Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big News, New Post, All is Well

No, I haven't disappeared.

All is well, and life has taken some fun, and exhausting, turns. The good news...no, the GREAT news, is that my non-profit is having it's Member Drive and launch Celebration on Sunday, and I've been working like a dog to get it all organized. The bummer is that my newfound full-time job has left no time for blogging....ah well. The kiddos have been on a two week camping trip in Baja with their dad ( cna you say....wah wah?), and return this weekend, so I have a feeling that suddenly I may have far more to write about when my house is once again full of children.

I do have a new post up over at the other Life Without School. Check it out, if you haven't already been over there.

Happy Everything!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Here Kitty, Kitty

I remember that moment in early parenthood when I knew my life had changed forever. When Janey started to crawl and pull herself up using the coffee table or a chair leg for support, I ooohh-ed and ahhhh-ed and giggled with delight, and then quickly realized that the potted plants and breakable ceramics within reach would have to go. Electrical outlets were outfitted with plastic covers, sharp corners were padded, and the few times I left my purse on the floor, I was cleaning up for what seemed like hours.

I also remember the moment a few years later when many of these precautions were no longer necessary. My kids had outgrown the don't-put-that-in-your-mouth-stage, and plants and breakables were once again relatively safe down low. It feels like ages ago, and every once in a while when a toddler comes to visit, I am reminded myself of those days, and I breathe an enormous sigh of relief when they're gone (not that I don't love 'em, but you know) and I can have my house and my sanity back.

A couple of toddlers are visiting for the weekend, and they're reeking havoc on my sanity.

These particular toddlers happen to be furry and cute and cuddly. They meow and pounce and leap on my window shades without warning. They kept me up last night while they burrowed under the covers and used my legs as scratching posts. This morning I was awakened by a loud crashing sound coming from the bathroom. I like to wake up on my own. I was not pleased.

These cute and energetic kittens belong to my daughter Macy. She bought them with her own money a few months ago....at her dad's house. Don't get me wrong. I love animals. Well, maybe I actually just like animals. But I'm no pet hater, I just don't love the mess. this is when living in two households becomes convenient. Mom says no.....Dad says yes.....sucker!

In the time that I have been sitting here drafting this post, these two holligans have knocked over a potted plant, apparently tipped all the shampoo bottles into the tub (haven't been upstairs to investigate yet), pounced on my keyboard (causing me to have to go back and edit said post), ripped an art project of Janey's off the wall, dumped the bag of catfood that got left on the floor last night, and now appear to be upstairs batting something hard and plastic against the door of my sleeping children's room.

I love the quiet of the early mornings, when the kids are still asleep, and I can sip my tea and be alone with my thoughts. I also love that these little rascals will be heading back to dad's house in a few short (long?) days.

Do I get the mother of the year award yet?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Trusting the Process

I just came from my first Board of Directors meeting. Not actually, my first one ever, just the first one where I feel as though I've recently given birth and am now handing over my beautiful, precious, sweet newborn to random strangers walking down the street. Okay, maybe it's not quite that dramatic, but it's a little like that.

I've been gestating this baby for well over a year now and several exciting things have happened in the past month which have allowed my kooky little idea to become a reality. Money has showed up, people have showed up, and this really is going to happen.

I knew that inviting people to serve on the Board of Directors was a crucial first step toward the future success of the organization. I knew that I was reaching my absolute limit as to how much I was able to pull off on my own. But I didn't realize how terrifying it was going to feel to essentially hand over this baby.

It's not like I'm done. I suppose you could say I'll still have frequent visting rights.....shared custody, even. But I have officially released my ability to be a governing body of one. As of tonight, my dictatorship has become a democracy. Which is a wise choice for an organization, right? Who wants Idi Amin, or Hitler running their non-profit?

But I'm not planning mass genocide....I just had this idea. This really great idea, and I can't make it happen alone. Intellectually, I know it's all happening the way it should. Intelligent, creative, enthusiastic folks gathered around my dining table tonight for over 2 hours to discuss the future of the organization. Important decisions were made. Difficult questions were raised and concerns were addressed. It's all good news. Except that I'm scared.

It's a familiar feeling: Scared that if I let go, things may not happen the way I think they should, or thought they would.......horrors!! Could it be that I don't actually know it all? That there may be some ideas that have never even crossed my mind? Wow..........when it comes down to it, I suppose I should be relieved. It's not all about me.

But I'm still scared....and attempting to let go, and trust the process.

Which is why I'm even writing this post tonight, in the first place, when I really should be in bed. This whole giving birth and then giving away my baby metaphor is really just exactly like parenting, for me, in a life without school. Every single day, I am faced with yet another reminder that this household, these children, this life, is just not all about me. Sure, I've got some great ideas, but I often get myself into trouble when I attempt to perform exclusively in the one woman show. There are three other opinions and viewpoints and perspectives which demand my consideration and attention, and quite frankly life is much more peaceful when I keep that in mind.

It's tempting to play the dictator, especially when I'm in a hurry or grouchy or tired. I'm taller, and older and sometimes have a louder voice. But democracy works a whole lot better around here. My kids know this intuitively, because for them, there has never been another way. It's nice to sit on a Board of Directors that can gently (or not so gently) remind me when I forget.

And by the way, all this talk about democracy reminds me....if you haven't already voted, or if you're looking for more information, check out Colleen's post. It rocks. GOBAMA.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

It's been a fantastic day.

Presents. Left over Halloween candy. Birthday wishes from long lost friends on Facebook. Hilarious cards from hilarious friends. Packages in the mailbox. Goofy phone messages that I will listen to repeatedly for days. What's not to love about birthdays?

I put whipped cream in my coffee (yes I did). I climbed to the tippy top of a mountain in a crazy, windy rainstorm (it's way windy-er at the top, I tell you). I soaked in the healing waters of the Wellsprings. I ate amazing Indian take out........ahhhhhh. Every day should be this great. And tomorrow's looking to be more of the same. Brunch with friends. Lunch with other friends. Dinner with a new friend (hee hee). The kids come home on Monday and then we get to celebrate all over again. Birthdays should last weeks.

On my walk I got to thinking (10.5 miles of solitude will do that), what is the point? I mean, really? I'm a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an ex-wife, a neighbor, a planner, an organizer....I'm all these things that intersect and fill me up and break me down and make me happy and flip me out, but what is the point of it all? And I think I figured it out about 100 yards from the top of that mountain. The whole point is to be the best me that I know how to be. Period.

It's a whole lot easier to raise these kids and live this life without school that we've got going on at our house when I make the time for my little a-ha moments. It's easy to forget that I really only have one job....to be me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gettin' it Done

Today is one of those (knock on wood) days where the kids have been playing for hours and haven't needed a thing, except for treehouse supplies. I love these days.

The quiet house (their rooftop treehouse is over by the toolshed) and the chilly day outside are making it easier for me to plow through some of this paperwork. It also helps that a friend is bringing us lunch in a bit......am I lucky, or what?

The trick will be to not spend all of my computer time blogging or cruising FB . Man, that's a time suck....but oh so much fun.

So, I'm forcing myself back to work.....here goes. No really, I am.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back on the Horse

The problem with taking such a long break from writing is that it's hard to remember that it ever came easily at all. I've been composing posts in my head for weeks now (a good sign, I think), but actually sitting down and typing out the words is a whole different story, as they say.

Lotsa stuff has been goin' on around here. Good stuff, mostly. I'm up to my earballs (as my friend Brigid says) in prospective budgets and board meeting agendas and federal paperwork mumbo jumbo. I wake up in the wee hours remembering the e mail I meant to send the previous day. I daydream about what it will feel like when all this preliminary work is done and my project is actually up and running. And I toss and turn at night wondering if I am completely bonkers and doomed to fail.

With the excitement of getting funded and potentially carving out a job for myself it's been hard to for me to figure out how to strike a balance through it all. Getting out of balance is not such a good thing for me. I get mono-focused and grouchy and irritable and tend to treat those closest to me badly. Up until last week, I hadn't been on a run in weeks. Not a good sign! But Tuesday I laced up those sneakers and forced myself out the door before the kids woke up. I had a feeling that writing would follow just a few days behind.

I'm feeling a bit better. Like I'm taking better care of myself, but I'm still pretty baffled as to how I'm going to tackle this project without abandoning my children and our unschooling life completely. Transitions are hard. I've been working toward this for over a year. I suppose the only way to figure it out is to take it one step at a time.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Checklist for the New Unschooler at LWoS

I've got a new post up at the Life Without School Community Blog. All this back to school business got me thinking about why we do what we do......let me know what you think.

Monday, September 22, 2008

International Car-Free Day!

Happy Car-Free Day everyone!

