Archive for the ‘Family Notes’ Category

That thing called regret

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

What are they doing now: Noah

What are they doing now: NoahJune 18, 2013 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.

What are they doing now: Johannah

Johannah and Me
May 30, 2013. 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. 🙂

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.

What are they doing now: Jacob

Jacob to Paris
May 22, 2013. 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!

What are they doing now: Liam

May 15, 2013. Today’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.