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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Unschooling FAQ

Compiled from the real-life questions I often get myself, plus suggestions from others. I've made this post a permanent page as well, so if you'd like to share it, you can also send people here. :) Have a question not answered here? Send it!

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is a philosophy that allows that given a rich, interesting environment, and attentive, supportive parents, that learning will happen naturally.  To believe in unschooling is to believe that true learning happens best when it arises from the experiences and interests of the learner, not from an imposed curriculum or a teacher or a parent.  As unschooling parents, we don't act as teachers, but as facilitators and partners.  We do not separate the day into subjects, or into school time, or play time, or learning time.  We live as if school does not exist.  We live our lives and we learn from it.

While some people will call unschooling a method of homeschooling, I believe that this implies that it is something that is done to children, and I prefer to think of it as the manner in which we live and interact with our children.

What's the difference between unschooling and 'radical' unschooling?

Generally speaking,  the basic term 'unschooling' refers only to the type of self-directed, life-learning from the previous question, but does not  take into account different types of parenting.   For example, many people will use the term 'unschooling' to define their style of homeschooling... but will still otherwise exert a lot of controlling, punitive rules, regulations, and externally imposed structure on their children.   With 'radical' unschooling, there is a complete paradigm shift away from a traditional, authoritative, "I'm the parent and I said so" type of  parenting to one of mutual respect and partnership.    Radical unschoolers won't have chore charts, enforced bedtimes, or time-out chairs.  They live and work together as a family unit, and strive to simply treat each other as they'd like to be treated.... with respect and kindness.

Why does the label matter?

It doesn't.  I, along with lots of unschoolers, would keep doing exactly what we're doing regardless of what its called.  For us, it's just a way of life.  But for the sake of clarity, it makes sense to realize and recognize that there is a world of difference between someone who says they unschool simply because they don't use a curriculum;  and someone who has embraced and lives the whole life philosophy that is referred to as 'radical' unschooling. 

What do you do all day?

We live!  We play, we read, we build things, we research, we watch movies, we play games, we do science experiments, we talk, we discuss, we run errands, we take care of the animals, we bake things, we make things, we go to museums, we sit and run and play outside, we do yard work, we go to the library, we go to the park, we invent things, we work on projects, think and postulate and try and learn...

Is unschooling a new concept?

Not at all.  Families have been living and working and playing and learning together since the beginning of time.... long before it was called "unschooling."  John Holt was writing about unschooling and educational reform four decades ago.  It is not a trend, or a fad, but simply something that has always been done by lots of mindful families.

Is unschooling legal?

Unschooling, which falls under the broader umbrella of homeschooling, is legal in all fifty states, and in many countries.   The specifics of each state vary (some states require book keeping or portfolios, some ask for yearly evaluations, some have mandated testing) so you need to be aware of your own state's laws, as well as your rights as a homeschooling parent.  You can look up your state's laws here

Should Christians unschool?

I know wonderful unschoolers who are Christians, Atheists, and everything in between.  

I've read a lot of negative things about why Christians should not unschool (something about some taken-out-of-context scriptures about "training up" a child) but I have not found anything about unschooling that is at odds with my faith.  In fact, the longer I unschool, the more I wholly believe that they both enhance and strengthen each other.  Jesus loved children, and he treated them with such kindness, dignity, and respect.  He told us to become like children!   At its heart, unschooling is about honoring children as the unique individuals that they are, which is exactly what Jesus did.  He also taught us to have love for Him, and for others, something that plays an integral part in how I live, and how I parent.  To take it further, Jesus was not a dictator but a friend to children (and to adults for that matter)  He walked with them, talked with them, told them stories, and helped them.  He essentially was an unschooler.   And finally, the Bible is a book about the FREEDOM we have in Christ.  As a Christian unschooler, I am raising my children in that same freedom.

What if my child just wants to play video games all day?

