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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Firsts

  
Paxton and the birthday boy   

This past weekend was my nephew, Isaac's 10th birthday party.   He chose to celebrate at a local water park (perfect for the 110 degree day)  To be honest, the anticipation was a little stressful, mainly because lots of water plus four kids - only one of which is a strong swimmer - equals lots of heightened anxieties for parents.  But it turned out to be a great day for all involved, as well as a day of conquering fears:

Spencer went down the huge slide.

Tegan went down the kids' slide without me... over and over and over and over and over.

Everett practiced swimming and floating and treading water independently.

And Paxton discovered the joys of jumping from the high dive.


When we got home, Tegan went to sleep in her own bed for the first time, and slept there for nine hours straight.  I of course was so weirded out by having a kid-less bed, I spent most of the night awake, watching old sitcoms and checking to make sure everyone was still breathing. 

My kids are growing up.



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Friday, June 24, 2011

How Housekeeping is like Advanced Math

Photo by Minibe09

On the heels of my little cleaning freak-out the other day, yesterday I decided that I needed a new approach and a fresh perspective.   I would set a timer (a la Flylady) for 10 minutes, and 10 minutes only.  I'd give my full attention to picking up, cleaning up, and generally getting things done cheerfully for those 10 minutes, then I'd take a break.   I asked the kids if they would join me, and they were very willing (probably because I asked like a friendly mom instead of a crazy person).   We did our 10 minutes, and later did the same thing twice more.  

That combined 30 minutes of cleaning was a million times more productive, and honestly more enjoyable, than my entire previous day of frustrated huffing and wandering around, picking up this and that, and overall spinning my wheels.  Why?  Because 1)  I was ready to do it, 2) I wanted to do it. 3) I was motivated to do it, and 4) I was willing to give it my full - positive - attention.

Really, isn't everything like that?  How much more efficient, and productive, and useful is our time when we're doing something that we willingly choose to do, that we're personally invested in, and truly motivated to do?

It's the same exact concept I learned 20 years ago in my advanced math class my senior year of high school.  I've written about that class before, but the short of it is that it was a class that made me all kinds of miserable.  A class that I wasn't interested in.  A class that I felt I didn't need (and I didn't).  A class that I struggled with to the point of tears.  And after a l.o.t. of torture, frustration, and a fair amount of humiliation, I dropped it.  What I didn't mention in my first re-telling is that before I could drop the class I had to be passing the class, which meant that I had a whole lot of make-up work to do.  I'd pretty much stopped doing my homework, for the simple reason that I didn't understand my homework.  

My teacher suggested perhaps having another student tutor me during a study hall, and in desperation I took her up on it.  Pete was a straight A student, and was one of those people, like my husband, who finds math - even in its advanced varieties - easy and fun.  He patiently sat with me during one study hall, and went through the work point by point.  And for the first time, it made sense to me.  For the first time, I actually saw a glimpse (though a teeny one) of what math-inclined people find so cool about all those numbers and formulas. 

I learned more in that one 45 minute tutuoring session than I had all semester.  

And it wasn't because he was a better teacher than the teacher.  It was because I was ready to learn it.  I wanted to learn it.  I was personally motivated to learn it.  For a myriad of reasons, I needed not to be in that class anymore.  In order to do that, I had to finally learn what I'd resisted learning for most of the semester.   Once I had that motivation, the learning came quickly and relatively easily. 

The same is true for learning anything, and is a big factor in why I unschool.  The only time we truly learn something is when it "arise(s) out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner." (John Holt)  The rest of the time?  The times when we're daydreaming sitting through classes that don't interest us or are not meaningful to us, or wandering around our house pretending to clean when our minds are clearly somewhere else?    We're wasting our time.

I recently learned that the teacher of that math class has since passed away.  I was genuinely sad to hear it.  Like any good teacher, she wanted to me to do better, and try harder, and live up to my own potential.  I think I'm finally doing that.  And as it turned out, I did learn a lot from that class.  It just didn't happen to be about math.




