"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Friday, September 16, 2011

I want you to love this. So I'm going to force you to do it.


Confession: I have watched the movie The Sure Thing approximately 8625 times (give or take a thousand) There was a point in time when my sister and I could sit and recite the entire movie back and forth, without missing a single line. We're geeky talented like that. Also on my watched againandagainandagain list: When Harry Met Sally, The Breakfast Club, Real Genius, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Say Anything. Yes, I am aware that they made other movies both before and after the '80s, but that shall forever remain my favorite movie decade.

I love movies. I love them for their storytelling, for their settings, and for their dialogue. I love the cinematography. I love thinking about the screenplay (and being reminded of my all-time favorite class in college). I love the soundtracks, and how the music makes you really feel what you're watching. I love that I can watch a movie over and over, and still notice something new every time. I love watching the characters in the background, and seeing how much they add or detract from the main action. I love catching when they've made a mistake of continuity in the editing. I love that a favorite movie can bring me out of the doldrums like nothing else.

Because I love them, I naturally share that love with my kids. It just sort of bubbles out of me. We talk about movies, I tell them about my old favorites, we watch together, we look up the actors we like to see what else they've been in.  I don't know that they will all grow up loving movies as much as I do... but I do know that they enjoy and appreciate them.  They're something fun that we all take part in, both individually and as a family, simply because I couldn't help but share this part of myself with the people around me.

You know what I don't do?  I don't force them to watch movies.  Ever.  I don't require them to watch movies.  I don't set aside a certain part of the day for watching movies.  I don't tell them how much it would mean to me if they loved movies.  I don't make them watch movies when they'd rather be reading, or playing ball or taking apart an engine.  Doing so would then make movies an unpleasant chore... the exact opposite of my intention.  It would likely make them in fact strongly dislike movies (and possibly also strongly dislike ME in the process).  At a minimum, it would make them resentful of my insistence, and all but ensure that it becomes a past time that they would then never willingly pursue or enjoy of their own volition.

Doesn't that just seem like common sense?

Why then, do people hold the belief that they can foster the love of reading (another of the great loves of my life) through force?  Through requiring children - whether they seem ready or receptive or not - to sitting down, and practicing, practicing, practicing... as though it were an arduous and grueling task instead of what it actually is:  a useful and often pleasurable skill, one that should be enjoyed and embraced by the individual doing it.  Let me ask you, how much enjoying and embracing are you going to be doing if someone is standing over you with an iron fist?   How much more would you enjoy that chapter book, or National Geographic, or car repair manual (this is what my 14 year old reads for fun) if you're the one choosing to pick it up?   How much more would you appreciate having the skill of reading in your life if you came by it naturally... by having the people you love and trust sharing their joy of reading with you?  By being read to, by being surrounded by the written word, by playing games and asking questions and being curious?  NOT because you turned 4 (or 5 or 6 or whatever age schools these days are trumpeting as the 'right' age to start) and having it proclaimed to you, "Okay, time to learn to read!!"

You may think it's unfair of me to compare movies with reading.  One's a necessity, you're thinking, and the other is mere entertainment.   I disagree.  Both are forms of conveying information and telling stories.  Reading is an invaluable and important skill to develop, absolutely.   Reading opens up many doors, and makes us able to learn about anything that we desire, yes.  Reading helps us navigate through the world, and allows us to better understand what is happening around us, of course.  But if life is to be lived  (and heck yeah, LIFE IS TO BE LIVED) equally important is beauty... whether it comes from movies or books or poetry or dance.  Enjoying life is important.  Having passion for something is important.  And a great way to make sure that your child does NOT have passion for something - at least the positive kind - is by forcing them to do it against their will.

I recently received an email from a friend (a friend who I've long suspected is an unschooler at heart, even though her daughter currently attends school).  She told me about her daughter, a little seven year old, the same age as my Everett.  She's a girl who loved to read, and who'd often steal away to her favorite corners of the house to curl up with a book.   She then started second grade, where it was required as part of her homework that she read out loud for ten minutes every day.  In a matter of weeks, this little girl completely lost her love of reading, and instead began to dread it.  This from a child who actually liked to read!   What about the kids who are still learning, or who are focusing on other skills, or who just aren't ready?  Pushing them is going to, well, do just that:  push them further away.  It's not going to help them appreciate reading, and it's certainly not going to instill a love for the process.

Too many traditional schools are focusing more and more on 'academics', and at a younger and younger age.   They want kids to love reading so they.... try to force it?  They're going in the wrong direction.   Kids needs to PLAY, but because of increased pressures to ready them for standardized tests and college and SATS, there's no time for play.  No time for recess, or art, or music, or gym.  They must learn to read!  And they're going to enjoy it, dammit! 

The ironic part to me is that the system as it stands clearly isn't working.   Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  This is even worse than that though, because it's taking that same thing over and over and doing more of it.   More pressure.  More structure.  More homework.  More testing.  Meanwhile, more kids are depressed, angry, burnt out, exhausted, bullying others, getting bullied themselves, and getting put on all kinds of psychotropic drugs.   I can't be the only one who sees that there's a problem here.

Want your children to love reading?  Let them see that YOU love it.  Share with them.  Help them.  Support them.  Want your children to love learning?  Let them know that it's not a chore, or a burden, or a headache... but simply what we humans do.  Let them see that learning is all around them, and not something that happens at certain hours in certain places.  Want your children to be happy?  Let them be children.  Let them run and play and mess up and touch things and taste things and try things. 

Let them know that life is about joy and freedom and choices, not about getting forced into someone else's boxes. 

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Plank Pullin: The Money Edition

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style.

A few of you know this already, but I also keep a (often neglected) blog about money, specifically about our journey in paying off our debt.   You can read the entire story there, but in the interest in saving time:  We married young, and had part-time or low paying jobs for quite a long period of time.  Racked up a whole bunch of debt.  Worked really hard to pay it all off, and moved to Arizona debt free.  Somehow (thanks in large part to a crashing real estate market and a failed "investment" house that we're still living in), we racked up some debt again - although thankfully not nearly in the scale we'd been under a decade ago.  Having debt of any sort is a terrible and suffocating feeling, one I can't wait to be free of.  While we're finally in a position where we're making a very comfortable income, we are often living as if we make almost no money at all, so focused we are on putting everything extra towards our debt.

You could say money and finances are big interests of mine, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate.  I think I'm knowledgeable about it, having read just about every book, article, and website on the subject, but.... I still worry about money, I stress about money, I am WEIRD about money.  How am I defining 'weird', you ask?  Here's an example:

A couple of weeks ago, we joined some friends for a morning outdoor event.  It was early, and we'd been in a rush, so I hadn't gotten to have my daily cup of coffee.  I lamented to my friend about my missing liquid energy (I'm a much more likeable person when I've been fully caffeinated) and she said, "Oh there's a Starbucks right down the street."  And in the 2.4 seconds that it took me to tell her, "That's okay, I'll just wait till I get home" I had a fiery, indignant, unspoken internal dialogue that went something like this:

"Starbucks??  You think I can just afford to be going to Starbucks all willy-nilly?  Do you have any idea how much Starbucks costs?  Must be nice to have money to be going to Starbucks all the time.  Must be nice to have money to throw away."

