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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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