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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Plank Pullin': The one I hate to pull

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.



My sweet little girl has a new favorite word. It's not a "bad" word, or a curse word, or an inappropriate word really. It's just a word that sounds... wrong... coming out of an innocent mouth.

The word is "HATE" and she has been experimenting with it for several days now, usually without even meaning it. She hates that shirt, she hates the crust on the toast, she hates this song, she hates the grumpy cashier at the Dollar Store. I know it will pass, but I can't help but cringe just a little each time I hear it. I hate that word. Such a negative, ugly-sounding word.

And where would she have heard it? Her brothers don't say it with any regularly. Her father doesn't say it with any regularity. Her mother... just said it yesterday in reference to a driver's cell-phone-yapping activities that almost got her sideswiped on a busy street. :( And I'm sure it wasn't the first time this week, or even that day. Because for all my outer calm and zen-ness, I have an embarrassingly long list of minor grievances with, well, the world (and sometimes the people that inhabit it). An all too often conversation in the house starts with the following: Me - You know what I hate? Husband - Lots of things?

Sigh.

You know how sometimes when you fill out one of those silly surveys, it will ask you for your biggest pet peeve/s? I always have trouble answering those, because there are just too many to choose from. And I may or may not use the word, 'hate' to describe many of them. I never use it to describe people (I do not hate anyone), but I do use it.

And now my little girl uses it too.

I can't stop her from using it, and I know that in time she'll only use it when she really means it... but I can work on how discriminating I am when I use it myself (or even better, stop using it altogether). Because my daughter is now overly fond of a negative word thanks to me....

and I really hate that.






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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'd Rather Be With My Kids

Top ten reasons why I'd rather spend time with my kids than with most of the adults I know:

1. They're cute

I mean, come on. Do any of your adult friends look like this?


2. They appreciate the little things in life

I know very few adults who derive as much - or any - joy from rainbows, mud puddles, or caterpillars.

3. They still know how to play

Not everyone loses this ability as they get older, but so many do! I want to be around people who still see the value in an impromptu game of hide and go seek, or blowing bubbles with a straw, or putting on a Spiderman costume at 2:00 in the afternoon, just because.


4. They're REAL.

My kids are authentic, always. They don't play mind games, they don't act a certain way around certain people, they don't just tell me what I want to hear. Happy, sad, silly, frustrated.... they are wonderfully unmistakably themselves, and they express it. And as a bonus, I'm more real when I'm around them, too.
 

5. They always give me something new, 

When it comes to a life with kids, it's nothing if not full of surprises.  I never know what each day is going to hold, and I love that!




but at the same time,

6. They're always comfortable and familiar


I know my kids better than I know anyone on the planet.  I've been there since their very first breath.  I know every story, I remember ever wound.  They truly are my heart and my soul walking around outside my body.



7. They're great conversationalists and even better thinkers 


You know how 2 year olds constantly ask "why?"  They're not doing it to annoy you;  they're doing it because they're learning how the world works, and they're looking to you - their most trusted and loved ally - to help them figure out.  Kids are naturally open and curious and questioning, and they are not held back by the preconceived notions of so many adults.  Some of my very favorite times with my kids are in the car, discussing anything from armpits to snakes to heavy artillery.    Their perspective is always fresh, honest, and enlightening.

8. I enjoy their company

Whether I'm catching an episode of Dr G with the 14 year old, discussing music with the 10 year old, making simulated blood with the 7 year old, or playing dolls with the 3 year old... or doing something more out of the ordinary...  I'm having a good time.  I love my kids - of course - but I like them too.



9. They're funny


No one makes me laugh harder than my kids.  Period.



10. They teach me more than anyone or anything else combined 


No, not about isosceles triangles, or finding the value of 'x', but about LIFE.   They teach me the things that matter.  They teach me about love.  They teach me about living in the moment. About being honest with myself and others.  About not sweating the small stuff.  About being REAL.  My kids teach me everything I need to know about what kind of parent I want to be, and what kind of person I want to be.  

