Sunday, December 31, 2006

Quote of the Day

On a recent walk to the store: "It's hard to scratch an itch when you're holding an umbrella and nursing a seal."

Yeah, I guess it is! By the way, for Christmas the kids each got an adopted animal from World Wildlife Federation from their aunt and uncle. It's a great present - they got a cute stuffed animal, an adoption certificate and photo that explains how the gift is protecting wildlife and habitat. They are both really concerned about animals and this was a wonderful way to get a gift that also helps the earth. M. got a hippo (his favorite animal) and A. got this seal.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Skies Not So Blue

Becoming a mother was a watershed moment in my life. I know people who are born to be mothers, women who have envisioned themselves with babies and children since they were little girls playing with dolls. Not me. For one thing, I named all of my dolls the same thing when I was young. Clearly I was not cut out for a mothering career (though I was not quite as bad as my sister, who carried her favorite doll around by the hair until it looked like some demented pixie.) Even my husband once said that he feared I would be a terrible mother. Let's see, self-centered, severely lacking in patience, driven mad by the slightest noises or touches - yep, not really a checklist for the cover of Mothering magazine there.

But something happened when I first became pregnant. My life became infused with a joy that I had not known before. Oh, I was always a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of person, but motherhood brought a day-to-day happiness that, even on days when my children are taking me to the teetering brink of insanity, swirls around and through every encounter, bringing a kind of blessedness that I suppose the truly religious must feel. In short, as Viggo Mortensen says in one of his fabulous books of poetry and photography: "Kids are God; Pay attention"

But then there are days in every parent's life when the skies are not so blue. Pain, to an adult, is a terrible thing. But pain to one's children, whether physical or emotional, is almost unendurable. It's the kind of thing that keeps one up at midnight, staring at the ceiling, a pit of dread in your stomach. Yesterday was one of those days.

One of those days when your kid has gotten a remote controlled airplane for Christmas from Grandma, something they've wanted for a very long time. And you read the instructions carefully, and test the controls, and take it to a huge big field on a calm day, and do the ground tests that the instructions recommend, and it launches perfectly, but then as it goes up, you realize that the sky is not just overcast, but actually foggy. And the airplane starts disappearing into the foggy clouds, at which point it loses contact with the radio controller and it's going farther and farther away, so you take the controls from your distraught child to try to get it back, and it crashes into an area of houses. So you go over to the houses and spend a considerable amount of time peering into trees and over fences into backyards and knocking on doors, but you never find the plane. One of those kind of days.

All in all, he took it very well. He didn't scream or cry or throw a fit as he might have done even a year ago. He was heartbreakingly stoic. And, because a large measure of the fault of this inaugural flight lays with me, I have promised to find him another one. And next time we won't be so blinded by sheer enthusiasm, and we'll wait until our neighbor can come along, who flies RC planes and can help us get it squared away.

And of course, we'll wait until the skies are truly blue.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in the High Desert

We decided to do something different for Christmas this year - camp in a cabin! Although it was a bit overwhelming to pack all of Christmas, not to mention our camping gear, five people, and a dog, into our minivan, we really had a great time. After opening presents on Christmas morning, we decided to head even further east to Fort Rock. A stunning volcanic remain that towers out of the desert floor, Fort Rock is a great place to explore around. It used to be situated on the edge of a gigantic lake, and in caves nearby, the distinctive Fort Rock sagebrush sandals (world's oldest shoes) have been discovered, many pairs carbon dating 9,000 to 10,000 years old. Part of the rock on one side has been worn away by the ancient water, leaving a horshoe-shaped ring of rock that you can explore around.

There are so many different, and beautiful rock layers that make up Fort Rock, everywhere you turn it looks like a completely different rock landscape. It's one of my favorite places to visit, and the kids (and adults) had a wonderful time exploring around.

