Later, we found out Stacey wouldn't be able to make it, but the kids' sorrow turned to joy when Matt Meese stepped in to take his place.
At first we were going to take the whole family on the trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the conference. We thought it would be a good mini-family vacation to test the younger kids' abilities to handle the stresses and changes of a trip away from home and to hone our skills in preparing for and preventing as many crises as possible for the planned trip out to Southern California this summer for a family wedding.
|Rose Red was in the bathroom finishing her make up. The rest of us got bored waiting, so we took this picture in the hotel lobby.|
But then we did some budgeting and realized we had a still-unhousetrained puppy to deal with, and we backed out.
The teens were livid.
Sir Walter Scott and I talked and prayed and thought and talked and so forth and so on.
One day he tentatively looked at me and said, "You could take the teens and I could stay with the littles . . . "
My eyes bugged out; I'd had the same thought at the exact same moment.
"But [Baymax] is still nursing and you'd have Theo to deal with and you'd have no big kid helpers and . . . " I answered, my voice trailing off.
We talked some more and decided to go for it.
And that's how I found myself leaving 8 children 9-and-under and a puppy with their (wonderful) daddy while I drove hundreds of miles away with my 4 teenage daughters and their accompanying luggage.
|In the car on the drive|
Before we left the teens and I had a sit-down talk.
For some reason, my family elicits the comment, "You guys are the most normal homeschoolers I've ever met."
People who say it think it is a compliment, but my blood boils every time I hear it. I have literally had to bite my tongue to keep from giving lectures about such a wretched indictment against homeschoolers and such a foolish judgment about us.
It has also had the effect of making my teens self-concious about being homeschooled.
|"You can post that one of me. That's one I like," said Rose Red.|
Rose Red said, "I hope maybe there will be one public-school hottie there because you know there won't be any homeschool hotties."
That's what our sit-down talk was about.
I asked the teens to imagine meeting their favorite home schooled friends, not 10 years ago when they were all too little to care what their friends looked like or wore, but today. How would they judge their friends now? How would their friends judge them? Then I asked them to keep their minds open to finding out what these new kids at the conference are really like on the inside instead of dismissing them as unlikable because they wear the wrong jeans or the wrong hairstyle.
"Because you don't like being judged on your appearance and being found wanting, do you?"
They reluctantly agreed, and we set off.
|Waiting for the conference to start.|
The conference was small--maybe 65 families. But that made for a good 50-60 kids at all of the teen activities.
There were only 15 vendors.
The speakers were either amazingly good or mind-bogglingly poor. One woman (of national renown) gave a seminar on the importance of motherhood, but she managed to blame everything that is wrong with kids today on poor parenting--even increasing autism and ADHD statistics.
She also said that co-sleeping was bad parenting and would lead to all kinds of evils.
I was just numb. I couldn't even stand up to walk out of the room.
My sister and her teens were at the conference, too, so she let me vent afterward.
She's much calmer than I am in general--more willing to look at the big picture and let go of the details.
The next presenter read every word of her lecture.
No discussion, no talking, no interaction with the audience.
Just face down on her paper and reading.
My brain wanted to fall out of my head and crawl out the door.
Why on earth would a person trying to inspire homeschoolers to be better teachers be such a truly terrible teacher?
I was boggled.
Then we (my sister and I) attended a couple of awesome seminars on dealing with crises and on embracing change.
Before that I'd been ready to give up.
The teens had a grand time with Natalie Madsen leading them in writing and performing comedy skits, and then they had a boring teacher or two. Then they had a really good one about motivation.
Thank goodness the motivational speaker was motivational!
One speaker spent 48 1/2 minutes of the 50 he had allotted to him to badmouth his publishing company and people who buy used books on Amazon.
I spent that hour researching curricula online (free hotel wi-fi) for next year and texting pictures to my kids (most of which are so bad I deleted them).
|Quite simply, they are beautiful . . . and I am clearly one tired momma.|
The evening entertainment was a talent show that included all of the skits the teens had produced in the morning and various numbers by teens across the midwest. It also drew a much larger crowd of locals than had been at the conference during the day. There were at least a couple hundred people there.
Pixie and Belle were hits! I know they're my kids, but I really think they're such cute dancers, and the crowd came to life clapping and whooping and hollering as they danced.
Super Star muttered, "Stupid foot surgery--I could have been up there, too!" She was good natured and helpful, though, by providing music behind the scenes. I am grateful for her humble service, and so are Pixie and Belle.
After the talent show we were treated to a live concert by Jeneve Rose Mitchell.
Let me just say that girl can sing!
The concert was fun from beginning to end.
The next day Matt joined Natalie in various Q&A and meet-and-greet sessions. We took tons of pics and texted tons of them home. We also got them to sign our conference programs and took them home for Nature Angel and Little Princess who were just dying inside thinking how cool it was for us to meet some of their heroes.
They are gracious people who sacrificed to share themselves with us.
On the second day I knew which presenters to seek and which ones to avoid.
Made for a better day.
|Rose Red's photos: She says it was so fun to see them interact and just be friends once they warmed up and got talking.|
The teens had a ton more free time to play games and do team-building games, and by the end of the day, they were loath to leave their new friends.
Pixie said, "I did what you told me, Mom. I didn't judge until I spent time with them, and everyone was so fun!"
I'm kind of wondering if they were less-judgmental than I was!
My favorite moment of the whole concert was too near the end, but at least it happened. Jeneve is only 17 years old. She was at the conference to perform, speak, and drum up support for her next CD. Before the concert she was a stranger in western costume. After the concert she was an idol. But the whole time she was still a 17-year old girl who was lonely away from home and working.
A few hours before the end of the conference (I was sitting out because I was avoiding more publishing diatribes) I saw her pacing the floor outside the teen room. She'd peek in and turn and pace. Peek in and turn and pace. Peek in and turn and pace.
It took me at least 15 minutes, but I finally understood.
"You're welcome to go in. You're the same age as my daughter. I know the kids would welcome you," I said.
"You think?" she asked shyly.
"Absolutely. Just go on in and join the games. I know the kids would love to hang out with you."
She ducked her head and blushed. She looked sideways at me, "You sure?"
"Absolutely! Go on in," I smiled.
"Thank you, ma'am. I will. Thank you."
My heart just melted.
Two minutes later Pixie came out to use the bathroom. I caught her attention, "Go find Jeneve and sit by her. She wants to join the teens, but she's too shy."
Pixie promised to see what she could do.
Later she reported that as she returned to the activity, she caught Jeneve at the back of the room, just losing courage and getting ready to flee. "Come on in and sit with me," she offered. Jeneve took her up on her offer and within the hour was surrounded by kids welcoming her to their games and snacks.
When it was Jeneve's turn to lead a Q&A session, she knew enough kids that it was more of a give and take teasing and laughing session among friends than anything else.
(I know because I peeked in and watched for a while.)
|The kids got a kick out of purchasing and drinking butterbeer.|
Overall, I had confirmed that I have no goals for my kids other than that they learn how to learn and find their true happiness. I don't care which college they attend, or even if they attend college. The schools that promised this education plan or that one all left me hollow and annoyed with their sense of superiority and promises to change our lives.
So did the presenters who claimed to have the only true way to teach.
Brain surgeon or garbage collector, as long as my kids work and serve in meaningful ways, I'll be happy.
I missed home the whole time I was away. Sir Walter Scott was an amazing single parent for the weekend, and the kids just love him more for the time he spent with them. I never worried--I just had it confirmed to me that my place is at home.
This is my season for domesticity, and I'm grateful for it.