They teach me about smiling...


Even when I'm faced with the metaphorical business end of life:


And you just can't put a price tag on that.




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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cleaning Fail? Parenting Fail? You're both right.

Not even two weeks ago, I blogged about how much I needed a break. I was exhausted, I was stressed out, and I was panicking about getting read for our upcoming trip. I took exactly two days off from blogging, missed it terribly, and jumped right back in.

Yesterday, I was back in panic mode. We leave for our trip in 12 days, and it still feels like there are mountains to climb before we do. Making matters worse is the fact that I'm the only one who feels that way. Mike simply doesn't stress out about much of anything, and the kids are just looking forward to a fun vacation (as they should be)

Sunday night was a rough night. I wasn't feeling well; Everett had a nightmare very early on, and was in our bed the rest of the night; Tegan was tossing and turning and kicking even more than usual; I ended up sleeping in a ball on the end of our bed. The big boys were up past 2:00 (which is not unusual for them) but were woken by Tegan far too early in the morning. Everyone was tired and grumpy, and what I should have done was given us all a free day... a no obligation, lounge around, rest and recoup kind of Monday.

But, oh no. We had 13 days left. We had to CLEAN!

I started with my own desk, and instead of leaving well enough alone, I then decided it was imperative that I tackle the computer room.

This is the 'after' picture, but the girl had already dumped something out again.
This room has been a thorn in my side since we moved in to this house nearly 5 years ago. It looked like it was originally a formal dining room (judging partly from the big chandalier that once hung in the middle of the ceiling), but the previous owners didn't seem to know what to do with it either. When we first toured the house, it was mostly empty, save for a little couch in the corner. For us, it has always served as a computer room slash project room slash collector of random, miscellaneous stuff. It's always a mess, and yesterday I was going to clean it.

I asked the kids to help me, but they were too tired. (Of course they were too tired; No one got any sleep). I asked them again. Spencer was half asleep on the couch, Paxton was engrossed in a computer game, and Tegan and Everett were chasing each other around the house. No one really answered me.

And again, I should have taken the hint, followed their lead - and my own level of exhaustion - and rested. Instead, as if possessed by some mop-wielding inner demon, I became that mom. The stomping, huffing, sighing, "fine, I'll do it myself", martyr of a mom. For the next hour, I was noisily moving chairs and bookshelves, digging stuff out from beneath the desks, flinging sweeping wayward toys and papers and books and tools to the center of the room to sort through. Spencer had fallen asleep by then, Paxton was calmly moving out of my way as I cleaned around him, and the little ones had wisely moved their play to another room, lest they accidentally witness the embarrassment of their mom in the throes of her tantrum.

It really wasn't my finest moment.

I was tired, I was irritated, and I couldn't even enjoy the fruits of my labor once I'd finished.  Who can enjoy something they'd done with the wrong attitude in the first place?

I do still want to get the house clean before we go.  But not like that.  Today, I will get a grip and remember what's important.  I'll listen to my kids, listen to my own body, and save the cleaning for another dang day if need be.

And if all else fails, I'll stick to the kitchen side of the house, and avoid the computer room completely. 




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Monday, June 20, 2011

Messy Monday

If you don't see me for the next 13 days, it's because I'm trying to turn this:

Before   
Into this:

After
All. Over. The. House.  Before we leave for vacation.  And without making myself crazy in the process. 




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Sunday, June 19, 2011

To The Dads

Happy Father's Day to all of the Fathers out there. To the new fathers, who are getting to experience the sweet, heartbreaking feeling of a sleeping newborn for the first time.


To the experienced fathers, who have been changing diapers, braiding hair and throwing footballs for many years.


To the great fathers.


To the fathers who are doing the best they can.


To the fathers who are vowing every day to do better.


