Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Experience > Stuff

This is some of the core math that I live by as a parent; particularly as a homeschooling mom.

What do I mean by this made-up pseudo-math? I mean that a person can learn a thousand immeasurable things more by doing something than by reading about it. If there is even one person who would argue with this "math", please tell me your thoughts. (It would happen that I believe this with the fervor of a fanatic - and I love being challenged on deeply held beliefs. Truly. It gives me an opportunity to re-examine them and make any necessary adjustments - be it shoring up, or replacing irrelevant parts.) 

I suppose another way to express it is that practical trumps theory. Is theory necessary? Yes, absolutely. But theory is the jetway and practical is the jet. And my what a convenient metaphor I just came up with there because it just so happens that I also believe that travel is the [insert clever metaphor here] of experience. Some are a bit run of the mill but still offer enough variety and favorites to please the crowd, others are just different enough to be new, exciting and interesting, while others still are all glitz and glamour and one can hardly believe ones own eyes at the Wow! of it all. 

We haven't quite made it to the glitz and glamour, but we are doing what we can to get the New, the Exciting, the Interesting.  And by "get", I mean "give".  To our children.  As gifts. 

In my homeschooling mom's book:

Travel = Experience > Stuff

We've never been the kind of family that has oodles of toys and gadgets for our kids to play with.  (Sometimes I have a literal jaw-drop experience at the vast oceans of toys that some children have in their rooms/play areas.  And then I have to quickly shake it off and smile and wave and be polite because no one wants to be told that they are over indulging their child with waaay too much junk crap toys; even if only by probably less than tactful look of shock and awe on my treacherous face.) Ahem.  What was I saying?  Yes.  Toys.  The point is, we never bought our kids a bunch of toys.  Sometimes I felt a little bad wondering if I was depriving my children. But the feeling would pass and everything would still be okay. 

Too late for a long story short, so I will just say that what we do buy for our children are trips.  And books.  And flour.  And borax.  And art supplies.  And a life that includeds lots of hands on (and hands off!) experiences.  "What can we do?" and "Where can we go?" were and still are the questions that quickly and easily trump "What should we get them?" (To which the answer is invariably books, anyway.) 

Does it mean that our kids never played with toys? Not at all.  That they never get stuff from "Santa"? Of course not!  What it does mean is that we go underboard with toys and above or overboard with experience.   I would say that I try to be balanced but it would be a bald faced lie.  I'm the person that measures sums of money in terms of travel value.  As in "Twelve hundred dollars?! That's plane tickets to Florida!".  (Look, I know Florida is no great shakes for culture and amazingness, but my mom and sisters and grandma and other relatives are there and family connection is also Very Important to me.  And it's still travel! And they have Science Museums and parks and fun stuff.) 

But I've said too much.  It's not just about travel.  It's about the doing of the things.  The touching the feeling the pouring the cutting the finding the miscrosoping the telescoping (not yet, but soon!) the dirty hands and messy house, and most of all the wide eyed wonderment and the ever natural high inducing "Aha!" moments of discovery. 

I don't want to give my kids too many of the things that will lose their shine and appeal and end up in the landfill one day; not when I can give them the excitement, the adventure, the boredom, the thrill, the "OH MY GOSH!", the "are we there YET?!" and later, the memories and the stories told excitedly to anyone who will listen. 

What it all boils down to for me is that:

Stuff doesn't get as much mileage as airplanes can. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Auto Parent

It feels like I've been on Auto Parent.

Like most other things in life, though, it's not black and white.  I have.  And I haven't. 

You know what it's like?  It's like in the movies when the good guy is being attacked by six people and he spends the whole fight fighting one at a time while the others "patiently wait" to have their butts handed to them. 

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "What? No.  That's not even a good analogy."  But it is.  See, kids go through so many stages of development, sometimes they even which almost always overlap.  So as a parent you see this new pattern of behavior and you jump on it and start learning how to deal with that and what's the best way and what's the best language and how can you help them and not kill them and still be patient and know what's happening and be compassionate and firm and parent-y.  All the while there is another thing brewing and it might pop up in the middle of this first thing or else it might not and then it will spring on you when you think you've got the other thing handled (which maybe you did but it morphed into something else and now your other tools aren't working) and now you're dealing with that thing and then a new thing comes at you and you're like "Woah."  And then the things kind of stop happening for a while and good guy mom relaxes; she may even go into a reverie about all the amazing stuff she just went through.  All the while a new troop of henchmen have filed into the room and she has no idea what's about to hit her. 

