Archive for the ‘Family Notes’ Category

My family culture

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014-blogCaitrin, Liam, Jacob, Johannah, Noah

This weekend, my five adult kids were home for Thanksgiving. This is remarkable to me as it is the first time the entire family has celebrated Thanksgiving together since 2008. Yes, 2008!! They are such travelers that too often someone has been out of the country or off in another state when the holiday rolled around. This year, we did not expect Jacob to be home, but thanks to a scholarship interview, he was flown to the states from Bangkok in time for the the big day.

Much hilarity ensued. And ensued. And ensued.

Oh my goodness, I had forgotten how LOUD these five people are! It was a long weekend fest of traded inside jokes taken from pop culture, song lyrics, books read, movies we’ve all memorized, favorite Shakespeare quotes, and Seinfeld.

There was much SINGING at the tops of their lungs (or rapping, or some hybrid of the two), paired with dancing.

We played endless (I do mean endless) games from Ticket to Ride Europe expansion set to card games like Sushi-Go, a Moroccan version of “I Doubt It” (aka B. S.), Nertz, and Rummy, and Settlers of Catan, ping-pong, and Spoons.

We had too many cooks in my kitchen which was AWESOME. We had more than enough help with the dishes (I even got a text from the one kid who lives with me saying, “Don’t touch the dishes; I’ll do them when I get home from work”). (Yes, there’s hope that they will all one day be GLAD to help you in the kitchen.) Recipes were vegan and not vegan. Noah used his bartending skills to introduce us to new festive drinks.

The catching up on each other’s lives was expansive from learning about the properties of Hindi to the strange lives of the people of ancient Sparta, how ancient Greek compares with modern languages, what it’s like to live in Thailand, how the “system” is rarely fair to under-resourced kids in Brooklyn, and how to become a better and better programmer without going to school at all.

Books were traded, book titles were entered into phones to look up to read to discuss with a sibling via Skype later this year.

Many travel plans were laid so that much intersecting could continue.

Some poignant discussions surfaced in one-on-one times as there were moments available to probe a little deeper, to reflect on past painful interactions that had found their way back to the surface and needed some support or care or understanding that hadn’t been available back when X happened.

It was this weekend where I watched my adults be more of who they are—I recognized them, I was surprised by them, I was proud of them, I was humbled by them.

Kinda cool, actually. All of it. The next step in the parenting journey. We may never have one like this again—no one is married yet so it was just “them.” Love those big kids.

Thanksgiving 2014-blog_2

Cross-posted on facebook.

For Email Marketing you can trust

The gift of giving is passed down through blood lines

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Grandmother Mom Daughter

















Three Generations: My mom, my daughter Johannah, and me

It occurred to me this morning that both my parents (no longer married) have each sent money/financial gifts to me at various points in my adult life, for things ranging from Teflon coated pans and maternity clothes while in Morocco, to camcorders plus customs tax (no small price back in 1987!), to trips to Kansas City for a conference for the entire (then) 6 person clan, to couches and carpet cleanings. They’ve paid for ski trips when I was in college and new clothes postpartum (five times over!). They use their Nordstrom discounts and their credit cards to buy shoes and dinners, trips on Catalina Express and flights on planes. They’ve loaned me cars and have put my family up in cabins and beach houses.

They’ve sent generous amounts of money at Christmas when Jon and I didn’t know how we’d pay for gifts for the kids. My mom has traveled to France, Morocco, and Ohio to see me/us, and my dad has traveled to Ohio. They’ve given me sentimental jewelry and photos (and photo albums!). They both supported Jon and me financially when we were missionaries, even when they weren’t sure they agreed with the mission. They’ve put us up in their homes, apartments, condos—from just me, on a pull-out couch in college, to the ever-expanding seven of us sprawling throughout the house on couches and in beds, back down to the smaller version of us now.

I didn’t ask for these gifts. They would simply offer, as the circumstance arose. They were quick to send the finances or the tickets or the new skirt, never promising and not following through.

