Friday, August 31, 2007

I Wanna Be Famous

My oldest daughter Janey is 11. She wants to be famous. I suppose that's not such an unusual desire, really. It started out with movies. A while back she declared that she wanted to be a movie star. I think that desire came directly after I read a snipet aloud from an article in the paper quoting the many millions of dollars that a child actor had made from making a movie we had seen recently. Janey's jaw dropped. She just started her first babysitting job. She makes $3.50 per hour. She suddenly felt underpaid.

Shortly after that, Janey announced that she wanted to be on a billboard. Side of a bus, next to a highway, didn't matter. It was exposure she was looking for. I asked her what it was about being famous that appealed to her. "Well," she explained, "if I'm famous, that means I'll get to meet other people that are famous. And that's what I want to do." She paused for a moment. "Well, that and the money. I wanna be rich!"

A few days ago, a post card arrived. Her friend McKinley is on a cross country trip. The photo on the front of the card was of Mt. Rushmore. Janey read the greeting, said how much she missed McKinley, and flipped the card back over to the front. As she studied the four enormous faces carved into the side of that mountain, her eyes grew wide and a huge grin swept across her face. She pointed to Lincoln. "That's the guy on the five dollar bill, right?" "Yeah," I replied. "he's also...." Janey cut me off. "I changed my mind. I want to be on Mt. Rushmore!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Bus Drivers Know Us Now

I feel like I've arrived. The bus drivers know us now. I love that. We decided to take the bus downtown early today so that we could get some errands done before the kids rode to their dad's house for the night. We grocery shopped, attended a meeting, and had passport photos taken. All within walking distance of the bus stop downtown. Keeping our dollars local is becoming increasingly important. At the camera shop, I wondered how many passport photos the owner must take in order to make his rent every month. Then I noticed that not only does he sell expensive camera equipment, but high quality art supplies as well. Now that we are using our car less, I won't be driving to Medford to shop at Costco or Target all that often. As I looked around, I was amazed at how expensive the painting canvases were. Macy loves to paint. Then I noticed all canvases were 40% off. Nice. It means a lot to me to be able to buy things like this without driving 15 miles to the next town. I'll be going back there for art supplies soon.

We chatted with friends on the patio of the health food store and then realized we were about to miss the bus. We raced to the bus stop. The kids ran ahead and made it to the stop as the bus driver was pulling up to the curb. Out of breath, I kissed each of them on top of the head and said goodbye. As I looked up to make eye contact with the driver and to tell him which stop their dad would be waiting at, he caught my eye and said, "Talent stop, right?" Yeesss. He knows us. That's totally cool. I like that I've got bus drivers on my side.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Deciding to Sell My Car Has Made Me a Better Mom

I've decided to sell my car. It's nearly 20 years old and needs work. As much as I love that van, the time has come for me to stop funneling money into that beast. It hasn't sold yet and I'm not even sure anyone will actually buy it, but we're practicing what it will be like to live car-free.

It's summer time and the weather is usually great for walking and biking around town. When it's not 100 degrees out, we can get just about anywhere we need to go on our bikes. And there's always the bus. The younger kids are free and Janey and I can ride in town for 50 cents. We had already been doing just that some of the time. However, it was not unusual for us to rely on the car because I was running late, or because we had scheduled activities back to back. The bus only comes every half hour. You can only go so fast on bikes, with three kids in tow.

Three weeks ago, when the mechanic gave us the bad news, it took me about 45 minutes to decide that I wasn't going to fix it. It felt like an exciting challenge. Car free? Awesome. I love it. Great idea....right? I mean in this small town we are clogging up our roads way too much anyway. Why not take one more vehicle out of the picture? So, the first week after we listed it for sale, we made it into a game. We didn't make plans to go anywhere or do anything unless we could figure out a way to walk, bike, or take the bus. A few times we carpooled with friends when we wanted to venture farther out. We stayed home more, we chose our activities more consciously. The kids started taking the bus to their dad's house (by themselves!!!) for their weekly overnights. And here's what I've noticed so far:

