Monday, January 19, 2015

Boredom Matters

"I'm borrrrrrrrred."

Even as an only child for the first 11 years of my life, being "bored" was not an option.  Obviously, I did actually experience boredom, but I wouldn't dare say as much to my mother.  That was a lesson well learned after I said that once, maybe twice, and was told that no, I wasn't bored because I could find something to do.

And I always did.  Find something to do.

(Here I insert the gentle disclaimer that this is not, in any way a techno-bashing post.  Far from it.  It is however, a pro less-techno-time commentary.)  (Did you get that?  That was weird language.) (Sorry about all the parentheses.) (That was the last set.  I promise. (Okay, well this set is. Scout's honor.))

Boredom was and continues to be the source of many creative endeavors.  (Some less desirable, I admit.  It's not all roses, people.  We know this.)  

Sadly, the art of being bored is a dying one.  People are being entertained at every turn.  Phones dominate as the go-to nothing-to-do object.  Waiting in line?  Take out your phone.  Waiting for someone in your car?  Phone.  Sitting at lunch alone?  Phone.  Pooping?  Phone.   Phone phone phone.

The same is true for our kids.  iPads and handhelds are all.  over.  the show.  
Out to dinner with kids?  iPad.  Downtime after school?  iPad.  Car trip?  iPad.  iPad iPad iPad.  

There is just no time to be bored, sitting aimlessly with yourself and not having anything to do or look at or think about.  No empty spaces between the sentences of our lives.  And I think it's costing us.  Obviously, I'm a mom and not a researcher.  I don't actually know the real result (if any) of being entertained from morning to night. 

But I do know what happens when my own kids are bored. 

They find something to do.  A thing they would not otherwise have sought.  A thing they may have thought seemed, itself, boring.  A thing that will reveal new things to themselves; sometimes even about themselves.  And sometimes not.  Sometimes it's just a way to pass the time that ends up being only a notch above complete boredom.  However, a thing to do it remains.

My son - like many sons before him, as well as sons that are happening now, and most definitely those to come - has an umbilical attachment to screen time.  If he's not on the desktop, he's on the iPad.  If he's not on the iPad, he's on the Wii.  If he's not on the Wii, he's on his iPod.  If he has no access to any of them - he becomes a pinball around our home.  Literally going from chair to chair, room to room, place to endless place with the zing and energy of a giant electron.  There is jumping and bouncing and singing and a wide and interesting range of potentially annoying behaviors.* 

And then, after he has practically broken his skull open he finds something to do.  Dust gets blown off games or puzzles.  Books get dragged off the shelf.  Toys often neglected come out and see the light of play.  Super hero characters are created.  Things.  Happen. 

Boredom matters.  It's a seed for creativity within the right environment.  (Mischief in the wrong one. Probably all you need is an adult to help ensure safety for it to be "right".)

Take some time for yourself, give some time to your kiddo.  Make space for boredom creative action.


* For the record and in the interest of sharing our managerial method both of my children each get one hour of recreational screen time (PC Games usually) each evening.  Two hours on the Saturdays and Sundays. 

They also have homeschooling screen time during the day for math (Khan and Timez Attack), science videos, second language, and geography.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy Wonderer

I am a happy wonderer.

And no, that's not a spelling mistake.
I really am.  I really do.  I wonder.  
I wonder why.
I wonder how.
I wonder if.

There is so much that needs to be wondered about.  And what that makes me is a very killed cat. 

Wonder, curiosity, and awe are the most fun lenses through which to view the world. It's how I live, and it's how my children have lived. 

The simple act of asking why has the potential to reveal so much.  I love that. 

Why is that?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Inventory

[Cold open:]
My Mariana Trench of a daughter has grown some 3 to 4 inches this year.  She is literally turning into another person before my very eyes.  She has begun wearing the veil of pre-teen mystery.  Puberty has come to roost in our home and I am working really hard at learning the language, customs and ways.  Even so, I still stare in awe whenever I know it's not looking.

