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Posts Tagged ‘thoughts’

I was in the grocery store yesterday, walking through frozen foods, and, as usual contemplated buying Pizza Pops, which I know several of the kids, particularly the boys, love. As usual, I almost bought them, and then didn’t. I thought about their orangey faux-tomato filling, and the saturated fats in the crust, and as much as I love my boys, and as much as I love to give them what they want, I didn’t put them in my cart. Same thing with the frozen waffles and Tater Tots.

I think it was mostly fatigue, and my negative frame of mind, but I began feeling irritated with society in general. I extended the Pizza Pops to a metaphor for our culture of immediate gratification, in which we are exhorted to buy, buy, buy. Why not? Why not eat fast food? It’s easy. The kids like it. Why not buy ready-made meals, snack crackers, hydrogenated vegetable oil laden cookies, and prepackaged crap? Everyone else is. It’s easy! The kids love it! Why bother cooking? Why bother baking? Just open up a package of cookie dough and throw it in the oven. Why shouldn’t we have what we want when we want it? We deserve it. If it’s easy, and easily obtainable, and we feel like it, why not?

Sometimes it feels like I’m swimming upstream. It’s all just there, and I have to endlessly explain to the kids why I don’t want them eating this that or the other. I have to consciously set up limits for the amount of candy and chocolate that enter this house unbidden. I limit video games, computer games, and have made the house a no Game Boy/Game Cube/ Wii zone. I endured 2 weeks of bedtime tears when oldest son was seven or so and desperately craved an X-Box. I saw how much TV that T in particular was prone to watching, and got rid of it. My kids don’t have MP3 players, or their own sound systems. They don’t get things just because. Just because they want them, or everyone else has them, or they suddenly have an intense craving for one. I am the pillar of conscientious consumption, and I hold the line. I explain about the effects of packaging in landfills, about green house gases, about the perils of too much stuff. About the advertising industry and it’s insidious agenda. About how we aren’t automatically entitled to what we want. I think, I force the kids to think, and I rail against the greedy, selfish, short-term thinking of our current materialistic culture.

Even writing this makes me feel like an ogre. A fun-sucking, over-thinking griper. Which makes me angry. I’m not the crazy one. The way we’re all being manipulated is crazy. I’m angry that taking a stance against over-consumption and asking questions about doing everything in the easiest way possible makes me the bad guy. I can not be the only person out there that looks around and says….hold it here people…and yet, it feels that way sometimes.

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Pretty/ Ugly

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Ever so slowly, the seasons are changing.

Yesterday, out with T on the toboggan hill, I smelled the wet ground. There’s a patch of bare pavement on the sidewalk in front of the house, and the kids have dragged out their scooters so that they can use that bit of ground. The snow looks sunken and pitted and old. The small crack of open water by the footbridge has become rushing water, and even though the river is still covered in snow and ice, there are patches of dark areas, evidence of the water below. This city is at it’s ugliest at this time of year. The roads are slushy, the trees are bare, everything looks dirty.

But, as J wrote in her last little story, “the air is soft against my cheek.” And I can smell the ground.

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On Being Cool

I’ve been trying for what feels like hours now to articulate my thoughts on a recent post by bluemilk which commented on the fact that parenting, by it’s very nature, is not cool, or hip.

I read it, and it coalesced with something else that has been brewing in my head for a while, but every time I put fingers to keyboard, the words come out all wrong. It’s my first case of writer’s anxiety I’ve had since starting this blog, and it’s slowing me down.

What I’m trying to talk about is earnestness, and how it is the opposite of cool, and how I used to be cool, in the sense that I projected an air of nonchalance, but how I now, with 13 years of parenting under my belt, want to embrace the fact that I am actually quite earnest. I really care about doing things well. I don’t care if this isn’t cool. I don’t really care about much anymore except following my gut and doing what I think is right.

I wish that I had been able to be this way when I was younger, but it took parenthood to give me the strength to own it.

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Good Parenting

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This is a  sample I took from one of the numerous journals, note pads, and stray pieces of paper that constitute Jay’s preoccupation with writing. She’s been “writing” since she was about 2. Scribbling, copying words from books, and begging me to dictate stuff that she can write down. I’ve not once asked her to write, and haven’t given her much attention for it, she just does it.

It’s interesting how each kid shows their innate interests and predispositions. That’s one of the neat things about having four of them. It’s pretty clear by now that they are who they are, and my parenting can’t be credited or blamed for much. I don’t believe that they are the blank slates that John Watson, the famous behaviourist thought they were. I think that kids are born with a set of neurological tendencies that affect the way they interpret their environment, and affect the way they express themselves, and that their personalities affect the way other people respond to them. A couple of years ago I read a book written by Steven Pinker called The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. I don’t remember the exact details, but I remember it being a fascinating look at the age-old nature/nurture debate, and that it validated my personal observations.