If you are able to be car-free today, join thousands (millions??) of us, all around the world, celebrating healthy transportation choices. If you can't be absolutley car free, at least think about what it would take for you to ditch the car and walk...or bike......or take the bus...or roller skate....or whatever, even for just one day.

The kids and I will be tabling at our local CFD celebration downtown. It's going to be a fantastic event.

Go ahead. Park the car.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sore Tongue

Ouch.......I've been biting my tongue a lot this week.


Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about the parts of my life which feel inconsistant. At park day last week a few of us got to talking about housework and chores and who does what. As the conversation carried on, I felt really clear. I've written here about my struggles with expecting (premeditated resentment, right?) help around the house on my terms. Most days I'm able to keep the nagging at bay, and take responsibility for my own needs for "neat and tidy" without demanding it of others. I ask for help or make my needs known and let others pitch in and help without demands, bribes, nagging, whining....whatever. But a few days passed and the conversation haunted me a bit.

I hadn't actually been walking my talk lately. It's not that I had suddenly assigned chores, or demanded made beds by noon or anything, but something about the whole housework situation wasn't sitting well with me. Mostly, I think it's about expectations. I've been carrying around an expectation that everyone else in the house has the same level of need for "neat and tidy". Not true. I think I've also been carrying around a beilef that if I remind sweetly (rather than nag loudly) that dishes go on the sink or remind someone (who will remain nameless, of course) that shoes go under the bench (for the one millionth time today) that one day I would wake up and these little annoyances will be gone.

The kids and I talked about it yesterday and I explained that I didn't think I was doing such a great job letting go of my need for control in this area and that it didn't feel respectful. I had lots more to say, but their eyes were glazing over and Charley suggested I just pay him for chores like at his dad's house and they'll get done real quick. Whatever. It's not so much a conversation that needed to happen but a shift on my part. More alignment with my beliefs, I suppose.

Therefore......I've been biting my tongue A LOT today. Shoes are not under the bench (ghastly!). Dishes didn't make it into the sink (horrors!). But I think I'll live. And it feels a bit more peaceful inside me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

That's a good thing....right?

Living with a hormonal pre-teen is taking all the patience I can muster these days. I find that when I hear Janey's footsteps coming down the stairs and into the kitchen, I often feel like hiding, or pretending I'm on the phone. It can be grim.

Tonight, I got home from the grocery and she was upstairs listening to music with Charley. I didn't hear any screaming or ranting, so i breathed a sigh of relief and started dinner. Then i heard the footsteps. I braced myself, but continued making pesto (yes, it was delicious, thank you).

Janey walked into the kitchen and stared at me. Her face went from grimace to look of confusion in a split second.

Janey:"I can't remember if I was mad at you before you left for the store."

She looked perplexed. After a moment of strange silence, we burst out laughing.

Me: "That's got to be good thing, right?"

Thank god for the laughter!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blech!!!!

We're all recovering from the stomach flu around here.

Yuck.

Thank goodness I wasn't sick until after I had to scrub vomit out of the carpet at 2:00am...that would've sucked. Today was actually a sweet day. We were all in varying degrees of recovery, but done with the puking. We watched movies and napped and played card games and read. macy made Jell-O. No one really needed to eat until tonight, so it was an easy, and low energy day.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ride Naked.....or Not

The weather really took a turn this weekend. I know we'll still get another heat wave before Fall arrives officially. I haven't harvested nearly enough tomatoes for this to actually be the end of summer weather. But today, I actually had to wear a sweatshirt.....all day. That's unsual.

For some, it would also be unusual to see a woman riding her bike down the street....completely naked. But not for us. You see, in our town, we have Naked Girl.

Naked girl moved here a few months back. Seems she feels very strongly about her right to be naked whenever and wherever she choses. Our town has some relatively relaxed nudity laws (breasts are fine, genitals are not), and she has come to relax those laws even further.

Some folks get all bent out of shape when they see Naked Girl, riding around in her birthday suit. Motorists honk, and holler, and wave, and shake their fists. I kinda think that's the response she's going for.

At the bus stop one day, an elderly woman went on and on to me about how careful we all had to be now that Naked Girl was around. "You just never know when she'll appear. How dare she! Next thing you know she'll be going to bed with men....right there on the street!" The woman glanced at my three children with a scowl. "How dare she!" Funny how a naked body equals "going to bed" in our part of the world.

Another time, while riding the bus, another rider shared her disapproval with me as Naked Girl passed us in the bike lane. "I mean, I don't mind so much. It really doesn't matter to me if she wants to be naked. I'm just sorry for you," she nodded toward my kids, and lowered her voice to a whisper. "At least I don't have to protect my children from her!"

The thought of protecting my children from Naked Girl never even entered my mind. I can think of a whole bunch of things I'd like to protect my children from, and nakedness is not one of them.

Violence, war, famine, disease, greasy fast food, drugs, sure...but nakedness? Really?

Now don't get me wrong, I can think of a lot of other things I'd rather do than ride my bicycle naked (ouchie). Especially on a chilly day. But, hey, to each his own. Today, Naked Girl was on roller blades, and a friend rode the bike with the trailer holding the sign proclaiming "We're Naked!! Just like God made us!" Her friend's tan lines revealed her inexperience.

As I rode to the library, I passed them. Then they passed me. Then I passed them. Then, at the red light, Naked Girl nearly knocked me off my bike trying to stop on her blades. She looked cold. But happy.

I'm guessing that living life without school might have something to do with our lack of freak out energy toward public nudity. I suppose that the more time one spends in an environment where you always have to wear shoes, let alone clothes, the less comfortable one might be with a glimpse of the human body.....au natural. Ah well. In the meantime, I'm going to give up a little more gratitude that we've chosen a different way.

Be naked. Or not. But do ride your bike as often as possible. It's good for you, and good for the planet.

Shooting Stars, over at LWoS

The Life Without School Community Blog is running an old post of mine from this time last year. If you're not going back to school this week, you'll know what I'm talkin' about.

Happy Not-Back-to-School everyone.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bad Boys and Mean Girls

Our homeschool park day is always a good opportunity for me to do some thinking about this whole parenting thing. Earlier in the day, I had read one of Scott Noelle's daily e mails. In it, he challenged us to think about our tendency to want our kids to be "nice". He goes on to suggest that kids provide an excellent example of how to not stuff our feelings. As adults, many of us have learned how to hide our true feelings in a given situation in an effort to be socially acceptable. Nice people are easier to be around. Pleasant people generally don't push our buttons. When our kids act out their true feelings, it's often not very nice.

My son Charley is seven and a half. He has no trouble acting out his true feelings. When he's angry, you'll know it. When he thinks you're being unfair and he doesn't want to play with you, he is unafraid of letting you know just that. Being nice is not important to him. That's not to say he is never pleasant company. He is also thoughtful and curious. He can be joyful and carefree and adventurous. He is playful and courageous and sweet. But when he's mad or frustrated, look out.

What I struggle with, is navigating through the perceptions other adults I spend time with have about my son. So many parents feel the need to teach their kids how to be nice. When I'm feeling particularly anxious about Charley's behavior, I fall into the same habit. Coaching him through a nicer way; a kinder, gentler way of interacting with others. But when I find myself doing this, I'm left with a yucky feeling inside. It doesn't feel like it's serving Charley. It feels like it's serving me.

Maybe people will think I'm a better parent if they hear me tell Charley that he shouldn't call people names. Maybe so and so will have more respect for me if I tell Charley that "we don't say things like that in our house." Because, really, what's happening when these phrases jump out of my mouth, is that my feelings of insecurity and inadequecy are showing up in a big, big way.

I know that Charley knows how to be nice, just like I know that he knows his own name. No one needed to teach him how to be himself. He just is. And part of who he is, is a child who experiences life in a big, big way. Sometimes that experience is loud and annoying and hurtful. But I'm not convinced that I need to teach him how to do it differently.

At park day, a younger child came over to the blanket where the moms were sitting, upset that Charley had insulted his weapon. I cringed. No one wants to be the parent of the child that is not being nice. I expressed that it sounded like Charley was feeling upset for some reason and that maybe leaving him alone for a while would be a good idea. I've spent a lot of time and energy in the past "talking things out" with my kids and their friends when one of them is struggling. I still think that this is often a good idea, but I'm beginning to think that what I would rather do is model an attitiude of detachment. We all seem to take everything so personally.

If Charley insults my weapon, it's really not about me......or my weapon. It's about Charley. We don't insult one another when we're feeling strong and confident and happy. Rather, our darker, negative emotions tend to rise up to the surface when we're feeling crummy inside.

One of the most insightful things I've heard lately is, "What other people say and do is a reflection upon them, not upon me." When I think about what I would like for my children to learn in this life, it's not how to stuff their feelings or how to change who you are so that others will like you. I would much prefer that my children learn that they do not have to be a victim of someone else's experience. If Fred is having a bad day and doesn't feel like playing, I don't have to take that on. As a good friend says, "It's not your dog, so don't walk it."

