Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Put Down the Bullhorn, Mam, and Nobody Gets Hurt… Maybe

This past couple of weeks I have decided that I really want to break away from a cycle of dependence and frustration with my kids (mostly my daughter). I have been taking to heart posts and lessons such as this one: 

Thinking about this unhappy feedback loop I have going, where I take care of all the details and push and nag the kids, and how I want my kids to grow up as independent beings able to manage their own time, I have decided to take some baby steps in the direction of being a little more hands-off. I want to spend less time harping on them to do things, and less time feeling like I’m having to do everything for everyone. I also want them to learn some more independence for their own sake.

Last week I announced that, since I needed to feed and walk the dog and myself in the morning, the other people in the house would from now on be getting their own breakfasts. This announcement was met with such a look of horror and shock from my daughter, that I couldn’t believe something as simple as food in the morning could invoke such a teary, emotional, response. My son, however, after freaking out about how he was going to actually know how much milk to put in his cereal, took it in stride, and even suggested that he might be able to do lunch as well at some point.

This is made all the more ridiculous because I know that both of them can cook… some things at least… and have even made whole meals before. I had to promise to sometimes still make French Toast (“Does this mean we will never have French Toast again!?”) and show the girl how to make an egg over-easy (again, tears, “I can’t do it right!”).

You see what I’m up against?

I took it an unimaginable step further this week by handing my daughter a weekly list of work and telling her, that not only is she responsible for getting it done, but that I would be doing my level best not to nag or remind her about any of it.

I did this with love and reassurances that I believe in her.

I thought that this was, for sure, going to be hard on her. I thought, for sure, she was going to get to the end of the week having done nothing and loose privileges as a result (there have to be consequences). That is very likely still going to happen. What I didn’t realize, however, was just how hard this was going to be for ME!

It’s only Wednesday, and yet, I can’t tell you how hard the last day two days have been. After presenting my daughter with her list, she proceeded to spend her free time re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the third time, writing in pen all over her shoes, drawing, managing her stuff online on Howrse, and Skyping with her friend. Granted, our Mondays and Tuesdays are not heavy on the free time, but I know that she has assignments due and a big competition coming up she is not ready for... not to mention an audition that means a lot to her, and she needs to memorize that monologue!

I don't want her to fail at any of this. I want to see her do her best, but isn't it better to let her fail now than later when it really matters? Learning to manage her time is something that will be key to success whatever she choses to do in life.

HOWEVER… keeping my mouth shut while watching her do this is SO HARD. It’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck and doing nothing about it.

My job has always been to make sure the kids succeed. I always make sure they have their work done on time. I’ve been at this job for a while… this activities director, managing job. It’s become ingrained. Old habits die hard. 

Also, I’m running around getting things done FOR HER and she is JUST SITTING THERE! I can’t stand it!

Somebody please give me strength. I can do this. Can’t I?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sharing the Love - Some Homeschool Perspective

Wow, I just realized that I have been posting my book since November. In a way, I think I'll miss the Katz', but I'm also ready to get back to posting about goings on in our area and homeschooling in general.

I think I'd like to start by letting you in to some of my ruminations of late. There has been a lot of ruminating, and stewing on my part.  It's been a frustrating year so far and I've been feeling very dissatisfied with many things... the way my kids behave, the kinds of work we are doing, the amount of work that is getting done, my inability to get them to help much around the house... and yet I realize that a lot of this is just my own focus and perceptions gone awry. I see other parents do this and see how often it leads to the kids going back to school, and yet here I am doing it too. I should know better.

Our kids are often amazing, thoughtful, unique and wonderful people, and yet all we can see are the faults and deficiencies. It's a matter of being able to acknowledge and celebrate the strengths too.

I think I'll come out of this year seeing it as very transformative. By August, I'll find myself in the custody of two "middle schoolers" and I feel like we are in transition. The kids are growing and changing slowly into adults and I am needing to change my own thinking and viewpoints as a result. 

I probably should take my own advice and "practice an attitude of gratitude". Even if the academic work isn't exactly what I had hoped for this year, it helps to get a reality check. What is most important? What is my most important role here? So many things vie for our attention as homeschoolers and there is never enough time in the day. It's so easy to get lost in the details. I feel like I've fallen prey to loosing the forest for the trees.

Here is an example. My daughter was required to take the ACT (or SAT) in order to get into a program sponsored by Duke University for "gifted" students. She is only a "7th grader", and so taking this test right now is very early. I spent a great deal of time worrying about this. I wanted her to study so she could do well. She didn't want to study it. A great deal of frustration ensued. What I forgot is that she shouldn't have to study for this, not yet. The intent at this point is only to give these kids experience. The test is made for high school kids getting ready to enter college, not middle schoolers. The scores won't matter. She'll take it later and do better. She's taken it, and made some serious mistakes on it (timing, direction reading, etc.), but it doesn't matter, she got the experience she needed, and I shouldn't have spent all that time worrying and pestering her about it. Just the fact that she was selected to have the opportunity to take it this early was an honor.

