Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ism parenting great?

Like any self respecting over-thinker, I spend waay too much time trying to imagine how my children will think of me once they have realized how completely they are their own people, or in fewer words - when they are adults.  Is this me projecting what is turning out to be a never ending case of navelitis (aka navel gazing) onto their future selves?  Maybe.

But, come on.  What cognizant adult doesn't at some point evaluate what kind of job their parents did raising them?  Amiright? 

As it happens, I tend to go a little whole hog (a terrifically horrible metaphor considering the subject at hand) with my philosophical and ethical standpoints.  My friendly therapist has told me that I can be a little bit 'all or nothing'.  She's totally wrong, of course. 

So, Ive been thinking lately about the ways my future adult children will characterize my parenting. Specifically, with regard to my personal passions that are currently affecting their lives in very real ways.

I am a feminist - That means that I feel obligated to point out the ways that women are considered less than.  Or the ways that women are - different, yes and - equal to men.

I am agnostic - But I used to be a committed believer.  So once there was church.  And now there isn't.  Questions about the world around us are met with scientific responses.  And still lots of awe and wonder.

I am a recovering germophobe - Holy wow, have I fought the good fight with this one!  I think I've done pretty well, but they still aren't allowed under my sheets unless they have JUST had a shower.  (Hey, I can't let EVERYthing go.)

I am an advocate of vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyles (though I am not myself a strict adherent...yet) - though I've been flirting with vegetarianism for years, it's been very recently (after reading Eating Animals) that I we made the switch in our home.  It's been a giant adjustment for all of us, but I think more so for the kids.  The Mister and I do not eat land animals at all.  We still eat fish occasionally when we are out; the kids are free to eat meat wherever it is available to them (parties, other people's homes etc.) because I don't want to force it on them.  And eating is a Very personal choice.  (More on this later.*)

I am a firm believer in self-directed learning and therefore, educational reform - Go ahead, roll your eyes.  Done?  Okay.  You know the drill.  "School is a waste of time, it kills creativity, kids don't get to know themselves, they are led to believe that learning is about grades, they don't really get a lot out of it, blah blah blah."  This is my spiel.  If you don't know it yet - you can have your eye full at my other blog.

I have very strong opinions about equality and social justice.  I will not tolerate any of the prevailing phobias that seem to have (largely) the right wing types in a chokehold.  An ideology best summed up by this marvelous sign I recently saw on this (very awesome, by the way) tumblr blog.

Things like that. 

Each of those are probably blog posts in and of themselves.  How does my feminism affect my daughter?  My son?

I don't think I'm preachy.  I often interject things as a "did you know...?", for example, just the other day we were driving downtown and we passed these big beautiful posters of the women who spearheaded the Suffragette Movement in our country.  Of course, I pointed out to my daughter and her friend who was with us at the time, who those women were and why they and what they did are very important and worth celebrating and honoring.  They were shocked to learn that there was a time when women were not able to vote.  Mostly though, they were befuddled about WHY.

*With the no meat thing, there has been some friction, to be sure.  I've been very open and honest with them about WHY we have made that choice for our family.  I talked to them about factory farms and what it means for our environment and the welfare of the animals.  I have shown them a few images of the suffering the animals are subjected to, but no movies.  I am trying to stay away from scare tactics (poorly clad duress, really) while still presenting the facts.

But then...

This is so much about THEM and THEIR future too.  SOMUCH.

I am caught between my very strong, core belief that they need to be left to come to this on their own, and the philosophical/ethical dilemma of what it really means when they DO eat meat.  Would anyone knowingly feed their children an animal they KNOW was too sick to stand when it was slaughtered?  An animal that has so many antibiotics in it's system it's bound to affect their own health?  An animal that was tortured leading up to and while being killed?

I am having a really hard time with that.  This is both about them and much bigger than them.  I know they can't grasp that.