As the other moms and I talked about this issue at park day, we grappled with the implications of letting our kids learn their own lessons. One mom suggested that she felt it was important to help our kids understand that there are certain things that you just don't do or say in social situations. I'm not so sure. I think we may be selling our kids short by assuming that they can't figure this out for themselves.

I have felt the need in the past to explain to Charley that people don't like to be called names and that so and so may not want to play with him if he calls him an idiot (man, I hate that word). But Charley has experienced this on his own. He has seen the reaction that he gets from other kids (and their parents) when he explodes in anger. It's obvious that it makes people uncomfortable. More often than not, Charley doesn't really want to play either, and what he's actually looking for is a way out. He doesn't need me to show him how to be nicer. Rather, I think he's looking for support of another kind.

I've found that this support doesn't come in the moment. It comes later in the day, when the anger has cooled and no one else is around. That's when the heart to hearts happen and we are able to talk about "stuff". What I've learned from these talks is that Charley doesn't need me to teach him how to be nice. He needs me to accept him for who he is, and to not take it all so personally.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ahhhhhh...Vacation, at last.

It's hard to remember to do the regular, normal, everyday things when I'm on vacation. Sitting on the beach, swimming in the lake and reading my book are pretty much the priorities, but my head is full of thoughts and inspirations after last weekend's HSC conference.

It was a fantastic 4 four days, and I have so much to reflect upon. Meeting Colleen and Jerry from The New Unschooler was a huge highlight, as was my first official speaking gig on Sunday. I was terribly nervous going into it, but once I got started, it was hard to stop. Familiar faces in the audience (thansk Colleen, Molly and Gretchen) certainly helped remind me that I was going to be okay, and the feedback I got afterwards was amazingly positive. I did end up buying the audio CD (is that too weird?). I'm a little afraid to listen to it.

So much more to share, but the river calls.....Grandma wants a picture of all 5 grandkids before we leave to go rafting on the river......should be interesting.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Off to Sacramento

We head out early tomorrow morning for the HSC Learning Wihout Limits conference. It is certainly one of the highlights of our year, and always reminds me of what it felt like to be a newbie discovering unschooling for the very first time. Now that six years have past and we have moved away from California, there are friends we only see once a year at this conference. We all look forward to the amazing connections with so many homeschooling families, the juicy chats by the pool, and the inspiring speakers and workshops.

I'm looking forward to meeting a fellow unschooling blogger. Colleen is a fantastic writer and does an amazing job sharing her experience as a new unschooler. I'm so glad we'll get to meet face to face!

I'll be presenting a session on Sunday called, "This Unschooling Life". I'm terribly nervous and can't remember what in the world I was thinking when I wrote my proposal. My sessions in past years have always been very hands-on family style learning stuff. This will be my first time sharing my experience as an unschooler to all adults! No cutsie games or crafts to hide behind.....accckkkk. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back Again

I've been just a little busy this month with raising three kids, launching a website for my soon-to-be non-profit, dealing with computer crashes (man, that sucked.......still sucks, actually), working, spending juicy, fabulous time with my sister and her kids, preparing to present next week at the HSC conference, and trying to relax (what's that?)and enjoy the summer.

Now that I have my computer back, I'm hoeful, I'll be able to spend more time sharing with ya'll the joys of this unschooling life.

Oh yeah......I've got a new post up over at the other Life Without School...check me out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

100th Post!

Happy 100th post to me!

It's only taken me 10 months to get here, phew. Somehow I feel accomplished, and tired. And proud! Dang proud. I've spent a lot of time in the past telling myself that I'm just not cut out to be a writer. This blog is one of the teeny, tiny ways I'm proving to myself that I can be a writer. (can too!)

Tomorrow Janey and I are taking a little mini road trip. She'll spend the weekend with her grandparents (thanks Mom and Dad!) and I get to hang out at a beach house with my girlfriends from high school. This year marks our 20th high school reunion. I know, I know. Hard to believe, cuz I'm so darn youthful.

I'm looking forward to the laughs and the walks on the beach as well as the walks down memory lane. We'll eat a lot of See's candy and Chickie Dip (cream cheese mixed with salsa...who knew?) We'll probably watch old Seinfeld and Friends episodes (Can you Spare a Square?) and laugh about our white pumps, neon hoop earrings, frosted pink lipstick and feathered hair. We'll go through the yearbook remembering old crushes and arch enemies. We were a dorky bunch, and we had a lot of fun. These gals make me laugh like no others.

Not long ago I was telling the kids about the 80s: the hair-dos, the music, the politics. Later that day we were riding in a 1984 Crown Victoria (don't ask....it seemed like a good idea at the time, I'm trying to sell it). The kids fiddled with the power window buttons and ran their hands down the smooth velvety covered seats. Janey noticed immediately that there were lighters and ash trays at all four windows.

"Mom, why in the world would a car need so many lighters....and ashtrays?"
I fumbled for an answer. "I don't know sweetie. I guess it was a lot more common for people to smoke back then."

Now whenever I talk about my teenage years, the kids refer to the 80s as: "That time when everyone smoked." I read the other day that driving conventional cars will be like smoking for our kids' generation. If only we knew better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer Schedule - Day 2

So today is Macy's second day of Theater Camp. It only took two tries to get her out of bed at 7:30am and on the 8:30 bus. This is a huge transition for a family accustomed to staying in their pj's until noon most days. I knew she would be fine with it all, but I wasn't so sure the rest of us would be fine.

We're used to being together. For the past 12 years, we've spent most of the hours of most days together, and this summer is rocking that boat in a big, big way. I posted the other day about how the universe is presenting me with many opportunities to practice letting go of each of my three kids. First Janey went to Ecuador for 10 days. Then Charley went to Seattle for 8 days. Now Macy is attending a theater camp, all day Monday thru Friday for the next 5 weeks (5 weeks!). There's no doubt I'm experiencing a bit of the empty nest syndrome (how will they possibly make it without me? just fine, apparently).

I knew that this week was going to be tough on Janey, I just didn't realize how articulate she was going to be about it all. Janey led the way several years ago with her passion for theater. She has always been comfortable on stage and loves to sing and dance. Being the oldest, she has naturally had more access to classes and camps and performances, up until now. In May, when it was time to sign up for auditions for the theater camp she decided to bow out. the schedule was too intense, she didn't want to give up her summer. It seemed like the right choice. She had no idea her sister and her two best friends would actually all be accepted. Last night, things came to a head.

At bedtime, she sobbed while I rubbed her back. Through her tears she explained how much all of this really sucked. Not only was she being left behind each day as her three favorite playmates ventured out on the bus to days filled with drama, music and dance, she was questioning her ability to know what she actually wanted in life. Being so scheduled and busy didn't seem right for her. Being the one left behind and missing out on so much newness and fun didn't either. How in the world was she going to get through the next five weeks?

As she expressed herself so clearly I tried to just listen. It absolutely sucked. There was no reason (yet) for me to try to make it all better. My mind raced with ideas about how she could create a fun summer for herself, but I bit my tongue for a while. When she finally paused to catch her breath, I checked in. I let her know that when she was ready, I had some ideas about how she could still get what she wanted this summer (time with friends and fun activities doing things that she cared about). I reminded her that as much as it sucked right now, it wasn't a mistake that she hadn't auditioned for the camp. It simply meant that she was now available for something else. Something wonderful that was yet to be discovered. She dozed off while I smoothed her hair.

Today is a better day for Janey. I walked Macy to the bus stop and went for a run up in the hills. When returned, Janey and Charley were awake and had made themselves breakfast: chocolate cake and ice cream. I suppressed the urge to freak out (not going to fight this battle) and noted how everyone was smiling and no one was fighting. Ahhhh. Today we're going to find out about the requirements for volunteering at the animal shelter and the science museum. It's going to be another smokin' hot day, so we may take in a movie. Even though we will miss Macy tons, it's going to be a great day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Go Ride a Bike

We get around on bikes. It's just what we do. Since relieving ourselves of individual car ownership, there's no such thing as "going out for a bike ride" anymore. Once your bicycle becomes your primary mode of transportation, there's rarely (never) a need for simply riding around.

Every once in a while, we'll run into someone who doesn't know us well while out on our bikes. If the weather's good and we look happy, the person may make a comment about how nice it is for the whole family to be out on a bike ride. Um, yeah it is. It's how we get places. The bikes are more than just toys or a way to fill a Sunday afternoon. They have a higher purpose.

We look at bikes from a very utilitarian perspective. A good bike has fenders for when the roads are wet. A great bike has lights for nighttime riding and a bell to signal before passing other riders. An awesome bike has a rack on the back and a bungee cord for hauling a load. A groovy paint job is fun, but it doesn't stand a chance next to smooth shifting gears or a fat, cushy seat. My kids get that. It makes me proud.

