Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in Review Haiku

Three kids grow so fast.
Homeschool schedule flexible,
but oh, so busy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Are You Kidding?

An editor contacted me in mid-December and asked if I could get an article done by January 4th. It was a pinch, she said, and I could decline. But I have such a difficult time turning down assignments. I figure it helps my future career if I am a reliable and responsive writer. Though I have no idea what my future career looks like, and I don’t know why I don’t consider what I do now my career. But those are questions for another day, I think.

In this situation, I suggested to this editor that I write an article that recycles some old research and she accepted. I figure that the research is always the hard part. If I just had to pound out an article, it’s easy breezy. Okay, I agreed.
Of course, holiday hoo-haw is always more than I expect it to be. We started the month with holiday activities, which included a downtown adventure with friends, a holiday choir concert for both big sisters, a holiday choir performance on TV for one of the kids, two performances of a play in which both big sisters participated, and a piano recital. In addition to our already full schedule of classes and activities, we made plans to make holiday gifts for friends and family, celebrated Hannukah, set and decorated our tree, made and decorated cookies, shipped a giant stack of gifts around the country, cleaned the house in preparation for entertaining, culled less-loved toys and personal items to donate to those who need them more than we do, and so on. Our holiday celebrations included gatherings with friends, and gatherings with family over multiple days. I still had to wrap gifts and make sure Santa’s orders were placed and received. Phew!

All of this hoo-haw plus a small article to write.

In the midst of holiday hoo-haw, I mentioned to two close friends that an editor asked for an article due January 4th. They said, well, of course you declined. Neither employed the slightest hint of sarcasm or ironic tone. Sheepishly, I said, well…..I said I would do it.

“ARE YOU KIDDING?” they both burst out.

It seems that they know me better than I should know myself. I think I should hire them next time I need to say no to someone.

Actually, the fact is that I am almost done with the article and it really hasn’t been painful at all. I did have an abundance of research that I haven’t yet fully employed and it was a familiar and easy topic for me. In fact, it has made me realize that I should try to do more of the same! If I could recycle my research and articles a few times, I could certainly earn more for my time. But the effort involved in pitching and building relationships with new editors is sort of out of my bandwidth at the moment. Maybe I will find some room for real career development when my youngest has grown a bit more. There is something about having a two year-old that is both magical and exhausting.

Despite the fact that I have accomplished my holiday goals thus far (well, with two gifts that I wanted to finish on time, but did not, though the receivers of the gifts are extremely easy-going and won’t mind the delay), it has been a little tighter than I wish. I have also had a difficult week with some digestive issues that are probably stress-related.

I always envision the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere of homeschooling and holiday time. And I then realize that the relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that homeschooling and holiday times can bring are really created by me for the rest of the family. I get a lot of help from my co-parent, and he works hard in high own right. But, it’s so often my work and effort that allows everyone else to sleep in and take life a little easier. Maybe this all pays off when the kids are old enough to appreciate what I do and help in a more meaningful way. I will let you know.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to Myself

I enjoyed the strange luxury of a day to myself to run errands. I bought holiday gifts, pet supplies, books, and craft supplies. I visited a dear friend and her new baby. I even sat down for 15 minutes (because who can spare time when there is so much to pack into one day?) to gobble down some lunch. By myself.

In some ways, it was heaven. And in some ways, it was dreadfully lonely.

At the end of the day, part of me still wanted to keep on driving and knock of some more errands without any helpers. But it was very nice to come home to my boisterous bunch. Well, except for the mess they made while I was gone....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why I Haven't Written

This tired mama
desperately craves more than
two hours of sleep at a stretch.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CLE on Slavery

Went to such an intersting seminar about slavery last week (as I try to get enough CLE credits to maintain my license, which I do not use in any way). It reminded me that slavery, which was made legal by this very country at its inception, was debated even as the formation of the country was considered. This quote really grabbed me:

"Every master of slaves is born a petty tryrant." It's from Mason, of Virginia, during the Constitutional Convention.

Makes you wonder who wanted to be a petty tyrant. Or did they really disagree with Mason? Did they really find some moral high ground to justify such a tremendous violation of human rights?

I also wonder what the things that the leaders of our country have done to the indigenous people of our nation makes them...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two and a Half Years

It has been two and a half years since anything has hung on our walls. We moved out for a year long remodel and the owners of the house we rented were fussy enough that we didn’t want to hang anything on the walls. It was not big deal because we didn’t really have the energy for extras. We packed away wall hangings for the duration of our remodel.

Then when we returned to our house in July of last year, the boxes sat in the living room. Framed photos and art. I was tired from moving twice in one year and having a baby in the meantime. I couldn’t muster the energy to hang things all around the house.

And the walls were sooooo pretty. It was almost impossible to think about banging nails into them. So was the whole house, though. New floors with nary a scratch. Perfect cabinets. Clean windows. Smooth counters. It felt too fancy for us. It was like someone accidentally gave me a Tiffany necklace when I was meant to have the JC Penney version.