Here's some more photos:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Of Grandparents and Guinea Pigs

When I was a kid, we lived near both of my grandparents. At one point, we lived in my grandma's old farmhouse, and then we moved a few miles away but only a couple of blocks from my other grandparents. We also saw my great-grandparents in California as often as we could. I feel really lucky that my kids have their grandparents in their lives, and for at least a few years knew their great-grandparents as well. There's something special about knowing people from other generations, with other experiences, whose history and stories then becomes part of your own history and your family stories. My great-grandmother was born in a sod house on the prairie in 1892, and I knew her through most of my life until she died in 1992. My grandma once ran out of gas in her VW bug while dressed in a bunny rabbit costume (don't ask, my family's so crazy I never had a shot at normality). My grandpa was on a Navy ship in WWII. My kids grandparents have their own stories to tell, and I think our kids are blessed to be able to hear them.

My dad and step-mom came to visit last week and the kids brought their guinea pigs out to hold. It was just one of those sweet little moments that swirls by, but I know that as our kids get older they will appreciate all these little times. And now I have to sign off, because my mom will soon be here and there's cookie dough to get ready. There's nothing better than baking cookies with grandma to start the holidays off right.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Quote of the Day

A's violin teacher had observed her working through a particularly difficult patch of a piece of music, and said "I noticed that when the music got hard, your eyes were looking up at the ceiling instead of at your bow and fingering."

A. replied: "I was looking inside my brain."

That, apparently, is where the music resides :-)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Smiles From My Phone

My kids discovered that they could call my cell phone from our home phone and leave silly messages for me. Most of them I eventually deleted, but I can't bring myself to delete the last one. In this message, they didn't know my phone was still recording and they are giggling so hard that they can barely speak, clearly congratulating each other about how clever they were in leaving me those messages. It's about 90 seconds of unmitigated joyous children's laughter, is there any better sound on the planet? I might just save it forever.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Guinea Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down

My friend J. (whose funny, funny writings you really should check out) sends this photo of their guinea pig Jack, playing Lego Star Wars. I suppose she thinks her 'pig can whup our 'pig, but she hasn't seen Acorn play Dance Dance Revolution yet!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Happens When You Leave Your Gamecube Out

Hey, stop playing my Zelda! Dang, how did you get to that dungeon already? Hey look mom, my guinea pig's beating the boss of the game!

Just kidding. M. thought this would be a really funny picture and I happen to agree.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Caimans, Snakes, and Legless Lizards, Oh My!

We took a field trip today with some other homeschoolers to "Brad's World of Reptiles". Lots of cool reptiles to see, hold, and pet, and the kids had a fun time.

I must say, I have never even seen a legless lizard before in my life - what a bizarre creature! And they got to pet an American Alligator, stand in a line and hold a huge python, and even see a baby sugar glider (I can hear them begging to get one already).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lego Robotics Competition: A Day in Photos

Here's the pit area, where each team could work on their robots. Our team's name was The Nanomancers, and they're all in black shirts with the number 333 (their team number) on the back.

This is their first run on the table in the competition hall. Each team gets three runs and their highest scoring run is what counts. They run their robot at the same time as another team on the adjoining table, and get 2:30 minutes to accomplish as many tasks as their robot can do.

Siblings M. and A. working together at the table while a judge looks on. All other team members must keep behind the lines on the floor, only two can be at the table at any time. The robot is in action.

Back at the pit area, M. explains an idea for a modification to one of the attachments to another team member.

In the waiting area, getting ready to go into the room where they would present their research project. Their project was on the medical applications of nanotechnology in the treatment of cancer, and they presented a play in which they took the parts of Doctor, patient (M.), narrator (A.), tumor, and healthy cell.

After their presentation, the judges ask them questions about their research project: how they decided on it, what their sources were, to further explain their research and their solution to the research problem. They must display not only thorough knowledge of the subject, but good teamwork and respect for each other in taking turns to answer the questions.

Back at the pit area, M. gives a double thumbs-up. They all knew that they had done a bang-up job on the research presentation, and indeed they ended up getting a perfect score from the judges!

Celebrating as a team after getting the Teamwork Trophy. They worked hard, and they worked well together. Despite a hectic lead-up week and only six hours of sleep, they treated each other with respect and were extremely helpful to other teams, displaying exceptional good sportsmanship. Their parents and coaches could not be more proud!!!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wow, Just Wow

We spent the whole day today at Mentor Graphics near Portland watching the kids' team compete in a Lego robotics competition. They've been working up to this for months, and the competition is about more than just robotics. They would be judged on their robot's performance against nine challenges on a course on a table (within 2.5 minutes), but they would also be judged on a research project and presentation on a subject in the field of nanotechnology, as well as on technical knowledge, sophistication of robot design and programming, and teamwork.