 I think that our job as parents is to provide a solid, secure emotional base, and unconditional support for our kids, so that they can feel free to develop as individuals. I think that if we can do that, we’ve done well.

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Taking Responsibility

Still thinking about this.

Now in year 6 of homeschooling, I don’t have any doubts at all about the quality of education my kids are “receiving” compared to what they would get at school. What this article did crystallize for me, though, is my growing awareness of an intangible benefit of homeschooling’s individualized learning. The intangible that, to me, is the most important difference between what they would get at school versus what they get at home.

I saw it with R. and with L. I am seeing it’s emergence in Tee.

The awareness that they, and only they, are responsible for their own learning.

It was most striking with R, who had attended grades 1, 2, and part of 4, before he began homeschooling. The first several months at home, he struggled mightily. He wanted me to provide structure, but fought with me over content. Refused to do writing assignments. Whined, pouted, sulked, and complained, but was at a loss when asked to come up with alternatives. Didn’t know what to do with his time if I didn’t come up with a plan, and then hated all of my suggestions. It was incredibly frustrating to try to “teach” this kid anything. The harder I worked to come up with great ideas, the more planning I did, the less interested he became. He felt guilty, I felt unappreciated, and our homeschooling experiment devolved into a series of battles.

It was only when I got so frustrated that I told him to figure it out for himself that the real learning took place. When I gave up and told him I was done, he panicked. Faced with hours of unstructured time each day, he was at a complete loss. Without anyone to complain about, or any “arbitrary assignments” to rebel against, he found that he actually needed my help. He slowly, and quite painfully, made the transformation into a self-directed learner, but it was a real process for him. It took months for him to feel comfortable about deciding for himself, and initially he needed a lot of support. It was almost as if he was un-learning his dependence on a very structured sort of environment, a dependence on being told what to do. I learned a lot too, and struggled alongside him as he slowly became aware of his interests, and then tried to figure out how to follow them. Our power struggles evaporated, and over the next several years, he flourished.

I saw the spark of interest re-ignited, and found myself swept along with him on his educational journey. He read his way through the non-fiction section of the library, developed an interest in chemistry, and began taking courses at the highschool level. He took an online geography course, and realized that he needed to know how to write essays. His interest in Ghengis Khan led him to books on Marco Polo, and that led to a study of Asia, China, ancient cultures, the history of writing, adventurers, and on and on. One thing always led to another. Not in order, not as it would have been presented in school, and not with any grand scheme in mind. Along the way, he learned geography, history, art, science, math, and made connections between those subjects.

The most important thing he learned, though, had nothing to do with content. He learned to take responsiblity for himself. For his own learning. For his own use of time. He stopped blaming me for not knowing what he wanted and started figuring it out himself.

Having to take responsiblity. It’s a big part of what my kids learn by being “taught” at home.

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“How can you possibly think you can give your children an education to match what the local schools give them, when you’re not as educated as the teachers at these schools?” (from a post titled On Gaining a Quality Education at Home, written by Timothy Power.)

Well, harrumph, I would have to say that I take some exception to that question, given my own particular level of education, but it is a question that I am sometimes asked. Another way it is often put is:

“Don’t you have to be a teacher to know how to teach?” or

“Do you have a degree in education?”

all basically asking whether I am qualified, or able, to provide my children with an education. It is interesting to me that we, as a culture, even ask that question. I find it very hard to come up with a good explanation for my point of view, so I was glad to read this response by Timothy Power. He gives this question the articulate, intelligent answer it deserves.

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Who Matters?

Okay, so here’s another tricky one. The group versus the individual.

When the kids were all small, say, 7, 5, 3, and 1, we did almost everything as a group. Most of the things we did were driven by the interests of kid #1. Number 2 was usually pretty happy to go along with whatever number 1 wanted to do, at least, happier than number 1 would have been to do the reverse, and the little ones did their thing wherever. Poor number 4 was virtually raised at gyms and swimming pools, and she spent the bulk of her naptime in her carseat. I felt a fair bit of guilt about it, but at least we were all together.

Now things are different. The big kids, ages 11 and 13, can stay home alone, and can also watch whichever of the little kids doesn’t want to go with mom. Which is great. Totally liberating, and much, much easier than it was when I had to organize around naps, diapers, finger foods and toddler attention spans. These days, I just hop into the car and announce my departure, taking whomever needs to go.

