Thursday, May 31, 2012

For Some People, It's Just Natural

I pondered my options for the June Unschooling Blog Carnival submission. I could share a tribute to my dad, something I wrote last Fall called Holding Onto the Side of the Pool.

Or I could share the photo montage that the kids did for Ron last Father's Day. It was really sweet and if you want to take a little visual walk down memory lane with us, I'd love to snag this opportunity to share it again! So here you go:

But I didn't really feel like that was what I wanted to share. Sure, Ron's a good parent - he's involved, he listens to them (sometimes), he has helped, driven, chaperoned. Heck, once he even agreed to be in one of Katie's plays since he was waiting for her during every rehearsal - probably sleeping in the back row of the theatre. But they needed a Mr. Slugworth in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, so he took a deep breath and stepped up onto the stage.

Double Piggy Back Rides
Instead, what I really think is remarkable about him is that he is The Quintessential Unschooler. He just loves to learn. It's what he does. And when he decides to learn something, it's full immersion.  Sometimes the kids' interests or opportunities sparked his interest, or his sometimes sparked something in them.

Ron & Michael
When I was busy reading about unschooling and how to raise children, Ron was simply... living. Playing with the kids. Exploring whatever was around.  I followed him around the house, reading snippets from various books. I even bought him Gatto's Dumbing Us Down and Guterson's Family Matters. He read a little and said, "Yeah, well we all know this about schools. Um, we were there." Then he put down the book. He felt no need to have any battle cry go up about the injustices of institutionalized learning. A simple, "Bring'em home," was what I got after a long list of why I thought it would be a good idea to try homeschooling after Michael finished 1st grade.

I continued to connect on the internet, reading and learning about this new world we were stepping into. But all the while, he was simply connecting with our kids on topics that interested them. It was just the natural thing to do. And once they were home so much more, he had a lot more opportunities. More reading, more game playing - more adventures out in the community and out in the world!

Ron & Katie hiking in North Carolina

Never too young to hike Enchanted Rock!

Typical evening...or anytime
Ron's not the kind of dad who just sits around with the remote control and waits for someone to bring him a beer.  His TV watching is deliberate - the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sons of Anarchy, and his John Wayne & Clint Eastwood video collection. But even with those, he's Skyping with Michael in Nicaragua to talk about Martin Brodeur's latest goal save, or he's playing the Movie Line Game with Katie or Alyssa as they pass through the room. I'm sure you know it... you pick a line from a movie and say it, then the other person has to guess which movie it was. For a while, we had quite an extensive movie watching period, so they could come from anywhere: Monty Python, Three Amigos, Beetlejuice, The Blues Brothers, Jeremiah Johnson.... just to name a few. It used to drive my mother crazy when she'd come to visit. They could spend an entire dinner playing that game! She wanted them to have "meaningful" conversations. I just smiled because I knew the connection that was happening between them was the real goal.
Backyard Hockey with Katie & Michae

When we lived in Alaska, where our homeschooling started, Ron took up hockey. He always enjoyed watching the sport, but he was born and raised in Mesquite, Texas. Not a lot of hockey there. So even though he was 20 years older than most of the guys playing, at 44, he signed up for a little boot camp, and figured it out. He started going to pick-up games, the kids tagging along to watch. Next thing you know, they're all signing up for hockey teams, we're trekking across the state to tournaments,  and even building an ice rink in our back yard!
Dry Ice Experiments turned into Mad Science!

Next stop would be California. Sadly, the ice rinks weren't nearly that important to Californians, so it was time to shift gears. Alyssa and Michael were really interested in horses, so Ron took them to find a stable that offered lessons. He picked the brains of the ranchers and horse owners every chance he got.  The kids were always with him out there, so they watched and listened and learned. He helped Alyssa figure out how to drag feed through the stalls to give to each horse. He bartered for horse leasing, and agreed to help build a giant riding arena. So he and Michael climbed ladders, measured and sawed for weeks until it was finished.  All three learned so much there. 
Michael learning to ride Gilly

Once when they were out riding horses together, they found a little injured barn owl.  He showed 
them how to wrap it up in a towel and get it to the local raptor center. A few weeks later he was taking them out to see it be released back into the wild.