But isn't that we as parents are here for?   We gather information and make the best possible choice that is available to us.  Wherever possible, this family includes all of it's members in the process.  And sometimes we don't.    Will they be jumping for joy at all of our decisions?  Do I even need to answer that?

Ultimately, I am still just a regular Jane on a journey to continue to better my self and the world around me.  It would be inauthentic and stupid of me to try to keep that from my children.

Even if it may take them decades to get it.

P.S. I do not adhere to any absolute concepts.  Reality is fluid.  As is truth.  Even love can look like harm.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mirror Mirror... at the beach?!

One of the best worst things about having children is the way they so perfectly reflect - 10,000 mega watt light-up, pores-the-size-of-texas, vanity-style mirror reflect - all your  my horrible no good bad ways back at yo- err... me.
Earlier today, right before the last few inches of me joined the rest on the floor in a miserable bitching moaning puddle, I decided it might be a good idea to go to the beach and cool off.  The kids decided that too.  Yay!

I did not, however, feel like walking the 1/2 marathon distance over the sand dune to the over the bridge and awesome! beach.  I therefore elected to drive only a little further to the 30-steps-away-from-the-parking-space beach.  The non-awesome (used to be gross but got some TLC and is now a sniff above tolerable) beach.  Which is to say, the water is not crystal clear at 70 or even 7 feet deep.  And there's SEA GRASS.  Yuck.

Okay, you get my drift.  That beach isn't my BFF ... or BBF.

Snap, crackle, pop we get there and park.  It's not too crowded, but still I chose the spot that was furthest away from everyone else.  For the quiet.

But then, later on, some people showed up and set up right beside us.  With pizza, noise and, apparently, a whole K-12 in tow.  Ugh.  (She said so totally silently inside her head that even her ears didn't hear it.) 

Of course it wasn't long before I saw, from my shady vantage point, some fleeting social contact between my kids and the other kids happening in the water.  It is here and now that I will reveal to you the mirror image with which my daughter (and son! Separately!) presented to me.

First, she comes up to ask if I noticed the "confused look" on her face as one of the younger boys was speaking to her.  Not really, no.  She then explained that it was as a result of his ... (are you ready for this?)... POOR GRAMMAR!

I die.

But not so fast, mommy dearest.

Here comes my boy to tell me that one of the other boys was asking to borrow his goggles but he couldn't understand him because - get this - "he wasn't speaking English."

I re-die.  

WELL, I said.  How did you know what he was asking, if it wasn't in English? (I ask, confident that I had caught him in his hyperbole.)

"No.  His friend had to translate for him.  Because HE speaks ENGLISH."  And the kicker - "I think he's Jamaican."  I tell him, not without a trace of indignance, that no, he is NOT Jamaican.  I am wondering now, what does it even matter?  Anyway-

I dig myself up, die once more.

Oh for shame.  My grammar snobbery has come back like a rabid dog and bitten my upon my prissy little arse.  I swear on the dictionary that I've tried to broadcast that culturally modified English is still a valid, effective and important language.  Rather, languages - plural.

Clearly though, as I myself have only just begun to really appreciate this completely important and bona fide truth, it will take me some time to mix this - like bacos - into conversations about language and culture as they come up.

People do not have to speak standard english to be smart.  (Duh.)  English as a first language individuals - such as myself and that cliché American tourist yelling at the "foreign peoples" - don't really seem to get that.  We may have been a tad misled by our colonizers.  (That's not an understatement and I mean no offense.  Nor am I being in the least bit sarcastic. Yes I am.)

Thanks for showing me that glaring spot there kiddos.  It wasn't pretty, but at least I can work towards fixing that. 

Starting with Me.  And I don't have to worry.

The mirror will catch up.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Double Vision

I have a working theory that supposes that (intentional*) parents are all working to give their children, not only a good life, but a better life than they had as children themselves. A kind of, "There.  I fixed it." parenting. 

This theory is based on me.

