Category Archives: Family Fun

Make Your Own

Trying to squeeze the most out of the last month of summer, we forced ourselves to leave the house, which is never an easy thing.

We went to a family day at a local art museum—something I’d never usually consider, because I hate crowds—because they had LARP.

Brief digression on LARPing.

I had never heard of LARPing until very recently. It stands for Live Action Role Play, and I guess it is what those people with homemade shields and capes over their tank tops and basketball shorts are doing when you drive past the city park on the weekend.

My 12yo is LARPing 24/7. Not with shields or capes. It is sort of a relief to know there is a word for it, though there are also words for things like “delusional” and “dissociation.” I have no idea what she’s doing, usually, but she and her closest friends inhabit a fantasy world that has them role playing in person, online, and generally every free moment of the day. Should I worry about this? Probably. But I don’t, yet, because hey, she’s 12. The Bronte kids made up another country and told stories to each other about it for years, and look how great they turned out. Right?

Patron Saints of LARPers?

***End digression***

So we go, and I make up my mind on the way not to be a lame parent who stands around watching kids have all the fun. I made that decision because I often have been that lame parent, watching, participating from behind the camera.

“You go ahead, I’ll watch.”

So when we got to the sword-making table, I grabbed the stuff and made my own. I made a double-ended light saber ala Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. (It is truly pathetic, but it is mine.) Eggmaster made an awesome axe. Violet made a ninja-style sword (apparently they don’t have a hilt), and Victoria made a lovely sword with ribbons hanging off it. We leapt around on the hill dueling while I sang the spooky Sith theme music, cheerfully whapping my kids with a giant foam tube wrapped in duct tape.

Victoria then decided she needed a shield.

(“I am a Jedi,” I said to them. “My shield is my mind.”
“I thought you were a Sith.”
“Oh right, same thing.”)

Sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting for her to finish her shield allowed me to look around at the other shield- and sword-makers in the tent. Right next to us was a woman pressing her design ideas and color choices on her son. Her son who looked to be 12 years old at a minimum. Behind her was a woman who had taken her son’s shield, with the very cool fiery top I had seen him force the volunteer with the box cutter to cut out of cardboard, and laboriously use black electrical tape to create a thin black line around the flames at the top. I didn’t see the kid—who clearly had his own ideas when he translated them to the shield cutter—anywhere.

I was reminded of Victoria’s recent first communion prep, when we were sent home with felt and a white banner and instructed to personalize it. I helped Victoria cut out the smaller shapes, but she chose what to put on there, and she put it on herself. (Oh, and I stitched them a little after the glue dried, just to be sure they didn’t fall off.)

Naturally when we went to church for the Mass, we saw banners that looked like they were running on battery packs: glittery, sequined, with tiny precision cut pieces of felt in lovely mosaics and perfect replicas of Times New Roman 14 pt font.

Whatever: maybe having a family member make a banner like that made the first communicant feel special and loved. Still, I kept an eye out for the ones that were obviously child-made and gave them an extra admiring smile.

And who knows: maybe all the parents in that LARPing tent had developmentally disabled children who can’t hold scissors. I won’t judge any of them—individually.

And I don’t want to criticize them for hovering or being impatient with their children’s obviously childish efforts. My thoughts were not “leave your kid alone!” They were, “I bet you really want to make your own.”

This is something that happens to adults.

“Aw, you go ride the carousel, I’ll watch and take pictures.”
“Go up and dance to the band, I’ll watch and take pictures.”

Take a ballet class, play an instrument, join a team, try fencing, make your first misshapen piece of pottery, act in a musical: you do it, I’ll put it on Facebook or in the scrapbook.

As a homeschooler there are even more temptations:

“Awesome! A Latin class! Latin is so cool!”
“Wow, let’s do a unit study on Asian countries and their cuisines!”
“Look at this great Teaching Company series on masterpieces of English Literature!!”

I can’t deny it: just as a benefit of parenting is having an opportunity to revisit the greatest hits of your childhood, a benefit of homeschooling is having an opportunity to learn a bunch more interesting stuff yourself.