Trouble is, I now have to balance the needs of the group over the needs of each individual. I no longer make group decisions with impunity. I can’t just announce what we’re doing, or where we’re going. I now have four children in the house who each have very active social lives, and who make their own plans. Darn them. Where once I had one, and then two children to discuss things with, I now have four.

And in my efforts to raise independent, competent, listened-to, and respected individuals, I have created quite the ongoing issue. I try to listen to the needs of each of them, while at the same time thinking of what would work best for us all. Most of the time, they’re pretty good with being flexible, but the times that they aren’t are hard.

An example of this friction is when one of the older kids has a friend over. Invariably, a younger sibling wants to be included in their activities. The older kid has long since passed the stage of suffering the little one gladly, and just wants a bit of alone time with the friend. What’s a mom to do? I feel for both of the parties involved. So I waver. Some days I insist that everyone be included, other days I let bedroom doors stay shut. Same with the “tagging along” issue. Some times I make them take the sib, other times I don’t. Depending on who I’m most identifying with, or who is more needy at that time.

I know families that are all about togetherness. I err on the side of allowing for individual differences. Maybe even at the cost of family life. I don’t insist that the kids attend sibling sporting events, or even sibling birthday parties (except for family ones). I don’t expect the 13-year old to want to go on outings, or for a family bike ride, I know that painting pottery is fun for the girls and one of the boys, but not the other, and that a trip to Fort Whyte is only fun for me.

So we don’t often do things as a complete unit anymore.

In an effort to allow for, and encourage, individuality, I’ve created a noisy, sometimes cumbersome psuedo-democracy peopled with still-growing, still-learning not-always-able-to-see-the-other-person’s-point-of-view individuals, all crowing to have their voices heard. It would be a lot easier right about now to be a little lot more authoritarian in my approach. It would save me time, energy, frustration, and on the surface, I bet things would look smoother.

My gut feeling though, is that these loud-voiced young people are learning valuable lessons from all of this. I have to hear a lot of opinions about many of my decisions, and I spend a fair bit of time explaining my choices instead of just dictating the rules, but all of the kids know that their thoughts count. That’s more important to me than having us all in one place at one time, or on having my word be law. I guess, if I was forced to choose, it would even be more important to me than family harmony. As long as each of the kids feels understood as the person that they are, I’m okay with having to listen to five different points of view on every single topic under the sun.

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Sometimes, it’s hard to know what’s right.

Halloween is a good example for me. As an anti-consumer, and a fairly firm wall against the social pressure to stock candy/pop/chips in this house, it’s a little unsettling to watch the children unloading their overflowing bags of junk all over the living room rug. Right now, they’re sorting the candy into categories, for our annual post-Halloween tradition. Making a Loot Chart. It was my answer to over-tired, over-sugared homeschool kids on the day after trick-or-treating, and it’s the fourth time we’ve done it. Big kid L almost decided to skip school just to help, but in the end thought she’d rather go swap adventure tales with her classmates.

Every single year, I wish we didn’t have this holiday. It irks me. All that candy. Some parents give all of the candy away. In years past, I actually traded their loot for a present of their choice, reasoning that a toy was less harmful than pounds of sugar. Most years, I’ve collected the candy, and then doled it out, one per day, but the downside of that was the continual nagging. Plus, I hate being OgreMother In Charge. Also, the kids are getting older. I let them make decisions for themselves in as many spheres of their lives as they are able. All part of the natural progression towards eventual adulthood.

So this year, I finally gave up. You can each keep your own candy, and decide for yourselves when you want to eat them. But not right before a meal! Jay said. Yup, even right before a meal. You get to decide.

It won’t do them irreparable harm to gorge on candy for a couple of days (weeks?) surely.

Hopefully.

Or am I just being irresponsible and lazy? Freedom and decision-making as code words for taking the easy way?

Maybe there’s a middle ground here that I’m missing. Maybe I’m over thinking the whole thing. Maybe I should admit that I just don’t know. Maybe that’s why I hate Halloween.

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Adult Women Only

DSCN0663The kids and I went to our local pool for our usual once-weekly swim this afternoon. We love this pool, because the facility is tiny, the water is much warmer than at the bigger pools, it has a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the water with sunshine, and the staff is friendly. We’ve been going to this pool on fairly regular basis ever since Jay was a newborn, and it’s always been a lovely experience.