I'm going to ask you to do something.  Read that question again, only replace the words "play video games" with "read books."  Do you feel differently about the question?  If you do, you're still looking at unschooling with a traditional "school" mindset.  Truly understanding unschooling means an entire shift in perspective, to one in which there is no distinguishing between a learning activity and a non-learning activity.  Learning is everywhere and in everything.  Playing video games is as valuable a learning tool as anything else.   Now, let's say that your child does play video games all day, and you give him or her the freedom to do so.  A couple of things could happen:  Chances are, because he's been giving the freedom to choose, the child will explore it until he's had his fill (whether that means for a day or a week or a month), then move on to something else.    It will then become just like any other option... something he could take or leave, enjoy in moderation, or avoid altogether.  Or maybe it'll turn into a true passion, something he continues to explore and learn from for a long time to come.  Maybe it'll turn into a future career.  Or maybe it will be the catalyst that leads to other interests and areas of exploration.  In any case, while it's unlikely that your child will do any one thing all day every day for any length of time, it's not a bad thing if he does.  When someone is free to choose, what may look to someone else like an "obsessive" amount of time spent on one activity, may well in fact be a normal, healthy, and important step in that person's personal path to growth and learning.

How will they learn to read and write if I don't teach them?

Babies learn to walk and talk without being taught.  They learn because that's what people do.  "Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns."  (John Holt)  People learn.  They learn because they're surrounded by walking and talking people who (one would hope) love them, and support them, and help them.  Reading and writing are no different.  When children are immersed in a literate world filled with the written word, they learn.  When children have parents who read to them, read with them, write with them, draw with them, play with them...  they learn.

What about math? 

Basic math is virtually everywhere.  You would have to make a conscious effort to keep your kids from math if you didn't want them learning it.   We use math every day, in a myriad of ways, so the kids learn it easily, and naturally.  It looks different than the math they would do in school, to be sure, because they are doing it in a practical, functional way.  They are learning it as they are actually using it, instead of just filling in a worksheet or repeating it back on a test.  As for higher level math, such as algebra or trigonometry (which are things that a lot of potential home/unschoolers worry about), if they're like me, they will never even use it.  If they do have a need or a desire to learn it, they'll learn it the same way they learn anything else.... in their own time, in their own way;  whether it's self taught through a book or a website, or shown to them by a parent or a friend.  The difference will be that they won't be resistant to learning it, because it will be something they are ready and willing and to learn.

It should be noted too, that John Taylor Gatto (a former New York city school teacher) tells us that "reading, writing, and arithmetic really only take around 100 hours to transmit, as long as the audience is eager and willing to learn. "   100 hours.  Less than three weeks worth of a full-time job.  What then, are these kids doing in school all day, for twelve years?

Can I unschool certain subjects, and use a curriculum for the rest?

You can do anything you want to.  But if you're still dividing learning into subjects, and  insisting that certain things need to be taught, you're not unschooling. 

How do you know they're learning if you don't test them?

If they're engaged, and living, and breathing... they're learning.  When you learn to cook a new meal, or knit yourself a scarf, or play a new game, do you test yourself at the end to see if you've learned it?  Of course not.   You eat it, or wear it, or play it.... and you know you've learned.  I know my kids are learning because I see them learning.

How will I know they're learning everything they need to know in order to be successful?

You won't.  The fact is, no one knows what another person in going to need to learn in order to fulfill his or her personal destiny.  Schools don't have a magic set of "must know" facts and skills that if you learn and memorize you're guaranteed to be successful.  They can't know what today's child is going to need in the future.  Our children today could one day be working at jobs that haven't even been invented yet.   What you can know is that by giving them the freedom to learn in their own way, in their own time, that they will retain their natural love of learning, and their natural desire to learn more.  They will be confident and eager and able to learn what they need to know when they need to know it, no matter what career path they decide to pursue.

What if my child is resistant to learning? And similarly, what if my child is 7, 8, 9 and still not reading?

Children have a natural love of learning.  It's what they do.  If they're resistant to learning, it's because they've been forced or coerced or otherwise just not ready to learn that particular thing at that particular time.   And reading, like anything else, comes at different times for different people.  There is not a magic window that exists in which we have to learn how to read or the opportunity will be lost.  Lots of kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are not ready to read at 6.  The difference is, when they're in school they're labeled as "slower" learners, and made to endure extra practice, special classes, more homework, tutoring, etc, because they must.  catch.  up.  It damages their self-esteem, squashes that natural love of learning, and turns something that should be fun (reading should be fun!) into a painful and difficult chore.  And for what?  Maybe that child would have learned to read easily, naturally, if they were allowed to do so in another 6 months, or a year.  Or two.   And let's say one child begins reading at age four, and another begins reading at age nine.  When they're both thirty, would you be able to tell which was which?  They both can read!