  • We've slowed down. When you can't just jump in the car and race from one activtiy to the next, you have to slow down. A lot of things that I would have normally tried to squish into our days just have to wait.
  • We are more aware of our neighborhood. We've met a few new neighbors because we are on foot and pedaling around more often. There's a developmentally disabled man that we have seen walking in our neighborhood often over the past 6 months. Now that we are passing him more frequently, we've learned that his name is John and he loves lawn mowers...lives for them, actually. His caretakers have explained to us that his walks each day are simply quests for lawn mower sightings. We've also learned that he never forgets a face, and he now waves wildly when we pass by.
  • We're getting stronger. Last month, the kids didn't last nearly as long as they do now. More frequent riding means stronger muscles. Less complaining means happier kids and a happier mom.....yes!
  • My kids know their way around our town. In just a few weeks of riding bikes daily, their sense of direction has improved and they are beginning to see the town in "routes". They have a new understanding of where their favortie spots are in relation to each other. They are also figuring out which routes have the fewest hills.
There are days when we do end up climbing in the van because we can and it's still there, but for the most part we are living many of our days without a car. And cool things are happening as a result. Yesterday, I walked down the street to pick up my kids at the bus stop. On the walk back, we chatted with a neighbor we don't see very often. She offered us two free tickets to an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play. Janey and I went to the play today. It was her first OSF play and my second. It was fantastic. And all because I've decided to sell my car.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Full Moon Fever

I can't sleep. It's the moon.

I've had two separate conversations with kids this week about the phases of the moon. This evening, I was walking my dog and my 5 year old neighbor, Gus joined me. As we were walking back into our driveway, I caught a glimpse of the moon, nearly full, rising just over the roof top of the house next door. "Look, Gus...the moon." "Ohhh, pretty," Gus replied. "How come sometimes you can see the whole thing and sometimes you can only see part of it?" Gus wondered aloud. This immediately brought me back to a conversation I had had with my six year old only days before. As I explained once again the concept of shadowing and reflection and the sun, a puzzled look came over Gus' face. I wanted to run into the house to grab a flashlight and a tennis ball and an orange so I could show him what I meant. The teacher in me was ready to execute a full blown science lesson. But he was gone. He got what he needed and I was left standing in the driveway. Yet another reminder that I am not the teacher. Phew, what a relief.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lazy Sunday Afternoons

I realize that it always takes me quite a while to settle in to unstructured time. Certainly a result of so many years of school schedules where every moment is planned and full and prescribed. So here I am, on Sunday afternoon, finally relaxing into the reality of a day with no commitments. What do I want to do? How do I want to spend my time? What is important to me? These unscheduled days often leave me feeling a little lost and panicky. Busy-ness and a full plate feel so much more predictable and secure. As I enter into our 6th season of not chooing to enroll the kids in school, I'm aware that inch by inch I'm becoming more and more familiar with life without school, as much for me as for my children.

My kids have never been to school. The bulk of their days are open and available for activities of their choosing. What would it have been like for me to have had that experience as a child? What would it be like for me now, as a 36 year old adult, to have learned how to manage my time as a child? It is interesting to imagine what might be different for me today. Would I be more productive? Less? Would I have the ability to sit on the couch reading a magazine without guilt? Maybe. But what I know for sure is that my kids won't ever look to an adult to tell them how to spend their time. Sure, they have moments of boredom. But for the most part, they know how to choose their level of activity without being told that it is time to read, or play or rest. It feels good to know that at the ages of 11,9 and 6, they already know how to check in with their own bodies to find out what their needs are rather than relying on a teacher, coach or parent to inform them.

Every once in a while my oldest and youngest take turns testing the "school waters" by telling me that they are thinking about going to school. I always take a deep breath before responding. Inside I'm thinking: "Oh, no, here we go...the ultimate unschooling test: letting them choose school." Of course, I believe that they are better off without school, but the whole point is choice. If I force my kids to stay home from school, some say I would be denying them the very choice we unschoolers are so proud of. And so, I breathe...and then calmly say, "Really? School, huh? Okay. What do you need from me as you consider that choice?" Sometimes my 11 year old will say, "Oh, nothing. I'll let you know when I'm ready to enroll." And my 6 year old will often say, "I'm just thinking about it, Mom." They know that this is a test just as much as I do. They know how I feel about school and there are moments when they want to check in just to make sure that they really do have a choice. And so I'll keep breathing deeply.