“The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do.”
― John Holt
Way back at the beginning of the autumn, I decided our family’s homeschooling approach needed a massive upgrade. I’m still planning a separate update on this, but basically: I sat down with the kids and told them that in addition to following their interests over the course of the next year, I was going to implement a semi-compulsory yet very flexible daily educational structure.
For nearly fourteen years, I was pretty much petrified to do this - scared of being a bad mother, of squelching my children’s joy, of offending those among my children who don’t like being told what to do, by “forcing” my kids to do so many things. They would hate me for it! That’s what I thought.
Despite all my years spent as a homeschooled child, it is quite different to be a homeschooling parent, so I must cut myself a little slack for such doubts.
Our Homeschool Planning session back in September included a new list for each child: three new subjects that were slightly interesting to the child (and Important and Relevant For Life as determined by me), and which also felt daunting and intimidating to each child and so would require support, encouragement, and…can an unschooling mother use the T word with pride?? Daily TEACHING…in order for such subjects to be pursued.
I am honestly super thrilled about what has evolved over the past several months. As we go, I’m trying to juggle what I believe to be priorities: music, as well as mathematics and reading, political analysis, food/cooking/nutrition/health, physical activity, history (especially from the perspective of marginalized populations), and Socializing With and Exploring Our World. Our “curriculum” and activities are based upon my desire for the kids to use a computer first for learning to type and communicate (before using it for Entertainment), so touch-typing lessons have been the basis of each boy’s morning. I found a really great phonics teaching method for Eliza, and that (plus a neat math program) have rounded out her days, when she is feeling well enough to face challenging activities (beyond her constant challenge of Eating Meals).
Implementing this structure has utilized my organizational skills to the max, and takes nearly every waking moment of attention when I am not cooking, shopping, attempting to appreciate my sweet husband, and taking some “me time.” (Jeff and I are even upgrading: we’ve started a weekly “business meeting”, so that Discussions about Finances etc. can be tabled for a time that isn’t either In The Middle of Something Fun, or Sometime Vaguely Resembling Never.)
I’ve been trying to make sure that every child (even Ivy! With whom I now do thrice-weekly “Happy Music Time”) has interesting and challenging activities going on during the day, and juggling and balancing all the different “homeschooling” subjects is actually a lot more interesting than waiting and hoping for a magical, calm, and sweet unstructured-and-unplanned-and-uncurated unschooling life to magically to create itself. Not that I was exactly sitting there twiddling my thumbs as a parent before; but now, I am proud of each of my children’s strengths on a daily basis, as well as my own attempts to cultivate and appreciate our Family Learning Atmosphere.
Family Health Challenges, especially those symptoms involving behavioral Unpleasantness and fluctuating energy levels and/or pain, continue to be the bane of our existence. I want SO BAD for all of us to feel fairly good most of the time! To that end, Jeff and Eliza have recently visited a specialist M.D. who works extensively with patients who have environmental illness, chronic fatigue, and “complex cases.” God knows we have a few of these!
We’ll let you know what comes of this after a lot more time goes by…I do keep hoping for lots of improvements, though, because when I momentarily get overwhelmed and stop Hoping…it leads to some of the worst-feeling days I’ve experienced in recent memory.
My overall belief in the power of human bodies to heal, when given the right nourishment and occasional human interventionary treatments, is as close to a religion as I have, these days.
When asked to don her pajamas: “I’m not available. I'm dancin’!”
Singing: “...donkey riding, donkey riding....” [long pause] [laughs] “I just tooted on Kitty!”
Singing: “Hush a bye, don’t you cry, when you wake up you shall have pie...”
“I dead!” Ivy, I don’t want you to be dead, Sweetheart! “I just peetending to be dead.”
…Ivy, what am I going to do with you?! “What am I going to do wif YOU?”
“These are ballet slippers - are they for balleting?”
“I’m a cute baby’s wif a dirty face!”
“The sun went away! But it will come back eventually, and my feet will be warm.”
The other day, my nearly-three-year-old threw a sudden, enormous tantrum right in front of Trader Joe’s. We hadn’t even made it into the aisles. We were _literally_ right in front. Of the freaking Entrance Doors.
