whole life unschooling

someone was recently asking greg how homeschooling was going and he answered in the usual vague fashion of, “ok, I guess.”  this person then went on to express concern and disbelief, stating, “well, I hope you’re doing SOMEthing.”  right-o.

when he reported this interaction to me later, I was slightly bemused.  “just tell him we’re ‘whole life unschooling’.  that should satiate him.”  just a fancy way of saying that we’re doing nothing (I already wrote a post about that here) but it actually sounds legitimate and kind of smart, I think.  basically just livin’ life and going with the flow.

it seems like people are more concerned these days with what a kid is learning vs. how and I think that’s sort of backwards.  I consider the most important component of my “homeschooling” to be the mood, tone or atmosphere that I set in my home.  this incorporates not only our home feeling “homey” but more importantly, is really about our relationship with each other.  if I can make my relationship with my kids as good as it can be, that is if I can connect with them, empathize with them, and show them unconditional love and support, then the rest is an after thought.  I really think that these things are the most important in determining whether or not a person has the tools to lead a happy, fulfilling and “productive ” life ( i like to use parenthesis a lot.  I feel they are an underutilized literary instrument).

besides  this, at this point, I consider my main objective in a day to give them as much freedom of speech and choice as is bearable (to myself and society.  one can only take so much screaming:).  this way, I feel, in the future, they will have the confidence to assert what they want and they will know themselves enough to realize what it is they are interested in and how they want to go about learning about it (a.k.a. I want them to have a strong sense of self).  now, that doesn’t mean being selfish nor does this line of parenting necessitate negating all polite behavior in favor of self-expression.  on the contrary, I hope that they will be extremely conscientious and courteous people eventually, but ones who were also granted that small period in a person’s life when they are first finding their voice to be able to use it to wield some power and make things happen.

as of yet, they don’t have many “interests” to speak of, but I trust in peoples natural insatiable curiosity about life and the time will come for all of that.  as for now, I think more just playing and being kids serves them better than anything that hints of structure.

I am excited to see where their interests will lead once they do begin to have them in earnest.

 

 

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a compliment

we had a picnic with some people as a sort of start to the season kick off kind of thing somewhat related to greg’s work.  the food was good, the people were strangers pretty much to me, but nice, and the day couldn’t have been better.  needless to say, when we have to get ready for something like this, our entire life becomes harried and displaced and usually very messy to boot.  it was the end of the (very long) day and i was standing amongst a pile of the leftover refuse of the party that still needed to somehow be shoved into our tiny corolla, and, as we were saying “goodbye” to the last stragglers, they hit us with this: “your kids were so well-behaved!  trust us! we have friends with kids the same age that are much worse!”  they gave us a good-natured wave, jumped into their car and sped away, having no idea that anything was amiss.  meanwhile, i stood there, sort of absorbing the shock of their statement, dumbly waving, uncertain somewhat plastic smile in place.

here’s the thing.  the other side of five years ago, even less time than that, and i could fathom myself saying the same thing and thinking that i was paying the people a very nice compliment. 

now, however, i don’t feel that way at all.  first of all, i don’t think any sixteen-month old can be “better-behaved” than another.  i mean, they are all pretty much the same at that age.  i’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume they were mostly talking about ruth, who, at four, is still pretty much crazy and unpredictable at best, totally off the wall at worst, but who doesn’t have a bad-natured bone in her body, a premeditated thought in her head and takes the world as it comes, full of curiosity and excitement mixed with uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

i can’t be sure what they were basing their judgment of her (or joel’s) behavior on seeing as how my main effort and goal for the cookout was to make myself with the kids as scarce as possible and let greg alone to cook and mingle with associates. 

the first thing i did after arriving and greg unpacking the car was to load the kids back up and drive over to the nearest park for an hour.  after that, i let the kids play in the parked car, i let the kids play in the parking lot using the parking blocks for a beam, i let them molest other people’s cars, i let them play on the ropes sectioning off the parking area, i showed them the boats on the river, i took them to the bathroom multiple times, i let them throw things into the lake and get dangerously close to falling in (joel) just to keep them happy and not yelling and away from the party. 

i think the kids were only near the picnic area for twenty or so minutes tops when we actually started to eat, and i’m pretty sure joel climbed up on the table and started to try and eat out of all of the community potluck dishes with a giant spoon and then cried and thrashed when i took him down.  ruth started yelling that she didn’t want a bun on her burger and then started yelling when joel tried to eat off her plate but other than that, ate relatively contentedly.