Totally irrational right??  I don't know why I do it.   She was trying to be helpful.  And the ironic thing is that I absolutely could have afforded to get a coffee at Starbucks (I almost never go though, because I really do think it's ridiculously expensive for coffee), but I didn't, just on general principle.  We also very rarely buy bottled water,or eat at nice restaurants or any kind of restaurants, or buy new clothes, or get professional haircuts or manicures or pedicures or eyebrow waxings (or pluckings or threading or whatever is popular now)  I have a very, very hard time spending money on things that aren't necessities.

Worse than that though, is that I find myself getting judgmental, even angry, towards people who are irresponsible with money.  Interestingly, it's not so much strangers that I have a problem with.... if I see some random person spending jillions of dollars on something excessive, it's easy for me to imagine that (likely or not) they live an all-cash lifestyle, have no debt, and also give jillions of dollars to charity.  No, where I have a problem is with the people who've made me privy to their financial information for whatever reason, and continue to make bad choices.  I really don't like knowing that someone is behind on their Visa bill or their electric bill or their rent... and is meanwhile eating out, going to the movies, and buying fancy new gadgets.   One part of me tells me to chill out, that it's absolutely none of my business.  The other part says that it very well IS my business, as it's partly because of that kind of irresponsible spending that the housing market has done what it has, and the reason that we are so unbelievably upside down in our own mortgage (which, by the way, we faithfully pay on time every single month)  Either way, the feeling is unpleasant and all-around icky, and I'd really like to stop it. 

So consider another plank pulled.  And help a girl out by not mentioning your overdraft fees and your new iPhone in the same sentence. 

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Making Peace with a Schedule


A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone looking to flesh out the concept of unschooling a little more. One of her (paraphrased) questions was "Do you ever feel like you're just spinning your wheels, and/or putting out fires all day?"

My answer: Yes. And when I notice it's happening frequently, I know it's time for something to change. More specifically, I know it's time for me to make a change. It's not a good thing for me OR the kids if I'm scattered all day, flitting here and there and not really present for any of it. Unschooling shouldn't be about reacting, but about being there, right there in the moment.

Since getting all renewed and re-inspired at the conference, I have sadly realized that I really have been doing all too much wheel-spinning lately. Further, I've realized that I have done the same exact thing when each of my boys was Tegan's age (3) as well. When my kids are around 3 - not quite babies anymore - I sort of have a little life crisis. They are more independent, and playing on their own more often, and needing me in very different ways than before. I start to feel that itch of wanting to take on a new hobby, or start a new business, or devote some time to a certain passion. The difference this time though is that when the boys were her age, I was either about to have another baby, or I'd just had one. So the feelings would go away, and I'd happily immerse myself once again in diapers and onesies and dimpled elbows and chubby feet and sweet smelling baby heads. This time there is no pregnancy and there is no new baby. Which is in turns heartbreakingly sad, and strangely exciting.

Lately my heightened crisis has caused me to become suddenly interested in 20,000 different things. And of course I still want to be present for my kids, and fully invested in unschooling and hands-on parenting. I want to figure out this whole "homemaker" thing, and make (and keep) a nice home for my family. I also want to have some time for myself, and some time for blogging, and some time for pursuing my own interests. As a result, I'm sorry to say, I feel I've been only a little bit good at all of the above. I've also been anxious about the new season, which is suddenly thrusting us from having zero standing weekly plans to having basketball, gymnastics, scouts, church, and bible study meetings.

And so, I've decided to get organized and make a plan. Instead of a zillion personal pursuits, at the moment I'm going to focus on one. And you're reading it. This blog is my fifth baby, my heart, and my soul. I don't know what is going to happen in the future, but for right now, this is what I need to be doing. I need to be doing it so badly that I actually made myself a schedule.

I'm not a big schedule person (in fact I sort of hate them with a passion), but I also know that they work really, really well for me. They help me focus on what I'm supposed to be focusing on, and they help my scattered brain get a little less scattered.

Here then, is my - always flexible, always subject to change - schedule:

Morning: Coffee, emails, empty the dishwasher

Rest of the day into the afternoon: Leave the computer alone (instead of checking emails/Facebook in 2 or 3 minute little bursts all the live long day). Be present and focused and available for the kids.... for playing, for projects, for questions, for reading, for talking, for hanging out.

2:00-4:00ish (still working on this): Take time for myself to blog, answer emails and comments, and work on other writing-related stuff, without feeling guilty about it.

4:30 Pick up our messes for the day to get ready for the evening

5:00 till whenever we go to bed: Dinner, dishes, activities, television, playing, and hanging out (and maybe I'll check emails and Facebook somewhere in there too :)).

The idea is that when I'm with the kids, I'm WITH them. When I'm doing something for me, I'm doing something for me. And so on. It's still very much an experiment, because honestly, it's something I've never really tried before. I had grand plans to start it yesterday, but instead had an unexpected (and welcome) outing with friends we haven't seen for 3 months.

So we started it today. I did pretty well with ignoring my computer until 2:00, although I'm thinking I'm not so great with the cold turkey thing. The kids were all 100% on board with giving me my time at 2:00... but I spent 10 minutes of it in the tub with the girl, and another 5 explaining to the 14 year old about researching "completed" listings on Ebay to help price something he wanted to sell... both of which were momentarily more important than my own needs. At the time of this writing, it is 3:00, and all four kids have settled into a happy, comfortable groove. I'll commit myself to giving it an honest try, and a fair amount of time, and we'll see what it brings. I'm kind of excited at the prospect though, even if it means some adjustment, for all involved.

If you're a stay-at-home parent, do you have some sort of schedule for your day? How does it work for you?

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Good Vibrations: Finding my Tribe

This past weekend we joined over one hundred unschooling families for the Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference. I don't want to get too mushy and sentimental about it, but here's the thing:

I don't really fit in with most moms. Not moms from homeschool groups, not moms from little league, not moms from scouts, not moms from church. Sure, I've become reasonably adept at smiling and small talk and chit chat, but when the subject shifts (as it always inevitably does) to things like curriculums, limits, punishments, and coercive parenting in general, I'm met with a stark reminder. "Oh yeah, we're different."

Make no mistake... I like being different. I love the lifestyle we've chosen to live with our family, and I truly couldn't imagine living any other way. I am so happy, and so filled with peace with the decisions we've made - and continue to make - when it comes to education, parenting, and just LIVING. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that at times it can be.... isolating... having an all but completely nonexistent local support team of people who "get it."

Enter the unschooling conference.

And of course, the conference was lighthearted and fun. I mean, where else can you:

Go swimming
Make fairy wands and upcycled tutus
Carve sponges
Break boards
Play dress-up
Learn about nature drawing
Hula hoop
Have Nerf gun wars
Watch movies and listen to concerts by the pool, and
Take surfing lessons,

All in the same weekend?