Eliza got all weepy when Ivy started screaming, and retreated to the van where the boys were hanging out, and at that moment, an elderly lady with no teeth came over to try to “soothe” my child. “Hi, Cutie!” she said. “Is your mommy telling you to do something you don’t want to do? Want me to go get you some candy?” It’s amazing how rarely people remember that such comments help diffuse situations like these exactly negative seventeen percent of the time. “What does she want?” the lady asked me next. “What would happen if you GIVE her what she wants?”
“Uh…what does she WANT? Nothing!” I replied loudly, above the screeches of my child. “Like, she really doesn’t want ANYTHING right now. That’s not the issue.”
“Then why is she crying?” the lady wanted to know.
And in fact, this is how the tantrum began: I had been walking hand in hand with two happy girls, when I stopped at the corral to pull out a shopping cart. “Who wants to go in the cart?” I had asked cheerfully.
“Me! Me!!” Eliza had responded happily.
And that’s when Ivy started snuffling. “Do you want to go in the cart too, Ivy?” I asked. Ivy sniffled louder. “Hey Ivy, do you want to sit in the seat, or in with the groceries?” No answer, just hiccuping sobs beginning to erupt. I sensed It coming, and felt that nasty sensation of dread in my chest that some people mistake for an impending heart (or panic) attack. “Ivy! You can go in the cart or you can not-go in the cart. Which do you want?”
But it was already happening: Ivy was howling, sobbing with emotion, tears pouring out of her annoying little squinched-up eyeballs. “I d-d-d-don’t…WANT…ANYONE to go in the cart!!” she screamed finally. And just like that, she was speechless, while customers passed by and I stood over my howling child and got in touch with how pissed I felt: after over fourteen years of parenting, I STILL regularly find myself in stupid situations like this!
“Okay, well then, Ivy, I guess you’ve made your choice. No one in Trader Joe’s wants to hear a screaming child, so we’ll sit outside on this bench. Instead of going to shop, I’ll listen to my child YELL REALLY LOUDLY. This is NOT WHAT I WANT TO BE DOING RIGHT NOW!!!
That was the moment when the elderly lady had walked over.
“…I remember back to when my kids were little,” the woman was saying, as Ivy howled on, “and I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I’d just given them what they wanted. What would happen,” she went on, “if you just leave her here and go on in?”
The woman stood there in front of me, toothless and problem-solving, while I tried not to humiliate myself further by speaking anything out loud, such as “Do you mean, maybe I should leave my writhing child in the care of a total stranger outside of a grocery store? Like, just to SEE if the Authorities will deem me Unfit???”
Instead, I kept quiet while Ivy Kept Loud and I decided that in this case, it was socially acceptable to turn my attention to my phone in the middle of the “conversation.”
“Actually,” the woman said, as she began walking away, “I’m glad that all my children are all grown up now, and I’m done with all this.”
I had a sudden, burning question: will there come a day when my life is both tantrum-free AND I still have most of my teeth??
Through it all, Ivy learned how to ride a bike last month: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Iatdm6chKAJLIpo52
Ivy: Why is it called lipstick?
Eliza, knowledgeably: It goes on your lips and it sticks!
Eliza, for the forty-fifth time in five minutes: Knock knock...
Ivy, patiently: Who’s where [there]?
Ivy: Lettuce who?
Eliza: Lettuce tell some more knock knock jokes! [The next punch line: “...Chin up, I’m not going to tell you any more knock knock jokes!”]
Ivy, excitedly: Now I want to tell YOU a knock knock joke!
Eliza is suddenly grumpy and annoyed. I remind her that she better participate if she wants reciprocation in the future: ALRIGHT, she says, WHO’S THERE?!
Ivy, delightedly scanning out the window: A...sign!
Eliza: A sign who?
Ivy: A sign to wook at!
Eliza has been struggling a lot, but not as badly as she’s suffered over the past few winters. CBD oil has definitely blunted the effect of the horrendous migraines, although she still gets them way too often. Eating has been very difficult, and her fatigue, anxiety, and malaise has been significant. (I’m trying not to hope too hard that the doctor’s visit will bring new insight and treatment possibilities. Please keep your fingers crossed!!)
