Homeschool · Hormones · Uncategorized

Minecraft Mom

(How God used hunting zombies with my son to resurrect our relationship)

photo by Bean

My boy was always talkative. He was born that way. Oozing with pride and dripping with first-time mama details, I spoke to my grandmother over the phone. Two states between us, her opportunity to snuggle her first great grand baby wouldn’t arrive for months. She asked if I could put my Bean on the phone with her. So, he could hear her voice. I obliged and then implored my 3-week-old bundle, “Can you say hi, Beanie?” No fibbing, the infant squeaked and cooed at the receiver. The long-distance shrieks of delight, from the other line, startled him. But there was no doubt, Bean had spoken. The chatter swelled from that moment onward.
At 17 months, Bean accompanied me on Christmas shopping trips and had a commentary and a critique about every purchased gift. We spent evenings with relatives, listening to Bean give elaborate, descriptive if a perhaps a bit disjointed, speeches. He made up stories. He produced poetry. He sang. Words, words, words. New. Old. More and more words. It never stopped. His sweet small voice followed me everywhere. Until he was 12. Even then, speeches were still spewed sporadically but they were loaded with accusation and angst, annoyance and aggravation. There were still many tender whispers but the space between them was heart-wrenching. At least for me. And I couldn’t help but wonder, was this conversational cold front hurting him, as well? Our connection was in flux, and that was fine, but we hadn’t yet found our new normal. And it was alienating us both.
One day, after a bout of belligerence, mine, I was shaken and scared.  I wanted these shouting matches to end.  I wanted to be with my son. I wanted to be a safe space for his secrets. I wanted him to know I cared even if things were weird. I washed my tear lined face and decided I was just going to be near Bean. I didn’t have to be in his face just near his space. I deliberately prayed for strength. The strength to let go. The strength to give Bean to God. And then, I walked quietly into his room. Sat on the floor. And played with Legos.
After a few minutes, Bean’s breath grew more natural. The anger had left. His face calmed. His heart softened. And he talked. He built his spaceship and I fiddled with mini-figures. And he talked. I sat nodding and he searched for 2×4 and 6×6 blocks. And he talked. He didn’t delve into the matter of the moment. He didn’t relive our conflict. He didn’t give away his most private thoughts. But he talked. And I listened and praised God.
Episodes like this came at random. But they acted as a salve in our communication. I pondered why but didn’t wait to discover the formula. I just kept doing it. Then at a CHEA convention, I attended a Rhonda Stoppe seminar. My eyes burst from my face when she explained that women communicate best when face to face and men do so better when working side by side. EUREKA!  I understood. Legos were my boys “work” and I had entered into it beside him. Thus, the newfound moments of bonding.
But my boy is no longer 12. Legos still entertain but aren’t the same. Enter in Minecraft. Blocks and cubes. Mines and ore. Sheep and pigs. Sitting side by side, controllers in hand, we build something together. (Or sometimes blow it up!) And we share. And the conversation is growing. What was once movies and toys has grown into books and homework assignments. Sometimes glimmers of dreams and plans for the future sneak in while Steve and Alex dodge creepers. Here’s my favorite part, because these intentional times have made our discourses more comfortable, the conversation doesn’t always stop when the console is powered down. It leaks into daily life. Drives in the car become doctrinal debates. Shopping trips turn into stories of science fiction variety. Asking for help with school work is easier because with the fear of judgment is lessened. Bean knows I’m more interested in hearing his thought process than worrying if he’s getting every answer correct. Our relationship is perfect. Perfectly flawed. Perfectly weird. Perfectly ours. We’re bonding as we’re giving one another space to grow. (As I am letting him be him, the man-child not the infant.) Hard times come. Fights happen. Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Jesus handles the heart. Prayer casts our cares. And Minecraft gets us talking. Perhaps…even one day… hopefully far off…  we’ll talk about girls.
Try it. Dare to be discontent with the divide but don’t be demanding. Meet your boy in his area of interest and just be.  The mom who’s thick skinned. The mom who’s tenderhearted. The mom who’s there. The mom who’s listening. Enjoy being the Minecraft mom.

photo by Bean

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Together Time, Blue’s Clues and the Challenge Years

Long before I considered teaching my children from home our family had adopted the habit of morning time. We’d come together, open God’s word, pray, read, play and discover the world before separating into our individual routines. How did this begin? I didn’t have an epiphany as I read the scriptures. There was no correlation between how Jesus bonded with and taught the 12 that brought about our quaint routine. At the time, I had never heard of Pam Barnhill, Sarah Mackenzie, Charlotte Mason, or any other home school savant. I hadn’t even read a single book on child education. No, Bean, my then 3-year-old, came up with it after watching the highly regarded kids’ educational show called Blue’s Clues. Yes, the episode titled “Blue Takes You to School” started it all. Periwinkle, the cat, begins preschool and wants to know Blue’s favorite part of the day. The paw prints lead to circle time which is a section of the class that leads the students to a rug where they learn and share together. It even had its own song “Circle time, circle time, it can be anything as long as we’re together.”
As an enthusiastic new big brother, Bean wanted to share circle time with his sister. After breakfast, we’d plop her pudgy baby booty into her Bumbo and gather around on the floor. There, with help from me, Bean would re-enact an abridged version of his Sunday School Class. Singing with puppets and dolls, he would teach her that her senses

were God gifts and could be used to explore the world the Father had made. (Mostly with Moo Moos here and there and the like) The whole cute scene took only five minutes but bonded us for the day. Afterward, I would nurse the girl, Bean would snuggle beside us and we’d watch a show or listen to an audiobook together. I had no idea how this little habit would grow into the feast of fellowship it has become.541417081_7960714e0a_m (1)Homeschool grew more formal. Circle time became known as together time. Morning routine switched to the afternoon and back again. Still, together time was our bonding time. As the kids sprouted, we used curriculum like My Father’s World to guide our time and introduce us to missionaries of the past and unseen populations of the world. We added prayer baskets and dedicated time to hymns and celebration. Then teen life started and with it a new curriculum and a more rigid schedule. Classical Conversations’ Challenge program seemed like a perfect segway between family together time and learning to express oneself to one’s peers. So, Bean jumped in. But with Challenge A came a new load of data to digest and a greater need for a more focused individual learning time. At first, we mournfully buried together time. Wasn’t Bean absorbing more important information? The weekly planner was brimming with interesting ideas and hours of workload. Surely together time was just a burden and misplaced use of energy.
What I didn’t see, until the fighting started, was the sudden and scary segregation that canceling our routine would cause. A distance between siblings. Bitter angst on my end and a bit on my boys created walls. On my knees in desperation and tears, God brought a simple tune to my heart. “Circle time, circle time it can be anything as long as we’re together.” Duh! Thank the Lord for Blue’s Clues.

So, together time morphed and returned to its humble beginnings. It couldn’t last 2-3 hours every day. But 15 minutes was enough to reunite us and pump us up for harder labor. What does it look like now, you ask? Like the song says it can be anything. Recently it’s been a short Bible verse discussed with the five common topics. Following that is a short cursive lesson which review for Bean but new for Sprout. Sometimes we toss in a poem or hymn. More often than not we leave the languid family read aloud for evening time or even Audible it out on car drives. One blessing is combining subjects to broaden our conversation while limiting our time spent. With books like Prayers that Changed History by Tricia Goyer, we can lump Bible study, prayer time, history, geography, and character training into one 20 minute reading. We add in time whenever, wherever, and however, we can. If Bean is ahead in his week or family strain is getting palpable, we ramble through our time instead of blast through it. Discovering new material. Revisiting old friends. Drilling Latin or math facts. Playing a short game, “educational” or not. Singing and praying. It truly can be anything… as long as we’re together.
The teen years and Challenge years are not the time to drop out of routines. Family involvement is more crucial than ever. If you’ve never instituted a together learning time, do so! You won’t regret it. Will kids always joyfully sit beside you and read? Uh, nope. Do you have to make it ultra-academic? Again, nope. Will you get behind in the curriculum? Uh, possibly. But what’s more exhilarating than going down a relational rabbit trail filled with light bulb moments and laughter. Just remember it doesn’t have to take all morning. It’s the connection that’s vital. Trials become adventures only when they are traveled with friends and family. Together time is the perfect way to remind yourself and your kids that you’re a team and life is the best mission ever.
Gather your kiddos. Allow them to bring a coloring book and crayons, a sketchpad and pencil, maybe play dough, or even a puzzle. As long as their task is quiet and not distracting let them bring it along. Next, is grab your favorite book and your favorite snack to share. Set a timer for 15 minutes and go. When the buzzer sounds, put down your book. Hooray! You’ve finished your first together time. But you were in the middle of a chapter? Your kids want more? You don’t want to stop, either? Great! Everyone will be even more excited for tomorrow’s time. Remember this time can be molded and grown, no need to start out elaborately. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it together. You can do this! Let me know how it goes.

Don’t know how to start? There are great blogs and podcasts out there to show you the way. Here’s a couple for you.   (Sarah Mackenzie and the Read Aloud Revival)    (Pam Barnhill and Your Morning Basket)

photo credit: sean dreilinger Family StoryMinute – (license)_MG_6491 via photopin (license)