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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Get. Out.

With the moon in full swing (my lunar phase, that is) I met the day with grim resolution.  Ugh.

You know those days, right?  The "Ugh. Mumble. Coffee." days?  Only I had a side of "Just shut up, already." served up hot and fresh!

I did my best to ignore my children peacefully and kindly.  And they insisted on talking and arguing and being loud and childish much too close to my Ignore Bubble, so they kept popping it.  By mid-morning, I was the Grumpy Old Troll personified.  And not that nice loser "troll" from Dora, either.   I'm talking full on Lord of the Rings Cave Troll.

Enter- Afternoon Plans!  An Outing!  With friends!  To the Library!

People, I am here to tell you that when the walls are pressing and the sounds of good old siblings being siblings sting you - GTFO! - Get. Out.  Get out!  Leave, vamoose, shoe!  Go on!  Get out of your house.  Out is magic.  Well, fun out is.

There was, as it turns out, some mild appetizer pre-fun at the library.  We became members and checked out books!

Then it was on to the salad fun.  Hanging and playing with our friends at their house.  Fun!

But what's this?  Plans to ride our bikes to the park?!  And meet MORE new friends?  Why, this is beginning to sound Very Promising.

I saw my sweet girl's confidence-o-meter slowly and steadily climb as she wobbled, then rode on her new GIANT bicycle.  I saw my son's face become positively radiant with joy as he pedaled alongside us.  I saw us three having this wonderful new experience of cycling together, thanks to our new neighbourhood with its not-so-new park.

Then it was the main course, baby.  FUN FUN FUN, wiz a littel bit of creme fun and a hint of exciting drizzled over top, served on a bed of discovery.

Thanks to our new acquaintances, my kids found and held tiny snakes and worms.  They also saw and observed the catching of a TARANTULA!!!!  That's right.  A big hairy spi-ider!  The big, bursting excitement on my baby boy's face!   From well over a hundred yards away, his joy exploded across the field "MOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!  WE FOUND A TARANTULAAAAA!!!"

He marched over with his band of new friends, triumphantly, gleefully, proudly escorting the spider and carrying a tiny "Blind Snake".

This after an epic water gun battle in which every last one of them got soaked to the bone.

There they all were, dripping wet and dirty - the Unflappable, Intrepid Explorers of The Park, beaming with all they had discovered under a rock on the far side of the field.

I know what you're saying as you read this - "Get. Out!"

We did!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

Shocking news:  I'm not a perfect parent.  

I know, right?  Who'da thought?!  I'll give you a moment to collect your jaw and it's contents.

Ready for another one? Steady now.

I'm not a perfect anything.

Phew.  I'm glad I got that off my- you know the story.

It so happens that I'm not a huge fan of the set-up of your average creativity sucking machine school.  Too much sit here do this and not enough of - well, anything else, really.

Not really news to anyone, but I felt a teensy bit of back story was in order to help bring the next bit into sharper focus.

I've observed that during their time at school, my kids had no time for much else.  Whenever we had holidays, after a few days they would decompress and start finding things they enjoyed all over again.  It was with this in mind that I decided to just let it all hang out when we finished the last school year; just let them do whatever they wanted.

What they wanted was screens.  iPod games, iPad games, Wii games and Netflix watching (there are eleven - count 'em - ELEVEN different Power Rangers series that Brother was gorging on).  It was a brain numbing technology overdose.  I watched and secretly wanted them to choose something else but kept saying that they needed the down time so they could do a major un-school decompression.  I believe(d) it was good for them.  I mean, surely, they'd get to a point of having had enough.

I'm here to tell you: Unsurely.  That point of too much screen time - "Mom, I'm tired of this, let's do something else," said none of my kids ever.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, they were totally uncooperative with me, with our household, with each other.  There was Major bitching and moaning when they were asked to help out around the house.  They did not cooperate with the simplest requirements (pick up your dirty clothes off the floor of the bathroom, turn of the lights, bring your plate the three oppressively long uphill-both-ways-in-wintertime feet to the kitchen - things like that).

It got to the point where everything felt like it was a fight.  And I was really losing my tolerance for their faces constantly being reflected back at them in a screen.

In an effort provide a consequence for their thoughtless ignoring of our requests, I began deducting one hour of screen privilege for the things I had reminded them of some googol times.  Clothes on the bathroom floor?  One hour off for BOTH of them.