My Big Bang of a son continues to reveal both of our selves to me.  I shake my head in disbelief at how much of him there is to know.  He may not have shot up like bamboo but he has exploded a little and revealed more dimensions of himself.  In some moments I glimpse a ghost of who I might have been.  Who I still am -a little bit.

Obviously I have always been conscious of my children as people, individuals.  Yet their individual person-ness keeps catching me; like fireworks.

Boom! Poof!  Pop!  Colors! Shapes!
Wow.  Wow.  Wowwww.   
Yes, but you've seen these already; you know these fireworks.
I know I know.  But STILL.  WOW.  Look at that.  LOOK. 

She calls herself Unifox.  She is so much that: a creature I have never seen before and want to get close to without scaring her off.  She has a whole internal life that is such a mystery to me.  Not unlike her dear old dad.  Still waters and all that.  She is writing a book.  In Minecraft.  She is taken with all things Japanese (animé, manga, sushi, origami), and foxes.  She emails me to tell me crucial, life changing information.

He has long called himself ScienceGuy.  In this way, he is my unpredictable experiment.  What if I add a little ---?  BOOM!  Okay, no.  How about if I...?-  Fizzle.  No.  Okay.  What about this?  How about that? Too much this?  Not enough that?  Tweak. Adjust. Fiddle.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Night and Day.  Sun and Moon.  In and Out.  Up and Down.  They are the most opposite of opposites.  They are the oppositest people I know.  Well.  Next to me and "MilkStirred" (haha, that's a good one.  It's totally spot on.  I'm shaken, he's stirred.  I love it).   She is daddy, he is me. 

They are sitting together at the table, the serving bowl with the last serving of eggs left; hers.  She begins to scoop the eggs one spoon at a time into her plate.  Her brother looks at her, slightly baffled, and asks "Why don't you just DUMP them out? It's all yours anyway."

Witnessing this I have a third person dejavu experience.  That exact scenario has played out for me and "Stirred" countless times before.  It comes down to me saying "Big picture?!" and him saying "Details." It's the same for Brother and Sister. 

Dear sweet Unifox can and does focus on doing one thing for an extended period.  She will fold origami, sculpt tiny animals, draw pictures, prepare a recipe.  She takes her time.  She does that thing until it is finished.

Popping ScienceGuy does things in bursts (unless it's playing video games): Five minutes of sword play, five minutes of aimless tumbling and rolling around the living space, 10 minutes of watching and harassing sister with whatever she's doing, seven and a half minutes of reading.  Even eating.  Eating!  For the meals he eats solo (lunch usually) he takes a bite or two then gets up do do nothing specific, goes back and bites barely sitting on the seat and then he's up again.  For water, for a bathroom break, to wonder over to another area and fiddle with something.

I so appreciate having been around for these moments.  To have greater understanding of the people I am guiding and teaching.  People tell me they cannot imagine homeschooling their kids.  And I get that everyone has different things they are able to do with joy.  But I cannot imagine sending my kids back to school.  I would miss SO MUCH.

I would miss my boy reading upside down; his head on the floor the book propped upside down on the coffee table leg.

I would miss my girl making truffles for her friends; and making the pretty little origami boxes to gift them in.

I would miss them giving each other tips on minecraft mods and installing different features.

I would miss reading about Odysseus' wild adventures to them.
I would miss news segments, presented eagerly by my boy, about the amazing things he learned about that people are doing and creating in the scientific community.
I would miss spontaneous fire circles in the backyard.

I would miss the really detailed drawings my girl takes so much time to do.
I would even miss being there to push my son through the hard things. Watching him and helping him to overcome a crippling fear of "it's too hard" (defeated tears and all) and come out the other side shining with the victory of having done it.
I would miss "mommy math"; breaking out the cubes, using the floor tiles, drawing the pies and cakes to turn data in to real life and real life into data.

I would totally miss liquid nitrogen fun at our friend's home.