The beauty of unschooling is that the children get to learn at their own pace, in their own way, in their own time.

What if my child has special needs?

By its very nature, unschooling is an absolutely unique and personal journey for every individual child.  Because of the structures and limitations of school, classes need to be aimed at sort of the "average" student.  Anyone who is different from the norm in any way (which is most of us) is then segregated.  There are honors classes and remedial classes.  Special ed and resource rooms.  Tutors and extra credit.  Kids are labeled as gifted or slow.  They are either made to feel that they need to "catch up," or pressured into feeling like they have to "get ahead."   That segregation does not exist in unschooling.  Kids are allowed to be who they are... and they live, work and play with others of all ages, abilities, and differences.

Unschooling, can be, and IS, a respectful alternative for any child, of any and all abilities.

How will they learn to respect authority?

Unschoolers, like everyone else, behave as well as they are treated.  They treat people with the same amount of respect that they are given, and that they are shown as their parents interact with others.    We show them, through both words and actions, what respect means, and what it doesn't.  Do I think they'll grow up and automatically follow the lead of anyone with more age or power, without questioning it, and without checking it against their own moral compass?  No, and I wouldn't want them to.   But they do treat people with respect... both because they see us doing so, and because they themselves are treated with respect.

How will they get into college?

Unschoolers get into college the same way anyone else gets into college.  They research their chosen college/s, find out what they need to do for admittance, and they do it!  They prepare a transcript, they study for any exams they need to take, they write their essays.  And because they're not spending their days in middle or high school, they have the opportunity to attend college even earlier than "normal" if they so choose.  A friend of mine has a fourteen year old unschooler who has taken, and enjoyed, more than one college class.

How will they adapt to a college environment if they've never been in school?  How will they be able to get and keep a job if they've never had any kind of structure?

I think one huge misconception that exists about unschoolers is that they never do anything that involves a set schedule, or any structure, or any rules.... that they just sort of free-flow through life, and are ignorant to what it means to adhere to an outside set of fixed circumstances.   While it certainly could be true for some unschoolers (just like it could be true for anyone else) I have not personally seen it.  Life is full of schedules and structure, and unschoolers adapt to it like everyone else.  They do things like cub scouts and little league.  They take art classes and guitar lessons and gymnastics.  They show up for their dentist appointments.  They make it to church on time.  They've even been known to set an alarm when they want to get up at a certain hour.   Heading off to college or starting a new job is an adjustment for anyone, but unschoolers are as prepared for the challenge as anyone... perhaps even more so, because they are used to following their own intrinsic motivation that got them there in the first place. 

How will they ever _______, if I don't make them ________?

This is a very, very common question, and it kind of makes me sad.  It seems to be built on the negative supposition that kids are inherently lazy and unmotivated, and wouldn't possibly do anything on their own unless they were forced to do it.  I actually think the opposite is true... making someone do something does not create motivation at all, but rather resistance, and eventually resentment.  Even now, as an adult, I still feel that resistance towards things that I was forced to do.  That little part of me that wants to stand up and say, "try and make me."  My children willingly do all kinds of things that people think must be forced in order to learn....  from taking out the trash if they are asked, to brushing their teeth at night, to using "please" and "thank you," despite never having been prompted with "What do you say?"   They do them because they want to do them, because they respect me and respect themselves.  They do them because they are happy and confident people... and happy and confident people have an inner desire to behave in a certain way, both for themselves and for the people around them.

How will they learn to function in the real world?

This always make me chuckle a little bit.  Unschoolers live in the real world, right now, and for their whole lives.   They are living in it, and learning from it.  For those of us who went to school, we spent 12+ years in the artificially created environment of school, and then were thrust into the "real world," at 18 or 22 years old.  There's no such thing as having to enter the real world for an unschooler, because they're already there. 

How can I unschool without teaching experience? What if they want to learn about things I don't know about?

