Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Thoughts on Homeschooling

Disclaimer: I am a complete novice at this home education thing; we are just now beginning our second year. Yet, I'm already hearing a lot of chatter, so today I'm sharing a few tidbits I have found to be common misconceptions.
But compulsory education works. I guess that depends on your goal. This article from Seth Godin (yes; that Squidoo guy) is one of my favorites on the subject.
You have no credentials! First I must say I greatly respect and admire teachers of all grade levels. Really. I'm not saying that because that's what homeschoolers are supposed to say so they don't sound snotty. I mean it. However, a teaching degree does not come with magical powers. I am qualified to teach my own child.
But what are you teaching her? E has significant input into what she studies (and when . . . and how); our "curriculum" is a joint effort. About month ago we brainstormed a few things she liked most about "school with Mommy" and made a short list: math, writing, and getting new books from the library. I helped her narrow down a few subjects to focus on, and she chose the 50 states, weather, and Spanish. So that's what we're doing. In a few months, we'll re-evaluate and continue or move on. It's really that simple.
How do you know she is learning? You mean without standardized tests and grades? Hmm . . . how do you know you are learning?
Oh, you're one of those Jesus-y people. Sadly, a lot of folks assume if you are a Christian and homeschool it's only because you must not want your children ________ [fill in the blank: exposed to other religions, learning about evolution, taking sex ed, studying history that's not biblical]. While that may be the case for some, we are just Christians who happen to homeschool. Or homeschoolers who happen to be Christians.
Why not just move to a better school district or try private school? I don't have an issue with any particular school, we live in what would be considered a "good" school district (whatever that means), and I have considered private school as an option. For me it's not about finding the right school; it's taking issue with the whole concept of schooling in its current state.
What about socialization? I cannot even bring myself to answer this one. However, if you enjoy a little snark as much as I do, you will love this post from Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mothering Your Friendships

Earlier this month, I had the honor to host/attend my first Mother's Blessing. It was a very special event and if you have never heard of one, I highly recommend you look them up! A Mother's Blessing or Blessingway is a ceremony/party held for a mother to be that celebrates her and the difficult transition she is facing into being the mother of a new little soul (even if it is the fourth or fifth little soul she has brought into the world). It differs from a baby shower in that the focus is on the challenges the mother faces in labor or in the weeks/months/years after the baby is born. The gifts guests bring are usually practical ones like frozen meals for the family or tokens for the mother to hold during labor or just when she needs strength. The women also make a plan to nurture the burgeoning family after it has been expanded. It's a chance for women to get together and build up the confidence and love a mother needs right before her newborn is born. Although I could go on about the amazingness of Mother's Blessings forever, I think I will save it for a future blog.

In the case of this Mother's Blessing, one of my favorite parts of the ceremony actually turned out to be the introductions. I had asked each of the guests to tell us who they were and tell a story about what the woman we were throwing the Mother's Blessing for meant to each of us. There were quite a few tears as we each told stories of how this amazing mother of (now) two also managed to inspire and help each of us. Although many of the guests didn't really know each other, none of us were surprised by how each of us felt about such a great friend and inspiring woman. However, the guest of honor seemed shocked. She kept exclaiming "What?" It was as if our amazing friend and mom-inspiration, Rachael, had no idea how motivating and invigorating she was not only to her own family, but to her friends as well. She did not know who she really was to the rest of the world!

This got me thinking. While moms are excellent at simultaneously seeing both the potential and the challenges of our children, I'm not sure we turn that double vision on ourselves enough. In our quests to be the best moms we can be and to reach our own ideals of what that should be, I don't think we pay enough attention to what we do impressively well for our friends, for our families (including extended families), and our communities. Too often, we seem to focus on our flaws. We berate ourselves for them, we attempt to forgive ourselves for them, we write about them, but we forget that for every flaw, we also have an inspirational skill inside of us.

So, I have a challenge for you today. Since it is so hard to remember to praise yourself, maybe you can praise a friend or a family member today instead. Let her know exactly what she means to you, just as she is (even if her day is not going perfectly) and what an amazing mother she is to you. Maybe if we all take turns mothering each other, we can each get better at mothering ourselves!

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Bucket List

For the first time ever, our family decided to make a Summer Bucket List. What's a bucket list? It's more or less a wish list of really cool things you'd like to do within a certain period of time.

I wasn't sure how excited my kids would be to do this with me, but they really enjoyed the process. Even my 3.5 year old daughter, who at first didn't get exactly what we were doing, eventually started adding some pretty cool things to the list. We got really creative, and my husband added some fun things as well. We made a special shopping trip to buy some supplies to make our bucket list extra special (like poster board and thick, multi colored markers), and the kids really loved that too.