One of the things I’ve noticed, and like, about this pool, is that most of the women who use it seem comfortable about nudity. I like that the kids have seen women’s bodies in a natural, no-big-deal kind of way ever since they’ve been babies and toddlers. They’ve seen old bodies, young bodies, skinny ones, and fat ones. Last year, Jay’s swim instructor took her shower right after lessons, and unabashedly showered right alongside the girls. Some women choose to shower in their bathing suits, others shower naked, and up till today, no-one’s been upset about children being there. Quite frankly, it didn’t occur to me that anyone would be.

So I was quite taken aback with the reaction we got today. The kids went down to the women’s change area ahead of me, but came right back up, saying that someone told them they couldn’t be there. I went down with them, and was confronted by a very angry woman. She looked to be in her 40’s or 50’s, was quite heavy, and was wearing a bathing suit. She stated very loudly that it was a WOMEN’S change room, and that I was being rude to bring my kids in there. I asked her where she thought they should change. She said she didn’t really care, but certainly not in the place where ADULT WOMEN changed.

Now, I guess I can kinda understand, sorta, why she may not have been comfortable with Tee being there (even thought he’s a scrawny, undersized 8-year old who looks more like 6), but what’s up with a small girl being there?

She didn’t give me a chance to get into a discussion about it, so I guess I’ll never know. She barreled right past us, purple with rage, to go have words with the pool supervisor. I told the kids to stay put, and followed her.

Sparing you the details of her blotchy-chested, spittle-spraying tirade, the end result was the supervisor saying that of course kids were to be expected at a public pool and that the facility didn’t have a designated family change room, at which the woman stormed off, saying that she would take it to the city councillor.

End of story, except that when I went back down to the change room, Tee was in tears. He felt like he had done something wrong, broken the rules, and was worried that I might ask him to change in the men’s room by himself. I told him that I would never make him do something he was afraid of, and that we wouldn’t go swimming if he had to do that. Then I said that he hadn’t done anything wrong, that sometimes grownups aren’t very grown up.

Was I in the wrong? Bringing a 6-year old girl is definitely acceptable, but is an 8-year old boy too old?

I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be bothered by someone else’s son, and if I was, I would go change behind a curtain, or in a stall. But that’s clearly not everyone’s opinion.

What is this western fear of nudity? Sex and violence on TV are fine, but a natural naked breast can’t be shown on the cover of parenting magazines. There’s still debate about whether women should be “allowed” to breastfeed in public. What exactly is so horrifying about seeing a naked body? And what danger did Tee pose to this woman in the changeroom today?

She was so over the top in her outrage that I suspect she has her own personal issues with body image, which is sad, but I think this encounter was reflective of a bigger societal issue.

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Unschooling Update

Back to this old chestnut again. I’m clearly neurotic.

The constant internal battle I have with allowing learning to occur naturally versus scripting it for my own sense of security. An organized, goal oriented, list-making kind of mom faced with homeschooling a free-thinker.

So how’s it going, you ask?

Well, week one of “unschooling” is over, and so far, so good. Tee has kept himself remarkably busy, has been a happy, even joyful, kid, and if I analyze the days’ events, has even managed to teach himself things. I’ll use today as an example.

I’ll put my thoughts in italics.

First off, he said he wanted to make a ninja throwing star. What? You can work on that this afternoon! We should do some math!

Bit my tongue. Allowed him to research on the internet, helped him print off some pages on ninja weapons, and helped him make a ninja throwing star out of an old CD. Well, at least we’re recycling. And, he did have to learn how to use a protractor, plus he now knows what parallel and perpendicular mean, and he learned about right angles. He and I both learned that CD’s aren’t solid metal, they’re just plastic with a silver coating. Who knew? Plus, if you soak them in warm water for a few minutes before you cut them, they don’t splinter.

Suggested he take the time to find out more about ninjas. Like where they lived, who they were etc. Politely rebuffed. Apparently only interested in the weaponry.

Then wanted a carrying pouch to put his ninja star in. I suggested sewing one. He said “would you mind?” Ha! I said I’d teach him. He was absolutely thrilled. Quelle suprise. Would never in a million years ever have suggested a sewing project.

He spent 2 hours sewing industriously, and you should have seen the look of pride on this guy’s face when he held up the completed pouch.

Then spent another hour making 5 more ninja stars on his own, each more precise than the last, got dressed up in his ninja costume, and ran around the front yard doing ninja kicks. Let’s call that recess.

So that was the whole morning, gone. No traditional school work done. Even he seemed a little nervous about it. “I didn’t learn anything today, mom…” Au contraire my son.

Our afternoons have always been unstructured, excepting the classes/field trips/lessons that they go to, and funnily enough, I’ve always been okay with that. I guess in my little brain, 3 hours of Real School with Real Subjects that are easily quantified and dutifully recorded in my homeschool journal are enough.

