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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The End of Harry Potter

It’d be hard to overstate the extent to which the Harry Potter books and movies shaped my oldest daughter’s childhood. I nursed her while reading the first few books, and 12 years later, we’re off to the last movie tomorrow.

We have 2 Lego Hogwarts castles and minifigs galore from smaller sets. Violet read the books so much for a time that I debated hiding them so she would read something else. We have multiple family activities that are based on a deep knowledge of Harry Potter, and for one crazy summer we homeschooled by pretending that Violet had been invited to participate in a Hogwarts correspondence course, which involved me writing letters from each of the professors, trying to imitate their voices, and arranging for their delivery by a sort of owl post.

Many adults I know have been looking back at the principle actors/characters growing up, often with a hanky handy. This one got to me:

What all these “look back at the kids over the years” moments remind me of is that the Harry Potter series has been, at its heart, a coming of age story. As the last books were coming out, reviewers and readers were making lots of comparisons to Narnia and Lord of the Rings, Lewis and Tolkien. We talked about it on the blog, on a page I kept separate to hide any spoilers: Harry Potter Talk.

It would be impossible for a fantasy series not to be heavily influenced by the most significant fantasy series of all times, but I still think these comparisons are unfair and misguided. The Harry Potter series, as I said back then, is a much more personal story than that, and Harry’s biggest job—the job both Dumbledore and Snape were trying to help him do— was to grow up right. He needed to grow up kind, brave, and humble while knowing all the while that he was The Chosen One.

It’s what all kids need to do. Each child, in her own mind, is The Chosen One, the center of her own story, yet growing up well means recognizing her independence as well as her dependence on others, and embracing her true power while putting that power in service of something other than herself. This is the battle Harry Potter fights, and that kids are fighting all the time. It’s the crux of every book: can Harry develop his full powers, and can he make the right choice about how to use them?

That question, ideally plus loads of magic, is the journey of childhood, in which even the biggest superstars of the adult world can only play a supporting role.

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Mistakes Were Made

Five years in—that’s three more than we originally planned when we pulled Violet from school and decided to see what homeschooling would be like.

It’s been great. We’ve met great people in person and online. I have made wonderful friends and so have the girls, Violet and Victoria. I like to think that deciding to unplug from school opened the door to my husband, Eggmaster, thinking harder about where and how he wanted to work: not too much later, he got a new job, and then we moved to a neighborhood he loves.

But regrets, I’ve had a few. Not just parenting regrets —good god, who doesn’t have those —but homeschooling regrets. They might look familiar to anyone who’s ever picked up a homeschooling book, those newbie mistakes that you have to make for yourself. And make them I did.

To commemorate five years of homeschooling, here are five mistakes – and a great deal of rationalization to go along with them:

1. Doing too much too soon
I did say these would look familiar, right? We did our mandatory “deschooling” period, but I wish it had been longer and a lot more fun. Then again, I wish I were more fun and relaxed in general.
However, this deschooling thing is hard to get right. Like many PG kids, Violet felt like she was starving to death in school, and leaving school was supposed to be her opportunity to feast. After a month of no “school” she was excited to try Chinese and start reading history and learning some interesting math. And I was eager to prove to naysayers that it would all be OK. So we dove in, and by a process of accretion soon ended up doing too much.

2. Not getting the right support for homeschooling
It’s taken us a while to find the people who bring the Kleenex box over when it’s all too much and who laugh evilly with us at inappropriate times. There were people who knew about resources that might have helped us “feast” on learning without getting too schooly, but we couldn’t find them.
Our first homeschool group—now it can be told!—kind of fell apart soon after we joined, not least because of a little hanky panky among spouses who were not, at the time, married to each other. And who knows why it took me so long to connect with the gifted homeschool group – oh no, wait. I think I know why. Because we’re all skittish and introverted and group-averse, at least until somehow we get to know someone and then it’s just a big freakin’ love fest. And I hate driving, and then we moved, and we always had too many commitments.
I wish we had succeeded at connecting with a supportive group from the very beginning, but our own temperaments, our unique needs, and the general frostiness of Minnesota social life made it a slow process.

3. Not getting the right support for giftedness
After 5 years navigating g/t world, and PG world, I’ve learned an awful lot, and damn it could have been useful 5 years ago. I have several friends who participated in gifted toddler and preschool forums online, something that I would never have considered in a million years when I had a gifted toddler or preschooler. Not that I ever thought of either of my kids in that way when they were those ages—no, my adorable four-year-old who was reading adult books and asking for French and Italian dictionaries for Christmas was just “bright,” and I ruled the district “gifted school” out of our school considerations because I didn’t want to be one of “those parents.”
Except that those parents turned out to know a lot of things I needed to learn, and I had a lot of catching up to do when the school forced us into doing some testing. I read around, but I didn’t make connections with the people who could have helped me—and the people who would have been happy to talk to me about what most didn’t want to hear.

4.Working too hard
We started homeschooling at a pretty stressful time in our lives. So stressful that I don’t want to give away a lot of the very private details. While the last five years have been filled with a lot of joy, I have also spent way too much time feeling burnt out. Over the years, many of my own favorite pastimes have slipped away. This is not how homeschooling has to be, of course, but high-need kids plus limited support tends to equal exhausted parents. It’s also easy to get caught up in the “who’s most burnt out” game with other homeschool parents—after a while it comes to seem like the only form of accomplishment and entertainment. Turning things around after you’ve depleted all your inner resources is hard work.

5. Comparing
Back when I first started blogging I read tons of homeschool blogs. Had them on my reader, cruised them daily, bookmarked them all for great ideas. I have learned a few things since that time:
1. I am not crafty. I will never do a project featured on Soule Mama, especially not with my children, who would probably refuse to follow instructions and mess everything up anyway.
2. I do not follow instructions. I’m sorry, I just don’t. The girls and I put together this cool magnetic marble roller coaster yesterday and we were absolutely hilarious. I would point to the instructions and Violet would nod and say “oh, right” while looking at the ceiling, and I could not get angry with her because I am the same way. As my husband said when he came to rearrange the coaster that we had put together backwards, so that the beginning and end would not meet, “Details matter.” But I have a hard time making them matter to me, so trying to implement some of the fantastic things I have seen from La Paz or Elizabeth Foss has been a Epic Fail. (Though I can hope that I have been inspired by them indirectly!)
3. I am not sweet. Homeschool bloggers are, by and large, a sweet bunch, and Catholic homeschool bloggers in particular. I admire them and look to them as role models. But after 40 years, the evidence is in: God did not make me that way.
4. My kids are not like other kids. (Neither are yours, obviously.)

Five years later, I still make tons of mistakes, but mostly they are not these mistakes.

And with any luck at some point soon I’ll be able to mark the beginning of the next five years with five things I’ve done right.

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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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