See?  Makes perfect sense. 

That's where I was.  Only it wasn't henchmen and I wasn't in a vacant stare of reverie.  I was busy.  I was busy trying to deal with re adjusting to life as a home schooling family.  And, in a heroic effort to completely exhaust the metaphor, I'll say that facing off with that challenge was it's own set of anonymous henchmen attacking me one (sometimes two) at a time. 

POW!  BOOM!  SPLAT! Take that!  Aaaand that! 

Only to stumble to the seat after the fight thinking I'm between rounds (yes, yes, mixing the metaphors) and see that a new old nemesis is ready to rumble, as it were. 

You're right.  This isn't making sense.  Abandon metaphor! 

Okay.  Plain speak.  Yes.  This is good plan. 

As I mentioned earlier, I've spent the last year re learning how we function best as a homeschooling family.  To schedule or not schedule?  To use time blocks (egads! that's much too much like school!) or not to use time blocks?  To be more rigid or more relaxed?  To force grammar exercises or encourage more reading?  How best to help the boy and his need (but lack of desire) to move his body in a helpful way?  Two very different learners; 10 million different approaches.  Then there were supporting questions: what books to get, what math programme to use? How do I manage their mathematical skill set development?  Holy times tables, batman - we've got to redo the basics!  Stat! 

In the mean time, I lost sight of helping my kiddos with their relationships with each other.  And with themselves.  On that front, I was mos def (trademarked?) on auto parent. 

You know how it is with siblings - all the bickering and hitting and 'leave me alone!'s.  I was kind of thinking that would be over by now.  It's not. 

Thanks to insightful conversation with a good friend, I realize I still need to be describing and naming my kids emotions to them.  Helping them to understand their motivations and reactions and to observe themselves so they can make conscious decisions about the kind of person they want to be.  Early Intropsection Intervention, if you will. 

Now look, the truth is that I'm not entirely confident that kids can be introspective, but I don't think it would hurt them to introduce them to that way of engaging with one's self and showing them the possibility of being the in charge of how you deal with self and others in life. 

I was all of 30 before I had my first inkling of self awareness.  Honestly.  Think of all the missed opportunities all those years before that.  Think of what they can choose as they develop into adults rather than un- and re-learning things after the fact.  I know that living - just being alive- is a grand opportunity for growth in an upward direction.  I know that as long as I am alive I will continue with the process of "growing up".   I hadn't thought, before now, that I could give that insight to my kids so "soon". 

Remember when they were toddlers having a tantrum and we would validate, name and characterize their big emotions for them?  That doesn't have to end with toddlerhood.  Thinking about it now, I would have really benefited from that in my tween (and, honestly teen) years.  Who knows, I might have resented it.  But this isn't about me or "then". 

This is about my children and now. 

Let's do this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Does My Son Shine?

The short history is that I have always found parenting my son to be, let's say, less-than-straightforward.
Would I use words like challenging, difficult, overwhelming, synonyms-of-all-the-of-the-above?

Why yes.  Yes I would.  I already have.

I remember vividly a friend of mine turning to me one day - about five or six years ago - and asking me why I am always so negative about my son.  Maybe it's not so vivid exactly what she said, but it's very vivid how it made me feel.

I was surprised and I immediately became defensive.  She just didn't understand.  (No one did.*)  Of course I love my son.  Of course.  At that point, though, I had spent the last few years well beyond the end of my wits; over my head - deep - in doubt-infested waters, never once feeling confident that I knew what the hell was going on.

Sure, doubt is a normal part of parenting.  I believe it's a 2-disc set you get, isn't it?: Doubt and Guilt, Greatest Hits.

That's the short history. (There is plenty more in the archives.  Trust.)

Obviously, as he has gotten older things have changed.  Parent him has become less challenging, less difficult, less overwhelming, less synonyms-of-all-of-the-above.  Only slightly so, but definitely definitely less.  A good 10 to 12% less, I'd say.

I kid.

More like 14%.

This person is like no other person I have ever met before.  You know, with my daughter, though she is an individual and unique and all that, she definitely has a familiar persona: The Artist Type.  This serves as a kind of catch all container for her quirkiness, her compulsive collecting of random objects, her disorganized-ness.

This son of mine though.  He is new.  And different.  He is like me in so many ways.  And, of course, unlike me in so many more.