To the fathers who are not fathers through birth or adoption but who have taken on the role for a friend or a relative or simply a child who was in need.


To the single mothers, who through choice or circumstance have acted as mother and father both.


To the fathers whose babies are no longer with them.

And finally, to the fathers at heart, who don't yet have a child in their arms.

Today, I honor and appreciate all of you.



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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Haircuts and Hyprocrisy

I cut the boys' hair yesterday. They'd been asking for awhile, and for various reasons it kept getting pushed further and further back. Since our vacation is fast approaching, we knew we had to commit to doing it and stick to it. Because I'm a dork - and simple things amuse me - I made this:


and Everett taped it to the wall. He and Paxton both called (from the next room) for their appointments, and Spencer looked at me and said, "Mommy. Can't you just cut my hair?"

Party pooper :)

When I got out the clippers for Everett's mohawk, Tegan begged me to cut hers too. "Okay, sure," I told her. "I'll give you a trim," even though I knew that a trim wasn't what she really wanted.

She sat in the chair and I gave the very tips of some of her hair a tiny snip with scissors, and she cried. "No, with the clippers! I want it all cut off!! I want it like Spencer's!" And it wasn't the first time she'd asked.

Spencer's hair post-clipping is even shorter than this:


Then (this is the part where I'm a hypocrite), as much as I believe in giving children choices and autonomy, as much as I respect her right to take ownership of her own hairstyle, as much as I know that in the bigger picture, shaving her head wouldn't have mattered...

I talked her out of it.

Can you blame me?




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Friday, June 17, 2011

My Promise to My Children


I ignore a lot of traditional parenting adages that come through my Facebook news feed. But every so often, one pops up that I have a hard time ignoring. A few days ago, several friends had posted this as their status:

My promise to my children. I am not your friend. I am your mom. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do! Re-post if you are a parent and agree.♥

Really?

I've blogged in the past on my thoughts about being both parents and friends with your children, so I obviously wasn't a fan right from the start of the quote. But it just got better as I read. Stalk? Flip out? Drive insane? Hunt you down like a bloodhound?

Am I a mom or a troubled suitor from a Lifetime TV Movie? And since when does making someone's life a living nightmare equate to love?

Here's my version, and my promise.

My promise to my children. I am your friend. I am your mom. I will protect you, listen to you, respect you, support you, be your strongest advocate & give you wings to fly when you are ready because I LOVE YOU. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, and cares about you more than I do.

I'm not here to be the warden. I'm here to be the mom.



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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Plank Pullin': Who me, stubborn?

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.



My dad is a very stubborn man. Don't get me wrong, he's also a very sweet man. A very kind man. A very funny man. But yes, he's also as stubborn as all get out.

My husband is stubborn too. And it is mind. numbingly. frustrating. to me to talk with either one of them when they've dug in their proverbial heels about something.

So last night, I was laying in bed at 1:00 A.M... tossing, turning, trying to solve all the problems of the world... when I realized,

I'm more stubborn than both of them put together.

I have been a chronic insomniac for most of my adult life, and while - yes - there are multiple reasons for that, a large portion of the blame lands squarely on the fact that I am STUBBORN.

It drives me crazy when people offer unsolicited suggestions, mainly because I have tried them all (and gave up on them probably way too quickly)... but also because I am stubborn.

I don't want to give up my coffee for the length of time needed to see if the lack of caffeine really makes a difference, because I truly need it to function when I'm in a particularly bad patch... but also because I am stubborn.

I watch TV or hop on the computer when I can't sleep - both no-no's in the world of the "get better sleep" tips... because I am stubborn.

I don't enjoy not sleeping. I long for the days that I'll sleep again. But I know that part of me chooses it. I could take more steps to get better, but I don't. I could face the real issues (because I know the real issues) but I don't. It's easy, and safe, and familiar to keep going on as I have been, drinking my coffee, ignoring the elephant in the room, and failing to do the hard work required to face my demons and make things better.

