Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Santa

I really just want to take a nap.  My daughter is at a friend's house, and my son is occupied on the computer with his World of Warcraft (his most recent obsession).  The house is fairly tidy (ehem, okay... it's passable), the dog is curled up on the couch next to me, it's cold outside and I am very, very tired.

Why am I so tired?  Many reasons... but here's what I figured out.  It's the holiday season.  Now, it's not the holiday season itself that exhausts me.  I love Christmas music, baking, gathering with friends and family, finding the perfect gift for my loved ones.  I love the snow, and sitting around the hearth while a fire blazes in the fireplace, lighting up our faces with a warm orange glow.  I love all of those things about this season, and it never seemed to exhaust me before.

But this year is different.  I have thirty-five fewer available hours in my "work-week" than I had last year.  When my kids were in school, I spent those seven hours a day for those first few weeks of December shopping, baking, planning, cleaning, mailing, shipping, writing, candy-coating, wrapping, drinking Bailey's and cocoa curled up with a good book...  Now, I'm not whining.  I know that working mothers/fathers whose children go to school have the same kinds of time constraints, as do parents with small children still at home.  I'm not comparing myself to those people.  I am simply comparing my 2010 Holiday Season Self to my 2009 Holiday Season Self.  This year, I have less time to complete more tasks.

Now, in an ideal world my wonderfully well-behaved children would accompany me to the post office, the craft store, the mall, the market.  They would joyfully don an apron, baking cookies and making caramel corn while laughing at each other's floury faces and frosting-fingers.  We would do this while listening to Christmas carols and drinking home made egg-nog, and afterward they would willingly (nay, eagerly) help mom polish off the dishes and sweep the last sprinkles off the floor.  In the evening, they would be snuggled in bed by 8:30pm, their cheeks rosy from an afternoon of sledding, dreaming of sugar-plums while mom wrapped gifts and placed them under the tree.

What?  WHOSE life is THAT? 

I ditch my kids at my neighbor's house so I can run out for an hour, stop at the bank, run to the grocery store, and pick up a last minute gift.  I barely get the floor swept and the dishwasher unloaded before it's time to cook another meal, and it's trashed again.  My kids are up until after eleven.  They don't feel like baking, they want me to take them sledding and skating before we're even out of our pajamas, they can't even get their rooms clean let alone help with dishes...

Now here I sit, Christmas a few short days away.  All the goodies we've already baked are eaten or given away, none of my gifts are wrapped, I have seven loads of laundry to finish, the winter sunlight draws undue attention to my streaky windows and the dust on the mantel, our Christmas cards are now New Year's Greetings (even though they've been on the counter since Thanksgiving), we have no outdoor lights up, who said you need to get a gift for the garbage man?, and there is a bathroom sink in my dining room.

Santa... if you're out there, reading this... all I want for Christmas this year is a clean, organized house.  Just for a month.  A week?  Just a weekend?  I think I've been very good.  It's not too much to ask, is it?  Practical.  Inexpensive.  Home-made (kind of).  So, Santa... or Mrs. Clause... if you're out there in the blogosphere... never mind the acoustic guitar.  I'd like this instead. -Thanks

I'm sure I will get this under control, the time-management thing, maybe by next holiday season. In the meantime, where's the Bailey's and Cocoa?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coffee: You can sleep when you're dead.

Sleep... or blog.  Sleep... or blog. 

Lately my blog posts have been sparse because I'm racking up some good sleep hours.  You'd think after ten years of parenting, we'd have bed time down to a science.  Unfortunately, science has never been one of my strong points.  Bed time is more like a theatrical production at our house, complete with trapeze and flying monkeys.

I think my children were trained by Pavlov to start salivating when they hear the words "bed time!"  They are suddenly starving, even if they just wolfed down an entire bucket full of home made kettle corn during the family movie that got started thirty minutes later then intended.  Somehow we are always out of bananas... and string cheese... or anything healthy that can be consumed in under five minutes.

Is a doughnut a good bed time snack?  What if they have it with milk?

If showers happen, add another thirty minutes to the process.  What can possibly take a child that long to wash?  I have to wonder what they do in there (for twenty or thirty minutes) when they get out and they still have a pudding-cup goatee and the hair around the ears is still dry.

We are lucky if teeth are brushed and the children are sufficiently rinsed off by 9:30pm.  At that point, we usually gather in our meditation room with books or knitting.  I know I could ship them off to bed at this point, but it is seriously my favorite part of the day.  The room is cozy.  Dad, kids, Mom... all cuddled under blankets with good books.  Ahhh.  I know, how selfish of me.

I absolutely know that we could push the whole process back (I do actually have a rational side of my brain), starting them with their fourth-meals at 7:30pm, so they could be sawing sustainably-harvested-timber before midnight!  It just doesn't seem to work out that way. 

This is one reason I must choose between writing and sleep. 

Another reason is that I can't seem to wake up early, even when I go to bed before eleven.  I have every good intention, but end up turning my alarm off and drifting back into dreamland until Cady wakes me up!  Wait... that's not absolutely true... if I sleep in the meditation room (there's a comfy foldout couch) the sun wakes me naturally.  It's really wonderful.  But then Jay thinks I'm mad at him!

The last reason is that I can't seem to carve out enough quiet time during the day.  I am still married to the idea that I have to be doing things WITH the children all the time.  My loving hub has desperately tried to get me to insist on an hour of independent, quiet time for us all during the day.  That hasn't worked because as soon as my children are unsupervised (even if I just go to the bathroom) there is a cataclysmic event, World War III right there in my living room... or sometimes it's more like a scene from "Scream," depending on who started it. 

How will we ever accomplish anything this way?  I am looking forward to the structured classes coming up in the new year... Guitar lessons for Asher, Co-op on Fridays, breakdancing, theatre.  Of course there will still be dance for Cady, but that's on Saturday mornings, during which time Asher will be taking his Video Game Design class through the local college's community ed program.

I don't think this first few months of Home Schooling has been a fair trial.  I wanted to take it easy, so I didn't sign up for all of these extras, not anticipating their necessity in breaking up the time my children are exposed to one another.  I think next semester will be a better gauge.  I'll let ya know.

In the meantime, if you see my writing become more prolific, it means one of three things... we have bedtime down, my kids are getting along well enough to be unsupervised for an hour a day, or I am consuming ungodly amounts of coffee.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Couples Counseling?

Judging by the nice, quiet evening we had last night while my daughter was away at a friend's house for a sleepover... I'm wondering if my children need couples counseling.  With each other.

Asher and I went to watch his friend in a play... but not until Asher helped his dad shovel the driveway, then staying outside to make a huge snow fort with his friend.  When we got home after the performance, braving the ice and snow, we all sat down to a hot meal from the crock pot.  Asher set the table and cleared some of the dishes.  Dinner was calm... not one person fell out of their seat.  Not one. Then Asher and his dad played a new found love, World of Warcraft, for a few minutes. 

Finally, we had an hour long discussion about screen time, gaming, movies... and how ADhD brains work.  My son has never been so articulate.  He was quoting phrases from the book he is reading, "Career Building Through Interactive Gaming."  He was looking us in the eyes, straight back and clear language.  No baby talk, not even a hint.  He was also making surprisingly sound points, and was the one who finally said that the discussion had gone on long enough.  It really was incredible.

This conversation would not have happened with Cady around.  I know, she's seven, younger, very very active.  But she also pushes Asher's buttons.  He pushes hers, too... but I'm starting to wonder if it's more her than him.  Each on their own, they are joys.  Together, it gets a little nutty around here. Even teeth brushing becomes a fiasco.  As much as I know they completely love each other, and can be best of friends, they also get under each other's skin.  They bring out the worst in each other.  Is that what siblings are supposed to do?

And where did I sign up to be a therapist?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just a Quickie

While I stress the importance of writing every day to my children, I sometimes forget to follow my own advice.  So here's a quickie before I head off to bed.

I took an entire day to myself today to go Christmas shopping.  My feet hurt.  I accomplished most goals and came to an understanding.  I understand that I will never go to Twelve Oaks Mall again.  I sucked it up and went because I had a mission or two.  I got lost three times, walked about twenty-seven miles, skipped lunch for lack of good choices, got followed in the parking lot by parking-space-lurkers, and still had to go to other stores because I couldn't get EVERYTHING I needed at the mall.  Ugh.

But I enjoyed the time completely to myself to do as I pleased.  I made it home while my family was away, wrapped gifts, cleaned up the kitchen and had a delicious Asian dinner set out on the table when they arrived.  That was actually my favorite part of the day.