I also worried what others might think of us when they saw our sparkling new, big house. Would they think that I am Tiffany fancy? Oh, don’t mind this big house, I would think, we are really JC Penney people. For goodness sakes, my kids’ favorite place to shop is the Goodwill.

Slowly, I have gotten used to the compliments we receive for our beautiful house. It really is lovely and I do appreciate how nice it is. I also have decorated it in my own Goodwill style, so I trust that people see the real me when they look around –and not some imposter who keeps her house clean and perfect and lives in the pages of a magazine.

We have also slowly banged up the cabinets, and floors. Someone chipped the counter. Several spots on the counter have stained. It’s a patina, I tell myself. Rather than a flaw, it shows patterns of use and reflects a house that is lived in.
And boy do we live in it. On any given day there may be oodles of kids running amuck, guinea pig poop and hay on the floor, insects in jars on the counter, science experiments in the kitchen, and art projects on the dining room table.

Our youngest child even drew with crayons on the pristine white window sills by the kitchen table. And now that our youngest is getting into the messy and destructive phases of life, it’s hard to be too concerned about keeping things perfect. There is something about having a two year old painting at the kitchen table that really loosens me up about messes.

So, this month, we unpacked the wall hangings. There are pictures of my children that they themselves did not remember or recognize. I revisited pictures of my past before children, friends from law school and college, my pet cat that grew up with me, and passed grandparents. It was like unpacking old friends. Eric and I hung the pictures around the house and found places for all of the photos. Once the first nail was banged into the wall, it was easy to muck of the rest of them.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Homeschooling Parents

Big sister to middle sister: "You know, in some families, it's the dad who is homeschooled and the mom goes to work."

So true.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hungry

Middle child: Mommy, I want to know everything….like how your voice works…and how the water comes out of the faucet….and how the lights work….I want to know what it’s like on Mars….

This one kept asking, "Why?" to everything when she was just two. I kept telling her she was too young. That phase comes later. Apparently it was just a preview.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

InNocent!

"I'm In-NO-sent!" cries big sister. She said it just like that. InNOsent.

The first time she said it, we were studying history and talking about religious persecution. She had read somewhere that Jesus was innocent of the crimes alleged by the Romans, but was crucified anyway. Ah, ha! Innocent is what she meant to say. But she learned the word from reading it and pronounced it the way it looked to her. InNOsent. After she went on and on about how so many people were accused of things and persecuted for their beliefs, even if they were inNOsent, I finally had to break it to her that it was pronounced "innusent." I hate to offer a correction when she is doing such good thinking about big concepts, but she said the word so many times that I worried she would ask later why I never mentioned it.

Apparently she doesn't mind saying it the way she read it because she continues to claim her inNOcence, apparently feeling an affinity for the persecuted.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Learning All The Time

We spent the past week out of town. I thought I would be so cool and bring along lessons so we would stay on top of things. We were going nonstop with beautiful weather and did practically no sit down lessons in the way I envisioned. Not that we didn't learn, which I must remind myself to keep from being discouraged. We learned about erosion on the beach, lighthouses, jellyfish, sea lions, pelicans, beach trash, whales, waves, wind, and so much more.

And I must remember the unschooling, which follows me around like a bad penny.

It even sneaks up on my on vacation. I gave big sister The Trumpet of the Swan to read because I knew it would come up in our language arts curriculum soon. She had it so briefly I was sure she didn't read the whole thing, though she insisted she did. Tonight I was staring to read a passage from the book for our language arts lesson and she stopped me. She hated that passage and didn't want to read it again.

So, I suggested we see if she could answer the questions from her memory of reading the passage. Me, thinking she wouldn't have actually read it and so she'll let me read this part to her for the lesson. I asked her the questions and she answered all of them with amazing specificity.

What are three things that the cob saw in the music store? "He saw trumpets....drums.....and banjos...."

What did the cob have in his mouth when he flew away from the music shop? "He had the red string from the trumpet's tag in his mouth." Not just the trumpet, but the RED STRING from the trumpet's tag.

I am beginning to wonder if she is actually sucking out my memory faculties and using them for herself. In any event, it's difficult to complain that we didn't stay on track while on vacation.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Canadian Home Birth Study

Canadian Home Birth Study

More research to support safety of home birth. Just in case you were wondering....

At the Beach


What would they think if
They knew I let my child eat
Apple dropped in sand?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

About dancing outside on a wet day: "It's fun dancing out there and shaking my booty at the sky!"

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Above Average

In response to my last post, a friend recently told me that researchers say an average preschooler makes three demands a minute. I am happy to note that my children are above average.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homeschool Math Quiz

Q: If it takes me 45 minutes with 15 interruptions from 3 kids to make 4 sandwiches for lunch, how many caterpillars are in the jar on the counter?

A: Which jar?

I am certain that our architect would cringe to know that our kitchen pass through counter, which he designed to be so elegant, is the home of two fancy goldfish, two betta fish, two pygmy frogs and their tank-cleaning snail friend, and two jars of caterpillars. I insist upon keeping the three containers of garden snails outside on the porch. I do have some standards.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time To Screen My Daughter’s Books

I asked my oldest child if she had any ideas about how we could help support her younger sister, who has been having trouble controlling her temper lately. Angry feelings from little sis were coming out as physical threats, like hitting or kicking, and I was feeling frustrated and hopeless after a couple of weeks of dealing with this problem to no avail.