When your kids are very little, however, they require a level of engagement and attention that doesn’t allow you to participate in the activity the same way they do. Their job is to participate; your job is to supervise. They show an interest; you facilitate their exploration of it. And it is fun, and wonderful, and life-enhancing for you to be the person who does stuff both for them and with them, but sometimes that pattern sticks. Low energy, high-intensity kids, busy days, and worn-out nights turn that pattern into a rut. The need to create, however, is strong, and channels itself where it can, even into a little kid’s LARPing accessories.

I can’t judge any of those shield-stealing, banner-making parents, because it’s a rut I’ve fallen into more than once, and probably will again. But once you’ve seen it, it keeps getting easier to sidestep it, especially because making your own turns out to be a lot more fun and a lot more satisfying. (Even if your husband does make fun of your light saber noises.)

Learn guitar, practice the piano, audition for a play, study art history, tap dance, write an essay: I’ll do it, you kids try to keep busy while I’m at it.

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Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother, Why Homeschool?

Dad and Daughter, Five Years Later

I wanted to get photographic proof of the peaceful conversation happening at my dining table today, and the results reminded me of a picture I took a long time ago.

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September 10, 2006. About 6 months into the homeschooling adventure, getting some use from one of the first toys we got to celebrate leaving school.

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Moving into the sixth year of homeschooling, talking about the unit circle and reviewing trigonometric ratios. Dad still can’t contain his enthusiasm for talking math with his girls.

Different dining room, different hair styles, different glasses: look at how much that kid has grown! What I love is the summer afternoon discussion made possible not so much by homeschooling but by the whole family being at home. Not all families have the luxury of having one parent around the house, let alone two, but for us it has been a way of life for most of our kids’ childhoods.

When Violet was first born, I mainly worked from home, but I had a freelance job that took me out of the house twice a week. Eggmaster rearranged his schedule to be home. Over the next few years, as Eggmaster went back to school and I started freelancing more, we each worked about half time, sharing child-raising duties and making not quite one whole income between us. I said we were a 3/4th income family.

Even when Eggmaster worked out of the home, we would all pile in the car and drive him together, and we were fortunate that his schedule allowed him to work any time, as long as he was working. Just over three years ago, he started working from home full-time again, which makes homeschooling so much nicer.

For one thing, I have another adult to vent to when it’s all too much. He takes the longer view and reminds me one day of trouble doesn’t mean our children will be living under a bridge someday. I can’t be so sure about the two of us, but I hope for better for them.

I can also escape the house without worrying about the kids (though now they are old enough to handle themselves). Or I can take one kid somewhere and leave the other one home: little sister doesn’t have to get dragged along to big sister’s stuff, and vice versa. As big sister gets so busy with high school-ish stuff, that really helps.

The best part, of course, is that they get him too. I have learned to be fascinated by math since starting homeschooling, but that’s all I can share. I can be interested, but I can’t be knowledgeable, especially not now that truly advanced math gets ever closer to our reality. I am also not passionate like he is. And when I listen to him teach Victoria a drum beat or record a song with Violet on his electric guitar, I cannot imagine a happier sound.

Any parent can be an involved parent, of course, but I love that we are all here together, living and learning and playing at 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon.

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Filed under Family Fun, Gifted Ed, Why Homeschool?

It’s Exactly Like That

I went Up North with my mom and Victoria while Violet was away at camp. A lovely, three-generation girls weekend.

We rode on an Alpine Slide, which is like a sled you ride down a track, usually on an unused section of a ski hill. You take a chair lift to the top, then slide down.

Note: this is not me or my child

So we’re waiting in line at the chair lift and a talkative six-year-old starts chatting us up. Victoria takes this in stride, nodding and giving him lots of “mmmm”s and “oh”s, which takes the pressure off me. Twelve years into parenting and I still get confused when children I don’t know start talking to me. Have you never heard of Stranger Danger, Chatty Kathy? Shall I tell you about it now?

ANYway . . .

The boy can’t get over the fact that empty chairs keep going up the mountain. “The chairs just keep going up, but there’s no one in them. I just don’t understand it.”

“mmmmm,” says Victoria.

“I just don’t understand it. Why isn’t there anyone in them? I just don’t understand it. I just don’t understand it. I Don’t. Under. Stand.”

