Category Archives: Family Life

Home School Decision Part 1: The Big Picture

When deciding to home school the kids this coming fall the first question I asked myself, which may seem obvious, was “what do I want my kids to get from their k-12 education?”  I suppose as a former project manager I can’t help but focus on the end goal.  What am I supposed to achieve at the end of my project?  What is the big picture?  My father used to say, “if you don’t know where you’re headed then how will you know if you’ve arrived?” What seemed like a simple question ended up being rather complex when I really thought about it.

We send our children to public school with what expectation?  That they will learn to read? They master reading by 2nd grade.  Learn to write? Also complete by 2nd grade.  No, it is more than that.  At the end of the day this is the list that I settled on:

  • College Readiness: I of course would like my children to achieve higher education and I would expect their K-12 education to prepare them for this level of course work.  This means their reading comprehension, study skills, and a certain breadth and depth of knowledge. Their ability to complete basic library research and understand the components of a basic sentence.
  • Fundamental Understanding of Core Subjects: math, reading, writing, science.  But I also want them to know geography, government, literature, history, social studies, philosophy, etc.  They need a strong foundation in a variety of subjects.  It is this combination of subjects that provides them with a lens through which they can see and understand the world.
  • Citizenship: I would like my children to learn how to be contributing members of society, which means instructing them in the value of hard work, community service, and government.  This also means learning to be tolerant, respectful and polite.
  • Critical thinking: I want my children to challenge assumptions and think for themselves.  In an age of media overload I want them to be discerning in their reading and research.  My parents encouraged me to question EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY and I would like that same curiosity to be encouraged in my own children.
  • Variety of life experiences: I want my kids to have the ability to participate in non-academic pursuits – athletics, the fine arts, school government, etc.  The humanities have always been a big part of my life (and David’s) and I want my children to be exposed to this variety.
  • Knowledge and Understanding of the World:  I don’t want them to live in a bubble (I know, you are shocked by this because I’ve chose to home school and isn’t that what all home schoolers want? a bubble). I want them to know a Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Sikh, Jew, Black, Hispanic, Gay, Asian.  I want them to “eat from the banquet of life” -to love and appreciate the rainbow of the world and why it all works together to create something bountiful and beautiful. I want them to know that their heritage and their values are not the only ones that exist.  I want them to not be afraid of “the different” but to embrace it.

I will be the first to admit that this is a tall order, even for the public schools to fulfill.  It is nearly an impossible order when you consider the constraints under which the school system functions.  When I started down this path I was trying to prove that home school was NOT the right decision and so I was trying very hard to give the public schools a fair shake.  I looked at this list and I assigned a grade for each item, reflecting how well I thought the school was doing at accomplishing these goals. The school system ended up with a 2.16 GPA – they received 2 Ds, 2 Cs, 1 B and 1 A.  And the A was in “Knowledge of the World” and the B was in “Variety of Life Experiences” — the recess of the school system.  So yes, the school was getting an A in recess but failing everything else.

I am not pulling my children out of school to isolate them.  The fact that my son learned the F-word in 1st grade is bothersome, but I can parent around that.  The fact that girls in Lucy’s 3rd grade class are watching YouTube videos, unsupervised, on french kissing is troubling but I can parent through that as well.  I can even parent through bullying and “mean girls”.  But it is not worth the effort of dealing with all of these social nightmares when the academics aren’t performing.  At the end of the day the only good thing my kids were getting out of the school system was something they could receive at an afternoon on a soccer field or the Girl Scouts. I definitely don’t need the school to insure that my children are exposed to a variety of cultures or to expose them to a variety of life experiences.  I am fully capable of doing that part myself.

The next thing I looked at was how were the academics — really.  I had my perceptions based on the results I see as a college professor and what I see coming home as a parent, but I realize that I am not objective.   The next blog post will look at the academics.