I'm most excited because I bought felt so my daughter and I can make a holiday pocket calendar (like an Advent Calendar) specifically tailored to our family!  Thirty pockets will help us count down first to the Solstice, then to Christmas, and finally to New Year's Eve (my absolutely favorite holiday)!

Why is New Year's Eve my favorite, you might ask?  It's a time to reflect on the past, to look in to the future and all the possibilities it brings, to gather with friends over food and drink.  It spans all religions, all generations... and it doesn't come with an overtone of gifts and consumerism.  We gather with friends to break bread, to enjoy a glass of wine, to laugh and talk around the table or the fire.  The kids play with one another, old friends and sometimes new.  This year we plan to release paper lanterns with blessings and wishes for the future. 

If I could pick one of my favorite gods, it would be Janus... a representation of the dichotomy of life.  I'm looking forward to counting down the days until the new year... and perhaps I'll sew an image of Janus on the last pocket of our felt calendar!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I am writing this from a booth at the roller rink...

I am writing this from a booth at the roller rink... surprisingly, this is the most "quiet time" I've had in a while.  I am inside my own head, easily able to insulate myself from the blaring pop music and clinking of skates against wood.  This is noise that does not require my attention.  The children have quickly made friends to skate with, and I brought my laptop because my ankle is too sore to skate today.  Usually I love to rock the rink! ;)

Anyway, so far our "December Off" is going really well.  Cady and I have read several picture books about Hanukkah, which inspired the pointing out of things like roadside menorahs,  and checking out the dreidles at the book store.  We've all been playing a fun dice game called "Lumps," designed by elves to use up leftover coal! We plan to read "The Nutcracker" before going to see it at the ballet next Saturday.  The kids are asking lots of questions about Santa and plan to track his route on NORAD's web site http://www.noradsanta.com/.  We will also be studying the physics of Santa's ride, which might put some skepticism into the kids' brains if it wasn't already there!

We are baking and cooking a ton, we are playing board games and doing crafts, and we plan to write lots of Christmas cards and Thank You notes.  Also, the kids have been practicing diligently for their Holiday choir performance at church.  I downloaded the audio version of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," and I'm sure we will watch at least one version on Netflix.  We already saw a funny street performance of the classic tale right smack in the middle of Woodward Avenue during Noel Night!  But the kids love theatre, so we might catch a local production as well.  We will plot that on our map and time line, too.


Today Cady decided to go to work with Dad for the afternoon, where she got to help with lots of things and also got a personal tour of the chemical manufacturing plant.  Meanwhile, I took Asher to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. http://www.marvin3m.com/  It was amazing!  We got to try an "arcade machine" from 1905 that you had to crank to see a clip of "Phantom of the Opera," drop coins into a "magical magician" game from 1910, and test our luck at all kinds of old and new games!  We even got to talk to Marvin himself, who praised my son for being one of very few who actually beat the chicken at the tic-tac-toe game!  I would recommend this place to anyone who is in the West Bloomfield area.  It truly is a gem, especially for kids who are gamers at heart.  It was awesome to see the changes in technology over a century. 

My gamer-kid, who is currently restricted to an hour of screen time a day, is getting his fix by reading books like "You-Tube" (all about how it was invented), and "Career Building Through Interactive Gaming."  Yes, these info books were his pick and he reads them voluntarily.  We are also signing him up for an enrichment class at  Schoolcraft that will teach him how to build his own 2-D computer game, which he will get to take home on a thumb drive at the end of the course. http://www.schoolcraft.edu/  Hey, if he loves computers, why not turn that passion into something lucrative?  Isn't that what home schooling is all about?

Things seem to be mellowing out a lot.  Asher is initiating self-calming techniques like breathing and asking for hugs when he is frustrated.  THAT's a huge accomplishment... in fact, it was one of the goals of bringing him home.  We are all looking forward to neighbors and friends having two weeks off for Winter break.  We plan on participating in a Solstice celebration, learning about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, having Christmas with my dad, and of course celebrating our favorite Winter holiday... New Year's Eve! 

A time for reflection, for appreciation, and for looking forward into a new year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Just Dance

Last night I had an epiphany in the most unlikely of places... a middle school auditorium.

My daughter and I went to see Asher perform a break dancing routine at the Ann Arbor Community Rec and Ed's dance program recital.  My hopes were not high.  It was a nine week Rec & Ed class, not designed for recital.  And from what my husband had told me, the rehearsals didn't promise a good show.

We were dead wrong.  My son's group is mixed-age because they didn't have enough kids to run a younger class.  Asher and one other ten year old boy, along with a slew of older teenagers and young adults, rocked the floor behind their instructor, Maurice.  They were precise when they were supposed to work together.  They were energized when they were free styling.  They were completely within themselves.  The owned their experience.  They were having FUN.  It was awesome... in every sense of the word.

Without costumes, or thirteen dollar tickets, or special shoes... they put on an amazing show!  My son has been dancing for six years at various professional dance studios.  This was the first time he took a Rec & Ed class.  THIS... was better than any recital I have ever seen him perform in.  Not to mention that he never once whined or complained to go to class each week, even though it's a half hour drive. 

At the professional studios, they are so concerned with learning precise formation, perfect moves, and providing discipline that they forget to show the kids how to love dancing.  How to feel the music run through them.  How to use their bodies to release their tensions, passions, emotions.  They are so concerned about the kids (especially in the all-boys-hip-hop) paying attention, not messing with each other while rehearsing, and staying in line, that they forget to help the kids bond together as a team... and be friends.

This break dancing class was perfect for my son.  With the multi-aged, mixed-gender grouping, Asher got the support, the encouragement, and also the higher expectations that he needs to thrive.  With Maurice teaching, my son learned how to express himself though his body, to take his frustrations of the day out on the dance floor, to feel the music run through his core.  He embraced everything, made friends, became part of a team, and loved every minute of it.

The epiphany:   It's far more rewarding to be passionate than to be precise.  Just dance.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Perfect Would Be Weird

Today was great.  Yesterday was great.  Hmmm, I think I'm seeing a trend here.

The morning after I wrote my last post, I decided to use December as a sort of  "deschooling month."  A friend reminded me that most public school kids have two and a half weeks off for Winter break anyway.  And if I recall correctly, at least a portion of the December school time is spent doing things like Holiday Shop and watching "The Grinch."

I remember my daughter's kindergarten class even having a "Santa's Workshop" in their classroom.  That one I actually spoke to the staff about... what ever happened to "separation of church and state?"  I felt horribly sorry for any Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan or other-faithed child that had to spend their time cutting pictures out of toy magazines to make their wish list and coloring pictures of elves and reindeer.  Never mind that even some Christians don't emphasize Santa, or that some people want to de-emphasize the gift extravaganza!  Ouch, so much wrong with this scenario that it really needs its own post.

Anyway, I digress.  I decided to take this month "off."  With a cupboard full of learning games, a well-organized and labeled book shelf (aren't you proud of me?), a slew of kid's cookbooks, various museum passes, and a well-stocked arts-n-crafts corner, I was ready to let the children do what they most desired.  EXCEPT watch anything on tv, or play ANY kind of digitized game (including learning games and documentaries), until after dinner at which time they had a maximum of one hour.

See my September 23rd post "Drastic Measures" to understand more about the screen restrictions.  I was ambitious then.  I slipped.  I'm now back on the bobsled.

My children readily agreed to this bargain:  "For the month of December, I will not tell you what to learn.  In exchange, you agree to [the aforementioned] screen time rule."  They heartily agreed.  Here's what happened.

Yesterday, my daughter decided to make brownies.  The double batch required her to double fractions, measure ingredients, adjust cook time, etc.  Awesome lesson in math, and even cooking science!  Not to mention that the brownies were delicious!  My son asked us to play "The Scrambled States" game!  Super fun, and geographically challenging.  While I did a few chores around the house, I heard my kids playing a new story-inspiring dice game, "Rory's Story Cubes."  Cady drew pictures to go with their funny tales of iPhone carrying turtles and robot spies.  Then the pair donned arctic gear and played in our thinly-snow-covered back yard for a couple of hours!  I almost forgot, we also played the "money game," which I will explain in my next post.  It's amazing, simple to throw together, and my kids love it.   Later, we met friends for a night of roller-skating!  Even Dad tried to "shoot-the-duck!" (Actually, he skates rings around us all.)  In the evening, Asher independently logged on to NaNoWriMo and worked on his novel, even though we already missed the deadline.  He also signed himself up for Script Writing Frenzy, which doesn't actually begin until March... but he wants to get a jump start!