(Okay, and a few friends I've polled about it, but yeah.  Mostly me... and The Mister.)

Here are some more thoughts I have been thinking about that.

Since the glorious running-through-meadows-in-slow-mo freedom of the Summer, we've pretty much let bed time go.  Instead, at 9pm, we invite the people to have some quiet time in their own spaces.  The premise is that they are free to play until they are ready to go to sleep. 

My chronically social son who cannot bare to spend a moment alone always chooses to go to sleep instead.  (To be fair to him, 9 0'clock is usually when his battery runs out anyway.)

My chronically self sufficient daughter, on the other hand.  She seems to really enjoy that time and stays up till about 10 or 10:30.

There we were in the middle of Breaking Bad, The Mister and I, and we heard The Call - "I'm ready to go to slee-eep!"  We immediately popped up and trooped in to give her goodnight kisses and cuddles.   As I was walking in, I thought to myself how lucky she is to have This.  After all, I don't recall being tucked in by anyone, let alone BOTH parents every night.  Neither did I have the scandalous luxury of staying up and playing till I was ready to go to sleep.

She sure has a cushy happy childhood to look back on, I thought.

But then.

I realized that's probably what my parents were thinking about me.  And rightly so, given some of the experiences they've related to me about their own upbringing.   My life was pretty damn cushy.  And my father, now ass-less, worked it off to provide me with said life.  My mother made it a point to share some really meaningful experiences with me and to build strong relational bonds with me.  While I cannot speak for them with absolutely certainty, I know for a fact that at least one of them was working to give me the kind of life(style) that they never had.

It's a kind of double vision that seems inevitable for parents.  There is the life the parent had as a child, and that which they (hope to) create for their own children. 

I suppose we don't have any choice but to start with our defining memories, the history that was given to us in first, second and third persons, and to some how 'retrofix' it through our actions now.

Which led me to the conclusion that my own children may someday - if they become parents (or even if they don't) - look back at their childhood and see missing pieces; things they would do differently.  Which then led to me finally conclude that no matter what I do, it will one day be seen as lacking. 

And hopefully, reconciled.  Seen for what it really is, which is me doing the very damned best that I can with all the resources that are available to me.  Double vision and all.

*  I say "intentional" because I think some parents don't give even one single iota about what kind of job they are doing or care about what kind of life their children have.  Obviously, those are not the parents I'm talking about here. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Home Run

After two years of semi-involuntary absence, I have come back to the place where happiness and dreaming live. A parched prodigal falling into a grateful heap in the cool, the shade, the cool water luxury of Home.

This is the place where I belong. 

Here. With my children on the extraordinary and adventurous journey that is life-and-learning.

After a mere week and a half of Free Time, and with the comforting knowledge of another six ahead of us, we - my children and I - are settling into ourselves; into Life Uninterrupted. Just like old times. We are playing and not playing. We are exploring and resting. We are hitting the road and we are vegging out. We eat when we want, we sleep when we want, we stop and start exactly when we want to.

The joy I feel at this, this... at this actualization can only be articulated with an ascent into the Alps and me belting out an a capella melody under sunshine and aerial shots. Honestly.

All this kerfuffle and grabbing for words is about how utterly happy I have been to be home with my children again.

We are back to kitchen counter adventures, internet learning, social time with special friends, quiet time at home, reading as many stories we want - just everything!

We are back to being free. 

Is it always soft edges idyllic? Is the pope episcopalian? Is it kind of pretty awesome and perfect? You know it is. 

We have it our way and we are loving it!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Spelling Being

[Insert obligatory apology for eternal absence here.  Then the explanation steeped in reticence:  life, busy, murmur-murmur, noncommittal sounds, fade to black.]

Aaand we're back.

No, seriously.  I really have been unable to write anything for longer than, like ever.  I struggle now to find my click-click, tap-tap voice.  It's important that I do find it, however, because what I have to say is kind of a big deal to me, and I want you to know about it.  So here goes.