Foolish to waste so much time and energy worrying and fussing. Worry is a foolish thing, and yet we all do it.

Never mind the academics. My most important job here is still to be THE MOM. What I mean by that is to be PRESENT, ready to listen to the emotional ups and downs, to give a hug when it is needed, to be witness and supportive to what is important to our kids. Now, more than any other time since we have started this homeschool journey, my kids need me to be listening.  A child who doesn't feel emotionally and physically supported doesn't have the will and confidence to go out into the world and reach for their dreams.

I don't think adolescence is a time to back off and away from our kids. Their world is changing as they change and they need their parents to be present and on their side. There will be lessons about self-responsibilty and time management and the like. Those lessons are going to be hard. I may have to back off on the militant schedule mongering, but not on the support.

Even if we did nothing academic this year, it would be a successful year if both my kids were to learn to take personal responsibility for their own schedules and learning. This will probably require some serious falling on their faces, but I truly believe that a student who is present and doing the work for THEMSELVES is a successful student. A student who is present and doing for others (parents, teachers, etc.) is just going through the motions. I've seen too many middle school kids with this attitude. It's makes me very sad. They don't care and don't feel any responsibility for themselves. They don't have choice. How can they learn to make good choices if they never have the opportunity to choose for themselves when they are young? Education is something forced on them and they don't want to have any part of it if they can help it.

Things aren't this bad for us, thank goodness. The work hasn't been as bad as I often perceive it to be. At the end of the year, I'm sure I'll look back and marvel at all of the emotional, physical and academic growth that occurred.

This Valentines Day give yourself and your kids a hug. Share respect for each other. Be there to listen and hear what they are trying to say to you and listen to your own needs and wants. Find a balance that works for all of you. This is the secret to successful homeschooling at any age.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Epilogue


The new house had turned out even better than Karen had even hoped. It really was perfect for them, and she didn’t regret their move so much. Every room had new bedroom furniture, all paid for by the insurance, and the living room and kitchen were graced with new sofas and a kitchen table they had acquired from a family that was having to downsize. It was a gorgeous farmhouse table, well marked and worn and big enough to seat all of them. It barely fit into the breakfast nook, but not everything could be perfect. It turned out to be a cozy space for meals and schoolwork. The kitchen really needed updating, but Karen could manage.

There was a lovely fireplace in the living room, and the basement was set up as both an office and a place to store the school materials. There was a desk for the kids to use if they needed to get away from everyone else to think. Finally, there was a computer down there for their use, in addition to the couple of laptops they had.

The yard was big enough for games of tag and for riding bikes up and down the driveway. They had also acquired a basketball hoop, and Jack, Ellie and Johnathan were really glad about that. Yeller had been quite upset with the move and had skulked about for a day, but then seemed to perk up and could be seen in every nook and cranny of the house exploring her new territory with alert interest. She took to sleeping with Sarah, and Sarah and Ellie were really glad for the extra space in the room they shared because Emma had moved in with them. There was a bunk bed and Ellie slept on the top and Emma on the bottom with a bed rail. She still ended up most nights in the bedroom with their parents, but she would probably eventually want to stay with the “big girls”. Jack and Joe had more space as well and Jack had his own dresser now, so that he could keep things private from his little brother. They had gone ahead and gotten a full size bed instead of a toddler bed for Joey, since he would be needing one eventually and the toddler bed they had had from Goodwill had been thrown away.

Snitch was as happy as he could be. He had his family all in one place again and a yard to patrol. This was much better than that little den they had not fit into very well. He was very glad the alpha he and she had decided to move dens again. It was just enough room for him and he could patrol the yard without anyone getting upset at him, and best of all, he didn’t have to wear a leash.

Grandma and Grandpa Taylor had come to visit and they had all been really glad of it. The kids had missed their Grandparents. They lived close enough now that the weekly visits could resume. Grandma Taylor looked a little thinner and frailer and Karen was a bit alarmed by this. She was glad she could be close by to help make sure her parents were ok. Eli meant well, but he wasn’t down their way enough to really know what was going on with their parents and she felt somebody needed to be nearby to help out. She didn’t have much free time, but at least she could go see them if needed.

Ellie and Jack and Sarah had all had playdates and park days with their friends and had had so much to talk to them about. Not much had changed here in Raleigh. Some of their friends had switched extracurricular activities and a couple had gone back to school, but in general, it was a community they could plug back into. Karen knew they were a bit behind with all of the activities. Fall was coming up soon and she hoped to get in on a co-op group or two. She had also located a riding school. The cost was a bit more than what they had enjoyed at the stables in the southern part of the state. She was still trying to figure out how to make that work. Ellie was so hopeful though, maybe just she could take lessons. It was yet another thing they needed to work out.