Anyway, in the afternoon, Tee was still busy making ninja weapons, and pretending to be a ninja. He got a chance to hammer some nails into the almost-finished shed, and watch the hanging of a door. He wrote a little post on our blog about the ninja stars, and did some (forced) timestable practice.

Then it was time for his guitar lesson, and then L came home from school, and then we were off the clock.

So, what should I make of this day? Was it more or less productive, more or less useful, than a day spent sitting at a table doing “school work”? If I HAD forced him to do what I thought we should do, he wouldn’t have had his ninja day. Today he learned things HE was interested in learning. Are they less important than what I would have had him learn? I think not. Angles weren’t on the math horizon yet. Nor was the protractor. He learned about them today in a very natural, spontaneous way, and I bet they’ll make a lot more sense learned in this context than they would learned from a book.

Plus, his internal spark was lit. I could see it.

Score 1 for unschooling. Let the games continue.

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“Whatever”

65758158_eee2a579e2_tOne of my friends insisted I go to a lecture given by the guy that wrote this book. The lecture was a whole year ago, but I remembered it a few days ago because of something I’ve been noticing.

What I’ve noticed, and been quite startled by, actually, is the lack of defensiveness shown by my older two kids, ages 11 and 13, when I remind them of chores left unfinished. I notice a jacket left lying on the stairs, steel myself for streams of backtalk, then tell whoever left it, say L, to pick it up. She hears me, says “oh, okay, thanks for reminding me” and picks it up. Same with R. If I remind him to do something, he just appreciates the reminder. Isn’t that crazy?

I remember being all hostile and put out when my parents told me anything. I was instantly ready to defend myself, I had endless lists of excuses for not having done whatever it was I should have done, and I was angry at them for pointing it out. I felt attacked. To be honest, I’m still pretty bad at receiving “constructive” criticism. It always makes me feel not good enough.

Which is why I’m so surprised by my kids. They seem to hear my words, and just my words. They don’t react as if they are being criticised. They hear a helpful reminder, and if anything, feel mildly apologetic for having forgotten.

So being me, I had to think about it.

Why don’t they react like I used to?

Maybe it’s because they have not often been shamed for being “wrong”. They both spent most of their preteen years in the emotionally safe haven of home. They’ve been free to have their own interests and opinions, and have not had to concern themselves with whether those interests were the “right” kind, compared to what kids/girls/boys “should” be interested in, as dictated by social norms. L. was intensely interested in worms for a while, and she never heard anyone squealing about how disgusting they were. R. pursued a fascination with history, at one point reading the story of “Gilgamesh” and actually being moved to tears at the realization that he was reading what was probably the first novel ever written. Can you imagine feeling safe enough in a classroom to cry?

So they aren’t always checking to see if what they are doing is “right” or “wrong”. They aren’t always on guard, ready to defend themselves. They feel safe, and secure, and don’t have a wall of defensiveness built up all around them.

Which brings me to the author of that book, Dr. Gordon Neufeld.

 His talk was actually on the topic of Raising Caring Children, but I’ve extrapolated his main point to cover this situation. He postulated that children need to feel emotionally safe in order to care about anyone, or anything. That if they showed interest in something, they were making themselves vulnerable to the opinion, and potential ridicule of others, and that many kids, surrounded by other kids all day long, just don’t feel safe enough to show that they care. They’re on constant guard, scanning their peers at all times to ensure that they are blending in, careful to avoid any suggestion that they may be in any way different. This vigilance is tiring, and requires a blunting, a shaving smooth of individuality. A hardening up process. The building of a defensive wall. Kids know darn well that other kids do not have their feelings in mind, and that they have to protect themselves at all costs when they are with other kids all day. By being cool, by not caring, by saying “whatever”. Until they begin to believe that they really don’t care. And then caring feels scary, and they try to avoid it.

So caring how they look in the eyes of their parents becomes scary too. And they react defensively.

Am I making a bit of a leap?

Have I overthought this one? I’m not sure. Maybe I just like to see all the positives of homeschooling. Maybe they would have turned out exactly the same if they had gone to school all those years. I guess I’ll never know. I’m just glad that at this moment in time, all is well.

 

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World Food Day….

is today, Tuesday October 16th.

Thought up by the United Nations as “an opportunity to reflect on how we can change the current system so that the world’s abundance is shared more fairly with those who are less fortunate.”

I’m going to take the kids to the mall this week to see the food banks’ “CANstruction” display, as part of the food drive going on this month. We’ll take some food donations, of course, but right now I’m racking my brain to think of something else I could do with the kids to raise their awareness and allow them an opportunity to help out.