Mother Of The Year

The first quarter of the year is always busy for the Morley family due to “Birthday season”.  That magical time of year when all of my kids celebrate the fact that they are born within two weeks of each other, and I have a nervous breakdown.  As the kids have gotten older, and their parties smaller, my insanity has become more manageable, which was fortuitous this year due to my children’s desire to meet our medical deductible before March 31st.

I was cooking Lucy’s birthday dinner — steak, macaroni & cheese, and broccoli when Harper started crying.  She screamed the way only a three year old can – which means at the top of her lungs making no audible sense what so ever.  It went something like this, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I HUWT MY AWWWWWMMMM!!!! MOOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYY!!! I HUWT MY AWM!!!!”  Like any good mother of three children I ignored her.  After all, I had $20 worth of steak cooking.  It was only when she wouldn’t stop crying that I looked around to see her right arm limp by the side of her body.

Where most parents would immediately panic at this sight, I did not.  A seasoned parent knows the sign of “nurse maid’s elbow” when she sees it, and David had already fixed this once before with the guidance of a You Tube video.  (Yes, we practice medicine via You Tube. Don’t judge).  I shouted to David to come “pop it back into place, because I’m putting dinner on the table”.  David scooped Harper up and brought her back to her bedroom where he could calm her down and fix the arm.  I plated dinner and realized that she was still crying. I finally became concerned.  I left the two older kids and David to enjoy Lucy’s birthday dinner and Harper and I made a dash to the ER.

Four x-rays, a red Popsicle and a hairline fracture later  and we were ready to go back home.

Thirty days later I would receive a call from the school that Max had taken a “tumble” during recess and that the school nurse thought he should go home.  When I arrived at the school, Max’s hand was swelled up like a giant meat patty and his fingers were purple. I couldn’t see his arm due to the heavy University of Michigan sweatshirt he was wearing (compliments of Grandma and Grandpa).  He was in obvious pain and I couldn’t figure out if he was going to throw up or pass out.

When they cut off his brand new sweatshirt at the ER it was obvious to everybody in the room (and my sensitive stomach) that his arm was broken.  In fact I didn’t know an arm could bend in that direction – oh, that is right, THEY DON’T!

The orthopedic surgeon walked into the room, took one look at me and said, “Didn’t I just see you a couple of weeks ago?”  Oh these doctors, so funny when it comes to multiple children in one house having broken bones.  Can we all say CPS together?

Two x-rays, two orthopedic surgeons, seven hours in the ER and two re-set forearm bones and we were ready to go back home.

And that is how the Morley family meets their deductible by March 31st.  Anybody need some plastic surgery?

author‘s note: A big THANK YOU to Children’s Medical Center of Plano, Texas.  The doctors, nurses and staff have been WONDERFUL.  Their patience, love and understanding was invaluable to me during an incredibly stressful month.

And Then The Cat Died

David and I adopted Cosmo in 2001, shortly after we bought our first house.  A small grey short hair that we named after Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld.

Monday morning, as I got dressed, it occurred to me that I hadn’t filled his food bowl since Thursday and there was still the same amount of food.  I checked his litter box – no activity in there.  I then realized that Cosmo had stopped sleeping with us at night. Something was wrong.  I bolted out of the bathroom and hollered at David, “something is wrong with Cosmo.”  Cosmo had never been sick, had never had a health issue of any kind.  David sat up in bed, “are you sure?”  I was emphatic.  Call it mother’s instinct but I knew the cat was sick.  I quickly picked up the phone and called the vet for an appointment.  David helped me wrestle Cosmo’s little grey body into his carrier and off to the doctor we went.

The vet’s office was deceivingly clean and sterile.  Cosmo hunched down in his cage and the vet did his best to examine him.  After $500 in tests and several phone calls the sad news was delivered,  Cosmo had cancer and he was dying.  I sobbed.  It was so sudden. He never gave any clue that he was in discomfort or that something was wrong.  How could it have happened so fast?  The vet explained that cats are very good at hiding their illnesses and that Cosmo had probably been sick for a long time.