Other than the breakfast nook and the farm table that she was in love with, the best thing about this house was a window seat in the master bedroom. It was a cozy little spot where she could read or look out the window. Yeller had decided it was his favorite spot as well, and Karen would sometimes come upstairs to find both Sarah and Yeller curled up in it. Sarah would have her back to the wall and a book in her hand and the two would be bathed in sunlight. It was a very pretty picture. Karen could see herself having more time for that activity in a few years… she hoped.

Sarah seemed to have adjusted to the move. Karen had worried about her pining for Leo, but Sarah seemed to be ok. She got frequent emails from him. He had said he would write, but it turned out that he wasn’t much of the kind to write with pen and paper, especially when the computer was so much easier. Sarah had her own laptop, so she kept some of their conversations private, but Karen would sometimes take a peek just to see that all was on the up and up. Seeing that Sarah was on a pretty even keel emotionally, she had also had a talk with her and extracted a promise from Sarah that if she ever got to a point where she wanted to have physical relations that she would procure protection first.

Sarah was, of course, extremely embarrassed by all of this. She couldn’t imagine “physical relations” and talking about that with her mom was just beyond the beyond.  She missed Leo, but not as much as she thought she would. It was strange. When they had been together, she had felt like she wanted to be with him all of the time, but now it just didn’t seem so critical. It seemed like a lost cause anyway. He was never going to come up to Raleigh. His parents would never allow that.

The doorbell rang and Karen went to see who was there. The options at these point were either the neighbor kids on either side of them (There were two large families nearby and not all of the kids were her ideal for playmates, but it was nice to have other kids to play with on a moment’s notice. She did hate the constant interruptions though. Especially on weekends, the doorbell was wont to ring several times a day and it made it difficult to get lessons going. She was going to have to make a rule soon about no play until after lunch at least.), her parents, who sometimes showed up unannounced, or the mail delivery. She opened it to a surprise. David and Rose stood on the porch with a couple of big boxes in their arms. “David! Rose! What a surprise! Come on in! Give me a hug, we missed you guys!”

David said, “We had so much produce and nobody was buying, we thought we would take you up on your offer for a visit. I hope it’s not a bad time. Rose had an appointment up here and we decided to swing by and try to see you as well.”

Karen said, “I’m so, so glad you did! Come in and put that stuff down. What did you bring?”

Rose said, “Well, you know I get kinda of carried away in the garden. I have more cucumbers and peas and tomatoes and lettuce than we can eat and we knew it wouldn’t sell fast enough at the stand, so here you go.”

“Thank you!” said Karen. By then, the rest of the family had materialized out of every nook and cranny and were at the door with them waiting for the chance to say high and get a hug from their surrogate grandparents. Emma went to Rose and asked to be picked up.

“How long can you stay? Do you want to stay for dinner?”

“That would be lovely. said David. “We can’t stay the night, you know, because of those pesky chickens!” Jack asked if they were all ok and David said, “Onery as ever. Those little biddies discovered a stray cat in the yard and you know what they did? They chased that poor feline off, squawking and pecking and making such a fuss, I had to go see what was going on. They pecked and flew at the poor thing until it cowered and ran off. Hercules didn’t get with the program until it was all over with. Guess they didn’t need his protection. I’ve brought a few dozen eggs for you as well, by the way.” Jack was happy to know that the seven chickens still left were doing well. He hoped that his mom would let him get some more soon.

They had a lovely visit. Johnathan came home from work that evening and they used some of the stuff that the Shwartz’s had brought with them to make a dinner. The making of the dinner was a communal affair and a group effort. Rose and David got a tour of the new place and they pronounced it perfect for the Katz’s. Karen said that if they ever needed or wanted to come stay the night, they had an extra futon in the basement and would love to have them.

David went outside with Johnathan, Ellie, and Jack and played some basketball, but he didn’t last long. He said, “My old bones can’t take this kinda stuff anymore. You guys are wearing me out. Don’t break me. I gotta drive back home this evening.” It was a good game while it lasted though.

They had a wonderful meal of salads, kale, chicken, and homemade peach and blueberry cobbler for dessert.

David told them that the Davis’s had moved out already. It seemed that Bob had moved them there because he had seen the “for sale” notice while working at the bank and wanted to jump on it as an investment. Rhea had not taken to the place at all, though, so they had recently found a place that suited them better in town and had put the farm up for sale again. David and Rose had seen some people looking at the place last week that seemed very nice. It was a hardy looking couple with three kids. They looked like the kind of people that might be able to turn it into a productive place again. They would wait and see what happened. The father had even come down the lane to talk with them, having seen Rose out in her garden. It looked like this was a family seriously considering taking the place on. David had told him that it had been a family farm, a farm in the same family for three generations and that they had known the last owner. It was with great reluctance that the owner had left and would probably love to know that another family was taking it on. David didn’t mention the Davis’s.