Learning to sail with Katie & Alyssa - Folsom Lake
Ron was always interested in sailing, so while we were still in California, he bought a little Venture 22 sailboat. He and Michael worked and worked on it. All three kids learned to sail at Folsom Lake.  So when the homeschool group in Davis needed chaperones for a sailing charter through the San Francisco Bay, he was the natural choice to step in. Ron, Michael and Katie all sailed on the Gas
 Light, a 50 foot Schooner - what a trip!

Helping Alyssa pet a Bat Ray (Monterey Bay Aquarium)
His interest in history took them to Angel Island for a group overnight trip. His love of science led to a Halloween party full of dry ice experiments.  His fondness for the outdoors took them on mountain hikes, snow cave adventures, camping trips, and beach excursions.

I could list one adventure after another that Ron experienced with each of the kids. But that might take a little longer than a typical blog post. Suffice it to say that Ron did not stand on the sidelines. He was a hands-on, involved dad. Not because someone told him it's good to do that, but simply because it was the natural thing for him to do. The kids were curious - about everything - and so was he. So when opportunities presented themselves, he was right there with them - guiding, listening, and stepping up to "give it a try."

Learning is simply a part of life for him.
For Ron, unschooling the kids was just a natural extension of that.
Just a cute picture of Ron & Michael (1991 Welcome Home)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Hoarding, Children, & Maurice

Some books you just can't donate.  

After years and years of unschooling, I've accumulated "a few" books. There are bookshelves in nearly every room. And, we're not talking about shelves that have a couple books artfully placed with a lovely vase next to them. I'm talking bookcases crammed full of books. Once the row is full, we've even wedged them on the tops vertically.

My kids, now nearly grown, have their own favorites stacked by the bed, on their dresser and in their own bookshelves. Yes. We're Book People.                  

But when the Bastrop fires happened last year, I felt for those homeschooling families that were dislocated and needing...EVERYTHING. At the same time, we had been watching the Hoarding shows, and my family kept looking my way.                              

"Those bookshelves, Mom! Sheesh!" was what I'd hear after each show.
And, "Who are you saving those books for?"

Sometimes I'd say, "Well, when you homeschool YOUR future kids, I will be prepared. I will have everything you need." But Ron would remind me, "Don't you think you could just pick a few favorites and then donate the rest? I mean, won't you want to buy nice NEW books for your grandchildren?" He had a point.

So I started sifting. Interestingly, when I sorted books and the kids were nearby, I'd ask them, "Keep or donate?"
"Little Bear series? Keep or donate" Alyssa would pipe up, "No, don't give that away!"
"Where the Wild Things Are?" No, that was Michael's favorite. Michael even went as Max for Halloween while he was in college, making his own costume... as usual.

We ended up keeping a lot more than we thought we would. While the internet and cable give us FABULOUS learning experiences, there's something about snuggling next to mom reading a familiar book at the end of the day.  I'm glad their memories of these books were as warm and fuzzy to them as they are to me. I don't think they'll ever forget the sound of Ron reading Hank the Cowdog to them. Something about being born and raised in Mesquite, Texas gives you an accent perfect for that series.

 I did give a way quite a few books - several rubbermaid tubs full. Yet, still, we kept several rubbermaids full too, just loaded them into storage. Did Ron really think we'd be able to limit it to one or two each? ha! Who knows how they'll feel about them when (way) down the road they have children and want to share their favorite books? But, there I'll be...fully prepared.

The passing of Maurice Sendak reminds me of how much we loved his books. Some authors just connect with you and he was one of them. Listening to his interviews over the years and seeing the quotes on the internet remind me that he had respect for children that we don't always see. He didn't talk down to them or give any kind of belittling of childish ways. Reading his books and understanding the messages he was saying had a ripple effect that I think would have pleased him.  I'm sure people will continue to enjoy his work for years to come.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Maurice Sendak - some from interviews, some directly from the books.

