Author Archives: shaun

Suck on This, Halls Cough Drops!

We have not been well lately in the Red Sea household. Many cough drops — Halls Honey-Lemon cough drops — have been consumed. But I did not realize until today that my cough drops came with a message — several messages imprinted on the wrapper.

Some choice examples:

“Inspire envy” — how, exactly? Envy for the spittle that comes flying from my mouth during a surprise spasmodic coughing fit? For the menthol coating on my teeth?

“You got it in you” — well, yeah, I guess I do. That’s why I’m on these antibiotics.

“Get back in there, champ!” — unless “there” means “bed,” you, cough drop, can fuck right off.

“You’ve survived tougher.” — I suppose I have. That’s a positive thought. I can make it, as long as I take good care of myself, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of r—

“Power through!” — Hey! WTF Halls Cough Drops?! Is this how you ensure you get repeat customers, encouraging people to run themselves down even further?! I call foul.

It’s not enough that my antibiotics are filling me with unfocused rage — now my cough drops have to mock and goad me?

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Back to Bed — Parental Guilt Overload

Cleaning up the piles of origami papers and drawings from the dining room table, I came across this:

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“I’m saveing money for colledge.” “You know you ought to help.”

So yeah, you can find me under the covers, possibly with a glass of wine.

On the plus side, I do think the 7yo is going to make a great grifter someday.

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Plausible Stories Wanted; Prizes Hinge on Your Efforts

As Victoria and I stepped out into the morning sunlight yesterday, we noticed that the snow in our front yard had completely melted. (The snowblower piles in back have a ways to go.) On the ground we saw a straw hat that had at some point been on a snowman, then ended up *under* the snow. There was a plastic skull and a zombie hand that never made it inside before the flakes started falling. And in the bushes near the sidewalk, there was a plastic bag that had landed in amongst the branches.

When I reached to pull the plastic bag out the sidewalk, the bag pulled back. It weighed a ton! Inside: something like twenty or thirty metal door hinges, each still individually sealed in their original packaging. The bag was ripping — especially after aging in the bush for a while, it was far too thin and brittle to carry the heavy load.

When we brought it inside to ask Eggmaster, my husband, whether he was missing a 25 lb. bag of door hinges, he fell to his knees and exclaimed, “We have been blessed! Thank you, Lord,” and then began to bow to the bag.

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manna from heaven?

This amused Violet greatly, but I don’t see the divine hand of beneficence in this particular gift.

We have batted about several theories, but none fully satisfy. What is the scenario that ends in a plastic Walgreens bag full of twenty to thirty brand new metal door hinges, still in the packaging, landing in our bushes?

This is where you, blog readers, tweeps, and Facebook friends, come in. Will you, please, please, explain this to us?

Here are some relevant clues:

1. They were in a Walgreens bag with no receipt, and the bag was tearing.
2. We live on a busy urban street, and our house is one house away from a bus stop on a busy route. It is also a designated bike route.
3. The bag was actually *in* the bush, which is about 3 feet above sidewalk level and a foot or two set back from the sidewalk, after a tall retaining wall and some other landscaping.

Send us your stories and our family will judge among them, with points for both plausibility and creativity!

What prizes you ask? That was the tough part. Here are the choices:

1. A book from our home library. [I was going to offer one of our superfluous copies of a classic, but then I thought, no — it’s completely plausible that we could need more than one copy of Paradise Lost or The Republic at some time. We need them both. *Maybe* we could spare the third copy of Jane Eyre.]

2. My voice on your home answering machine, ala Carl Kasell on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.”

3. Cookies.

4. Fame and Glory.

and obviously

5. A 25 lb. bag of door hinges. (Shipping not included.)

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Keep Your Bunny Ears On

Violet turns 12 soon, which means she and I both have access to the world of teens. (I recognize that 12 is not a teen year, but for whatever reason a lot of homeschool teen opportunities start at 12.) Because she is pretty fully into high school level work, that “teen years” stuff means my conscience is poking and prodding me with thoughts of transcripts, college admissions, AP scores, and all the rest.

