Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Defense of Unschooling

Unschooling is this amazing concept of child-led learning.  There are posts all over the internet about it, so I won't go into a ton of detail about what it is other than this little paragraph:

Unschooling looks different in every family.  Some families go on a nature walk every day.  Some read a history book and then re-create it in Minecraft.  Some kids read at age 4.  Some don't read until they're 11.  Some teenagers take classes to further develop their skills or to prepare for college.  Others dive into volunteering or start their own businesses.  The biggest thing I've found that they all have in common, though, is a focus on the family relationships.  Learning is done at a more natural pace, as dictated by the child.*

*I don't believe that Unschooling is the same thing as Unparenting.  In the best families, there are reasonable limits and guidelines set for the functioning of every day.  The difference is that those limits are less often arbitrary as is often dictated by the school system.  It is the pace and, to some extent, the content of the learning that is dictated by the child's interest, not the running of everyday life.

It sounds hokey, to be sure, but here are some things I've learned from being an oldest child in an incredibly intelligent family, and then going on to raise 4 very intelligent children of my own:

1.  Learning happens most intently, and most intensely, when it is self-directed.
2.  Learning can and should happen every day, in all aspects and seasons of life.
3.  When learning is mandated, it sucks the joy out of the process for too high a percentage of people.
4.  There are gaps in every education. Every. Single. One.
5.  Deep interest in one subject can, and often does, branch out into interest in other subjects.
6.  When a person needs to learn information, or a skill, they can find a way to learn it.
7.  Relationships, especially strong family relationships, are more important than any degree.
8.  When a child feels a deep, trusting bond with a mentor, they are more likely to ask questions.
9.  Dragging a child through homework when they are not engaged is a great way to destroy relationships.
10.  Children learn as much by example as by any other method.  Is learning important to them?  Of course!  So learn!  And then, share your love of learning and the ways in which you are growing!  This magical formula will do wonders!
11.  My college degree was largely supplementary to the skills I have gained by simply living my life.

Unschooling looks ridiculous on paper.  I get that.

But consider this:

We all know the school system is broken.  Shattered.  Borderline abusive, despite the best efforts and intentions of all those connected to it.  It's been in existence for hundreds of years.  In those many years, there have been probably hundreds of thousands of teachers who have cared for and taught millions of students.  The vast majority of those teachers have cared deeply about their students.  In addition, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of politicians who have been doing their very best to shore up the holes inherent in any system.  They have funneled programs, initiatives, and money into this system, all with the intent of doing the very best they can for the children.

With all of that time and care and intention and money, the system is still vastly flawed and more closely resembles a prison than an institution of growth.

So, if I'm going to bring my children out of the system to educate them at home, why would I try to replicate the system that has so many more resources than I do and is, inevitably, better equipped to educate my kids than I am by that methodology?

If I'm going to keep them home, it makes a lot of sense to break away from the system entirely and do my very best to support and help my little people to grow into the very best versions of them that they could be, and to do so in the very most loving way possible.  That picture very rarely includes forcing a child to sit at a desk or table and crying while they fight with material they are not ready for, either mentally or emotionally.

So, I say, go with the flow!  Read them stories, give them dedicated time to write or draw, go on field trips, and answer as many of their questions as you can.  Expand your own mind, and invite them to stretch themselves.  If we ever dip into the realm of shaming, punishing, or forcing our kids to learn, we're missing the point.

It's all about the growth and the joy.  Oh, how I believe that!  Learning is all about growth and joy!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Nicest Alarm Ever

We all know the struggle.  That annoying beeping in the morning wrenches you from the cradle of a delicious sleep.  You roll over, slam your hand on the snooze button, and drift back into dreamland for "five more minutes."

Twenty minutes later, you drag yourself out of bed, promising that you'll shower tonight, or tomorrow morning when you'll be able to get up on time.

In an effort to alleviate this problem, we buy music alarm clocks, or alarms that don't shut off until you shoot the target across the room, or weight-activated alarm mats... have you guys seen these awesome variations online?  They're awesome.

Mostly, I've given up on getting up at any specific time.  I'm a SAHM.  I can do that.  My kids wake me up for the important stuff- like, "Stop it!  Stop touching me!  Mom, my two-year-old brother who loves me to pieces is breathing my air!"

But, there are those occasional mornings when I do need an alarm.  And so, knowing that I'll ignore it most of the time, I dutifully set the alarm on my phone.  I set it to ring with a quiet, gentle tone that will, hopefully, ease me out of the bliss of sleep.