They had a wonderful meal and it was times like this that the new house felt most like a home. Karen felt especially blessed. They were almost back where they had started. They had rekindled their old friendships and acquaintances and had moved into a place that suited them more the their previous home. The kids and she had grown in both experience and knowledge of the world around them, and they had made new friendships that might last a very long time. It was a bit like coming full circle, but it was a bigger circle and a sturdier one.

They said goodbye reluctantly that night. Johathan asked them repeatedly if they would be ok driving home this late. It was not a short drive, but they said they would be fine. Rose said she hardly slept much anyway these days and if David got tired she would take over. Karen wished she had something to give them in return for the food they had brought up. They would have to find something and send a package soon. They waved the two off and all was quiet again. Johnathan gave Karen a hug and said in her ear “I love you, you know.”

“I know you do and I love you too.” They turned to go in.

Just then the phone rang. Sarah answered it and after a moment she yelled, “Mom! It’s grandpa! He says Grandma fell down and they took her to the hospital! Come take the phone! I think we better get over there!” Oh, no! Karen thought. I knew there was something wrong. Her heart clenched in worry and she ran into the house to talk to her Dad. It seemed her mom had been out for her nightly stroll and had suddenly fallen down in a faint. They were evaluating her at the hospital and Karen’s dad really wanted Karen to come talk to the doctors. Karen was so worried she almost ran out the door without a jacket and keys. Johnathan asked her to slow down. He said he would take care of things, but that she needed to keep her head about her and then watched her drive away. He sighed. Somewhat wryly, he thought, things were never calm around them for long.

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Saying goodbye

One day while the truck was being loaded for, hopefully, the last time, Leo came over and asked if Sarah wanted to take a break and go for a walk to the park around the corner. Sarah asked her mom, and she said it was fine, so they headed off at a slow pace down the street. Leo gave her his address, which she took and tucked into her pocket. He then took her hand and said he really was going to miss her. Sarah suddenly felt very shy. She didn’t know what to do. This was a new situation for her. She had so many feelings when she was around Leo. Why was it that they had been there a year and she had only recently gotten to know him? She was afraid she’d never see him again after this. She said he had to write and also to call her at least once a week. They hung out on the swings in the park for a bit. The park was deserted except for them. They didn’t want to say goodbye, but they also knew that they should. Sarah hated goodbyes. She said maybe they would come down again to visit people or maybe he could come up to Raleigh some time. He agreed, but they both were a bit doubtful. It was easier to think it wasn’t goodbye forever though.

The Katz family was moving house that same day and would sleep in Raleigh that night. Sarah really didn’t expect to be back down again. He looked into her eyes and then bent and gave her a tender kiss. He gave her one last look then left. Sarah was left there breathless. That had been her first kiss. Her whole being wished it didn’t have to be that way. It was a first kiss and a goodbye. She walked home slowly, not really wanting to talk to anyone just yet. She wanted to savor the feeling and also to cry. The dramatic part of her wanted to fling herself down on the sidewalk and bawl her eyes out. She couldn’t do that though. Someone would come and ask her what was wrong and she didn’t want anyone to ask her what was wrong. She also felt rather giddy. It was all very confusing.

When she did finally get home, Karen took a moment from her mad packing to ask where Leo was. Sarah said he had gone home. She had a very dreamy, sad and distracted air and Karen could guess at what had transpired. With the hindsight of her years she could feel bad for her daughter but also knew that the heartache would pass and there would be others… maybe. One never knew. Maybe they would, in fact, stay in touch and something would come of that relationship. She hated to see Sarah in pain, but as far as the terrible kind of pain and confusion that could happen on the road to adulthood, she supposed this was not so bad by comparison.

He had been a nice kid, they both genuinely liked each other (so no unrequited love this time) and her protective mamma radar had not detected any excessive hanky panky. She could be wrong about that, but she didn’t think so. They had mostly been at the apartment under her watchful eye. She decided she better have a talk with Sarah soon about all of that. She was sure Sarah knew the repercussions of that kind of activity, but Karen needed to know that she really understood. It was going to be a tough conversation, especially since she was sure Sarah would be highly embarrassed, but when things settled down Karen resolved to bring the topic up. Sarah was probably too raw right now to have that conversation, besides, they would need some privacy and there was none to be had at the moment.