People are often perplexed by our decision to live life without school, and I'm constantly looking for new metaphors to explain our lifestyle. Tonight as we were riding home (on bikes....in order to get home) from Ballet in the Park, it occurred to me that unschooling can be best described as simply a different frame of reference. There are those who view school as a cultural norm, a basic necessity in the growth and development of young people (but what do you do all day if you don't go to school?). The frame of reference for these folks is grade levels, school years, book reports, final exams, graduations and report cards.

Unschoolers simply live with a very different frame of reference. This afternoon, Charley and I spent a few hours swimming at the reservoir. Macy was at Theater Camp (her first day, she loved it, more on that another time) and Janey didn't feel like coming with us. Janey called to check in with me as we were packing up to leave and said she was bored. I made a few suggestions and she eventually decided to head to the library.

When we all met back up at home an hour or two later, Janey unpacked her bag. She placed her new library books and her Summer Reading Program Folder on the table. A few weeks ago she picked up the folder at the library when one of the children's librarians asked her if she wanted to earn prizes for reading books. Duh. Of course she wanted to earn prizes for doing what she already does everyday. She explained how she had completed her forms and listed the numerous books she had read over the past 3 weeks, and was excited to cash in on her prizes. Unfortunately, the volunteer librarian informed her that she was missing one very important thing. Her parent's signature.

Janey was stunned. Why in the world would she need the signature of an adult to verify her reading? How stupid is that? She ranted for several minutes about how Perii (her favorite librarian who "gets" unschooling, sort of) would NEVER have asked for her parent's signature. An interesting discussion followed. It was one of those times when I found myself explaining things that are obvious to those of us who've spent years in the schoolie frame of mind, and completely unimaginable to kids like mine.

Things like:
  • Being forced to read makes it not all that much fun.
  • Prizes and grades and rewards are how adults convince kids that learning is fun.
  • Adults are worried that if kids don't practice learning in the summertime when school's out, they'll forget how all together.
And that's when my kids just sit there and stare at me like I'm speaking Hindi or something. It's just a whole different way of viewing the world. You're either out for a ride, or riding your bike.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I've heard it argued that homeschooling parents keep their kids home from school because they can't deal with their own separation anxieties. Something about not allowing their kids to spread their wings and be independent.

Hogwash, I say.

My experience is that kids who don't go to school are for the most part, amazingly independent. They often have self confidence in spades and have loads more time than their schooled neighbors and friends to practice independence in a variety of places and circumstances.

What is true, for our family, anyway, is that we spend a lot of time together. Because I work from home, and my kids don't spend 35 hours a week in school, we end up being together more often than not. In my case, this is a very conscious choice. I like being a mom. I like being with my kids. We have fun together. Even when we are driving each other crazy, hanging out with my family is what I choose to do. Now that my kids are getting older and asserting their independence more and more, there are times when we are apart, and I'm realizing that it's quite an adjustment for me.

There's no doubt that I'm attached to my kids (you bet, and proud of it!), but I don't buy the argument that this creates an unhealthy attachment or an environment for squashing their independence. It's just that I really do miss them when they're gone.

Last April, Janey went to South America to visit my sister and her cousins. It felt like a very big deal, and I missed her terribly. However, I knew that it was the right thing for her. Despite my anxiety about sending my 11 year old daughter to a foreign country, she had the time of her life and I'm sure she'll never forget it. I'm also very aware that I was envious. I wish I could have gone. No fair!

Today, I get to pick up Charley from the airport. He's spent the past 8 days with his cousins in Seattle and will be flying home on his own. Honestly, I never dreamed I'd be picking up my youngest (age 7!) from the airport by himself! Holy cow! How did this happen? The trip came up very spontaneously, and Charley was game every step of the way. Although I've missed him, and have worried at times that he is awfully young to be so far away from home for such a long time, I know that our lifestyle without school has prepared him for this in every way. He didn't need to be convinced. He knew he was ready. He knew he would miss home, but that the opportunity to spend a week with cousins, away from home, was too good to pass up.

Our phone conversations this week have gotten longer and longer, and although I know he's having a blast, I can tell he's ready to be home.

Next week, Macy will begin a 5 week theater camp. She'll be gone 9 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This commitment is seriously challenging my unschoolish self. It is very structured and attendance is strictly enforced. This isn't my idea of a relaxing summer schedule, but she is thrilled. Although she'll be home with us in the evenings and on weekends, I'm already anticipating how much I'm going to miss her.

Despite my longing to have my children close, they sometimes choose to be away from me. I don't always love it, but I know that it is important for them to decide when and how to leave the nest for a little while. I think it's possible that a life without school, and full of possibilities, is allowing them to know when it's time to stay and when it's time to go.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Post Up at LWoS Community Blog

Hey, tired of reading this blog?

Check out my new post up at LWoS Community Blog. It's called "Mother Doesn't Always Know Best". Lemme know what you think.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

River Rats

We just got home from our annual canoeing trip. It's always hard for me to come back to real life. 5 days of living in our swimsuits, paddling downstream, far from the ringing of phones and buzz of electronics.......ahhhhhhh, I miss it already.

Janey and I have been doing this trip with friends from California for four years now. Macy came once, and didn't love it, but this was Charley's first time. I was waiting until he was a very strong swimmer and could do his share of the camp work without major complaints. I am so glad we waited. he had the time of his life and really understood what was expected of him. He and I shared a small "pack" canoe, which was perfect for the two of us. He paddled when he felt like it and stretched out like an Egyptian prince when he didn't. On our last morning of paddling he even took a 2 hour nap in the bow!

One of my favorite parts of this trip is the focus on survival (relaxed survival, anyway). We paddle anywhere from 7 to 18 miles in a day and set up camp for one or two nights at a time. We share the camp chores of meal prep and clean up, hauling water, purifying water, latrine set up, and gathering firewood. This takes up a fair amount of our off river time, but the rest is gravy. Napping, reading, strumming a guitar, bird watching, waterfall jumping, hiking, or just sitting around the campfire and chatting. It's all just so slow and relaxed. Bliss.

Janey has spent the past few years paddling from the middle of a canoe. This year she graduated to bow and she did amazingly well. She takes direction from the stern well, knows all the strokes, and is strong for her age. I felt so proud of her. She's learning to read the water and although she has a healthy fear of whitewater, she doesn't panic, and knows she is capable of paddling through rough spots.

People on this trip often comment on how mature and responsible my kids are and are shocked to learn that they have never been to school. This trip has become a metaphor for unschooling for me. I had never canoed before that first trip four years ago. I learned it by doing it. I'm still learning. I usually dump the canoe a time or two, and each time, I figure out a new way of reading the water and anticipating tricky spots. Well meaning, more experienced paddlers have tried to explain and teach and educate me, but the only way I'm going to get this is by doing it myself.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lessons Learned

All this talk about unschooling my kids is really just a front for the unschooling I'm doing myself. Seriously. I try to play it off like I know what I'm talking about and how great this is for the kids and blah blah blah....but it's really all about me.

I have this bad habit. Actually, no, take that back. I have this habit of walking out of the grocery store with waaaay more groceries than I intended. Common problem, you say? Well, my particular version is not exactly financial. My problem is that I do my grocery shopping on my bicycle.

I have this nifty, but fairly useless, wire basket that hangs on my handlebars. Anytime it is filled with more than about 3 pounds, it rattles and shakes and threatens to fall off the front completely. I also have a super cool saddle bag my friend Michelle gave me that can carry one regular sized grocery bag full of stuff. Heavy? No problem. Over-stuffed and bulging? Not so much.

So this afternoon, like many other trips downtown, I decided to stop by the food co-op before heading home. There were four items on my list. Four. Mustard, dishwasher soap, coffee, and rice. How does this happen to me?

As I passed by the shopping carts on my way inside the store, I argued silently with myself.

Me: Using a cart is not a good idea when you are trying to stick to your list.
Me: But a cart will make it so much easier to pick up just a few of these herb starts.
Me: Herb starts are not on the list.
Me: But they're 50% off and you meant to buy them a few days ago and now there are only a few left and you need these herb starts.
Me: (with a sigh) Alright. Use the cart. But no funny business, you did not bring the trailer.

Bringing the trailer to the grocery store seems like the smartest option, doesn't it? But you see, there were only four things on my list.

Did I say four things? Cuz, it would be so much easier to just buy that loaf of bread now, rather than waiting until we run out later in the week. Rice cakes. Macy has been begging me for rice cakes. Hey, they're on sale! Cool. Ooohhh, melons. Yum.

You see where this is going. Not good. Yet, somehow, lying there in the cart, everything just seems, well, do-able. It will all fit. I know it will. No problem.

