What’s Your Homeschooling Philosophy?

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Today, I worked on long division with my 11-year-old son. That was good times, right there. (If you aren’t picking up on the sarcasm, you definitely are NOT a homeschool mom.) When I had a Facebook friend suggest that she’d like to hear more about my take on homeschooling, I laughed inside. My short answer to her was, “Uh, I suck at it. But, we muddle through anyhow.” Still, I promised that I would think about it and share more with the, ahem, class. (See what I did there??)

I am not a born teacher. I hate planning ahead, and my attention span isn’t super high when I’m not actually interested in something. I’m not actually interested in long division. I am, however, interested in my kids, their futures and their lives. I suppose that is the biggest reason that I’ve walked this walk with them for so long, despite the fact that it’s really not my jam at all. I want to know where they are, what they’re doing and what’s going on with them.

People occasionally come to me and ask for my opinion on curriculum or teaching, and it’s a bit of a conundrum for me. I get why they do. I’ve been, in one way or another, directly keeping an eye on my kids’ education for, oh, 18 years? I’m still not that great at it, and I still don’t think I have much to offer by way of deep insights and experience. We have a basic system, I rely very heavily on my tools, and I encourage my kids to own their own education as soon as they’re able because I’m dropping balls all. the. time. Still, my kids have done okay with a very basic homeschooling philosophy.

  1. All kids have holes in their education. All. Of. Them. Public school kids muddle through and fall through the cracks all the time. Like my husband likes to say, “Don’t judge yourself from the bottom of the barrel!” Still, understanding that I’m meeting at least a basic standard takes the pressure off.
  2. A child can learn anything if they have a basic foundation and know how to learn. It’s hard to survive in a modern world without understanding the basics of reading and math, but you can literally learn anything you could ever want with those as tools, plus the Internet and YouTube. If you can’t do it all, focus on reading and math.
  3. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with a support team that is strong where I am weak. My sister has patiently taught all my teens to write. (She IS a born teacher!) I have two sisters-in-law that have been instrumental in helping almost every one of my kids learn to read. Working with co-ops has been a lifesaver for us through the years. It also serves as an accountability partner, keeping me more consistent.
  4. We keep what we need. (This is somewhat connected to point 2.) I was a straight A student in school, taking AP classes and higher math. I don’t use most of that. For the most part, I use middle school math on a regular basis, and that’s about what I remember. (Sorry, Trigonometry teacher!) My husband, on the other hand, was a C student on days he tried hard, and he knows way more math than me because, as a contractor, he uses it in his everyday life. We remember what we use, and we fill in the gaps when it becomes necessary for our work and life.
  5. I don’t have to know everything they need to learn. Use tools – they’re so readily available at this point. I use both a math and a language program that are mostly self-directing. (McRuffy Press and Teaching Textbooks, in case you’re wondering. We’ve been through a dozen over the years to find these.) If my kids need help with something that I don’t understand or remember myself, I find them resources.
  6. Your kids will always be better behaved for other people than they are for you. I have never seen my kids whine and complain for an outside teacher the way they do for me. You’re not failing when this happens. It is entirely normal. I am still not the most patient homeschool mom, but I’m a whole heck of a lot more patient after decades of dancing this dance with my kids than I otherwise would have been. And, I still lose it and say swear words some days. You probably will, too.
  7. Homeschooling is a part of our life – it’s something that we have to check off during the day – but, it isn’t my entire life. Allowing myself to spend time and mental energy outside of this commitment keeps it doable for me. I directly supervise kids that still need hands-on help and keep a loose eye of my kids that self-direct, and then I move on with the rest of my day without stress or guilt.

I’m a firm believer that there isn’t one way that is best for every family and every kid. I can’t say whether I’m doing a better or a worse job than if my kids were in public school. I can say that my (almost) 3 kids that have graduated or are near graduation are pretty well rounded. My oldest son is about halfway to earning a degree in software engineering while my oldest daughter works for a construction company and engineer doing drafting. I don’t have it all together by any means, but my kids really have turned out okay. I suppose that probably is the best way to sum up my philosophy around homeschooling – kids are resilient. They are born to learn. If we keep those doors open for them, they will. With or without us. At the end of the day, I just try not to get in the way of that too much.

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What Do You Do All Day?