"I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do."
"Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren't. Grownups always say they protect their children, but they're really protecting themselves. Besides, you can't protect children. They know everything."
“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” 
“Peter Rabbit, for all its gentle tininess, loudly proclaims that no story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it is not a work of imagination.” 
“I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You're going to trip over that for a good part of your life.” 
“If there's anything I'm proud of in my work--it's not that I draw better; there's so many better graphic artists than me--or that I write better, no. It's--and I'm not saying I know the truth, because what the hell is that? But what I got from Ruth and Dave, a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-of-the-spirit kind of way.” 
"And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all."
“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”And Max said, “No!”The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.” 
“And [he] sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot” 

Stephen Cobert did a very funny interview with Maurice Sendak recently. It's in two parts:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I'm THAT Mom

When you choose to parent differently than the majority of people nearby, you can't help but notice the raised eyebrows. And over the years, I've seen and heard a lot more than that. I've been called "overprotective," "too involved," and even the infamous "helicopter parent." I'd love to tell you that when these slams came my way, they just rolled off my back. They didn't. They stung. They made me question myself. They made me wonder if maybe they were right. But it didn't deflect my course. I was going to be THAT mom. It was inevitable. It was as if it were in my DNA. Often, I didn't have the reasoning or the research to back it up. But I had a gut feeling... and that gut feeling was that I was going to love my kids as if that was the only day I'd have with them. I was going to fill their lives with fun and adventure and opportunities - because  you really really don't know how long you have. We've all seen young lives cut short. And it's even sadder to me that many of them were waiting for their life to start at age 18.  It may be a bit morbid, but I kept thinking, if that were my child, would I be happy with how they spent their short life?

So, yes. I am THAT mom.

I am THAT mom whose family bed concept did not end at any particular age.  Each child slept differently and some stayed with us longer than others.  The Open Sign hung on the door long past when they needed it. Although, when they were teens, if they got sick, they'd often crawl into our bed. Since they were no longer "little kid sized," Ron would often roll out the other side and head to the guest room or a nearby couch.  Because when you're sick, who doesn't wish their mommy would take care of them?

I am THAT mom who takes the kids to the store in the middle of the night to get snacks that we don't have on hand...knowing fully well that these pre-teens just want to be out late and see who else is out late.

I am THAT mom who when there weren't enough adult volunteers, stepped up to lead Girl Scout troops to make sure my daughters had that experience.

I am THAT mom who cringed when parents talked about how happy they were that their kids were going back to school in August (with their child standing right beside them!), or when parents would say, "I'm not your friend, I'm your mom!" I understand what they're aiming for, but I think it completely misses the point. For me, "friend" and "mom" are not mutually exclusive.

I am THAT mom who at one point in time said yes to: 1 Red-eared slider, 2 parakeets, 2 cockatiels, 2 dogs, 3 cats, a guinea pig, 3 pygmy goats, 3 horses, and a donkey.  Loving our pets was a great gateway to learning about following our passions.

I am THAT mom who, when my family started to be interested in horses, worked at a ranch, took riding lessons, I said, "Sure, let's buy that 16 acre ranch outside of town on our (what we thought was) our final move!"

And then, when the interests faded and the situation wasn't best for my teenagers to be stuck outside of a small redneck Texas town, I watched months of HGTV, "staged" the house, sold it in 3 weeks, packed up the family and moved to Austin. Yes, I am THAT mom.

I am THAT mom who, when my son was wishing he had a brother (he had only 2 sisters),  agreed to host a Japanese exchange student... and our lives were forever changed.

I am THAT mom, who later, let her 16 year old son go to Japan for 3 months, because he had an interest in other cultures and travel.

I am THAT mom who served raspberries and cream puffs for one daughter's birthday breakfast in bed, homemade chocolate pie for my son who prefers it over cake, and IHOP breakfast for my other daughter. And I'm no stranger to throwing wild elaborate birthday parties either!

I am THAT mom who, when we didn't have support groups that met our needs, I grabbed a few friends and we simply started one up: Homeschoolers Unlimited, The Chart & Compass, Alaska Homeschool Network, and the National Home Education Network.