Children are like snowflakes...
no two are the same.
Today, Cady ran out in the yard in her pajamas to examine snowflakes with a giant magnifying glass.  Tomorrow we'll be checking out snowflake and weather books from the library.  She also got out the hot glue gun and fixed our stocking-labels, which are actually frame ornaments.  Two of them had lost their "loop" so they couldn't hang.  She found matching ribbon and repaired them all by herself (absolutely refusing any kind of help from me).  When Asher woke up, he played "Crazy Bones" with his sister... then we had a field trip to the mall, where the children used their own money to make purchases and buy gifts.  Asher bought himself a journal and spent part of the afternoon writing in it.  Oh, and he's asking for a microscope set for Christmas INSTEAD of a Nintendo DSi.  My baby makes me proud. Sniffle.  :)  Then Cady was off to Brownies, and Asher to break-dancing rehearsal.  Busy, busy day at the Muse house.

While it's true that my kids may not be learning all the things their peers in school are learning, it certainly is more peaceful around here. And they ARE learning. Tomorrow, a trip to the library is in order.  Perhaps an informal lesson on snow for Cady and a script-writing book for Asher.  Of course, I'll throw in the occasional historical fiction easy-reader and perhaps an "Atom Man" scientific graphic novel.  They will learn without even realizing it!  We also plan on making home made dog biscuits, writing our annual Christmas letters to Grammie, and making "Puppy Chow."

This feels good.  It feels like what we need to do for now.  While everything is not perfect (an earlier bed time would be nice), it's peaceful.  Perfect would be weird, anyway.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How do I find balance?

I have missed you.  I have been gone for far too long...

Remember that last post?  It was about embracing my inner Alice.  About walking through doors, and how I was running through them at full speed.  While the adventure has been glorious, and incredibly fulfilling, I am now home from Wonderland.

That is to say, I have finished writing all ten articles.  Okay, well eight advertorials and two articles, but let's not get picky, shall we?  At any rate, now I'm back to the blogosphere.  Let me catch you up.

Over the past couple of weeks I have: Made schedules, scrapped schedules, bought workbooks, bought other books, checked books out of the library, played games, made up games that worked better than the games I bought, fielded questions about my children's social lives, fielded questions about my children's intelligence, scrapped with my significant other, made up, scrapped with my children, hugged, learned how to knit, taught my daughter how to finger knit, rationalized the viewing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" as an educational field trip, allowed the screen time rule to slip, proudly watched my children perform in several productions, learned all about George Washington, and failed to check regularly on our moldy bread experiment.

After all of this, the other day my son asked if he could go back to school.

Wait!   Did you hear that?

That was the sound of my heart dropping into my stomach.  Which, incidentally, happened to be the last organ that we studied before our interest in the human body completely decomposed.  When I asked him why, he said that he hates getting punished here when he doesn't do the work.  (i.e. no going outside with friends until "work" is done.)  The children and I often struggle over getting our subjects covered each day.

Here's the thing:  While we have our ups and downs, I am noticing GIANT changes in my son's self-confidence, his ease in interacting with adults and other children (not counting his sister), his stress level, his ability to verbalize emotions, his temper, and even his colon disorder.  Let me also say that I am not the only one noticing the change in behavior.  Every grandparent that has seen him recently has remarked on his great change.

My grandmother, the one who wasn't sure how he would know how to be twelve when he turned twelve, just saw him the other day and said, "He's like a different child."  He sat and spoke with his great-grandparents, asked if help was needed in the kitchen, ate a nice lunch and cleared his dishes.  To put it into perspective, his behaviors at grandma's used to fall into two categories:  sour or hyper.  This time, he was incredibly pleasant.

At home, things are crazy.  The house is a mess.  There's a displaced day bed in our dining room.  The kitchen counter is cluttered, the fridge is crammed, the carpets need sucking, and my daughter's room looks like it was ransacked by a group of very small fashionistas in search of the perfect outfit to go with their manicures.  Between the sparkle nail polish bottles and puffy dresses, I can't even walk through it.  Not to mention that my lovely little girl is becoming more of a handful than her brother.

So here I sit, stuck between my knowledge and my instinct.  Everything about home schooling tells me I need to de-school.  You know, have a period of time where I am not really teaching them any kind of curriculum.  I have read it in magazines and books, and been told by more than one friend that my children need a break to restructure their brains and take a breather.  I understand this concept.  But my other half says, "For how long?"  And it also says, "How will it look if they're not 'keeping up' with their classmates?"  I know I will be held accountable for what they know (or do not know) at the end of the year.

How do I balance these two halves, the side that says "deschool them until they're ready" and the side that says "make sure they're keeping up?"  If you can answer this question for me, I would be eternally grateful.

At this point, I would seriously just be happy with peace in the house. The kids are stir-crazy.  I enrolled Asher in a home school art class starting next Monday, which should help.  And we've decided on a couple of field trips.  It's just that the days seem really long, and I'm not finding many offerings for them between 9am and 3pm.  I really can't wait until co-op starts in January.  I'm sure it will give them another social outlet, as well as give me more direction and support.

I know my kids are learning.  I know this is the right choice for us.  What I don't know is if I can "prove it" to all the keen eyes, concerned family members, and even to myself. I just need to find that perfect balance.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finding Wonderland

You can walk through any door if you believe in your ability to shrink or grow just enough to fit.

Ask Alice.  If she had not believed she could possibly shrink enough to follow the rabbit through that tiny door, she never would have drunk from the bottle.  She would have, instead, thought, "Impossible and silly, a drink that could make me grow small." 

And what then?  She never would have had those amazing adventures!  She would have found herself back on the bank with Dinah, wondering forever what might have happened had she tried to get into that beautiful garden.

Lately I am embracing my inner Alice.  Doors are flying open for me left and right, and for the first time in many years I find myself willing to (and fully capable of) shrinking or growing just enough to walk through.

But here's the deal... the doors aren't going to open themselves.  You have to WANT to drink from the bottles and eat the cakes.  You have to do a little more than want to, actually.  You need to pick up the dang bottle yourself, uncork and drink.  That's the first step.

 Second step is shimmying yourself on through to Wonderland.  Not Alice's Wonderland, of course, but your own.  The one of your own making.

Because that's what this world becomes if you start following your dreams, pursuing your passions, and taking the opportunities that are given you in life.  It becomes a Wonderland, full of interesting people willing to help you on your way.

So another "aha" moment.  Words of wisdom (albeit to myself) spiraling from a thread on my own Facebook page.  And here's why it's on my home schooling blog, and not my other personal blog.  (Although it may end up there, too.)

If I can show my kids how to drink from the bottle and eat the cakes, the will live a happy, fulfilled life!  You can't possibly fail if you follow your dreams with passion and determination.  And what better way to show them how to do just that than through example.

I have to be Alice. 

Then perhaps they, too, will find their way to Wonderland.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Losing Time, Gaining My Self

I knew I would be sacrificing my "alone time" when I decided to bring my children home for their education.  I used to pop them on the bus (kicking and screaming if necessary) at 8:33am.  I would wave goodbye to their window-paned faces, chat with the gaggle of other moms for a minute, then take my little dog for an hour walk.  Every morning.  All right, almost every morning. (Sometimes it gets very, very cold in Michigan.)

I came home to quiet.  Sometimes I'd clean first thing so I could bask all day in the orderliness.  My father always used to say, "What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end."  Work before rest was our mantra growing up, and it's hard to kick those ingrained lessons.  Especially the ones you know make perfect sense.

Occasionally I'd make a phone call or check in with my social networking.  I'd prepare foods for dinner, bake some goodies, or head out to do a little shopping.  Once in a while I'd meet a friend for lunch or go up to the school for some volunteer work.  Maybe I'd have a church meeting or prepare materials for an upcoming Sunday School class.

For the most part, my time was my own.  Seven and a half hours a day.  Bringing the kids home for their education certainly changed all of that.  But honestly, I don't feel like my children- living their lives in their own home- are robbing me of something I'm owed. 

I will admit, at times it gets hairy around here.  I feel like I'm going to pull all of my hair out.  They feel like they are going to bounce through the walls.  My house looks like a group of frat boys just camped out for the weekend, and it's frozen spinach ravioli for dinner one more time this week! 

These are the moments I crave a bite of that silence pie.  However, while pie is delicious, I know in the long run it's going straight to my thighs.

Bottom line:  I've gained way more than I've lost.  It's been a beneficial exchange, if you will. I've actually discovered more of my "self" from bringing the kids home than I ever knew in all my hours of  "me-time." 

"How so?" you may ask.

Well, home schooling was the impetus for my regular blogging.   As I've said in the past, writing is like my religion... at the very least it's my meditation.  It grounds me in a way that nothing else can.  So I write.  And I write with a focus- my true, honest experience with this year of transition from school to home.  I write about something for which I have a passion- my family.  And I write with the hope that, while I am benefiting greatly from the practice, others might also find comfort in my words.