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Back on Track

All I needed was a good night’s sleep. Well, two in row, actually, plus a day off school.

The kids did no school work this morning, and spent the bulk of their time outside, where their shrieking couldn’t reach me. After lunch we went to the pool, and they spent 2 hours splashing around with 5 other kids, while my friend and I huddled by the pool stairs, venting our spleens. I did a couple of laps, managed to ignore my children completely, and now I feel completely rejuvenated.

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More Ups and Downs

A little dip in general morale around here. It’s periodic. First, we’re all enthusiastic and trying hard. Then there’s a slow but perceptible waning of enthusiasm from you know who. Which I notice, and try to fix by making things better, more exciting, more…..I don’t know. I ramp it up, and start taking the responsibility upon myself to find new projects, new ways of teaching spelling, new library books, anything to get back to the honeymoon period. This doesn’t work, whatever I suggest is poo-poohed, and the sighing, moaning, and dragging around limply become even more noticeable. Which start to make my blood boil. I know what’s coming. I try to avoid it. The confrontation. Which happens. Goes something like this:

AAArgh! You’re job is to be the learner. My job is to provide the materials, experiences etc. I can’t be expected to force it down your throat. If you won’t try, how can this work? Do you want to end up digging ditches for the rest of your life?  Then the laying on of the guilt, which I try and try to avoid, because it’s stupid and useless and damaging, and only serves to make both of us feel bad. I don’t have to be doing this, you know. I could be going to work all day. You wanna go back to school? Just say the word, pal. Then the tears. The time spent apart. Him on his bed, kicking at the wall, me furiously scrubbing pots at the sink, fending off Jay’s desperate attempts to prove herself the perfect student. Luckily, this time the separation only lasted half an hour, and we got in a reconciliatory chat and a cosy 15 minutes of reading aloud before lunch.

He has real trouble understanding that not everything he does will be the height of fun. We talked about expectations. About the fact that for most people, life is hard, that work isn’t always sheer joy, that you find pleasure in working hard, and that you then get to enjoy bits of time each day after the work is done.

About how two people could have the exact same life, and one be miserable and the other be content. That it’s not so much what your life is like, but what your perception of it is. If you expect it to be a thrill every single second, you’re bound to be disappointed. If you expect it to be hard work, you’ll be happy whenever you get a chance for fun.

It seems that we need to go through this little cycle, over and over again, he and I. Until he finally gets it, and begins to take responsibility for his own choices, his own life, his own happiness. He still thinks that it’s my job to make everything perfect for him.

Now that we’ve had our inevitable little blow-up, his expectations will be adjusted temporarily, and we can have another couple of solid weeks of learning. I hope! I just wish it could be a little smoother. Still, being the optimistic homeschooling mother that I am, I got a little inspiration from today’s events. We should write a story about two people who live side-by-side in mud huts, one happy, the other miserable, ending the story with a moral. Which got me to thinking that they’ve never read Aesop’s fables. Yay! Reading Aesop’s fables will be fun!

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Some Days….

….are harder than others.

Today was one of the harder ones. No real reason, nothing dramatic happened, but I found myself riding the edge of irritability all day long. Parenting 24 hours a day is a real challenge for me. I think what happens is that all of the little things add up, and every once in a while, those little things feel like too much. Too much shrieking, too much bickering, too much singing off key. Too much noise in general.

I think I may need to put myself to bed. Sounds like someone’s a little tired.

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How are things going?  

Pretty okay, I’d have to say. I had some trepidation going into this homeschool year, with young Tee back from his brief foray into public school. I wasn’t quite sure whether he and I could make it work, to be honest. He’s a difficult kid to “teach”. He doesn’t take kindly to instruction, has limited patience for sit-down work, and has a very limited attention span for topics that he doesn’t find immediately compelling. He’s kind of flighty, kind of dreamy, and quite inward looking. Must have a rich inner life, I keep telling myself. The hardest bit is that he has never really been easy to manipulate. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that it’s been hard to find out what motivates him. Unlike others of my children, he has never seemed particulary fussed about pleasing me. Sure, he likes to please, but not if it gets in the way of something he’d rather have, or do. He takes my lectures with a huge grain of salt, and a barely suppressed ho-hum. In the past, this has driven me beyond distraction, and I was more than a little concerned that we were in for a personality clash this year.

Not to mention that little Miss Jay is his antithesis. She’s a model student, ever-eager, pencil sharpened, jumping at the mere mention of a project, hopping up and down in her excitement over doing something “school-like”. The more sit-down work, the happier she is. Hasn’t met a workbook she wasn’t eager to try. A challenge you say? Bring it on! A mere hint of disapproval in my glance is enough to stop her in her tracks. Easy to motivate, easy to please, easy to “teach”.