We sat the kids down and explained to them that Cosmo was very sick.  That it is the responsibility of us, as pet owners, to do what is right for our pet.  That Cosmo wasn’t eating. He wasn’t drinking and it was best to help him along in his journey.  Lucy took it the hardest.  She burst into sobs and wailing exclaimed; “NOOOO!!! I DON’T WANT COSMO TO DIE!! I LOVE COSMO!!!”  I gently explained that none of us want Cosmo to die but that now is the time to be brave.  Lucy wasn’t buying it.  “I CAN’T BE BRAVE! I’M ONLY SEVEN YEARS OLD, I HAVEN’T LIVED LONG ENOUGH AND DONE ENOUGH THINGS TO BE BRAVE. I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A CAR! AND NOW I’M THE ONLY PERSON AT SCHOOL THAT DOESN’T HAVE A PET!”  It was hard to argue with those emotions.  It wasn’t really fair to ask a seven year old to be brave about the death of the only family pet she had ever known.

Max was more circumspect and after a moment of sadness quietly asked, “when do we get a dog? Like a month? a week? How long do we have to wait?” Max tried to comfort Lucy with the idea that we could now get a puppy and that seemed like a fair trade to him.  Lucy did not find this comforting.

Harper followed Cosmo around the house saying ‘meow’ and offering him Oreos.

In the end, Cosmo went quietly and with dignity.  We spent his last two days showering him with love and tuna fish.  He’s gone, and now my feet are cold at night and our house is a bit more empty.  Well, at least until we get Max a dog.

Letter From Santa

In an effort to remedy the psychological damage I inflicted after threatening no visit from Santa Claus I crafted and mailed the following letter to my children.  Let’s hope it saves me at least two trips to the therapist’s office.


Dear Lucy & Max,

It is my pleasure to inform you that after careful review of your behavior and attitude during the year 2011 that Santa Claus has decided to add you to the following list:


We would like to request that on Christmas Eve you place the following items on a plate close to the fireplace:


  1. A small cup of milk (cow and no less than 2%)
  2. Three small iced cookies (please no chocolate)
  3. Three small carrots (peeled)

In addition, we would like to invite you to visit Santa Claus at a store location near you.  Every year we strive to deliver toys that meet each child’s wishes and your visit to Santa Claus is an important step in guaranteeing our continued toy success.

We have also noted that you will be staying at your Nana’s house (Max & Carolyn Morley Denton, TX) and would like your Christmas presents delivered there instead of your normal home location.  If this is an error please contact our delivery team immediately with the correct address ([email protected]).

We would like to thank you for your continued support and belief in our organization and we look forward to hearing from you again in 2012.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


Lauri Steingarten

Senior Elf

Department of List Management

The Santa Claus Threat

I was sick of listening to them bicker. Lucy. Max. Both of them going at it like a couple of chickens in a coop.  “She’s bossing me!” “He’s pulling my hair!”  I was about to pull my own hair if they didn’t stop.  I yelled across the kitchen, “I’m DONE! MAX, GO SIT ON THE STAIRS! LUCY, GO SIT IN MY ROOM! I WANT YOU TWO SEPARATED AND QUIET!”

What I did next can only be put in the category of dangerous thoughtlessness.  I was rash. I didn’t think. I shouldn’t have gone there.

I picked up my phone and called Santa Claus (aka; my sister Stacy).  “Santa? Yes, I’m calling to let you know that Lucy and Max have been fighting an awful lot and I’m not sure they should receive presents this year. Uh-huh. Okay, I will call back if their behavior improves”.  I hung up.

I could already hear Max sobbing on the stairs and muffled between tears he said, “but I want presents for Christmas!”  Lucy bolted out of the bedroom her breathing quick and shallow, tears pouring down, her face pale and the words flying out of her mouth as fast as she could spew them; “WHY DID YOU CALL SANTA? I’M SOOOOOO EMBARRASSED!! HE’S ALWAYS BEEN SOOOOO NICE TO ME. EVERY YEAR OF MY LIFE HE’S BEEN NICE TO ME AND NOW HE’S ANGRY AT ME CUZ I’VE BEEN BAD!! I DON’T EVEN WANT TO GO VISIT HIM NOW BECAUSE I’M TOO EMBARRASSED TO SEE HIM BECAUSE HE IS GOING TO BE SOOOO ANGRY AT ME.”  The sobs coming fast, her breathing becoming more shallow, panic flooding her eyes – I started to worry she would pass out.