I am THAT mom who, when my daughter wanted to act out scenes from a show, I watched her do it over and over and OVER! I even pulled out the video camera and followed her around or set up the tripod so she could film it herself.  And then when that progressed to community theatre, I am THAT mom that sat in the seats for every rehearsal and show, sometimes volunteering to do whatever job needed doing (stage crew, costume cutter, light person, Tinkerbell sparkle light).

I am THAT mom who let my kids find their own way with make-up, clothing and piercings. They are so much more confident about who they are and how they want to portray themselves to the world, because they have had the time and the space to figure that out.

I am THAT mom who let my kids set their own sleep schedules. Sometimes they'd be up all night, and sleep all day. Often, I would crash before they would. But it all worked out. Yes, they were able to set their alarms and get up for the early shift at work.

I am THAT mom, who when my daughter and her friends wanted to go to a Rave and I thought they were a little too young, I took them myself. I walked with them to the front area, paid for them to get in and then picked them up when they called.  They enjoyed it, but had no desire to go again.

I am THAT mom, who when my 17 year old became engaged to her 19 year old boyfriend, I trusted her like I always have.  (Yes, I encouraged a long engagement - they're 18 & 20 now...the wedding will be when they're 19 & 21). But it's ALL about trust...little decisions and big decisions.

I am THAT mom, who let my daughter's boyfriend (now fiancé) move in to our house so they could save money for their future.

I am THAT mom who had my kids' Facebook & Myspace passwords, and spoke regularly with my kids about what I saw.  I didn't prevent them from writing or posting or even being friends with some "questionable characters," but instead discussed and suggested but mainly listened without judgement. By not TELLING them how things were going to be done, they often came around to the idea on their own. My Hands On Approach to Parenting applied when they were young, but also when they were teens.

I am THAT mom who spent years combing newspapers, surfing the internet, and picking people's brains to find out what cool activity might interest one or more of my kids. I was on a mission to find interesting places to explore and fascinating experiences for them to have in every place we lived. Some were flops, some hit the mark, lots fell in between. But every place offered adventures we simply had to uncover, and one thing really DOES lead to another.

I am THAT mom, who when my daughter told me she thought she was not smart enough to go to high school, after 15 years of unschooling, I asked her if she wanted to go. I told her that maybe she should go see, because I KNEW she was smart enough. But I knew it was way more important that SHE know. We mulled over the possibilities, and she did go. For a year and half. And that was all she needed.

I am THAT mom, who drove wherever we needed to go to meet fun people and/or have great experiences. We traveled up and down the state of California for HSC campouts or conferences. We trekked across Alaska to speak with people at homeschool events - we drove through mountain ranges and slept on ferries. From Texas, we ventured to Live and Learn conferences in St. Louis, Albuquerque, and North Carolina. We drove weekly to Dallas to be part of a homeschool film crew at the PBS station. We visited friends all over the country. And whenever we moved (and we did that lot with the military), we took the long scenic routes. There was always something interesting to check out along the way. And, yes, we put a lot of miles on our cars!

These are just a few of things that come to mind. And some of you might STILL be raising your eyebrows about some of these decisions. I'm sharing them anyway, because parenting decisions can sometimes look complicated and scary. Sometimes they are. But when you have a basic philosophy about what you're doing, it's more of a natural (less complicated) way of living with your children. It's about developing a relationship of trust and love, more than anything else.

I think most importantly, I am THAT mom that "held the container" - what my dad used to call the Sanctuary. I made sure that my kids had a place to grow and explore and try whatever they wanted to try. I did protect them a great deal because the world DOES want children to play small. Society is not crazy about children who "don't know their place" or are "too big for their britches." Kids in school often had to shape their interests, and actually their personalities, so that they either could gain the attention of others or keep out of the limelight. SOO much energy is often put into that struggle. I wanted my kids' energy to be used somewhere else. I wanted them to feel free to be as creative as they wanted as they set out on their own adventure of self-discovery. I simply wanted them to unfold more naturally - without unnecessary peer pressure or authoritarian squashing.

So, yeah. I guess that makes me THAT mom. I'm okay with it. And my kids are doing okay too.

*A couple years ago, an entire thread of "I'm THAT Mom"s bubbled up in cyberspace, starting with Flo Gascon. :) Here's a link to a bunch of them!