After house work, running the kids around, and working at my NEW JOB on a dairy farm, there is only so much cat snuggling and reading one can do. I've taken up a wonderful new hobby,
wood burning. Which makes my husband cringe. Apparently he was wounded in the 1970s, psychologically, with one too many gifted wood burning/leather work sets. I was considered learning disabled and not trusted with the tools of the gifted and talented. So I'm free and unfettered to burn away my cares on spoons, picture frames, tiny boxes, and perhaps building blocks. Its fun.
Her father sent me an emergency email yesterday. He's suddenly realized she will be grown soon. We've been slowly getting used to the idea of her brother being grown. Somehow, considering both together was too much, until yesterday when the inevitability of reality dawned.
I love blogging and I love reading mommy blogs. They are a touchstone of comfort for me. Being a housewife is an ironically lonely job. Blogs offer wonderful solace. Look: other women's lives, other women's art, and company along the way.
Last night I dreamed about a basement in our house. I knew it was awful: dark, haunted, dangerous, frightening, full of broken windows and spiders. I went down there, flipped on the overheard florescent lights, noted it was dark night outside the windows, and said, "Yeah, its scary. Fuck it. I'm about to have a party up in here!" I was scared. But I was not planning to be defeated by a room in my own house. No.
Consider that for a young child in the daily company of teachers, making an effort to retain the lessons is sort of an unnatural thing to do. Because the kids know the teacher already knows the answers. The human brain is pre-wired to skim information already retained in the community.
First you think homeschooling is a little scary. Then you think ditching the curriculum is a little scary. Then you think going without at least a plan and some workbooks is a little scary. Then you think giving your children the freedom to create themselves is a little scary. Then they start doing it. And it's not scary, it's humbling. Because their plan for themselves is so much bigger and more expansive and beautiful than anything you would have dreamed up for them. Get out of the way.
This is an anonymous snag off a youface post. And I love it because its sums up, again, the most common trajectory for homeschooling families. Like it or not, most of us start out kind of uptight and controlling because of fear and indoctrination from our uptight controlling educations. Then we let go. We discover humility in the face of our own failings. And awe and gratitude and joy and relief to witness the truth of these smart little human beings unfolding before us.
But one thing about this passage bothers me. Yes, their plans for themselves are bigger and more expansive and beautiful than any curriculum. But that does not mean they will all become brain surgeons, or graduate college before age 18, or invent new ways to detect cancer using ingredients from the kitchen. (I think some school kid actually just did that. Bravo, kid!) There isn't any pressure to be super-human or to prove anything about the homeschooling movement or parenting or any specific child's liger-skills and prowess.
Children, before plugging into the matrix of industrial expectation, formula, and curricula, are bigger and more expansive and more beautiful, all by themselves. The revelation of homeschool is exactly in what they don't need. Human life unfolding in healthy circumstances is already enough. Industrial elementary education is, for most kids, a hindrance. Homeschooled kids don't have to reinvent art or change the course of scientific thought or prove anything. Being free is enough. Astonishing simplicity is the unexpected truth. No curricula exists more complex or challenging than life on earth.
He has to work to fit in such a small space. But he's willing to do that work. He's a trooper.
He can't get on his usual couch because its holding our coffee table, in preparation for floor cleaning. Friday is cleaning day. I've been off and on the computer all morning. In the off moments I do laundry and move furniture and clean bathrooms and change sheets and see after the kitchen and get ready for grocery shopping and etc etc etc. Meanwhile, the dog abides.
Then out for dinner and bumming around town. Equally wonderful.
Its not a very far distance between the time the kids are big enough to go out in a way that isn't specifically kid focused, as grown people, before they are off on their own adventures. But it sure is fun. We had a great time last night. We got schooled. We ate at Chipotle. We wandered. We "fro yo y'all." And then we went home. Lovely mid week super chill evening.
I've just discovered something important. Contempt isn't allowed in my house. I won't stand for it. Its inappropriate behavior, is why. I grew up around a whole lot of contempt. Just, no.
Teenagers will experiment with all kinds of expression and that's a great thing. I'm all for that. Dear Girl expressed contempt for the idea of a sandwich today. She's free to feel how she will, and it was pretty clear her facial expression was an experiment. And we're talking about a sandwich here, so its also clear this really has nothing to do with either of my kids, directly. But that raised lip slapped me into awareness and I'm grateful. We have a new rule. We can add it to the other two:
1) If a kid is having a turn that kid keeps the toy until they are done. Then another kid can have a turn.
