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!