My mom, when I once through tears told her I wondered if I’d ever be able to take my kids to a restaurant or hotel because we were so poor and I couldn’t imagine that ever changing, said, wisely, “You’re just coming into your earning years now. You’ll be amazed at how things change.” It comforted me.

The gifts from my parents were never “bail outs” for mistakes made. They were rooted in generosity for a family on one income with lots of kids. I keep thinking how lucky I am to have had parents who were generous, even when their own finances were tight.

I thought about all these things this morning because all I want to do now is spend money on my adult children any time I hear they have a need. I stopped to consider why I feel that way. Then this long list of reasons spilled out of me.

Cross-posted on facebook.

For Email Marketing you can trust

The oldest and the youngest

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Noah, Caitrin, and LiamOldest child, Noah, on the left. Youngest two, Caitrin and Liam, on the right.

Have you noticed how your oldest child gets the lion’s share of your attention no matter what age or stage that child is in? It’s as if 7 is the most critical age ever (will she ever learn to read?), or 10 (maybe he can watch the baby), or 13 (when it All Starts Counting), or 16 (he can drive!), or 18 (she’s going to college!).

Meanwhile, your youngest child hits 7 and you think, “Aw. Such a cutie. So young. It’s okay if you don’t read yet.”

That youngest child turns 13 and you think, “We’ve got time. He’s just 13.”

It’s time to drive and you think, “What’s the rush?”

Sometimes in home education, the oldest writes essays by 8th grade, and by the time the youngest hits that age, you realize you literally have done no writing with this child. It sneaks up on you. You wonder how the years flew by and how you never noticed. You panic. “I’m failing my child!”

It’s a common scenario.

It happens to the best of us. Why?

Because the oldest is always doing what you have never parented before.

The oldest child creates in you the most wide-eyed amazement, anticipation, and anxiety (the trifecta!) of all your children because each event, each milestone, each achievement hangs in the balance until you’ve crested that hill together with that kid. You do all of it for your child, yes. But these experiences are also training you. You’re on a learning curve with the oldest that you never feel in quite the same way again.

Which means… if you have 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 kids… as you work your way down the bunch, the newness, the novelty, and the nerves are greatly reduced… in some cases almost to the point of neglect! You wake up to realize that this youngest child is in high school and you almost forgot it would happen!

Guilt rushes in as your energy for doing it all again rushes out. It’s natural, even if not optimal.

One benefit that the youngers have that the oldest didn’t is role models.
They have been watching each older sibling achieve and they are aware of what’s coming. You can capitalize on this benefit. Get the older kids involved. Have them talk to the youngers about what’s coming and how to prepare. Have them ask the sibling: “Did you take your Driver’s License test yet?” or “Make sure you take AP European history. You’ll be good at it.” They can be the ones to help create the trajectory the youngers will follow.

Triangle in help.
It is tedious to go through algebra six – nine times. Maybe a co-op class or a tutor gives you just enough relief and provides the structure you no longer can.

Celebrate all milestones.
You might not throw eight parties every other year for a decade, but you can mark an achievement with a Facebook status, a dinner out, a gift, or photos to commemorate the moment. Take time to say how proud you are of the youngest, even if the achievement feels old hat to you. It never is to the individual child.

Lastly, it’s never too late to get involved in the education of your youngest kids.
If you accidentally lost your way or passion for home education, remind yourself that the goal is a quality education, not proving yourself as a homeschooler. Be sure you put your child’s interests first and find the right context for that child’s education—no matter what that is.

If you want to re-up for homeschool, do it! Get new curricula (so you’ll be interested again) and change up how it gets done. Computer classes, part-time enrollment, using an iPad, studying at the local library instead of the kitchen table…

As the older kids leave home, provide treats for the younger kids. It costs less to have everyone’s favorite drinks or ice cream in the house when you only have two kids at home. Keep them in stock. Go out to eat more. Catch a movie or get coffee.

Take advantage of the portability of teenage youngest kids. Do stuff together. Try a new activity like indoor rock climbing or watching old movies. Make sure these kids get a quality experience, even if a different kind of home education than your oldest kids got.