2) No lying.
3) Contempt is unacceptable, as its incompatible with love. Reassess yourself accordingly.
Unschooling theory as read through the New York Times: "There is good reason to suppose that responsibility has to be installed in the foundation of your mental equipment — at the level of perception and habit. There is an ethic of paying attention that develops in the trades through hard experience. It inflects your perception of the world and your habitual responses to it."
My first labor was 40 hours long. I missed a c-section by the width of a gnat's ass. I had a fever the whole labor, I had a bad reaction to the epidural drugs, I won't discuss the tearing, and by the time my beautiful perfect son was born I was tired in a new kind of way. I will never forget what my mother told me my first night home. Actually, I can't remember her exact phrasing. She either said: "Your first night home with a baby is the only time in your life you can expect help." Or she said: "deserve help" or "get help" or something like that. What I remember clearly is bottomless relief. I thought to myself: thank you thank you thank you thank you oh sweet Jesus thank you! She held my son while I slept the first night, for like five hours. And she came back the next day with food. I remember feeling guilty for needing so much special attention. For real, I remember feeling guilty.
My best friend got married six weeks later. I was either Maid of Honor or a bridesmaid. I can not remember which. What I do remember is how I very much did not want to go to the wedding. I did go. I stood on the alter through the ceremony in front of friends and family, in a satin sleeveless dress, dripping milk, bleeding, and trembling. I took the dress off an hour after the ceremony and we left about three hours later. The family let it be known I had post partum depression. How else to explain my behavior--not being more engaged in my life after the baby? How else to explain changing my clothes an hour after the wedding? Never mind the dress was stained with milk on the outside and blood and fury on the inside? Have you ever nursed at a party in a spaghetti strapped satin gown? Oh but, my son was six weeks old. He should just wait it out, right? After all, we were at a wedding. There are more important things in life than nursing a six week old infant. I was being so selfish!
Just last night, for heaven's sake, I sat drinking a beer in a bar with my husband and both of us were nearly in tears we were so tired and frustrated with each other. He for his good reasons. And me because I feel so guilty for not also holding down a paying job while raising our children. I feel so guilty for being so lame and unproductive. I fought tears because we were in public. But I wanted to weep. He stared at me like monkeys were flying out of my ears. From his point of view, I have been working.
I could go on and on. There are so many important points in this essay. It relates to everyone. It relates to my husband who won't take a day off work when he's sick because it makes him feel too guilty. It relates to our healthcare system and how much we get it wrong. We get it wrong all up one side and down the other. I just....ugh.
A few months ago we studied Malcolm X. Yesterday we listened to Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech and next month we have tickets for "The Mountaintop." After the speech we had a talk about how recent and pertinent this history is. My brother was alive when Martin Luther King gave that speech. I remember that time, the free flowing hatred, and the fear. I most wanted the kids to understand racism in their distant ancestors, in family too smart to admit it now, and even in myself. I tried hard to impress upon them the idea that we need to examine ourselves deeply, with regard to prejudice because its a human impulse rooted in fear and we are all susceptible to fear.
Its curious to me that they never asked what my prejudice is. When they didn't ask, I offered that my own brand of prejudice is not based on skin color in any way. They didn't want to know more. Its possible they simply wanted me to stop talking. There is no bell to save you from verbosity in homeschool. Plus, its a topic that hurts. No matter what, it hurts.
The catch phrase for our family this fall, with a raised fist:
"No freedom till we're equal. Damn right I support it."
Here is a fabulous article about the most common trajectory for new homeschooling families. They pull out of the system because its lame. They recreate the system at home only to discover the industrial model is lame, even at home. Then they begin to give up relax. Relaxing creates an opportunity for them to observe how children learn. They end up with some mix of child led learning and are happily on their way.
"I also began to realise that this wasn’t just about us educating our daughters; rather the experience of home educating was teaching us about life and learning all over again, and in a way that was so much more powerful than either my wife or I experienced when we were at school."
My daughter, as I just mentioned, learned how to make pastry this weekend. I happen to be really good at making pastry. I know, its not exactly rocket science. Except that almost no one does it in our society anymore and most average folks think its a difficult thing to do. Anyone can do it. Many don't do it well. My daughter asked me a couple of questions, banished me from the kitchen, and went to work with a book of her choosing---a book I would not have chosen for her. And she crushed it.