“I don’t think there’s much left to do other than to give her a grounding,” said my oldest child.

I could not have been more surprised by her choice of words. Not only did I not know that she even knew that word, but we live in a family where we try to avoid punishments whenever possible. We try very hard to work with kids in other ways to teach them how to be most successful in interacting with others.

“What do you mean by grounding?” I asked.

“It’s when you get put in the cellar for a day and a night with no food,” said big sister very matter-of-factly. “That’s a popular type of grounding. I read about it in a book.”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Love

I never want to
know what I would do with lead
shoes or without you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Descent Into Madness

Always feeding some
one - or cleaning up after
tornado of kids.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Listening To Your Sisters

Have you all seen the Birth Survey? I think it's brilliant. I wish everyone had access to information about how women feel about health care providers, because that's a good indicator about how you will feel about your health care provider!

Yet, I also sort of wish that the Birth Survey did more. I worry that surveys like this will only collect people on the far ends of the spectrum. Those who had wonderful experiences and those who had terrible ones. I also worry that folks may feel good about their experiences, even when their experiences could have been far, far better. For example, most people don't even know that a newborn exam could be done while the baby is in a parent's arms. Most don't realize that you don't have to put a screaming baby on a scale immediately. Most don't get the option of food during labor. Most who receive medication don't have a nursing staff that helps with position changes to facilitate progress during an otherwise sedentary labor.

What I would like to see is accurate reporting by health care providers of their statistics. How many of their clients receive epidurals? How many have surgical births? How many VBACs? How many trials of labor? How many women show up later with complications from labor or surgery? What's the breastfeeding initiation rate of their clients? What is the rate at which their clients continue breastfeeding past 3 months?

These are the kinds of things that mattered to me when I was pregnant. I wanted to know what my health care provider would do in the event of surprises in my labor. I wanted to trust that I would be given honest options, that I would be in control of the decisions, that I would be given accurate information. And while this kind of care often leaves women feeling more satisfied with their birth experience, I also know that there are lots of women who don't even realize they can ask these questions or that options exist for them. I know that sometimes women feel like the frustrations they experience in their labors are their own fault - that their bodies don't work properly - rather than the result of a flawed system or a defensive health care provider.

So, bravo for The Birth Survey. And I hope that more can be done to create transparency in the health care system, so that women can truly be informed, and that they will have as much control as possible ove their reproductive lives.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Worms





Our already marginal yard suffered a great deal during the remodel. With the piles of bricks from the demolished chimney laying on the grass for a couple of weeks, the workers tromping around to get the work done, and the siding and supplies that laid in the beds for months on end, only the heartiest things remained when we moved back home. We have slowly been planting grass and other things to bring our yard back to life, and spent a bit of sunny time this weekend working to revitalize the space.

As I was planting a new little seedling, I discovered a particularly juicy worm and shared it with the kids, who enjoy meeting friendly creatures in the yard. It was baby V's first time enjoying the garden on her own feet, with her hands in the soil, and she was intrigued by the little worm. Delighted in her interest, I moved it to within her reach so that she could get to know it a little better. She reached for the worm. I thought how wonderful it was that she already felt comfortable with the friendly garden creatures. She picked it up. How delighted we all were that she could reach out and touch the natural world.

And, quick as a flash, she popped it into her mouth. Just as quickly, I retrieved it while her sisters screamed, "Ewwww!! Yuck!!" and convulsed to show their disgust for the idea of the taste of worm.

Poor little V cried and cried, confused about what she had done wrong, frightened by the strong reactions her action elicited. I felt terrible because I didn't recognize that she might try to eat the worm if I offered it to her, while at the same time I wondered why she thought that it looked like food.

All I can say is that I plan to be very careful about how I introduce her to spiders and ladybugs.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Gem

Four year old daughter is on a roll.

Out to dinner tonight. "I don't know what they have, but if one is chocolate, I'll take that one!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quote of the Day

From 4 year-old daughter: "I can't share all of my secret thoughts with you!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Boredom Cure

We rarely hear the "I'm bored" in our house these days. Because it is followed quickly by an offer of something to do. If a kid is really bored, she just might do one of the things I offer. If she is not interested in the job, she quickly finds a way to not be bored on her own.

Try these:

"I have some laundry to fold. You can help."

"It's a good time to go and pratice piano, then."

"Let's practice spelling."

"You can pick up the toys in the play room."

"You can put the books back on the shelf."

"You can help me put away the dishes."

I call it the magical boredom cure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Past Few Days

Fever croupy cough,
Mama's milk the only cure,
All day and all night.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You Know You're at a Homeschooling Event....

My eldest child was in a play recently, with a bunch of other homeschoolers. It's one of the community's favorite events because the kids get together to put on two very high production value plays - one for the older kids and one for the younger kids. It's fun to watch and fun to participate in the plays. A feel good event all around. The audience is full with young and old, friends, family, and other homeschoolers.

