Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bad Mom

Last Thursday I was driving west on I696... right smack in the middle of rush hour.  The snow was flying and I could barely see out the front windshield.  Traffic was all backed up, like people had never driven in the snow before in their lives.  I was trying to send a text message with my left hand, because my right hand was desperately grabbing at the ankles of my children... who were bored in the car and had started jumping from the back seat into the "way back" and then back again, screaming wildly in Fred voices.  I'm sure it wasn't a result of the cokes and Snickers I bought them as a reward for not being heathens at grandma's.

My temperature was rising.  So NOT a good time for the moron in front of me to slam on his brakes!  I was driving with my knees because my cigarette was close to burning my hand, which also happened to be holding my iPhone.  I had it out the window to flick the butt, when BAM! 

BRAKES.  Kids flying.  Phone flying.  Profanity flying.  Damn.  I miss my phone.  No way was I going to find it in the dirty highway snowbank.  I should have made the kids go back and look. Stupid kids.  If they hadn't have been jumping around back there I wouldn't have lost my phone.  I am going to make them sell all their stuff to buy me a new one

Bad  mom.

I hope most of you realize by now that this was NOT, in fact, me.  Despite the fact that I often question my decisions... I truly believe that I am a good mom.  And chances are good that YOU are probably a good mom, too.  If you are not the woman in the car with the smokes and the texting, that is.  When you think you are a bad mom, compare yourself to her and you will feel better.  THAT's a bad mom, a dangerous mom, not you.

When I had my first child, Asher, I was immersed in the Montessori method.  I worked at a Montessori school, was in Montessori training, and surrounded myself with other Montessori-minded parents.  I was so sure that this was the "right" way to raise my children, that I didn't allow for wiggle room.  If I did anything contrary to what was found in the handbook, I felt horrible.  I doubted my own ability as a parent.

After leaving that environment and meeting more friends with children (friends with plastic toys, high chairs, and play pens), I realized that those moms loved their children just as much as I did.  Their children were, in fact, NOT going to end up serial killers or intellectually stunted or angry because they were allowed to eat Goldfish crackers in their excer-saucer watching Elmo... once in a while.

Now that my children are older, it's not a matter of Goldfish crackers- it's fish oil.  Verses ADhD meds, that is.  It's to video game or not to video game.  It's to allow for argument, or "My word is law."  It's to private, public, or home school.  It's to allow kids to work it out, or step in as mediator.  It's to step up or step back.  It's to Love and Logic, to 1-2-3 Magic, to attach, detach, or make it up as you go.  It's weather or not to allow your kid to quit dance, to try out for the musical, to have a play date with a kid you know isn't a good influence, to eat that piece of cake at ten o'clock, to let your seven year old climb in bed with you in the middle of the night.  It's deciding how to deal with a tantrum, a scream, a refusal to follow directions.  It's deciding if the kids' rooms are their domain, or if we should make them clean.  It's weather or not allowance is good or bad, or if they should be allowed to take their money out of their savings account.  It's deciding if you should spend the money on the name brand boots to boost your daughter's self-image, or let your son buy the cheat codes so he can "keep up" with his friends.

No-one said this was going to be easy.  Now that I have brought my kids home from school, my decisions seem to not only be under a microscope, but also in the tabloids.  I have to somehow prove that I am doing well by my kids.  To me.  To the family.  To them.  To the world.  But how does one measure that kind of success?  You can't tell if a cake is good until it's done baking.  And even then, some of us like chocolate, others vanilla.  Some of us don't think we should be eating cake at all.

With all the articles and conversation around "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother," I have been questioning the role of parenting "methods" in the lives of real mothers and fathers.  Are we trying to live up to standards that are unattainable, and therefore setting ourselves up to feel like failures?  When I was growing up, my parents just raised us the way they did because... well, because that's how it was done.  Perhaps it was how their parents raised them.  Or perhaps it came from some instinct.  Perhaps from their place of love.  Wherever their "methods" came from, they didn't question weather or not they were doing it "right."  At least not often, from what I'm told. 

My dad was a busy single father... he didn't have time to read the books.  He was loving but firm.  Encouraging, with high expectations.  Comforting, but not suffocating.  He didn't want to be our friend, or our jailer.  We had everything we needed, and some of the things we wanted.  We had chores, but weren't indentured servants. The most important thing about his parenting "method?"  We knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were loved.