Similarly, last week she decided to make a skirt for herself. Her Grandmother is a professional seamstress. There is nothing her Grandmother can't sew and not much she hasn't. I'm decent enough with a needle and thread. Dear girl asked us exactly nothing. She noticed fabric, researched technique on youface, and proceeded to make herself a skirt with a zipper that is lovely. All without ever referring to a physical pattern. She wore it out Friday night. Yeah, again, she crushed it.
Do y'all understand what I'm saying? She free handed a very precise garment. Free handed. Because I know how to sew I can tell you, that is badass. Most people can't do that. Most people can't free hand a circle on a piece of paper with a pencil. Don't believe me? Try it. More importantly, this is what self directed learning looks like. When you aren't dependent on authority to tell you how or why or when, you just get busy doing, and there isn't much you can't do.
My son is learning as well. But his learning doesn't involve stuff I can photograph. A bunch of it might not even involve things I understand. I have no idea what he spends most of his time thinking about. But he keeps gets smarter all the time. Mostly reading books and researching things online I would never choose for him. He reads most days, all day. I know he's interested in Chemistry and because of that, he works at math skills.Then he chills out playing video games.
ps: Wow, I just noticed how stereotypical and gender biased we sound. Consider that sewing is the study of geometry and cooking is chemistry. My girl reads all the time as well as her brother. Everyone had access to both trucks and dolls growing up. My son lived in a dress and "sparkle party shoes" when he was little. And my daughter has, by far, a more aggressive personality. We are who we are.
Does it seem a bit neurotic to beat yourself up for "failure to love" because you didn't feel like petting the dog? Maybe its neurotic to even notice such a thing? Or to raise it to the level of blog-worthiness, even when the blog-worthy bar is super low? Bonus points if you can, at least, laugh at yourself.
This week I am noticing a phenomenon Brene Brown calls "foreboding joy." Foreboding joy is a defensive reflex. When moments of joy sneak up we shut them down with dark thoughts, superstitiously and because if we never let ourselves feel too happy maybe getting hurt won't feel too bad. I am beginning to understand this is how I've lived my life. Yesterday I noticed it happening, oh, about 1000 times. Which means my life is approximately 1000 times happier and more awesome than I allow myself to feel or experience. I live in a state of foreboding joy. Like, all the time.
For example, this morning. I am up between 4 and 6 almost everyday. Even though I don't have to get ready for my job because I can do most of my job in pjs. (Happy and awesome, right? Hells yes.) This morning I was sitting with my husband drinking coffee in the dark listening to crickets when I began to notice how totally awesome it was to be there doing that. Instantly, almost before I could fully register I was feeling great, a dark tide washed over me. The dark tide contains any random pain. For me its generally angst about mortality and the depth of time---because I'm so deep y'all. Happy feeling, dark tide to shut it down, next topic. Wash rinse repeat.
Somehow, as we quietly allow tiny shards of light through the gloomy curtain, it all becomes kind of funny. It is comical, how we create our own reality, how our thoughts are our lives, how simple it can sometimes be to change our mind.
The yard sale rocker and my first knitting pattern. Lacking wood splints and in my usual impatient hurry, I used strips of fabric. We'll see how long it holds. I painted the finished seat with a mix of Elmers and water as fray check. I'll make two cushions and call it done. Not bad for a $4 chair.
Hum, let's see, things..... I have become a project monster. I've been doing. All kinds of things. I've started writing my own knitting patterns, with a eye toward eventually selling them, which obviously involves a ton of knitting. I've caned a chair, quilted some drawer liners for my daughter's new dresser, and generated lots of future knitting pattern ideas. My carved veggies sit painted, varnished, and waiting for me to weave a honeysuckle basket and felt a bean vine to wrap around the handle. These are sideline projects running next to managing our life.
My husband and I had a good laugh this morning as I described what happened before he woke up. I went downstairs and let the dogs out then in, and let the cats out then in, but separately of course. I fed them all, organized some stuff, made my coffee, and after about 30 minutes of futzing around finally settled into the good chair with hot coffee on my left, my new favorite book in the middle, and my computer on my right. At exactly that second, Daisy, our shepherd, presented herself with her enthusiastic need for petting. But I was done with other creature's needs and quietly snapped: "go lie down." Which she promptly did, because she's the Best Dog Ever. A feeling of failure wrapped itself around me and my perfect moment. The opportunity for failure in life is endless.
We have to laugh. We can not do everything perfectly right. We can not love perfectly. Its not possible. You might think you are entitled to one perfect cup of morning coffee. But honestly, you aren't. And that's okay.