At the end, a friend came over and said, "You know you're at a homeschool event when there is a baby sitting on the potty." She was smiling and feeling nostalgic for the times when she carried around her kids with a potty everywhere they went.

She was far more committed to elimination communication (EC) than I am. I rarely bring a potty along and just let baby use the potty whenever she wants when we are home (which is more and more often). But at homeschool events, there is another baby, younger than my own, who always has her potty along. And because she is on the potty, my little one wants to do it as well.

So, imagine this scene at the play and consider whether it would happen at a school play.....

Two little ones - 14 and 18 months respectively - bottoms off and sitting on potties in the aisle while the kids put on a play on the stage.

Of course, my child refused to put her pants or diaper back on. Then she found that the shirt was superfluous. So, that came off as well. I didn't let her take off her shoes, insisting on some degree of decorum. Actually, I just didn't want her to step on anything dangerous in the dark theater.

We received a variety of reactions. Some know my little one and expect her to be running around with her pants off and the potty nearby. Some smiled at the cuteness of a naked baby. Some (all guests that I didn't recognize) looked a little less approving. Which made me realize this is probably not a mainstream experience - a naked baby in the audience.

I think that I could take my friend's observation a bit further and say, "You know you're at a homeschool event if there is a naked baby in the audience." Not every community would feel so comfortable about her way of learning to use the potty. (She almost never misses when she is naked, by the way.)

Note to self: Put her in a dress next time and hope she'll keep it on, even after the diaper comes off.

G's Story

From my middle child (and it harkens back to my skeleton joke last fall - amazing that she remembers):

A skeleton walks into a mop shop. He buys a lot of clothes, a mop, a bucket, and some beer. He put on the clothes, put the beer in the bucket, drank it up, used a mop to mop up the floor because it was dirty, and fell down dead.

The end.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Can Count On It

Children grow so fast. When you are a parent, there is one thing you can count on, and that is that whenever you get used to a new thing developmentally, you can expect it to change momentarily. Except for the things that really drive you crazy, and those seem to endure endlessly.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gender and Media

I watched two films on gender and media this evening with a group of homeschoolers. Generation M - Misogyny and Media Culture and Killing Us Softly (3).

If you get a chance to watch these, please also rent Disney's The Little Mermaid. As this justifies my position on Disney movies, I particularly enjoyed having this example shared by the host of the evening!

In short, the whole exercise demonstrated that the media is pervasive and powerful, and that power is used in ways that are harmful to women and other minorities. Media tells our girls that they are to be passive, silent, victims whose appearance is key and who must strive to attain an impossible image of beauty. Girls are expected to be sexually attractive and accommodating. In contrast, media tells our boys that they are to be aggressive and violent. Boys are expected to be sexually dominant and aggressive. When media does recognize other minorities, the images are generally unflattering.

Sadly, the influence of media is so pervasive that it actually creates a culture that is difficult to extract from the media influence. Ultimately, that's my concern. I feel pretty good about my ability to protect my children from negative media influences. (Yet, I will admit that I am not perfect. For example, they know far more about Disney princesses than I would ever wish them to, and even have some Disney princess as well as Barbie books and toys given to them as gifts by others.) However, there is no way to shield them from the world, which is molded by these media influences.

Culture dictates that my girls get positive reinforcement for acting girl-y. And so they do. Subtle gender biased messages abound, even from well-meaning, loving intentions on the part of others.

We have all heard of the researchers who find that people assign masculine characteristics to a baby dressed in blue and assign feminine characteristics to the same baby dressed in pink. I wonder how much of our children's gender identity and gender-based characteristics are based on their biological differences and how much is based on subtle cultural messages. I know people who believe that a lot is biological. But I have such a hard time swallowing this. I really think that we are blind to nuances and don't give babies and children enough credit for absorbing every single detail.

Me, included. I try really hard to emphasize the strength and intelligence of my children over their appearance. I work to expose them to a variety of activities and experiences. Yet, I am very comfortable giving in to their desires for pretty dresses and dolls. I don't hesitate to sign them up for dance classes and don't fight too hard when they don't want to participate in a sports class.

I also don't think that everyone appreciates how deep gender bias runs in our culture. Most don't have concrete examples. Yet I know people who have been hired for jobs because they are attractive. (I have been in the meetings where the fact was discussed openly.) I have received lower compensation than my equivalently performing male colleagues (even when I arguably deserved more for my unprecedented contributions to my firm's income by generating one of the firm's biggest clients). I have observed supervising lawyers joking with a woman associate about her breasts. Sadly, I even know women lawyers who will manipulatively cry in a meeting with their peers because they know that is the only way they can win an argument.

As a result, I want to prepare my kids for the world where they will sometimes find themselves in these untenable situations. There is simply no way to protect them from it entirely, much as I would like to do so.

For now though, I am going to stick to my position on Disney movies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool

I hate April Fool's Day. It just strikes me as mean to play tricks on others, and I personally don't feel good about doing it. It doesn't do anything for me.