He is blunt- but sensitive as all hell.
He is crazy witty -but misses most of the big picture.
He is wicked sharp -but doesn't get the simple things.
He is all kinds of personality -but he doesn't understand social constructs.
He gets things in a snap -but digs his heels in if he has to work for it.
He cannot keep still (literally) -but has the coordination of a drunk sloth (bless his heart).
He is 100% technical.  No buts.
I would wonder if he had Asperger's, but he's so social.

I am told by my good friend with reliable first hand knowledge that his is a valid, though uncommon, personality type.

I don't know anyone like him.  I haven't had any science-y friends before.

Knowing this; that how he is - is.  It's really a relief to know that He Is Not Alone (echo echo echo).

Knowing this this changes the way that I navigate with him and even the way I understand my self as his mother.  Knowing this adds another dimension to the awe and wonder I have as I watch him grow.

Different different - same same.

* They really didn't.  People often explained it away as a boy thing.  They had no idea.

There Is A Boy

There is a boy
A funny boy
who loves
to play with the world.

In in this boy
there is a heart.
The softest heart
that holds the starts and sky.

You can tell
about the stars
because they sparkle
in his eyes.

You can see
about the sky
because he fills it up
with his wide open

There is a boy
a sharp boy
who loves
to know some more.

He can tell you
about the stars
because they shine
so brightly in his eyes.

He can see
so much to see
He is bent
(I tell you)
on discovery.

There is a boy
a funny boy
who is
all the universe
to me.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stepping Stones

We've been home schooling for just over a month now.  Things are going pretty well.

To state the obvious, it's been a learning process.  To state the less obvious: for me.  I haven't home schooled them since they were five and seven years old.  And up until that point, we were just playing.  And cooking.  And doing science demonstrations (not experiments, per se).  And reading lots of stories.  Oh, and watching lots of youtube videos (as resources, mostly).

I hadn't done any formal schooling with them.  There were the odd moments of panic (what if I'm completely and utterly WRONG?! what if I should be teaching them to write?!) that lasted about one or two hours and - thankfully - passed without much interference in the real business of playing.

Things are quite different now.

They have now spent two full school years and one half in school.
They are now 8 and 10.
They have become a bit jaded about learning.
I am not actually home with them in the mornings.
What if something happens to me and they have to get put back into school like before?
Things like that.  So as a result of things being different, things are a bit different.

It's not ideal.  It's not what I want.  And it's still a helluva lot better than before.  I am super happy they are not in school.  They are now free from the constraints of the series of little boxes of standards we like to call curriculum.  They are also free from the tethers of half hour blocks of time for learning different things.  They are free from tests and homework.  They are free to learn more about what matters to them.  They are free to spend more or less time on concepts they are exploring and skills they are building.

I am thinking about Brother in particular.  He was grasping concepts faster then he "should have" and had a lot of lag time in which to express his boredom kinesthetically, vocally -or both, disrupting the other learners and invariably getting into trouble.  Now he can go as fast as he wants on those things - and take time to revisit some of the content and building blocks he missed because of the mid-year skip up to grade three.

Sister, too, can linger or jump ahead.  In that regard, it's ideal.

In the other way(s), it's not ideal.  I am making them do math and language every day so they can keep strengthening and growing those skills.  Because what if?  I just can't take that chance again.  If there were a school that would meet them where they were if they needed admission, I'd feel less inclined to take this insurance policy route.  But there isn't.  I am trying to protect them.

We are certainly learning things together, with and about each other.  We've spent that last month or so figuring out what works best for us.  And, to be honest, we are still figuring it out.

I went from a loose list of things they might consider doing to adding time frames to Brother's daily plan to help give him more direction.  (Otherwise, he was often bored and ended up disturbing Daddy who is working from home in order to facilitate them being at home.) I then saw that sister was also having some difficulty flowing.  So I started doing custom notes every night before I went to sleep.  I added specific tasks and links to potentially interesting videos.  We did that for a while.  Then I noticed they were having some difficulty flowing with the white board General List and the laptop text file Specific Tasks.  They were confused.  Daddy was confused, too.  They were also ignoring much of the specifics in the text file.  Okay.  Nix that.  Back to the writing board!

Did that for a while.  Then I noticed that when I got home at 1:15 or so, they'd still be on 11 o' clock on their whiteboard time line.  This was happening consistently.  Why?  Because they'd get caught up in something they were doing (usually reading) and lose track of time.  Solution?  Get rid of the times.