As an adult now, I am friends with my parents.  I have a deep understanding of my mom.  I also know that she loved us very much, even though we didn't live with her growing up.  We spent many weekends, holidays, and summer days with her and my step family.  She taught me life lessons that carry me through womanhood, and I wouldn't change anything about our past.  She, as well as my father and the decisions they made, helped form who I am today.  I know that I am loved, unconditionally.

That, my friends, is all we can do.  Love our children the best we know how.  As long as you aren't that woman in the car, (and I sincerely hope you are not), you are probably a good parent.  You don't have to live up to the expectations of the world.  Your success as a parent is not measured by ACT scores, perfect concertos, or invitations to popular birthday parties.  If you love your children the best you know how, you are a good parent.

Last night I was sitting with my son in his bed.  He was having a fitful sleep... due to several factors, including excessive sweets and caffeine at a party combined with late night screen time... and at one point he kind of rolled over and mumbled (he talks in his sleep all the time), "I love you daddy."  My eyes swelled with tears.  If he is saying that he loves his dad while in a state of subconscious thought... well, I don't know, it just seems that much more pure and sincere.

It made me realize that, unless I suddenly become that woman texting and flicking smokes in her car, unless I (for some ungodly reason) begin making dangerously horrible choices, unless my husband goes ballistic,  my kids are going to be fine.  He is a good dad.  I am, in fact, a good mom.  I love my kids the best way I know how.

And as far as I know, no-one has the authority to write a manual on how to love.

Disclaimer:  I'm sure some of you might argue that the mom in the car above was also loving her kids the best way she knew how.  But, if you are a mom doing that, you are a dangerous mom (even if you do love your kids).  Perhaps that's what I mean by "bad."  Making choices that are obviously threatening the lives of your children... that's bad.  If you are letting them eat ice cream and watch videos in the back seat... that's survival.  If you are letting them go nuts while you smoke and text in a snow storm, that's bad.  Just wanted to clarify my position!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cool Learn-to-Read Web Site that we use for Spanish lessons!

Wednesday morning was great, thanks to a new web site I found that has animated books!  Now, at face value that doesn't sound so special.  But here's the things that make it totally cool:  FREE subscription, and Spanish translation!  The web site is as follows:

When you get to this page, hit "subscribe" in the upper right corner.  In the box that says "Promotion or Coupon Codes" type: learntoread.  All small letters.  It should come up totally free!

When you are all logged in, go to ELS books.  These are fully animated.  You click on the words and they are read out loud... en espanol if you choose the Spanish language option!  Cady spent a bunch of time on the simple vocabulary, while Asher went to level three and four.  He spent a good half hour or more repeating the sentences back to the reader-lady!  This is going to be a great supplement to their co-op Spanish class!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good Things

The kids and I have been sick on and off for a week.  The benefit of homeschooling is that you don't have to stress about missing tests and important lessons... and you can do the work you can do, like read or watch documentaries, etc.  The drawback is that when the teacher is sick (me) you can't call in a sub. 

Needless to say, today with my sinuses sore, my ears achy, and my chest raspy... the kids watched a history video this morning and practiced their instruments.  Math will be done when dad gets home.  This afternoon will probably consist of journaling (for both kids), reading, scrapbooking (Kayden), and rehearsing their choir song.  I just don't think I can dig into new lessons or science experiments or field trips.  Not today.

After reading through some of my older posts, I realize that I often give my readers here a heavy dose of the negatives of homeschooling.  I do that for two reasons.  One, this is my purge.  It's like a diary.  I am able to work through my issues here in words, get advice from my friends and family, and move through the tough things.  As I said earlier, it's like my meditation.  Two, there aren't many blogs or articles that talk about the tough, personal issues about home schooling.  Probably because we're all so eager to prove ourselves! We want to continually extol the virtues of our alternative life choice!

 Or maybe it really is that easy and rewarding for everyone else.  Hmmm.