So I’ve begun to dig into that world. I’m on a homeschool-to-college e-mail list, I’ve attended a session on dual enrollment classes (college classes that can be taken for both college and high school credit), I’ve looked at the content of AP exams, and I’ve started to consider what exactly “must” be done to get a Minnesota diploma.

I have not enjoyed it, but it took me a while to figure out why. As I mulled it over, I realized that academically there was not a lot to worry about. She likes academic subjects, and our biggest problem is choosing a curriculum (from multiple options), or choosing to use no curriculum. So many interesting paths to follow!

Something clicked as I was reading a book about AP prep for U.S. History, with its long lists of names and dates and places that I had no memory of and no particular need to know: this is not why we homeschool.

I don’t mean that we’ll never study U.S. History again, or even that we won’t look at what AP exams might fit each girl’s areas of greatest interest, just to provide that documentation that smoothes the path to post-homeschool opportunities.

What I mean is that we do not homeschool to replicate school at home, and the longer we homeschool, the more important and obvious that becomes. We homeschool for other reasons:

1. To enjoy each other’s company.

2. To allow each of us — yes, even parents sometimes! — to explore interests and passions that school did not leave time for.

3. To preserve our individuality — yes, even the parents sometimes! No, I don’t believe the necessary end result of a traditional brick-and-mortar school education is identical drones, but I have experienced for myself a wider variety of life possibilities since entering the homeschool community. Sometimes that challenges me, and I like it. (Sidenote: that’s going to be my only “I am not trying to draw unflattering comparisons with families who choose to school traditionally” moment — from now on, you’ll just have to assume that. If reading pro-homeschool things pushes your buttons, you don’t have to read. It won’t offend me.)

4. To follow the ebbs and flows of our interests and energies. Yes, part of our daily life is doing stuff we don’t want to do when we don’t want to do it, and that is a skill and habit worth developing. As an adult, however, I have been surprised by how often people express a belief that adulthood consists of just that, and only that. No! Responsibility isn’t just doing things you don’t want to do. A more adult version of responsibility is taking responsibility for making a life in which you can do things you want to do, rather than blaming the system, or the man, or your parents, or “life” for stopping you.

5. To enjoy each other’s company.

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We are snowed in today — someone forgot to tell the sky that spring has arrived — and still Victoria, closing in on 8, is making bunny ears for everything with a head. I have some on my desk, and I have found several perched on dolls. (Only 1 month til Easter!) Violet is wearing hers while she chats with friends from her cancelled co-op classes online. I enjoy that very much, and I especially enjoy hearing my husband laugh to himself after she has dropped off another pair of ears in his office.

It is a slower-paced, joyful — maddening, questioning — way to live, and I am not ready to give it up, especially not at this amazing, joyful, maddening, questioning adolescent time of life. I’m putting my bunny ears back on and sticking to the rabbit trails.

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Consistency, Hobgoblins, Flashcards, Steak

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Our family was vegetarian for many years, from shortly before the time Eggmaster and I got married. Our wedding reception was vegetarian. I was vegetarian throughout my first pregnancy, and Violet was a vegetarian child for about 6 years.

As Victoria is proud to tell anyone in earshot, she was one primary cause of us dropping the label and picking up the chicken leg. And eventually the burger and the bacon. (Though we’ve dropped the burgers again, unless we grind the beef at home.)

Violet barely remembers being vegetarian, but she has decided to be a vegetarian for Lent. I won’t comment on her success so far, but I find myself thinking and saying all the things I used to think were so ridiculous: “What will you eat instead?” “Where will you get your protein?” I give myself a pass because she is (almost) 12, and she needs calories, protein, and fat on a consistent basis to keep growing healthily — not just growing surlier and more tired. Six years, and it is as if I had never been a vegetarian myself.

Victoria loves meat with wild abandon, and she wears her “vegetarianism killer” status with a great deal of pride. Steak is her very favorite thing — in fact, I believe I have convinced her to forgo a big birthday party this spring in order to have a steak dinner with a couple of chosen friends instead. That is the power of steak.