We are now on a system of a numbered list - with a few things that happen every day without fail - namely, as I mentioned before, Math and Language.  (Math is a minimum of 1hr a day - critical for Brother because of his interest in Chemistry.)   I also pull books from the shelf for them and put them out as suggested reading.  This has been well received.  They like having jumping off points.  And this way, everybody wins.  Brother has a list of things to do, but isn't bound to a time limit, and has suggestions to help him when he reaches a block.  Sister is happy to have more literature.  They both enjoy watching science videos on Youtube or BrainPop.  Most recently, in an effort to help them master their multiplication tables, I downloaded an app called Sushi Monster and that is working well too.  It's really a series of stepping stones that I lay out for them each day.  They step when they are ready and have more ownership in the process.

The most important thing we are working on is balance.  We want to fit more activities into our week - like cooking and science demonstrations/experiments.  This means not planning anything on Tuesdays when I do not go to work at all, and spending the day at home with them and doing stuff together instead.  They really love it when I am home with them.  I do too.  (Do I even need to say here that if I could possibly stay home with them and do this without working, I totally would - before the heart even knew it needed another beat?)

Overall, things are going well because Brother gets waaay more science time and sister gets waaay more creativity time.

Now to get them doing some physical activities they enjoy.  It appears they'd prefer me to pull their teeth.

Without anesthetic.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Get. Out.

With the moon in full swing (my lunar phase, that is) I met the day with grim resolution.  Ugh.

You know those days, right?  The "Ugh. Mumble. Coffee." days?  Only I had a side of "Just shut up, already." served up hot and fresh!

I did my best to ignore my children peacefully and kindly.  And they insisted on talking and arguing and being loud and childish much too close to my Ignore Bubble, so they kept popping it.  By mid-morning, I was the Grumpy Old Troll personified.  And not that nice loser "troll" from Dora, either.   I'm talking full on Lord of the Rings Cave Troll.

Enter- Afternoon Plans!  An Outing!  With friends!  To the Library!

People, I am here to tell you that when the walls are pressing and the sounds of good old siblings being siblings sting you - GTFO! - Get. Out.  Get out!  Leave, vamoose, shoe!  Go on!  Get out of your house.  Out is magic.  Well, fun out is.

There was, as it turns out, some mild appetizer pre-fun at the library.  We became members and checked out books!

Then it was on to the salad fun.  Hanging and playing with our friends at their house.  Fun!

But what's this?  Plans to ride our bikes to the park?!  And meet MORE new friends?  Why, this is beginning to sound Very Promising.

I saw my sweet girl's confidence-o-meter slowly and steadily climb as she wobbled, then rode on her new GIANT bicycle.  I saw my son's face become positively radiant with joy as he pedaled alongside us.  I saw us three having this wonderful new experience of cycling together, thanks to our new neighbourhood with its not-so-new park.

Then it was the main course, baby.  FUN FUN FUN, wiz a littel bit of creme fun and a hint of exciting drizzled over top, served on a bed of discovery.

Thanks to our new acquaintances, my kids found and held tiny snakes and worms.  They also saw and observed the catching of a TARANTULA!!!!  That's right.  A big hairy spi-ider!  The big, bursting excitement on my baby boy's face!   From well over a hundred yards away, his joy exploded across the field "MOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!  WE FOUND A TARANTULAAAAA!!!"

He marched over with his band of new friends, triumphantly, gleefully, proudly escorting the spider and carrying a tiny "Blind Snake".

This after an epic water gun battle in which every last one of them got soaked to the bone.

There they all were, dripping wet and dirty - the Unflappable, Intrepid Explorers of The Park, beaming with all they had discovered under a rock on the far side of the field.

I know what you're saying as you read this - "Get. Out!"

We did!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

Shocking news:  I'm not a perfect parent.  

I know, right?  Who'da thought?!  I'll give you a moment to collect your jaw and it's contents.

Ready for another one? Steady now.

I'm not a perfect anything.

Phew.  I'm glad I got that off my- you know the story.

It so happens that I'm not a huge fan of the set-up of your average creativity sucking machine school.  Too much sit here do this and not enough of - well, anything else, really.

Not really news to anyone, but I felt a teensy bit of back story was in order to help bring the next bit into sharper focus.