When you send your kids to school, do you think that their teacher knows everything?  Do you think that their teacher has the answer to every question that they might ask?  I say that with no disrespect towards teachers.  But teachers are human, like the rest of us.  No one knows everything.  No one has all the answers.  My kids ask me things that I don't know ALL THE TIME.  And together, we find the answers.  I learn from, and with, and beside my kids daily.   They don't need to be shown how to learn... kids know how to learn.  What they need is an attentive and supportive and patient partner and facilitator.  Someone who will answer their questions.  Someone who will provide them with the experiences, people, places, and materials with which they need to learn.  Someone who will help them when they need help, and leave them alone when they don't.  If you can do all those things, you can unschool.

I find it somewhat odd and confusing that as a society we think we're qualified to help them learn as they are babies... as they learn to talk, and walk, and count, and recognize circles... and then they  reach a magical, mythical age, and we stop being qualified and need to send them to someone else to learn?  It honestly doesn't make sense to me. 

How can I unschool if I have to work? How can I unschool if I'm a single parent?

Lots of unschooling families have two working parents, and find a way to make it work.  They may work staggered schedules so one parent is always home, one may work part time only, they may work from home, they may run their own family businesses.   And while it may take more determination, and surely more creativity, many single parents unschool as well.  One single mom I know runs a small daycare from her home.  Another sells Mary Kay.  Another earns a (modest) living as a freelance writer.  All while spending their days with their children.  I'll be really blunt when I say that if you're a single parent and your goal is lots of money and lots of "stuff" and a certain standard of living, and the ability to home/unschool, you might waste your whole life waiting for the opportunity to do so.  If, however, you simply want to stay and learn with your children, and be able to provide for them with a safe and comfortable home, food on the table, and clothes on their backs... there are many creative ways to make it happen.   People make it happen.

What about socialization?

Spending the day in a room with 20 other kids of the same age and roughly the same ability is not socialization.  Your children's opportunity for real socialization increases ten-fold when they are not in school.  You can read more here.  

Will unschooling make my kids weird or different?  Will they stick out of a crowd? 

If you're doing it right! ;)  If you want cookie-cutter children, you definitely won't want to unschool.

How do I start?

If your kids are still young, and have not yet gone to school, great!  Keep doing what you're doing.  Read to them, play with them, support their interests.  Expose them to new people, new places, new things to do.    TRUST... trust the children, and trust yourself.  Read, read, and read some more about unschooling, mindful parenting, and alternative education.

If your kids are in school, and you decide to take them out, you will both have to first go through a period of "deschooling."   Your kids will need to decompress, and rest, and likely need to learn to love learning again.  There's a rule of thumb that for every year your child spent in school, you should give them one month of deschooling time.... time to just BE.  Time to sleep.  Time to read.  Time to zone out.  Time to find out what it is they want from their education.  And if they're burnt out, time to recover.  Give yourself, and your child, time.  Talk.  Wait.  Watch.  Listen.

Where can I learn more?

I thought you'd never ask!  First, go to your library and check out everything they have by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, as well as the growing number of books written for new unschoolers.  You can visit my Amazon store for recommendations of specific titles.

And get lost in the world of some of the best unschooling websites (in no particular order)

Joyfully Rejoycing

Sandra Dodd

Learn in Freedom 


The Underground History of American Education

John Holt 

John Taylor Gatto 

And finally, take some time to peruse these blogs by unschoolers who are living, learning, and writing about it:

Bohemian Bowmans 

Show Us The World

With the Family

Learning Through Living

The Sparkling Martins

Sandra Dodd

I'm Unschooled.  Yes, I Can Write.

Unconventional Christian

a bona fide life

Swiss Army Wife


Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm Not Perfect

Since I've been blogging every day for nearly a month now, I've gotten more readers and more followers and more feedback... which is good! And over the past couple of weeks especially, I've received some truly lovely and unexpected emails from people, telling me how certain things I have said or written have touched them in some way. It makes me feel wonderful, but it also makes me feel.... undeserving. And I won't be able to sleep tonight unless I make a confession:

I don't have all the answers.

In fact, I am going through something specific with my six year old right now that has me absolutely flummoxed. I'm not sure how to handle it, and we are currently in the try a little, wait a little, pray a little mode. I very, very, rarely ask anyone for advice, and in this case I have shared with exactly one person whom I trust to help me figure it out.