Moving was such an awful hassle. They had had to do it three times in this past year and she was somewhat regretting their initial idea to move for a year. Whatever had possessed them to sell their perfectly good house? They could have rented it out for the year and had a place to come back to. They wouldn’t have had to move EVERYTHING. Packing was hard enough, but packing with a toddler and a five year old in tow was next to impossible. She had set Jack and Ellie to work, but there was only so much they could do. She didn’t trust them with the breakable stuff. Some things, like the blankets and bedding were just getting thrown into the car. It just wasn’t worth the trouble to try to box it all, but with all the kids and the pets in tow, they couldn’t fit as much as she would like in there. She was exhausted and just wanted it all to be over. She didn’t care anymore where anything went, as long as it went, and by the end of the day all of their stuff was in one place. There was still the storage unit, but her brother and David had said they would help Johnathan with that, and for that she was infinitely thankful. She just hoped that Eli would actually show up.

There would be the clean up of the apartment, or maybe they would just loose the security deposit. There was no way she was going to bring all five kids back down to “clean up”. That would probably leave it dirtier than it was now. The house they had been living in was being worked on and didn’t have any new renters yet. She decided on the spur of the moment to take a break and go over there. She wanted to have one last look. Emma needed her nap, but Karen was pretty sure she would fall asleep in the car. There was nowhere else for her to sleep anyhow and she could tell that she wasn’t the only one wishing they could take a break. She spoke to Johnathan. He said he would continue to pack, but that it was a good idea. The kids were also up for it, though Joey said he was a little afraid. What if it didn’t look like their home anymore? Karen said that was possible. They would be in their new home very soon, and even if he didn’t believe her, it would feel just as much like home as the house they were going to see.

It was a nice drive out to the house. They went first though town, past all of the stores they had frequented, and the library. The community center and the soccer fields were next. Sarah said she really was going to miss horseback riding, and she said it with such a sad air that Karen said maybe they could try to find a place up in Raleigh to ride. Out past the soccer and baseball fields were patches of forest interspersed with homes and farms. They turned up Windsong Lane and drove past the Batcherly home, which was looking a little more ragged than usual. This was probably because Bill couldn’t do much of the work anymore. He did manage some of it, but it was difficult because his leg still pained him. Karen wished they had been over there more to help them out. She knew the Batcherly’s would have refused the offer though. Oh well, it would be a moot point after today. She did hope that the Batcherly kids took care of their parents in their old age. They hadn’t always gotten along, but they were good people and had always meant well.

Karen turned into the driveway at the house and saw that there were no repair trucks at the moment. That was a relief. She just wanted to look around one more time. Everyone got out of the car. There was a sort of melancholy to the family and a little bit of curiosity. Most went around to the back to see how the repairs were coming. The back wall had been stripped away and all of the burnt pieces removed. There was a large tarp over it all, and behind it, a new framework was being constructed to hold a new wall and window. It looked like this time the window was going to be a bay window. “Well, that will be nice.” Karen thought to herself. Beyond the opening she could see the kitchen. It was completely empty. There were pipes and the makings of a new floor, but nothing else. She could see the living room, though, and it looked passable.

She tried the back door, hardly needed with the big gaping hole in the wall, but it was easier than stepping up into the living room off the ground. It was open. She stepped in and had a look around at the empty room. She felt a little tug inside. They had had quite a year here. It seemed to have gone by so very fast. It seemed like everything just whizzed by these days. All seven of them had grown a year older. They had been through some really great times and some really scary times. They hadn’t gotten as much book learning done as she would have liked, but they had all learned so many new things.

Everyone, including herself, had made some wonderful new friends. In the case of the Shwartz’s, possibly life-long friends. She would definitely be willing to make the trip again to see them, and they had been invited to come up to Raleigh to visit any time they liked.

The kids had met some new people that they never would have met otherwise. They weren’t all necessarily the people they would have picked to be with, but each of them had taught them all a lesson about appearances and making assumptions. Every person has a story and a reason for the way they are. We might not always know what those reasons were, but it pays to keep that in mind if that person is being difficult. People can also surprise you, and the Katz’s had been shown the most astounding kindness by people she never would have expected kindness from. Others had judged them without really knowing them, and that was also a lesson.

Sarah had found her first love (or was it infatuation?), and Jack and Ellie had gotten to explore the freedom of the countryside and the plants and animals to be found in those open places. Most especially, they had learned about the Sandhills area of North Carolina. Karen was willing to bet that her kids knew more about that area and had seen more things, real things, like red-cockaded woodpeckers, than most of the other kids in the state. They now had first-hand knowledge of the region from their father, a scientist, in a way they couldn’t have gotten otherwise. Ellie had a notebook full of bug drawings almost good enough to publish, and she and Sarah both had books full of bird sketches. They still had the bird feeder, if not the hummingbird feeder. That had gotten burned in the fire. She would make sure to put it up in the new house.

Yes, it had also been a difficult year. It was a year of illness and health, pain and kindness, misunderstandings and reconciliations. Johnathan had gotten his field data, and thank goodness it was not all lost in the fire. The papers had all been covered in soot, but readable. They smelled like smoke, but she was sure those Graduate students would be able to muddle through them. The computer had been also covered in soot, but they were able to take it in and get it cleaned up and there was no major harm done. Again, it smelled distinctly of smoke, and she was sure Johnathan was going to get a reputation at school for that particular smell.