Bathroom light left on (a-@#$@^king-gain)? One hour off for BOTH of them (I'm not dealing with the whole "It was him/It was her" scenario.  And they would have to help each other remember.  At least, that was my theory.

Some days they'd have lost three hours of time.  But it didn't matter because we were now going out and doing stuff (I was working for the month of July).

It did help a little, but not that much.  And then.

I had had enough.

(I need to tell you that this story reads like it was just a few squabbles and me being a total overlord and that's because I'm not a perfect story teller either - so I want to clarify that I - WE, the mister and I - had been trying to foster and encourage some more responsible behaviours for a while.  We spoke to them about living in a community and doing their part; about doing things that are not always fun, but that are important.

To no avail.

I had had enough.

Enter, three days ago which I will call the IHHE point in time.  Because - say it with me - I had...



"That's IT!" I declared.  "Screen privileges are suspended until further notice!"  Or something like that. Faces slid to the floor.  Protests were staged.  Lectures were thrown - aggressively.

You're not babies, you're big kids, I said.
Eight and TEN! I may have said a little loudly.
You can be more responsible people, I said.
I'd be happy to keep picking up after you, I sang with Nutrasweetness.
And treat you like toddlers, I smiled.
Would you like that?, I cooed.


Then when you can act like more responsible people, 
I squinty-eyed, scary-quiet-voiced at the two deer in my headlights
you can have the same privileges as responsible people.  Heavy and angry declarations from a tired and had-it-up-to-here, frustrated me.

Not my best moment, no.  (Why do you ask?)

And guess what?  It kind of was.

Secondary to any behavior modification I was looking to achieve, the real benefit is .... dun-dun-dunnnnnnn - they have been PLAYING!  With toys! And each other!  Happily!

Out came the legos, the animals, the Imagination.  I mean, we had "celebrity guests" - Bear and Other Bear who had a made up non-actual-celebrity name I can't remember now- at breakfast the other day.

I shared my shower with a giant lego boat, a turtle, a spiderman, a zebra, a crab and an elephant today.

Sister has constructed a house, complete with solar panels!  (Lego, people, lego house with lego "solar panels".)

And yes folks, even a little cooperation.  Is it carrot and stick?  Yes.  Yes it is.
Apparently, I'm not afraid to use it.

We've watched a few documentaries and some Doctor Who together, and will carry on with that for now.  iWhatevers will make a return when the time is right.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Side Kicks Have Special Powers

During a game of pictionary, the word "magician" came up and was successfully drawn.  I took the opportunity to mention that the word magician has its roots in the word "magi" which is how the visitors of young Jesus are described.

I mentioned that magi were believed to have special powers.

"Like a side kick?" asks almost 10 yr old Sister.
Before I could answer she adds "What is a side kick, anyway?"
"The friend of the main guy," I reply.
"But what about the other meaning of side kick?"
"Other meaning?  There isn't any other meaning," I say.  (Thinking to myself about other possible meanings of side kick that I am not remembering.  No, that's all there is.)

And then it hits me.

"Ohhhhhhh... PSYCHIC."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is it okay to feel like punching your kid?

- turn off the (bathroom) light
- wash your hands!
- and flush the toilet!
  (but in the exact opposite order)

- chew with your mouth closed
- take your dirty clothes off the floor relocate them 18" away to the basket (like, literally bend down and pick them up and keeping your feet planted in the same spot, twist your upper body and release the clothes into the basket).
- take your wet towel off the floor and relocate it 24" the wall hook (okay, this one involves an actual step)
- help your plate to the kitchen
- unpack your lunchbox
 (where is your water bottle?!)
- put your toothbrush into the cup

These are things I say MINIMUM once a day.  And mostly to the boy.  Actually everything but the lunchbox and bathroom light are all things I say only to my son.  Every.  Single.  Day.  

I have been asking him to close his mouth when he chews every night for the past, oh, three years or so.  No kidding.  Otherwise it's SMACK SMACK SMACK.  I calmly ask, "Please chew with your mouth closed."  Often times, three times over the course of a single meal.  

In real raw gritty life, people. 

As for the toothbrush?  Quite honestly, it doesn't even belong on the stupid list because I've given up on his toothbrush ever actually making it to the little cup.  This toothbrush holder, I might add, is conveniently located on the right side of the sink for the right-handed members of our family.  (Hint: all of us.)  This child of mine always always always puts his toothbrush on the perimeter on the LEFT side of the sink.  (Which means that the boy has to physically take the toothbrush out of his right hand - or at the very least reach across the sink to put it there.)  