And I'm still figuring. I know that we'll get there, and I know that there is a gentle, respectful answer; I just don't know what it is yet. And I thank God for the wonder that is the internet, and for my ever growing group of mom friends who know me and know how very, very much I love and adore these kids.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


"Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die."

– John Taylor Gatto

Friday, January 28, 2011

Too Much Perfection

There's a scene in the movie Bed of Roses (which, if you haven't seen, is not a movie you need to run out and watch.... unless you're a fan of weepy chick flicks and/or Mary Stuart Masterson and Christian Slater) where the two main characters are walking and talking about roses.  She tells him that she sort of likes that they have thorns, because otherwise they would just be too perfect.  He tells her that he thinks there's no such thing as too much perfection, and later sends her a bunch of roses with a card thanking her for their day of "too much perfection."  Aww. 

I think of that phrase sometimes, on the days when everything just... aligns.  It's not even on the most unusual days, or exciting days, but on the happy days.   On the days when we're all just engaged and alive and in the moment.

Today was one of those days.

We had a lazy morning, then packed up the dog and headed to my sister's.  We got there just as the Barro's pizza guy was arriving, and enjoyed a few slices of pizza and warm chocolate chip cookies (which, it should be noted, that I insanely LOVED, even though they had ground bits of nuts in them.  Sneaky sister)  Then we headed out on walk through the wash up to a playground the kids and I have never been to before.

The playground was one of the cool ones... not your traditional swings and slides, but strange and creative and climbable works of art.

After everyone had had their fill of climbing and spinning, we headed back to the house for icecream, taking a different path than we'd taken before.  We encountered a little river of mud, and the kids quickly went to work making a bridge for us to get over it (after they'd amused themselves by muddying up their own shoes)

Back at the house, my nephew was thrilled, the jumping and squealing kind of thrilled, to find that the ants for his new ant habitat had been delivered. 

So we spent the next hour watching the ants, rooting them on as they explored a tiny corner of their new environment.

We finished up the visit as we usually do... outside, with the kids playing in the common area (and using the wagon as a luge to fly down the hill) and the dogs running laps around the grass.

And when we finally went home, it was my turn for squealing and jumping, when I found that not only had this been delivered:

but that Mike had also gotten it all set up and ready for me.

We had Subway for dinner, and all relaxed into our own projects for the rest of the evening.

Too much perfection.

50 Best Blogs in the Unschooling Movement

50 Best Blogs in the Unschooling Movement

Lots of really great blogs on here.  Especially number 2.  I like 2.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Evolution of a Blog (and of me)

I started blogging in December of 2004, just because I thought it'd be a fun thing to do.  This was my very first post.  I really just started out blogging about our life, like a journal.  I set it to private and shared it with approximately 3 people.  I'm not exaggerating.

A couple of years later, I still had it private, but I had maybe a few dozen readers.  I'd gradually lightened up, and opened up, and found myself sharing a lot more personal things about myself and my life with my family.  And then something happened and I kind of freaked out.  I find out that someone was sharing my posts.  Remember that my blog was still private, so people had to be invited to read it.  Someone was copying and pasting my posts for other people to read.  It was not done with any malice or bad intent.  It was simply someone wanting to share with others.  And the ironic thing was, if the people who were receiving these forwarded posts had asked, I would have gladly added them to the list!  It was just the idea of something private being copied and pasted and passed around.  It made me feel..... violated and icky.

So I freaked out.  I stopped short of deleting my blog, but I did remove everyone from my reader list.  I was then blogging just for myself.  Which was kind of stupid.  I already had a private journal.  And the whole reason I'd started it in the first place was because I thought it'd be a fun thing to share with other people.  And I stopped sharing it because... I got a little panicky about the fact that an extended family member read Tegan's birth story?

So I got a grip.  And my new solution to my feelings of weirdness of having my stuff shared was the exact opposite of what my first inclination had been.  Instead of keeping it private (which, quite honestly, was a pain.  I hated having to manually send people invites all the time), I made it completely public.  That way, I would know, for better or worse, that it was "out there."  It was in the blogosphere, and anyone who stumbled upon it could have at it.  Which meant that I couldn't feel strange or embarrassed or violated in any way if someone shared it.   Just because I was openly sharing about our life, did not mean I was openly sharing our WHOLE life.  I was still me.