Our kids' team was one of the younger ones there. The competition is technically for 9 - 14 year olds in this division, but our team was comprised of members from 7 - 11 years old. Despite being younger, mostly new to this competition, and without the resources of a sponsoring school, their team managed to come in 5th overall in the robotics portion of the competition (they get points for the tasks they are able to complete with the robot). They also received nothing but "Excellent" scores in their research project and presentation, they literally could not have scored any higher! Best of all, they won the overall award for Teamwork, something this competition takes very seriously. Considering that I had a pair of siblings working together on the team, I consider this high honors indeed. They were judged highly on teamwork because they worked so well together, but also because they helped another team with programming their robot on one of the tasks that our team had already completed. They were also very outgoing and friendly to the other teams, wishing them well and shaking their hands, displaying respect and good sportsmanship.
I could not be prouder of all they have accomplished. More photos of the entire day's events to come!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dress Rehearsals, Presentations, and Performances, Oh My!

Well, we've made it through the week of dress rehearsals and practice performances. Miss Diva had rehearsals from 5:00 to 9:00 almost every night this week. That's a lot to ask of a seven year old, but she's held up miraculously well (probably due to her undying enthusiasm for dance and an apparently endless supply of energy). In the Chronicles of Narnia ballet, the mice come on stage after the dramatic scene in which Aslan is killed on the stone table. As young and cute as they are, they provide some comic relief after the tension and sadness of the previous scene. They scurry around and untie the ropes binding Aslan to the table. Miss Diva is the first mouse on the stage, and they are all so cute! She is just in love with being a mouse (although she has confessed that she hopes maybe next year, she'll get to be a flower - pictured above in the pink and green dresses beside her). Myself, I can't even contemplate next year after this week's grueling schedule!
Also on the docket this week was the kids' presentation of their robotics team at our local library. They set up their competition table in a meeting room at the library and showed how they would run the robot through the challenges at the competition. They also presented their research project (which is in the form of a play about medical applications of nanotechnology on cancer), and took questions and answers from the audience, similar to how they will answer questions from the judges in the competition this weekend. Afterwards, they demonstrated the robot for anyone who wanted to take a closer look. I was really impressed with all of the work they've put into this, and how professional they are all able to be. M. especially really took time to show some of the kids from the audience how to work the robot, and let them handle it and run it on the table.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Going Slowly Crazy

Or maybe I'm going crazy real fast, I don't know anymore. We just had our Karate belt tests and two local robotics team presentations, and within the next 6 days, we also have all of the kids' final robotics rehearsals and the FLL competition, as well as all of Diva's dress rehearsals (five hours a night all week!) and three performances of the Chronicles of Narnia ballet.

If anyone finds a mom collapsed in a small whimpering puddle on a sidewalk somewhere, that would be me. Just bundle me back into the minivan and send me home please...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

White Belts No More!

Yes, it's our last day as white belts. The kids and I have been taking Karate together since September, and today is our test to move up to the next belt. We decided to take a photo commemorating this momentous occasion.

It's funny, but I took Karate myself over a decade ago, several years before having kids. I enjoyed it then, I liked the workout and the discipline, the mental energy of it. But now I really love it. I smile when I watch my kids out of the corner of my eye, I love to hear their comments and see them attempting new things. My heart bursts with pride when another parent in the class says to me that her daughter really likes being partnered with my son because he is so patient and kind to her. Karate is a much fuller, more enjoyable, more there experience for me now than it was 12 years ago. Back then, it was more or less just exercise.

Like so many of the things I get to share with the kids, their own perspective added to mine combines to make the experience something completely different. Seeing all the different families, all the kids, the parents at the dojo, it's awesome being a part of something that helps bring families together and bond them more closely. I like seeing the homeschooling parents (like our very own sensei who is herself a homeschooling mom of seven), and the teenagers or older kids (especially the black belts!) who are so full of poise and self-confidence and are wonderful teachers as well.

