Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Open Letter

To my oldest friend and ally,

Greetings!  I hope this finds you well.  This is my very first letter to you, in all the years (almost 40 of them) I've known you.  While I don't expect a response, I hope you appreciate what I have to say.

I start by confessing that we've had an off at first, on, then off again, then on again relationship over the years.  I ask that you kindly note that the off times generally included the presence of a baby. 

I recall the early days when we were just getting to know each other.  Our budding relationship was fraught.  There were grave misgivings.  There was not even the tiniest inkling of trust.  You terrified me. I know now that I was frightened to tears that you were going to take me away.  (To be fair to me, you were so mysterious and unpredictable.)

To your credit, you never gave up.  You cooed and cajoled.  You gently embraced.  You called softly to me and I learned to fall into your arms and feel safe.  And I grew to love you. Even to long for you when we weren't together.  And so we had so many years of happiness together. 

Until.

Until we didn't. 

Oh my beloved!  Your stoicism leaves much room for my imagination so I can't say how it was for you, but for me? It was torture!  Instead of long, languid visits together, instead of your warm embrace, instead, my love, of us melting together there was upheaval and seemingly endless intrusions on our time together. The less you were there, the more I craved your peace.  I cliché as I say here that I felt I was going mad - but I really did.  My sense of reality was distorted.  Time became a tangle without you.  I remained upright.  But only just.

During that time, there were innumerable occasions on which I marveled that there was ever a time that I didn't love and trust you implicitly.  What a fool I was!

As soon as I possibly could, I worked - (really "crawled" is a better choice (hmm, might we really go for it and say "dragged"?))- my way back to you.  And like the steadfastly faithful friend you are, there you were quietly waiting, ready.  I- harrowed, harangued, bewildered, tormented- I fell hard and gratefully into your soporific arms. 

After all those years, you were still there for me.  My friend.  It changed me for the better to be reunited with you.  I was a new woman!  Upright became standing, standing became standing tall.  Things were great between us again! And so it was. 

But now?  Something is happening and it alarms (let's not get too hasty) concerns me.  You come to visit, yes, but you don't stay as long and sometimes you don't even come in, instead lingering on the periphery.  Or else you leave early or come-and-go, rather like a person caught in a revolving door. You're changing, my friend.  I say you because I am still coming to see you.  Calling. I still talk about you with my friends.  I often think about you as the afternoon wanes, a small yearning for our time together later. My desire to be with you hasn't changed. 

I want to know what is happening and how I can fix it.

I won't give up.  I know we still have something; we always will. 

Why don't you come by at around 11:30 tonight and let's do our best to stay together for about seven hours? And let's try again and again.  Every single night.

So Very Faithfully Yours,

Milkshaken



Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Caterpillar and The Butterfly

This post has been low temp slow cooking for a while.  It's being borne out of and by the inherent sorrow that belongs exclusively to parenthood.  It's a peculiar brand as it inextricably entangled with joy and gratitude. 

It's the changing of the caterpillar into a butterfly.  Over and over and over and over and over (ad infinitum (we hope)) again. 

It's watching your baby grow older.  Rather, watching your baby continually being replaced by newer, older, bigger, differenter versions of herself.  Of himself.

Last night, as I tucked my 10 year old boy in for the last time, we talked a little about how in the morning, he'd have been replaced by an 11 year old.  At the grave risk of being even more melodramatic - a mini-death is what we'd called it.  We smiled together about it.  It was copacetic.  

Which brings me back to the metaphor that seems to be held as the fertile ground of hope (proof?) that things don't really end, they just change.  The caterpillar becoming the butterfly.  It would be easy to think the caterpillar has died. Especially as we see him ensconced in his cocoon.  But if we wait long enough.  If we are still and patient, we will be rewarded. A new and beautiful creature will emerge to greet us.  But what of the caterpillar? He can't be recognized in the butterfly!  Yet, we know.  We know the caterpillar is in there.  Somewhere.  Everywhere.

Sci/Why: Help Save the Monarch Butterfly!

Who could have known (except all the mothers and fathers before, with, and after me) that special sorrow? That heartcrack, the edges of which are coated with joy. Hands fly to face, to heart, to reach, to hold, to grasp the flash of time. The impossibly subtle shifts that suddenly become glaring and terrifyingly beautiful bounds of growth, of new person.

I beg you to forgive me for the clumsiness of this language.  I am in rather a clumsy state as a whirl and turn, bewildered at having arrived here almost without knowing how.

In the short space of 4 days I've celebrated my firstborn becoming a teenager and my second born firmly establishing his foothold in the double digits and stepping into the realm of the tween.

It seems so odd and silly, doesn't it?  It seems contrary that I should feel this way.  This little (I lied.  This rather embarrassingly large) heartbreak.  This fishing line (trawler's net?) of sorrow plumbing the depths of my love, joy and general state of awe at being the mother of these two completely other people.  One would imagine only happiness that they are growing and healthy and happy and thriving.  Pride at the achievements and the people they are being and becoming. Wonder all the things that are uniquely their own.  All the good feelings.

And yes.  Yes to all those things and more.  (Pictured here are a pair of animé eyes with those oversized pupils and reflection spots, all wide-eyed shining with awe.)

One might be confounded at the very notion of sadness coming to roost in the midst of these wonderful things.  What's there to be sad about?

But it is.  It is sad.   All the farewells.  All the goodbyes.  All the ends of all the stages (remember when...?).   The disappearances of the hand-held baby, the busy toddler, the curious little kid, the rapidly developing bigger kid.  These are hinged on, are flip sides of, the joyful appearances of all the same versions. 

Here I stand greeting two new people. 
A teenager has arrived.  My little girl has gone.
A tween has arrived. My little boy is going.

It's pure, radiant joy.  It's deep, beautiful sorrow.

I suspect that this may be the sweetest sorrow there is. 

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.