I would miss them reading so many books and loving it.
I would miss my girl teaching herself to sew a dress from my old blouses.

I would miss going out on the boat to the mangrove cays and exploring them with our friends.

But I didn't.  I didn't miss it.  I was here.  We were here.  And I am beyond thankful.

I experience the gamut of emotions of being a parent; from soaring pride to desperate lostness to unending love to losing my shit.  Sometimes within a few moments of each other.  There are many, many, many (manymanymanymanymanyMANY) hours spent mulling and replaying and questioning what we do.  How can I do this better?  How can I help him do this?  How can I give her that?

Even the odd "OMYGAD! I CANNOT! DO! THIS! Yes I can.... but it's harrrrrrrrrrdddddd!!!!" moment. 

I fall short in so many things.  Some of them I know, some of them I don't.

The point is.  What's the point?

The point is.

The point is Yes.  Thanks.  Awesome.  I'll do it again.  And I'll do it a little bit better.  And a little bit worse.  
We've got so much to see and do.  There is only there is only the horizon in front of us.

And I'll see you back here, on this little rock that is hurtling through time and space, sometime over the course of its orbit around a star.

And above all, be kind.  To yourself and others.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Experience > Stuff

This is some of the core math that I live by as a parent; particularly as a homeschooling mom.

What do I mean by this made-up pseudo-math? I mean that a person can learn a thousand immeasurable things more by doing something than by reading about it. If there is even one person who would argue with this "math", please tell me your thoughts. (It would happen that I believe this with the fervor of a fanatic - and I love being challenged on deeply held beliefs. Truly. It gives me an opportunity to re-examine them and make any necessary adjustments - be it shoring up, or replacing irrelevant parts.) 

I suppose another way to express it is that practical trumps theory. Is theory necessary? Yes, absolutely. But theory is the jetway and practical is the jet. And my what a convenient metaphor I just came up with there because it just so happens that I also believe that travel is the [insert clever metaphor here] of experience. Some are a bit run of the mill but still offer enough variety and favorites to please the crowd, others are just different enough to be new, exciting and interesting, while others still are all glitz and glamour and one can hardly believe ones own eyes at the Wow! of it all. 

We haven't quite made it to the glitz and glamour, but we are doing what we can to get the New, the Exciting, the Interesting.  And by "get", I mean "give".  To our children.  As gifts. 

In my homeschooling mom's book:

Travel = Experience > Stuff

We've never been the kind of family that has oodles of toys and gadgets for our kids to play with.  (Sometimes I have a literal jaw-drop experience at the vast oceans of toys that some children have in their rooms/play areas.  And then I have to quickly shake it off and smile and wave and be polite because no one wants to be told that they are over indulging their child with waaay too much junk crap toys; even if only by probably less than tactful look of shock and awe on my treacherous face.) Ahem.  What was I saying?  Yes.  Toys.  The point is, we never bought our kids a bunch of toys.  Sometimes I felt a little bad wondering if I was depriving my children. But the feeling would pass and everything would still be okay. 

Too late for a long story short, so I will just say that what we do buy for our children are trips.  And books.  And flour.  And borax.  And art supplies.  And a life that includeds lots of hands on (and hands off!) experiences.  "What can we do?" and "Where can we go?" were and still are the questions that quickly and easily trump "What should we get them?" (To which the answer is invariably books, anyway.) 

Does it mean that our kids never played with toys? Not at all.  That they never get stuff from "Santa"? Of course not!  What it does mean is that we go underboard with toys and above or overboard with experience.   I would say that I try to be balanced but it would be a bald faced lie.  I'm the person that measures sums of money in terms of travel value.  As in "Twelve hundred dollars?! That's plane tickets to Florida!".  (Look, I know Florida is no great shakes for culture and amazingness, but my mom and sisters and grandma and other relatives are there and family connection is also Very Important to me.  And it's still travel! And they have Science Museums and parks and fun stuff.) 