Karate has become such a joy in our unschooling family, I'm just happy to share some of those smiles here!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ah.... Socialization

The kids performed their Lego robotics research project presentation and gave a table demonstration of their robot yesterday at a local high school. I, and the other parents, were sitting in the audience waiting for the kids to come out when another adult suggested that we all sit together, "because, well, otherwise the teenagers won't sit near you and they'll all be on the edges where they can't see." So we cootie-covered adults all herded together so that the teens could safely move closer.

Interestingly, I had just come from doing a couple of hours of volunteer time at our homeschooling co-op. There are tons of teenagers there, and outwardly you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them and the regular high-school teens. Pimples, iPods, baggy pants and awkward haircuts abound. But with one signifigant difference: adults also swirled around and through them: parents, volunteers, teachers. I helped out in a science class, a Destination Imagination class, and in the general area. All of the classes have parents as helpers, the parents come and go from the classes as they are in progress. Kids check in with moms in the hallways or at cars in the parking lot, grab lunches together with their family or with their friends.

Adults are part of these kids' world. They don't seem to have any trouble socializing with each other, but their acceptable companionship boundary doesn't stop at age 18 either. I have to ask myself if a person is truly socialized if they fear contact with people of a certain age.

I first noticed this phenomenon long before having kids. My husband and I were leaders of the Middle School youth group for our church. It was our first contact with homeschooled kids, and the difference was striking. The school kids treated as at first like The Enemy. We were to be avoided, and if possible they should obviously never tell us anything important about themselves that we might somehow use against them. The homeschooled kids talked to us like normal people. I was reminded of that yesterday in the company of two very different groups of teenagers.

I know that some people in our society have come to view teenage fear, distrust, rebellion against, and even loathing of adults as somehow a normal rite of passage. I know that these same people think it would be strange, odd, or even somehow an indication of trouble if a teenager actually didn't mind hanging out with their parents or the parents of friends. Personally, I see it differently. I like my kids. They like me. They're interesting people that I feel lucky to spend time with. Ditto with their friends, the teens and pre-teens as well as the younger ones. I'm glad to see indications that this won't change as they head into teenagerhood, that what our society considers "normal" socialization is probably some kind of adaptation made in self-preservation.

In short, give me homeschooled "socialization" any day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Experiments in White

Last night when I came home, the snow was falling in big fat flakes, quickly covering the ground in a whispering white cloud. It was so lovely, I stopped and looked at the house, lighted up with the snow drifting down around it, and wished to wake up to big drifts that the kids could romp in.

Unfortunately, it must've stopped snowing about five minutes later, because we have just a dusting this morning. Still, the kids were excited to go out and collect as much of it as possible. They called up their friends from down the hill. M. told them "the snow is about a quarter of a card card deep here!". I'm guessing he meant a Pokemon or a Yu Gi Oh card as a measuring device. I thought that was a pretty cute way of putting it.
Within minutes, they were outside making snowballs and tiny snowmen with as much of the white stuff as they could gather, while I brewed up some warm cocoa and remembered all the times my mom had done the same as we kids sledded down the hill outside.

They've since been bringing in cupfuls and bowlfuls of snow and having a fine time experimenting with them. The magnifying glasses have come out and they took a look at the crystal structures and individual flakes. Then they festooned their bowls with almonds, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and all kinds of colored sprinkles to make a concoction that could only be eaten by kids! The sprinkles do melt into the snow though and make it look like its been tie-dyed.
Myself, I'm sitting here with a cup of tea and enjoying the view out my bedroom window. A few lazy flakes are still spiraling down, so maybe the kids will get their dream of enough snow to sled with by tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Big fat flakes, drifting down right now. The kids are hoping it will continue all night. I must get out all of our snow gear and see how much fits and doesn't fit. I'm betting at least my bigger kid doesn't have boots that fit. He can wear my old ski bibs though, how scary is that!! I can't possibly have a child that big. And if we can't find boots, they can always do what we did as a kid, which was to put bread bags over our regular shoes. I can still see the gold Roman Meal label on them, tied with rubber bands over my soaking wet blue jeans as I bombed down the hill on our red "Flexible Flyer" sled. Hopefully I'll have sledding photos to post tomorrow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Unschooling Voices: December Edition

Unschooling Voices, a blog carnival hosted at A Day In Our Lives asks "What interesting activities, projects or experiments have your kids done this past year? " as their December question.

