g., a willingness to learn and improve)
  • Awareness of personal responsibility as a listener or audience member
  • Respecting others’ professional position, particularly those in authority (e.g., referencing people formally unless instructed otherwise)
  • Being on time
  • Being prepared for the task at hand
  • Being courteous to everyone, regardless of rank or position
  • Appreciating services received and expressing that appreciation
  • Making proper introductions
  • Dressing appropriately

I, frankly, fail to see how those are skills that a home-educated child would be lacking, if educated properly. Dude is six. We’re already working very hard on manners and etiquette. Sure, it isn’t showing much in social settings, but he’s getting there. 

Those are skills for business, though, and for AFTER college. Here are somerecommended skills to develop in the first year of college:

  • Attend every class and be on time.
  • Learn how to adapt to different instructors
  • Take responsibility for your own learning
  • Be prepared for class
  • Be an active listener
  • Sit in the front of the class if possible
  • Communicate with instructors
  • Bring your book to class if the lecture follows the text
  • Learn note-taking skills
  • Listen for cue words in lectures, such as “this is important”
  • Go over your notes after class
  • Join or set up a study group
Nothing about sitting quietly in your seat and trying to learn the way everyone else does. Yes, students have to learn to adapt, but in adapting, UVU is very specific that the student is responsible for his own learning. I went to public and private schools, and we were certainly not taught to take responsibility for our education. We were taught to fake it and pretend.
But the point I guess I am trying to make is that no amount of desk-sitting or line-walking or finger-on-the-lips-hand-on-the-hips quiet and calm is going to get my primary student ready for college, business, or a trip to Steak N Shake with grandma. What is going to get him ready for college is learning, for business is college, and for a trip to Steak N Shake with Grandma is just practice and patience. 
Adding in the ADHD does make things more challenging. It challenges us as homeschoolers in ways I am sure that classroom teachers wouldn’t be challenged. Yet, I am certain that the public schools management is not as effective long-term. 
I haven’t really done the research but my experience tells me that teachers or school administrators are often the ones who suggest putting children on medication – usually amphetamine-based stimulants – to manage their AD/HD symptoms at school. While I understand the reasoning, I don’t accept it. I just don’t. I have had ADHD for something along the lines of 32 years, and I’ve been medicated and unmedicated. I can honestly say that what truly helped ME was the coaching I had in coping skills and ways to manage without getting too anxious. Dude is a different kid, of course, but I have been researching ADHD medications of late, and I am not impressed. 

One researcher points out that “a smattering of recent studies, most of them involving animals, hint that stimulants could alter the structure and function of the brain in ways that may depress mood, boost anxiety and, contrary to their short-term effects, lead to cognitive deficits. Human studies already indicate the medications can adversely affect areas of the brain that govern growth in children, and some researchers worry that additional harms have yet to be unearthed.”  He also points out that “traces of a sinister side to stimulants have also surfaced. In February 2007 the FDA issued warnings about side effects such as growth stunting and psychosis, among other mental disorders. Indeed, the vast majority of adults with ADHD experience at least one additional psychiatric illness—often an anxiety disorder or drug addiction—in their lifetime. Having ADHD is itself a risk factor for other mental health problems, but the possibility also exists that stimulant treatment during childhood might contribute to these high rates of accompanying diagnoses.”

Could that explain the OCD I also suffer from?

To take it further, in the words of a physician: “I have seen many such people, mostly young men, in my own practice. This boy was on Ritalin as a child and then Adderall as a teenager. Now he spends most of his time playing video games on his parents’ 55-inch flat screen. He’s 29 years old. He’s guildmaster of his guild in World of Warcraft, but in the real world, he’s nobody. His parents are frantic, but he is content. That may be the end result when the nucleus accumbens is damaged. Medications are not solely to blame for this phenomenon – there are other factors in play – but the fact that this boy was on stimulant medications for many years is most likely a contributing factor.”  (of note: This same physician points out that the current teaching methods are doing more harm than good for most boys!)

Do we want this for our children?

Side effects can also include:

  • Insomnia (have that already)
  • Nightmares (check)
  • Loss of appetite (now, he’s got a good appetite, most of the time, but not at other times, and he certainly cannot afford to lose any weight)
  • Rebound  effect: when symptoms such as irritability (HAVE THAT) and aggression (THAT TOO!!!) get WORSE than they would have been without the medication.  Yeah, because that sounds like a WONDERFUL idea. Let’s do THAT. I enjoy the screaming fits and getting bruised up by my beloved child. Sounds great. Sign me up.
  • Cardiac risks (NO! What?! No!!!!!! Seriously???)
It’s just not something I think we need to have to face. 
Psychology Today did a very compelling survey of ADHD children and homeschooling. The results were pretty much what I was personally expecting, but not, I think, what others might expect. They conclude that children who are not in a brick-and-mortar school typically manage ADHD WITHOUT medication. Their second conclusion was one I found particular compelling: “The children’s behavior, moods, and learning generally improved when they stopped conventional schooling, not because their ADHD characteristics vanished but because they were now in a situation where they could learn to deal with those characteristics.”  They also conclude that many ADHD children have a high-need for a much more self-directed education and that they will hyper-focus on tasks of interest. 
Long story short? These kids are getting a BETTER education at home without having to take hardcore drugs that completely alter their personalities. Not just alter when they are on the meds, but have an intense period of “coming down” at the end of the day.
So we manage Dude’s moods and hyperactivity with a very simple protocol. It’s chamomile, mint, and lemon balm throughout the day. Magnesium and zinc are added in small quantities to help with attention and focus. Valerian root is added at night to help with sleep troubles. His doctor gave the okay to add a small amount of melatonin when the insomnia is at its worst. Also, staying active helps. Finding lessons for his kinesthetic body and tactile wandering hands is a struggle, but we’re working through it. 
All those other things take time, practice, and exposure, and he’s getting those.  But I think the science is clear. It’s pretty evident that home education is BETTER for kids like mine, not worse. Studies suggest that what I have chosen for my son will help him more in the long run for so many reasons.
There are so many more things I want to speak to, but I have written a short novel already. I may write more on all of this later, but for now, I have to get back to work or catch a nap before the man wakes up in a few short hours. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

The Chore Board

My friend Arlie asked me to blog about our ticket system and chore board. So, here I am.

We’ve had some behavioral challenges around here, and your standard fare punishment is not enough for the little man of the house. Neither is the standard fare positive reinforcement system that I’ve always known.  We had a disorganized system of rewards and punishments, but it was, as noted, disorganized and chaotic, and thus, useless.

We’ve also had issues with chores. Wee Man wants to get paid for his chores, and I love paying him for chores. The problem is that the money just isn’t always there for it. And it gets EXPENSIVE paying a kid every time he does a single chore. Also, who REALLY keeps rolls of change around?

We’ve had issues with screen time, which is related to behavior and to chores. He would grab my tablet, often without permission, and start playing Angry Birds before doing chores, and he would yell and scream and cry when he was told to turn it off. It was really ugly.

So we had to think of something else!

We went to my sister’s house for my dad’s birthday, and she had the lovely chart made for her kids. It gave them a limit of screen time, and they had options for earning more time on specific days (my nephew can earn extra screen time only on weekends, and never on school nights). I liked it. A lot.

Apparently we had both seen the next one on the internet.

A box.

A box that holds things that the children left lying around the house.  If it’s still there after the child is told and reminded to put it away, it goes in the box, and they must do chores to earn it back.

So a system was born.

I got a bunch of tickets from my mom, who picked them up at School Box. I bought a magnetic dry erase board at the dollar store, and I re-purposed a magnetic coupon holder. I got some baskets and an empty opaque tote out of my storage room.


The white board gives him a limit on his screen time and is updated during the day as it is earned. Screen time is limited to one movie and half an hour of game time in a day. I have to count it in movies, because I do not have a subscription television service, Netflix, Hulu, or anything like that. Rather, we have a bunch of VHS tapes.

Below that is a behavior tracker. Smiley faces are for good behavior. Frownie faces are for bad behavior. At the end of the day, we do some subtraction.  Smiles minus frowns equal tickets.

Next is the chore chart. If he completes his daily chores (in orange) he earns one ticket. He can also do any of the “high value” chores, which are worth one ticket each.

Once he gets tickets, he can trade them in for special things. Three tickets equal one item from the “blue box.” Five tickets can be cashed in for a slushie from Slushie Gary (like the ice cream truck, but better!) on Saturdays. One ticket can be traded for five minutes of tablet time.

Now, tablet and TV time can be taken away. If you’re able to read the picture above, the game box says “Mon. 4/22.”  He told a lie at his baseball game on Monday, and lost the tablet for a week.


Daily Chores:

  • Take out trash
  • Water for the dogs 
  • Feed the dogs (once. I feed them breakfast; he feeds them dinner)
  • Clean your room
  • Put away your things
  • Get the mail 
High Value Chores
  • Do the dishes
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Put away your laundry
  • Vacuum the floor
  • (not on the board: he can dust, clean the fronts of cabinets, sweep the porch or patio, etc.)
Put Away Collage
I do my blue box a little differently. I have baskets in the kitchen. These are called the “put away” baskets.  As I am cleaning up, if I come upon something that needs to be put away, it goes in the basket. Yes, one of them is mine and contains purses and shoes! These are separate from the “put your things away” chore, in that “put your things away” tends to mean “put away the stuff you got out” and these things, for whatever reason (perhaps that we both have ADD) aren’t included in those items. Just go with it.  
Anything left in the basket for more than two days goes in the blue box to be earned back by exchanging tickets.
Anyway, that’s the system. Tickets can be earned for exceptionally good behavior aside from the smiley face chart as well.
It’s simplified things quite a lot, because it’s just all there in one place, and it’s consistent without having to try too hard. It just IS consistent. When he can see what time he’s allowed to ask for screen time, it stops some of the arguments. Once school work and chores are done, the screen time chart is updated to show him how much time he is allowed.
And I am all about simplifying!