Why make a bucket list? Well, for us, it's an opportunity to make the most out of the summer break, and it leaves little time for boredom. Some of our bucket list items are really simple (watch a sunset, run through a sprinkler) and some are more involved (make vanilla ice cream, visit Rye Playland). All are fun, mostly thrifty or free, and each activity gives us the chance to spend time together as a family (starting with making the actual list!).

I'm thrilled to share our bucket list with you and would love to hear from you if you decide to make one. Happy summer!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Staying Sane When Your Spouse Is Away

Whether for military service or business travel, short term or long term, it's likely that even those of us blessed with a supportive parenting partner will have to go it alone at some point. Following are six tips for keeping it together when your significant other is not around.

1. Be prepared. For a short trip, this may be as simple as stocking up on groceries and making sure the car is filled with gas so you don't have to worry about it. For longer separations, consider the things your spouse usually takes care of that you will need to add to your radar (e.g., I would never remember what day the trash is picked up if it weren't in my calendar because that's not my usual domain). Use bill pay and other automatic set-ups when possible. Arrange for someone to take care of the lawn.

2. Be really prepared. It's pretty much a guarantee that during the time your husband is gone, something completely out of the ordinary and semi-disastrous will occur. Have a plan. Know in advance who you would call if the washer, the toilet, or the roof started leaking. Make sure your car maintenance is up-to-date, check the tires and fluids, and confirm you have roadside assistance. Change all the smoke detector batteries. Know where the nearest emergency room is. Make sure you have flashlights and candles.

3. Embrace routine. You don't need to account for every waking hour, but having some semblance of a schedule, even if you normally balk at the idea, is critical. If nothing else, it means you don't have to think too hard about what to do next when you feel overwhelmed. For us, we also have a few activities we always do on certain days to help make the week more predictable: groceries on Wednesdays, park time on Fridays, etc.

4. Respect that each child will respond differently. Our six-year-old wants to know details (where he is, what he's doing), to mark days off on the calendar, and to be my official helper. The four-year-old kind of understands, but doesn't have a great grasp on time yet, so she needs to be distracted and kept busy. At 20 months, A barely notices. Really. Sure, he'll be excited to see Daddy again, but as long as his primary object of affection (Mommy) is accessible he's good.

5. Don't take it personally. I remember the first couple of times Dear Hubby left for a long stretch, I would worry when I didn't get a response to an e-mail, or a phone call when I expected one. Keep in mind that whatever your spouse is doing, he's probably just very busy and not slighting you. If you plan to correspond via video chat, clarify when and how often this will be possible. 

6. Take care of yourself. You won't be able to help your kids through the transition if you are running on empty. Prioritize time to do whatever fills your own cup. For some that may mean time with friends, away from the kids. For others it may mean joining a gym with free child care. Maybe family could visit during his absence. Everyone has different needs when it comes to what energizes them. I wrote about my own experiences in Why I Hate MNO (and What I Do Instead)

What would you add to this list?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Romance and the Attached Mom: It Can and Does Happen!

(A pic from before our last date in April of this year for our fifth anniversary.)

Before we had our son, my husband and I weren't exactly the most romantic couple in the world, but we were pretty comfortable. When we were pregnant, I imagined the romance being about the same, just worked around the baby's schedule. It seemed nearly everyone we met with kids told us about the importance of "date night" and so I imangined that would be what we would do, too. Maybe not every week, but at least once or twice a month, we would get a sitter and go out to movie or dinner or some other kind of "traditional" date activity. Then we had our son and reality hit.

For one reason or another, we've been on like two or three dates in the almost three years it's been since the birth of our son. Some of it has to do with the fact that we spent the first two years of his life living far away from family and most of our friends. Some of it has to do with the colic he had for the first four months. Some of it has to do with his food allergies which can be very scary and hard to deal with for adults who are not used to being around him and dealing with food allergies. But most of it has to do with us and our unwillingness to give up much of what we view as a very important time in our son's life. This is the only time in his life when he will WANT to be with us all of the time, and we, in turn, WANT to be with him. We choose to have "date nights in" more than "date nights out." We have had to learn how to be flirty, romantic, and sweet at the same time as we are being "mom and dad." Don't get me wrong, we don't always get the balance right and have our ups and downs as much as any other couple does (with or without kids), but in a way, I think we are in a more solid, unified place now than we ever were before. Even though we didn't plan on being "attached parents," by doing the things our son needed we became "attached"--both to him and to each other.