As the friendly cashier rings me up, I skillfully fit everything (except the 2 boxes of cereal, the 5 plant starts and the the box of dishwashing soap) into my roomy, now overflowing with loaf of bread and sleeve of rice cakes, cloth shopping bag. It will fit. It becomes my mantra as I wheel my cart over to the bicycle rack.

As I unload the cart, I can feel other shoppers staring at me. Is she crazy? She doesn't actually think she's going to fit all those groceries into that weeny little saddle bag. No, she can't be serious. Fred, look, she's stuffing the heavy box of dishwashing soap into that flimsy wire basket. Ha! Oh this is good....go get the camera.

Okay, maybe the other shoppers didn't actually say these things out loud, but I know they were thinking them. You would have too, trust me. I was quite a sight. The boxes of cereal fit, sort of, next to the dishwasher soap in the basket. The over-stuffed saddle bag pulled me gently to the right as I rode away. Not ten feet into the parking lot, rice cakes, a bag of pretzels, and the loaf of bread spilled out onto the pavement. Foiled again.

I did make it home, after creatively looping the handle of the cloth bag around the bulging items and tying it to the seat post. Why do I torture myself like this you say? I'm stubborn, and creative, and endlessly searching for ways to do things a little bit differently. An unschooler through and through.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reason #683

One of my favorites aspects of not sending my kids to school is that they have yet to put limits on the ages of kids they are willing to play with. I'm sure there are schooled kids out there who are flexible and willing to play with kids not in their "grade", but my memory of schooled kids is that for the most part, it ain't cool. I absolutely LOVE that my kids are just as comfortable playing with a 3 year old as they are a 15 year old.

Today at our Unschooler's Park Day, several new families joined us. A gang of older girls decided to walk down to the fountain a few hundred yards away. As they walked off, a 3 year old newbie was crushed. It took me a minute or two to realize that she wanted to be included. I offered to walk her down to the fountain to see if she could join the big girls. She (and her mother) were thrilled. As we approached the girls, it suddenly dawned on me that maybe these preteens wouldn't be thrilled about caring for a toddler. Was I setting this child up for further disappointment? I quickly ran scenarios through my head. What would I do if they didn't want her to join in?

We called to the girls, and they turned around. Two of the 6 rushed up to greet me and my new little friend. A wave of relief washed over me. Ohhhhh...that's right, I reminded myself. These kids have never been to school. They don't know that it's not cool to play with kids younger than you.

Phew.

My oldest daughter Janey scooped up her new friend. The little girl beamed. When they all turned up 30 minutes later, our new friend was blissful. "These big girls are my new friends!" The feeling was obviously mutual When I checked in with my middle daughter Macy later that day, she exclaimed, "She's my new best friend."

And that's reason #683 not to send your kids to school.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Free and Easy?

Well, summer is supposedly here, though you'd never know it by the weather. It has been chilly and rainy for weeks. My vegetables are lovin' it, but I'm ready for some heat...wait. I shouldn't say that too loud, because it will be smokin' hot before I know it. I take that back.

Even though we don't go to school, the summer schedule is a huge relief. The lessons and classes the kids were involved in this spring came to an end and we are all breathing a huge sigh of relief. This is week two of no schedule, no big plans, and the kids are working through the boredom and settling in to their own groove. I'm needing to be more disciplined about my work schedule at home (always a challenge). We've still got a few weeks before Macy's Theatre Camp begins (5 weeks, 7 seven hours a day, yikes!) so I'm relishing this time at home with all three kids.

We rode our bikes to Macy's theatre camp orientation yesterday, about 7 miles each way. The girls did great. I was so proud. We allowed ourselves loads of time and even stopped to play in the creek along the way. I would have normally borrowed a car, but we'd be talking about taking a long ride anyway, so we went for it. Charley stayed behind with a friend, so it was just us girls. They did awesome. At one point, Macy said she thought her heart was going to explode, but she had a smile on her face! Now that they've ridden that far, no more complaints about a 2 mile trip downtown!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Foiled Again

Every once in a while.....okay, more than every once in a while, I get caught trying to pull a fast one on my kids. It's not like I do it on purpose, it's just that I get overwhelmed and stressed (who, me?) and my pre-unschooling brain clicks in and I forget that my kids know better.

The other day, I was irritable and frustrated. I had a list of things that needed my attention, the house (read : my room)was chaotic and disorganized, and I was tired. As I loaded clothes into the washer and reviewed my mental to-do list, I barked out my demands to the girls (Charley was brilliantly nowhere to be found).

ME: (in my most grouchy voice)"Your rooms need to be picked up and laundry put away before lunch. I mean it! This place is a dump and I want some help around here....blah blah blah blah."

You get the idea. A few moments later, Janey glared at me....glare glare glare.

JANEY: (in her most sassy voice)"Uh, Mom. I hate to tell you this, but you've already let us know that our rooms are our business and unless I'm mistaken, none of my stuff is here in the living room right now, so why are you telling me to clean my room? That is totally unfair."

ME: "Oh. I guess you're right. Never mind. I guess I'll go clean my room now."

Darn. Foiled again.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Big Picture

In 2006, I spent most of the year building my house (and 8 others) with my neighbors. It was an amazing and life changing experience on every level, and when it was over, I was so glad to be done. The hands-on, sweat equity nature of the project meant that for 10 months I was scrambling to find friends and family to come out to the job site every single weekend to help me. This was a community effort, and would have not been successful without the generous hours put in each week by those volunteers. At the time, I knew I was asking for a lot, and some weeks, it felt like it would never end. But it did, and yesterday, I was able to give back.

A few months ago a friend started construction on his home in the very same manner. The second project is located just 2 blocks from my home and weeks ago I told him I would come out and help. I was nostalgic as I dug my work boots and tool belt from the attic. As I filled my coffee thermos and packed my lunch, I recalled the seemingly endless days that I spent pounding nails and raising walls just 2 years earlier. As hard as it was, it had all been worth it. I now have my very own affordable house to show for it.

It only took about an hour for me to get back in the groove. We were siding, which I love, and as soon as the three of us figured out a system that worked, we rocked. They took measurements and called them out to me at the cutting station. I measured out and made cuts (with a handy new power tool that I fell in love with) and passed off the concrete siding pieces. Every once on a while I nailed a few up with the nail gun, just for old times' sake....god, I love that nail gun. It was really fun.

As we worked, it was so interesting to be on the other side of the crew, so to speak. I wasn't the homeowner. I was just the labor. It became important for me to defer to my friend as the crew leader. This was fine by me, actually. It felt way more relaxed and my detachment from the finished product was refreshing. What I found fascinating, and very familiar, however, was my friend's inability, as as first time home builder, to see the big picture.

As a novice, on the job site, each new task holds an enormous learning curve. The project manager instructs you on the proper method of hanging siding, for instance. He explains how the cuts should be made, where the seams should join, how far the spacing should be and how close the boards should be to the trim. As the novice works, mistakes are made and repaired. Care is taken to follow the instructions of the supervisor and progress is made. When I joined the crew yesterday, they had begun only the previous day. They were still "green" and extremely careful in following the guidelines to a T.

As we worked, my friend and his partner noticed a few gaps at the end of a few boards. They discussed ripping the boards out and starting again. I looked closely at the gaps and reassured them that they would be fine. "Once those ends get caulked, no one will be bale to see the gap. I'm sure it will be fine." They looked at me doubtfully. "We were told that the gaps could be no larger than a 1/4". I think we should start again," my friend was insistent.

All of a sudden it dawned on me. I had the benefit of being able to see the big picture. My house was done. After siding 9 homes for months on end that summer two years ago, I had obsessed about that same 1/4" gap ad naseum. But what I knew months later, after completing the final caulking and painting, was that a hair over or under 1/4" made no difference at all. Once the finish work was done, minor flaws and gaps disappeared. It just didn't matter.

I didn't push it with my friend, however. He still wanted to rip out a few boards and perfect his work, and after explaining what I understood to be true, I backed off. It's important for him to learn in his own way. I did the same thing. I needed to feel like I was doing it right. That I was learning something new and doing it well. But as we continued, I thought a lot about putting new learning into perspective.

My old frame of reference for learning came from my years as a student and eventually as an elementary school teacher. So often, in the teacher/student model, what is missing, at least for the student is the benefit of the big picture. Learning happens in bits and chunks, designed to fit within the confines of a school day or the convenience of a calendar year so that benchmarks may be reached and standards fulfilled. A geometry lesson here, a science experiment there. But what's missing in this educational system is the relevence. Why does it matter that the area of a triangle is 1/2 x b x h ? No wonder so many of us don't remember what we learned in 9th grade math. We didn't have the big picture.