They had also learned a little bit about farming, if only just a little bit. They had learned about chickens and about goats and they had acquired one little waif of a cat. They had also learned that farming could be a very difficult way to make a living. She wasn’t sure any of them wanted to do that when they grew up.  Still, she was glad Jack had gotten a chance to get closer to some of the animals that he had always loved. They would try to keep the horses in their life, and maybe they could even get some chickens. It would be possible in the new house if they had a fence built. Well, one thing at a time.

Emma had taken her first steps in this house and had learned how to use a potty. Joey was learning things at such a fast rate, she didn’t even know what to think about him. Yes, a lot of living had happened in this house in one year’s time. It made her wonder about all of the living that had come to this home before them. She wondered who had lived here before and what had happened to each of them. Were there ghosts and echos here of those things? Did you leave a little bit of yourself when you left a place? Well, they seemed to have left a rather large calling card in the form of a large hole in the wall, she thought wryly.

Jack looked around and felt sad. He looked at the scratches on the doorframe to the hallway and knew that Yeller had put them there. The scuffmarks near the front door were from the day they decided to try to skid their way into the house in their best slippery dress shoes. He looked sadly out the back window to where the goat and chicken pens used to be. His chickens had just started laying well. He was so sad to have had to give them up, but he was glad Rose and David had them. They would take good care of them and he might even get to come visit them. Also, that spot in the goat pen had been his favorite spot for a while. It was just a blackened patch on the ground now. He felt a fresh wave of sadness for those gentle yet greedy little gals. He remembered how they had smelled and how soft they had been. He wiped away a small tear and looked around hoping that nobody had seen him.

Sarah looked at what was left of their climbing tree. It was a sad blackened pole at the moment. No more low branches to climb. They were all burnt off. She supposed the magnolia might be dead now. Not much could survive heat that could melt a window frame. What had been a sand box was a pile of sand. She was sad to see their garden was also a bare patch of semi-tilled earth and new weeds. Looking at that, she thought of Rose’s garden and felt a little bit better. It felt like Rose’s garden and everything about the Shwartz’s would be where it was forever. She wondered what their kids were like and thought them lucky to have grown up with Rose and David for parents.  Sarah wouldn’t miss the town too much. She would miss Beth-Ann, but they truthfully exchanged letters and phone calls more than actually seeing each other anyway, so moving wouldn’t change that too much. She had some friends in Raleigh that she was looking forward to seeing that she had really missed. It would be nice to get back into Raleigh for that reason, and to see Grandma and Grandpa Taylor. She had enjoyed being out in the country, but the only thing she would really miss would be the horse stables and Leo. She really hoped he would write to her or call her. She would make sure she wrote him when they got settled. She looked around and decided that she was ready to move on. This didn’t feel like home anymore even though it had been so for a year.

Ellie was very conflicted. She had really enjoyed the yard and the fields which had given her so much to study and sketch. It had also been nice to roam and she would miss that, but she missed her friends in Raleigh and was ready to go back. It had been a little bit lonely here. It was nice getting to know Justin, even if he was a creep sometimes, and the two brothers William and Nathanial were ok, but she missed girls her age. She didn’t know any other girls interested in bugs and birds and stuff like she was, but her best friend and she loved to run and climb trees and play make- believe games together and they almost always agreed on what to play, unlike the boys here and Jack. Jack was getting a bit too serious and full of himself these days anyway. He wasn’t as much fun anymore.

Joe was sad. He said he missed the way it used to be and the goats and the garden and the chickens were gone. Karen agreed and told him that she missed them as well. Karen suddenly had a feeling they were done here. A new home awaited, along with friends new and old. Life would go on like it always did and she found she wanted to be done looking back and go forward instead. It was time.

Johnathan drove up in the Jeep just then and came around to the back. Karen stepped out of the house. He put his arms around her, “You gonna miss it here?”

“Yes, a little bit.” She said. “I think it’s time to move on now though. You’ll probably not be able to recognize the place in a few weeks. They’ll get this new wall and windows done and re-do the kitchen. The house will probably get a new coat of paint and someone will come in and do a better job of taking care of the yard. Maybe it’ll look more like a suburb without the barn and pens. Nothing in the back looks the same. I wonder if the owner will replace the pens?”

“He didn’t say if he would or not too me. I don’t know. Anyway, I came out because this came in the mail while we were out finishing up with the truck.” He handed her a shoebox-sized package. “It’s from your brother.”

Perplexed, Karen took it and opened the brown paper-bag wrapping. Inside a shoe box with some tissue paper was a figurine of a dog. The dog was about a foot tall and looked just like Snitch except that he had a large rooster painted on one side. On the other side it said, “The Katz’s lived here.” In the dog’s mouth was a flaming torch. A note in the box was from Eli. It said, “I thought you might like something to leave behind as a momento to a special place and your year of living dangerously.”