I never expected to be serving my kids steak even five years ago. Five years ago, almost to the day, I was still getting used to the idea that we were about to embark on a homeschooling adventure — yet another possibility I had never considered. Still, “Relaxed” homeschooling fit my personality perfectly. A little reading today, a little math tomorrow, a lot of days at the park — it’s all good. Textbooks, rote memorization, gold stars? Ha! No way. We were free and easy. School stuff was losers who couldn’t relax unless they reproduced school at home — suckers!

Sigh . . .

I am learning what all parents should learn, which is that feeling confident is a sure sign of blissful ignorance. My little Victoria has “memory issues” and simply cannot call up small facts. She can tell you everything that has ever happened in our family, so long as it can be a rambling narrative, she remembers everything she reads in great detail, and if you are looking for something she is the person to ask, but note names and math facts disappear out of her head with (genuinely) alarming speed. Before we address this professionally, we are trying a more traditional approach.

The Dreaded Flashcards.

They worked so well for note reading that I had to give them a try for math. We have a chart. We set goals. We give prizes for the goals. This gives me tiny fits every day. This is not who I am.

But of course it is. I’m whoever shows up that day, and hopefully that person is reasonably useful. I provide cottage cheese for the preteen vegetarian (with a side of bacon) and make steak after the unschooly 7yo hits her math goals three times. I cannot make all that cohere any better than the lentil-walnut patties I used to make ten years ago. It’s tempting to read that as hypocritical and weak-willed, but I’m going to try to stick with flexible and creative.

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I Hold the Mermaid’s Hand

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No one believes that this girl can be any trouble. (Pictured here in a photo composed by her sister — I can’t remember the legend being enacted.) She goes off into the world and skips and sings and says wise-sounding things to adults. She is rarely found in the center of a knot of kids in trouble, but kids seem to like her all the same.

Then she comes home. Sometimes with wise-sounding words, but often with furious yells or tears, she tells me she doesn’t belong. No place quite fits right, sometimes even home. Some days something sets her off, some days she rolls out of bed already off kilter.

We went through something a bit similar with Violet at a similar age — “I’m tired of being the only one” she said about why she deliberately faked errors in her schoolwork, before homeschooling.

But with Victoria it runs deeper somehow, and the feelings are so much bigger and more intense. It’s not a school thing, it’s just a being thing, and in some ways it’s always been a part of who she is. There is only so much I can do. I can try to match the right phrase to the right time: “Different is wonderful,” “Different is no big deal,” “Everyone feels different,” “I feel different sometimes, too,” and “Different is hard.” Most of the time I have no idea what to do: she is different, and that is hard for her and for me.

Mostly all I can do is be there. Being there with a dreamer is complicated: you don’t know where she is, and half the time neither does she.

Which is why, God help me, this video clip just hit me right where I am living. It is cheesy, schmaltzy, hokey and — Lords of Irony forgive me — so true right now. So although I am slightly embarrassed, I have to share it for anyone else who has one of these dreamy little girls.

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Parenting: I iz doin it wrong?

7yo Victoria: “Oh Justin Bieber, I want you to buy me a legless kitten so we can watch it roll down the stairs together!”

There is not enough context in the world to make this make sense, but it comes out of a family dinner conversation. Let me assure you that she has nothing but love for kittehs and only disdain for Justin Bieber. But damn does she have the most perverse sense of humor sometimes.

My dream of raising the female Farrelly Bros. to support me in my old age draws ever closer.

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This Week’s Links: Hats, Fonts, Art, and More

A couple of years ago Andrew Castle, a 9yo homeschooler, began a charity raising money for Heifer International by selling handknitted hats. Now he sells both handknitted hats (donations accepted) and baseball caps, and his charity, Hats for Hunger, donates all the proceeds. Each year he’s increased his donation; in 2010 he donated $5000! And that’s not all — Hats for Hunger has also donated hats to homeless shelters, including shelters serving pregnant women and newborns.

Andrew’s goal for this year is a $10,000 donation. Click on his website to find out how to donate a hat, donate money, or buy a very cool hat made by a volunteer knitter. You can also follow Hats for Hunger on Facebook.