Wow, to answer that would fill pages and pages. Every year for our homeschool group's Honoring Ceremony, I put together a slide show of all the things our kids have done together during the year, and it always fills me with amazement to look back on an entire year and the wonderful cornucopia of fun and activity that comprises our kids' life and learning. Camping trips and beach days, science experiments and baseball in the street, train trips and museums, forts made out of cardboard boxes and salamanders caught in the creek. And that's just the things they do together as a group.

So I'll just try to hit the highlights of the year for our family.

M. (10) is a thinker, so his projects tend to be things he spends a fair bit of time inventing in his mind before transferring them to reality. These projects are often stories - long and complex or short and sweet. His writing amazes me, not so much in the technical aspect of transferring ideas to paper (that's always been the most challenging part for him), but in the depth of the characters and ideas he brings to life. Recently he's branched out into cartoons, with the invention of characters and storylines that have him cracking up with laughter even as he transfers them to paper. This year, he has also invented a few board games. Some of them have been created with a friend or two, and involve big sheets of cardboard with complex squares and rules that boggle the mind. One of them, a castle game, is something I'm helping him refine and maybe eventually produce and market. We found this great article by a homeschooling family about making your own game.

This is also the year he discovered Sherlock Holmes. We've read through a great deal of the massive Sherlock Holmes volume that we got him for his birthday, and we also found a great game at a thrift store called 221 B Baker Street. It's sort of like a more involved Clue game where you solve Sherlock-like mysteries.

Both of the kids had a great opportunity this summer to join a Lego robotics team, working toward the First Lego League competition. Being a part of this team means a lot more than building a robot and competing to complete tasks with it. Every year, the FLL has a different theme (this year it is Nanotechnology) and the competition also involves doing a research project and a presentation on this theme. For their presentation, the kids are doing a play they wrote on the medical applications of Nanotechnology for cancer treatment. A. is the narrator and M. is the cancer patient. They've also done a lot of work on programming the robot, with each kid on the team having a particular task on the competition table to solve.

A. (7) is the Diva of the family. She's happiest when she's singing, dancing, acting, or (preferrably) all three at once. She's doing modern dance, tap, ballet, and had the opportunity to be in a musical production of Beauty and the Beast earlier this year. She's currently in a ballet production of Chronicles of Narnia. I saved the message on my cell phone where she breathlessly called me to tell me that she was not only going to be in Narnia, she was going to be a mouse! This is a most wonderful role for her, because it combines her love of dance with her other love: small, cute animals. At home, she can most often be found turning cartwheels in the living room, hanging from the trapeze outside, or dancing to the stereo in her room. This year, she's also made a bit of a career out of playing the violin, expanding her repertoire of Celtic music and playing at our outdoor Saturday market in town. She and I went to several Celtic jam sessions last spring, and this year she's been invited to a monthly Bluegrass jam at a local grange. Getting together with other people to make music or dance or make theatre come alive is her greatest joy in life.

Beyond their individual interests, we've done a lot of cool things as a family. Probably one of the best for the year was a great family trip we took to Vancouver Island, Canada. A ferry trip from Seattle up through the gorgeous Puget Sound, and then we got to camp out in wonderfully empty campgrounds and explore the lakes and rivers. We capped it off with a few days in Victoria, riding in horse-drawn carriages, visiting the museums, and of course, having "high tea". A couple of months later, we took a fabulous weeklong camping trip through an area of Oregon that surrounds several areas of the John Day Fossil beds. We found fossils, camped in the desert, swam in the John Day river, mined our own thundereggs, hiked around the fossil beds, and had a wonderful (if very hot) time. Our homeschool group also arranged an Amtrak trip to Portland, with our group having an entire train car to ourselves. We spent the day at the science museum, and returned in the evening to gather at the train station.