But yesterday, someone taught my kids about April Fool's Day, and 6 year-old D was particularly enamoured of the idea. Her delight at the idea of tricks to play on others, her laughter at the stories told by her friends of tricks they have played or intend to play - it all reminded me of a time when I was her age and how much I loved April Fool's jokes. I remember perusing the novelty shops for fake vomit and cling bullet holes for the car window, whoopie cushions and plastic spiders. I, too, was delighted that I could make someone believe something that wasn't true. I loved the idea of having that kind of creating an illusion, of having that kind of power.

So, reluctantly, I agreed to both support my kid in playing a practical joke on someone. Moreover, I agreed that I would do an April Fool's trick on her. She begged. How could I resist?

Still, it's a difficult balance between doing something that is lame and something that is mean. I wish I would have had more time to plan. It's hard to creatively strike that balance in less than 24 hours.

I finally settled on something. This morning, when we were getting going for the day, I said, "Look! It's snowing!" It's April, right? Snow should be a surprise.

Her eyebrows raised, she ran to the window, and said, "Yep. It's snowing."

Can you believe it? Mother Nature must be playing a joke on me. It actually WAS snowing. I guess I'll have to be more creative next time. And only joke about things I can control!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Peace

Sometimes the only time I can think is when the house is quiet because everyone is asleep. The cat and the fish keep me company and I suddenly feel very clear and cogent. Unfortunately, it inspires me to stay up too late.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Dead Horse

We heard recently that a friend lost an old horse. She invited the kids to come and watch the autopsy if they were interested in learning more about anatomy firsthand.

D instantly covered her ears and listed her reasons for not wanting to do it. Too much blood, she said. And she didn’t want to be around death, which I can totally appreciate.

G had a different perspective. “I want to see the dead horse,” she explained,” because I don’t know what it means to be dead and maybe I could learn more about death if I could see it.”

You can see how my kids process information just from this encounter with them. One of them memorizes poems handily. One of them examines and recalls every image in a picture. One of them will trip over toys, books, clothes that she scatters around the house. One of them has remarkable hand-eye coordination for her age. D learns primarily with her auditory sense and G with her visual. Interesting that it permeates even their perspective on death.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spelling

I had the pleasure of volunteering for a choir concert recently. My kids sing in the choir and it’s a huge treat to spend time with them backstage as well as to get to know the other kids in the group. One of the tasks of the volunteer is to keep the kids in their lines once the teacher sets them up for the stage. One of the other mothers and I decided to write down the names of the kids in our line in order so we could reorder them if they got out of order. With pen in hand, I asked each little girl her name and how to spell it.

When I got to one of the tiniest little choiristers and asked her how to spell her name, she sat up straight and confidently called out,” P…B….S….Q….R…..E….A….Z!”

Of course, this group of letters not only doesn’t spell any word that I can understand, but it resembles nothing of what her name sounds like phonetically. But I LOVED how she wasn’t about to admit she didn’t know it, and she was going to do her best to give me some letters just like the other kids did.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Crooked-Eared Bunny




Just finished this little guy from the pattern in this issue of Living Crafts Magazine. Now for two more.....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Thing I Love About Homeschooling

Today we went to a birthday party. There were kids from ages 4 to 11 playing a game together that involved pretending to be cats, dogs, and various characters. V, at 17 months, was the littlest person in the house. And she desperately wanted to go play with the other kids, pointing and carrying on about it.

I told some kids, "She would like to play."

A nine year-old smiled and said, "Okay." Then she looked to V and said, "Do you want to be a cat or a dog?"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mexico

G loves to paint. Every time she gets her hands on paint, she puts paint on her hands. She likes to make hand prints. She can paint for incredibly long periods of time, quiet and peaceful, making an enormous mess.

So, it should have been no surprise when she told me about her ambition to become a painter someday.

“When I grow up, I am going to be a painter,” she proclaimed. “It means that I will have to travel a lot. Even to Mexico.” She paused. “Will you come with me when I travel?” she asked me.

“I would like to do that,” I affirmed.

“Even to Mexico?” she asked, surprised.

“Yes, even to Mexico.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Results of the Challenge

I failed to stick to my goal 100% of the time. But I will say that the results were impressive nonetheless.

"You have confidence in me, don't you Mommy?" my six year-old asked tonight.

Of course I do. I just need to remind myself now and again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Challenge

Try this for one day. Pick someone you love. Kid. Spouse. Someone near and dear. And choose. Choose to focus on things that you like about this person for one day. Don't mention the things you don't like about them. If they do something rotten, try to take a deep breath and move on. Try to be very, very gentle in necessary corrections. Try to correct only when NECESSARY. And try to show extra kindness and understanding. For one day.

I wonder what will happen.

I wonder if I can even do it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Doubts

I find myself mired in doubt these days. Am I doing enough for my kids? Am I doing too much? Should I stand aside and let them educate themselves? Should I trust them more to handle their own intellectual development? Should I be more structured in my approach? Should we be studying Latin yet? Is yelling over a screaming baby a reasonable way to teach history? Should I give the screaming baby more personal attention? Would she scream less if I did? Do we do enough art? Enough reading? Enough math? Do we get enough exercise? Did I remember to feed the kids lunch? Am I interrupting someone’s FLOW? Do I get to have my own FLOW? Why isn’t homeschooling protecting us from all of the stuff I find annoying about kids?