Anyway, to lighten the mood and extol my virtues, here a few cool things we've been working on:

  • We have been given music a greater emphasis (MIN. 30 minutes guitar practice for Asher)  Yeah, go Tiger Mama! LOL!  Cady has taken up violin, and is very excited!  I practice my acoustic guitar daily as well.  Monkey see, monkey do!
  • Asher is learning all about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and the Apple, Inc. legacy!  Time line due Friday.  Paper about how they changed the way we learn and communicate, due next Friday!
  • Cady is learning all about dogs, breeding, care, etc.  We watched a cool video about "manufacturing" various breeds for various jobs.
  • Cady grew an Amaryllis and studied plants and flowers.  She kept a journal and we dissected the blossom yesterday.  The thing is HUGE!  (Feed me Seymore!)
  • Asher is learning all about Ancient Mythology at co-op.  Yesterday he made a cool comic strip for their ancient newspaper.
  • Cady and I are reading "Anne of Green Gables."  I think "Tom Sawyer" will be our next family read.
  • We all started daily journaling.  Asher needs to fine tune his writing skills, and gain confidence in that arena.
  • Both kids are doing a ton of baking and cooking.  Asher claims he wants to be a pastry chef!
  • Both kids are learning Spanish!  I'm having fun brushing up on my Spanish skills myself!
  • Asher is learning a ton about the war in Afghanistan.  Both kids helped design and deliver a service for our church around "Pennies for Peace," an organization that brings education to children in the Middle East. They have a great curriculum that we will probably use for our summer youth program.  I'm surprised how knowledgeable Asher became on this subject, and how eager he was to learn about it.  We are sending a bunch of stuffed animals to the troops there soon.  Apparently they trade the animals to Afghan children for information about IED locations.  So an animal could save a life! 
  • We are utilizing Junior Scholastic for American history and current events!  It's an AWESOME resource, complete with quizzes and discussion questions.
  • Oh, and here's a really important one:  Asher's colon disorder is nearly a non-issue!!!!  YEAH! Most of you know, that was a big reason we home schooled this year.  I think a reduction in stress really helped "cure" this problem.  Now I feel confident that if he decides to go back to school next year, he will not be the target of bullying due to his disorder.  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it!
Okay, now that I've purged our accomplishments, I feel better about taking a somewhat lazy day.  However, I bet at the end of the day I will realize that we learned a ton despite the low energy!

Oh, on a side note... has anyone read "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?"  I've read no less than three articles about it, but haven't yet read the book.  Any feedback?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back Through the Rabbit Hole

Back in November I wrote a post called "Finding Wonderland."  It was about walking through doors, drinking from the bottles, eating the cakes, and making your way into your own Wonderland. 

Caty's Alice dress. 
My daughter has lately been infatuated with Alice.  She watched the newest version with Johnny Depp (misty sigh), she  watched a 1972 version with unbelievably fake props and hilarious animal costumes.  She watched what we call "the yellow dress version" (my favorite) starring the girl who went on to play Deb in "Napoleon Dynamite."  She wrote a script for her and her friends to perform, planning on rehearsals every Sunday until she turns eight, culminating in a three hour performance complete with cast party and an elaborate professional set.  (I'm thinking two rehearsals and a three minute skit filmed on my iPhone and posted to YouTube.)  She and I pulled a bunch of her old dressup clothes apart, cut, shaped, re figured, pinned, and hand-stitched them into the most adorable Alice costume you've ever seen!  (If I do say so myself.  Which I did.)

Through all of this watching, cutting, sewing, writing, I was thinking about Alice.  I realized that I had been missing a really important aspect of the story all along, back when I wrote about finding your own Wonderland.

Eventually, Alice wanted nothing less than to go home.

Home.  Home is where you curl up in your most comfortable chair with a good book.  Home is where you sit by the fire on a cold winter day, watching the flames dance and the wood turn to cinders beneath the grate.  Home is where your children grow taller, where you grow older, where your family loves you no matter your "size."  Home is the safe feeling of the familiar.

I understand now why my daughter (driving me insane) often doesn't ever want to go anywhere:  dance class, Home School Group, a new friend's house, a new restaurant for dinner, a field trip to an unfamiliar museum.  One morning she looked at me with tear-filled eyes and said, "I thought home schooling meant we could just stay HOME."

Now, thanks to Alice, I understand.  Home is safe.  You know how to get to the bathroom, that the glitter and glue are in the drawer by the window, and that there's always peanut butter and jelly if you don't like what's on your plate.  Home is the comfort of knowing.

I am ready to be home for a while.  I have been growing and shrinking so much lately that I'm not quite sure what my right size is any more.  It's time for us to fall into a routine (which we're getting quite good at), to choose our outings carefully, to clean and organize, to make home more comfortable. 

We are focusing our energy on learning how to communicate better with one another.  No more screaming, "Off with her head!"  No more pepper in the soup.  No more, "How can I possibly have more, when I haven't had any yet." No more Cheshire cats pointing us in opposite directions, knowing full well that we are all trying to reach the same destination. 