And it was good.

I added the link to my email signature, and I gave it out a little more freely.  I started blogging more about unschooling and parenting and more "controversial" topics, rather than strictly sticking to slice-of-life stories of the kids.

I soon saw people sharing their blogs all over Facebook, but I wasn't quite there yet.

Here's the thing:  the part of me that makes me ponder everything, the part of me that makes me like to write and think and analyze and sort of dig deep inside my head... that same part makes me really, really sensitive.  When I'm writing I can feel powerful and passionate and bold.... but the fact remains that in person, when you take away the keyboard, I'm still that painfully shy girl in school.  The quiet one you probably wrote off as being conceited.  The one who would have loved to be your friend, but who wore walls of self-preservation a mile thick.  The one who was just desperately afraid of getting hurt.

The reason writing is always so personal to me is because it's ME, without my walls.    Sharing my writing is sharing ME, warts and all.

I share that simply to show what a big deal it was for me to start sharing my posts on Facebook.  I don't know what made me finally do it really, except maybe a desire to join the party.  So many great moms and unschoolers were writing, and sharing, amazing things.  The first post I ever posted on Facebook was Attachment Parenting:  Freedom and Joy, which I wrote last November.  I followed it up with Offensive, Defined, and was so humbled and excited to see a few people share it.    I got a couple of random and unexpected emails from people telling me they enjoyed my blog, which touched me more than I can say.

And then, I got my first negative response.  And then another.  And then another.   (It's not so much the disagreeing.  I am absolutely, 100% comfortable with the fact that I am weird and that people will disagree.  It's the disagreeing and being mean about it that gets to me.)  And just like that I was that freaked out little girl again, with my feelings hurt and wanting to take my ball and go home.

But this time I won't go home.  I'll stand my ground here in my little corner of the web, and I'll think what I think and I'll write what I write, because it's just what I do.  With that in my mind, today I took my final step of putting myself "out there", and made a Facebook page.  As of this writing, I have 5 whole fans. :)

The Path Less Taken

And in the grand tradition of "speak your mind even if your voice shakes," I'll speak my mind, and you can rest assured that my voice is shaking.

And when you're reading my shaky voiced blogs:
If you read something that you like, please tell me.
If you read something you that you want to talk about, please tell me.
If you read something that you think is straight up crazy, please tell me.

But please, please, be nice.  The scared little girl in the corner thanks you.

They Write

I have no idea what this means, and am unclear of the context that surrounds it... but it made me laugh.

Spencer found this note on his bed this morning, left by his brothers:

Yes Virginia, unschoolers really do learn to read and write.  Without ever having been taught.

Mackenzie's Mother

This morning I went back to the dentist. The dentist where I encountered Natalie's Mother.  It was 6:45 in the morning, which in my very humble opinion is just way too early to be, well, anywhere... but particularly at the dentist.  So it was early, and chilly (hush, all you people who live on the east coast.  It was chilly for me with my now thinned Arizona blood) and I was sitting waiting to be called when another mom came in with a beautiful little blonde-haired, blue-eyed four year old.

The mom clearly had a cold, or allergies or something, because she kept blowing her nose.  And there was some kind of snafu with her insurance paperwork.  She was up and down at least half a dozen times as the receptionist kept calling her back.   And all the while, her little girl, Mackenzie, was talking and talking and talking.... asking questions about everything from the trash can to the TV to the magazines on the table.

And this mom was smiling and patiently (oh. so. patiently.) answering each and every question the girl asked.  Not in a "because that's just the way it is," kind of way, but in a real, thoughtful, honest kind of way.  I truly loved listening to them interact while I waited.  She was speaking to her so respectfully.  So kind.  So loving.

It's actually odd (and sad) now that I'm thinking about it.  Everyone should be treating their kids this way.  The fact that it stood out to me makes me think that it's more the exception than the rule.   And shouldn't it be the other way around?  Shouldn't we be surprised when we see people NOT treating their kids with kindness and respect?  But I was.  I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, to see someone acting with such a great amount of patience, especially at the dentist.  At 6:45 in the morning.  With a cold.  And an insurance issue.  Too many people take their kids for granted.  Too many people try to tune them out.

