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.