I love having a big family. It’s a different ballgame with my youngest two still at home and the older three out of the house. I’m still learning how to do it, too.

Cross-posted on facebook.

For Email Marketing you can trust

That thing called regret

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

UntitledI made a decision early on to live in a way that I would have no regrets. Maybe we all do that at some point. I felt good about the choices I made, the conscientiousness with which I researched before I made those choices. I trusted my worldview and I adopted an outlook about my life that felt solid, reliable, and responsible.

I also committed myself to reevaluation—to question my assumptions.

For instance, I remember when Noah was small and I was pregnant with Johannah, I lived in missionary housing (an apartment building) with a slew of other missionary families on furlough. I remember seeing all these moms running around with their kids while I formed judgments about their parenting. I was in my 20s! That’s what you do in your 20s.

But one day it dawned on me: If I have judgments about those parents, they must have them about me and how I parent too. I can still remember where I was standing when this flash of awareness dawned on me.

I screwed up my courage and went to my favorite friend in the complex and told her: “Kris, we judge each other’s parenting. I just realized that you all must have opinions about how I’m raising my kids. Would you mind sharing with me what you see that I’m not seeing that would help me be a better mother to Noah?”

Kris paused, “What a great question! I want to take it seriously. Let me think for a day or two and then I’ll tell you what I’ve observed.”

And she did. I took her comments to heart. I tried to apply her advice. In hindsight, not all of what she shared worked for my kid (her kid turned out to be a very different kind of person than my kid, as I’ve learned 24 years later, though both are wonderful young adults). But what I felt in that moment with Kris was that I wanted very much not to be in a prison of my own making, blind to my blind spots.

As my children got older, I read all kinds of books (the most helpful for conversational style and tone were the two by Faber and Mazlish—How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Siblings without Rivalry), I went to therapy, I joined online discussion groups, I attended parenting classes, I sought advice from friends, I consulted my mother, I watched other families and often determined I did not want what I saw there, and in some instances, very much wanted what I saw there.

Over time, a core philosophy grew in me. But it came at a price. I often wished I knew “then” what I had just adopted and learned “now.”

Regret is born when you revise your primary assumptions.

Let me rephrase that.

You feel regret when you shift paradigms, when you discover that what you have been doing (even with resolve, commitment, and good intentions) turns out not to have been as good for you and the rest of your clan as you had originally believed.

Regret doesn’t only come from bad choices or even failure to live up to your ideals.

Regret comes from discovering that what you knew then wasn’t as good as what you know now, and you wish you could go back and have a “do over.”

But you can’t go back. There’s no time turner for life.

As my local running store slogan reminds me every day: “Live life in forward motion.”

You can only do what you know to do now. You can repair through apology, but the most powerful way to get out of the cycle of regret is to enthusiastically embrace the new insight and live into it. Drop the self-recriminations, be glad you have a chance to change, and move into the new paradigm with alacrity.

One benefit to regret: you become human. People like you better when they know you’ve been through a few things, like they have, and are still going, still trying, still learning.

No one gets it right on the first try, or the last try. We all operate with the insight of today. The worst thing to do is to cling to what isn’t working to avoid regretting it.

Be gentle with yourself. Be open to change and growth. Embrace the adventure of living.

Peace. ♥

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Guilherme Yagui

For Email Marketing you can trust

What are they doing now: Noah

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Noah and Julie

June 18th was Noah’s 26th birthday so it seems entirely appropriate that I finish this series about my kids with him, my first born and oldest son.

When I first became pregnant, I hoped for a boy. As I told Jon (Noah’s dad), I assumed that if I had a boy first, he’d naturally have the “first born” characteristics—he’d excel in academics, he’d want to please his parents, he’d “go with the program.” I was nervous about raising a boy. Since I was a firstborn, I thought having my boy come first would give me a headstart on parenting.

I could not have been more wrong.