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Last week I posted on my Facebook page asking people what they would like me to feature on the blog. I was surprised how curious people were about mundane, everyday things. Like what I do during my day. I think people have an idea that I have this very structured and disciplined life. I don’t. In fact, I hate that kind of thing. I tried to do Fly Lady when I was a young mom, and I hated its guts. (Go scrub the shower because the paper says to scrub the shower. No thanks.) Probably the number one priority for any “schedule” that I have is flexibility. I hate being tied into any particular strict timeline. On the flip side of that, I’m externally motivated, so I like to be accountable to other people. It’s weird, I guess, but it mostly works for me. While I don’t have a planner or an app or anything that locks me into anything particular, I guess my days have a general structure that is mostly consistent?

7-8:00- I don’t wake up at any particular time, but I’m usually stirring sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. My youngest kids come for snuggles, and I might hang out for a bit if we don’t have anywhere to go.

8:00-9:00- Shower, breakfast and coffee. Showering every day is a luxury that I have now that all my kids are moderately self sufficient, and I relish it. When I skip it, I feel draggy all day. If I’m in a hurry or he’s willing, my 11-year-old will make breakfast. He’s great at french toast, waffles and any kind of eggs. He loves to follow recipes and has become my best kitchen helper. (He’s also a bomb snow shoveler!)

9:00- On Tuesday, I help with a class in our homeschool co-op. (As in, I take notes and hand out tickets and shush the kids when they are noisy. I don’t actually teach anything.) I have to be out the door on Tuesday-Thursday by 9:00, either to make it to my class or to drop off kids at their classes. If it’s not a class day, I’ll often have my kids grab their books and finish them while I’m still in bed. If we get books done early, it usually only takes about an hour for the stuff that I have to supervise directly. Otherwise, I find myself nagging all day, and it drives me nuts. (Probably them, too, but it’s their own dang fault.)

Morning – I have pretty lazy and quiet mornings, usually. If I’m not spending all morning nagging my kids, I’m probably sewing or tracing a pattern or just wasting my time on Facebook. (Truth. LOL) If it’s driving me batty, I might wash the dishes. If I’m lucky, my kids might actually do their chores without too much trouble, but there’s lots of chores and lots of kids, so I’m usually reminding someone to do something throughout the day. If it’s not a school day, I’ll schedule appointments during the morning as needed, but that’s an occasional thing.

Afternoon – Regardless of the day, everyone is home from their classes by noon. Some days I have to ride my kids to finish their school books during this time of the day, and it’s always more of a battle than to get it out of the way first thing in the morning. Lunch happens somewhere in here. I usually do something simple for my 5- and 7-year-old like a sandwich or mac and cheese or leftovers, and my other kids make themselves whatever they want.

Generally, if my kids have chores and school done, we just have free time. I do projects or waste the whole afternoon on social media. They play with their friends or (gasp!) watch TV, and it’s pretty relaxed. My kids don’t have extracurricular classes, clubs, etc, really, until they are old enough to manage the commitments themselves. I did that for a while when my oldest kids were little, and I like my freedom better than running all the time. If I have errands to run or groceries to buy, I’ll usually plan them during the afternoon.

5:00 – I try to be sorting out dinner by now, especially this time of the year. I’ll make anything from pot roast to a casserole to soup.

Evening – My husband watches TV to decompress. I might hang out with him or continue a project if I left it halfway complete. And, though this will probably drive some of you in the crowd bonkers, I don’t clean my kitchen at night. While we’re overall pretty tidy, I leave it overnight and do it in the morning.

8:30 – I put my kids to bed around 8:30. I have a much thinner string of patience in the evenings, so we have a very quick and dirty “bedtime routine.” The only thing that’s an absolute given is that they have to brush their teeth because (and my kids can chant this with me at this point) “toothpaste is cheap, and dentists are expensive!” My kids have pajamas, but they usually sleep in their clothes because we’re that awesome. (If I tell my 5-year-old to put on pajamas, he’ll just put on a clean pair of clothes. Ha ha!) I do tuck them in every night, and they all sleep in their own rooms in their own beds for my own sanity. After decades of co-sleeping, I relish my space at night.

Honestly, there’s a ton more variation than it looks typed out on paper, but there’s a good chance that most days look something like this? This seems like the world’s most boring blog post to me because, well, my life is pretty boring. But, there you go. Now you know.

 

 

 

What’s Wrong With the Modesty Message?