While I still think it's important to spend some time in Wonderland, I am also happy to be headed back to the river bank with Dinah, making lazy daisy chains in the warm afternoon sunshine.  Perhaps after I find my right size, I will be ready again to dash down the rabbit hole.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pulling Myself Together in 2011

Welcome to 2011. 

If you are one of my avid readers, thank you for sticking out my somewhat long sabbatical from writing.  I could lie to you and say that my hiatus was simply an effect of the holiday season being busy and  yadda-yadda.  But that would not be entirely true.  And since this blog is supposed to be "uncensored," I'll give it to you straight.

These past few months have been hard.  Hard on my family.  Hard on my relationship with my husband.  Hard on my emotional well-being.  That's the honest, uncut truth.

Why?  I think it's largely because I have been trying to simply load all the home schooling responsibilities right smack on top of everything else that used to fight for my time and energy:  Laundry, cooking, cleaning, yard work, party planning, volunteering, helping friends, baking, play dates, et cetera ad infinitum.  I don't think I've dropped one single thing... oh, except lunches out with girlfriends, afternoon novel-reading, and daily hour-long walks (I've gained ten pounds since August).

The point is that I am trying to be some kind of super-mom-wife that can handle all the burdens of home and save the emotional-educational-social well-being of my children while skillfully balancing a silver-screen romance with my loving spouse all in a single, graceful bound.  Hah!  Guess what?  That isn't working out so well. 

I quickly became defensive, sarcastic, and withdrawn from the one other person in this world that could be my biggest source of comfort and support on this crazy journey- my husband.  Jay has been clear from the beginning that he would be there to help in any way.  All he asked was that I write down what I needed him to do.  (He has ADhD and it helps him to have a daily list.)  I didn't do that.

I think that deep in the recesses of my mind, I thought that this was my responsibility.  I thought I would feel guilty if I added more work to his plate after he already worked a long day at a hard job.  Perhaps I didn't want home schooling to start feeling like a burden on him, thus causing him to regret making this choice for our family.  I wanted so badly to prove myself.  I thought I could handle it all.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.

I was taking myself too seriously.

So, in the hopes of keeping my family strong (and making it 'til that 20th Anniversary trip to Europe) I promise to start 2011 off right.  Here is a bulleted list of goals I'd like to focus on to help the second half of the year run more smoothly (for all of us) than the first.
  • Work on Time Management.  I think I'll start by writing down everything I do tomorrow, including how much time I spend on each thing.  Perhaps you can look forward to catching the results in an upcoming post. :)  And yes, I may have to (eh hem) quit doing some things.
  • Make a list for my husband.  Item #1: laundry.  Then he can take over daily math lessons with Asher, beginning next Monday.
  • Exercise.  I want to get a good, heart-poudin' sweat-drenched workout at least three days a week.  I also want a moderate workout, perhaps including yoga and/or dance at least two more days a week.
  • Eat healthier.  My whole family gained weight over the past month.  Asher can no longer snap his jeans.  And we won't even TALK about my jeans.  (I no longer wear them.  They are now jealous of my stretchy-pants.) I am going to start every weekday morning with a green smoothie, and watch the fat and sugar throughout the day.  Two cups of coffee, max.
  • Focus on keeping my voice level... and my head.  I realize the more steady (and quiet) my voice, the calmer the day, and the better we all feel.
  • Chores.  The kids need to start getting more involved.  They are starting to clear and wash dishes by habit now... which is great!  I want to see more of that along with a few other chores that should just become routine.
  • Daily journaling.  I am talking pen and paper, for me and the kids at least.  We got out of the habit, but I think it's important, so we're going to start it up again.
I feel like I'm climbing up out of that deep crevasse.   You know, the one I fell in while I was trying to carry the burro's load on an upward trail.  I know what I need to do to make this journey a safer and happier one.  Now I just need to follow my own map... one step at a time.

All right, that's enough for now.  I don't want you to start falling asleep in your coffee cup (or wine glass- depending on when you're reading this).  But if you're out there feeling like your life is falling apart since you brought your kids home from school... even though you're fairly sure you're doing the right thing in the midst of the chaos... I wanted you to know you're not alone.

If you think I'm nuts, and you have it all pulled together during those first few transition months, please write down exactly what you're doing in a well-documented instructional manual.  I will buy a copy.  But I won't have time to read it.  So please also do a YouTube video and share it with me on Facebook.