There's no denying that it was a great time. But it was more than that. It was like a breath of fresh air to be around so many unschoolers, to - even if just for a few days - not be the odd one out. To know that my three year old is welcomed anywhere that I am, to know that my seven year old will be taken seriously, and that my 11 and 14 year old won't be asked what grade they're in, or what their favorite subject is or whether or not they're allowed to watch television or play video games. To see adults, teens, and kids of all ages playing and chatting and just enjoying each other's company, as if it were the most natural and normal thing in the world (which, of course, it is)

Being an introvert who's married to, well, an even bigger introvert, we're not always so good at the mixing and mingling. We tended to do more hanging back and observing, while our unsocialized kids happily and easily made friends with everyone they came in contact with. But even from our "quietly taking everything in" stance (although, I feel compelled to make it known that I DID both break a board and hula hoop in front of a bunch of people, thankyouverymuch); even from that perspective, the amount of support and validation I received from everyone there was immense. I gained and learned so much just from seeing the examples of kindness and respect with which other parents treated their children, and with which they treated my children. And the parents I did get a chance to talk with? It was privilege, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Shortly before we left for home, I witnessed someone yelling at a child, and demanding that he get out of the pool. It thoroughly jarred me out of my conference bubble, and I suddenly realized that I'd just gone four whole days without hearing a parent yell (which is really pretty amazing when you consider that I was there with over 100 sets of parents, and I can barely make it through the grocery store without hearing at least one parent yell, or punish, or humiliate their child.) Disclaimer: This is not to say that unschoolers are perfect parents or that they don't make mistakes or sometimes have bad days. It's also not to say that there aren't wonderful parents who don't unschool. Of course there are. It's just that being surrounded by so many many parents who are consciously choosing a path towards a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with their kids is a pretty powerful and invaluable thing. And, well, it DOES make me want to get mushy and sentimental.

Because those are my people. That is my tribe. And even though we're back home now, scattered amongst the country once again... I'm going to hold on tight, and thank my lucky stars that thanks to the wonder of the internet, my tribe is still with me.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


"The unanswered questions aren't nearly as dangerous as the unquestioned answers."
I am a questioner.  I always have been.  I was the student that drove the teacher crazy, asking question after question (sometimes pertaining to the subject at hand, sometimes not)  Pre-kids, I worked in retail.  I worked my way up from part-time cashier to full-time manager in about 18 months, thanks in large part to my questioning nature.  I'm never satisfied with anything at face value ... I always need to know more.  I want to know what, I want to know when, I want to know WHY.   And when I do I get an answer?  I question that too.

Questions are how we make sense of the world around us.  Questions are how we learn... not just about our external lives, but about ourselves.  How do we really know how we feel about something unless we question it?

It should come as little surprise then that my children love to question as well.  I welcome and encourage any and all questions, including - or especially - those that people consider to be of a sensitive nature.  It makes no practical difference to me.  "Mommy, why is the sky blue?" and "Mommy, what does 'gay' mean?" will both receive the same amount of respect and attention.  An honest question deserves an honest answer, regardless of where it came from.

I'm thinking of questions today because of this.  Chaz Bono is going to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars this season, and it has apparently caused a whole bunch of ruffled feathers.  Parents are publicly complaining, lambasting ABC, and boycotting the show.  People are worried that their children are going to ask questions, and this makes them uncomfortable.  I have a question for those parents, but first an observation or two:  1.  The great thing about television is that you always have the right to choose.  If you don't like the fact that's he on the show, you can simply not watch. And 2. The show is called Dancing with the Stars, not The Intimate Details of Chaz Bono's Private Life.  It's a dancing competition, not a documentary.  I'm not really sure why his gender is even at issue.

My question though is this.... If you watch, and if the issue of transgenderism is raised, and if your child asks questions (an awful lot of "ifs"), why are those questions a bad thing?  What exactly is the fear there?  It seems to me that we should be glad as parents that our children feel close enough and comfortable enough to come to us with their questions, of all sort.  They are going to ask someone their questions, and I would far rather it be me than Google,or a random child on the playground.  Even if you don't agree with Chaz Bono's lifestyle choices, your distaste doesn't make him cease to exist.  Your discomfort doesn't negate your child's prerogative to ask questions about something that he/she doesn't understand.   They have a right to be curious, and they have a right to an answer.  There is always something you can say, even if it's "You know what, that question really caught me off guard.  Let me think about how to explain it for a minute."  So often though, the answer they're looking for is really much more simple than we make it.  And if they need more information, they will ask!

Kids will ask questions.

Kids will sometimes ask hard questions (and honestly, explaining what "transgendered" means is far from the hardest question I've ever had to answer).  I think it's our job as parents to answer them openly, honestly, and simply... whether the questions are about blue skies and rainbows or gender and sexuality.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Monday, September 05, 2011

Won't they just eat junk food all day?

This is all unschoolers eat, right?
"One question that I have from reading your blog, is how you reconcile your nutritional beliefs/values .. with the concept of unschooling - I ask this because this is a really difficult issue for me - letting go of media/bedtimes/respectful parenting, we are already somewhere down the line with all of this, but I cannot see myself buying "junk" food/keeping it in the house - I was just interested in your take on this."
If you've ever watched one of those unabashedly biased nightly "news" pieces about unschooling - or read any number of unschooling articles in the mainstream media - you'll know that unschoolers are often depicted as eating nothing but junk food all day.  Since they're given the freedom to choose, they're feasting on donuts and chips and sodas at all hours of the night and day... because that's what a child would choose, right?  Because of pervasive misconceptions such as these, the above question is one that I receive often, in various forms.  Is that one area where you just don't give them freedom?  Don't you worry that they'll choose nothing but junk food?  I know my child would just eat candy all day...

Let me start by saying that as someone who has studied nutrition, I do think it's important to know about food.  Absolutely.  Parents are doing themselves and their children a disservice if they're not educating themselves at least on the basics.  We should know what's in the food we're eating, and why some choices are better than others.  Why the white flour products don't have the nutrition of their whole grain counterparts.  Why commercially grown produce is so inferior to that which is grown organically.  Why packaged "kids" foods like Goldfish crackers are no different nutritionally than feeding your kids cookies (in fact, as long as I'd made them myself, I'd much prefer the cookies).  As parents we should know why it's not a super idea to be serving up hot dogs or boxed macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets with any regularity.  If for no other reason, because we can't expect our kids to understand what it means to eat a clean, healthful diet if we don't understand it ourselves.

From an unschooling perspective, I also believe that eating is personal.  Just like adults, kids should have autonomy when it comes to what they do and do not put in their body, at what time, and for what reason.  THEY are the ones who know when they are hungry, when they are full, what makes them feel good, and what doesn't... not their parents, and not the clock.  And yes,  I believe in freedom and choices when it comes to food.  I believe that eating should be both functional and pleasurable, not something to be used as reward or punishment or fodder for a battle.  None of the above is healthy (either physically or mentally) and it hurts me as both an unschooler and as a nutritional consultant to see the pressure, control, and stress that parents will sometimes place on their children over the issue of food.

So to answer the original question from up above:  how do I reconcile the two perspectives?  I buy lots of interesting, real, whole foods.   We don't eat fast food  - no one ever asks -  and we rarely buy boxed, bagged or otherwise processed stuff.  We involve the kids in the entire process, and everyone gets an equal say in what we'll eat for the week.  We look up new recipes together.  We talk about the pros and cons of various "diets" our friends or families are trying.  We give the kids freedom, choices, and information.   They know why we buy what we regularly buy, and they also know that on those occasions that they ask for chips, candy or other "extras", that the answer will be YES.  They are welcome to eat anything in the cabinet, refrigerator or freezer anytime... whether it's before dinner, after dinner, or during dinner.