I am stubborn. And I haven't slept for the better part of two decades because of it.






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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Entitlement

In 1982, the hottest, most-wanted toy for Christmas was the Cabbage Patch Doll. I was 8 years old, and I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid more than I'd ever wanted anything. It was the only thing I asked for for Christmas, and I couldn't wait to find it under the tree. To stare at the shiny cellophane window on the box before I tore it open, to admire the pretty (yarn) hair, the dimpled elbows and knees, and the little outie belly button. To rip off all the clothes to check for the mark of a true, original Cabbage Patch Kid... the Xavier Roberts signature on its little cloth derriere. Oh, how I wanted that doll.

At eight, I was old enough to be relatively aware of what was going on around me, and I heard the dire proclamations on the evening news. They were sold out everywhere. Fights had broken out in all the department stores. People were literally getting trampled to get the last one on the shelf. Oh NO.

My mom sat me down shortly before Christmas and said, "I know you've heard that they're sold out everywhere. I hope you're not too disappointed if you don't get one for Christmas."

I then proceeded to lie to my own mother. "Oh I won't be disappointed, Mom."

And to make a long story short, I wasn't disappointed. Because come Christmas morning, against all odds, she was there. And she was perfect. To this day, that Cabbage Patch Kid remains my hands-down, no contest, favorite Christmas present ever.

I still have that doll. She's usually naked now, she's lost a few strands of hair, and her face is permanently dirty. But she's still loved. I last saw her yesterday afternoon in my bedroom, where the girl left her after pretending to nurse her to sleep.

I so love and appreciate that my parents got me that doll. And it wasn't just the doll. They also got the purple Nikes that I so desperately wanted. And the Guess jeans. And the Swatch watches. I appreciate it even more now that I'm a parent myself... knowing that things weren't always easy financially. Knowing that they sometimes made sacrifices themselves to make my sister and I happy.

But I never felt entitled.

Yes, I grew up with a sense of personal responsibility. I worked hard, I paid my bills, I was respectful and polite to those around me. I was none of those things that people continually - and mistakenly - chide today's youth for being. Why? Because as much as I remember the dolls and the fancy sneakers and the fun "stuff", I remember something else more.

I remember that my parents gave me their attention, and that they gave me their time. I remember that they gave me love. I remember that they gave me their support, their friendship, and their acceptance. I remember hanging around after dinner hanging spoons from our noses. I remember playing dice games and card games and laughing until our sides hurt. I remember a lifetime worth of quiet moments, inside jokes, and family adventures.

I see parent after parent complaining about today's youth feeling too "entitled."

Kids today think their parents owe them everything!
They think life should be handed to them on a silver platter!
They're overindulged!


I see articles like this one, instructing parents with a set of rules to follow to stop this "entitlement epidemic." Stop pampering them. Make them buy their own things. Don't give in to their pleas. Require them to do a certain amount of chores (and then punish them when they don't.) Give them an allowance (and then dictate how they can and cannot spend it.)

I think we're missing the boat here. Strategies like the above only widen the gulf between parents and kids, and further the "us vs them" mentality.

Why not give freely and abundantly to your children just as you would to any person that you love? I want to give all that I can to my kids, just as my parents gave all that they could to me. Not because they've "badgered" me into it, not because I want them to like me, and not because it keeps them quiet (all reasons I see touted over and over again in these negative articles) but because it feels good and right to give to those we love. To give our time, our attention, our love, our companionship. To give our acceptance and our unconditional support. And yes, to give when we can those toys, games, and "things" that make their lives a little more fun or interesting or exciting. We give freely to our kids, and they in turn give freely to others.

I think that the kids that people refer to as being "overindulged" and "entitled" are not kids who were given too much. I think they were simply kids who weren't given enough. No, I don't mean not enough stuff; I mean not enough of their parents. We are all looking for that love and attention. We're all looking for a connection... with somebody, with something, with anything. When we don't get it, there's a void. Kids who are not getting what they need from their parents learn to fill the void with "things." And it's not because their parents were too lenient or too permissive or too indulging. It's because their parents neglected to give them more time, more attention, more unconditional love.