A recipe for sibling disaster.

And yet, not so.

Strangely, they’re getting along well. The two of them are a little team, for the most part. I don’t know if it’s because they know they’re in it together, or if Tee’s particularly motivated to make this work, or if they’re just getting older, or what. I like to think that this homeschool year will give them the opportunity to forge a friendship that they might not otherwise have had, provide them with some common ground that they certainly wouldn’t have had if they were separated in different classes in school all day.

As for me, I’m appreciating facets of Tee’s personality in new ways. Having him at home, out from under the dominating prescence of the two older kids, has given me a chance to hear his voice a little more clearly. I see his sweetness, his gentleness, and his idealism. His goofy humour. I’m getting a feel for his rhythms, and gaining an understanding of his moods.

Jay is much easier to homeschool, because she fits into the traditional model of what a student should be. I have a bit of a challenge ahead with young Tee, but I think I’m getting a hang of what he needs.

I am going to try to let him be the leader, because I think he knows where he’s going.

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Literally

I woke up at 4 this morning to the sound of what I thought was my neighbor rolling out her garbage cans. Turned out to be the sound of thunder. Then pouring rain. All over the three loads of dry laundry on my line. Which I know I should have taken down yesterday evening, but I got distracted by the vintage  Sesame Street tunes that R was downloading off YouTube. I know, you pictured us churning butter, or hooking rugs, but as I’ve noted previously, number one son spends inordinate amounts of time on the computer.

Figuratively

Jay went to two birthday parties this weekend. Goes for months without one, then two in a row. A chance to wear The Party Dress (with pants underneath, because as she points out, they may be doing the monkey bars, and she doesn’t want anyone seeing her undies), and lots of birthday cake, and of course, loot bags.

A hot topic, loot bags. Everyone has an opinion. Well, all parents, that is. Myself, I’ve kind of lost enthusiasm for the whole debate. I don’t know how we parents all got sucked into the practice, but clearly, once the kids expect them, you have to deliver. I used to rack my brain for innovative, practical, inexpensive items for said bags, one year even giving each kid a book. That went over well. About as well as giving out toothbrushes at Halloween. Which I have been tempted to do. Anyway, I’ve given up, and given in. At party planning time, I lead my kids into Dollarama and say “You’ve got 15 minutes”. Because who cares about the contents of loot bags, anyway?

My kids.

When Jay got home, she was descended upon by the pack of clawing vultures. “Whaddya get? Whaddya get?”

In case you’re reading this, S, the loot bag was great. Especially the dinosaur in jelly. We figured out that you do take it out of it’s plastic egg. And L, I loved the glow-in-the dark theme. You guys clearly haven’t given up yet.

Here’s a picture of the very eager party participant.

party dress

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Togetherness

How did someone as anti-social as me end up with four such gregarious children?

I woke up this morning to the sound of my phone ringing. A call for my 6 year old. From her best friend M. They spent a good 20 minutes discussing the organizational details of today’s “club meeting”. Seems that they had already made invitations and distributed them to neighborhood girls, asking them to come over today at 1pm.

By the time I was downstairs, Tee was busy making plans with his friend J, and by 10am, the two of them were deeply immersed in the world of castles and castle figures. Soon to be joined by S.

L was in and out all day with her little tribe, and R spent the afternoon with E and S, doing 13-year old boy things. Fine by me; I got to go for a run, got three loads of laundry on the line, did the crossword, and watched my children go about the business of being themselves.

It got me to thinking though. About clubs. Jay and her friend tell me proudly that they are the “founding members” of Club Tiger. Tee has a clandestine arrangement with his pals, and the name of it is classified information. TSDS. Top Secret Dragon Slayers. Last year his club was called Top Secret Spies of Youth. TSSY. Kind of sinister sounding, actually. I asked L if she had a club, and she reminded me of the River Ratz. Just last year she and two friends, code named Muskrat and Weasel, if I remember correctly, used to meet in a clubhouse that they “built” down by the river in our backyard.

I remember having a club when I was nine or ten. My best friend and I painstakingly carved primitive caves out of the side of a clay cliff (in the jungle) where we held top-secret conversations and spied on passerbys.

The essential ingredients to these clubs seem to include a secret password, a secret code, one or more club members, and an elaborate list of rules. Secret handshakes/greetings are optional. Rituals are very important. Actual activities less so.

Is it a universal stage that kids go through between the ages of 6 and 11? And why? Maybe as a way of feeling part of a group. Of feeling included in something important and meaningful.