Mostly it’s because I have at least two kids in difficult stages and I am trying to find my way to balancing everyone’s needs at the same time.

Yet, once in a while, I find something validating. And I cling to it like a security blanket.

Oldest D to middle G: “If you love it, you can marry it!”

I cringe. I guess that homeschooling doesn’t mean we get to avoid inane childhood jokes and teasing. I am considering an intervention to remind everyone about kindness to one another, when I hear the rest.

D: “Actually, if you hate it, you might have to marry it, too! You’ll be like Hermia and Demetrius.”

Okay, my six year-old knows a good bit of Shakespeare. And a little moment like this gives me the clarity that I need to focus on what we have achieved rather than what I might not have done.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aspirations

By the time I was in second grade, I had things figured out. Being an animal lover, I would dedicate my life to the care of animals. I would become a veterinarian. Always a researcher, I checked out books from the library about veterinary work. And then my dreams were shattered.

The books showed many photos of vets helping sick animals and providing routine healthcare – which included shots. A vet not only gives animals vaccinations, but shots of medicines for ailments, I learned. I also learned that a vet might heal an animal through surgery rather than just lots of hugs and a warm lap, as I envisioned myself doing it.

Being completely against anything piercing flesh in any way – even furry flesh – even to heal and help – I was unable to continue with my life’s ambition. Never again did I feel so inspired on a career path. Must have been why I ended up being a lawyer. Lack of inspiration.

Still, I remember my passion for animals and feel some of it even today when my passions outside of raising my family have muted to dull in so many respects. And because I remember my passion, I understand my daughter’s growing passion.
“Mommy,” 4 year-old G leans in close to me and looks at me with the most sincere brown eyes you have ever seen, “I want to have a horse when I am growed up.”

I agree that of course that’s totally her choice and I support her in it.

“And really,” she leans so close that wisps of our matching hair touch, “I want a horse when I am still a kid. A real horse. Just a small one, like a pony. Maybe when I am much older, like seven or eight. I will take care of it all by myself. Well, maybe I’ll need your help a little. We’ll keep it in the front yard.”

Her solemn voice and earnest eyes tell me that this not the last conversation we will have over this issue. I do mention that our postage stamp yard is not big enough for a horse. She insists that it’s fine for a very small horse – a pony. I tell her that I understand how important this is for her now, and that we can wait and discuss it when she is older. She says okay. But I know her. Her okay means, okay, when I get older, we will talk about how and when I will get my horse. This is not an, okay, we will talk about IF I get a horse.

In June, her big sister received a tea set for her birthday and G wanted it in the worst way. Of course, big sister didn’t want to share the new gift mostly because middle sister wanted it so much. G asked my mom, the giver of the gift, if she would get her the same thing for her October birthday. Yes, grandma agreed. Then not another word about it. Well, come early October, G says she is very excited that she will be getting a new tea set. Both grandma and I had completely forgotten about the exchange, assuming she would as well. But behind those huge brown eyes, there is a vault containing important information, especially information about “those things that are coveted most.”

So, I know that the horse is not forgotten. And it does come up again and again. It’s not the pleading I want a pony that you read about in kids’ books. It’s more like, I am looking forward to a time when I have my pony because I want it so much that it must be coming to me.

I remember having a fleeting desire for a pony when I was a kid. But I knew that it was so far beyond the realm of possibility, I didn’t even waste my daydreams on it. I am not sure whether to be glad or worried that my daughter has the belief that she can make her passions come alive. Probably a little bit of both.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Furture Plans

Today G said, "Mommy, I already know what I will do when I am growed up. I am going to stay and live here with you forever."

I tried to savor what feels like a rare blissful show of unconditional affection.

At age 4, she is supposed to have a sunny disposition. Yet, she hasn't read the books that I have on child development, so she doesn't know this and thus her sunny disposition does not dominate her behavior. I wonder if I read them to her, if this would inspire her.

Honestly, I have found age 4 to be more work than I would have expected with her. She's super sensitive to physical things. Can't wear a coat in her car seat because she doesn't like how it feels. Won't abide by a drop of water on her clothes and thefore hates to wash her hands. She's a tremendously picky eater. I worry that she doesn't get enough food because she so infrequently is willing to eat what I cook, even if she loved it a week ago. She yells and screams her frustrations, despite my best efforts to get her to talk them out. She has trouble sleeping now more than she ever has before. She lays in bed thrashing around and claiming she cannot sleep, but the moment she stills herself, she falls asleep. I could make a long list of things that I find incredibly challenging.

Yet, I get these glimmers of absolute sweetness and it is remarkable at how quickly all of my weariness melts away. I know that someday I will be wishing she still wants to live with me forever. Hopefully I can maintain my patience until then!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hair

My relationship with my hair can be viewed in eras. When I look back at old photos, you can see these eras vividly. The stone age of my hair is the wispy baby hair that grew into long brown locks with curling ends. From here, things actually devolved into a series of bad haircuts all imposed by my mother’s desire to not have to bother with combing or braiding it.