As a society, we're told parents need to be more strict. Need to lay down the law and show our kids who's boss.

I think that's going in the wrong direction.

I think we need to give our kids more. They didn't ask to be here. We chose to bring them into the world, and into our lives. We should give to them freely and joyfully and completely, just as we would give to anyone else. (In fact, even more so, because they are OUR CHILDREN) We should give of our time, our attention, and ourselves.

And Cabbage Patch Kids are okay, too.



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Monday, June 13, 2011

You're a Terrible Mother


Yes, you. You are a very bad mother. You're still figuring things out. You've made mistakes. You've lost your patience. You've yelled. You've spanked.

Therefore, you are a terrible mother.

You didn't breastfeed. You did breastfeed. You breastfed too long. You home school. You public school. You vaccinate. You opt out. You use cloth diapers. You use disposable diapers. You use no diapers. You do things differently than me.

Clearly, you are a terrible mother.

I recently watched yet another online forum implode, in part because someone asked for advice and subsequently got her feelings hurt when she didn't like the advice given to her. She cried that everyone was making her out to be a bad mother, sides were taken, and BOOM. Another perfectly lovely community unraveled like the waistband on an old pair of underwear.

This is not unique of course. Everyone who's ever been part of a moms group in any fashion (but particularly on the internet) has seen it happen and again and again and again. People feel challenged. They feel judged. They get defensive. They want to blame the people around them.

"How dare she think I'm a bad mother!!"

But the fact of the matter is, she probably doesn't. And if you didn't already think it about yourself, chances are you wouldn't be projecting it onto her either. If you feel confident and peaceful about your own decisions, why would what anyone else says bother you anyway?

When I read something that challenges me as a parent, something that makes me react strongly in some way... whether in anger, hurt feelings, or defensiveness... I know that it's something I need to examine and respond to in myself, not to the messenger. Maybe it's something I know deep down that I need to work on. Maybe it's made me think about something in an entirely new light. Maybe it's struck a nerve on one of my own deep-seated regrets or insecurities. Maybe it's simply reminded me of my own mistakes.

None of the above makes me a bad mother.

And it doesn't make you one either. Self deprecation helps no one... not you, and certainly not your children. If something you read (here, or anywhere) strikes a nerve, ask yourself why. Made a mistake? Move past it. Need to make changes? Make them. Don't use your own guilt or frustration or insecurities as an excuse not to ask yourself the hard questions, or as an excuse not to do better.

Make choices intelligently, and make choices consciously... both of which are something a terrible mother - if such a thing existed - would never do.



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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Reconnecting


I haven't been here lately. I've been here physically, but mentally I've been somewhere else. I haven't been as present as I need to be... for myself, for my spouse, and especially for my kids. So wrapped up in my own stress and fatigue, I realized that I've been guilty of "going through the motions." Doing all the things I'm supposed to be doing, but not feeling them.

And I don't want to be that mom.

I want to be connected... not just THERE, taking up space.

Yesterday, the girl asked me if I could make some biscuits. So I got everything out, and started measuring and dumping, not even thinking about what I was doing. Just a few seconds later, I heard the little voice:

"Can I help?" followed by the unmistakable scraping sound of a kitchen chair being eagerly pushed over to the counter.


The fact that she even had to ask (ordinarily I would have offered) struck me out of my selfish monotony.


She wanted to bake with her mom, and I was going to be there.


And when we were done with the biscuits and the last crumb had been eaten, we didn't seal our reconnection with a hug or a snuggle on the couch.

Instead she wanted to check on the chickens.

Three year olds don't over-think things the way we do. They already know how to live in the moment. As far as Tegan was concerned, she had my full attention, and that was exactly as it should be. It was just her and mom, doing what we do.