Whether or not birth order factors into how your children develop, I can’t say. But what I will say about Noah is that from the beginning, he’s very much known who he is and what he can and can’t, will and won’t do. Noah did not have a “strong will” of the kind you read about in parenting books. He wasn’t a rebellious kid or an angry kid or even a disobedient one. Rather, Noah always had a strong sense of two things:

1. The limits of his body. Noah was incredibly clear-sighted about his abilities and proved reliably aware of what he could do/attempt and what he couldn’t. However, as a parent, that sense of power and competence in his body meant watching him climb the outside railing of a two-story stairwell at age 2, and shimmying up tall trees by age 4, indoor rock climbing at ages 9-10, and playing lacrosse in high school (after no previous sports experience whatsoever), and eventually doing urban gymnastics as a young adult (like jumping off two-story buildings and flipping over hand railings).

2. The unlimited power of his mind. Noah never met an idea he didn’t want to chase. He read voraciously from 8 years old and hasn’t stopped. His curiosity about language led him to study Klingon, Esperanto, and constructed languages for what would have been his junior and senior years in traditional high school. Instead, as a homeschooler (unschooler, really), Noah pursued what interested him.

I often say that Noah is the child sent to teach me to be human. He was playful, free-spirited, curious, not interested in rules for no reasons, confident in his abilities, willing to talk about anything, and utterly guileless. Rewards and punishments never worked with Noah, though believe me, I was suckered into trying both, frequently.

What worked for us was to become close to each other, for me to become a student of his temperament and a friend to his spirit. Noah showed me the value of learning for its own sake—for self-directed, absorbing, pursuit of a topic because you must wrestle it to the ground and know it intimately.

Noah never did go to high school (like a couple of his siblings). He did take Algebra 2 at the local high school (we couldn’t afford tutoring for him at the time). When I picked him up after his first test, he jumped in the car and I said to him: “How was the test? Did you feel okay about it?”

Noah replied: “It was okay, but guess what? I wrote two poems.”

“Excuse me? You mean during the test?”

“Yeah. I got done quickly and then wrote these two really awesome poems. Want to hear them?”

That in a nutshell is all you need to know about Noah.

He is currently in college (for a second time – first time quit due to frustration with the system, but is now ready) studying computer science. He is moving to Connecticut with his longterm girlfriend who will be in a Master’s program there. Noah will study at the local college.

Noah was, as all firstborns are, the guinea pig. I’m so grateful for his energy, his ability to forgive me when I overstepped, his cheerful optimism about life, his passion for self-directed learning, and for teaching me how to be a mother and a compassionate human being.

Cross-posted on facebook.

What are they doing now: Johannah

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Johannah and Me

Johannah is our second child, first daughter. We call her the “displaced first child” as she exhibits all the characteristics associated with being firstborn, while Noah displayed none of them. smile

Johannah is compassionate, an achiever, strongly sentimental, fiercely loyal to her family and friends, and a risk-taker. She’s the one who calls me and we talk for three hours, processing everything through a variety of lenses. I learn things from Johannah every time we talk.

Johannah has always enjoyed writing, too, which was a great pleasure to me. Johannah wrote a couple of “novellas” (long-ish stories that resembled novels) as an early teen. She told me she overheard me brag about a Brave Writer student who had written a novel, so she decided to write one too, to impress me. Then she would walk around the house with a red pen editing it, like she saw me do with my grad school papers.

Johannah was homeschooled all the way through high school, though she attended our local public high school part-time, participating in their theater program, French classes, British literature, and AP Psychology. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at Ohio State, where she majored in French and Culture Studies. In her sophomore year, she acted as president of the Amnesty International Chapter and organized/hosted a conference on human rights. During her time at OSU, she also studied abroad in Paris and spent a summer in Ghana working in a pediatric AIDS orphanage.

Johannah graduated in 2011. She took a position in France as an English teaching assistant at a junior high in Vichy for the following year. Now she lives in New York City, working as a social worker in the South Bronx.