Later, as I claimed control of my hair, a long list of regrettable hair episodes continued to occur, including the wall of bangs in high school. I never truly hated my hair, but when I look back, I realize I should have. Until the golden age of hair began.

When I worked as a lawyer downtown, Nunzio cut my hair regularly. He worked at the salon in the chi chi hotel across the street from my office. Nunzio made my hair look fantastic. He told me to grow out my bangs. “You should have no bangs at all on your face. Look at your face! You must grow them out.” And he was right. I spent twenty something years with bangs because my mom told me I needed them. Nunzio said no more bangs and I never looked back.

Sadly, Nunzio moved to New York to cut hair, as so many talented metrosexual hairdressers do. I was suddenly anxious over my hair. I had never really loved my hair before Nunzio and I didn’t want to let go of that affection.

In true “close a door/open a window” fashion, I found Jonna at a funky little hair salon by the waterfront. If anyone could be better than Nunzio at making my hair look fantastic, it’s Jonna. She would talk to me the entire time she was cutting my hair, rarely looking at me or the work she was doing with the scissors. And every time, she turned my hair into something that I loved and could easily replicate. Jonna became my friend that I saw regularly to maintain my cute haircuts, each one a little different from the last. She even convinced me to use a hair dryer and “product” to style it.

With the advent of motherhood, another age has taken control of my hair. It’s the age of “I don’t have time for that” hair. At each visit, I would explain to Jonna that whatever she did, it had to be able to look good as a wash and wear cut – literally. No hair dryer will be used. No styling products. Just finding time to wash my hair seemed like a vastly challenging task. With great disappointment, Jonna relented to simpler cuts. And as a testament to her skill, they still looked pretty darn good.

With three kids in my life, my haircuts have become fewer and farther between. As I walked into her shop this week, she greeted me with the usual enthusiasm and said, “It’s time for your annual haircut!”

Oh, my. It’s true. I think it has been a year since I have had a haircut. To her credit, her great cuts really do make me look good for a long time. It is months before I start putting my long and shaggy hair into a pony tail.

The upside of waiting until I have a really shaggy mess of hair is that the resulting cut is appreciated more. “Wow! Your hair looks terrific!” people will exclaim. They are too kind to say, “Boy, I didn’t realize how crappy your hair looked until you finally got it cut.” But that is certainly part of the reason they notice and comment. It’s no secret to me because I feel the same way.

But the downside is that my kids are traumatized. They don’t recognize me when I come back home with most of my hair missing. They spend several days criticizing my haircut and looking at me with skepticism as though I am someone they don’t recognize.

Hopefully one day I will find that sweet spot of having great hair again. I am not sure if I can ever prioritize hair in the way I once did (along with manicures, massages, and leg shaving). But maybe I can get it cut before I traumatize anyone.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's hard to be a kid

This conversation happened today in my house.

Middle child to me when I disagreed with her plan: "I read somewhere that if you want to be a mother, you have to do what your kids want to do."

Oldest child (who agreed with her mother for once): "Actually, if you are a kid, you have to do what your mother says."

Middle child: "Then I don’t want to be a kid."

Ah, yes. I understand. Sometimes it's hard to be a kid. I can remember feeling this so strongly when I was a kid. In fact, I lost a lot of good kid-time wishing I wasn't a kid. I hope that I can help my kids avoid that. So, tomorrow, we will try to do more of what they want to do, especially that middle child who is far too young to not want to be a kid yet.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Unschooling

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of unschooling.

Ultimately, it’s not for me. Mostly, I can’t imagine that if I let my kids do whatever they want that they will choose to do the things that are difficult, and I think that part of my job is giving them the courage to try things that are difficult, and the skills to kick the butt of difficulty whenever possible.

So, when I was recently listening to an unschooling homeschooling parent rave about how her kids were thriving under her unschooling wing, I found myself cringing and squirming. She painted a rosy picture of how her children at first didn’t take to several things, but how if she just let them alone with it, they all came around and became brilliant at those things. She credited herself for staying out of the way and she credited all children with being so amazing that they just naturally develop brilliance given the space to do so.

Ugh. I find that these broad generalizations inspire my own feelings of guilt and frustration. Why is MY kid not naturally acquiring the skills and ethics that the other kids do? Why does my life not unfold so perfectly and conveniently? It leads to the ultimate question: What am I doing WRONG?

I have enough problems, enough reasons to blame myself, enough hyper-focus on my own inadequacies. I don’t need to emphasize more of my own failures. So, I find reasons to disagree with unschoolers. I say that guidance and structure are good for kids. I see my kids reacting positively to the boundaries and expectations I set that they would not otherwise set for themselves.

Of course, I agree with unschoolers that kids should have a lot of choice over the way in which they cover subjects and in many of the things they get to learn. I find myself nodding when unschoolers say that kids learn more and retain it better when they are learning about things that interest and inspire them. I concur that learning can happen in a multitude of ways and that those diverse ways should be honored.