We also have embarked on our first year as urban farmers. We put in garden beds this year, and the kids each got their own bed to raise whatever they wanted. The kids' chickens started laying eggs, and so egg-gathering and corn-shucking, blueberry and blackberry picking became part of the family's seasonal rhythms. We acquired two new chicks this year that the kids hand-raised, only to find out they were roosters who couldn't live with us here in the city.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Hippo is a Lot Like Unschooling

My kids love hippos. They're on a bit of a hippo frenzy lately, really, It all started when M. played a computer game at a friend's house called Impossible Creatures. He created a whole armada of flying hippos that he thought were the cutest thing ever. Then he decided that for his 10th birthday, his theme for his party would be Flying Hippos. He even made a "pin the wings on the flying hippo" game, and decorated his cake with a flying hippo.

Now they've been watching any nature documentary on hippos that they can get their hands on (their favorite so far: PBS Nature's Hippo Beach), and our library lists have seen more than a few hippo books checked out. As often happens when one or both of the kids embrace some new facet of learning, I usually end up knowing way more about that subject than I ever did before, and hippos are no exception. A hippo is a bit of a living paradox: an aquatic mammal that can't swim. A huge and densely heavy animal that can run at speeds up to 30 mph. Or as M. says "A hippo is an exercise in faith. You pretty much just have to believe that it is what it is."

That's where the unschooling comparison comes in.

As I posted before, I've been reading and posting on the Dr. Phil message boards about unschooling. It's been a long time since I've been exposed to the mainstream views about unschooling and I guess I've forgotten (perhaps a bit purposefully) how virulent the opposition is to such a radically different method of learning for kids. For someone who only knows and can only believe in the educational methods that they themselves were exposed to, it can be very difficult to imagine how such a thing as unschooling could work. Perhaps as difficult as imagining an 8,000 pound animal that can run as fast as a racehorse. Yes, unschooling really works best as an exercise in faith. You have to believe that children are born learners or it wouldn't be possible to get all of your previous experiences out of the way and let your children learn in utter freedom.

Once you see it in action, however, it's as undeniable, as big and strange and wonderful as that amazing creature, the hippo. And every bit as real.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Unschooling on Dr. Phil

Just a PSA, the show will air on Friday. They already have message boards up where people are discussing unschooling.

While I don't hold out any hope at all that Dr. Phil will provide any kind of balanced look at unschooling, I greatly admire the family who volunteered to share their unschooling lives with his greater audience. I hope that in the show and these message boards, some people who might not otherwise ever get a glimpse at what unschooling is all about may be exposed to it. Somewhere, some sparks may ignite, some more shiny unschooling candles be lit.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Of November and nanotechnology, ballet slippers and bunkai

It's out of the frying pan and into the fire here at our house. We knew that taking a vacation right before the holidays would make November just zoom on by, but a confluence of activities is really accelerating the pace. Today the kids are rehearsing with their Lego First League robotics team, and then Diva goes straight to a rehearsal for the ballet performance of Chronicles of Narnia that she'll be in. Sometime today, we need to practice our kata and bunkai for our karate class, and play the violin. Oh yeah, and eat, sleep, have some fun.

When you unschool, your kids' learning happens in so many different places (the term "homeschool" is really a misnomer, because home is only part of the picture). Trying to facilitate all of their interests while keeping a healthy mix of activity, down-time, one-on-one time with the kids, playdates with friends, and family time is a real balancing act some times. The next few weeks will be one of those times, with our karate belt tests, Lego robotics competition (over a hundred miles away), and three productions of the ballet (with accompanying dress rehearsals) all occurring over the span of two hectic weekends. And then Blam! we're launched into the Christmas holidays.

And now, I'm off to re-write the narrator's part in the kids' play about medical applications of nanotechnology. Ah, the things I'm called on to do as an unschooling mom! Sometimes I think I learn more than the kids.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Proof is in the Pudding

I was in a bookstore yesterday (by myself! what luxury!) and wandered over to the "parenting" section. It struck me how much of the parenting book industry is simple fear-mongering. If you don't use this technique, your kids will never sleep through the night. If you don't use another method, they'll never learn to be independent. As if child-raising is somehow a one-to-one correspondance where you put X input into the child and you get Y output, whereas any parent (especially any parent with more than one child) can tell you that every kid is different and you can treat your kids the exact same way and have vastly different outcomes.