It’s quite interesting, being a cultural anthropologist with my very own tribe…..

Here’s a picture of Club Tiger, deep in negotiations.
DSCN0062

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Homeschool Musings

“We’re so much alike” said Tee. “We both like tea.”

He sat down at the kitchen table and started the conversation while I cleaned up after lunch. I waited for him to go on.

“What else do you like?” he asked.

I listed off some of my interests. Reading, gardening, baking, crosswords, being outside. He nodded thoughtfully.

“I like reading too!” he said. I agreed that yes he did indeed like to read. “And I like being outside! I like stuff from our garden. I kinda like baking. Not really. But I like the stuff you bake.”

He looked so eager, so expectant. I ventured that we were quite alike, after all, seeing as we shared so many interests. It seemed to be what he wanted to hear. He smiled, sighed deeply, and sat a while longer, looking happy and satisfied. Then off he went.

It was a short exchange, but it got me to thinking. I remember L at this age, being just like this. Proud of being part of our family, happy to be involved in all of our activities, and most of all, being very, very attached to me. I remember even thinking that I should be careful, because she accepted everything I said without question, and I wanted to be sure I gave her balanced viewpoints on issues. That intense attachment lasted for about 3 years, and it coincided with the time she was being taught at home. During those years, she was adamant that she would always homeschool, to the point of becoming tearful about the idea of regular school. Now this year, grade 6, she’s in regular school, and thrilled to be there. It was as if she had a need to meet, at home, and once it was met, she was ready to branch out.

It feels like that’s what’s going on with Tee. Like he wants to be safe and secure in his own home, getting undivided attention from mama. I get the sense that if I provide that for him, for as long as he wants it, he’ll feel satisfied, filled up, and ready to take on the world. Whenever that might be.

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Homeschool Reservations

I definitely go through major ups and downs when it comes to my feelings about teaching at home. When I pay attention, I notice that those feelings follow a pattern. These past two weeks are a compressed version of the bigger picture. 

 I started out full of optimism, full of ideas, and most importantly, full of energy. The house was a whirlwind of non-stop activity, the kids were engaged in “educational opportunities”(of my devising) from morning till night, we went on stimulating excursions every afternoon, and I orchestrated it all while also managing to bake wholesome goodies for snack time. I felt accomplished, virtuous, and increasingly…..tired.

On to phase two. Starting to notice the kid-centric mess around the house. A little less enthusiastic about answering endless questions, and being at my student’s beck and call. Noticing myself taking trips to the bathroom just for a moment’s reprieve. Getting a little grumpy.

Then a day like yesterday. Sunny, warm, beautiful. A fresh new day, the start of a fresh new week, but when the alarm woke me up at 6:30 for my run, I didn’t get up. I didn’t go back to sleep either. Just laid their feeling unmotivated. I was forced up half an hour later, and from the kids’ perspective, I’m sure the day went along like any other, but for me it was horrible. I had an excrutiating headache, which I’m sure didn’t help, but it was more than that. I fought back irritation and a rising sense of panic. The familiar oh no what was I thinking? panic. I can’t do this every day for the whole school year. I’ll go mad! panic. It was a case of major self-doubt. The part in which I question my decision to put my own career plans on hold for another year to do this thing which I really do believe is right for my kids at this moment in time, but that most parents don’t do, so is it really the right thing, because what about me, and on and on and on.

The final straw yesterday was fighting rush hour traffic to get Jay to gymnastics, having to sit in a plastic chair feigning interest for an hour and a half ( I know, I know, how dreadfully unmaternal of me), only to drive back home again.

Other days, it’s no big deal, but yesterday it was the absolute last thing I felt like doing.

The day ended uneventfully, no major temper tantrums on anyone’s part, the kids all snug in bed at a good time, but it was a pretty tired, grumpy, I might even say weepy, mother that followed suit an hour later.

Which brings me to today. Expectations quite low, I let the kids “do art” first thing this morning, instead of whatever it is I had planned. This segued into Tee drawing a picture of an Aztec warrior, which, miraculously, led to him deciding, on his own, to begin writing about the Aztecs on the computer. Which he did, happily, for over an hour, discovering the magic of spell-check on the way. Jay equally happily “did more art”, and I snuck into the kitchen to make soup. A dream come true!

Right back to square one. Renewed hope, re-kindled excitement, ideas for how I can capitalize on Tee’s writing……

A few lessons in all of that, at least for me. One, the continual reminder for me to loosen up already, to let some of the learning occur organically, to trust that even if every single second isn’t outwardly school-like they will still learn, and two, that if I don’t pace myself, this will be one long year.

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