A couple of months ago, a very reluctant participant in the school spelling bee - my daughter Lauryn - went on stage and spelled for 26 rounds.  After about eight rounds, it was between her and one other person.  Every time she stepped up to the microphone and the word was given to her - despite my original nonchalance - I became a little bit more shaky, my heart beat a tiny bit faster, and my breath was held a bit more deeply.

As words that weren't anywhere near the grade two or grade three list began to enter into the arena I would tell myself that this was it.  That it was all good.  And it didn't matter one bit that she was never going to be able to spell 'dreadful' or 'easily' (which it truly did not).

They spelled cautiously, confidently, valiantly back and forth, and back and forth until he mis-spelled his word (which made me feel sad) and she correctly spelled two words in a row for the win.  Even typing that makes me wince a little because, faced with the prospect of my children being entered into the mandatory grade level spelling bee, I had a quiet unease about the whole thing.  I couldn't pin point why I was uncomfortable with the spelling bee, but I knew that something wasn't quite right.

My son had a laiz et fair attitude about his grade one Bee and though he looked at his list briefly, he was not at all invested in the event.  (Which was fine by me!)  I went to show my support but neither of us were put out when he was eliminated.  Meh.  It was both our fist spelling bee experience and it was interesting, but not all that remarkable.

Lauryn, though.  That was a different story.  She was totally unwilling to do it.  She did not wish to be up on stage in front of a bunch of people spelling into a microphone.  NO thanks!  (Which was fine by me.)  I made arrangements with my husband for him to stay home with her that Wednesday because that was the only way she could opt out.  Then Tuesday came and she quietly declared that, yes, in fact she would like to do the spelling bee.  (Err!?)  Asked why, she responded with impossible to translate vagaries. My husband and I exchanged a look with questioning brows, but we accepted her decision.

That evening, at her behest, I ran through most of the grade two list (of words) with her, then she 'tested' me on some of the grade three words, then she got bored and we stopped.  On the way to school the following morning, I asked her to spell a few words she'd found decidedly un-phonetic ("Apron is with an O?!") and that was that.

In the middle of all this, was that quiet but steady insistent feeling that something was not in line with my ideology.  And what does a mom do when she needs answers?  Why, she hits the google search, of course.  I searched for "effects" of "spelling bee" or any variation of that theme.  One of the top hits was an article by Alfie Kohn about competition.

I already had some of those thoughts and feelings resident within.  It was this same place where the unease originated.  And so, let me tell you now, why my daughter winning the grade two spelling bee was a big deal for me.

You see, we were an unschooling family for seven years.

What that means is that there were no formal lessons on anything.  We learned trailerloads, boatloads, tons - all that.  But nothing was scripted, forced, or coerced.  My children both were gifted with a dream like childhood in which they played and played, then played some more.  In a house, with a mouse, with a fox on a box, in the rain, on a train, in they day, in the night, over here and over there - we played and played EVERYwhere!  (But if you've ever read this blog, you know that already!)

Then (due to a Big Reason that cannot be broached here), they both enrolled in a super small school in January last year.  They completed grade 1 and Kindergarten in a class of four people (including them) and had the luxury of a teacher that could move as fast or as slowly as they needed.  

THEN.  They started "Big School" last fall.  Tests every week.  Homework.  End of term exams.  The whole 10 yards. 

And THEN.  Having had zero formal learning that our society touts with the veracity of a marketplace hawkers, my daughter spelled her way to win the school spelling bee. 

I beg your forgiveness if you have found this circuitous and hard to follow.  The story itself is hard for me to really get and really tell.  It's so much more complex than paragraphs.  So much more rich than sentences.  So much more meaningful than this blog post will ever be. 

Her spelling bee win was bigger than spelling.  It was a win for being a kid and having fun.  It was a solid victory for living as learning and learning as living.  It was validation for the uncommon irreverent ideas - Truths! - that this mother holds so dear.