The song starts quietly, building slowly to full volume- which is set to be at about half of the volume at which I normally listen to music.  (Have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?)

Then, the music stops, interrupted by a calming, soothing voice.  "It's 8 am," she says.

Thank you for the information.  I appreciate it.

The music continues.  I mostly ignore it, except I know what's coming.  My inner grammar nazi claws its way through the haze of sleep, eager to avoid the travesty that's about to occur.

A minute later, the music stops again.  Again, that soothing voice, "It's 8-1 am," she informs me politely.  Not 8:01.  Not even eight-zero-one.  "It's 8-1 am."


Stop the madness!

The rest of me jolts awake.  I scramble for the button that will turn off my phone.  It's not that it's annoying... it's just so very very wrong!  And so, I am pulled out of sleep by a deep-seated need to right my world for the day.

It works every time.

I haven't made it past 8-2 am.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy Post

Hello, Friends!

This is just a happy little post to say:

Thank you for being my friends!

I just read through my last few posts, and realized they were all super angsty.  Apparently, I write more often when I'm upset.  Never fear!  Life is good!  I'm starting to come out of the "new mommy" phase... Baby girl is sleeping through the night, so I'm naturally feeling better.

Also, we have some fun things happening in our lives right now.

First off, I've discovered the Thomas Jefferson methodology of homeschooling, and I'm IN LOVE!  It's amazing.  It's beautiful.  It's so in line with how I think school should be.  I'll probably mix in elements of Montessori, Waldorf, and Charlotte Mason, but seriously, they're all about child-led education.  Our little family is more at peace than we've been for a long time.  That's important, I think.

Second, we're moving!  Aaaahhhh!  Right now, we're working on getting boxes packed up and hidden away so we can stage the house for pictures... so we can list it for sale this month.  Woohoo!  We don't know where we're going yet, but we know we need a place that has more space for our family and for my business.  Also, we're planning to build an indoor arena.  Hallelujah!

Anyway, I hope you're having a wonderful January!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fairy Tale Ending

I love a good fairy tale.  Cinderella is my favorite, but most romantic comedies leave me feeling gooey inside. The idea of happily ever after is beautiful.

And, I must admit, I have been extremely blessed in the fairy-tale department.  Before meeting my husband, I was able to step back from the stories that consume my thoughts and realize that every story is colored by my own expectations and a lot of help from storytellers.  Reality inspires the stories, but stories are meant so we can dream; the two rarely match.  Partly because of that realization, and partly because I really did marry the best man in the world, my marriage is pretty ideal.

We met, dated, got married, and proceeded with our happily ever after.  We expected jobs, kids, trials and triumphs.  And, with some unexpected hiccups, and even more unexpected blessings, that's exactly what the last nine years have brought us.

I made a mistake, though.

See, I've never been particularly enamored with children, and before I had my own, I was unable to admit that to myself.  At least, not to the degree that I actually felt it.

But, I wanted a family.  I believe in family.  Family is very important, and children are a part of that.  So, when I heard, "It's different with your own kids.  You'll love them more than you've ever loved anything," I bought into it.  I saw the idyllic pictures of peaceful mothers holding quiet infants, or mostly-naked babies smiling up out of bright flowers, and I believed.

And, for the last 7 years, I've struggled to continue believing.  It really has been a struggle.  I knew that sleep deprivations would happen.  Messes would happen.  Whining would happen.  I got that, and I've dealt with it, sometimes valiantly, sometimes not.  One of the hardest things for me about motherhood, though, is that I rarely feel that inexplicable bond that many mothers report.  Being paid in occasional smiles and sticky hugs occasionally makes up for the nastiness that comes with motherhood, but only in the moment in which I am receiving them.  The rest of the time?  Yeah, motherhood sucks like 90% of that time.

I bought into the fairy tale, and it was a slap in the face when the fairy tale didn't match reality.

Now, just to clarify a few things... my children are fantastic.  They are all intelligent, exuberant, and sweet in their own ways.  They're confident.  They're happy.  They're remarkably responsible, given their young ages. I'm well aware that the struggles I'm going through are my own, and not based on the personalities of my little brood.

Also, I love my children.  I even feel that love sometimes.  Most of the time, the love I have for them looks like the commitment I have to make sure they get fed and clothed.  Most of the time, it looks like pretending I have patience for all of the things they can't do.  Entirely too often, it looks like hiding in my bedroom, because I can't say anything nice and so I'm choosing to say nothing at all.  Sometimes, it looks like sucking it up and playing their games with them.  Often, it looks like trying to see them for the people that they are rather than the kids they currently can't help being.