Unfortunately, school doesn't often allow for the big picture. Learning needs to happen on a schedule, at certain specific times, under very specific circumstances. I feel greatful to have found another way for myself and for my children. Unschooling allows us to take in the learning life has to offer every step of the way.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Well, it certainly has been awhile, huh? I've tried to get back on here multiple times in the past 5 weeks, and it just wasn't happening. It all began with a nasty case of writer's block, which led to a worse case of low self esteem and self doubt, which has now fed into an exciting case of "I'm way too busy to blog-itis".

I always forget how busy spring can be. We spend way more time outside (which automatically means less time on the computer for me) and it seems that even though we don't go to school, classes and activities that we participate in all tend to culminate and celebrate for weeks and weeks.

But the main factor contributing to my absence of late is that I am starting a non-profit and I am completely and totally consumed. The whole idea came up about 10 months ago when I decided to ditch my car. Up until recently I was on the slow-track. I had all the time in the world to cultivate and nurture my vision and although I was excited to see it through, I was in no hurry. A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend an important networking conference, and that's when my life took a dramatic turn. Ever since, it seems my unschooling life has been schoolin' me.

My casual, laid back existence of life without deadlines and schedules has taken a major hit. Not that I'm complaining, it has just crept up on me quickly, and the kids and I are scrambling to adjust. I've been thinking lots about how my unschooling life fits into to all this change and I'm certainly encountering loads of great blog material, but for now, I'm going to try to ease into a state of balance. It's a challenge. I tend to jump into projects with both feet, balance will be key.

In the meantime, I wrote my first grant this week (yikes, talk about schoolish-ness), have flown across the country to attend meetings which require a dress code (dress code? I thought for sure they were joking), and trying to learn the language of the IRS and government agencies quickly. It's an education for sure. One of my choosing, of course. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yippeeee!

The folks over at LifeLearning have named this blog (mine...this one....the one that I created...wow) one of the top 25 sites for homeschoolers! Super cool! Thanks guys.

Check out the list. It's full of good stuff.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Plug for "Carnival of Family Life"

I've got a post featured at this week's "Carnival of Family Life". It's one I wrote a few weeks ago for the LWoS Community Blog called "Taking Off the Training Wheels." They've credited Marjorie with the byline in the carnival post, but don't be fooled, it's really mine. Check it out.

I'd write more, but we're on vacation in San Francisco right now. Too busy riding street cars, touring Alcatraz, and going to Giants' baseball games. Loads of material, little time to sit at the computer. More later.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Together and Apart

Yesterday, after our Unschooler's Park Day, Janey opted not to join us for the rest of the afternoon. She's nearly 12 and perfectly capable of getting herself home on the bus and being on her own for a few hours. This works well lately, as her desires shift from being with the rest of the family and wanting and needing time alone. But she struggles with these needs. She wants to be alone, but not by herself.

She made the decision today to be on her own without too much deliberation. While we rode off in one direction from the park, she was negotiating a ride home with a friend. By the time we got home, she'd been on her own for two and a half hours. Apparently, she got bored. When I opened the gate to the backyard, I almost fell over. She had cleaned up!!!! Without being asked. Toys and roller blades and tennis rackets were neatly put away. The walkway was swept. The plants were watered. The bunny rabbit had fresh food and water. It looked so great. She was beaming. Now if only she could get that excited about cleaning her room.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Su nombre es Janey


My daughter Janey leaves for Ecuador in 8 days. She's 11 and a half. She's already used her passport once this year. Chances are good she'll use it once more after this trip. I keep reminding her, she's a very fortunate kid.

My sister lives in Mindo, Ecuador (commonly referred to by the rest of our family as
paradise) and my parents are taking Janey with them for 10 days. She is so excited, she can hardly stand it. She doesn't remember much from the last time we were there, almost 7 years ago. For weeks, leading up until now, Janey had been pretty low key about the whole thing. I brought home Spanish language tapes and books from the library. We'll learn together! I declared. It will be fun! Janey rolled her eyes. Last night at dinner, she got a little nervous.

The questions started coming at dinner: Will anyone besides our family speak English? Are the bus drivers from Ecuador? What kind of cars do they drive there? Will I need my down vest? By the time the table was cleared and the dishes were done, Macy had pulled out her Spanish folder from a class she took a year ago. The girls were busy reciting colors and numbers. "Do you think I'll need farm animals, Mom?" Janey hollered from the table.

A few weeks ago, I was sure my Spanish language tapes were the answer to all her fears. Not so much. Janey has her own ideas. She'll go to South America and have a fantastic time. She won't be fluent, but she will soak up some language and culture. We're planning to spend two months there this fall, so I'm going to keep up with those tapes. Years ago, I would have insisted she listen (and learn for goodness sakes!) so she could be prepared. I've learned in this life without school that unschooled kids do it differently. Janey chooses how and when she learns. I just get to watch.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Note to Self

Last night we decided to walk to a friend's birthday party. It had been a very full, busy day, and we were tired, but decided to go anyway.

There was really delicious cake and champagne and friends we hadn't seen in quite a while, so it well worth it, but by 10pm, we were cooked. The kids groaned a bit when I said it was time to go, but we bundled up and headed out into the dark, misty night.

As we walked home, we talked about all kinds of things. Important things, mostly. Things that only come up when it is dark and quiet out. Things like: the birth of the planet, other life forms, aliens, evolution, the size of the universe. Dr. Seuss' character Horton the elephant came up as well. A few stars peeked out from under the clouds.

"What if we really are just a speck, Mom?" Charley wondered as he craned his neck and looked way up into the inky blackness. "We may not even know how small we really are."

Note to self:

1. Always say yes to chocolate cake and champagne when it is within walking distance.
2. Always take the long way home so that the good stuff has time to come up.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Big News!

Big News, everyone!

I've decided that I've got it all wrong. After lots of soul searching, I've decided that it's time to send my kids to school. All this focus on child-led learning and family-time first is really cutting into my shopping and spa routine. I've finally got it all figured out: I'm sending them all to boarding school on the East Coast so that I can devote more time to my........

April Fool's.....just kidding. Actually the
real big news is that I have a new post up at the Life Without School Community Blog. It's called Taking off the Training Wheels. Hope you like it. Check it out.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Brain Fart

I was hiking in the woods, not far from my house yesterday. It had snowed and the trees all looked so beautiful. As I was walking, I played a game I often play where I try to identify as many plants and trees and I can see. Just for fun. This is a great time of year for that game because many trees and plants are just now beginning to bud and even leaf out, giving even more clues as to their identity.

A few years ago I took a seasonal job teaching environmental education to groups of school kids on a local mountain. Three or four times a week, I would lead kids on hikes up and down this mountain, reciting plant names and telling native stories about the flora and fauna. I loved the job and eventually could've ID'd local native plants in my sleep. As I walked down the trail yesterday, I whispered to myself, "Madrone, White Oak, Manzantia, Snow Berry..." then I stopped dead in my tracks. The bush in front of me was just barely beginning to leaf out. It's ash-colored bark peeled in flakes off the trunk and the new, green, baby leaves fanned out in a ridged, scalloped shape. I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of that native bush.

I remembered how the native people in our region used the branches to make their tools because the diameter was relatively narrow and the wood so hard. I remembered that the bark could be boiled to make a purple dye or a remedy for lung ailments. But I couldn't remember the name. I panicked. How could I not remember? I'd been so proud of all that information I knew. I loved that friends and their kids would come to me when they had questions about our native plants. What would happen if I slowly began to forget every single one?

I got that feeling in my stomach that I associate with being called on in class and not knowing the answer to the teacher's question. I hated it when that happened. My face would flush and I would stumble over my words and feel like a schmuck. As I continued down the trail, I relaxed and my unschooling brain kicked in. So what if I forgot? Would it be that bad to start hiking with my Pacific Northwest Plant Guide again? Couldn't I just look up the darn thing when I got home? I could even google it if I really needed to know fast. Ahhhhhh, that's better. I don't actually need to know everything all the time.

I used to think I did. If you and I were having a conversation and you used a word I wasn't familiar with, chances are I wouldn't have asked you for the meaning. I would have nodded confidently and acted as if I knew precisely what you were referring to. That was far better than admitting I hadn't a clue as to what you talking about. To me, that would have made me appear less educated, or less than you. Since embracing unschooling, I have found something that works much better for me: I ask! I clarify! I say, "I don't know, how about you?" all the time, and for me, it's liberating. I'm sure much of this past tendency can be attributed to my personality, but I have a hunch that over 16 years of formal education has something to do with it as well.

My kids have never been to school, and seem to have no trouble admitting when they don't know something. I remember the shocked looks on the faces of some children at the library years ago when my daughter Janey asked who Harry Potter was. It went like this: She asked. They were shocked. No one ridiculed. She got her answer, and moved on. As far as I could tell, she felt no shame. She just wanted to know. I have a feeling that if the very same conversation had occurred across a crowded cafeteria table at lunch time, the outcome might not have been quite so positive. I love that our life without school has given me the opportunity to shed the need to know everything all the time.