I asked all five kids to send me a blurb about themselves to share with you. Of the five, Johannah was the only one who did. Naturally. I’ll let you hear her story in her own words. From Johannah:

“I’m currently an Americorps Volunteer in New York City. I volunteer full-time at a Foster Care Agency in the Bronx doing Therapeutic Recreation with young girls. I decided to move to New York City because I thought it’d be cool to live in one of the most expensive cities in the US without getting paid. [Note from me: These volunteers commit to living on $25.00/week!] After spending a year teaching English in France, I missed being in the United States but wanted to experience a new region, so the Northeast was a good fit!

“In my current position, I’ve found myself using a lot of homeschool techniques (they’re Brave Writer techniques now, but when I was little they were our homeschool), like treasure-hunting at museums and matching museum gift shop postcards to paintings. The concept of learning as an interactive, self-directed, never-ending process has been huge in the way I relate to the foster youth I work with. Instead of getting them comfort foods like ice cream and talking to them about teen drama at school, I’m able to introduce the kids to art and university libraries and book read-alouds in ways that make culture seem accessible and relatable.

“I also find myself acting like my mom a lot. At museums, I get really excited if one of my kids says she likes a painting and I want to know: **Why does she like it? What does she like about it? Which colors pop out to her?** I can see her wondering why I think her thoughts are so interesting.

“It reminds me of my mom and how thrilled she used to be when my siblings and I engaged with artwork. It’s incredible to see little people care about the world and have thoughts about it! I love it. Homeschool has made me an avid reader and has filled my notebooks with lists of things I need to learn about next time I’m online. I’ve met a couple homeschoolers since moving to NYC, which has been a big source of bonding and jokes about being weird. I’ve found that generally everyone I meet at this stage in my life has already known a couple homeschoolers and doesn’t have as many questions as people did when I was little. I’m having a great year and a great life!”

Caitrin and I went to see Johannah last week in NYC. Her life is intense, but rich. Her passion for disadvantaged kids is matched by her wisdom about how to invest in them. I’m reminded again that we are not just “educating” our children, but shaping how they understand what it is to have a meaningful life.

Johannah leads our Boomerang Book Club discussions for Brave Writer. She’s a poet (writes it, reads it), and a devoted student of literature. She’s a joy to her Dad (MA American Lit) and me, as we love seeing the fruit of all that reading together in her life now.

I love having grown children. I knew it would be wonderful to see them blossom. I didn’t know I’d learn so much from them. Johannah teaches me new things every time I’m around her. Nice payback for homeschool.

Cross-posted on facebook.

What are they doing now: Jacob

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Jacob to Paris

It seems the right time to do this expose on Jake as I just got off of Skype with him while he sits in Berlin with his younger brother. He shared some incredible news that I’ll save for the end of this post.

Jacob is our middle child. He came into our lives, the easiest of the five births, and is known for his basic equanimity. For instance, at age 2 when he’d feel a tantrum coming on, he’d excuse himself, scream it out for a few moments alone in the other room, and then return to the family smiling.

By age 3, however, he wasn’t speaking clearly or well. Jacob developed his own sign language to communicate what he wanted from us while trying to get his tongue around all those syllables words required.

At 5-6, we did take him to the local elementary school for speech therapy. He loved it. Thought it was fun. The therapist enjoyed him—her other public schooled students knew that therapy meant there was a problem. For Jacob, the homeschooler, therapy meant he got to go to a special class just for him!

Jacob showed signs of self-starting early on—teaching himself to read by using a program given to me by a California charter school. I literally didn’t have time to teach him (two other kids, pregnant). He didn’t seem to mind and sure enough, by 7, was reading.

Jacob showed a passion for astronomy so much so that inspired by his father’s suggestion, he started a cookie-baking business in our neighborhood in order to pay for Space Camp in Alabama. In two years, at 12, he had earned the $750.00 necessary for the trip and went!

Jacob attended our local public school for two classes his freshman year so he could join the band. Then he attended fulltime high school his last three years and was a member of the high school marching band that even got to perform at the Rose Parade.

He also started the first chapter of Amnesty International at his high school.

Now Jacob is in his junior year at Ohio State. His list of accomplishments is long, as Jacob is quite ambitious and oriented to human rights. It’s easier to list them than to describe them so here they are, as best as I can remember.