“I’m sorry, mama! I wish you weren’t having your period. Can I have another little sister instead?”
“You have to say it slowly and scarily, Ivy, like this: ‘BRRAIINS…’”
“I was NOT doing a baby voice! I was doing a robot voice.”
“Mama! Ivy says she stuck my toothbrush into her vagina!”
Our family recently replaced all of our toothbrushes.
Jem is an active writer these days, and over the past few months he made his way all the way through the typing book, dramatically improved his spelling skills, and has written over a hundred emails to relatives and friends. He’s learning to play the piano, and he and Ben recently participated in a talent show by singing a song together: https://photos.app.goo.gl/nUaLo2z13j2xp42E3
A limerick by Jem:
There once was a young man named Dick
Who found a brown turd and said, “Ick!”
He said, “Oh my Gosh!
“It looks just like a squash!
“But the smell of it makes me feel sick.”
Both boys are taking a comedy improv class, reading and discussing “A People’s History of the United States”, learning to play the piano, and getting together weekly with other homeschooled teens and tweens to play games, read books, and socialize. I am also showing the boys a bunch of movies, with an emphasis on dramas that bring history to life (suggestions, please??), films portraying all sorts of people of all ages and backgrounds who interact in realistically complex life situations (also seeking more ideas!), and fun movies that will allow them to at least have some connection with the frenetic pop culture evolving out there in the world. I’m trying to additionally discuss with them the ways that movies and cultural mores shape each person’s views and feelings on race, ethics, gender, beauty, sexuality, etc. etc. etc.
Sometimes it feels quite monumental to be a parent, and have the constant responsibility of Deciding What To Say and Do when ones children are around!
Ben, listening to Swan Lake: “This music is fantastic!”
A limerick by Ben:
There once was an old man named Kevin
And though he was only eleven
He went to his college
And got so much knowledge
That he couldn’t add six onto seven
My pimples are WAY better now that I eat a low-lectin, higher-vegetable diet.
Is less acne a good reason to not-eat tomatoes and potatoes and squash forever?? The jury is still out on this one - I guess I’ll first have to try reintroducing them at some point to see if the pimples recur.
(Vanity is a hugely driving force for behavioral change…)
What I’ve been up to:
As a mental health geek, I spent a couple of months this fall tracking my mood. I wanted a way to ease the additional torture that follows temporary periods of depression or anxiety, when I begin to berate myself for “weakness” and subsequently fear that these depressive/anxious moments signal an impending nervous breakdown.
This challenge of overthinking may face anyone who’s had formerly debilitating mental health issues and has generally (and mostly successfully) acted as ones own personal doctor… In any case, it’s been a challenge for me.
So I needed an outlet for these fears, and tracking my mood hourly over the course of two months provided me with significant data plus a lot of relief from the overthinking itself (all sorts of paradoxes exist in this world!):
1. Mealtimes (specifically: feeding Eliza, listening to Eliza cry about food, dealing with seemingly copycat-not-eating behaviors in Ivy, and hearing whining and complaints about the food I make) create significant upticks in my anxiety. This is a form of PTSD, and it has been useful to identify these episodes mostly because the anxiety effect can last significantly longer than the actual mealtime, and labeling it helps me not identify with it.
2. Taking time for myself on a daily basis is an effective anti-anxiety tool. (I know, mother and sister and all concerned family members - who would have guessed?! ;) )
3. Meditation isn’t as torturous or useless as I’ve always assumed.
4. Playing a musical instrument and dancing and singing is really, really good for me.
5. I love musical theatre! And am very grateful to be getting to take part in another production - this time, “The Wizard of Oz” - which will open the first weekend in March. I’m both the dance captain and the “Jitterbug,” a dancing role that was cut from the movie but will (I hope) be fun to view in this show.
6. Have I mentioned what an amazing husband I have??
7. Taking time to be alone with my spouse is super, super wonderful and important, despite how impossible it often feels to carve out time away from our lovely, adorable, and demanding children.