Low and behold, people read!  From this prolific writing, in addition to the aforementioned spiritual grounding, I have gained a small (that's okay, baby steps are good) professional writing opportunity.  I have gained the confidence to take on a novel-writing challenge, and to submit articles for publication. None of these have been published... yet.  But that's okay.  

I have overcome my fear of rejection (get off my back you crazy monkey).

Okay, some days I find myself spinning in circles... literally, spinning in my living room like a broken top, wondering if I can make it one more minute until daddy gets home from work.  But by the end of the day I find my ground again. 

I remember all the school days spent with my cell phone at arm's length, overcome with the feeling that it would ring at any moment and I would have to rush up to the office to help my son... knowing that when he walked back to class in different clothing, it was one more painful step toward the social periphery. 

I gladly exchange my spinning for his step.

I remember the horrible mornings when he refused to walk into the school, or get on the bus, or get out of bed.  I mistook his legitimate fears and anger for obstinacy. 

I gladly exchange my long lonely walks for our slow, easy, pajama breakfasts.

In this exchange, this decision, this lifestyle choice meant to preserve my son, I have inadvertently discovered myself. 

...and for that, I am glad.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

socially awkward

Yesterday, my daughter planned and hosted a Disco Party play date for several of her friends, complete with karaoke and fondue.  My son had a friend over to keep him entertained while the girls did the "lawn mower" and "the sprinkler" beneath the swirling lights of a disco ball... which was painstakingly installed by yours truly earlier in the day.  It was crazy, foot-stomping, mic-roaring, chocolate-sauce dripping, nonstop girl fun for two solid hours.

When the last guest finally departed, we (and when I say "we" I mean just the family... oh, and Kayden's friend and her family) dashed off to Friday night service at our church.  There we joined a circle of adults and children to drum, sing, storytell and "fill each other's buckets."  Afterward the kids all enjoyed a snack, a craft,  and a self-initiated game of duck-duck-goose.

We got home after nine, and by the time they were scrubbed and jammied... oh, and had completed their several-hundred word goals for their novel challenges... it was well after eleven.  The kids and my husband drifted off to sleep, and I stayed up until 2:00am writing.

The alarm at 8:30 this morning was a shock to my system.  I jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, and barely got in a cup of coffee before I had to rush Cady off to her two dance classes.  Jay woke Asher around ten so they could make it to his woodworking class at Home Depot. (He made a football stand, brought it home, and gave it "as a gift" to his friend next door.  He was so proud.)

After dance, which I stayed for because it was observation day, Cady and I rushed home for a clothing change, then off to Chuck-E-Cheese for a birthday party!  After two hours of dinging, buzzing, dancing, running, pizza-eating (and great mom-versations, bonus) Cady and a few of her friends (including one new one) begged us to take them to the family-owned animal-friendly dog store around the corner for some puppy love.  We agreed, and three of the girls and three moms hiked off to pet puppies.  We stayed there for an hour, and I ended up booking a really cool-sounding Brownie Troop field trip for our eighteen-girl troop in January.  Whew.

5:15pm  Back home, I threw myself on the couch while Cady ran around the corner to ask her friend over to play.  Asher was already outside bike-riding, and he is now laughing and generally doing boy-things with a neighbor boy downstairs in our basement-come-family-room.  With Dad in the kitchen whipping up some mashed potatoes and beef for dinner, my day is winding down rather nicely, don't you think?

 My grandmother, the other day when she was here for supper, was concerned that if my kids were not "learning age-appropriateness from other kids" that by the time they were twelve they wouldn't know what twelve year old kids did.  She played the "socialization" card.

 What does this mean, really?  My children are not reclusive.  In fact, some days like today, we are overbooked!  In general, kids like my kids.  Kids who really know them.  Kids who don't judge based on the tiniest "cracks."  In fact, my very dear friend told me just today that what her son would "really like to do this weekend is see Asher and Cady."  I'm thinking brunch tomorrow in our dining room... pancakes and overnight egg casserole, pumpkin muffins, coffee, juice... a breaking of bread, is in order.

 
That would be a nice, warm start to what promises to be a very busy Sunday:  Two theatre classes from 2:00-4:30 followed by a another birthday party!  This time for the whole family.

I understand that some children who are educated at home are socially awkward.  Some children who go to public school are socially awkward.  Some children who go to Montessori or Catholic school or Christian school are socially awkward.  Let's not stereotype these kids, is what I say.  If my child opens doors for the elderly, but doesn't "hang" with the "boys" and talk about what happened on "Corey in the House," does that make him socially awkward?  If my seven year old daughter holds the hand of a four year old while chatting with a thirteen-year-old on a field trip to our favorite historical village, is that socially awkward? 

I really wonder why home schooled children were given this label.  Perhaps somewhere along the line, someone decided that the only way children could learn developmentally appropriate behavior was through modeling their behavior after... other children exactly the same age.

 Rest assured, Grandma, my kids will know how to be twelve when they are twelve.  They will learn this by being around children their own age, children much younger then them, teenagers, adults and the elderly.  They will know how to be twelve when they are twelve because they will know who they are inside their own skin.  They don't need school to teach them how to be an adolescent. 

In fact, they (meaning my children) might fare better without it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Everybody Goes to School

The school bus stopped in front of me.   Red lights flashing, its sign popped out on the left signaling drivers to stop in all directions.  A group of a half dozen kids came tumbling out onto the sidewalk, laughing, talking, lugging their heavy backpacks.  Two boys pulled their hoodies over their heads for protection against the cold November rain that had jusp begun falling.  Three girls went down one street, the rest of the kids started walking in the other direction into the subdivision.   Each waved a half-raised hand at eachother as they parted ways. 

My chest suddenly began to swell.  The words of a close family member rang in my ears, "But everybody goes to school." 

Not everybody.

The bus lurched forward and I took my first opportunity to cut into the left lane, passing it before it stopped again.  I breathed deeply.  Am I depriving my children of something that "everyone does?"  Is school some right of passage, some secret club, some necessary part of human development that my children are going to miss because of a choice that I made for them?  This question is one that has been filling the silent places in my head for the last two months.  Have I made the right choice?

I have a feeling that this question, this thought, this creeping doubt will be my meditation partner for some time to come.  I wonder now if I'm looking for a sign, a mile marker, some crowning accomplishment that will clear this stubborn cobweb from the nether-regions of my brain. 

7:36pm      I am nestled into my couch with a huge cup of coffee (writer's fuel).  If you have ever sat on my couch, you know that "nestling" really is the only way to describe the act of using my couch.  It's a big, wide, red fluffy couch that swallows you whole when you sit down.  It's so comfortable that I'm afraid I'd fall asleep if not for my large mug of creamy, sweet, French pressed coffee.  Nectar of the gods.

 It's quiet in here except for the ticks and hums of my laptop and my daughter's pencil scratching against her notepad. Cady, my seven year old daughter, is also writing her first novel.  My husband has taken our son to Breakdancing class.  The boys will be gone at least another hour and a half.  My mind turns back now to that question, the nagging doubt.

I look over at my daughter's blue lined pages, full from edge to edge with penciled words.  She has written seven-hundred and thirty-nine words in three days.  I'm sure she will be over eight-hundred by midnight tonight, judging by the intensity with which she's writing now.  She notices me watching her.

"Mom?" she asks, tapping her eraser against the page.  "Can I keep writing until I fall asleep?  I mean, like literally fall asleep on top of my paper?"

I smile at her.  Even though I can't see myself, I know my eye twinkles.  "Sure."

I'm not sure if this is a "sign" or not.  Perhaps it is just step on my long journey toward affirmation.  My daughter is passionate about writing, now, in this moment.  And in this moment, she is able to take her passion as far as it will go.  That has to count for something.

But doesn't everybody go to school? 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Worth It

For the last couple of days I have really let go.  Let go of all my expectations.  Let go of the planners and the workbooks.  Let go of the schedules, the time lines, the daily goals.  And in letting go, I have given myself the incredible feeling of... not holding on.

It is terrifying.  It is liberating.  It is at once thrilling and horrible.  I feel as though I have just jumped out of an airplane, something that goes against a lifetime of hoping I never have to do such a thing. 

Yesterday my children did almost nothing.  Well, to clarify, they did almost no school work.  It was the day after Halloween.  They were gorging themselves on candy and coming down from the high that is one of our favorite days of the year.  I was exhausted from our annual Halloween extravaganza, not to mention trick-or-treating and post-party cleanup.  We all needed a day to unwind.