OSU Honor Student
President of Amnesty International at OSU (sophomore year)
RA (sophomore year)
Member of the Mock UN
Intern in Haiti for a summer, combined with research into NGOs and their effectiveness post earthquake
Exchange student in Geneva
Intern with the Human Rights Watch Commission in Geneva
Produced documentation for North Korean HR violations
Participant at the International Symposium on Human Rights at the UN (Fall 2012)
Presented his research about the NGO’s in Haiti at an Int’l Conference on Sustainability in Hiroshima (Jan 2013)
Exchange student in Paris (Now)
Recipient of numerous scholarships
Member of the Sphinx academic honor society at OSU
Student at Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton (This coming summer)

Jacob’s goal is to work in the field of human rights (possibly at the UN), post graduate school. His double major is French and Globalization.

Let me say this. I’m as stunned and amazed as anyone would be by Jacob’s ambition and his success in his chosen field of energy and passion. His heart for what he does and his commitment to the causes he cares about inspire me even more than the “list.” But the list is impressive in a special way. Let me explain.

I homeschooled just like you do, reading about other kids’ accomplishments, and not really believing that one of my kids would go on to do the “impressive stuff” I had read about. I believed in homeschooling (and do!). But I believed in it as an alternative to the standard measures of success. I felt fine with that. I’m proud of each of my children (I look forward to sharing about the last two soon) and the choices they’ve made. They all amaze me in their own ways.

What Jacob’s journey showed me, though, is that home education can be a rock solid foundation for academic advancement and achievement. It’s not a “sub-standard” education nor does it put a child at a disadvantage, if that child is achievement-oriented. Jacob wasn’t always so sure homeschooling had been an advantage (when he got to high school, he was angry, for instance, that I started him on algebra in 9th grade rather than 8th). But I told him he’d be fine. He was… and is. More than.

The foundation he got at home had more to do with his capacity to care and self-educate, than grades. His worldview, his interest in rights, his curiosity about global issues and politics, came from his life at home. He took his natural energy to actualize that caring into active service and achievement. He has a strong work ethic and a lot of motivation, even if he sometimes also loses his shoes. (Which he does.)

Jacob is in Berlin with his brother traveling. Here’s the news he just shared with me:

He was selected as one of two Rhodes Scholar Nominees from Ohio State and found out today.

Jacob will visit Oxford next weekend to check it out before he gets to work on the application this summer. He’ll be in a field of 1500 candidates nationwide. Crossing our fingers!

Cross-posted on facebook.

What are they doing now: Liam

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

LiamJulieAirportToday’s featured Bogart is Liam! He’s my 18 yos, 4th child.

Liam read the earliest of any of the five kids (age 6). I found out he knew how to read when he came into the bedroom one night and spelled, “Gap: g-a-p.” Apparently the source of this amazing revelation was the Gap shopping bag sitting in the hall… for weeks.

Liam taught himself times tables and percentage calculations through online gaming. He had a knack for math for which his father nor I take credit.

We spent most of Liam’s homeschool youth reading about, observing, and owning animals. He attended the Cincinnati zoo programs, we literally visited the zoo multiple times a month for a couple of years, we owned pet rats, two ferrets, and a dog because Liam researched, located, and promised to love and raise them. He is still my main birding partner. We not only watched them at our feeder, but we joined in the Nationwide Christmas Count one year too, joining other local birders. We rescued an injured sparrow and a disease ridden cat, taking them where they could be treated and healed.

I learned to play Yugi-Oh cards so Liam would have a partner, and I read Redwall aloud because Liam loved the books. You should know something about me at this point: I am not naturally interested in animals, pets, or card games where the cards feature characters with special powers. And I’m ashamed to admit that my mind wanders during outloud readings of Redwall.

But that didn’t stop us, and honestly, I have such fond memories of all of these experiences despite my own reluctance, self-doubt, and concern for carpet and furniture.