On my way home from my hike yesterday, I pondered these realizations and smiled to myself. The name of that bush popped right into my head as my house came into view: Mountain Mahogany.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The $150 Vacation

So, it's Spring Break around here, for those who have something to take a break from. As unschoolers, living life without school, what that means for us is that loads of our friends are out of town and we don't have art class or Ballet or Karate this week. We couldn't really afford to take a vacation, and we're going out of town in few weeks anyway, so I proposed an "in-town" vacation.

I figured out we had $150 bucks to spend and we brainstormed a whole bunch of fun stuff we could do within walking, biking, or bus-riding distance. Here's what our week looks like:

Monday: Bowling and lunch out. Movie night at home.
Tuesday: A swim at the Hotsprings and a night housesitting for a neighbor in her big, fancy house complete with sauna, hot tub, fireplace, and very large comfy couches perfect for reading on. Had pizza delivered for dinner...yum!
Wednesday: Went out for breakfast, splurged on hot cocoas with extra whipped cream.
Thursday: A trip to our favorite ice cream parlor and a shopping spree at Goodwill (everybody gets $6 to spend, whoo-hoo).
Friday: A trip to ScienceWorks, our local hands-on science museum.

Not bad, huh?



5 Most Hilarious Places I've Caught Macy Reading This Week


5. On the bus.
4. At the dinner table.
3. In the theater, minutes before the play opened.
2. Poolside, at the Hotsprings (she did
eventually swim).
1. In the bathroom, while brushing her teeth.

My kids have finally gotten the reading bug. I knew it would happen. I wasn't freaking out or anything. I swear, I wasn't! We're unschoolers, after all. I'm not supposed to freak out if they aren't readers by the time they're 7 years old. And really, I wasn't. Did I already say that? But when the bug hit, I have to admit, I was thrilled. Validated, I suppose. After years of telling myself, and others, that I knew they would eventually become readers, it happened. Phew.

I can't believe I'm actually hearing myself say ridiculous things like, "Put that book down right now and ________(fill in the blank)!" This is a happy problem. Janey and Macy have an unspoken contest going to see who can start and finish a book earliest in the day. Yesterday morning, by the time I was out of bed, Janey had already finished two! We're making multiple trips to the library each week now and our favorite librarians are working hard for us trying to find the next series the girls can devour. Heavenly.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Acting As If

This whole parenting thing is really tricky. We say we know what we're doing and walk through each day as the adults, the wise ones. But most of the time, I don't know about you, I haven't a clue.

Janey, my oldest, is throughly entrenched in the dreaded pre-teen years. I've been assured by my friends with teenagers that this is the hard part (please, let this be the hard part...because if it gets any trickier than this, I may have to quit). She's hormonal. She's emotional. She's unpredictable. She's grouchy and miserable most of the time. On my good days, I can roll with it. She can be as irritable and agitated as can be, and I'm cool. But on my not-so-good days, look out! She and I can get into it like nobody's business. I try to be patient and kind. I attempt to be the bigger person, and not get rattled. Sometimes it works.

What does seem to be working for me, at this point, however is Acting As If. This is a trick I learned in working my Al-Anon program. The deal is, you act (pretend) like you know what you're doing until you figure it out. By the time you've figured it out, you're a pro and on to the next challenge. When I remember to do this, and keep my freak-outs at bay, we're all happier. I've subscribed recently to Scott Noelle's Daily Groove. He's an alternative-minded parenting guru. I really like what he has to say. When you subscribe, you get a little tid-bit of parenting wisdom delivered straight to your email inbox each morning. Very cool. The other day, he offered this:

"The trick is to practice the paradoxical art of being *confidently uncertain*.

Instead of pretending you know what you're doing (which doesn't work), you enthusiastically *embrace* your cluelessness! Then you focus on your ability to find your way...

"I have NO IDEA how to handle this situation! But I know I can figure it out. I've faced the unknown and found my way before, and I can do it again."

This works for kids because their security is based on feelings rather than logic. They can feel your confident vibe, and that's enough."

I like that. I'm happily embracing my cluelessness today.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Don't Play My People

I had the flu for 6 days and things got pretty boring around here. I even let Janey paint her bedroom. By herself. While I lay feverish in the next room. Seriously. I was that sick. I only crawled out of bed once when I heard, "Ooopsie." But that's a whole post unto itself. While I was out of commission, the girls rediscovered their old stash of Barbies in the attic.

They used to spend hours and hours setting up Barbie houses within Barbie towns within Barbie worlds. I remember one summer a few years ago when I would beg them to come outside to play or to go on a walk with me. They would be so engrossed in their Barbie world they were offended at the thought. It feels like eons ago that the girls played like that together, but they're at it again.
I just had to laugh this morning when Macy called up the stairs to Janey, "Don't play my people!"

I knew what she meant when she said that three years ago at the age of 6. But I was curious how she would explain it now.

Macy: "It means don't talk and act my dolls."
Me: "So, you think that when Janey goes back into the bedroom, she is going to secretly move your Barbies around and have them say things to each other that you might not want them to say?"
Macy: (sheepish grin)"Yeah. She might, you know."
Me: "Oh, I know."

The funny part to me, besides all the other funny parts, is that so little actual dialogue ever ends up taking place. So much of the dramatic play is all about set up and back story. "Let's say your girl just got home from shopping at the mall and she is too tired to do her homework." (curious the way Barbie is always found doing those two things at our house....hmmmm) or, "Let's say this path leads to my girl's best friend's house, and she has a pool." "Mo-om. Can we bring a pan of water into the bedroom?"

All I know is that my kids can do set up and back story all day long. Suddenly, it's time for dinner, and when I ask for some clean up, all I get are grumbles and moans that the playing hasn't even begun yet. I remember a few years ago when our entire living room was taken over by Barbie-ville. A stack of library books had been propped upright at right angles to form an intricate series of cubicles, otherwise known as individual homes. Charley's car track became the roads between the houses. Lamps provided sunlight at the beach and the stack of firewood was the forest.

In the early days of unschooling, I would sit back and watch this play in amazement. If only all kids had unlimited amounts of time to play like this. The creativity was astounding. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. It all came from them. It was so cool. Unfortunately nowdays, Barbie-ville is sequestered to the bedroom. Our house is just too darn small now. But I can still listen in from the hallway.

"Don't play my people!"

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Koko and Charley


Living life without school leaves lots of time for watching cool documentaires. We watched a really cool one tonight about Koko the gorilla. Remember her? I had completely forgotten all about her until I was browsing the Documentaries section on Netflix not long ago. I knew the kids would love it and I was curious to find out if she was still alive (she is) and if she still had that sweet little kitten she was cuddling on a cover of National Geographic years ago (nope, poor kitty got hit by a car).

The girls have been sick, so they were happy to watch whatever I put in front of them. Charley, however, was going to need a little help. He hates documentaries. Actually, he just thinks he does. He was glued to the screen just like the rest of us, but he needed to make sure I knew he was not happy about it. After the opening credits and introductory video-montage, Martin Sheen's voice began the narration. Charley looked over at me skeptically.

"Is this a true story mom?"
"Yep, sure is," I stared at the screen and pretended I didn't know where this was going.
"When is the actual movie gonna start, Mom?" he glared at me.
"This is the actual movie, Charley," I smiled.
"It's a documenta..."
Charley cut off Janey before she could finish, " But Mo-om, I hate documentaries."
"I know you do Charley, now be quiet and watch."

Sometimes we all just need to be heard, right? As an unschooling mom, this is probably the closest I've ever come to forcing my kids to do something educational. He could've left the room. But he didn't. It was too good. Since they've gone to bed, I've been on Koko's website reading more about her. I can't wait to tell Charley all about it in the morning.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Here They Are....Real Kids!!!

This month's post is up over at LWoS Community Blog. It's called Real Kids. If you've ever wondered what in the world people mean when they refer to the "real world", I think you'll like this one. Give it a look, and let me know what you think.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Save the World, Ride a Bike


I rode in my first Critical Mass ride this evening. It was a blast. Now that the kids and I have made our bikes our primary vehicles, I feel pretty strongly about the presence that bicycles and pedestrians have on our roads. It is intimidating to share the road with such powerful and potentially deadly machines. Seems to me, there's plenty of room for all. Unfortunately, there are quite a few drivers out there that are not at all happy to see us coming.

Twenty-nine cyclists (and one dog in a trailer) took to the streets tonight in our little town. We made a 3 or 4 mile loop and smiled and waved as we pedaled. We tried to hand out fliers at stop lights explaining Critical Mass, but too many motorists had their windows up. Last week, a pedestrian in our town died after being on life support for over a week. She was hit in a crosswalk in front of the university. We rode tonight in honor of her and to encourage folks to slow down and make room for alternatives to cars.