Still, I have expectations around core subjects like reading, math, spelling, and writing. As a result, I routinely ruin perfectly good unschooling moments to foist lessons on my children. And for the most part, I am unapologetic about this. (Okay, I’ll admit that sometimes it would have been better had I stood back and let things unfold more organically, but I don’t always have that luxury. After all, there are three under 7 of them all with competing demands at any given moment.)

But the other day, I met a woman who has a kid in a very progressive, very gentle and nurturing elementary school. And she explained that she really wanted to homeschool, but she just couldn’t do it with this kid because she hates being the one to push him to do things. He doesn’t want to do things that he doesn’t feel interested in, and she likes that it’s his teachers and not her with the job of constantly requiring things of him that he doesn’t want to do. It’s enough how much we fight over his homework, she cringed. I would hate to fight all of the time with him. She also said that he gets overstimulated at school and has sensory integration issues, and being at school makes that difficult sometimes.

Much to my chagrin, I found myself thinking, “Oh, my. He needs a bit of unschooling.” If only this kid could follow his own passions and not be forced to do homework every day, he would probably enjoy learning a great deal more. If he didn’t feel like learning was about someone forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do all of the time, he might be a more passionate and joyful learner. If he could only get a break from the sensory overload he must feel every day and think without the clutter of sensory data beating him up, he would probably feel more open to learning. But I couldn’t find a way to say any of this without making this mother feel the way those stories about brilliant unschoolers make me feel. So, I cringed and squirmed instead.

I’m still not backing down on my regular lesson plans. But I’ll concede a point to unschooling.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trying Things Out

When thirsty, fifteen month-old V frequently walks over to the cabinet where we keep the kids' sippy cups and tries to drink from each one, wondering which one might have water in it. These are the magical water-giving cups, after all. Whenever she asks for water, we bring her one of these things and water comes out.

This behavior shows a transition to more independence. She wants to figure out the water thing for herself rather than asking us to get it for her. And it also shows her growing brain's limitations. While she probably has gotten water out of one of the cups from the cabinet before (as she has been known to return full cups of water to the cabinet), she hasn't really figured out all of the steps yet.

I have no doubt that she will. Her powers of imitation are amazing. Sometimes when the big sisters and I are working on math, we sing a song that is a finger play, holding up our hands and moving our fingers. V holds up her hands and "sings" along each time. She will stop whatever she is doing and participate with the song. It is yet to be determined whether this will improve her math skills down the road. Stay tuned for that one.

What is determined is that I have to be very careful about how I act around this little person, because she is really, really paying attention and she wants to do it, too!

In addition, I will try to pay attention to her and how she learns. It can be so easy to get stuck and not know how to solve a problem. It can be easy to try just one sippy cup and give up, not expecting water to spring forth. But I see her working on it every day, with persistence and hope. Seems like something I should learn from her.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

You Know You're From The Northwest If.....

On this rare, gloriously sunny winter day in the Pacific Northwest, I said to my children, "It's so nice out today. We should go out for a walk."

Whereupon G groaned and said, "I don't want to go outside today. It's too bright! It hurts my eyes!"

Friday, January 16, 2009

How Do You Do It?

I get a mix of reaction when I tell folks that I homeschool my kids. Some are profoundly impressed. Others are surprised. Others curious.

There’s one I never expected. “How do you do it?” This isn’t the how do you do it that is truly curious how I go about accomplishing it. These people don’t want to know what lesson plans I follow or what my strategy for creating social networks for my kids are. These are the people who stop flat and ask the question dramatically, and without expecting a practical answer.

And I never know how to respond. Are they asking because they feel insecure? Do they really mean, “I don’t feel like I could do it, so it’s hard for me to understand how anyone else does”?

Should I feel criticized by the question? Are they implying that I don’t have what it takes? “How do YOU – you with the messy house and the scattered brain and the disheveled children – how do YOU do it?”

Maybe they are concerned for me. They wouldn’t find it fun, so they worry that I am toiling in the hell of full time parenting.

Perhaps I should feel concerned for them. Do they not know how to spend that much time with their kids? Do they lack a relationship that satisfies them? Not that I don’t want to flee from my children on occasion….well, sometimes several times a day. And not to imply that those who make different choices don’t have satisfying and robust relationships with their children. But, sometimes I wonder if people who look at me in horror about the time I get to spend with my kids…I wonder if they even think that having a close relationship with school-age children is important.

The fact remains that homeschooling is a choice like any other. I have chosen to have a meager income instead of a healthy one in return for spending almost all of my time with my kids. It is sort of a strange choice even to me when expressed that way. But I also choose to hire help with the housework rather than with the kids. I don’t know how to repair my own car or to play guitar. I am a terrible ice skater and I have never tried to sky dive. But that doesn’t mean that I think those who do are freaks. I think that the world is big enough for all of us.

So, how do I do it? There isn’t a how about it. As with all adventures in parenting, it’s a total immersion program. And I don’t really have a choice other than to persevere. I just do it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2008 Year in Haiku

New house growing kids
Broken jaw heals so quickly
Our baby walks now