Saturday, October 30, 2010


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,  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:  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! 


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. 


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


Add caption
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?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Fix

Forgive me Followers, for I have sinned... it has been seven days since my last blog post. 

My family went to Chicago for a few days for a family wedding.  While we were there we visited the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier and the Museum of Science and Industry... both for FREE!  Well, of course nothing is totally free.  We purchased a reciprocal pass at our local kids science center, The Ann Arbor Hands On Museum.  It was $100, which gets your entire family plus a caregiver and an extra adult into the museum every time you go for a year.  But the big benni- any of the reciprocating museums outside of a ninety mile radius from your house give you those exact same benefits!  We can get into hundreds of science centers and children's museums all over the country. 

So my quick tip of the day:  Before you go on vacation, check out your local science center's membership page.  You might find that for a little money up front, you have backup plans for rainy days in Florida AND a year's worth of day trips for your family.

Okay, back to life.  I finally got a good night's sleep.  Cha-ching.  I melted into the fluffy down guest bed at my dad's Monday night, and when I shut the lights out I couldn't tell if my eyes were open or closed.  It was sleep heaven.  I slept ten hours.  Ten blissful hours.

Which brings me back to the seven day blog hiatus.  Sleep deprivation can really mess with your brain.  I was staying up very late at night writing my blog because I didn't think I had the time or the willpower to do it during the day.  So, rather than permanently transform into the coffee-sucking, shaky, edgy, slightly foggy Mom-ster that I had temporarily become, I gave myself an inch.  In that inch was written these words:  "No-one is forcing you to write daily.  It was your own stipulation.  YOU can drop it.  You can take a break once in a while."  So I took that inch.

Then I took another and pretty soon an inch was a mile.  Or in this case, seven days.  And I've missed you.  I mean, I've missed it.  Writing, that is.  Writing is my meditation, my yoga, my prayer.  Or, for those of you who swing another way... writing is my Merlot, my vodka-tonic, my Miller Lite, my hit, my high, my momentary escape from the unending reality of my normal life.  So while I was taking this seven day playcation, I was jonesin' for my keyboard.

Posts ran through my mind at night as I was trying to fall asleep in a hotel bed next to my daughter... or rather, curled up and wedged half-under-half-beside my daughter with no blankets and a pillow that was not memory foam.  Words and ideas surfaced as I brushed my teeth and dried my hair and walked from the farm exhibit to the replica of the SS Chicago.

So, without further adieu, here are a few topics you can look forward to:  Underestimating one's children, staying connected to family, natural consequences and how to avoid the unenforceable consequence, car rides without hand-held games or DVDs, why my daughter went bonkers, high heels (are they really necessary?), and "Can you really learn anything in five hours at the largest museum in the Western hemisphere?"

Thanks for reading this slightly-off-topic post.  Now that I have gotten my fix and restored my sanity, I'll look forward to shedding some light on these topics over the next couple of days!

Oh, another thought... please throw out topic ideas for me!  I'd love to answer questions or write about something that might be piquing your interest... as long as it doesn't involve my underwear drawer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quick Note About Workbooks

I love them.  It's not a mushy love.  It's a good, working relationship.  Solid.  Practical.  Born of necessity and worked its way to love.

After two days using our Singapore Math workbooks and Second and Sixth Grade spelling/grammar books, we finally feel like we are in our groove.  Workbooks are something the kids know.  They read a direction.  They fill in an answer.  Sometime there are cute pictures on the pages.  Eyecandy of sorts.  It's all good.

Today we got our math lessons and English lessons done in under ninety minutes.  There was no crying or whining or pounding on the desk screaming.  Remember that post of long ago?  The one where I learned to let my son work through his issues during his online math tutorial?  Yeah.  I like the workbooks.

Now, that's not to say that we were done "learning" in ninety minutes.  Cady also baked brownies (by herself).  She read a wrote a ton hiding behind the counter, peaking up now and again to make sure no-one could see what was going down in her private, lockable diary.  She rehearsed her part in her theatre group's play.

Asher read a bunch on his own and looked through the science experiment book for future reference.  He was going to bake bread but we ran out of time.  He's saving it for tomorrow.

They worked at fine-tuning the art of shopping at "The Sal."  We also spent some time in the hobby shop and library.  Then when their friends got off the bus, they played outside for nearly four hours... until it got dark!

Remember when the threat of not being allowed outside to play was terrifying?  Now it seems like we often have to force our kids out of the house... the draw of pulsing light and magical sound eminating from tiny electrical boxes proving too big an adversary for ordinary sunlight and browning grass.  Over the summer, that was us. 

Now, without the competition, they are happily out in the yard creating games, jumping on the trampoline, hanging with friends, swinging... and whatever else they do... I'm not sure all the time because I don't watch them that closely when they're in the back yard!

Anyway... workbooks and playing outside

Sounds like a retro, vintage throwback.  But that's the way I roll.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Phlegm, MEAPS, and Cake

I have been sick for almost a week now.  Wait, no, more than a week now.  Late last night the phlegm finally drizzled into my tummy, and you know what that means.... Urp.  There's nothing worse than being up in the middle of the night with your head in the toity for no good reason.  Or at least no fun reason. 

I have been overworking my immune system, running those little defense cells into the ground with nothing to show for it but bags under my eyes.  Well, okay, maybe there have been a few good things to show for it. 

We pulled off a whole unit on Medieval Times, complete with a feast, hand-made weapons, a hand-sewn dress and other various accouterments.  We have been on tons of field trips.  We have baked, cooked, blogged, read Chaucer and Junie B. Jones, learned how to build a camp fire and even done some math and science.  We've gone for jogs and ripped it up at the skate park. 