After several nights of requests to put his toothbrush in the cup I began having him 'practice' the motion of putting in the cup.  Put it in the cup, take it out of the cup, put it in the cup, take it out of the cup.... and it totally worked!  Pffffft-haaaaaaaa!  Nope.  No it didn't.  It takes the toothbrush and it puts the toothbrush on the tiny counter space directly beside the toilet.  It does not understand the meaning of these words "in" and "cup".

And yes, it's a small thing.  I know that.  

So is the plate and the light and the dirty clothes and the lunch box and the &^%damned water bottle being left at school every day.  (EVERY.  DAY.  For realsies?)

But add them all up and some days - like today - I feel like I am going to lose my mind (or flip out and go Real Ultimate Power ninja on him).  I mean, my GOD.  How long does it take for him to learn to just close his mouth when he chews?  SERIOUSLY.  Is it a boy thing?  Is it a him thing?  Is it a seven year ol- never mind.  I know it's not that.  

Having spent the better part of the last month trying to use a normal tone of voice (i.e. not yell), I find myself considering other verbal cues such as growling.  Six to seven (who am trying to kid? more like) Three to four times out of ten I can find a humorous approach.  The other three to four I am serious but not upset.  The remaining times, my teeth are clenched and I may or may not have steam coming out of my ears as I say for the millionth time "Please. pick. your.  shi- CLOTHES.  up.  off.  the.  floor. and. put. them.  in.  the.  basketttttt."

Walk into his room right now.  And you will find - I guaran-damn-tee it - underwear, pants and shirts on the floor BESIDE the (!@#$% ^&**(-ing laundry basket.  


I don't even have a witty wrap up for this one.  Usually when I blog, by the time I get down toward the end a new perspective has emerged and shed light on the parts I was missing.


Yeah.  I got nothin'.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hi, World!

I've witnessed some really major changes in my daughter over the last couple of months.  She is definitely making the transition from little girl to bigger girl (which is my way of saying the thing I do NOT want to say - which is pre-preteen (yikes!)).  Also, I kind of hate those terms - to be honest.

Due to a series of complicated events that were happening with Brother, we thought it would be best for him to move up a grade from two to three - in the middle of the school year.  To further complicate things, he would have been moved into the same class as Sister.  All involved - Sister included - knew this was NOT a good idea.  It was suggested by the school admin that perhaps we could move Sister up to grade four.  She is the "right age" for that grade level and she is doing very well - meeting and exceeding expectations - in grade three... So let's give it a go.  Of course, we consulted with Sister and Brother about all of it as well and they both agreed.  Sister was quite reluctant because her confidence level was a little low.

For example, when she recently discovered that she was being graded and given report cards (I'd never told her about it for obvious reasons* - what's that?  not obvious? Okay, I'll add a notation at the bottom.) - right: report cards.  When she learned about the letter grades, she automatically concluded that she would be getting a C in math.  Which was ridiculous because she's never gotten less than an A.  When we got home and I showed her the report card for the previous term and she saw all the As including the math grade, she was genuinely surprised.

Like I said, low confidence.

We all agreed to allow for a one week trial period with total take-backsies if they wanted out.  Daddy and I held our collective breaths as they each started in their new classes - in the middle of the freakin' year.

Within the first few hours Brother knew he was happy and wanted to stay.  Sister was not as eager, but she wasn't unhappy either.  By day two, she conducted a poll in the class asking if they wanted her to stay.  Meanwhile, before she even got there, there was some kerfuffle about who would get to sit beside her (as she already had friends in the group).  So, of course, it was a no-brainer and everyone (except that one PIA kid, bless his heart) voted for her to stay.  This seemed to act like a Super Mario Brothers mushroom causing her to grow twice her size almost overnight.

No kidding.  By the end of that first week, my daughter was A Different Person.

Her confidence level shot up.  My previously shy, quiet, demure little girl became vocal, chatty, sassy and overall more participatory in her classroom than she had ever been in her time in school.  Her new teacher was blown away by the change, as were the principal and director of our school.

She came out of her shell and said "Hi, World!"

And she hasn't looked back.

And it scares me.  Even though I really want this for her:  I want her to be confident, outspoken, sticking up for herself and what she believes, not taking shit from anyone, to know her own mind (which she already did), to be willing to walk her own path - I'm not sure how to handle a person who does those things against my better judgement.