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When you’re raised in Mormon culture, you hear a lot of messages about modesty. Modest is hottest!! Just say no to porn shoulders!! This subject has been ruminating on my mind quite a bit and more especially lately because it was brought up in the marriage group I participate in. There are some issues that break on faith lines, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think women tend to be more bothered by this regardless of their level of orthodoxy, but that is most likely merely because they are more aware of it. My own opinions about how modesty is promoted in religious contexts have evolved a lot since I was a teen myself and as my own daughters have grown toward the autonomy of adulthood. So, what IS wrong with the modesty message?

  1. Shouldn’t it be their body, their choice? Although this hasn’t been something that’s been a part of my parenting for the duration, it has evolved over time to become a message that even my youngest children are very familiar with now. Simply put, I don’t own my children. I teach them my values and dialogue with them about pros and cons of potential choices. But, at the end of the day, it IS their body, and it IS their choice. (Seriously, if people ask their name and they don’t want to share it, I don’t. If you try to coerce them to hug you, Mama Bear comes right out.) The modesty message reinforces the idea that body choices don’t belong to the individual, and that’s a problem for me. My kids don’t need to think about who might be looking at and assessing them whether it be me, my husband or their church leaders, friends or neighbors. You can’t be comfortable in your own skin if you’re not sure who’s in charge of it.
  2. It puts all the pressure on girls. I have sat through countless young women’s lessons about dress, decorum and standards. (And, based on what I’ve observed, the boys don’t focus on this. Statistics show that teen girls receive six times as many modesty messages as teen boys.) I’ve seen people sit in front of a classroom and hold up specific people as examples of either what to wear or what not to wear. (Seriously, ewwww.) Modesty is promoted as the idea that we are worth more than an objectified standard (which we are.) However, objectification cuts both ways. When girls hear over and over that they are better without their shoulders showing, that is pretty objectifying. I know girls that have stopped participating in church activity because they’re so tired/bored/annoyed by the one-dimensional nature of this message. In addition, the modesty message suggests that girls need to worry about what boys think, and that if they aren’t careful, they could be responsible for someone else’s poor decision. This is pretty gross to both men and women, frankly. Men are better than that and, if they’re not, the absence of a tank top is certainly not going to inspire them to be decent because it’s a much bigger problem than anyone’s clothing choices.
  3. There is no cultural context. Simply put, modesty means different things to different people in different environments. It is the cultural norm in some countries, for example, for women to be topless to promote bonding and easier access to breastfeeding for their babies. In sharp contrast, Victorian cultures found ankles to be titillating which seems downright ridiculous in our modern era. The only difference is context. I think it is pretty shortsighted to preach modesty as if this context isn’t fluid. It is. (Did you know that the 1964 BYU Homecoming queen wore a sleeveless dress? Yep. It was pretty common in that cultural context and not considered taboo at all.) Our children, both boys and girls, would be much better served to learn self-respect, responsibility and accountability than to focus on a checklist of dress standards.
  4. It interferes with the development of healthy sexuality. This is an issue that I don’t think most young women really understand because, sadly, it only begins to rear its ugly head when they are adults. The standard modesty message does not promote healthy sexuality. It promotes the idea that “good girls” stick to a narrative that is prescribed, and they are broken and used if they don’t. Except, once a girl is married, then the narrative changes. The problem is that girls can’t flip that switch overnight, and many, many religious women find themselves mired in shame, heartache and misunderstanding with their partner because they literally do not know how to be comfortable as sexual beings. This is so, so sad to me. (How I escaped this attitude myself with my background is a miracle to me.) And, again, young men don’t get this same message. The modesty message gives a wink and a nod to the idea that boys will be boys, leaving the majority of the long-term burden of this consequence to women.

I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not a treatise on what anyone should or shouldn’t wear. In fact, it is just the opposite. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who follows a strong internal compass. I just happen to think that every person should feel free to choose these priorities themselves. I don’t always approve of everything that my kids wear out my door. I hope that my children will choose to invest intimacy in a long-term, committed partnership that includes marriage because I think there’s pretty practical benefits to doing so. We talk about these things, and I give my kids my opinion. But, I am pretty dang defensive about anyone who tries to leverage cultural messages in a way that is unhealthy to them. I haven’t always recognized the modesty message as harmful, and I internalized an awful lot of it myself as a teen and young adult woman.  But, when you know better, you do better, and I hope to give my kids better than what I got in this department. For the rest of my readers, maybe it will, at the very least, provide a different perspective that will give you something to think about. Could we do better? Is there a healthier way? I think so.