It's a fallacy that romance ends when you have children. Instead, it changes its definition on you. Instead of expecting romantic, planned weekends; elaborate, beautiful gifts; and traditional dinner/dancing/movie dates all the time, you learn to find the romance in your husband taking a crying baby or a toddler off your hands when you need time for yourself. Instead of thinking my husband is only being romantic if he gets me flowers or cards, I've come to understand his version of "daddy" romance is often to give me help making dinner or to tell me I look wonderful even when my hair is barely brushed and I have a three year old insisting I hold him while I make his morning breakfast. Instead of the declarations of eternal love that we might have given each other while dating, I find that we tell each other we love each other through our love for our family and our child. It makes my heart flutter every time I hear him tell our son that he thinks it's just wonderful that he's "just like mommy" in the way he does something. (My husband always uses that phrase respectfully and as a compliment). As for weekly romance, every weekend, I let my husband sleep in and have some alone time on Saturday morning and he does the same for me on Sunday. I will take that Sunday morning alone time any day over almost any kind of romantic gift. I even wrote a whole blog about the little romantic things you can do that really work better for parents than a lot of the "traditional" date night romance.

Don't get me wrong, it's important not to eschew traditional, "grown up," couples only romance entirely. Sometimes we do go a little too long without the hearts and flowers, grown up "real conversation," and concentrated alone time that traditional romance is yearned for, but when we realize that we've been remiss, we do try to make it up to each other. And the little "family friendly" romantic moments we try to build into everyday for each other make those traditional, planned romantic moments even more heartfelt and treasured. This Valentine's Day, I finished putting our son to bed and walked out to find a candlelit picnic complete with sparkling cider, wine glasses, and chocolate treats on our living room floor (which had been my exact plan to set up for him and was just coming into the living room to send him out on a random errand so that I could set it up myself.) It may be one of my favorite all time romantic moments ever because we both wanted the same thing at the same time and had found a way to be alone and romantic in our own home. One day, we will be done having small children and we will not be all together all the time and my husband and I will probably have a lot more time for going out alone and being traditionally romantic. In the mean time, we are enjoying the romance that can come only when you are appreciating the everyday, ordinary, spontaneous romance of being dedicated co-parents of a small child.

I love you Matt! Thank you for being who you are not just for me, but for our family and son!

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Arguing Against Resilience

My 3 ½ year old fell head first in the duck pond in Prospect Park this past spring. The incident left him scared and rather traumatized. So much so, that when his friend lays on the ground, and throws leaves into the duck pond in Central Park, he screams, cries, and then pulls her back from the edge by her dress while yelling, “It's not safe!”

My son and I spend a lot of time in the park and around a variety of duck ponds, so we talk a lot about water, being scared, learning to swim, how to stay safe, and how still, he doesn't want to go to the parts of the park where he saw a kid fall face first into a deep puddle, so that his entire head was submerged under water.

Oddly, in reference to the duck pond incident, I have been told randomly, that my son will get over it eventually, because kids are resilient. Not only are kids resilient, but people are, generally speaking.

I know what these people mean: that children go through difficult things and survive, even turn out well, despite an aversion to water.

Yet, it's the English teacher in me that just has to point out that it's not a correct use of the word “resilient.” I find it hard, in these conversations, not to quote Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride by saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

To be clear, the word resilient means the ability to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed. This definition suggests that kids simply endure whatever trauma or hardship, from falling in the duck pond to being bullied at school or by their parent, and simply spring back into shape, as if that event never occurred.

Granted, the alternate definition of resilient is that someone withstands or recovers quickly from difficult conditions. Still, this definition suggests that the difficult conditions do not leave lasting marks or at the very least, that kids (and people in general) can endure rather a lot, without much harm coming to them in the long run.

I just don't think this is true of kids, or of grownups either.

After my son's fall into the duck pond, he has not just bounced back as if he never fell head first into dark murky water. Even in the alternate definition, he is recovering from the fright of his fall, but quickly? He fell in three months ago. Is that quickly? I have a friend who lost her gorgeous off the grid house in the Colorado fires. She is recovering, but she is grieving, raging, crying, yelling, and grieving some more. Is that all part of withstanding?

The word resilience devalues the experiences that shape us and impact us. It asks that we experience life by acting as if things don't.

I think the better word is adapt. Instead of saying children are resilient, we could say, children adapt. Because they do. They develop coping mechanisms. They make decisions about the world and they make decisions about themselves. Some children who are abused are scared into behaving well, because they adapt with the notion of, “if I just stay quiet and out of the way...” while others adapt by becoming physical fighters. But spring back as if nothing ever happened? I don't know anyone who does that. Humans collect experiences the way a child collects shells at the beach; it doesn't serve anyone to act as if those experiences don't leave some imprint long after their moment has passed.

After my son's fall, he's adapted by staying away from the edge of the duck pond. He only goes in the ocean if he's holding my hand, and he won't let the waves go higher than his knees. This week he begins swimming lessons, an adaptation we're hoping lessens his fear of water. He will recover, and I do believe this whole process will contribute to who he becomes, but I don't expect him to bounce back as if it never happened. To do so would be a disservice to who he is and his experience.