I think the most productive thing the children did all day was watch an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy.  At least, that is, until somewhere around 10:00pm.  That's when my husband and daughter drifted off into dreamland, I retreated to the office to work on my NaNoWriMo novel, and my son sat in his bed and read. By the time I shut off the lights downstairs and locked the doors, he was fast asleep (thank God, I think it was 2:00am), and had read for at least three hours straight.  He finished one book and started another.

Today the neighborhood children were off of school for election day.  (The public elementary is our local polling place.)  My kids wanted the day off, too.  Cady started her morning painting a new ballerina portrait on canvass.  When Asher got up we went around the corner to a friends' to trade candy.  Well, the kids traded candy and the moms traded conversation and coffee.

On our way home Cady ran into another friend who followed us the rest of the way to our door, and ended up staying the afternoon.  Then came another of my daughter's friends and her brother, who entertained Asher for a couple of hours.

After a visit from my grandmother, aunt and cousin, the evening was coming quickly to a close.  We had not done math.  We did not have silent reading, grammar, or spelling.  We didn't even cook or bake together.  At eight o'clock pm, we retreated to the basement to watch two episodes of MythBusters.  I thought at that point that our day was a bust!

Who would have thought our most productive hours would be from ten until midnight?

As our usual routing dictates, we all hunkered down in our jammies in our meditation-room-come-reading-nook with our books.  Asher, however, chose to work on his NaNoWriMo novel on the laptop.  Cady was tired.  But as she lay curled under the blankets, she asked why she, too couldn't work on her novel?

With the raise of an eyebrow, I told her she could, but she would have to go downstairs and get her own notebook as I was right in the middle of my chapter.  (I am reading an amazing memoir called "This Is Not The Story You Think It Is..." by Laura Munson.  Let's call it inspiration, okay?)  She braved the dark, silent downstairs, returning with her notebook and a pencil.  Then she began to write.

Daddy fell asleep on the couch, eventually retreating to the comfort of his own bed.  My little novelists burned the midnight oil.  At 12:13am, when pencils dropped and keys quieted, my son had compiled 977words... my daughter, four-hundred twenty-eight. 

Asher even incorporated the web site's recommended plot twist in an incredibly funny and creative method, through a literary irony that I'm sure he's read many times... his main character addressed the narrator and let the reader know that HE knew he was in a book.  It was genius!

I'm pleased with my day after all, even though it's 12:41am and I have only written one tenth of my novel word count for today.  I allowed my children to reach their goals, to be proud of what they had accomplished.  It's worth it. 

And when I wake from a short slumber, at least an hour before the kids so I can get in an extra writing stint before our Science Center field trip, I will still think it's worth it. 

A large cup of coffee will surely help me temporarily forget the high price of lost sleep... at least until the caffeine crash!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

(((sigh)))

So I know I haven't written in a few days.  To tell you the truth, if this was a completely anonymous blog, I would have been writing up a storm.  But a lot of you people know me, and well, I didn't want to purge all the nasties.

Needless to say, for a couple of days this week I was teetering on the brink.  And the wind was blowing, hard.  And I was holding a kite.  A good one.  NOT a home made one!

Now, after the storm has ended and my kite has flown away, I am able to look back and analyze just what might have been pushing me into the vat of crazies.

First, I felt alone.  My husband has been gone a lot over the last couple weeks.  I don't begrudge him that.  He has been doing something incredibly important to him, and I think he SHOULD have his own time do follow his aspirations.  It's simply a fact. And it's a change.  So not only have I been spending incredibly more time with my children during the day than in the past school years, I was suddenly also alone more in the evenings and weekend.

Okay, so I'm NOT whining.  Normally that would be fine.  But last weekend was slightly nuts and I had to spend Saturday organizing and driving my kids all over town in two different directions by myself.  That really started my brain spinning, I think.

Point made.  Moving on.  Second, my kids have been all over each other, talking like that YouTube Fred guy, being incredibly silly, and I'm not six anymore... so after a while all the silliness creeping into my brain started to make me slightly loopy.  I craved adult conversation, maybe just a few moments of silence, words spoken an octave lower.  I wasn't thinking straight and didn't have a plan for relaxation, for defragmentation, for grounding myself.

Third, my children are spoiled, and I am trying to "unspoil" them.  Especially my little princess.  She whines.  A lot.  I never really realized it before, but if she doesn't get something she wants she doesn't let up.  She cries, she begs, she bargains until it makes you want to take a long walk off a short bridge.  My son, on the other hand, doesn't really whine or beg or any of that.  But he likes to tell me "no."  Seriously?  When I was a kid I'd have "no" slapped right off my face!  (Disclaimer:  My children are actually very sweet.  I just felt at the time like every little thing was exacerbated to the point of crime.)

So to recap, I'm feeling alone and unsupported.  My kids are silly and uncooperative.  They are disrespectful and unmotivated.  I am not getting backup when dad gets home for various reasons ( which I won't go into, because he's made an incredible positive change (perhaps a revelation) and I love him dearly). I don't have free time, quiet time, time to pursue my goals, time to exercise or talk to other adults.  I'm feeling like my kids are learning nothing and they won't learn anything if they won't listen to me.  At this point, I'm about ready to enroll them back in school... against my rational instincts.

And then, like a light in the bottom of the crevasse, another home schooling friend helped me find my footing and step back.  She told me to breathe.  She talked about letting go of the planners and hard-set curriculum.  She said to follow my children's path and help them learn what they want to learn.  (((sigh)))

I've heard this before, but I couldn't let go of the attempt to keep my children up with their schooling counterparts.  And I know better.  In a documentary about the brain that I watched with the kids, scientists proclaim that it's not so important WHAT you learn as a child, but that you learn alot of different things and have deep learning experiences. 

Why?  Because as you move through life, the new things you learn will then have something to connect back to neurologically.  So it doesn't matter if the rest of fifth grade is learning about the periodic table of the elements, and my son is learning how to create his own iPhone app.  These bits of information are creating a springboard for future knowledge.

So armed with this new outlook, I went with my friend to a curriculum meeting for a home school co-op that my children are incredibly excited to start next semester!  They will have friends on Fridays!  They will have people teaching them subjects that they are knowledgeable and passionate about.  I will have a group of parents to talk to, a network of support that I believe is necessary for the success on our homeschooling journey.  (((sigh)))

Combine this outlook with my husband's commitment to "have my back" at all times, I can just do that again... (((sigh)))

Sighing is good, it makes you breathe deeply.

So yesterday I was standing on more solid ground.  We had a busy day, but it was really nice.  We watched a couple of YouTube movies about The Day of The Dead, which we knew we would be celebrating at church last night.  We also read a great online article and checked out a few books from the library.  Cady found a really good Day of The Dead sugar-skull face makeup tutorial, which she watched twice.  The second time through she got out colored pencils and paper so she could create her own face, following the artist's instruction.

My son decided to research how the iPhone was made.  Along the way he discovered something called AppIncubator, a free download that allows you to design your own iPod Touch or iPhone app and submit it for potential publication.  He spent a half hour watching the tutorial and probably an hour writing his incredibly creative, multilevel app called Mr. Man.  They were totally engaged in their chosen learning activities. 

Later that night, at our Church's Friday night service, Cady got to stand up in front and tell the people there what she knew about "The Day of the Dead" and the traditional sugar skull making.  She did such a nice job that the Director of Religious Ed asked if she would come back again Sunday and share with the other service.  She said she would.  They made sugar skulls that night, really solidifying all the cool stuff we learned that day.

All I can say is... (((sigh)))

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What did we learn?

Today is a "down" day.  Grammie is coming in to town for a quick overnight and to celebrate Jay's birthday... and hers!  It's stormy and gray, a few days before Halloween.  I feel like putting a fire on the hearth, sipping hot cider and reading "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Well, we can't do the fire because we'll be out in the yuck running a few errands.  We'll have to get to the library to check out "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and we're out of cider.  So goes the day.

So Cady woke up with me this morning, cleaned her room, and headed downstairs for some cider (yeah, that's right, the last of it) and to work on some comic strips she's been writing.  I poured my coffee and joined her.  After a breakfast of eggs and toast, and with Asher still fast asleep, she and I began pulling out our halloween decorations.

I taught her how to change batteries, and she hung our motion-sensored ghoul in the front.  Scary!  She colored a face on a pumpkin and put up some cobwebs.  Now, since her brother is up, the two of them are using the hour of screen time to watch a Little Monster movie. 

While I feel like I should pull out their workbooks and pencils, I also feel like this is a day to hunker down, do housework, bake an apple cake, and prepare for Grammie's visit. 