As a new parent, it's hard not to buy into these fears. After all, we all want our kids to be happy, independent, thoughtful, kind, polite, joyful, respectful, "well-adjusted" people. Our cultural legacy though is one of fear-based parenting, and sad to say, less-than-respectful parenting. Since I looked into my first child's eyes in the beginning moments of my parenting career my children have told me something different. They have told me that treating children with the same respect that you would give others leaves them able to give respect, that you don't have to threaten, intimidate, punish, or "impose logical consequences" in order for kids to understand what is expected of them and eventually be able to do it most of the time (hey, even us adults can't hold it together all of the time). They've been my teachers in this journey, but it hasn't always been easy to keep the faith that all would be okay. Both of my kids have personalities that are challenging, to say the least. Headstrong, sensitive, deeply intuitive, argumentative, they run the gamut of ways to challenge me, and I can say honestly that I don't always manage to rise to the task but I do try.

Having just been on a 10 day vacation in which my kids had to eat and sleep in new and unfamiliar places, put up with long lines, uncomfortable airline seats, hours of layovers, restaurants in which there was nothing on the menu besides lettuce that they could eat (both being dairy-free and vegetarian), and spans of time where they just had to occupy themselves in small spaces and with limited resources, I'd say that our parenting style received the ultimate test. What I discovered is that somewhere along the way, somewhere in those thousands of interactions between the kids and us parents, they have learned everything I hoped they would.

After all, the proof is in the pudding. The hotel staff went out of their way to tell me how sweet and polite the kids were. I've watched them holding open doors, being kind to strangers, and waiting patiently for whatever tasks I had to accomplish in registering and getting ready for my triathlon (the purpose of our visit). I see the concern they show for the caged birds in the hotel lobby, the sea lions at the marine park we visited, and even the clams washed up on the beach. Every day we walk this path together, even the days when it is bumpy, dark, or difficult, I'm glad that I never opened those parenting books, never ascribed to a method besides living joyfully beside my kids and treating them with the dignity that all people deserve. I walked out of the bookstore yesterday with some fun books that my kids will love to read beside me, and nothing more.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Night Full of Giggles (and Learning)

The kids were over a their friends' house last night and when I went to pick them up, all four of them were deep into a group project of creating a corporation called "Unknown Industries". They had a CEO, an Executive Officer, Marketing Director, and secretary. The Marketing Director kept coming out to the kitchen with ploys to get us adults to invest in Unknown Industries, or buy their (unknown) products. At the end of each marketing spiel, all concerned collapsed in fits of giggles.

By the end of the evening, I was smiling and laughing so hard that my face hurt. It's so cool to see four kids ranging from 7 to 13 completely engaged in such deeply imaginative play. It's the kind of thing I most fondly remember from my own childhood. I remember setting up an entire cardboard "bank" with my cousin and painstakingly using a rubber stamp pad and letter stamps to write up our business correspondance. Though our play of 30 years ago did not involve the sophistication level of CEOs and marketing plans, the imaginative aspect and sheer amount of fun remains the same.

I love getting these constant reminders that a child's work is play. And therein lies their learning, as well as the memories they will cary forward to their own futures.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On Our Bookstands

For non-fiction, I'm currently re-reading Gavin DeBecker's The Gift of Fear. It's a must-read for any parent or caregiver, and I check it out every couple of years and give myself a refresher. In fiction, I'm finishing up a reasonably good airport paperback I picked up on our trip last week, Death Match by Lincoln Child. It's a high tech thriller involving AI that meets my bar for fast-paced and readable. Since I started writing, I've found that my bar moved a few too many notches up, and it's hard to enjoy a lot of mid-range fiction that used to carry me along. So it's refreshing to find something that has kept my interest.

On Miss A.'s bookstand are a stack of library books that all have animals on the cover. Fiction or non-fiction, it's got to have an animal. She's currently reading me a Dr. Seuss knock-off called Clam-I-Am

M's bookstand is full of Sherlock Holmes, Spiderman comics, Pokemon books, and gaming magazines.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How Learning Happens in an Unschooled Family, #583

Yesterday, my daughter was watching the movie The Parent Trap, for what seemed like the eighty-thousandth time (we had it checked out from the library this month). But I could hear that she kept pausing and rewinding and watching the same scene multiple times over and over. Sometimes it would just be a few words from the movie I'd heard repeated and repeated.