But I've said too much.  It's not just about travel.  It's about the doing of the things.  The touching the feeling the pouring the cutting the finding the miscrosoping the telescoping (not yet, but soon!) the dirty hands and messy house, and most of all the wide eyed wonderment and the ever natural high inducing "Aha!" moments of discovery. 

I don't want to give my kids too many of the things that will lose their shine and appeal and end up in the landfill one day; not when I can give them the excitement, the adventure, the boredom, the thrill, the "OH MY GOSH!", the "are we there YET?!" and later, the memories and the stories told excitedly to anyone who will listen. 

What it all boils down to for me is that:

Stuff doesn't get as much mileage as airplanes can. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Auto Parent

It feels like I've been on Auto Parent.

Like most other things in life, though, it's not black and white.  I have.  And I haven't. 

You know what it's like?  It's like in the movies when the good guy is being attacked by six people and he spends the whole fight fighting one at a time while the others "patiently wait" to have their butts handed to them. 

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "What? No.  That's not even a good analogy."  But it is.  See, kids go through so many stages of development, sometimes they even which almost always overlap.  So as a parent you see this new pattern of behavior and you jump on it and start learning how to deal with that and what's the best way and what's the best language and how can you help them and not kill them and still be patient and know what's happening and be compassionate and firm and parent-y.  All the while there is another thing brewing and it might pop up in the middle of this first thing or else it might not and then it will spring on you when you think you've got the other thing handled (which maybe you did but it morphed into something else and now your other tools aren't working) and now you're dealing with that thing and then a new thing comes at you and you're like "Woah."  And then the things kind of stop happening for a while and good guy mom relaxes; she may even go into a reverie about all the amazing stuff she just went through.  All the while a new troop of henchmen have filed into the room and she has no idea what's about to hit her. 

See?  Makes perfect sense. 

That's where I was.  Only it wasn't henchmen and I wasn't in a vacant stare of reverie.  I was busy.  I was busy trying to deal with re adjusting to life as a home schooling family.  And, in a heroic effort to completely exhaust the metaphor, I'll say that facing off with that challenge was it's own set of anonymous henchmen attacking me one (sometimes two) at a time. 

POW!  BOOM!  SPLAT! Take that!  Aaaand that! 

Only to stumble to the seat after the fight thinking I'm between rounds (yes, yes, mixing the metaphors) and see that a new old nemesis is ready to rumble, as it were. 

You're right.  This isn't making sense.  Abandon metaphor! 

Okay.  Plain speak.  Yes.  This is good plan. 

As I mentioned earlier, I've spent the last year re learning how we function best as a homeschooling family.  To schedule or not schedule?  To use time blocks (egads! that's much too much like school!) or not to use time blocks?  To be more rigid or more relaxed?  To force grammar exercises or encourage more reading?  How best to help the boy and his need (but lack of desire) to move his body in a helpful way?  Two very different learners; 10 million different approaches.  Then there were supporting questions: what books to get, what math programme to use? How do I manage their mathematical skill set development?  Holy times tables, batman - we've got to redo the basics!  Stat! 

In the mean time, I lost sight of helping my kiddos with their relationships with each other.  And with themselves.  On that front, I was mos def (trademarked?) on auto parent. 

You know how it is with siblings - all the bickering and hitting and 'leave me alone!'s.  I was kind of thinking that would be over by now.  It's not. 

Thanks to insightful conversation with a good friend, I realize I still need to be describing and naming my kids emotions to them.  Helping them to understand their motivations and reactions and to observe themselves so they can make conscious decisions about the kind of person they want to be.  Early Intropsection Intervention, if you will. 

Now look, the truth is that I'm not entirely confident that kids can be introspective, but I don't think it would hurt them to introduce them to that way of engaging with one's self and showing them the possibility of being the in charge of how you deal with self and others in life. 

