Category Archives: Oh Mother

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?

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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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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Recommitting

It’s been four years since we started homeschooling. Four years and a few months ago we started down an exciting path of learning about homeschooling, learning about educational theories, learning about types of giftedness. We had the usual issues of dealing with skeptics, figuring out what the change would mean for our family life, but that was more an adventure than a chore.

Eventually, the excitement wore off. That was a good thing, really. Homeschooling wasn’t a battle we had to fight or even a wheel we needed to reinvent. It was just what we did, like eating three meals a day — some great meals, some bad ones, a lot of unmemorable ones.

The honeymoon ended, but we were happy with the mundane reality of doing whatever the day called for. It was a nice break from feeling like salmon swimming upstream.

Then, somehow, happy everyday-ness started to feel like a rut. In addition, after four years of homeschooling it became clear that wonderful as homeschooling is, it’s hardly a panacea. Children still hit puberty. Intense children are still intense. Intense parents are still intense. I developed a lot of sympathy for the teachers who didn’t know what to do with my kids — neither do I. Nor do the kids — it’s lovely for people who can manage their intensity and whatever else life hands them with minimal support or guidance, but that’s never been me or my husband, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s not my kids either.

So I’ve been considering school. School, where someone could deal with the intensity for a while. School, where someone else could create structure. School, where my kids couldn’t be fighting with each other over nothing!

It didn’t take long to realize that for lots of reasons traditional school wouldn’t be happening for Violet. It’s Just. Not. A Fit. It’s not a giftedness thing so much as, well, a lot of other things that are really her business.

But for Victoria I thought it might be a great idea. If nothing else she would have the opportunity to make friends without a domineering older sister around. Yeah, yeah, it’s great that homeschooled kids can be in mixed-age groups and be great friends with siblings, but now that we’ve done that for a while it’s clear that not all children benefit in the same way from that situation. And someone else could try giving her instructions and see if she listens to them!

But once we started discussing school as a real possibility, I could see the potential problems — vacations were just the beginning! We struggle to deal with the asynchrony of her interests and abilities in a homeschool setting — her handwriting and math skills are not anywhere near the level of her science interests. Would she be getting the foreign language education she wants and we want for her? She gets frustrated with the noise and roughhousing of the kids at our homeschool co-ops — wouldn’t school be more of the same, for more hours of more days? And she just plain doesn’t like most kids her age. Where her sister has always been eager to act like a younger, crazier child, Victoria really doesn’t enjoy it. She wants to go sit and talk somewhere quiet, or “enjoy nature.”

I’m not saying school would be a *bad* place for her, but I can’t see how upending our current family style to accommodate school would offer enough benefits to be worth the effort. It wouldn’t seem to address any of the issues that are making life tough for her, and us.

The thing about being a salmon swimming upstream rather than a lazy sunbather floating contentedly down the river is that it requires intention. When the struggle ends, the mindful intention can slip away eventually as well, and when you find yourself with a punctured innertube in rocky rapids, it’s much easier to freak out than it is to find that mindful intention again.

So I’m recommitting, bringing myself back to that beginning place of learning, shaking things up, paying close attention because new things are happening. It’s a lot of work, a lot more work than it was four years ago, to haul my mind back to what’s happening right now. As far as I can tell, however, it’s probably more pleasant work than the terrible grind of the alternatives.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

Your Handy Guide to Social Introverts

Do you have a friend who calls herself an introvert, yet she seems comfortable speaking in public, sociable at parties, and generally not super shy and awkward?

She *claims* to be an introvert, but all the evidence is against her. What gives?

Let me help you.

Let’s imagine 2 people driving to an event they are looking forward to and sure to enjoy.

Person 1 — let’s call her Ann — gets into her car, puts on her favorite music, and hits the road. It’s an easy drive: not much traffic, beautiful views. She sings at the top of her lungs with the car set on cruise control, and she never has to stop for gas, restrooms, or a drink.

Person 2– let’s call her Beth — has to travel a different route. There’s heavy traffic and construction, so she turns off the radio to give driving her full concentration. Her car is a stick shift, so she’s constantly shifting up and down, and she couldn’t use cruise control even without the traffic. She also has a small gas tank, so the city driving means she either has to make sure the tank is completely full before she leaves, or she’ll have to make a stop on the way. She doesn’t really mind — she’s excited for the event — but the drive takes a toll nonetheless.

Both Amy and Beth successfully arrive at the same place, and both Amy and Beth enjoy themselves once they are there — they have pretty similar tastes. Amy arrives at her destination nearly on auto pilot. Beth, on the other hand, has to be more intentional to get to the same place, and will probably need a break even from having a good time, to rest up before the next trip.

And there’s your sociable introvert. Just because it doesn’t come totally naturally to us doesn’t mean we can’t do it or we don’t want to. We just have to think about it a little more.

Luckily, we like thinking too.

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Proceeding with Caution

This has been a time of swallowing my words — “this” meaning at least the last year or so. Blogging about our homeschooling is hard.

First, it’s a little more normal than it used to be. We’re got some years of experience, and most of the time we forget that we’re doing anything unusual.

Second, we know a lot more homeschoolers. Many of them pop by my blog from time to time. So I can’t bitch nearly as freely. 😉 Either that or I have to make up my mind to let the chips fall.

Third, and most important, my kids are older. I’ve seen this happen with other homeschool bloggers too. As your kids get older and increasingly independent, it’s hard to write about them. So much of what takes up our energy with Violet feels too private now. She’s turning 11 soon, and seems ever more like she’s wrapping up her cocoon. It’s tremendously exciting and terrifying and aggravating — and none of it seems right to put on the blog.

I’m not yet sure where I’ll go from here. Something new is stirring this spring — I’m just not sure what, or where it will pop up.

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Filed under Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is)