I think one big misconception that people have about this is that giving kids freedom and choices means just leaving them the heck alone, keeping the pantry stocked with Cheetos, soda, and Ring Dings, and letting them have at it.  That can't be much further from the truth.  We maintain an open line of communication about food like we do everything else, and we stock the house with the things that they love, enjoy, or want to try.  Nine times out of ten they're snacking on fruits, vegetables, and nuts because that's what they choose.  But if they're craving cookies, we'll make some.  If they're craving cupcakes, we'll make those too.  If they're craving cheap, sugary, artificially dyed confections from the dollar store, I'll drive them.

The question remains though.... What would I do if it went too far and one of my kids suddenly wanted to eat nothing but junk food, white flour, and candy?  It's honestly never been an issue.  They know real food, and they know that that isn't it.  They know that those things don't make them feel good.  And sure, they enjoy candy now and then.  They like ice cream as much as the next guy.  And would they happily eat pizza, pretzels, and potato chips at a Super Bowl party?  You bet.   But because none of it is "forbidden", and they know that they're always free to choose, they've learned to trust themselves, trust their bodies, and trust their instincts.

And I trust too.

I also wrote about food freedom in this post

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Year Without Mirrors


Have you seen this blog?

Mirror, Mirror... OFF The Wall

I came across this the other day, and I found it absolutely fascinating. Like really fascinating. I can't stop reading. You'll definitely want to spend some time there when you're done here (you're welcome), but in a nutshell:

It's written by a woman who formerly worked in the fashion industry, and is currently studying the relationship between "beauty" and equality. The blog is about her year-long experiment - begun 6 months before her wedding - in which she completely gives up mirrors.

I love it. Love the concept, love her writing, love how it makes me think.

Body image and self image and how we perceive beauty in general are such a huge part of our culture. I like to pretend that they aren't, but turning on a television or picking up a magazine or walking just about anywhere in public tells me otherwise.

My kids tell me otherwise too, in ways that break my heart. My 14 year old starting to worry about shaving and acne and what girls will think of his appearance. My 11 year old, who has finally stopped cutting off all his curls because he thought that straight hair was cooler. My three year old little girl, who's already been told by a proud 5 year old cousin: "You're not as skinny as me."

It all makes me sad, and certainly isn't a subject that can be covered (or covered well anyway) in one single blog post. I think I just might write about it some more in the future. In the meantime, check out her blog, and be inspired.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I CU = Intensive Care for the Christian Unschooler. 

I've been ignoring this weekly meme for awhile now, mainly because at the time I first read about it, it felt like another thing to add to my to-do list.  I know me, and I know that if I did it even once, I'd feel the need to do it again and again (not unlike the weekly Plank Pullin' posts, which I finally did just to "try it" and somehow continued, week after week, through some kind of force akin to compulsion.)  But I digress.  It's still a fun idea, and this week I decided to participate because 1)  I've been feeling more than a little uninspired, and could use a writing prompt, and 2) I'm in desperate need of some intensive care.  So without further ado, my first I CU...

“This week we want to…” get healthy!!  Although, that's using the word "we" loosely.  I.  I want to get healthy.  But I'm sure the kids would like it too, because it's a whole lot more fun having a mom that's up and about and running around, than one that's sitting on the couch feeling miserable about the fact that she feels miserable.

“The kids are…” discovering new passions, and re-discovering old ones.  They have been making boffer swords, and have recently gotten out their guitars again.  Spencer's still researching small engine repair, and our kitchen counters are once again taken over by disassembled Nerf gun parts.  Everett is looking forward to scouts and basketball in a couple of weeks, and the girl is excited about gymnastics.

“I am learning….”  that I'm still learning.  And that just when I think I have things figured out, I get a giant, metaphorical, "Ha ha, fooled ya," and I realize that not only do I NOT have it figured out.. but I that I don't even know what it was that I was supposed to be figuring out in the first place.  I'm also learning that the times when I'm experiencing the most growing pains are the times when I'm doing the most growing.

“I am struggling with…”  balance.

“This week is the first time….”  I've shown the movie Gremlins to the kids.  I love that they loved it. 

“I am grateful…” that my caffeine withdrawal headache has finally gone away, after 3 days.  I'm grateful that my coffee beans, grinder, filters, and maker are still there - waiting - for when I'm ready to embrace them once again.

“I’m looking forward to…..”  the Good Vibrations unschooling conference, a week from tomorrow!!  It'll be the first time we've been around a whole group of unschoolers in 5 years, and I cannot wait.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kind People in Red Shirts

We recently started going back to church, after many many logical, sensible, well-thought-out reasons excuses kept us away for many months. I really love this church. And I've realized that it's not because of the great music or the pretty campus or even the inspiring messages. It's not because I leave feeling all warm and fuzzy every Sunday. All that is nice and everything, but it's really of little importance how it makes me feel. The reason I love it is that it's full of people who, by and large, are committed to going out and BEING the church... people who are kind and giving and have servant hearts. Not just on Sundays, not just because they feel like they have to, but because they want to.

This past Saturday, we joined a group of other members from our neighborhood for a service project. Our assignment was to clean out a large planter at the local elementary school, to get it ready for a future sustainable work of art. The kids were very excited to be able to do their part to help, and all six of us were warmly welcomed by the group (none of whom we'd met before) when we got started.

Ironically, shortly into our morning of service, we were the ones getting served. We'd only been there for around half and hour when Spencer misjudged a step, lost his footing and fell from the side of the planter, scraping his legs in the process. At first he answered with a quick affirmative to all the concerned "Are you okay?"s, but eventually accepted an offer to at least sit and get some cool water on his scrapes. As the adrenaline - and the 100+ degree heat - started catching up with him, he grew paler and paler.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked, which garnered the attention of another kind samaritan from the group. He took one look at Spencer's face, which was still losing color, and said we needed to get him inside under some air conditioning. He helped us inside the school, holding cold bottled water against his neck. (He explained as we went that holding it on the carotid artery would cool the body. Later on, Spencer told me that he enjoyed that bit of information, as he is very familiar with the term from watching all his medical shows)

He stood and chatted with us inside the school's office, while Spencer sipped cold water and tried to cool off. He was starting to look a little green, and finally admitted he was feeling nauseous and light-headed. Our rescuer disappeared then, and returned about 30 seconds later with a big dripping wet something that he draped around Spencer's head and neck (which helped almost instantly.) The man had literally taken the shirt off his back and soaked it in cold water to come to the aid of an overheated kid he'd just met. And all I could do was say thank you.

Thank you kind man for making sure my son did not pass out. Thank you half a dozen people who asked, more than once, if he was feeling better.

Thank you for the friendly conversation, and for treating our kids like the interesting, unique people that they are.

Thank you stranger who let my 3 and 7 year old help paint the Arizona map, and made them feel special and important, and didn't once complain about drips or unevenness.

Thank you red shirted people, for welcoming us into your fold, helping us serve the community, and helping each other serve US. Thank you for your unexpected ability, in the short span of two hours, to completely restore my faith in humanity.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plank Pullin': I'm sick. And I'm bad at it.

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style.