I was all of 30 before I had my first inkling of self awareness.  Honestly.  Think of all the missed opportunities all those years before that.  Think of what they can choose as they develop into adults rather than un- and re-learning things after the fact.  I know that living - just being alive- is a grand opportunity for growth in an upward direction.  I know that as long as I am alive I will continue with the process of "growing up".   I hadn't thought, before now, that I could give that insight to my kids so "soon". 

Remember when they were toddlers having a tantrum and we would validate, name and characterize their big emotions for them?  That doesn't have to end with toddlerhood.  Thinking about it now, I would have really benefited from that in my tween (and, honestly teen) years.  Who knows, I might have resented it.  But this isn't about me or "then". 

This is about my children and now. 

Let's do this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Does My Son Shine?

The short history is that I have always found parenting my son to be, let's say, less-than-straightforward.
Would I use words like challenging, difficult, overwhelming, synonyms-of-all-the-of-the-above?

Why yes.  Yes I would.  I already have.

I remember vividly a friend of mine turning to me one day - about five or six years ago - and asking me why I am always so negative about my son.  Maybe it's not so vivid exactly what she said, but it's very vivid how it made me feel.

I was surprised and I immediately became defensive.  She just didn't understand.  (No one did.*)  Of course I love my son.  Of course.  At that point, though, I had spent the last few years well beyond the end of my wits; over my head - deep - in doubt-infested waters, never once feeling confident that I knew what the hell was going on.

Sure, doubt is a normal part of parenting.  I believe it's a 2-disc set you get, isn't it?: Doubt and Guilt, Greatest Hits.

That's the short history. (There is plenty more in the archives.  Trust.)

Obviously, as he has gotten older things have changed.  Parent him has become less challenging, less difficult, less overwhelming, less synonyms-of-all-of-the-above.  Only slightly so, but definitely definitely less.  A good 10 to 12% less, I'd say.

I kid.

More like 14%.

This person is like no other person I have ever met before.  You know, with my daughter, though she is an individual and unique and all that, she definitely has a familiar persona: The Artist Type.  This serves as a kind of catch all container for her quirkiness, her compulsive collecting of random objects, her disorganized-ness.

This son of mine though.  He is new.  And different.  He is like me in so many ways.  And, of course, unlike me in so many more.

He is blunt- but sensitive as all hell.
He is crazy witty -but misses most of the big picture.
He is wicked sharp -but doesn't get the simple things.
He is all kinds of personality -but he doesn't understand social constructs.
He gets things in a snap -but digs his heels in if he has to work for it.
He cannot keep still (literally) -but has the coordination of a drunk sloth (bless his heart).
He is 100% technical.  No buts.
I would wonder if he had Asperger's, but he's so social.

I am told by my good friend with reliable first hand knowledge that his is a valid, though uncommon, personality type.

I don't know anyone like him.  I haven't had any science-y friends before.

Knowing this; that how he is - is.  It's really a relief to know that He Is Not Alone (echo echo echo).

Knowing this this changes the way that I navigate with him and even the way I understand my self as his mother.  Knowing this adds another dimension to the awe and wonder I have as I watch him grow.

Different different - same same.

* They really didn't.  People often explained it away as a boy thing.  They had no idea.

There Is A Boy

There is a boy
A funny boy
who loves
to play with the world.

In in this boy
there is a heart.
The softest heart
that holds the starts and sky.

You can tell
about the stars
because they sparkle
in his eyes.

You can see
about the sky
because he fills it up
with his wide open

There is a boy
a sharp boy
who loves
to know some more.

He can tell you
about the stars
because they shine
so brightly in his eyes.

He can see
so much to see
He is bent
(I tell you)
on discovery.

There is a boy
a funny boy
who is
all the universe
to me.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stepping Stones

We've been home schooling for just over a month now.  Things are going pretty well.

To state the obvious, it's been a learning process.  To state the less obvious: for me.  I haven't home schooled them since they were five and seven years old.  And up until that point, we were just playing.  And cooking.  And doing science demonstrations (not experiments, per se).  And reading lots of stories.  Oh, and watching lots of youtube videos (as resources, mostly).