We checked on the chickens, gathered the eggs, and rinsed out their water container. I was just about to turn off the hose when she stopped me. "Wait! Don't turn that off!"

So I didn't.

For the next hour and a half, I forgot the rest of the world, and focused on reconnecting with my daughter. We hosed the chicken poop off the patio (which, as strange as it sounds, is oddly cathartic), made it "rain", and talked and talked. It took at least three times as long as normal to get the patio clean, because for every spray the patio got, the girl got two. And with every squeal, every smile, and every burst of laughter, my world got just a little more right again.

Life shouldn't be about treading water, spinning your wheels, and going through the motions. It should be about the moments. The people. The connections.

It should be about bonding over biscuits and chicken poop.



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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Break

I have been writing and re-writing this post in my head, over and over for the past 48 hours. Did I really want to post it; how much detail did I want to share; would anyone care to read it anyway.

I ultimately decided to be honest and brief (as brief as I know how anyway): I am burnt out and I need a break. I need to recharge, and re-prioritize and re-organize my home, and my life.

Yesterday, a friend and I took our kids to the Children's Museum, and sometime between the sand table and the noodle forest I realized that I'd hit a wall and shut down. Not just in the normal introvert-feeling-overwhelmed-by-the-crowd-and-the-noise kind of way, but in a "Wow. Something's gotta give" kind of way.

I. Am. Tired.

In three and a half weeks, we're leaving for nearly a month long road trip. Instead of feeling excited about it, I'm predominately feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by it. And because I really don't want to feel that way about the biggest vacation we've taken since we've been married (or that I've ever taken really), I want to take steps to change it.

And it starts with a break... from blogging, from extra pressure I've been putting on myself, from unnecessary running around... just a break.

I don't know if it'll be two weeks or two months or ten months. I just know I need to do it. Thank you to everyone who has been reading so faithfully, and I will see you on the other side.



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Monday, June 06, 2011

You Don't Know Me. Or Do You?


Last night I was talking to some friends about my most recently received "You're a terrible mother" diatribe from someone who took issue with one of my blog posts. It wasn't a regular reader, but simply someone who followed a single link, found me objectionable, and posted about it.

It's become easy for me to dismiss that kind of critique, because obviously that person doesn't know me. Reading one single blog post does not an expert make. And sure, it feels good sometimes (in a wrong kind of way) to make snap judgments about someone when they write things we disagree with, but the fact still remains: That person doesn't who I am as a person, who I am as a woman, or who I am as a mother. Maybe if she got to know me, she'd find I wasn't quite so terrible after all. Or maybe she'd think I was even worse of a human being than she'd imagined. But right now, today, she doesn't know me.

It all got me thinking.

Surely you can get to know people on the internet. Some of my dearest and nearest friends are people I've yet to see in person. I know them. I know their personalities, and I know their hearts, and I know their intentions. Simply by reading their words on a screen. To me, there is no distinction between online relationships and real-life relationships. It's ALL real-life. Those relationships though have taken conversations, back and forth sharing, and input and effort by both parties. Unless you're commenting and interacting, a blog is very different. A blog can be rather one-sided. Can you get to know someone through a blog?

While it's impossible to know someone based on one blog post, what about 50? Or 100? What if you've read every post I've ever written but never interacted with me?

Do you think you can get to know someone solely through reading their blog? Do you think you've gotten to know
me through reading my blog?



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“If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: 'He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned.'” -Epictetus




Sunday, June 05, 2011

Schedules and Blackboards


I'll admit it, a lot of mainstream articles tend to confuse me. I recently read this one, about designing a home school-friendly floor plan in your house, and I was left shaking my head (after I picked it up from my desk). It advocates school rooms and schedules, signs, announcements, and special posters. I can't help but wonder: If you do make the choice to home school, why on earth would you want to re-create the very place that you've decided to opt out of?