I'm not sick very often (weird, random ER visits aside), and when I feel myself getting sick, I can generally fight it off with a little extra Vitamin C and a few more hours of extra sleep. I don't like to let things slow me down, and I sort of pride myself on plowing through. When the kids are sick - also not very often, but it happens - I immediately go into ultra nurturing Supermom mode. When husband is sick, I lovingly take his temperature and bring him Tylenol and tea and remote control.

But when it's me? I have been fighting something off for an entire month now. First it was a sore throat, then the fatigue, then the cough. Oh the cough!!! It goes away for a few days, then comes back with a vengeance. Today came a migraine that left me nauseous and shaky. And it makes me.... mad almost. I don't like being sick. It makes me grumpy. And frustrated. And scattered. And I'm well aware of the fact that if I perhaps gave myself the same patience and care that I give my kids when they are sick, that I'd get well a whole lot sooner (a realization that makes me even more grumpy and frustrated and scattered.)

I know I don't need a doctor... my gut tells me it's nothing more than a lingering virus. But yuck. Have I mentioned that I'm grumpy and frustrated and scattered? Tonight I'm going to bed early, and tomorrow I'm going to start taking care of myself as well as I'd take care of the kids.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No thank you, we'll stay plugged...

Addiction -  noun -  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.  (From dictionary.com)

The CBS show, The Doctors says:  "Studies show that one in 10 kids is seriously addicted to videogames and media, and those who watch more than four hours of TV per day are at greater risk of heart disease as they grow older."

I heard this on their show yesterday (it's also printed on the synopsis on their website) and aside from an initial feeling of annoyance that television is being vilified again... you know what?  Not annoyance.  Boredom.  I'm bored from repeatedly hearing about this kind of study, and frustrated that they don't have something more worthwhile to share with us.  Aside from that, what  immediately comes to mind is questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Exactly what kind of "studies" did they do?  Over what period of time?  And on whom?  Are these all school children who spend most of their day behind desks before they come home and play videogames or watch TV?  Did they include homeschooled kids?  Are they otherwise active?  Do they have other hobbies?  What is their diet like?  What is their relationship with their family like?  How are they defining "addicted?"  

Quite simply, there's not nearly enough information there for me to take it seriously.   But what's really disheartening to me-  about this as well as similar anti-media messages - is that it is based in fear.  So much of what we hear about television, video games, and media in general is so very steeped in fear.  They are evil.  They rot your brain.   They make you violent.  They make you hyper.  They make you lazy.  They cause blood clots and heart disease and obesity.  Not long ago, I left an unschooling group after being told that because I did not limit screen time, I was "encouraging slothfulness, which is the worst kind of sin."  Fear.

I never want to make any decision for my children based on fear.  I never want to place limits on tools and resources (yes - televisions, computers, and video games are resources) that are as valuable as any other, simply because of some vague - albeit widely held - misconceptions about how 'bad' they are.

I don't need to know about facts, figures and studies to be able to learn from what I see and experience in my own home.  In my house, my kids are as free to use the computer, play video games, or watch television as they are to do anything else.  And the truth is, they are not intelligent and creative in spite of it;  they are intelligent and creative in part because of it.  Computer skills in general are an invaluable, and in most cases necessary, facet of our adult lives. We use computers for everything from gathering information to communicating with others to paying our mortgage. Video games are great for practicing cooperative play, critical thinking, math, science, and problem solving. 

And television?  I could write an entire series of posts about what we've learned from television, and still barely scratch the surface.  Television brings an entire world into our living room.  We don't have the means to travel to obscure and beautiful countries... but we can watch Bear Grylls do it.  We don't have the experience or the facilities to scientifically test the validity of widely-held myths... but we can watch the Mythbusters do it.  It can show us how to cook, take us inside an operating room, and let us feel like we're a part of a police investigation.  Or a commercial fishing trip.  Or a journey to the bottom of the ocean.  As for those 'other' shows... the sitcoms, the dramas, the next top model bachelorette housewife idols of America... The great thing about modern day television, and the advent of DVRs, is that we get to choose what we do and do not want to watch.  And aside from entertaining us and making us laugh (which, if you ask me, is no small thing in and of itself), even shows like this are often a catalyst for great conversations with the kids:  about people, about life, about the difference between reality and scripted television.   Learning is truly everywhere.  Television is not an exception.

One of the reasons that a lot of people give for not allowing television is that they want their kids to use their imaginations;  they want them to be more focused on creative play.  But the two are not mutually exclusive!  By all accounts, my kids are some of the most creative kids I know.  My 3 year old can (and does) spend an entire afternoon playing with a leaf, or a baby doll, or her play kitchen.  My 7 year old has never met a science experiment or a magic trick that he did not like.  My 11 year old just took it upon himself to start fashioning swords out of pvc pipe and foam.  My 14 year old likes to take apart and rebuild nerf guns and lawn mowers and engines just for fun.   These aren't mindless zombies who are slaves to electronics... but smart, well-rounded kids who recognize media for what it is:  no more or less than a really cool and useful tool;  one that we're lucky to have. 

Could we live an unplugged life?  Sure.  We do it every time we go camping (and it should be noted, not one of us suffers "severe trauma" because of our cessation) We could live without electronic media. We could live without books too. And music. And poetry.  And running water.  But just because we can, doesn't mean it's somehow preferable.

We live in a world that allows us to surround ourselves with all kinds of things from which to learn:   from people and places and experiences, to books and art and music, to computers and video games and televisions.   It wouldn't make sense to me, living in 2011,  not to avail ourselves ... to learn from, to grow from - and to enjoy - all of the above.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sewing, My Daughter, and Breakthroughs

I sewed diapers for Tegan's Baby Alive doll yesterday. Prior to yesterday, the last time I sewed anything on a sewing machine was around ten years ago. I didn't own a sewing machine then, so I had to borrow one when I wanted to make some curtains. A couple of years later, my mom gave me a brand-new sewing machine because she'd somehow wound up with an extra.... and it has sat, untouched, in my garage until yesterday. Partly because that's just the way I do things, and partly because I had a bad association with sewing.

When I made the curtains on that borrowed machine, there was an... incident. There was an incident, I got my feelings hurt, and I haven't sewed since then.

Is that not the stupidest reason not to do something? But there it was.

I've wanted to conquer my sewing machine for awhile now, and when my daughter needed baby diapers, I knew it was time. So I sewed. And it was fun.

I sewed four diapers in all, and will be making some more today. They're not pretty... they're uneven and messy and quite clearly shout "A novice made me." But my daughter is thrilled, and that makes me happy. It felt good too, to do something I hadn't done in a long time; to do something that I'd been avoiding.

When I'd finished for the night last night, still on a post-project high, I told Mike how glad I was that I'd finally gotten out the sewing machine. And that part of the reason I hadn't done it sooner was because of old feelings from the last time.

"I know."

And then I said, as if it wasn't the millionth time I'd realized it, "I do that a LOT."

Again he said, "I know."

I have spent way too much time letting pride, old wounds, and fear stop me from doing things I want to do. As my friend Jessica says, That's stupid, so I'm not going to do it anymore. That's not an example I want to set for my kids.