We've done some stuff.  But as any new home schooling parent wonders.... was it the right stuff?  Okay, when I say "wonders," what I really mean is "worries."  I think part of my fatigue is that I'm constantly worrying about the content of my children's new education.

Enter (the most unlikely player in this comedy) "E," one of Cady's neighborhood friends over for a play date.  In making conversation with this precocious nine year old girl, I asked her what they've been doing in school.

E: Oh, not much.
Me:  Do you like your teacher?
E:  Yeah, she's really nice.
Me:  Have you done a lot of math? 
E:  Not really.
Me:  Really?  Have you done much writing?
E:  No.  We've mostly been getting ready for the MEAPS.  They're next week. Are you guys taking the MEAPS?
Me:  No.  We don't do tests.
E:  (jaw drops)  I want to be home schooled.  I mean, can I come to your house to be home schooled?

Ahhhhh.  I took a deep sigh after my conversation with E.  The public school kids have been spending most of an entire month preparing for testing.  (Thanks, "No Child Left Behind.")  I don't need to test my kids.  I know what they've learned, and often what they've retained comes out in every day conversation. 

For example, Cady retold an entire Canterbury Tale to her friend while we were driving to dance class Saturday morning.  Asher explained to his buddy what a "gong farmer" was in the Middle Ages.  (FYI, he's a dung-digger... searches for treasures in the gong-piles, then sells the human waste for garden fertilizer.  No wonder they considered raw vegetables unhealthy.)  My kids knew that you could pay a monk to pray for your penance, that knights were professional soldiers, and that minstrels often knew many secrets about royalty because they could hear everything from their place in the balcony.

I know if they retain the math or not because I'm sitting next to them, or at least close enough to hear their frustration.  We also don't move on until they completely understand what they're working on, even if it takes a month!

I only have two kids whose progress I need to track!  Imagine if school teachers had that kind of ratio?  They wouldn't need to test either, or do half of the other administrative things that are part of their job descriptions.  What a joy it would be for teachers if they could simply teach?

Okay, so that made me feel better.  Also, I was talking to a good friend Sunday who is the father of two home schooled kids.  He gave me some incredible advice.  He said, "Give yourself credit for what you've done!"  Simple, but poignant.

Asher baked a pie:  Following instructions, sequencing, math (fractions and weights and measures), science, and home economics

Cady wrote a story about princesses, castles, knights and unicorns:  Handwriting, writing, reading, history (myths of the Middle Ages), art, drama (in the reading aloud)

You get the picture.  When I have finally stepped back and seen how much they've done, my nerves are calmed.  Asher and Cady have accomplished a lot in a short time. 

Plus, the relationship skills that we've learned in our short time home together have been more than icing on the cake.   They've been the cake.  And everyone knows that bad cake is bad... No matter how delicious the icing, no-one wants a slice.

But good cake... Mmmm, good cake can stand alone. 

Well, almost.  These two good cupcakes started their math workbooks today!  Sometimes a little icing is what puts the cake in the realm of pastry delicacy, rather than Little Debbie, and lands them good positions in the better bakeries.

Huh.  I think I've gotten my appetite back!

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's Just Me

It's hard for me to talk about "how home schooling is going." I know, it's surprising that it's hard for me to talk about anything! But what I mean is that it's hard to articulate the amazing changes in my family since we've brought our children home for their education.
I think the first reason is that you'd really have to know my children well, know my family life intimately, to understand the growth that is happening within these walls. I'm tempted just to say, "It's going great!"
But that would be a lie... or a part-truth, which might as well be a lie.
It's going.
It has its ups and downs.
It's going as well as can be expected for any major life change.
There is going to be a an adjustment period, just like when you sent your oldest off to kindergarten or you changed jobs or grandma moved in.
We're keepin' on keepin' on. We're working out the kinks. Together.
Here are some positives: My kids have free time, during which they have been truly cultivating their imaginative play, reading, making up games, and getting plenty of sunshine. They are learning the joy of writing about the things that interest them. They have time to clean. They get enough sleep. They cook. Their in-depth knowledge of the Middle Ages is coming out naturally in their play, in their projects, and in our conversations. (And I don't even have to test them!) I don't have to ask them what they did at school all day. They are learning to love Chaucer. We don't have morning and bed time battles.
Here's a big one: I was practically forced to re-evaluate my parenting. I implemented a regime of "unspoiling" that is working! I unplugged my kids' brains from the screen... and it's amazing how quickly Imy brain followed suit. (My online time has diminished right alongside theirs, and is usually only taken after they've gone to bed or are outside playing. So, I get more done.) I decided to stop letting my kids push me to my limits, and we are all enjoying a better relationship for it!
Negatives? I'm exhausted. I'm looking for a new (paper) curriculum. I feel like we're not doing enough. I don't squeeze in excercise time for myself. I'm not planning meals well like I used to, so sometimes we lack a salad or a veggie or an ingredient where there used to always be one! I'm exhausted. The house isn't as clean. I'm way behind on my episodes of "Glee" and "Modern Family." We're not doing EVERYTHING I thought we would. And we don't seem to have time for that. I'm behind on lunch dates with my friends. I need a hair cut.
A song lyric popped into my mind just now. "Hold on, don't move too fast. You gotta make the moment last..."
Here's the thing. Everyone has to make decisions about their families. I don't think my choice is superior to yours. It's just "righter" for my family, right now. I try not to talk about homeschooling with my friends all the time. I ask about their kids' teachers and such. I'm not a different person now that I'm a home schooling mom. I'm just me. Only more tired.