“Lucy, come here and sit down.  Max, you too.  Now listen,  Max, you can’t go around pulling your sisters hair and being mean.  Lucy, you can’t say things to Max that you know are going to make him angry.  If you two start behaving like you are supposed to I will call Santa back.”

Max’s tears instantly stopped.  He wiped his face, took a deep breath and declared; “Mama, I’m going to start being good RIGHT NOW!”

Lucy launched into more panicked filled sobs:  “IT DOESN’T MATTER. HE IS ALREADY MAD AT ME AND I’M SO EMBARRASSED AND I BET I’M THE ONLY KID IN SCHOOL WHOSE HAD TO HAVE A CALL MADE TO SANTA AND NOW HE WON’T BRING US PRESENTS!!”  At this point, the panic, fear and shear anxiety on her face, combined with the shallow breathing was making me very concerned that she was going to pass out.  “Lucy, you MUST calm down.  Breathe.  I’m sure you can improve your behavior and Santa will bring you presents. You’ve always been a good girl. I don’t think you need to worry that much”.  I thought I was starting to calm her down when the sobs kicked up again and she wailed; “I BET ALL THE ELVES KNOW AND THERE ARE LIKE THOUSANDS OF THEM! WAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”  Out of this chaos of emotion Max quietly asked; “Hey, can we text Santa?” and without hesitating I said “sure!”

Me: “Lucy is VERY upset and embarrassed”

Santa/Stacy:  “The elves think she deserves a second chance”

Me: “Max wants to know if he gets one too”

Santa/Stacy: “Max needs to not fight with Lucy but he gets a second chance if he promises to be good”

Me: “Max wants to know how big are the elves and Lucy says she is too embarrassed to see you because she thinks you will be mad”

Santa/Stacy: “Eleves are 3ft 4 inches”

Santa/Stacy: “Lucy shouldn’t be afraid to see me. I’ve seen her every year since she was little and I would miss her.  Ho ho ho.”

Me: “Max and Lucy say they love you”

Santa/Stacy: “I love them too. I have to go feed the reindeer now. Good night.

Calm returned to the house after that, but it was an unsettled awkward calm.  Lucy was not fully convinced that she would be returned to the “good” list and I was left feeling guilty and emotionally drained.  I’m sure we will need to make another follow-up call to insure both children have  made it on the “good” list since I can tell Lucy is still worried.

And that is how I managed to scar my child for life.

Thanksgiving II

If you are a parent of healthy children you are obligated to be thankful.  The few times my kids have been seriously ill has shown me a glimpse into the world of parents with chronically and seriously ill children. I cannot imagine living that nightmare.  First and foremost this year I am thankful for healthy, normal children.

I am also thankful for the uniqueness of each of my children. None of them are exactly like me or David but have hints, and traces of each parent mixed with their own magical combination of attributes and character flaws.


I am so thankful that Lucy is a reader.  She is a voracious reader, like her mother, and has a beautiful curiosity about the world.  She is not a person of blind faith, or fairy tale beliefs. Rather, she is a child of sensible conclusions and reasonable thinking. I am also very thankful that she has a strong sense of right and wrong and quickly defends herself and her friends in the face of elementary school bullies and social meanness which is so often seen on the school yard.  I have seen her be a loyal friend and sister again and again.


I am most thankful for Max’s gentle spirit and tender heart.  We hear so many stories about boys being mean, aggressive and generally ill-tempered.  Although Max won’t hesitate to throw a swing if his sister is bothering him he is also equally quick to offer help, a hand, or a hug.  Max is kind to everybody,  always uses his manners, and is openly affectionate to friends and family.  I’m proud that Max takes after his Daddy with his kindness and generosity.  He will be a blessing in the lives of many people.