I think this is a big dilemma for homeschoolers, at least for newbies like me.  We want to take advantage of the flexibility in schedule that homeschooling provides.  But we don't wan to "take advantage" of it to the point that they aren't learning what needs to be learned.

Okay, so having said that, here's my plan.  I hung a skeleton on the wall, and we are going to cut and past our "organs of the day"  (we have four so far) onto our "monster in the making."  I'll have Asher read the Max Axiom comic I checked out for him all about the adventures in the human body.  Cady can read "The Story of Farts."  She loves that book!  They can work on their NaNoWriMo prep stuff, workbook or more writing.  They can do times table flash cards together... they both need work on their times table memorization.  They can make the apple cake and clean the basement.  They can make birthday cards for Dad and Grammie.

Tonight as a family, we can enjoy some kettle corn and play either "SomeBody" or "The Game of States," or maybe even Monopoly or Clue.  Then more silent reading before bed.

I think for today, this regime will have to suffice.

Tomorrow is a new day.  Maybe a workbook day.  Maybe not.  I'm learning not to stress out about what life deals me.  I'm learning that my kids are learning all the time. 

I mean, yesterday Asher spent a couple of hours voluntarily typing his part from his upcoming play to print onto note cards... then he rehearsed the lines from the cards.  He wrote about a hundred more words on his novel, read books for an hour, and did a blog post.  He also learned how to utilize spell-check, a wonderful way for him to learn how to spell certain words he's unsure about.

Cady read an entire book out loud to her brother.  She loved the book and they laughed their way through it!  She drew and captioned tons of comic pages and finished writing out invitations to a disco play date.  She learned how to use our home copier, too.  The two of them also watched an episode of "Word Girl" and a ten minute, first segment, Haunted History of Halloween- a National Geographic film.

That's after we spent a great morning picking apples, feeding goats, and playing in hay bales with friends at the orchard.  It wasn't a traditional "school" day, but they chose what to learn an were excited about it!  We went with the flow and learned a lot.

I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I am sure we are open to the possibilities!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Home Schooling Protagonist?

Has anyone ever read a novel that had a homeschooling family as central characters, or even peripheral characters, in it?  I never have.  I've never even heard of one. 

So, I'm thinking that I might use my blog as a springboard for my NaNoWriMo novel challenge.  Of course, to make it juicier I will include much more detail about relationships and activities outside of simply home schooling.  However, I will have my protagonist be a mother who home schools her children.  Her goal?  I think it might be "peace." 

Not the loftier goal of world peace, but more of a peace with her life, with her choices, with her family and children that ultimately provides her with the confidence she needs to follow her own path.  Sort of a woman vs. self plot line.

So let me ask you a question... if you were reading this type of novel, would you want it to start with the children in school, in the thick of their troubles there and the ultimate decision to home educate being one step on the plot graph?  Or would you rather it start after that decision has already been made? 

The reason I wonder is because I don't want to propagate the stereotype that home schoolers are somehow prejudiced against public school.  I have nothing against my local school.  Nothing against the teacher or administration who are trying desperately to do their jobs.  It just wasn't the right choice for my family.

Hmmmmm... maybe I can somehow work that message INTO the plot.

The other reason is that I'm not sure I want home schooling to necessarily be a central plot, perhaps just a peice of the protagonist's life that is helping to resolve part of the conflict....
Okay, one more question for my loyal readers and trusted friends... if you were writing such a novel, would you use your own family's actual history as a base for your storyline? 

Do you think it would cause issues if the novel were read by the general public (for example, if my main character's son had my son's exact "cracks")?  My frustration is this:  The disorder he has that has been most difficult is rarely discussed for many different reasons.  Would writing about it in a novel help people struggling with those same issues feel like they have support?  OR, could it potentially cause problems in my own family if people discovered that it was based on my real son? 

Could I do it in such a way that the main character's life is so different from my own that it wouldn't make sense to associate the fictional family with mine?

I'm sorry, a lot of questioning rolling around in my noggin these days...  Yikes, six more days until the novel challenge begins!!!! 

I'm beggin' for advice!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Novel Idea

I had to make my son stop writing.  Did you hear me?  I had to make my son STOP writing!

This is the same child who once spent one hour in his classroom staring at a blank peice of paper, followed by a half hour inside from recess... staring at a blank peice of paper... followed by an hour in the guidance counsellor's office, you guessed it... staring at a blank peice of paper.

This particular episode of Ultimate Writer's Block culminated in an IEP where it was suggested Asher get tested for ADhD.

So what clicked?  What did I do to make his writing flower blossom, his inkpot overflow, his quill quiver, his keys click?  What is the secret to unleashing the inner author?

I don't know.  I didn't do it.  He did.

Well, he did it with the help of an advertisement in "Home Education" magazine for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which happens to begin November 1st.  At 9:25pm, when we were all supposed to be silent reading in our cozy upstairs family room, my children turned into frenzied authors with a drive to tell their stories!

I helped Cady log onto the web site, www.nanowrimo.org.  We navigated the children's section together, she completed her profile, took out a pencil and journal and began to write.  The poor dear got 117 words before she crashed, curled up next to our dog on the couch.

Asher snapped my laptop away from me at the first opportunity.  He logged onto the web site himself, set up his account, perused the various sections on the kids pages, and then opened up a new document.  He played with fonts for a few moments before digging into the meat of his story!

Honestly, I thought he would get frustrated and peter out.  He didn't.  He kept going until he hit five hundred words, which is going to be his daily goal for next month's project.  He hit that five hundred word mark at midnight. 

With a face flush with pride, or perhaps monitor heat, he looked up and said, "Five hundred!" 

My heart filled with joy as he read me his story about a rich child super-athlete and how his life is momentarily disturbed by a green PBJ-hurling space monkey.  He happily and thankfully accepted my "professional" editing advice (advice, suggestion, NOT command- he was the author), which amounted to a "grammar-check," essentially just telling him when he should probably start a new paragraph or insert a comma before a quotation mark.  He also quickly learned how to utilize spellcheck and a few other Open Office Writer tools.

I'm not sure if it was the initial web page tie-in, the thought of "joining" a group (you can have writing buddies, get advice, and link it to other cool writing tools), or the simple fact that HE chose to do it that made him so excited. 

I'm pretty sure, okay I'm quite confident, that Cady was motivated by an opportunity to WIN something.  She's always been on the hunt for the prize.  (She's hoping for a stuffed animal.) But Asher... I'm not sure what his motivator was for jumping into the noveling experience.

Whatever it was, I'll take it. 

I'm just glad he was able to stay up until 12:20am to hit his goal. Lord knows I've done it a few (hundred) times.  There will be no stifling of literary enthusiasm here. 

Now I hope he keeps up this energy through the entire month of November, during which time we will be setting aside some other curriculum in order to focus on the novel-writing.  I, myself, decided to take the challenge alongside my children.

Cady pledged 6,000 (painstakingly handwritten) words in thirty days to complete her novel.

Asher pledged 25,000 words in thirty days to complete his novel.

I pledged (the required- for adults) 50,000 words in thirty days to complete my novel.

Wish us luck, and we'll see you when we come up for air.  Or coffee.

Check out the link here:  http://www.nanowrimo.org  Click on the Young Writer's Program.  From there you can download a complete workbook!  An excellent resource for your young budding author.  Or, ehem, yourself!  And the best thing is, it's FREE!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's Just Like Butta'

Today I made butter. 

Just me, not my kids. 

I ran out of butter and had a half gallon of organic whipping cream.  I needed butter for garlic bread, and so I whipped.

Making butter is exciting.  You're not sure if it will really work.  People don't usually do it that way.  Everyone else I know buys their butter in four wax-paper-wrapped sticks. 

But the idea of turning organic cream into fresh butter sounds cool, looks simple, and seems to be what I need at the moment, so I jump in with enthusiasm. 

After beating the white frothy liquid for, oh, about ten minutes, I start to wonder if I'm doing it right.  Should I even have tried to make my own butter at all?  Perhaps it would have been better to run up to the corner store and buy four neatly-wrapped sticks.

But I push on.  My arm is starting to get sore, and the fluffy whipped cream is starting to get chunky and ugly.  My husband raises an eyebrow.

At about seventeen minutes I have transferred the concoction into a larger bowl because I was getting sprayed every time the beaters tilted just a little too much, and I have switched arms to give my right mixing-arm a break.  At this point the spaghetti is done, the kids are starving, and we're just waiting on the butter.

I wonder if this was the right thing to do.  Not simple.  Maybe not even cool.  Still fulfilling my needs?  Hmm.  Not so sure right now.