Am I going to become a master seamstress? I doubt it, only because there are lots of other things I want to do too. But I'm not afraid of my sewing machine anymore. And the next time Tegan - or any of my children - ask me to sew something, the answer will be a confident, joyful and resounding,

YES. Yes I can.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Words on the Back of a Chair

I had a teacher in Junior High - I'll call her Mrs. Smith - who, looking back, was a great teacher.   She was very passionate, she loved her students, and she sincerely wanted everyone to do well.   She was also very no-nonsense, and ran a very tight ship.   She was not popular with the students.

I remember coming into her classroom one day, and immediately seeing on the chalkboard, in big bold letters:

"Mrs.  Smith is a douche bag.

And it was written in the teacher's handwriting.

One by one, everyone noticed it.  There was giggling, and whispering, and pointing, until someone finally asked her why she'd written it.   She matter-of-factly told us that she'd found it written on the back of one of the chairs, so she wanted to share it with the whole class.  (Then someone asked, "What's a dutch bag?"  And everyone laughed at his expense, and the class got started.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it.)

At the time, I didn't really understand why she did it, except maybe to embarrass or shame the person who'd written it on the chair.  I was amazed that she didn't seem upset about it, and in awe that she shared it with a bunch of 6th grade students.

As an adult though, I get it.  She was just taking back her own power.  She was owning who she was, and who she was not.   She was reducing the words to what they really were:  just words.  Words that said far more about the person who wrote them than about her.  She wasn't defined by those words.  She was the same person before and after she'd ever found those unfortunate words on the back of that chair. 

As a blogger who's made myself a little more public, I've encountered my fair share of "Mrs. Smith is a douche bag" chairs.  And they don't change who I am either.   So following her awesome example,  consider this my virtual chalkboard..... just a few of the comments about (or to) me that I've gotten over the past couple of months:

She's a total fruiter. I think she might just be a terrible writer who is not fabulous at expressing well rounded ideas. You know the airy fairy, wants-to-pretend the world is sunshine & rainbows type. Sorry I'm not buying it.

That blog is an excellent illustration of why I don't read 'mummy' blogs. It's nauseating. 

What a self centered and ultimately destructive way to parent

What a load of crap

I see some very harsh lesson ahead for her poor kids

I could barely gag it down, and in the end I just wanted to smack the author

This chica is waaaay off her rocker

She says she values the relationship she has with her kids.  Pity she's not thinking a little further ahead at the relationships other children WON'T be having with her kids due to their obnoxious behaviour

Absolutely negligent parenting

Oh stop being so sensible. Let us get all hysterical and speculate on her kids growing up to be selfish juvenile delinquents who beat the elderly in their own homes. 

you are a pretty lousy parent if you never show your kids that there are consequences to their actions. Isn't that a life lesson? 

So basically, she's saying that she cares more about having her children like her 100% of the time than she cares about them learning how to treat others.

You are an idiot - and when your child grows up to be a murderer, or beats his wife, or drives drunk into a school, he can just say, "it's only a life" or it's "only a woman", because you'll have taught them that they can do whatever they like & there will be no consequences. 

I understand you don't know what 'grown up' means, you don't know what 'child' means either in your "unparenting" skills. I feel you are just lazy and attached to your computer. Can't make any friends, so you will keep your kids at your side to support you.  As some have said, you are my dear, off your (expletive)ing rocker!

I feel for your kids and your hubby.

Just words on the back of a chair.  I know who I am, and my friends know who I am.  My family knows who I am.  Unkind words on a computer screen don't change that.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Plank Pullin': It's not you, it's me...

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style. 

I have a smart phone. I don't have an iPhone (I tend to be anti-Apple in general). I have an Android, and I love it. I don't actually need a smart phone, but it's one of my very few splurges, and I do like to be able to read my emails, check my Facebook, have access to my Googlemaps, etc etc when I'm on the go.

The one condition - which I put on myself - was that when I got a smart phone, I wouldn't become one of "those" people. The people who choose their phone over actual interactions with the people around them. The people who get so wrapped up in their phones that they are being rude to the waitress who's just trying to give them the daily specials, that they are ignoring their kids who only want a minute of their time, that they are missing out on being present for anything because their relationship with their phone comes first.

I vowed I would never become one of those people, and I haven't. I use my phone, I enjoy my phone... but never at the expense of real-life interactions. I use it, and put it away, sometimes not to look at it again for several hours. And it's oh so easy for me to look down my nose at those attached-at-the-hip smart phone users. Pssssh, I'm not so glad I'm not like that with my phone.

But. Um. I also have a laptop.

My laptop is open all day.  Every day. I am on it - off and on - all day.  Every day.  And it doesn't matter what I logged on to do, whether it's respond to an email or look something up or work on a blog post..... I always end up at the same darn place........

A word about Facebook, if I may:

I think it's invaluable.  I do.  Especially for someone like me, who (partly by design and partly by circumstance) has very, very few "real life" friends who really GET me.   Someone like me, whose default mode of operation is to withdraw from everyone when I'm feeling off.  Someone like me who  - thanks in large part to sites like Facebook - has found the importance of a tribe, and the importance of meaningful interactions with other people.   Through mediums like Facebook, I have been supported, uplifted, and challenged.  I am continually meeting interesting people and reading thought-provoking things.   Especially now that I've brought my blog to Facebook, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for all the amazing people that it's allowing me to come in contact with. 

But (and seriously, grab this plank with me.  It's a big one)  It is a huge distraction for me.  Huge.  I spend a lot of time - not long periods of time, but three minute here and ten minutes there, that ADD UP - that could be much better spent.  And it's not all sunlight and roses either.  Much of it is, if I'm being honest, time-wasting drivel.  For every good article, interesting blog post, and enlightening video is an inane and off-color Obama joke.  Or another person re-posting the same, "99% of you won't repost this" status update.  Or a request for boards to build your barn, or money to fund your mafia, or coins to unlock your secret wonders of the universe. (Disclaimer:  I have nothing against games, or the people who play them)  It's all just a reminder that, despite my best intentions, I have become one of those people.  It just wasn't with my phone. 

I know a lot of people leave Facebook for those very reasons.  I have done it myself for brief periods of time.  I don't think that's the answer (for me) though, because it would be like the proverbial "throwing the baby out with the bath water."  I do think that there's a lot of good to be had from Facebook, to be sure.  But there's a negative too.  I need to tip the scale back to the positive, cut back - waay back - on letting myself get sucked into the drivel, and let the negative fall off the other side. 

And so Facebook, I'm not breaking up with you. But I do think it's time we start seeing other people.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Breastfeeding in Public: Can we stop being stupid?

Fact: Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states.

Fact: 45 states (including Texas) have specifically expressed, written laws further clarifying that a breastfeeding mother has the right to breastfeed her child anywhere and everywhere that she, the mother, has a legal right to be. (Check this link if you're interested in state-by-state laws)

Fact: When employees at the Pure Fitness for Women club in Spring, Texas, asked a breastfeeding mother to move to a more "private" area, they were in fact breaking the law.

Those are facts. This is my opinion: I think it is completely and utterly ridiculous that breastfeeding moms are still, in 2011, having to deal with such ignorance and discrimination. Mothers have only been feeding their babies in this way since THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Long before the modern advent of formula and bottles, long before uptight misguided fitness club employees declared it inappropriate (while fellow patrons looked on in their barely-there lycra and spandex), long before we as a society lost sight of what was good and healthy and normal and right.