At Harper’s young age I’m most thankful for her health.  Giving birth at 40, and after a miscarriage, makes you more grateful for health than anything else.  Even at her young age  you can sense her jovial spirit – that same good hearted sense of humor that her daddy possesses.  Her hearty laugh and sense of silliness is something I suspect she will always portray.

Finally, I’m thankful that I’ve been given the gift of parenthood.  I’m thankful that I have been given front row seats to watch the lives of these three amazing people unfold. And I’m most thankful that I get to watch with my best friend sitting next to me.


I was in third grade when I made friends with a girl named Annette.  Annette had curly brown hair, which in third grade meant more frizz than curl.  She was tall, much taller than me but her most unique feature was her family.  Her mother had died and her father had remarried a widow.  Between the two of them they had 15 children.  Her house was always filled with people and she talked all the time about her aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, etc, etc.  I was jealous.

I moved around a lot as a kid and although I’m very close with my immediate family I never had the comfort of an extended family.  We would see my grandparents every couple of years.  My aunts, uncles and cousins were mainly names to me with only a handful of visits during my childhood.  Don’t misunderstand, there was love.  Oh yes, there was always lots of love and when we were together it was always fun and exciting – but our meet ups were rare.

I grew up longing for an extended family that was close.  A family to whom you could fall into every time you saw each other.  A family who enveloped you and surrounded you and smothered you.  I wanted a big, messy, loud family with kids and cousins and aunts and uncles.  And then I met David, and this is his family (minus one aunt and uncle and accompanying cousins who couldn’t make it):

A big family brings conflict and obligation and hurt feelings.  This is true.  We have so many birthdays between January and April we actually refer to it as the “birthday season”.  The family has its own system for conflict resolution and there are enough people to warrant our own Facebook fan page. I frequently joke that I feel as if I married into the mob without all the murder and illegal activity.  There is a boss (although they call her “sister”) and there are fractions, and sub-groups, and an unspoken mode of communication.

However, nothing can replace the feeling of knowing that you are always one phone call away from an army of assistance, or that feeling of support when you look up into the stands and see your own personal cheering section. Every person’s success is cheered and celebrated, and every person’s failure mourned and consoled.  Mistakes are forgiven and change is always welcomed.

People say, “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it”.  I did wish, for many years, to have a large family, and I indeed got that when I married David. I am most grateful that THAT wish came true.


Harper: 18MO

Dear Harper,

Just as your sister is a typical first-born child, with all of her bossiness and in-charge attitude, you are a typical youngest child.  You have no problems demanding the attention you feel you deserve.  You have mastered the manipulation of cuteness and wisely chosen to learn the word “mommy” before all others.  You climb and walk and run and swim because somebody forgot to tell you that you are only 18 months old and have no business acting like a five year old.  You have developed a strong sense of fashion and pick your jewelry and outfits with the precision of a runway model.  If the clothes selected for the day do not meet your refined eye for fashion (which means they are not pink and include pants) then you simply lay down on the ground and cry until I choose different clothes.  You can’t be bothered with wearing shoes unless they are your sister’s dress up princess heels. You talk non-stop and have no patience for the fact that nobody can understand you.

You love Max.  He is your anchor, your center, your best friend.  His return home from school prompts wild displays of excitement which include jumping up and down, spinning in circles, and screaming for no reason.  Once the initial joy has subsided I periodically catch you leaning against him as if you were trying to get as close to him as possible. Fortunately, he loves you too and is equally excited to see you.

You’re my third and I gave birth to you when I was 40 years old.  People question that choice. Am I being selfish? Have I not considered your needs? Did I not think about how old I will be when you are getting married? Having kids? Graduating college? The simple answer is yes I did.  I never could get past the feeling that somebody was missing from the dinner table and now here you are and I’m glad we waited for you to arrive.