Lick Up Those Life Lessons!

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Have kids, they said! It will be fun, they said!

I have to preface this by explaining that I am NOT a helicopter mom by any stretch of the imagination. I’m what you could call, I guess, a free-range mom? My kids are VERY independent. They pretty much never bother us when we’re out on a date, and they are free to wander within the parameters of our rules. I don’t have to know where they are exactly at any given moment. I’m what you might consider an under-reactor. Once when our older kids were on a homeschool field trip with an eccentric older teacher, they were WAY past their return time, and she wasn’t answering her cell phone. The other moms were beside themselves with worry and my alarm meter was barely starting to register. (They were fine, by the way.) Still, kids get you, don’t they?!

I have my sister’s kids every Tuesday, and they all happily run in and out and play with mine for hours. This week, the oldest niece in the batch came in the house calling for my daughter. They had been playing together outside until about ten minutes before when she thought my 7-year-old had come inside. Except, she hadn’t. I hadn’t seen her, and she didn’t pop out anywhere when we called and looked. After looking thoroughly inside and out, my alarm went off. I called and searched to no avail. In the cars. In our outside greenhouse. Under beds. I texted all my neighbors asking if they had seen her. I finally sent my 11-year-old out on his bike and my adult daughter in her car to sweep the neighborhood. Nope. Nada. In the meantime, my older niece had to leave for an activity.

At this point, I was legitimately worried. I don’t worry. I started thinking of all the horrible possibilities for a little girl that just disappeared out of her own yard in a matter of minutes. Those are not happy thoughts to be thinking a week before Christmas. Almost distraught, I opened the bathroom door that had been ajar just a moment before, and there was my little girl scrunched up on the potty all teary-eyed. When she emerged, she admitted that she had been hiding in a little cubby in our garage. I had walked by there a half-dozen times and even stepped inside and sat for a minute very quietly listening for sneaky breathing. She said she didn’t answer because she thought she was in trouble. Which didn’t make sense, really. I mean, we were concerned, but hiding isn’t like her. Why would she think she was in trouble? But, then my niece came back from her activity and added the little bit of information that made everything fall into place.

I assist at a co-op class once a week – just taking notes and keeping order, mostly, in our very large class of 16 students. My youngest daughter doesn’t have consistent childcare available for her for that hour, so she just comes with me. But, she doesn’t really have a textbook or anything because it’s really a bit above her grade level, so she just gleans what she can and occasionally answers questions whose answers are largely fed to her by said niece who is several years older than her. At the end of every month, our students cash in their tickets for toys and treats and prizes. One of the most coveted cash-in items are those very large, multi-colored lollipops. We sell them for 40 tickets. My daughter usually has somewhere between 10 and 20 tickets while our actual students can earn 50 to 100 during a month. She never gets a lollipop. I’ve never heard her complain or even say anything about it. But, when my niece came home on Tuesday, she mentioned that my little girl had her lollipop in her hand when she “wandered off.” My 7-year-old took that lollipop, hid in the corner in the dark and ate the entire thing.

As a parent, there are some times that I have to make a point to teach my kids lessons. There are plenty of lectures around here, to be sure. However, this day, there was none of that. I hugged her tightly and told her how scared I was when I thought she was lost and to please never, ever do that again! My daughter was so riddled with guilt that when we called her and acted frantic and upset, she believed that she was going to be handily and harshly punished for eating that lollipop. Without any real intervention by me, she licked up that life lesson, and it sat heavy on her heart and her stomach, I’m sure. I would be surprised (especially since that sort of envy and greediness isn’t really like her) if she ever does anything like that again. As adults, we tend to have a level of life experience that muddies this sort of pure consequence, and while I suspect she’ll remember it always, I know that I will. And, that is truly worth the cost of a hundred lollipops.

P.S. I will be taking a blogging vacation Christmas week. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my blog. It humbles me that people are touched by my words and my perspective. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

A Heartwarming Holiday Tale

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Today is officially one week until Christmas!! I did a grocery run today and picked up Scotch tape, so I can avoid doing all my wrapping with packing tape. I decided to hold off on the paper and see how far my stash from last year lasts. I may or may not regret that – we’ll see. I’m mostly ready except I still have a few straggler items to sew for a few assorted gift recipients on my list. I’m getting there!