But suddenly, magically, there appeared in my large aluminum bowl tiny, sweet chunks of milk-fat swirling in a transparently white liquid! 

Butter!

I slowed the mixer and let the chunks run through the metal blades a few more times before squishing them together to form a greasy ball.  Garlic bread, here we come!

Why did I tell you all about this butter-making experience? 

You tell me... ;)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Count Your Chicks

"Don't count your chickens before they hatch." 


When you hear this idiom, the first translation might be that "one shouldn't think they have MORE of something than they might actually end up with."  However, today I found myself underestimating my eggs before the even started to crack.


This morning we ended up going to Jungle Java, a fun coffee shop/cafe and kids playscape, with a friend whose children had a day off of school!  This was a rare opportunity for Asher and Cady to play with two of their best friends during the school day, so I jumped on it... especially since our original plans to visit an historical park with another fun family were up in the air at that point.  (Thankfully rescheduled for later this week.  Yay!)


Anyway, all the kids had so much fun that we ended up staying at the Jungle until well past lunch.  I think we got home after 1:30pm, at which point I let the kids run around outside for a bit in one of the last days of beautiful Autumn sunlight we might see for some time.  Ah, as it is with Michigan seasons.


When the kids came in, instead of doing math or English or silent reading which I had not prepared due to the prospective field trip, we watched the first half of a National Geographic film called "The Human Machine."  It was truly an awesome movie, and it had Asher's complete attention.  I'm not sure if that was because of his utter exhaustion after navigating slides and tunnels and swinging punching bags for three and a half hours, or if it was entirely because of the fascinating content and tasteful delivery of the information.  Anway, it seemed to do the trick.


After this film experience, I asked Cady to silent read at least one book and Asher to rehearse his lines for "The White Spider."  That was meltdown time.  He read through the lines one time and thought he was done.  When i asked him to recite one section back from memory (he has a ton of lines) he couldn't do it.  I offered to use my iPhone's voice recorder to recite the lines so he could play them back to himself over and over.  No way.  I "knew nothing."  That "wasn't going to work." 


The lines were too hard and he couldn't do it, according to my son who always underestimates himself.


At this point I had to let him walk away. His temper was flaring and I didn't want to have any regrets. I sort of threw up my hands and said to myself, "We haven't done ANYTHING today!"  I admit, I sulked a little.  I stewed a little. 


Then I pulled myself together and recorded his lines into my device.  I played them back.  I sounded goo-ood!  Then I just left the voice recorder app open and my phone on the kitchen table.  We went about our evening.


When Dad got home I darted off to The Teacher Store, which is like the Wonka Wonder Land of teaching tools and supplies.  I enjoyed a nice hour there drooling over new things and making a few purchases.  I also ran into my kids' guidance counselor from their elementary and we talked for a long time.  She is so awesome.  (But more on that in another post.  It has nothing to do with my chickens.)


I brought home a great game called "SomeBody."  After dinner we played the easy version, which was using the body organ cards to play a hilarious game of "go-fish."  Who would have known that the pancreas would entice peals of shrill laughter from adults and children alike.  We especially loved when Asher asked his dad, "Do you have a brain?"  And dad's response was, "No, go fish."  I'm laughing again just thinking about it.


Anyway, after that we played the more difficult game where you have to draw cards and stick the apropriate organs in their places on your personal human body board.  The first one to complete his or her "guy" won!


So, one egg hatched that I hadn't anticipated... Science!  Human Anatomy.  To further the subject, we finished our night completing the Human Machine documentary, which ended with a clinical study proving  Buddhist meditation's ability to actually rewire the human brain.


Wait, wait, it gets better!  After the film ended, Asher began chanting an Indian chant that we learned at our churches Friday night service last week.  He remembered the entire thing plus another.  So Asher taught the rest of the family the Loca chant and the Ganesha chant.  We ended up chanting in our meditation room before bed.  Well, at least Asher and I did.  Cady was too busy being her usual nutty self.


When the two of them were in the bathroom brushing their teeth, she was making weird faces and loud obnoxious noises.  Asher put his hands together, looping his thumbs and flexing his fingers.  He said to his sister, "See this?  This is the crazy bird flyin' out the window."


So I love this connection that Asher made between the human anatomy we were studying and the meditation he learned at church.  After doing the chanting he said he felt much calmer and he asked if I would do it with him every morning and every night!  Pshhht, yeah.  Of course I will.


Wait, there's even more eggs that I thought were duds that actually hatched!  When he was lying in bed to fall asleep, he played the audio recording of his lines twice!  I'm sure he'll have them memorized in days if he keeps it up!  Yay!


So at three o'clock I thought I had maybe one egg.  Maybe just a small one.  But by bed time, I had many.  Count them with me will you?  A full first lesson in Human Anatomy, memorization in preparation for a "presentation," chanting (World Religions/ anatomy-nervous system), lots of physical education, silent reading (Cady), and the invaluable lesson of connecting subjects together to embody a holistic education.


Now, at... oh, yikes... a little after midnight, I realize our basket really was full enough today.  It doesn't have to happen on someone else's timeline.  As long as you're giving yourselves credit for what you do, by the end of the day you'll see that you've done enough.  (Thanks again, Paul, for that excellent advice.)


And enough is enough.....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Pile of Plans in Sparkle Gel Pen

My daughter is full of ideas.  One day she wants to build a "girls only club house."  She wants wood and nails and pink paint.  She wants windows and carpet and a mail box.  She draws up plans.  She measures height, width, length.  She's ready to rock and roll.

Another day she wants to sew a dress.  She draws it out complete with pop-out windows showing small bits of detail like crystal beads or ribbon trim.  I tell her we'll have to go to the fabric store to buy the stuff, then we sure can make that dress!

Today, she wanted to build a ballet bar so she could practice at home.  She went in the garage and found all the materials she would need, including an old banister that would work perfectly for the bar!  She sat down with markers and paper and drew out the plans.  She was very prepared!

But we had to make pancakes and clean up the kitchen.  Then we had to clean bedrooms and bathrooms and go to theater.  Remember the club house?  Me, too.  I remember the idea of the club house, anyway.  How about that red princess dress with crystal details?  Hmmmm... nice idea.  We never got to the fabric store.

I feel horrible.  I have a little girl full of enthusiasm and ideas and creativity, and it seems like the buck always stops at mom and dad.  I know that I have lots of excuses:  We have a household to take care of.  The materials are expensive.  We have no place to put it.  But my fear is that I am stifling my child's natural drive to create, to build. 

Even more frustrating is the thought that I have been teaching her how to quit.  How to give up.  I've been teaching her that her inventions, creations and ambitions are not important enough to see through to the end. 

Arrrgggggg!

Parents, how do we do it all?  How can we make that ballet bar and still get the bathrooms clean?  How do we build that clubhouse on a budget with limited space?  How do we not stifle our children's ambitions and still keep up a household while carrying  through with a decent curriculum from our chosen text books and workbooks?

My daughter wants us to drop everything at that moment and see her projects through.  I would love nothing more than to do that, because I know that tomorrow she might not be interested in building a club house any more.  It's just that sometimes, okay most of the time, it's not realistic for me to drop my day and pick up a hammer and nails.  Not to mention that I know almost nothing about building, and so would also have to teach myself first.

Am I too grounded in "reality," or routine?  Perhaps I need to learn how to fly by the seat of my pants a little better.  The last thing I want to do is give my little girl the impression that her ideas are not important, that she is wasting her time, that she should give up before she gets started, or that she shouldn't see a project through to the end.

I have a pile of plans and designs on my desk, scrawled out carefully in seven-year old print and sparkle gel pens, that makes me sad when I look at it.  I don't have the heart to throw the sketches  away, but somehow I can't find the time or energy to work on them with her.  Not to mention that she's lost the enthusiasm for most of them now- days, weeks, or months after the spark of creativity ignited them.

So, my friends, I call out to you. 

What do you do when your child wants to build a full-scale canoe or put on a parade complete with floats and marching bands?  How do you teach them that follow-through is important and not end up with a small village of various clubhouses, wigwams, and Medieval castles in your back yard?  How do you teach them that their ideas are worthy and still have a sparkling toilet bowl?  How do you show them not to give up on their grandest idea and still be able to pay the mortgage?

Ideas are not only welcome, they are strongly suggested.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cracks

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My daily revelation:  It is not my job to fix my kids.  It is not my job to fix my husband.  It is not my job to fix the system.... wait, no, maybe that is my job.  Anyway, my point is not about becoming a poster child for social action or government reform, so we'll just forget about that last line for now.

I've said this before, but today as I spoke with a friend while driving home from a Religious Education Committee retreat, it really and truly hit me.  Hard.  Like a canoe paddle to the forehead when you're just out on the calm lake lookin' at the ducks.