Motherhood is the messiest business I've ever been in. I'm not talking about the tongue-in-cheek, "Oh, you'll miss these days," "It's hard but I wouldn't trade it for anything," type of messy.  I'm talking about soul-wrenching, gut twisting, losing all belief in yourself and most of what is good in this world as you clean up yet another puddle of pee type of messy.  So, I'm stepping away from the fairy tale.  Motherhood is not beautiful.  Most of the time, it is not even joyous.  But, somehow, buried deep under all the hormones and the laundry and the years and the mac and cheese, it is worthwhile.

Because, while mostly I don't like motherhood, I do have hope.  I choose to believe that they will grow up into cool people.  I hope that we will all enjoy one another as we grow together.  I look forward to the day when we'll be able to play interesting games together, or talk about a book we've all read, or a movie we all enjoy.  I have hope that they will grow into self-sufficient people, and that someday we will stand on more even footing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Repeating Years

Childhood is a magical time.  Kids change so quickly in so many ways... especially in retrospect.  It seems like two months ago that we brought home our first sweet baby girl.  She turned 7 this year.  I honestly don't remember much about the intervening years, except to say that our babies are no longer babies.

Well, except the one, but we really did bring her home 2 short months ago.  (It's funny how the first two months of a baby's life fly by soooooo much faster than the last two months of pregnancy!)

Overall, things are going very well.  For one thing, baby 4 is only waking up once each night, which means that life is returning to some semblance of normalcy.  For another, I am feeling so much better than I was two months ago it's almost ridiculous.  I still can't take normal-size steps because of pain in my hips, but even with that, I can move!  It's beautiful.

And so, it's time to start putting our lives back in order.  I need to keep up with the laundry, do the dishes, make sure everybody gets enough food each day and at least one bath per week.  Beyond that, I'd really like to do a little deep cleaning every day... just to make our house feel livable again.

Here's how a typical day goes:
Wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby.
Wake up, bleary-eyed, earlier than I'd like (given the night feeding) to feed the baby again.
Thank my lucky stars that my husband is good at mornings and takes care of the kids before work.
Take a nap after baby eats, and hope it makes up for the night feeding.  (It usually doesn't, but it helps.)
Get up and get dressed.
Change a diaper.
Get food for myself.
Remind kids to work on school.
Get lunch for kids.
Work on dishes while they eat.
Remind kids to work on school.
Change a diaper.
Work on laundry.
Remind kids to work on school.
Work on cleaning up the table in the front room.
Correct school work.
Continue to work on cleaning up the table in the front room.
Correct school work again.
"Yes, you can go outside.  You should probably put on a sweatshirt; it's cold outside."
"I don't know where your shoes are.  Where did you put them?"
"You should put your sweatshirt on."
"Because it's cold outside."
"Where did you put your shoes when you took them off?"
"Didn't you just get water?"
"Yes, it's a good idea to go to the bathroom before you go outside."
"You're going to be cold if you don't put on your sweatshirt."
"Because the weather is getting colder outside."
Try to work on the table some more.  (Didn't I get this cleaned off two days ago?)
"You need another drink of water?"
"Yes, by all means, please go to the bathroom."
"I told you you needed a sweatshirt.  It's cold outside, right?"
Work on laundry.
Change a diaper.
Feed the baby.
Burp the baby.
"Oh, your shoes were outside?  That's no good.  I'm glad you found them."
Put the baby down for a nap and hope that she sleeps.
Turn back to the blasted table.
Turn back around and pick the baby back up.
Give up on the day because the baby won't let me do anything else.
Stupid table still needs attention.
Laundry is piled all over my bedroom, but at least I've made some progress.

Guess what I'm doing tomorrow?

Childhood is supposedly a magical time... for the children.  :)  I find that the simple tasks I would like to get out of the way so I can enjoy my life become infinitely more difficult and time-consuming with small children running around.  Conversations take infinitely longer.  Tasks must be repeated 12 times before they can be considered done, because curious and exuberant children undo them just so fast.

Super-moms, how do you do it?

Drowning in a never-ending mess

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Maternity Life

Baby number 4.

I swore I wouldn't deal with the last stages of pregnancy in the summer anymore.  I think I've made myself that promise 3 times now.

But, here I am, 33 years old, in the middle of June, with two months left to go in this pregnancy.