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hear stories in passing about random acts of kindness that happen around December like people picking up the coffee tab for the people behind them or someone paying for all the layaway orders at a store, but I’ve never experienced it myself. (Where are these magical grocery-paying-for people??!) I was raised in a fairly closed community, and there was a lot of fear around outsiders. My own life experience has effectively deprogrammed that to the point where I think that type of thinking is complete and utter hogwash. Still, you don’t expect strangers to really go out of their way for you. But, they do. They did. So, today, I get to share my own heartwarming holiday story.

My husband was out of town for most of last week. After a quiet, leisurely weekend with our kids, my youngest daughter wheedled him into taking them to the store because we were out of butter (which, in a popcorn-loving family, is akin to an emergency) and they wanted treats. It’s about a 20-minute drive to get to our closest Walmart. Upon arrival, my husband and three youngest kids proceeded to grab the butter and add some other odds and end to their cart – lunch, some mandarins, cheese and crackers, Sunny D and a box of cookies. As they made their way to the checkout, my husband realized that he didn’t have his wallet in the pants he was wearing. He ran to the car for his checkbook, only to have the teller remind him that they couldn’t take the check without ID – the ID that was also, yep, in his wallet. With his cartful of goodies for our kids, he was going to have to walk out empty handed and drive the 20 minutes home to get what he needed or go without. He would have been annoyed, my kids would have been disappointed, and it would have been an all-around bummer for nothing more than an oversight in planning.

But, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, a man behind him saw his conundrum, wished him “Merry Christmas” and handed him a $50 bill to cover the purchases, insisting that my husband take it. Instead of a grouchy, disappointed family, my husband walked in with smiling children, bags of snacks and butter! All because there are good people in the world. While we could have paid for those groceries with a bit of extra time and hassle, somebody saw a problem and stepped in to fix it.

When you watch the news or hear Internet chatter, it pays to remember that things are reported when they are out of the ordinary. It can seem that the world is a mess and that there is no community or kindness left, but I don’t believe that at all. While most good people go about their business quietly and without fanfare, the truth is that most people are good. I truly hope that I can find the opportunity at some point to pay it forward and pass on the Good Samaritan spirit myself.

The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

Sometimes You Just Have to Wear the Snow Boots

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As a rule, my girls aren’t particularly dramatic. My older daughters are the best kinds of girls – the friends to everyone that just avoid all the peripheral drama in their social group. My youngest daughter, however, is only seven, and it happens sometimes. My kids also naturally don’t really like change, so this was the perfect storm and made for a S.U.P.E.R. fun morning!

We’ve had snow here. It went from being pretty dry to looking like a winter wonderland in about a week. The day before this event, my little girl had thrown her shoes on and went outside to hang out with her daddy, so I knew that she had them just hours before. However, when we got up on Tuesday morning with places to go, she couldn’t locate them. Seeing as they are the only shoes she has right now, this was a problem. After digging through mountains of unused/too small/where do these belong? shoes, we found a pair of green and black snow boots that looked like they would do the job. BOY snow boots. GREEN and BLACK. Nope. R.E.J.E.C.T.E.D.

Except, we had places to go. And, we were late. So, of course, a 20-minute, full-on battle of wills ensued about whether or not my little girl was going to be caught dead in those boots. Her vote, of course, was h#!! to the no, and I went for the practical approach – wear it or stay home! I have to go! There was a tiny bit of negotiation (No, you can’t wear the heeled church shoes that are too big for you in the snow) before I finally got them on her feet on threat of being left. She wasn’t happy at all and there was stamping and crying and general disgust at being forced to wear boy shoes.

And, then she got over it. She wore them into class and nobody noticed or said anything, really. When she got home she put them on voluntarily so she could go outside. We still haven’t found her shoes, and she’s been wearing them now for days like it’s just no big deal.

My kids aren’t divas or stuck up or pretentious, really. (They live with me. Ha ha!) They don’t, however, take to sudden changes in expectations well. (Again, my kids!) I always try to remind them that things are rarely as bad at they imagine, and it’s sometimes necessary to just roll with things. I give them the option to choose in as many situations as I can (she could have stayed home), but there are times when I can’t stop and explain or convince, and we just have to wear the green boots anyway.

I really hope that she didn’t leave her shoes outside to get subsequently snowed on. If that’s the case, we won’t see them until spring, and they’ll probably be ruined for good. Luckily, there will be a new pair of boots under the Christmas tree in just a few weeks. I promise they’re not boy boots.