Here is a breakdown of some of the piece's key points, followed by what I would do differently:
Situate your home school in a dedicated space of your home. Turn a spare room or part of a guest room into a classroom.
Recognize that when you opt out of school, you've made the entire world your classroom. There is learning to be had in every room of your house... in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the bathtub, in the backyard. And that's just at home! There are parks and playgrounds, museums and libraries, lakes and forests, stores and post offices.  Learning.  Is.  Everywhere.
Hang a schedule of classroom hours to send a message to family members regarding your availability for non-school issues.
What happens if someone has a non-school issue during school time?  What happens if someone wants to learn something during non-school time?  What happens if someone has a non-school issue during non-school time, but you are still unavailable because you are busy planning for the inevitability of non-school issues disrupting your upcoming school time?

The beauty of being home with your kids is that you can be with them.  No need for schedules, no need for trying to divide your day into school and non-school hours.  You can curl up on the couch to read to a little one at 2 in the afternoon.   Or play blocks with a toddler at 10.  Or look through a microscope with a teenager at lunchtime.  Or watch a movie with your whole crew at 11.   Learning isn't something that happens between certain hours in certain places.   As a homeschooling parent, you have the unique opportunity to enjoy your kids, enjoy their company, and enjoy learning with them and from them as you go about your day.
Make the home school area attractive for you and for your students. Hang a bulletin board, large calendar and posters related to the courses you plan to teach.
Make your whole house attractive and interesting for you and your kids (and they're your kids, not your students)   Sure, hang a bulletin board if that's your thing.  Put up a calendar to keep track of play dates and baseball games.  Hang up a poster if someone wants one.  But forget about words like "courses" and "teach" and be with your kids!
Provide your student with a desk and a comfortable chair. Place a desk for yourself in front of the student's desk.
This one's a joke, right? Unless you're living in an old schoolhouse in an 1800's episode of Little House on the Prairie (in which case, I suppose you'd have bigger things to worry about) there is absolutely no need to think that a school desk plus a teacher's desk equals learning.  I understand that schools have limitations and need to do things a certain way.  I do.  But you made what one would hope would be a conscious, well-thought out decision not to send your child to school.  Why, with all the freedom that you've purposely gained, would you want to replicate the very thing you stepped away from?

And again, he or she is your child, not your student.
Use the worktable as a lunch table.
Or eat in the kitchen.  Or on the lawn.  Or in the tree house.   Or have a carpet picnic.  Or skip lunch altogether and make homemade ice cream.
Establish a library in your home school.
Books are great!  So this one I actually agreed with.  Until I got to:
Include grade-appropriate textbooks, fiction and non-fiction reading materials.
When you home school, you can remove the phrase "grade appropriate" from your vocabulary altogether.  When you're out of the school environment, grade levels and artificial age expectations no longer exist. You can pay no attention to recommended reading levels, and instead look to YOUR child.  What would he or she like to read?  Is he into Dr Seuss?  Does she like mysteries?  Do they enjoy books about history?  When you let your children follow their own unique interests and time-table, you eliminate the stress and frustration that comes with trying to conform to someone else's idea of what they should do when. 

Your seven year old might not be reading yet.  Your ten year old might be reading Chaucer.   Both are fine and normal!
Provide a break or recess area for you and for your student. Stock magazines, comic books and games to entertain during down time.
Do I really need to say it one more time?  It's your CHILD, not your student. 

And absolutely, get magazines if your kids like them.  Buy comic books, stock the shelves with games.  Fill your house with craft supplies, tools, science kits, building toys, DVDs, video games.  Recognize the recreation and the learning that is in all of the above.  But mostly make your home a safe haven... a place where your kids can be themselves.  Where they can play and grow and learn... in their own time in their own way.  A place where they feel engaged, confident, and loved.  Where they can make noise, make mistakes, and make a mess.  Where they are truly free.  Free to just..... be.

"What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn't a school at all."
John Holt



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