i myself saw the evening as a great personal success in keeping the kids happy and distracted so that the thing could go on at all.  i don’t mind if i give myself a giant, well-deserved pat on the back.  whew.  we made it.  i was just finally relaxing for the first time since greg stepped away to begin the prep work at 11 that morning, when that couple hit me with their “compliment”.

so, the kids not even really being around these people for them to say one way or the other how well-behaved they actually were, i have to assume that their compliment basically meant, “your kids didn’t bother me too much” in a pleasantly surprised sort of way.  and i find myself astounded with how children are seen by society. 

surely not anything as idealistic as “the future of society”.  not anything as kind as “new people trying to figure out themselves and the world around them”.  not anything as optimistic as “young minds discovering wonder and enjoyment in every moment”.  in fact, it seems like people don’t even really see them as people at all, more like pets to be trained.  or some sub-category of people.

crazily, as i said, i could honestly see myself thinking along the same lines not all that long ago. thank god i’ve waked up to reality.

no single person is to blame, but rather the culture at large, which to me is completely backwards regarding so many things, mothers and children possibly the most abused and undervalued members of the current system. 

i could have told these people all this.  but i didn’t.  i just laughed awkwardly and let them on their way. 

one day if and when they have kids, they will probably understand (although i feel like some people don’t even then).  and they may one day find themselves on the receiving end of one of these “insults disguised as compliments” we parents are often thrown as consolation for having our lives turned upside down by our progeny. 

me?  i just kept moving to the rhythm of my crazy life: packed up the car, buckled in the kids, passed food around, rolled the windows up, rolled the windows down, turned the radio up,turned the radio down, and just enjoyed the ride home.

gymnastics problems

so, what do you do when you have a kid…let’s call this kid “ruth”, who seems to love gymnastics…who may even have a certain aptitude for the sport, and who turns your living room into something out of an olympic event every chance she gets, but this kid…she refuses, adamantly refuses, to take gymnastics class

my unschooling philosophy  tells me to back off, let her experiment how she will, that she has to come to love it on her own terms and come to want to learn more in her own time.  but then there is this other part of me…how can i explain it?  i have this somewhat irrepressible urge to try and convince her to take the class and i find myself cajoling, pressuring and trying to convince her.

part of it is that i can’t stand to watch her do crazy flips and spins all over the living room and her bed anymore.  i feel like its irresponsible to some extent to let her basically invent her own gymnastics routines with absolutely no training in safety concerns and very little caution about her own physical limits.  plus my heart can only take so many sudden spikes in blood pressure. 

but part of it, i can’t deny, is that i want her to “succeed” at something in some tangible way.  after four years of being home with her, it would be nice if there was something that i could point at to show, “hey, she’s turning out ok, people, see?”  purely selfish, and beside the point, i know. 

i know i need to back off.  why is it so hard? 

at this point, we have just confused the hell out of her and possibly turned her off from gymnastics forever anyways.  we’ve gone from yelling, to begging for understanding, to bargaining, to odd compromises, and have found ourselves no closer to any kind of peace about the situation. 

seems silly, doesn’t it, so spend so much energy and time on something so unimportant?  intellectually, i know this. but that doesn’t stop me from flip flopping all over the emotional map about it right now.  and ruth gets so passionate about simple things, sometimes its hard not to follow suit.  it can be hard to remember i’m the adult in this situation.

one day i’ll figure it out.  one day the solution to these issues will be abundantly clear to me as soon as they arise.  probably by kid 15. 

until then, eternally struggling sputtering me.  signing off.

 

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free fall

 

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mid tumble

 

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spider monkey

where we go

in the past, ruth has asked where we go when we die, what happens to us.  and i tell her the truth:  nobody knows.

most of me thinks that nothing happens to us except that we decompose and become food for worms.  the other part wonders and if it had a wish, it might wish that when i die, i would get to re-live every moment of my life with perfect perspective and understanding and clarity.

so, that would take as long as my actual life, however long that ends up being, and then i would like…i dunno, another year?  a year to just sit and think and digest it all before continuing on with my journey.  some place with woods and a path to walk, because i do all my best thinking when i’m walking, a river or a lake, and a couple benches.  it would be early fall (morning with thick sweaters), the best time of year (and day) for contemplation.  and everyone knows the best thinking clothes are sweaters, am i right?  then, once i had done all that and was satisfied, i could put my current life behind me and move on.

what comes next i won’t even venture to begin to try and wish, being steeped in my life and not knowing what being able to re-live it and then consider it would render me as.  then maybe you’re done and you can just put your feet up and watch everyone else scamper about down below.  or maybe you will have more to do or learn and you’ll go back again.  reincarnate.  who can say?