When she came downstairs, I asked her what she was doing. "Oh, I figured out that I could change the languages. So I've been watching parts in English and then in French, so I can teach myself French. Now I know that "thank you" is "merci" and that "dog" is "chien" and stuff like that. Can you teach me some more French?"

So I pulled out my worn college edition English-French dictionary and translated whichever phrases she threw out, to the best of my ability.

It's always so fun to see that even when it looks like they are doing something that many people would deem "meaningless" (watching bit of a movie over and over), it always has meaning for them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fun in the Sun

I didn't write during our recent trip to Florida, I was just way too busy there with preparation for my Ironman race and then my race day itself. But we did manage to take some time out for fun - we took a visit to the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, and a local marine wildlife park, and Wayne took the kids to things like goofy golf while I was out training and racing (there's plenty of time during an Ironman to fit in all sorts of activities!) Our hotel was right on the ocean and had a fabulous water park and lovely beach, so the kids had a total blast.

Now we're back, being mellow for a few days and trying to unwind a bit. The kids have had an endless stream of phone calls from friends and have been catching up with all of their buddies all week in playdate after playdate. I know they really missed everyone. We're back into regular class schedules, and only have a few weeks until the hectic confluence of Diva's Chronicles of Narnia ballet, both of the kids' Lego robotics team competition, and right smack in the middle of that, the kids and I have our Karate belt test and recital.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Homeschooling/Unschooling on Dr. Phil

I just wanted to take a minute to post this important link on what really goes on with the Dr. Phil show. Because he is having "The Great School Debate" episode airing sometime in the next week, I think it's good to know how these types of episodes are actually taped, and how incredibly set-up and biased the entire thing is.

Myself, I don't watch Dr. Phil. All I need to know about "The Great School Debate" is right here in front of me, my awesome, creative, intelligent, fun and wonderful kids!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Pumpkin In Time

Things are crazy around here, with just four days until we all leave for Florida and my Ironman race. We'll miss Halloween here in the Northwest with our friends, and the kids are a bit bummed about that, but at least we got a beautiful fall day to go out to the pumpkin patch and find a few nice orange beauties to bring home and carve.

While we will all definitely enjoy the beautiful warm weather and sandy beaches of Florida, there's also something distinctly compelling about crisp fall weather, piles of dry rustling leaves, and the smell of distant rain in the air. Our region has such beautiful farms to visit, and my recent bike rides have taken me past fields full of pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, and trees so laden with apples that they appear entirely red.

With only a few days to go, and a to-do list a mile long, I'm left wondering if I have the time to put at least one or two pumpkin pies in the oven...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Diva Turns Seven

From late August to the first week of October, it's birthday season in our family, with four family birthdays to celebrate. The last is my baby girl's, and she's just turned seven (though sometimes it feels like seventeen). Surely it can't have been seven years since she was just a roly poly baby.

At 11:55 (the time of her birth), she and I sit and look through her birth and baby photos and I read to her from the journal I've kept. Reading about her earliest moments makes me realize how much of a child's personality just comes directly with them. We're really only here as guardians of the spirit that they arrive with. When I was pregnant, my knickname for her was "jumping bean", and after she arrived, we called her "thumper" (for her habit of always thumping her little legs up and down), and "aerobics girl (because even as an infant, she never stopped moving). By three months of age, I was commenting on how much she loved animals and was drawn to watch them, and how musical she was, how she was always "singing" her "baby arias". A Diva was born.

Now, her personality is as big and creative and crazy and wonderful as ever. For her birthday, her main present requests were a chinese fan, a police uniform, and a karate punching bag. We did get her the first two, and she wore the police uniform through her entire birthday party (despite the fact that my mom tried to help her pick out a nice dress to wear, LOL). We're looking for a good punching bag to go in the garage for the whole family to use.

She still never stops moving. Or singing. Or keeping us entertained with her wacky, wonderful personality. Or driving us crazy with her diva-ness. She's got a huge heart, a deep love of all living things, a fresh perspective on the world that makes everything seem new. We love her so! Happy birthday to my big girl.