The kids ate a watermelon last night. My husband said so. I just blinked at him. So? "A whole watermelon. Dear girl walked into the living room with half a watermelon under her arm and a spoon." When I was a kid we expected to finish a watermelon when it was cut. Not like a rule, but if you open a watermelon you're gonna eat it all, of course. Apparently other people in other parts of the country eat slices of watermelon. I can't even take those little triangles seriously. Getting one triangle of watermelon is like being offered one bite of a fried chicken liver. It is delicious, but it just pisses you off.
Both kids are a lot busier with music these days, playing guitar, studying production, and our singing group starts next week. Apparently holding open space for them to follow their interests results in them following their interests. Who knew?
I've figured out you can use a pasta roller to roll cracker dough. This changes everything. The kids are thrilled. Why are crackers so moving? Maybe they are our original first agricultural food. We had meat, milk, eggs, anything that could be gathered. Then we grew grain, which led to crackers. Crackers put the crack in our mouths and we love them.
My daughter figured out you can put a cup of frozen whole blueberries in a glass, top them with milk, and put the glass the freezer for 15 minutes. The result, after a quick stir, is better than a smoothie, more like soft serve ice cream. And its nothing to make, the essence of simplicity.
I know this mother means well, but part of me really wants to tell her to kiss my grits. My daughter doesn't want to live on her sexist little island. And my son doesn't need his mommy to filter the world for him. He knows how to think for himself and his morality isn't dependent, one way or the other, on pictures of girls. And girls, anyone who tells you its inappropriate for you to be seen without a bra?! Tell 'em: GRITS, bite me!
Last night we learned that a couple of girls really want to be friends with another group of girls. Alas, they are too popular to approach. Its too scary. But what's this? The "popular" girls have been secretly wishing to be friends with the first couple of girls, but the first couple seem too popular to approach, and too scary. Ah yes, a very common situation. Worth thinking about some more.
I read best in bed. Often with a hand on a book, occasionally with my eyes open. I was thus when Dear Girl walked in to say hello. She was standing at my feet looking at me and the window directly behind my bed. As we were chatting she said, "Look look, a hummingbird is at the window!" I sighed, knowing this was going to require participation. Only an asshole refuses to look at a hummingbird. With a tiny bit of swallowed hostility, I raised my eyes. Because I'm a loving mother, I was also willing to slightly lift my chin. With my face tilted, pointing back at the window, I saw a hummingbird flying in a straight downward line, less than 12 inches from my eyes and getting rapidly closer.
The little bird must have seen red leaves in the glass reflecting from a Dogwood tree across the yard. As she lowered herself, she poked her beak through the mesh window screen, blink blink blink, reaching to taste phantom red flashes of light. I clearly saw her tiny tongue several times, smaller and pointier than her delicate sharp beak. How often do you get to see a hummingbird's tongue?
At the park last week a baby fell asleep in my lap. I held him for over an hour as he slept. I know this sounds unlikely, but I was sitting in a wooden rocking chair. I bring that chair to the park every Thursday. Mothers sit in a circle, an encampment really, and we all bring chairs. The cheapest tattiest and lightest chair I have happens to be a wooden rocker I bought at a yard sale for $10. It was a rare find. I had no idea that rocker would become such an important tool in my life, nor that it might facilitate such a rare gratifying moment.
How are you going to get a baby into your arms in a park, if you don't already have one? And how often is that baby going to go heavy and damp and moosh-up in a relaxed collapsing ball, and fall all the way into that glitterdust place we go when we sleep, while you hold them? I'm always on the lookout for exactly this and I can promise you, it doesn't happen very often at all. His breath wafted up as he slept and I tried not to stare at him too intently while we gently rocked, I tried not to seem quite as obsessive as I felt. Yes, I wanted to eat him up, to steal him, to melt together somewhere safe from time's inexorable arms. What I really wanted was another opportunity to hold my own babies just that way. As we rocked, I remembered concentrating on my own children sleeping in my lap, willing myself to remember every nuance of detail, knowing I would fail. They would grow. The moment would pass. Time holds us suspended at fixed distances.
I am in an overstuffed chair in a dim room with my back to the door, in a place only marginally safe. I am nursing my sleepy son. Shutting out everything else, I force myself to notice everything about him: his weight, his perfect damp smell, his fat warm hands, the brown fringe around the back of his head, his ears, his red mouth, his pull, his lazy foot gently kick-kicking in my hand. My arms are tired, my mind wary, my feelings bottomlessly grateful for this perfect moment.