I hadn't done any formal schooling with them.  There were the odd moments of panic (what if I'm completely and utterly WRONG?! what if I should be teaching them to write?!) that lasted about one or two hours and - thankfully - passed without much interference in the real business of playing.

Things are quite different now.

They have now spent two full school years and one half in school.
They are now 8 and 10.
They have become a bit jaded about learning.
I am not actually home with them in the mornings.
What if something happens to me and they have to get put back into school like before?
Things like that.  So as a result of things being different, things are a bit different.

It's not ideal.  It's not what I want.  And it's still a helluva lot better than before.  I am super happy they are not in school.  They are now free from the constraints of the series of little boxes of standards we like to call curriculum.  They are also free from the tethers of half hour blocks of time for learning different things.  They are free from tests and homework.  They are free to learn more about what matters to them.  They are free to spend more or less time on concepts they are exploring and skills they are building.

I am thinking about Brother in particular.  He was grasping concepts faster then he "should have" and had a lot of lag time in which to express his boredom kinesthetically, vocally -or both, disrupting the other learners and invariably getting into trouble.  Now he can go as fast as he wants on those things - and take time to revisit some of the content and building blocks he missed because of the mid-year skip up to grade three.

Sister, too, can linger or jump ahead.  In that regard, it's ideal.

In the other way(s), it's not ideal.  I am making them do math and language every day so they can keep strengthening and growing those skills.  Because what if?  I just can't take that chance again.  If there were a school that would meet them where they were if they needed admission, I'd feel less inclined to take this insurance policy route.  But there isn't.  I am trying to protect them.

We are certainly learning things together, with and about each other.  We've spent that last month or so figuring out what works best for us.  And, to be honest, we are still figuring it out.

I went from a loose list of things they might consider doing to adding time frames to Brother's daily plan to help give him more direction.  (Otherwise, he was often bored and ended up disturbing Daddy who is working from home in order to facilitate them being at home.) I then saw that sister was also having some difficulty flowing.  So I started doing custom notes every night before I went to sleep.  I added specific tasks and links to potentially interesting videos.  We did that for a while.  Then I noticed they were having some difficulty flowing with the white board General List and the laptop text file Specific Tasks.  They were confused.  Daddy was confused, too.  They were also ignoring much of the specifics in the text file.  Okay.  Nix that.  Back to the writing board!

Did that for a while.  Then I noticed that when I got home at 1:15 or so, they'd still be on 11 o' clock on their whiteboard time line.  This was happening consistently.  Why?  Because they'd get caught up in something they were doing (usually reading) and lose track of time.  Solution?  Get rid of the times.

We are now on a system of a numbered list - with a few things that happen every day without fail - namely, as I mentioned before, Math and Language.  (Math is a minimum of 1hr a day - critical for Brother because of his interest in Chemistry.)   I also pull books from the shelf for them and put them out as suggested reading.  This has been well received.  They like having jumping off points.  And this way, everybody wins.  Brother has a list of things to do, but isn't bound to a time limit, and has suggestions to help him when he reaches a block.  Sister is happy to have more literature.  They both enjoy watching science videos on Youtube or BrainPop.  Most recently, in an effort to help them master their multiplication tables, I downloaded an app called Sushi Monster and that is working well too.  It's really a series of stepping stones that I lay out for them each day.  They step when they are ready and have more ownership in the process.

The most important thing we are working on is balance.  We want to fit more activities into our week - like cooking and science demonstrations/experiments.  This means not planning anything on Tuesdays when I do not go to work at all, and spending the day at home with them and doing stuff together instead.  They really love it when I am home with them.  I do too.  (Do I even need to say here that if I could possibly stay home with them and do this without working, I totally would - before the heart even knew it needed another beat?)

Overall, things are going well because Brother gets waaay more science time and sister gets waaay more creativity time.

Now to get them doing some physical activities they enjoy.  It appears they'd prefer me to pull their teeth.

Without anesthetic.