Violet is ever more interested in art, which thrills me, because I cannot draw a recognizable stick person. Just in time for it to end, I learned about a series of columns on drawing in the New York Times and thought it was worth adding to the resource list. Line by Line, a 12-column series, is written by James Mc Mullan, an illustrator. It is great reading for someone like me, too, who probably cannot draw because I cannot see the way my daughter and other artist-types do. I don’t care if I ever learn to draw, but I love learning to see (and hear and feel) with greater sensitivity. Keeps me from pulling up roots and moving completely into the studio apartment of my mind.

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We have wondered about both girls whether they might have ADHD. Perhaps they do. Hearing from adults whose lives were transformed by ADHD medication makes it impossible for me to consider ADHD as merely a “school environment” problem. But sometimes it is — Peter Gray has solicited and collected a variety of stories of kids labeled ADHD who did not have the same problems when they began to homeschool.

I have always thought Comic Sans a bourgeois, anti-intellectual font, but until now I’d never have confessed it. I’ve always considered that very thought shamefully pretentious, even more so when I found it exposed and mocked online. And on McSweeney’s no less.

I’d like to quote from it, but Comic Sans swears. A lot. But in a good way.

Which reminds me, I spent Christmas with my extended family/dad’s side for the first time in several years. I’m the one standing next to the tall bald guy, in the back.

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Look how normal we all turned out!

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Be Ready

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. I spent much of my young adulthood trying to “15-minutes-a-day” myself to perfection, and what it has given me 10 years later is a real aversion to anything that sounds like self-improvement.

Attn. World: You’ll have to take me as I am.

But certain times lend themselves to reflection and course correction, endings and beginnings chief among them. Beginnings and endings both require that quality I’ve come to value above improvement: intention.

I have decided that this is my Year of Yes. That is my prime intention. My goal, in times of distress, indecision, anger, or fear, is to find a way to say yes. Yes to whatever is happening at the moment, and yes to myself.

Friends may recall that Yes has been kicking around in my head for a while.

I would like to spend more time around people who say yes. (I would also like it if my children became people who say yes, but that is another issue entirely.)

Saying yes is hard to figure out sometimes. One book I have liked on the subject is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. She has some concrete examples of making the choice to say yes when no seems to be the only option.

In our house this week we are cuddling under a down blanket, watching snow fall and tending to “barky” coughs while reading The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, a story full of Yes. Here is the lovely passage where we stopped today:

As he was about to leave the shop, Sai Fong said, “You want Chinese fortune cookie?”
“I guess so,” said Mario. “I never had one.”
Sai Fong took down a can from the shelf. It was full of fortune cookies—thin wafers that had been folded so there was an air space in each one. Mario bit into a cookie and found a piece of paper inside. He read what it said out loud: Good Luck Is Coming Your Way. Be Ready.
“Ha he!” laughed Sai Fong—two high notes of joy. “Very good advice. You go now. Always be ready for happiness. Goodbye.”

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Too True

I do enjoy discovering how my kids really see their worlds — so much going on in their minds and social lives is private, especially for my private older girl. (I said “private,” not “quiet” — right now she is downstairs entertaining her sister by screaming like Pee Wee Herman.)

Recent examples:

Violet was getting ready for her guitar class, which she takes with 3 other homeschoolers — very nice kids, btw. The other kids are all boys, which she is fine with. The assignment was to learn a song to teach to the other kids. Violet could not choose the right song. Taylor Swift? Too girly. A Beatles song? She has a running “thing” with a kid in the group who says the Beatles (whom she loves) are lame, and didn’t want to start that again. Finally I said, “Honey, none of the other kids are at home worrying whether you are going to like their song.”

“I know,” she said, “That’s because they’re boys.”

Touché.

p.s. She chose “You Belong with Me,” and I haven’t heard whether the boys complained. I’m guessing it was a non-event.

My kids love listening to Christmas music on the radio in the car — and with this snow, boy have we had some long car rides. Yesterday as we were driving we listened to “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” At the end, Violet said, “You know, that doesn’t make sense. Why would all the reindeer love Rudolph because his red nose could guide Santa’s sleigh?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she answered, “wouldn’t it be more likely that if Santa put him at the front of the sleigh the other reindeer would really hate him and ostracize him even more?”

Oooookay then. Merry Christmas to you too.

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