So I want to thank her, this stranger who made me smile this morning, for setting such a beautiful example.  No excuses, no drama.  Just kindness.

That is the kind of mother I want to be.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Peace With The Mess

Late last night, the boys were very involved in a project.  They were shredding some old documents for us (which turned into shredding other things, which turned into cutting faces out of magazines....)  There was paper strewn all over the pantry.  We asked them to clean it up before they went to bed, and they did.  Which meant that quite a few other things did not get picked up.

A little tour of our floor this morning, if I may:

The blood pressure cuff to Tegan's dr kit.  And the chalk that they use on the chalkboard wall.  That's the head of a zebra in there.  Doesn't everyone keep their zebra heads in their chalk buckets?
Someone must have felt the need for some weight training while they were working on legos.
Bathing suit Dora.  One of many, many, Doras who live here.
One of her favorite pieces of the dr's kit.   On the step to the family room.
Really, these tools were spread throughout the entire house.  No bag in sight.
We have more Nerf bullets than we do Doras.
More legos.
And more legos.
Dora's parents.  And a princess.
Sometimes you can't choose what game you want until you've spread them out and touched them all.
A horse.  He was next to the biggest pile of legos.
Remote control General Lee.  I hadn't seen this for a long time, but Spencer's been watching Dukes of Hazzard again, so out it came.
Hey look, the doctor's bag!  And a shoe.

A couple of truths about messes:

1. Kids make them.
2. As parents, we either need to learn to live in them, or find a way to get them picked up.

Pretty basic, right? Yet somehow, parents find a way to complicate it... to screw it all up and let it become not just an issue, but a tremendously huge issue.

I'm so sick of this mess!
Why won't they pick up after themselves?
Do I have to do everything myself?

And it seems to me that too often, people who get really stressed about the mess kids make will do one of two things:

Nag, yell, threaten, complain... and nag some more... until the kids pick it up.  (In his worst moments, my husband would tend towards this option.)


Make a big production of picking it up themselves, huffing and sighing and generally letting everyone around them know what selfless, sacrificing martyrs they are.  (And in my worst moments, I would tend towards this option.)

In every relationship, but particularly in my relationship with my children, my first inclination is to strive for authenticity.  I strive to follow that voice in my heart, and in my gut... that voice that tells me when something doesn't feel right.  But beyond that, when I'm met with a choice, I always try to ask myself if a response is logical.

Do either of the above options make any kind of logical sense?

In option one, the toys get picked up... but the kids feel lousy (none of us likes to get nagged at or yelled at or belittled), the parent feels lousy (it does not feel good, or right, to treat people that we love in that way).  The relationship is damaged, and you get further from the goal of having a peaceful household.

No one wins.

And in option two, the toys get picked up... but the kids feel lousy (no one likes a guilt trip), the parent feels lousy (it does not feel good, or right, to do something out of resentment).  The relationship is damaged, and you get further from the goal of having a peaceful household.

No one wins.

I'd like to present a third option.  In option three, no one yells, no one nags, and no one huffs.  In option three, it is a CHOICE to clean up, by all parties.  It is CHOICE to either live in the mess, or to put it away... together, or by yourself.

If I am bothered by a mess, then I will pick up... happily, and joyfully, because it's something I'm choosing, and because it feels nice - to me - to make things clean again.  Right before I sat down to write this post, I took twenty minutes and put everything pictured above back into their respective places.  Because I wanted to.

If I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messes, then I will ask the kids for their help (and asking, by the way, means that they too have the option to say no)  Nine times out of ten they will pitch in, gladly.  And the 1 percent of the time they don't?  It still gets done.  It just takes a little longer.

Everyone's tolerance level for messes is different.  I've come to the somewhat surprising realization that I am much happier, and calmer, when things are relatively clean and orderly.  (I say relatively because if you've been in my house, you know that even at its very best, it's still not even a notch above "lived in."  And that's okay)  It's taken me a long time to reconcile that truth about myself, because I am, ironically, a huge slob.  But having some sort of routine to keep at least a minimum standard of clean helps me.  I like it when I get to empty the dishwasher first thing in the morning, and fill it throughout the day.  I like it when I keep up with laundry, instead of letting it pile up.  I like it when I wake up to a shiny counter and clean kitchen table.  It feels good to keep up with those things, and to keep the house nice for the rest of the family.