“What does he mean by that?” Karen said.

“Beats me,” said Johnathan, “But I do kinda like the idea of leaving this behind. It’s kind of a homage to our year.“ They called the kids and they all talked about it and decided to put it near the fence over where the goats used to be. The workers were less likely to run into it or move it over there and maybe it would stay with the house and property for a while. Johnathan put it on the ground on top of a large flat rock and they all stood around and thought their own thoughts, each saying goodbye in a way, and then they left. Leaving felt not so sad for all of them now, except for maybe Joey and Emma. Most were ready to look ahead toward the next year and what it would bring.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 28

Chapter 28: New Beginnings

Sarah sat on the step outside the apartment one day watching Joe play with chalk on the sidewalk. A tall blonde boy came up the walk and startled her by sitting down beside her. It was Leo. Sarah couldn’t have been more surprised had a green alien bid her “good day” and beamed her up to his space ship.

He said, “Hi!” After a pause he said, “I live just up the street there. What are you doing here? I thought you lived outside of town?”

Sarah was a little taken aback. “Not anymore”, she said. “We had a fire. This is just temporary. We’ll be leaving soon and moving back to Raleigh.”

“Oh.” He said, “I’m really sad to hear that. I was really hoping we could get to know each other a little bit more. You keep away from the rest of us most of the time.”

This of course, was not the case. She did not “keep away” from the other teens. She just didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be around them. “Well, we can talk now.” Sarah said, “At least, as long as Joey here doesn’t mind.”

Joey said, “Look what I made. It’s a truck, and it can drive all the way down this road.” He proceeded to tell Leo all about what he had drawn on the sidewalk. Even though most of it looked like chicken scratch, Leo was very patient and listened to everything Joey had to say, and even made comments and suggestions about it. When Joey finally got tired of sharing and couldn’t get this new big person to join him, he went back to his game and Leo and Sarah were able to talk finally.

At first she was a little hesitant. She had built up in her mind how it would be to talk to him. She was surprised at how easy it was. They talked about school versus homeschool, and what their families were like and what they liked to do. Leo had grown up and lived in the town his whole life. He only had one brother who was two years younger than him. His parents ran a shop on the Main Street that sold feed and other farm supplies. He loved to play soccer and basketball and had dreams and aspirations of going to college out of state some day. He wanted to go and see the world if he could.

Sarah talked about her family and the work she did for her schooling. She didn’t know yet what she wanted to do, writing might be fun, but traveling sounded like a terrific idea. She told him about the dog bite and the fire, and even cried a little. She didn’t cry to get sympathy, she couldn’t help it when she thought about those things, but he gave her a hug and that was really nice. They were out there so long that Joey got tired of his game and went inside before they were done. Karen was inside. She saw the two on the doorstep and decided to leave them be. It wasn’t often poor Sarah got to hang out with kids her age, and boys were especially rare.

Leo came by several days after that, each day after school, and even came in and met the whole family. Karen offered him a snack, and it was really nice to have a visitor to take their mind off of all the other craziness of trying to catch up with schoolwork, washing and stowing things, and figuring out what they still had and what they had lost. The craziness of the family in general never abated, of course. While Sarah, Karen, Leo, and Jack talked at the little four-seat kitchen table in the apartment, Joe and Emma were underneath the table with trucks playing, and Yeller was under there with them purring and rubbing against them and meowing. Yeller wouldn’t stop until Sarah realized that Ellie hadn’t fed her that morning.

It was during this time that they got a letter from Justin. He said that his Grandparent’s house was O.K. His mom had found a job, so she was gone a lot, but he didn’t have to come home to an empty house anymore. His Grandma made the best cinnamon rolls in the universe. He had to sleep on the sofa, but there was a little dog there named Scooter that liked to sleep on the sofa with him, and he liked the company. School was ok. He wasn’t doing as poorly as before, and it helped that there were new teachers that didn’t already know he was a lazy slacker (his words). He had been a little bit behind, but he had classes to help him catch up to his grade.

He went on to say that he had even better news. His dad had come back. His parents were still getting a divorce, but his dad had come and said he was sorry for going away and that he would try to be around more often. Justin said he had decided to give his dad another chance even though he was still pretty angry. Justin got to see him on weekends. His dad would take him out places and show him things. During the week, his dad was trying to find a job.

Ellie was glad Justin had written. She had wondered how he was doing and it sounded like things weren’t prefect, but that he would be O.K. She could definitely imagine having to move, they had never lived in one place for more than four years or so. She couldn’t imagine her parents not wanting to be together anymore, however. The thought of it was so distressing that she blocked it from her mind. She was glad Justin was O.K., even if he was a creep.