i certainly can’t.  but it’s a nice thought if we all truly were on a spiritual mission, so to speak, whether we were aware of it or not, and that getting battered and torn up down here?  well, it’s all staged.  just a play, really, compared to the nature of our true selves.  in meditation, you learn about the “self beyond the self”, or who we are even below the level of our thoughts, our soul if you like.  and we’re just here to learn something.  to grow.  some of us might learn our lessons in life, and others might only be able to learn them in death.  but maybe death isn’t as sad as we think.  maybe it’s just like taking a plunge into a cool dark pool after a long sweaty work day.

it might be.  some people think so.  me, i dunno.  but it’s a nice thought.

are you like me?

does hearing your somewhat perfect young couple neighbors fighting on their way into the door from the car make you feel a little warm and fuzzy?  i know, i know.  i’m petty.  all this when i’m supposed to be having good will toward men and also not basing my judgement of my own life off of how people are living theirs, but i can’t help it.  it brings warmth to my heart, lightens my heaviness a little, to know that other people, people who dress well, even and have well kempt houses are having a hard time.  i mean, i know this, but it is good to witness, because so much of our lives is trying to make it all look perfect and effortless, isn’t it? 

i mean, look at facebook.  status update: “happy five hundred and thirty fourth month anniversary to the love of my life!  you are the best thing that has ever happened to me and i can’t wait to see where the next few thousand months lead us!  i love you, baby!”  i mean, i don’t wanna read that shit while the argument greg and i had over misplaced keys this morning is still ringing in my ears. who wants to read that shit?  nobody.  or: “here’s me and my perfect family all posing for a picture while we were on vacation last week in Barbados!  the kids had a great time!  they loved it!  i can’t wait to go back next week!”  ok, i’m exaggerating, but you know how it is.  going on facebook sometimes takes a lot of gumption.  i mean, you’re about to see all the best parts of everyone else’s lives around you.  which is good some of the time.  but that leaves so much of the picture out.  and the rest is important, too. 

that’s why i like to keeps it real to some extent.  that’s why i don’t mind telling you that my life is a lot of joy, countered by a lot more confusion and anxiety and anger, pretty much my default emotion. i want you to know that my house looks condemned and looted, that i haven’t washed my hair since saturday, and that i love my kids dearly, but i often have to suppress the urge to do them bodily harm.  that every day, i feel like i just.  barely.  make it.  that i have a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning to start another whirlwind day.  and that greg and i, though we have the best intentions, often lose our patience with each other.  and we argue.  about the dumbest shit ever.

so there.  that’s my facebook status update for you. 

don’t think i’m bitter (though i am sometimes) and that i don’t appreciate what i have (i try to, so hard).  i just like the truth.  real life.  wherever i can find it, and i respect whoever tells it. 

maybe to feel more connected, we should stop trying to get the perfect angle on our selfies so we look ten pounds lighter.  maybe we should let the face sag show.  and the cellulite.  maybe we should start telling it a little more like it is.  don’t you think?

new auspicious writing spot

or at least i hope it is, i happen to be looking out the window directly at my tea-bagger neighbor’s house.  whoops,  pardon my french.  everyone has at least one, we have two nearby.  trust me.  the guy is not a friendly neighbor.

i have an excellent view of our overgrown prairie, however, and its the time of year that the goldfinches like to perch upon the purple cone flowers, so you can’t beat that.  natural sunlight? check.  crickets chirping?  check.  incessant traffic on greenfield?  always a check.  what the hell?  nothing’s perfect.  

it’s much better than at the dining room table which is where i mostly write from before now, crumbs and stickiness are often a factor and its smack dab right in the middle of the house, so can get quite dingy and dark.  a good place to write some moody poetry, sure, if you write such things, but a motherhood blog?  not so much.  plus, all there is to look at is our terrible brownsih-grayish wall,and that’s not very inspirational, i can tell you.  it mostly makes you want to run up to lowes and buy some orange or yellow and splash it up there just for some color, you know?  it’s also hard to resist the duster while i’m looking around my living space.  if i’m looking outside, there are no impulses for cleaning to suppress.

i think i’ll christen this new spot with a story about myself as the human garbage disposal around here. most, if not all, of my daily nutrients are leftover, often thrown and therefore fuzzy, pieces of food that my kids either ask for and then refuse to eat, or that i over zealously serve in high hopes, only to have my fare rejected in favor of something a little more…sugar-loaded, or just plain running around (sometimes, it amazes me how little my kids will eat in a day, or how long they can go without consuming much of anything whereas i start to feel woozy if i go a few hours without carbohydrates.  somebody hand me a cracker….). 