While reading, calculating, and animal-loving came naturally to Liam, he had difficulty with handwriting. He’s a lefty and we discovered that he suffered from dysgraphia by the age of 9. At that point, we stopped all handwriting and he dictated to me whatever it was he wanted to write or narrate. He did continue a bit with handwriting pages. It wasn’t until he turned 12 that we turned to tutoring with a specialist.

As a freshman in high school, Liam took two classes at the local public school and the rest at home. He then completed high school fulltime in 2 1/2 years, finishing this last January. Liam would say that traditional style education isn’t for him. He much prefers reading whatever he likes and self-educating. Currently he’s got quite a book list going that he reads on his tablet.

One benefit to traditional schooling for Liam, though, was that he joined their chess team. By his senior year, he was “first board” and their team had a great season. I was the only mom who attended the tournaments and watched the games. A little like watching grass grow, if grass jumped four squares and crushed the queen blade.

Liam will travel to Europe for a month. He’s been working at Steak and Shake, and saving money so he can visit his brother (studying in Paris), many of his online friends, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins who live in cities like Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Zagreb, and Viareggio.

He isn’t sure what his plans are for the fall, but he’s 18. He’s got loads of time to figure it all out. Just glad he got done with high school early enough to have an adventure.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Homeschool in paper form

Monday, May 13th, 2013

notebooks2Image by Muffet

Yesterday I dug through all the old homeschool notebooks in my basement. I paged through copywork, dictation, freewrites, lists, illustrations with written narrations, nature journals, reproductions of paintings, charcoal drawings of African violets, topics for poems (like, “How loud my dad snores”), pages filled with revision notes, math and science pages (I found evidence that we did, in fact, study the scientific method, no matter what my kids say), journal entries, an original script for Gilgamesh, a novella modeled after Emma, handwriting pages, lap books, posters…

It’s all there—our homeschool in paper form.

I even found my journal pages from the months when I began Brave Writer and was writing The Writer’s Jungle. I was fascinated to read my thoughts—worried that I might not have the right angle, wanting to be sure that what I wrote would be useful and a fresh take on writing/coaching, really engaged in examining what it feels like on the inside to be a writer.

In the middle of all these paging-throughs, I read the following in my journal:

“Better tub and scrub the little guys. They played endlessly in the creek the last two days and came home gloriously muddied. Just what a mother loves to see. Caitrin kept putting a muddy hand to her 24/7 headband and had to suffer separation anxiety last night while it sat out to dry after a thorough soaking. Back glued to her head today though.

“Liam is all boy about these things. I told him it was okay to get dirty. He took me fully at my word and brought home feet so thick with mud that I couldn’t see shoes underneath. Then he dribbled bits all over my house. Jacob made “Indian clay pots” that he left to dry… on my computer desk. I revel in this stuff, though. It’s far superior to TV and makes me feel that they are having a real childhood after all.” (February 25, 2000)

It heartened me to read that in the midst of everything else I was doing/thinking about (starting a business, writing a book, homeschooling every day), the highlight of one of those days was mud everywhere—head to toe, in my office, all over the house, up and down my kids’ bodies, wrecking shoes and clothes, requiring baths in the afternoon.

That’s parenting, that’s the whole reason we signed up to have children!

In our eagerness as parents to be dutiful, to foster learning, to make a difference in the world, to be “good parents” raising “good children,” I want to remind you: keep your eye on the ball.

Ball = kids.

Ball = happy.

Ball = mess.

Ball = wet.

Ball = serendipity.

Ball = living in this moment, today.

Ball = celebrating childishness.

Ball = gifts of mud pots on your computer desk.

Ball = smiling back at smiling children.

Ball = noticing, remembering, valuing, honoring.

Today: value your children as children.

  • Choose not to take anything they say personally.
  • Put your house last.
  • Forget “training” or “obedience” or “discipline.”
  • Cherish this chance to connect… and then connect, and connect again.
  • Relish the person your child is today because today becomes tomorrow and that child changes and grows up.
  • Be happy when your child is happy.