We are mammals, and that is how mammals feed their young. That's a fact too. Your personal feelings of disagreement or discomfort can't and don't change biology. It bothers me - literally almost pains me - that people fail to recognize it for what it is: a mother feeding her baby in the way that her body was intended to feed a baby.

In an official statement following the incident, Pure Fitness made the following remarks:

"We have thousands of members' children that do not understand," the club stated. "At that age it is the discretion of the parent to determine if at a kids club age the child should learn about the benefits and reasons for breast feeding. We feel that children should not be exposed to these events without every parent being ok with their child being exposed to the action."

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but am I the only one who recognizes how ignorant - even stupid - these comments sound?

"We have thousands of members' children that do not understand".
Such a tough thing to understand... A mom feeding a child. It's a wonder my non-college educated brain could wrap itself around the concept soon enough to feed my own children. If a child asks, the answer is: "That's how she feeds her baby. It's how I fed you (or if you didn't breastfeed, how Aunt Suzy or Grandma or the neighbor or someone else your child knows fed their baby)" It's not rocket science, folks.

"At that age it is the discretion of the parent to determine if at a kids club age the child should learn about the benefits and reasons for breast feeding."
Benefits and reasons? Sure, a 5 year old doesn't necessarily need a detailed list of the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and child, nor would he even understand it all. But the act of eating and getting nourishment is something even a baby can understand. It is, again, a biological necessity, and one that is appropriate for discussion with any and ALL ages. Is there honestly a mother out there who would not want her child to know about the "benefits and reasons" for breastfeeding?

"We feel that children should not be exposed to these events without every parent being ok with their child being exposed to the action." I feel like I'm just repeating myself now, but "these events", this "action" in question was a MOM FEEDING HER BABY. Can I say that again?

This was a mom feeding her baby.

She was exercising her right - both her human right and the right given to her by law - to feed her hungry child.

She wasn't doing anything wrong.
She wasn't doing anything indecent.
She wasn't doing anything inappropriate.
She wasn't doing anything illegal.

She was feeding a child. And she was asked to leave.

It's 2011. I'd like to think I live in the real world, most of the time, but I'm having a very hard time understanding why we haven't come further than this. We should be informed by now. We should be enlightened by now. Can we please, please, stop being so stupid?

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Does anyone remember reading this book as a kid? I remember the book well, and I remember a 6th grade creative writing assignment (I remember a LOT of creative writing assignments in eery detail) where we had to write our own version. Mine involved throwing an alarm clock in frustration and accidentally hitting my dad, pouring milk on my cereal only to find out it was spoiled, and falling out an open window at school.

I always think of that book on days like yesterday... days marred by not one big lousy thing, but a succession of many many little lousy things. The kind of day that when, at 4:00 in the afternoon, you finally get your first chance to sit down for a tenth of a second (on the bathroom floor no less, because taking a bath is the absolute only thing that the three year old wants to do), your seven year old promptly kicks over your entire cup of coffee in his haste to join his sister in the tub. The kind of day when you spend a good two minutes with a wet pair of shorts, just staring at the tan puddle spreading across the tile from said cup of coffee, because you're literally too tired to do anything about it. The kind of day when you actually dread leaving your post on the cold bathroom floor - as uncomfortable as it is - because you don't want to face the mess that awaits in the rest of the house.

The kind of day when you finally and gratefully go to bed after a warm meal, in your comfortable house in your safe neighborhood... after you kiss your four healthy kids goodnight and turn out the lights... and there's nothing you can do but thank God that even on the bad days, your life's pretty damn good.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Monday, August 15, 2011

1,000 Giveaway WINNERS

Thanks to everyone who came out and made the giveaway such a fun one! I can't wait to do another :) Here is the list of winners. Please note that if your name has an asterick by it, it means that I don't have an email address for you. Please send me a message with your email, so that I can get you in touch with the person who has your item!  The rest of you should be receiving emails soon.  :)

Thanks everyone!

Scribblet - Katrina
Cookies - Nichole
Earrings - Dawn (jenzacry)
Necklace - Shannon
Headband - Cori*
Life Coaching - birthbee
Stool - Tara R
Lip Balm - jboring

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Friday, August 12, 2011

I peed on the potty, YAY!


Do you use a toilet?

I'm going to take a stab and say that if you're reading this that 1) you do in fact use a toilet and that 2) you generally make it to the toilet in time, without anyone's reminder or assistance (barring any illness or special circumstance).

Do you know when it was that you started using it? Do you know when your friends or coworkers or classmates started using it? Again, I'm going to take a stab and guess that you do not. Even if we *did* know, it's not something we really talk about. (Well, wait. I do know a few adults who talk about bodily functions more than is normally considered socially acceptable... but that's neither here nor there) It's just a normal, biological, every-day sort of thing that every man, woman and child takes time out of his or her day to attend to. It's of absolutely zero importance when you started doing it.

So here's what I'm wondering:

Why, when we know that it's something that everyone's going to eventually do anyway, do parents make themselves, their child, and oftentimes everyone around them crazy over the process of potty training? Why act as though it's some sort of contest? Why the pressure, the sticker charts, the rewards, the punishments, the rush? What on earth is the BIG RUSH?

I have four children. As of just a few days ago, all four of them use the toilet all day, every day. Like with anything else, it was an individual journey for each of them.

With #1, I think I got lucky... I didn't really do anything that I'd now consider "right", but I didn't really do anything I'd consider wrong either. He easily made the transition when he was around 2.5

With #2, I bungled it six ways to Sunday. He simply wasn't ready at the same age as my first. He passed three. He passed three and half. He adamantly refused to even try it. It stressed me out. I stressed HIM out. I tried many of the things I mentioned above (things I cringe to think about now): I cajoled, I bribed, I made sticker charts, I pressured. The more I pushed, the more he resisted. It wasn't until he turned four that I finally asked myself, "What am I doing?" Was his being potty trained by a certain age (which wasn't happening anyway) more important than our relationship, or more important than treating him with respect, or more important than allowing him his right to autonomy over something as personal as using the bathroom? I let go of the stress, released him of my pressure, and said what I should have said all along: He'll do it when he's ready. And very shortly after that, he did. I promised myself that if I was ever blessed with more kids, I wouldn't make the same mistakes again. And true to my word, when #3 and #4 became toddlers, I remembered what I'd learned.

Everett's been using the toilet for a good 4 or 5 years now, but since the girl is still new to whole pottying scene, I thought I'd share the intricate method that got her there while it was still fresh in my mind.


1. I waited until she was ready.

2. .... that's it. I waited until she was ready.

A few weeks ago, we forgot to buy diapers and we ran out (and when I say forgot, I mean we literally forgot, not a calculated, purposeful "forgot") I don't remember the exact circumstances, but they were such that we couldn't run out and get her more diapers at the moment, so we told her she'd need to use the toilet. And she did, all day, without a problem. After that, she still wanted her diapers, but she started to use the toilet more and more. She was proud of herself; she told me how easy it was. She started wearing underwear just as often as diapers. This past Tuesday, we all went out to an amusement park. She was all dressed, wearing underwear, and I asked her if she wanted to change before we left (she'd never left the house without a diaper before) She told me no, and I told her to let us know if she had to use the bathroom when we were there. She used their bathroom like she'd been doing it all her life, and that was that.