My son has his issues.  For years we have been trying to fix his cracks.  Why?  So that he could fit into the round hole?  Or should I say, the blue plastic desk chair, the future suit and tie?

Maybe he likes to stand at the counter and maybe ties choke him.  Maybe he's not cracked.  Could it be that those "imperfections" in our children are what make them human?  What make them miraculous works of art?

Some children are perfectly happy sitting in that chair, and some adults are happy in that suit and tie.  They are lucky, because they fit the mold that society has established for us.  Or at least they're capable of working with what they've got.  I've recently had some pushback from a family member about our choice to home school.  They're argument?  "Everybody goes to school!"

My retort?  "If everybody jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge..."

Anyway, after home educating my children for over a month now, I realize that a lot of the stress in my life was caused by me not only trying to fix the cracks in my children... but also feeling somehow guilty that they were cracked at all, and that other people had to be around cracked children. I hated that feeling.  I hated myself for feeling it.

My dad had a saying when I was a kid.  "I love you so much that I want other people to like you."  Sounds simple enough.  But at what expense?  And how does one go about shaping a human being so that other people like them?  And what people?

My son has some incredible qualities.  He is immediately accepting of anyone, regardless of age, physical ability, religion, et cetera.  He is tender hearted and funny.  He is smart and outgoing.  I feel like those qualities were not given the right space to shine at school.  They were hidden behind his colon disorder (crack), his ADhD (crack), his sensetivity (crack), is social "youngness" (crack).  He spent his entire third grade year sitting alone in the cafeteria at lunch.  It hurt me so much inside. I wanted him to fit in so badly.

Now that he is home, the space is right for him to be simply who he is.  He can be socially young, playing make-believe with his sister and cuddling with his dog or his mom.  He can be sensetive and cry.  He doesn't have to sit down to do his math, or try to sit quietly while the other children finish a worksheet that it took him minutes to complete.  But the most incredible difference, the one that has relieved so much of his stress and mine, is that his colon disorder is starting to heal.

He hasn't had a soiling accident in well over ten days.  I remember spending that last half hour in the morning before the bus picked up the kids in absolute panick if he wasn't able to have a bowel movement before school.  He was stressed and anxious because he knew I was stressed and anxious.  I knew the chances of him having an accident at school were greater if he wasn't able to go in the morning.  I think he did, too.  But it was an incredible struggle each and every day.

I would spend every school day with my cell phone by my side, just hoping and praying that it wouldn't ring.  That I wouldn't have to go bring him extra clothing.  Because I knew every time he had a soiling accident he alienated himself from his peers.  He became a target for their sneers and teasing.  The guidance counsellor desperately tried to help, but there's no stopping the social circus once it pulls into town.

Isn't he handsome?
Now.... Ahhhh.... We have quiet mornings together.  By early afternoon, if he hasn't had a bowel movement, I gently remind him that he might want to try.  But I haven't had to do that lately.  He's actually been noticing his body's workings (his colon's nervous system is restoring itself).  I think getting rid of screens (tv, video games, etc), and taking away all of that stress that he was experiencing, have together been a healing force for him physically and emotionally. 

It seems like the more we tried to "fix" him, (with therapy and neurofeedback and food eliminationa and medication and chiropractic) the more he started thinking he was someone who needed to be fixed.


Now, I look at my son and see this colorful peice of artwork.  Those aren't cracks after all.  They are strokes of him.  All I had to do was hang him in the right gallery, and provide a little light, to help him shine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How I Underestimated My Entire Family

After spending a good thirty minutes trying to figure out just how to add a NetworkedBlogs widget to my blog, I am ready to settle in to writing.  That is, if I can ignore the wrenching pain in my back.  I think the miles of urban terrain we covered during our Chicago visit is finally catching up with me.  Damn flip-flops.  I knew I should have worn sensible shoes.

Anyway, yesterday I promised to write about a number of subjects that were coursing through my brain while on a writing vacation.  Here's the first one:  underestimating one's child.  The story goes like this:

Asher tends to "wander off" when we are out together.  So, entering the largest museum in the western hemisphere is a daunting task for a mother and father of such a curious and inattentive child.  Upon getting our tickets and map, and after visiting the lavatory, we huddle together under the dome on the main floor directly adjacent to the gift shop.

"All right everyone," says Jay in a very commandeering voice.  "If you get lost, I want you to come right here and stand in the middle of this circle under this dome."  Nods from the children. 

"Look around.  Do you see where we are?"  Yesses from the children.

And I brilliantly add, "And if you can't find your way here and you're scared, find someone in a blue museum shirt and tell them that you're lost."  I point in the direction of the gift shop attendant.  "Like that lady over there, okay?"  More nods.

...and we move on with our day.  We visit the are where you can make tornadoes and avalanches, then we run upstairs to catch our time slot in the Jim Hensen Muppet exhibit.  Fun stuff!  Then off to lunch. 

After sandwiches in the cafe we head down to the modern farming section.  At first, both children wait in line for their turn to drive the gigantic tractor (simulator).  Soon enough, predictably, Asher is bored so Jay takes him off to the other side of the room to check out how much cow manure it would take to power your laptop.  I stay with Cady.

As I'm waiting by the seed room (probably sponsored by Monsanto), Jay wanders over and puts his arm around me.  We chit chat for a sec until Cady's done, then I ask him where Asher might be.

"Oh, he's right over here-"  NOPE.  Gone.

"Damnit, I told him I was going to be on the other side of the combine.  He's wandered off.  Stay here I'll go find him."  Okay, I'm paraphrasing , but you get the picture.

So he goes off in one direction to look, Cady and I in another.  We've agreed to meet back by the big cow with the pile of fake poop under it's rump.

Cady and I search all over the first floor.  No luck.  Jay searches all over the second floor.  No luck.  I am beginning to panic.  Jay is getting angrier and angrier that our son has disappeared, probably thinking that he found something interesting and followed his whims with total and utter disregard for his father's directions or his mother's potential for emotional breakdown.

Cady tugs at my shirt, sweetly. (Well, maybe that's what it would look like in a movie.)

"Mom," she says. "He's probably waiting at that spot dad told us to wait at if we got lost!"  Instead of total care and concern for her brother, she says this like we are complete morons and her brother's an idiot for disappearing and ruining her museum trip.  But she makes an excellent point.  (One child underestimated.  In my panic, I had even forgotten about the meeting place.)

Jay dashes off the the dome.  Cady and I go to the security desk.  The put out a code 91 on him.  Cady goes with Dad to look at some stuff while I wait.

Within minutes, Jay is stomping toward me with anger spewing from his ears like a caricaturization of Frankenstein's monster.  "He was in the *&%#ing gift shop!"

My endorphin-flooded brain is pulsing with every emotion from relief to terror, guilt to anger!  I grab my son by the shoulders and he begins to cry.  "WHY were you in the gift shop?  WHY did you leave the cows?" I demand beneath choppy breaths!

Between sobs, my son spits out a few nearly unintelligible phrases:  "-waited at the dome- didn't come-  mom told me-  gift shop lady- scared-"

The anger rushes from my mind as I piece together the story that my incredible and completely underestimated son unfolds before me.  I hug him close and tell him I'm here now.  I repeat over and over again that he did the right thing, the right thing, the exactly right thing.  I feel like a fool, and incredibly guilty for assuming the worst of my child.   (That he got bored of livestock and hopped up the stairs to do a little shopping.)

He was a scared ten year old boy who got distracted by something and lost his family.  In his frightened state, he remembered which staircase to ascend to which domed area.  He waited (long enough for a scared ten year old boy with ADHD to think is long enough), then he went to the exactly right gift shop and told the exact right person the exact right thing.  Second child underestimated.

The incident proved to be a learning experience for all of us.  Asher spent the rest of the museum time either holding my hand or very close to me.  I don't think he wanted to experience that whole thing again.  I spent the rest of the time (and from there forward) glowing with... not exactly pride, maybe more like relief-and-gratitude... that my son followed directions in a crisis situation.  I feel stronger knowing that he can handle himself if he's lost.  And Cady, at seven, even remembered her father's instructions.

I was also humbled by the experience in a way that doesn't exactly feel degrading, but a little apologetic perhaps.  My husband knew enough to set out directions from the start.  My daughter remembered them.  My son followed them.  I panicked.  I didn't have faith in any of them.

Now I know better.  I learned an incredible life lesson. 

If you give your children the tools, they will use them.  You have to believe in your children.  It's your job.  If you don't, honestly, who will? 

And if you don't believe in them now... will they ever have confidence in themselves?