i can’t count the number of pieces of cold stale bread i’ve consumed in the past few days.  warm cheese sticks that have been sitting in my purse all afternoon are special treat for me.   leftover soggy breakfast cereal?  delicious.  half eaten apples i try to catch mid air before they actually hit the ground and roll.  i’m not always successful, but there is the faucet for rinsing them off.  tiny pieces of dinner, painstakingly cut up only to have a little nose turned up at them?  come on over to my plate.  i will savor you.  half melted milkshakes, hairy carrot sticks, hardened oatmeal, i am your destiny.  you are for me.  room temperature juice from a sippy?  i will guzzle thee.  cut up grapes i eat by the handful.  cheerios are like tiny bites of childhood memory.  if i see them hit the floor, i know they are new.  but not that one.  that one was old. 

people may scoff, grimace, feel sick to their stomach.  i don’t mind.  how can any self-respecting adult woman…“c’mon, terry. why don’t you eat the ‘big girl’ food”, my mother in law might joke.  but i’m just fine, thanks.  it may seem weird to you.  but to me, it’s just dinner.  pass the salt.

how a marriage is like growing a prairie in your front yard…

leave it to me to use habitat metaphors, being married to a biologist who manages wildlife (plus, i was a biology minor in college, people…i’m clearly practically a biologist myself).  i can say this, though.  being steeped in late summer of our third or fourth year with the prairie (that’s right.  greg turned our front yard into a prairie.  we’ve had our share of city officials showing up at our door with many a citation in hand.  we’ve been lucky enough to have avoided a ticket thus far.  i think they know our breed well.  the kind that will go to the papers) and i can tell you that the prairie has lost some of it’s glitter.  in that way, i thought to myself the other day watching the bees swarming around my car door as i tried to enter, a prairie in your front yard is like a marriage.

sure, at first it’s all pretty flowers and a cool lifestyle.  “hey,” you think to yourself, “i can be the kind of person who grows a prairie on my front lawn.  hell yes.  i am committed to this lifestyle.  i will make a life with this prairie.”  and sure, it can be easy at first, seem charming and even predestined.  you and the prairie seem to be the perfect fit.  you love the sounds of the insects, the way the long stalks ripple in the breeze (i’d like to see your average lawn grass do anything resembling a ripple), the colors and the way it changes throughout the year.  you feel connected to it, though, maybe you don’t really know it as well as you could (oh, you will), from what you can see, there is no down side here.  happily ever after, right?

then things begin to change.  the gloss wears off a little, and the cool prairie that you traded in your lame regular grass for?  it’s grown a bit here in its third year.  now, from the side of the house, you can’t see up to the porch.  it’s like a maze every time you leave your house.  with two small kids constantly roving about, you can imagine how this could be a little inconvenient.  the bees love it, yes, and are constantly sucking up the nectar like drunks on a bender, so stay out of their way.  no one has been stung yet, but i have to imagine that this is only a matter of time.  but they are not the only ones who love the flowers and other plants.  there are now a whole host of odd insects you’ve never seen the likes of living in your converted lawn (plus pretty much all the bugs from other peoples’ lawns probably run over to ours when the “grow it green” people come around with their little “caution: toxic lawn” signs.  our lawn has become a refuge to the neighborhood insect populations).  like that one week in july when there were flies in so much abundance in your yard that you couldn’t eat outside and any time you left so much as a crack of window open, there would be twenty or more for you to kill on the inside of your windows once you were back in the house.  that was fun.  because, you see, your lawn is like a prairie and attracts the pollinators, but many of the natural predators that would be found in a real prairie are missing.  so you get these unexpected hatches (explosions) of odd things.  didn’t see that one comin’, didja?

oh, and remember how you have seasonal allergies?  well, now that you have these huge pollinating plants in your front yard, they are pretty much year round allergies.  the mail people hate you, the UPS people scowl at you, your neighbors wait for any reason to call the city on your ass, and there is nary a person who passes your house who doesn’t slow down to look with confused, sometimes outraged looks on their faces.  sure, the one hipster that lives in dearborn may have shouted a “nice lawn, man!” to you as he pedaled by on his ten speed bike, but that hardly makes up for getting hit in the face by wet plant stalks as you walk by to try and find your way to your car in the morning. 

there’s so much you didn’t know about a prairie, isn’t there?  liking, even loving a prairie is different than living with one day in and day out.  and even though you thought you knew it, you are constantly learning new things about it, things that might not be so easy to deal with, things that might make you wonder if you should just mow the damn thing down and put down some nice carpet-like sod. 

but it’s your prairie.  you’re stuck with it.  for better or for worse.  in sickness and in health.  to honor and cherish.  as long as we live here, anyway.