Which is the crux and the irony.  You know?  I don't know how to balance "know-your-own-mind & do it your way" with "follow-our-lead-because-we're-here-to-guide-you".

I'm going to cop to the fact that it was easier to foresee parenting the shy, demure, cooperative girl through her teenage years.  Actually, forget easier, it was just plain easy in my mind.

It's true that she's always been the kind of person who once she'd made up her mind about something that was it, she didn't really do it that much and she was still almost always willing to cooperate.  Now? Not so much.

Of course I know that my children will both choose things that are different from what I want for them, the won't always idealize the same things as me.  Which is a good thing.  I am already working on learning to co-exist with and even support things they like/choose that I would not.  I'm working on that in small ways to get ready for the big ways that are probably coming down the tube.

You know, I'm not even sure what I'm scared of.  That's a lie.  I'm scared of being alienated from them and being irrelevant in their lives.

There.  I said it.

It's not sex, drinking or drugs.  No.  I'm terrified of the shut door.  Not the sometimes shut door, the always shut door that would relegate me to the sidelines as sympathetic bystander.

I wish someone could tell me how to parent so that they will always feel safe with me and always trust me and tell me the Big, Important Things.  For now, I'm being there and being there and then being there some more.

I'm being genuine and honest.  I am listening and trying not to talk too much.  I am living my journey too; modeling that following my dreams is important.  Being me and hoping that's good enough, really.

* Not a fan of conventional schooling.  I abhor testing (standardized or not), homework and grades; they have no place in the arena of discovery and learning.   I reject the artificial standards by which all children are measured and judged and see it as institutionalized neglect of the each of the learners' individuality and personal learning needs.  Due to circumstances that have been beyond my reasonable control, my children who were unschooled all their early lives, have been in conventional school since January 2011.  

Friday, February 08, 2013

Coming Clean

It's no secret that I am an unwavering advocate of alternative schooling.  If you have had more than one conversation with me, you will be well aware of my position on education.

It would shock you, then, to know that my children are both attending a traditional school, one where I happen to be a teacher.  As far as traditional schools go, this one is quite idyllic.  The ethos of the school is learning (even if by rote) can be fun.  The administrators and teachers care deeply about the children and it shows.  It is a great school!

And yet.  Here I am.  I have spent years and thousands of hours researching and teaching myself on  forward thinking methods of education.  One doesn't have to look very far to learn that the current "traditional" method is based largely on the industrial revolution's needs for workers.  One then has to simply look just a tiny bit beyond the nose to note that we are no longer in the industrial era and therefore no longer in need of factory workers on an all encompassing scale.

For this and other social (and, let's face it, political) reasons, I unschooled my children until they were 7 and 5.  Things (read: "I") fell apart and could not carry on so to school they went.  That was two years ago.  I have since regained solid ground and started working - full time!!! - again.

History lesson over.

Here I am.  I have lived a dual life.  Unwavering in my own deeply held convictions while doing almost the exact opposite of them.   Looking up from the grind stone, even being grateful for all that has been afforded to me because of this position I have had, I am struck in the face by the question: "WHAT IN THE HOLY HELL AM I STILL DOING HERE?"  (Ouch, by the way.)
Yes, there was the question of need of income.  Yes I am trying very hard to finish my bachelor's degree to the tune of $24,000.  Yes, yes, yes.

But frankly? Fucking NO.

Hours of homework, extending an already long and stifling school day into our home life? NO.
Hours of sitting at a desk all day doing work pages?  NO.
Science - the beauty, marvel, wonder of the world around us - being reduced to a text book? Absolutely  NOT.
Our whole life revolving around school?  (Sleep schedule, eating schedule, bloody living schedule based on school and homework times.) Gawd no.
Letter grade assessments of their abilities? Nope.
Rote? No no no.

It works - is even ideal for some people - and I am not at all one of them.

Compromise and tolerance acceptance can be noble. Can be.  Whatever virtue there was in my doing this for my children to be able to travel, to have lessons/mentorship in things that are meaningful or important to them (art, tennis, swimming etc.), to have quality foods - these wonderful benefits of me working - whatever there was in it is now expired.  Those benefits no longer outweigh what I desire to give to my children most of all: the freedom to explore their world and themselves.

Their mom is ME, and that is what I want to give to them.

What's so wrong with that?