She's been in underwear ever since.

We bought her a new doll she's been wanting in celebration... not in a "if you keep your underwear dry, we'll buy you a baby" kind of way, but in the same way I'd bake cupcakes for my husband to celebrate a promotion, or any other life event that he's proud of. She is proud, as it's still a big deal to her. I'm celebrating that, and enjoying that, because I know it won't last long. I know that it'll just be a matter of time before she's as blasé as the rest of us. (When was the last time you heard an adult proclaim, "I peed on the potty! Yay!"?)

As much as parents can stress about it when it comes to their toddlers, and conversely take it for granted when it comes to adults, it's a milestone. One that she met easily and naturally in her own way in her own time, because she was given the space to do so.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Plank Pullin': I'm a Mess

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style.

Sometimes people ask me for advice.

I like giving advice when I'm asked. There's just something... satisfying... something that feels *right* about being able to look at a situation from the outside, see it clearly, and be able to say, "This is what I see. This is what I think. This is what I've experienced." To believe even for a second that something you said HELPED someone, that something you said MATTERED to someone.

Now, keep in mind that I have no idea if I actually give good advice. Most of the time I don't hear back from the person asking, so for all I know they could be out there thinking, "This chica is waaay off her rocker." (That's a direct quote from my all-time favorite piece of "fan" mail, and the one that handed me the biggest laugh.) But I do get asked from time to time, and I do enjoy giving it.

The scary thing is:

I am the worst person EVER to be giving anyone advice. I'm sort of a mess.

I never sleep. I'm addicted to caffeine. I've had ongoing issues with both anxiety and depression. My husband is always on standby to talk me down from whatever my current freak-out may be, whether it's the anticipation of seeing people that I find stressful, or how we're going to be able to afford t-ball registration, or simply our current state of housekeeping. And inside my head? Have you ever seen a movie where someone is on some sort of drug trip and there are all these rapid-fire flashes of different thoughts and images and movement, one right after the other? That's what it's like to be inside my head (except I don't do drugs, aside from the aforementioned caffeine.) And the fact is, I'm not drawn to things like yoga and meditation and peaceful parenting because I'm a naturally calm person..... but because I'm not.

With the exception of unschooling and parenting (and by extension this blog, where I write about unschooling and parenting), I have no earthly clue what I want to do when I grow up. It's not that I have no ideas; it's that I have oh so many ideas. And because I have a tendency to both jump headlong into whatever interests me at the moment AND get bored quickly before I move on to something else, my house is a mess too. My desk is stacked with books I've yet to read, projects I've yet to finish, and the coursework I'm supposed to be studying to take my personal trainer certification test. My closets are filled with discarded lip balm and craft supplies. There is a huge box containing over 100 DVDs in my living room, because I suddenly decided I really needed to start buying and selling them on Ebay again. I'm still unsure if I'm going to participate in NanoWriMo again this November, or write an e-book (or three), or sign up for yoga teacher training, or enroll to finish my bachelors in Holistic Health. I Just. Don't. Know.

And the thing is, if it were any of my kids with this confusion, I'd answer them confidently and sincerely with reassurance:

You don't have to worry. It'll all work out. Take each day as it comes. The beauty isn't in the figuring it all out (and no one really figures it all out anyway) but in the journey.

I absolutely believe all of the above, and some days, I even think I have a handle on it. But most other days, well, I'm still a mess.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Passage of Time

Last night, we took the kids to a local amusement/sports park, because they've been wanting to ride the go-carts. All-you-can-ride wristbands are super reduced on Tuesdays, so we got one for each of them, and set them loose.

Tegan was tall enough for the mini go-carts this time, but couldn't quite get the hang of the gas pedal and steering at the same time, so she only took one lap. She did however love the bumper bumps and the miniature golf and the water balloon launching.

The big boys didn't want to play miniature golf, so they rode the go-carts again and again while we played with the two youngest. One loop of the track was close to the golf course, so every now and then I would look up and see them.... smiling, happy, red-faced blurs zipping around the corner. I realized as I watched them that the last time we went to this particular park (two years ago) Paxton wasn't even close to the height requirement to drive alone, and Spencer was still nervous to be anything but a passenger. But here they were, two brothers who are growing up, happy and confident to be off on their own and racing around the go-cart track.

And unbeknownst to me, Everett had graduated to playing mini golf the "right" way (instead of the "put the ball right near the hole and carefully push it in" method still employed by Tegan. :)) Then there was Tegan... who, when I had this realization, was off at the restroom with Mike, because she'd (successfully) worn underwear on at outing for the very first time.

We capped off the evening with Icees, then went to the store so Tegan could pick out the new baby we'd promised her in celebration of using the potty full-time.

Looking so much older than her 3.5 years...
She was so excited to get home and start playing with it.  Spencer was excited when we got home too, because FedEx had left the package of DVDs, books, and tools that he's been anxiously waiting for:

A little light reading
It all makes me feel sad, and happy, and wistful all at the same time. My kids are growing up.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Children Are Not Baked Goods

So you want to make a cake.

You consult your recipe, you lay out all your ingredients, and you preheat your oven. You meticulously follow each and every step... carefully measuring, pouring, and mixing. You dot your i's and cross your t's and lovingly place it in the oven.

With a little bit of luck, your cake will rise. It will be moist and springy, flavorful but not too sweet. You'll look at its beautiful exterior and lightly golden hue and you'll pronounce yourself a fabulous baker. So fabulous, in fact, that when you want to make the exact same cake again and don't have the same ingredients, you'll try to wing it. You'll leave out the eggs. You'll substitute oil for butter. You'll use flour made from almonds instead of wheat. You'll sweeten it with honey instead of sugar.

It won't work.

But I'm such a great baker! I had such a terrific recipe! I had such high hopes!

The fact is, you can't bend the will of a set of ingredients to make them into the cake that you envisioned. It doesn't work that way.

And parenting doesn't work that way either. Children are not baked goods. They don't come to us as a set of raw ingredients that we then fashion into something of our own choosing.

Children are fruit.

An apple growing on a tree knows what to do. It grows, all on its own. It does not exist to serve as a potential pie or cider or muffin, but rather as a perfect piece of growing fruit right. now. From the moment that it came into being, it already knew what it was going to be... how big or how small, how red or how green, how tangy or how sweet. It's not ever going to be exactly like the one next to it, and we wouldn't expect it to be. It is unique and beautiful and whole just as it is.

Our job then isn't to try to mix it and change it and create something with it... our job is to simply nurture it, and let it do its thing.

Our job is to give it warmth, shelter, and nourishment. Our job is to lovingly tend to its needs, protect it from harm, and ultimately give it space to grow. Sometimes.... well, sometimes we get to sit back and just... watch. Watch and enjoy how big and how strong and how amazing our little apple has become.

And an apple (or a child or a street sweeper or a brain surgeon) that's appreciated and valued and accepted for what it is - and not what we try to make it - will always be infinitely better, and happier, than anything we could have possibly created from the sum of its parts.

Like the Path Less Taken on Facebook


Related Posts with Thumbnails