But I don't believe for a second that it's fair to impose that on the kids, whose entire lives are about playing, exploring, learning, experimenting.... and making messes.  When I set an example of keeping things clean and running smoothly, they do tend to follow suit.   We have a good relationship, and when I ask them at the end of the day to pick something up, they do.  But that's not my goal.  My goal is to keep a happy home, and follow my own path, and my own level of comfort, when it comes to housekeeping.

But won't they grow up to live in a pig sty if they're not made to pick up after themselves as kids?

They're going to grow up the way they grow up.  They're going to keep their own houses as messy or as neat as they like, despite what I may or may not do as a parent.   And I feel like it's worth noting:  Some of the messiest adults I know are those who were forced to do chores and clean up as kids.    They're messy adults, and they most likely resent their parents to boot.  

To be honest, I'm not concerned about whether or not my future grown children have dishes piled in their sinks or rings around their tubs or projects strewn all over their desks.  What I'm concerned about is having a peaceful, cohesive, happy household now... one in which we all respect each others' needs, feelings, and space.

If I go to bed happy, and my kids go to bed happy, then I consider my job well-done.

Even if there are still legos on the floor.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ladies In My Backyard

I've always been afraid of birds. They're unpredictable, and they flutter and fly and dive-bomb. And to be fair, birds never really seemed to like me either. I was attacked by a rooster once as a kid, and by a pheasant that flew out of the woods when I was walking home from the bus stop.


I love my chickens.

They're about three months old now, and they're finally comfortable enough to wander the whole yard. They're funny and sweet and friendly, and they - thankfully - don't do anything too terribly scary, even for someone with a bird phobia like me.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Last week, we were over at some friends' house, and I was watching as my friend helped an older relative send an email on her computer. My friend got her to the correct screen, typed in the subject line for her,  then clicked in the body of the email so she could begin typing her message. Barely a minute later, she needed assistance again, as she'd accidentally scrolled the screen down and lost what she'd already typed. My friend helped her retrieve her message, and sent it for her once she was done typing.

I say this not to pick on her. My dad is the same way. Lots of people's dads (and moms and sisters and brothers and friends) are the same way. Not everyone is computer literate, and I understand that.  Except... 

I kind of don't understand that. For better or worse, technology plays a huge role in our daily lives.  From using the internet to find information, or make connections, or be entertained... to communicating through emails, texts, and videos... to using Google maps, online calendars, and GPS units.  

I blog,
pay my bills online,
use social networking,
read the news,
digitally edit pictures,
and otherwise gather, share and store information.... from words to pictures to everything in between.

The vast amount of information and ability that's at my, and my children's, fingertips, is staggering.  I couldn't imagine not utilizing it just because it's intimidating, or new, or different.  I couldn't imagine not learning how to use it, and in fact embracing it, for everything it has to offer.  

It's finicky at times, to be sure. It's frustrating. It sometimes gives us too much information, and it's sometimes arguably one fine double-edged sword.  But I could never deny how much the internet, and technology in general, has enriched our lives.

My boys are all extremely competent on a computer.  Tegan - one month away from turning three - has recently learned how to work a mouse, and is loving the whole new world that's been opened up to her:  playing games, coloring pictures, learning about shapes and colors and letters.  She learns about all those things off the computer as well, but she's also learning and practicing a skill that she will use all her life, in a myriad of ways.  Probably in ways that you and I can't even imagine now.

Look at that concentration.

I'm sure like the rest of us she will learn to love it, and at times hate it, 

but she will never be afraid of it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Excuse My Blog, Part Two

So I had a great post in mind, several of them in fact, but then I decided to play around with my blog some more. As anyone who blogs (or really does anything even remotely creative) can tell you, a couple of minutes of tinkering often turns into several hours of frustration.

And such was the case tonight.

There's still tinkering to be done, but I must. step. away. for now.

Here's a picture of the girl from this week. Cuz she's cute.

I still don't know how to use my new camera/lens combination. More tinkering is needed there too.


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