Then write “today” somewhere, and tuck it away… and like a time capsule, your preserved memory in words will come back to keep you company years from now, when you need it, when you’ve forgotten about today, when the house is all tidy and empty and silent and obedient and no longer muddy.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Where no one is an adversary

Monday, May 6th, 2013



I remember when I was pregnant with Johannah (second child), friends threw a baby shower for me and another pregnant friend. The main gift from the party organizers was a wooden spoon to each of us. Instead of party games, two women gave “talks” to us about the importance of spanking, discipline, and “instant obedience” (what I later came to call “spanking on command”).

As a young woman (only 27 at the time), I smiled a lot, laughed at their jokes (which made me inwardly cringe), and pretended that stories of spankings and childishness framed as rebellion were entertaining. I also wondered if I might be wrong—that nurturing, co-sleeping, responding to a baby’s needs, expending physical energy to restrain a toddler—were naive choices. After all, these moms were more experienced and they seemed convinced that children needed training to become civilized people.

I gave spoon-spankings a shot. Results: I saw no behavioral improvements. Time outs were a joke for Noah—I’d put him in a bathroom and he’d follow me out of it. What then?

It didn’t take long to see that this approach—this requirement that my children cooperate with my version of how life should be lived—would change how I saw my children. I became aware that the more I felt “disobeyed” or “disrespected” or “ignored,” the less I could enjoy my kids as they were. I was evaluating them all the time, trying to shape and control how they behaved toward me and others. I found myself inwardly resenting them for making me spank them!

I had thoughts like, “How can you disobey me when you know you’ll get spanked and you know that I don’t want to spank you?” It became ridiculous—these layers of resentment that expanded as I became exhausted and disillusioned.

I gave up spanking. Obviously.

My children are adults now (all but one). I’m struck by the fact that they are basically the same people they were as toddlers. A requirement of “obedience” doesn’t fundamentally alter the temperament, the personality, the perspective of a person. It makes all those things go underground, in many cases, which is unhealthy.

Ironically, I also spent time with friends whose kids “ran amuck.” It was as though the parents weren’t present or were afraid to interfere in any way with their kids’ choices. I remember a mom friend who kept a big box of junk food in her child’s bedroom because the child asked for it. 10 cavities later…

My perspective on mothering is this: the key factor in relating to your kids is building trust.

Your children have to know if they have a need, desire, concern, perspective, fantasy, wish, fear, or difficult to manage mood, they will have a receptive, loving, partner in you. They need to believe that most of the time, you will help them get what they need/want… and that when you can’t or don’t, you aren’t judging them as bad or shaming them for admitting what it is they crave or taking things personally, just because their ideas of “good” don’t match yours.

If you build trust, it’s possible to say “no” occasionally. Your kids know that you are for them, and that you want them to have what’s good for them, but also what feels good to them. The occasional “no” will come from the perspective of maturity, not a reaction of offense (you are disobeying! you aren’t trustworthy! your values are scary to me!).

Will your kids always agree with your “no”? Of course not. But a relationship that has goodwill in it, that is able to hear all the words and feelings about the “no” without disrupting the loving connection, can withstand parental direction. Your children do expect you to say “no” sometimes. You just have to spend the currency of trust carefully, wisely. You can’t “run things” all the time, without accounting for your child’s needs/wants, or you will go into “trust-debt.”

That’s when the family feels strained and stressed, and you can’t figure out how to get back to happy and peaceful and cooperative. To recover from that strain, go back to listening and facilitating what your kids envision for their happiness.

Bottom line: Live in such a way that your kids know you want them to have a happy, free, filled-with-good-things life.

Give to them freely, generously, selflessly.

Save your “no’s” for danger, impossibility, harming someone else.

Help your kids get what they want, even when it seems messy or absurd or off-task or silly.

Listen to the reasoning your child presents with curiosity and open-mindedness.

Everyone: get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, touch each other lots every day, make eye-contact, declare pride in your child, ask for help and give help, remove the concepts of punishment and “obedience” from your vocabulary.

Get to know the people you live with; become fascinated by them; learn from them; protect them.

Everything falls into place when you genuinely like each other and no one is seen as an adversary.

Cross-posted on facebook.