And, because I'm not sure if there will be a baby number 5, I am making some concessions to pregnant life.

First and foremost, I am turning the AC down as much as I want and freezing my family out.  :)

Second, I bought myself two huge non-maternity dresses that fit very comfortably over my expanding belly.  (Hopefully, I can still wear them after baby comes, at least for a little while.)

Third, on the days when I don't feel good, I'm giving myself a pass.  Last time around, my feet swelled up to 3 times their normal size and were sore for months.  This time?  I'm letting myself put my feet up for hours at a time.

Fourth, I've decided that it's okay to not get all the things done that I need to do.  Or, if I really do need to get them done, I can take several days, if that's all my energy allows.

Fifth, I'm pretty sure that if we do have another baby, I'll need to hire somebody to help me clean my house and play with my kids for the duration of the pregnancy.

And... it's nice.  I feel a little guilty for taking so much me-time, but I also know I'll only have another couple of months of this, and then life will pick up steam again.

So, because I'm avoiding cameras like the plague, please picture me, lounging on my couch, feet up, surrounded by children's toys, clad in a bright pink nightgown-shaped dress, hair in a messy bun, sipping juice, watching Gilmore Girls, and smiling every so slightly as life passes me by.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mommy Feelings

Mother's Day is coming up.

This day always brings me mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I picture beautiful spring days, lovely flowers, occasional jewelry, and mothers sharing smiles and cookies and swings with their beautiful, clean children.

On the other hand, I see my actual perception of mothers everywhere: Guilt-ridden, overwhelmed, frazzled, short-fused, ticking time bombs.

In my head, bouquets and hallmark cards and beautiful necklaces are delivered with breakfast in bed on tiptoe and with trembling fingers because of tradition and long-suffering husbands and because, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  So, darn it, we better show that we appreciate Mother because if we don't, all hell will break loose.

Every year, I hear how sacred a calling Motherhood is.  I hear about the sacrifices mothers make.  I hear about beautiful traditions and sweet moments.  Every year, I hear about all the honor and love that is due to mothers, simply because they are who they are.

And then, I think about how I have to be a tyrant to my little boy, because at 5 years old, he can't remember the simple instruction to keep his hand off his crotch, despite repeated reminders for over a year.  I think about the last time I yelled at my children for something I think they should already understand.  I think about how pretty much all mothers go through this same thing, and it's ugly and messy and leaves you feeling like a mangy dog that just lost a fight.

I blame us.  I blame the mothers.  Of course bringing life into the world is important.  Of course doing your best to raise your children well is important.  At the very least, I tell myself, I try to make sure my children get enough food, and I don't beat them, and they're learning some good principles.  I hope.  Somewhere, stuck in between the cracks of my tantrums.

But it's our fault that we let ourselves get caught in the frustration.  It's our fault when we don't always control our emotions and actions.  It's our fault, because children are innocent and sweet and should never be hurt in any way, right?  Shouldn't we have more of those commercial-worthy moments, with the bubbles and the walks through the park?

I saw a graph the other day that showed that what mothers primarily want for Mother's Day is chocolate.  Flowers and silence also made the list.

Silence sounds good.  Climbing into a hole with blankets and a book also sounds good.  An assurance that my kids will someday grow up and not scream at me when they're unhappy sounds nice, too.  A team of people who could come in and clean my house top-to-bottom would be truly lovely.  I literally don't remember the last time I cleaned either of our bathrooms.

Being able to be nice to the people I love because I'm not constantly worried about what they're doing would be lovely.

Having the ability to share my hobbies with my kids without having to stop every 5 minutes to wipe away tears, get yet another stupid drink of water or change another diaper would be awesome.

Remembering that I'm a person.  Am I still?  I'm pretty sure I'm just a momster.  We all are.  Every mother out there succumbs at some point, and then it's just a downward spiral.

Do I like being a mother?  Very rarely.  Do I regret becoming a mother?  Also very rarely.

Stupid, stupid time of life.

I don't not regret becoming a mother because of the beauty of it.  Or those cute little snuggles.  Or those sweet little moments when things do go right.  I guess... I feel the importance of it in an eternal sense.  I feel the worth of these little souls in my charge.

And, I don't know a lot, but I do have a few of the important things figured out.  So, while I truly am a momster, at least I can sigh and do my best to pass on those bits of knowledge that I do have and, hopefully, get them pointed in some semblance of the right direction without confusing them too much.

But can I skip Mother's Day this year?  Blech.