I've observed that during their time at school, my kids had no time for much else.  Whenever we had holidays, after a few days they would decompress and start finding things they enjoyed all over again.  It was with this in mind that I decided to just let it all hang out when we finished the last school year; just let them do whatever they wanted.

What they wanted was screens.  iPod games, iPad games, Wii games and Netflix watching (there are eleven - count 'em - ELEVEN different Power Rangers series that Brother was gorging on).  It was a brain numbing technology overdose.  I watched and secretly wanted them to choose something else but kept saying that they needed the down time so they could do a major un-school decompression.  I believe(d) it was good for them.  I mean, surely, they'd get to a point of having had enough.

I'm here to tell you: Unsurely.  That point of too much screen time - "Mom, I'm tired of this, let's do something else," said none of my kids ever.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, they were totally uncooperative with me, with our household, with each other.  There was Major bitching and moaning when they were asked to help out around the house.  They did not cooperate with the simplest requirements (pick up your dirty clothes off the floor of the bathroom, turn of the lights, bring your plate the three oppressively long uphill-both-ways-in-wintertime feet to the kitchen - things like that).

It got to the point where everything felt like it was a fight.  And I was really losing my tolerance for their faces constantly being reflected back at them in a screen.

In an effort provide a consequence for their thoughtless ignoring of our requests, I began deducting one hour of screen privilege for the things I had reminded them of some googol times.  Clothes on the bathroom floor?  One hour off for BOTH of them.

Bathroom light left on (a-@#$@^king-gain)? One hour off for BOTH of them (I'm not dealing with the whole "It was him/It was her" scenario.  And they would have to help each other remember.  At least, that was my theory.

Some days they'd have lost three hours of time.  But it didn't matter because we were now going out and doing stuff (I was working for the month of July).

It did help a little, but not that much.  And then.

I had had enough.

(I need to tell you that this story reads like it was just a few squabbles and me being a total overlord and that's because I'm not a perfect story teller either - so I want to clarify that I - WE, the mister and I - had been trying to foster and encourage some more responsible behaviours for a while.  We spoke to them about living in a community and doing their part; about doing things that are not always fun, but that are important.

To no avail.

I had had enough.

Enter, three days ago which I will call the IHHE point in time.  Because - say it with me - I had...



"That's IT!" I declared.  "Screen privileges are suspended until further notice!"  Or something like that. Faces slid to the floor.  Protests were staged.  Lectures were thrown - aggressively.

You're not babies, you're big kids, I said.
Eight and TEN! I may have said a little loudly.
You can be more responsible people, I said.
I'd be happy to keep picking up after you, I sang with Nutrasweetness.
And treat you like toddlers, I smiled.
Would you like that?, I cooed.


Then when you can act like more responsible people, 
I squinty-eyed, scary-quiet-voiced at the two deer in my headlights
you can have the same privileges as responsible people.  Heavy and angry declarations from a tired and had-it-up-to-here, frustrated me.

Not my best moment, no.  (Why do you ask?)

And guess what?  It kind of was.

Secondary to any behavior modification I was looking to achieve, the real benefit is .... dun-dun-dunnnnnnn - they have been PLAYING!  With toys! And each other!  Happily!

Out came the legos, the animals, the Imagination.  I mean, we had "celebrity guests" - Bear and Other Bear who had a made up non-actual-celebrity name I can't remember now- at breakfast the other day.

I shared my shower with a giant lego boat, a turtle, a spiderman, a zebra, a crab and an elephant today.

Sister has constructed a house, complete with solar panels!  (Lego, people, lego house with lego "solar panels".)

And yes folks, even a little cooperation.  Is it carrot and stick?  Yes.  Yes it is.
Apparently, I'm not afraid to use it.

We've watched a few documentaries and some Doctor Who together, and will carry on with that for now.  iWhatevers will make a return when the time is right.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Side Kicks Have Special Powers

During a game of pictionary, the word "magician" came up and was successfully drawn.  I took the opportunity to mention that the word magician has its roots in the word "magi" which is how the visitors of young Jesus are described.

I mentioned that magi were believed to have special powers.

"Like a side kick?" asks almost 10 yr old Sister.
Before I could answer she adds "What is a side kick, anyway?"
"The friend of the main guy," I reply.
"But what about the other meaning of side kick?"
"Other meaning?  There isn't any other meaning," I say.  (Thinking to myself about other possible meanings of side kick that I am not remembering.  No, that's all there is.)

And then it hits me.

"Ohhhhhhh... PSYCHIC."