On the weekends they all drove up to Raleigh and started their house hunting. As hard as it was to move everyone down to the sandhill region for a year, the kids were mostly just as sullen about moving again back to Raleigh. Jack was mad about loosing his chickens. Ellie had really enjoyed the birds and the bugs and the room to roam. Emma and Joe, being little, just didn’t like change in any form. Sarah had her own private reasons, but mostly they had to do with a couple of friends she had made. The fact that they didn’t have a house anymore and were shoehorned into the little apartment made it easier to think of trying to find a new home, but they all knew that it was a step to leaving the new friends they had made and that made it a bit sad.

Rose and David said they would love to take the remaining chickens off their hands. David and Johnathan spent a couple of days building a new chicken coop in the Shwartz’s yard. The men acted like it was another onerous chore to do, but anyone looking at them could tell they loved doing it. It also gave the kids an excuse to invade the Shwartz home again and beg some more baked goods off of Rose.

The second day they were there she had made some wonderful smelling fresh yeasty bread, but she said that they couldn’t have any until everyone had done some work in the garden. Being summer, Rose’s garden was something to behold. It was everything the Katz garden had aspired to be but would never be. Rose had a section of tomatoes that were big and beautiful. They came in a number of different shapes and colors. She also had peas growing up trellises. They were mostly done blooming and covered in big green pods. There was also cucumber, bushy carrots, and beets in neat rows, peeking their multi-colored heads just slightly above the dark rich soil. The garlic and onion bulbs looked ready to pull out of the ground. She showed them the worms in the soil and the ladybugs on the leaves. There were herbs too: basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. She encouraged them to take a leaf or too from each and smell them. Joey especially liked this idea. He got a sample and smelled each and then decided to put them all into a “stew” with some dirt and flowers. When they had been out there a while, David brought in some blueberries from his roadside stand and they had a nice snack that day of blueberries and fresh bread.

The house hunting was more difficult than they imagined. They wanted to find a place more suited to them than their previous home. It was crucial that they not be too far away from Karen’s parents in Chapel Hill. They wanted to be close to things, but they also wanted a bit of room to spread out. However, they couldn’t really afford what they wanted. It was a circus getting five kids in and out of the car, and each time they stopped at a new home to look, it took five minutes just to unbuckle and get everyone out. The realtor was extremely patient though. Everyone wanted to be part of the decision, so no one was left behind, and the circus commenced each weekend.

Everyone was usually grumpy and whiney by the end of the long days. None of the houses were right. Some were too small, some had too many stairs, some were huge, but they couldn’t afford the price, and some were in new well-manicured subdivisions the Katz’s just couldn’t see themselves in. Finally, one day after a long drive up to Raleigh, made longer by the multiple bathroom stops Joe and Emma needed, they went to go see an older house tucked into an unincorporated part of the county. It was fairly close to most everything, but also didn’t have the usual taxes and utilities, and even better, it was on an acre of land. There were four bedrooms and a basement, which could be used as an office or schoolroom. There were three bathrooms. The kitchen was rather old, but there was a fairly large breakfast area that would work well for them. It seemed perfect. They started to get excited about it and also about getting to see some of their old friends again.

Two weeks later, it looked like they were going to have this house for their home, and everyone started planning which room they wanted, where the beds would go, and where they would put the few things they had. They didn’t actually have beds to put in the rooms yet, so there were also going to be some furniture hunting trips. They needed beds and a kitchen table, living room furniture and new kitchen appliances, pots and pans and dishes. It was going to take time to find what they wanted, but they probably wouldn’t get another opportunity like this again for new stuff. The insurance was covering it all. Johnathan sent a silent prayer of thanks that he had made sure they were well covered in that regard. It would have been very easy to let it slide and then forget about it. Still, they might be sleeping on the floors of the new house for a little bit until they could get something to sleep on.

All of this was taking a tremendous amount of time from Johnathan’s work, though, and that was difficult. His sabbatical time was up and the college wanted him to teach some courses this next semester on top of everything else. He didn’t know when or how he was going to prepare for those, or to keep up with his grant work when every spare moment was taken up with house negotiations, childcare, and driving. Karen was frazzled from trying to manage all of the kids and all of the driving and she was feeling stressed about the fact that almost no school work had been done in the past month. They typically worked year-round, and this allowed them to be more leisurely about things and feel like they could take breaks when they needed to. This year had been far from usual and she could feel them slipping farther and farther behind. She knew that in the long run if a few worksheets didn’t get done it wasn’t a huge deal, but it didn’t stop her from stressing about it. She couldn’t wait until they were finally settled and she could put their life back together into something resembling a schedule.

With some help from Rose and David (those two were such a blessing), they finally closed on the house and began the process of moving everything up to it. It was fortunate in a way that there wasn’t that much furniture to move, but they still needed to rent a truck and get some help to move everything.