Since selling my car last November, I'm amazed at the change that has come over our family. We no longer think in terms of car-miles. A quick trip to the grocery now involves a brisk 1/2 mile walk, or a five minute bike ride. When we take the bus to the library, we know that the post office is only a few short blocks away. To think we used to do those errands in two separate trips!

Parking? Not an issue. Bike racks? We sure do know which businesses have them. Charley is becoming quite a bicycle mechanic, as well. Save the world, ride a bike.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Playing Hooky


We played hooky today and went skiing. You'd think that living life without school would mean that we play hooky everyday, but it was actually a push for me to cancel the various activities and commitments we had planned for today in order to ride up to the mountain with our neighbors.

When we were invited to go a few days ago, I actually said no at first. I had already committed to watching a friend's kids after Park Day, and Janey has a Latin Dance class on Thursday mornings. I have a Pilates class in the afternoon....blah, blah, blah. What could be more fun and spontaneous and energizing than to cancel it all (even Pilates!) and go skiing? Isn't that the whole reason we unschool? Freedom! Fun! Adventure!

I knew my friend would understand. There are others who could watch her kids. I do love Pilates, but really. I love skiing more. Initially, it was hard to make the decision to go. Even after years of living life this way, free from the schedules and commitments of "normal" school families, I can get just as attached to my calendar as any other PTA mom. Thank goodness I came to my senses quickly.

The weather was amazing. The kids were amazing. We hardly needed our jackets. We actually needed sunscreen!! Charley's hunger-inspired meltdown only lasted 30 minutes. It was a perfect day.

Charley has always wanted to learn to snowboard. Today, he traded gear with our neighbor for about 20 minutes, and I swear, he taught himself to snowboard. We may have a convert on our hands. I shouldn't be surprised, though. It's really just a big skateboard. He blows me away.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Motivating a Child to Read

I have a new post up today over at the Life Without School Community Blog . This one is in response to a question a reader posted about how to motivate her newly homeschooled son to read. I wrote it several weeks ago, and as I was re-reading it this morning, I was reminded of how grateful I am to be living and raising kids in this life without school.

Last night I wasn't feeling so hot (I'm fine, today) and I told the kids I would be going to bed early. We eventually ended up piling in my bed and reading to each other for the rest of the evening. Each one of us took turns. No need to clock the minutes or check anything off on our to-do list. Just sweet, uninterrupted, literate fun. No wonder I feel better already!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bicycle Bonus

I'm doing a little victory dance right now. I've been looking for one of those old metal bike racks. You know, the kind you used to park your bike in when you rode to school? Well, I finally got myself one of those. Yippee!

Ever since we decided to live sans car, our bikes have lived in a heap in our former parking space. They always start out standing upright, all lined up in a neat, tidy row. But, inevitably, by the end of an afternoon of skateboarding and basketball and jump rope, or even just after a big gust of wind, they'd end up in a heap. When it was time to go somewhere, it could take us 15 minutes just to untangle pedals and spokes and chains. Locking them to each other worked most of the time, except when we forgot, and it didn't. Janey's bike got stolen for the second time in 4 months last week. But now we have a real, live bike rack to lock them to!!! Yippee!

Now all I've got to do is muster up the courage to design and build a shelter to keep them all warm and cozy. Well, dry actually. A tarp is all I've got at this point. And for now, it works just fine.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Red Lights and Wheelchairs


Since we live life without school, as well as without a car, we walk and bike and ride the bus to get around town. Being on time has always been a challenge for me, but I'm finding that bus schedules and the slow pace my kids prefer on foot, are making it easier for me to be on time and even early (gasp!). The buses in our town only run every 30 minutes. Although it would be convenient to have more frequent choices, I find that it slows us down a bit. It also means that we have more time to chat and hang out. Every once in a while, we are racing to make it to the bus stop, praying we won't miss it. Waiting 30 minutes for the next one can be a real drag if we've got somewhere else to be. Tonight, as we were walking to the bus stop after ballet class, Macy struggled to keep up. "We have to walk quickly, guys," I cautioned, "if we miss the last bus, we'll need to walk home."

"Let's hope for red lights and wheelchairs," Macy said cheerfully. It took me a minute, but then I caught on. The bus runs a few minutes late when it gets stopped at red lights and when the driver stops to assist handicapped riders. I smiled. Red lights and wheelchairs. Kids say the darndest things.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hoards of Illiterate Children Running Around


I went on retreat this weekend (yes, I'm still floating) and had the opportunity to meet a number of women I had never met before. During meals and various group activities, I found myself explaining my family's choice to live life without school multiple times. At times I found it appropriate and fulfilling to really get into the juicy stuff: the reasons why I don't send my kids to school, what our life looks like on a daily basis, who inspires me, why I implicitly trust my children to learn without anyone telling them they have to. Other times I found myself answering the inevitable "What do you do for a living?" question more simply: "I work from home so that I can homeschool my kids." I often cringe when I answer that way. It just doesn't do justice to this rich and amazing life I am living. But there are times when it is the answer I choose.

Maybe I get a sense that the audience isn't quite ready to hear the real answer. Maybe I just don't have the energy to explain myself one more time. Or, maybe, there just isn't time and a simple answer is best. My roommate on the weekend and I had many in depth discussions about our kids and our lives as parents. She shared with me that although her daughter has a learning disability, she loves school and she can't imagine life any other way. As we went deeper and deeper, she admitted that they had tried homeschooling years ago and it just didn't work. The arguments and power struggles over getting assignments done and accomplishing specific tasks each day created stress in their lives that was making them both miserable.

I shared that things began in very much the same way for us. The year Janey turned 5, I was bound and determined to be the best darn homeschool teacher ever. I bought the sweetest little, nature-based, cutesy, colorful curriculum I could find and planned out the lessons we would be doing for the week every Sunday night. I gathered materials and mapped out our schedule on the calendar and was so excited to bring my former profession into our home. Little did I know, Janey had other plans.

The power struggles ensued and I pushed and pleaded and bargained for quite a while before I finally gave in and let Janey unschool us both. She just couldn't figure out why in the world I was asking her to bake bread in the shape of the letter A all of a sudden. She was horrified that on our daily walks through the vineyard, I was strongly suggesting that we gather sticks to paste together into the shape of the letter L when we got home. She was insulted that I was no longer allowing her to be in charge of her learning, as I had been every single day prior, for the past 5 years of her life.

As I explained to my friend the principles behind unschooling, her eyes got big and she shook her head a bit. "I don't know," she remarked. "I'm just afraid if we
all did that, we'd have hoards of illiterate children running around." I smiled at the visual, imagining our town overrun with crazed, wild children: barefoot, unwashed, mouths full of Laffy Taffy and french fries, looting the toy stores while we adults cowered in the corners. We laughed and she admitted that life without school just wasn't for her. "I really like my alone time," she mused. "I like knowing that when I have a day off of work, I have the house to myself until 3pm."

It's true. When my kids are not at their dad's house, it is a rare, rare thing to have the house to myself. Most days our house is full of busy, energetic, sometimes wild, often happy kids. It's pretty clear to me that our lifestyle is not for everyone, and I dropped the need to convince others that my way is the
right way long ago. There's room for all of us, with all of our various ways of being in this world, and the more I share with others my experience of life without school, the more others may come to realize that school should be a choice, not a requirement.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Park Day

We have a gathering with our homeschool group once a week. When the weather is nice, we meet outside at the park and when it's not, we meet in a meeting room at the public library. Kids of all ages play and hang out. Parents knit and chat and connect. It's one of the highlights of my week. Many of us are unschoolers, but not all. Conversation inevitably circles around each week to how grateful we all are to have settled on life without school.

Today we were finally able to meet at the park. For the past 6 weeks, or more, the weather has been too wet and cold, and frankly, we were all getting a bit stir crazy at the library. Mid-February often brings what I call the Spring Tease. After the snow and the wind and the rains of December and January, we usually get 10 or 12 days of glorious, sunshiny days when the thermometer creeps up into the 50s and the birds come out to play. I've spent the past week digging around in my garden, spreading fresh compost, and fantasizing about the spring starts I'll be planting in another 6 weeks. Today was another one of those sparkling days. I'm trying to soak it all up now because around here you can't count on great weather until June.

As our kids ran around and played on the jungle gym I reflected on "the socialization question" that homeschoolers so often defend. It's so ironic to me that homeschoolers are the ones targeted as potentially socially deprived. The 15 kids represented today are some of the most easy going, socially comfortable, well-adjusted kids I know. They interact seamlessly with kids and adults of all ages. Rarely is there a separation in play between younger and older children. They are simply kids, doing what kids do best: learning through play. I love park day!