Victoria is silent for some time. She then turns to him and says:

“It’s just like the meaning of life. No one knows what it is.”

They both watch the chair lifts silently from then on, until it’s our turn to go up the mountain.

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Filed under Does This Look Funny?, Family Fun

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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Filed under Family Fun, In the News, Learning Styles

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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Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother, Our Domestic Church

Happy Thanksgiving

Life has been so busy that I have been ignoring the blog completely. But I’ve recently been reminded of one of the main reasons to have this blog: to share photos with my family, who may or may not have actively prodded me to return to doing same.

But first, I have to thank Ruralmama for giving me a Lovely Blog Award. Her blog is Homeschool on the Edge of Nowhere, which sounds lovely some days, as I sit here and stare out into 3 neighbors’ yards at once and listen to the buses roll by. But mostly we like our Homeschool in the Middle of Town.

This year has felt hard. There are lots of reasons for that, but none that I want to write about now. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and soon I need to spring to life and start making pies and scalloped greens and mashed potatoes (I’m trying the Pioneer Woman recipe, which allegedly holds overnight) — not to mention wrestling the giant bird into brine– let’s get straight to the pictures and all that we have to be thankful for.

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I’m thankful for my crazy family. Here they are pretending to ignore dad while he enthusiastically shares his passion for the outdoors. At least I think they were pretending. We were on an early fall camping trip with friends, for whom I am also very thankful. My friends put up with my many neuroses, which is great because my family can only do that for so long before they start to look kind of like the kids do here. 🙂

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I’m thankful for the Beatles. Beatlemania has totally taken hold in our home, and if I could keep up with life I would be writing about it more often. It’s become the thing through which all kinds of connections have been made lately, the ground out of which so many other things have grown. Who knew? Violet plucks out the tunes on her guitar; Victoria does that too for about 5 minutes and then sees something shiny. 😉 We’re all becoming better listeners and asking lots of questions about music, ideas, and life.

This picture, as you can see, is from Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Victoria’s melancholic, contemplative humor has drawn her to be very interested in John Lennon and things like this, a memorial and a reminder of the place where young John escaped to find what she wants most days — “a peaceful place” to be alone and think. How I happened to be in New York for 5 wonderful days in late October is a long story, but it was very much a highlight of my year, and makes me thankful for good friends all over again.

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I would like to tell you that I am thankful for my girl growing up, but I can’t tell you that wholeheartedly. For God’s sake, look at the child! She’s huge! Do you know that she wears the same size shoe as me now? I’ve given her a pair of black wedgie sandals that she is clomping around the house in — my wide old feet don’t like to squeeze into the toes anymore, but they are fine for her, and they make her even taller.

The downsides of having a near teenager are well established, so I won’t go into them now. The upsides, however, are that sometimes you see a lovely young woman peeking out at you through the dirty bangs. There are signs that your inadequate parenting has not disfigured your child completely, and she instead may surprise you by sometimes being unusually thoughtful or helpful. You may receive reports from strangers that make you say, “Really? My child did that?” and you may start to believe that you could someday send her off into the world without too much fear. Which is an occasion for thankfulness, yes, but also for a tissue and a little cry now and then.

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I am very thankful that I stumble across things like this in my daily life. Parenting and homeschooling are really about as tough as it gets sometimes, and then your 7yo disappears into her room for a while and then calls you back in all excited, and you see that she has made a doll’s bedroom (in which the doll eats hot fudge sundaes, lucky girl). Or she may head outside for a while and then call you to bring the camera to show you something like this . . .

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. . . and she is so excited and proud and frickin’ adorable that you can’t believe that you considered military boarding reform school for her even for a second. When she shows you these things, you see that much of family life is like panning for gold. There is so much exhausting labor, a lot of heartache and disappointment, and then there is that flash and you forget that you ever considered packing it in.

Which is good, because one thing that becomes crystal clear after a certain number of “I can’t stand this anymore!” moments is that you have to stand them. There is no place on earth or in heaven that you are not you — wife, mother, confused citizen of the world — and they are not your family, depending on you.

There is no packing it in. So back to the stream, and keep sifting. The vein is deep, but it is rich. Can you forgive me for pointing out, as I realized just now, that it is the Mother Lode?

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Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother