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 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 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.