Budding Blue Botanist

Botany1CollageI have so many partial posts that I haven’t gotten around to finishing up yet, because there’s just a LOT to them. So many parts and pieces to finish up. Lots of pictures, lots of ideas, and a theory or two behind homeschooling. That’s right, we’re homeschooling for real now. Sometime in the winter, the online charter school changed their policies on moving kids up a curriculum level, and Jack had finished TWO language arts levels. But that’s another post. Another half-finished post that I will eventually slow down and post for anybody that’s reading! This is not that post. This is a post about my budding blue botanist, and the awesome spring time we’re having here.

Yesterday, we went on a field trip with my mother. If you’re in or near Atlanta, Scottsdale Farms and Bella Luna Cafe is DEFINITELY worth a visit. Warning: TAKE CASH! You’ll want it! We went for their children’s event. Jack was the oldest by a good bit, but the ladies running it were absolutely brilliant with him and told him that “with age comes privilege.” In his case, that meant the ability to make extra biscuits, carry the biscuits to the oven in Bella Luna’s kitchen, and pick a story at story time. It also means that next time we go, he gets to not only PICK a story for story time, but read it to the younger kids! He had a blast making biscuits, reading stories, EATING the biscuits with fresh local honey, and playing with the other kids in their demo garden. It was lovely.

After this, my mom treated us to lunch at Bella Luna, the cafe inside Scottsdale Farms’ gift shop. Jack had “the Jake” – a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on crustless whole wheat bread with apple slices and fresh squeezed organic lemonade. I had the most beautiful fresh, organic salad with fresh vegetables and cherry walnut vinaigrette. I also cashed in on my free chocolate caramel latte with almond milk. And their water! Oh their water! It’s infused with cucumbers, and they have fresh mint leaves and lemon wedges to put in the cup! Glorious! (mind, I have a pitcher of filtered water in my fridge that is ALSO infused with cucumber, lemon, and fresh mint). It was an inspired lunch, with “Jake” the flower-lady’s small black lab mix at our feet.

Then off for our awesome botany lesson and tour of their nurseries. Jack learned the difference between annuals and perennials and also between deciduous and evergreen trees. We looked at all the plants, and walked for well over two hours exploring everything. He was enthralled by the flowering blue daze plants, so when his Mema told him at the end of the tour that he could pick out one plant to buy, he went IMMEDIATELY to the blue daze, and picked up the plant he wanted. Before my mother and I had even settled on the two lantana plants for my butterfly garden (which soon will also have purple verbena and a butterfly bush or two), he came back with the plant he wanted. He was able to tell my mom that it’s an annual that grows in full sun! So that was his first plant. He walked through the shop to check out, proudly showing off his blue daze to anyone who cared (and probably a lot of people who didn’t), and he’s been so excited and proud of the plant since.

So, now, he’s into this gardening idea. We’re in the process of setting up a notebook journal for his gardening project this spring and summer. Yes. Project. What started as ONE flowering blue daze in a pot has become a HUGE project. We’re planning several garden plots and flower beds in our yard, and I am hoping it works out, because if it does, it will be fantastic.

Today, we were in a store looking for a birthday gift for Jack’s baseball best friend (baseball is another post. I promise I will explain that one too, with pictures, adorable, wonderful pictures!), and they had a BUNCH of seed packs on sale between 10 and 33 cents each. So we bought some. Okay, more than some. We bought a TON of seeds! Jack is planting his own BLUE flower bed, some herbs, and a vegetable plot! 

His blue garden contains:

  • Flowering blue daze
  • blue morning glories
  • blue mink algeratum
  • blue cupid’s dart
  • blue flax
  • Chinese blue forget-me-nots

We also picked up these flowers:

  • Marigold
  • Morning Glory
  • Columbine
  • African Daisy
  • Wild Flower Mix
  • Aster
  • Zinnia
  • Ageratum
  • Sunflower
  • Echinacea
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Contender Bean
  • Cherokee Wax Bean
  • Cucumber
  • Bush Blue Lake Bean
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Corn (GMO free!)
  • Carrot
  • Radish
  • Turnip
And Herb
  • Dill

So we got home today, in the cold and the mist, and Jack DEMANDED that we start our project. He wouldn’t relent. So we started turning over dirt and turf to make flower beds, and we mapped out where we want to plant what. It’s great how excited he is about this, and I hope that our gardens turn out lovely!