2e Tuesday::Emergency Quick Fix for Parental Stress.

Jun 30, 11 2e Tuesday::Emergency Quick Fix for Parental Stress.

My 2e Tuesday blogs talk specifically about 2e, or twice exceptional learning…kids who are both gifted AND have learning differences; ie, dyslexia, sensory issues, dyscalculia, CAPD, etc., etc., etc. These kids don’t fit into any standardized molds, which makes for some traumatic experiences in our current over-regulated states of education and parenting. They aren’t ‘typical’ sequential, orderly thinkers, and this affects every area of their lives. But generally these 2e blogs are also about questioning if anyone really DOES fit into a “normal” range, and why is it so important to think we should? I’d rather everyone celebrate that we are all unique individuals instead of molding everyone into a nicely boring square peg.

Of course, celebrating the unique can lead to certain amount of stress. Everything is a little more wild and crazy. Nothing is as regulated or predictable, and everyone’s timeline for learning things can be vastly different. You leap into a world of unknown, not sure how anything is going to work out but holding doggedly to a trust that it all will. It’s exactly what I did with Naturalist when I pulled her out of school at 9 and she yelled “I’m never going to read a book for the rest of my life!”. To a dyslexic child, forced daily readings at home and at school is a serious form of torture. So I told her she never had to read if she didn’t feel the need to. So she didn’t for a long time. Until the Warriors books came out when she was 12, and her deep love of cats and a good story helped her work through the dyslexia to start reading like a fiend. But you better believe that in those 3 years of not reading, I was worried sick.

I know, I know, I’ve blogged a lot about how to handle stress–running, jumping, meditating, playing, reading, talking, etc. Because the thing is, if we don’t deal with our own stress then it bleeds out onto our kids. So lets say I’m getting stressed that, at 7, Sassy doesn’t know how to spell her name yet, or read a book. It doesn’t mean that she’s stressed that she can’t do those things. It’s my burden, not hers. Do I think that someday she’ll spell her name? yes. Do I think that someday she’ll read a book? yes. It may not be until she’s 12, like Naturalist, but I know it will happen when she’s ready. So I can lighten up, work my stress out on my own, and continue to celebrate and encourage her on her own path. Or I can let the stress take over and start coercing her to learn what I want her to learn when I want her to learn it. I can focus on her weaknesses and create a feeling between us that I’m worried, upset, and/or not pleased…which only serves to undermine my trust in her and even worse, her trust in herself.

It’s always a good idea to find an outlet for your stress before it becomes your child’s burden.

And what is better for stress than a martini?!

Hahahaha. I kid.

Kind of!

I mean, other forms of stress control are better in the long run, but sometimes you need a kickstart to get you there, am I right?! So if that’s what you need, I’ve got something for you.

I’m just a year into drinking, so I realize that many of you have moved on from frilly fruity drinks and are in wine country. But I’m still more wine cooler than wine. So. I made up my own special recipe! I consider this the best martini I’ve ever had, and even though modesty demands that I use “one of” in front of “the best”, I’m going to leave it out…I’m also going to immodestly keep the name a waitress in Washington gave it: “The Tifftini”

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The recipe:

equal parts…

whipped cream vodka
Godiva Chocolate liqueur (white, dark, or milk!)
Peppermint Schnapps (aka Rumplemintze)
Baileys
Whole Milk (or cream, if you want to go crazy with it!)

This tastes just like a Thin Mint. The deliciousness masks the rather high alcohol content, so it could also be called “The Troublemaker” (or, as my sister likes to call it, “Whorin’ It Up”). I just want to illustrate this fact before you all go out and mix one (or four) up for yourselves and end up sleeping on your front lawn with a magic marker mustache drawn on your face and toilet paper for clothes. I don’t want to have that on my conscience.

Tara, the one and only Organic Sister, will help illustrate. She was there when the Tifftini made it’s debut, and these are the actual photos I took of the event. Also note the effect that the Tifftini has on photography, please.

Hi Tara! Let’s have a Tifftini! Ha!

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Tara! I wish you would stop moving around so much! You’re so blurry I can’t even focus on you! Hahahahahahahaha!

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Wasn’t that drink delicious?! Let’s have another one!!!

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Oh man. T! You won’t stop moving! I can’t even see you anymore! Which one of us is moving? You or me?! HahahahahhahahahAHAHAHAHAhahahhahahaha!

Who cares. Let’s have another! HAHAHHAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!

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Maybe I can just lay down on your lap and giggle for a while. The room seems to be spinning! Do you mind if I take a little nap, too? HAHAhahaahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa……*snore*
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So, to sum up, allowing for uniqueness in kids can lead to adult stress when they show that they actually are really very unique. Because they don’t do things in the way or in the time that everyone else does. So find some stress release for yourself, either through an activity or interest or hobby or anything. And if worse comes to worse and you need an emergency quick fix, find yourself some good friends, make yourselves some Tifftinis, and let it all hang out!

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Use The Force. Build-A-Cat.

Jun 23, 11 Use The Force. Build-A-Cat.

I hate to go into Build-A-Bear workshops. Not because I have anything against stuffed animals, or consumerism, or toys, or mass produced tacky things. However, I don’t like paying $60 for all that. I also take issue with all the “stuff and fluff” signage. This is a children’s store for goodness sakes!

I also have a hard time not punching people in the face when I’m standing in line with 348203498304 cranky tired moms all pushing to get ahead of everyone else so they can take pictures of their precious Lucy forcing a fabric heart into a freshly stuffed bear.

However, lately I’ve realized that Sassy has very few toys. We gave a lot away when we moved a couple years ago, and packed the remaining toys in one box to come with us to California. After the experience of purging everything OUT, I am still reluctant to start accumulating stuff, so we’ve taken very few trips to Target, Michaels, or anywhere else where overconsumerism used to be so easy for me. On our Tour de Pacific Northwest, though, I stopped and stayed with a crazy cool friend and her family. Sassy was able to make friends with her kids and spend a few days playing with roomfuls of toys. My Little Ponies (they have cute updated ones now!), Barbies, Legos, and lots of other things I haven’t seen before (I’m sooo out of the loop these days, without lots of TV shows or commercials to keep me up to date!)…she was really happy. And not in the psycho way of a kid that hoards toys just to have MORE, but in a happy content way of having new things to play pretend and dress up with. I started thinking that my miserly ways *may* have gone too far, and decided to let go of my “no new things” policy so Sassy could reenter a childhood from the 21st century.

Yesterday we found ourselves at Downtown Disney, so Naturalist could swing dance at a free concert (every Wed.!). Sassy and I were walking around wasting time when she saw Build-A-Bear and asked to go in. Damn my updated “new things” policy! We walked in, and I immediately started fantasizing about her bringing home a pretty pink bear with a tutu or something. I mean, Sassy is kind of aggressive and pushy, and maybe it’s because I haven’t given her enough soft pink toys to dance around with?

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Tonight, I could change all that by encouraging her to spend an outrageous amount of money on a stuffed animal with a real live fabric heart shoved inside of it…but if it would help her be more girly and have tea parties and shit, then wouldn’t that be worth it? So she tried a few bear skins out. The first one was cute, but not a kitty:

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The second one was a kitty, but with silver sparkle thread woven throughout, which was a deal breaker to Sassy’s sensitivity to fabric.

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The third was perfect. A fat tabby cat that felt great!

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So then we stood in line with 3059834059834 cranky tired moms pushing to get in front of the line so they could stuff their kids bears and get the hell out of there. I restrained myself and only came close to punching one person in the face. She totally deserved it, I’m sure the judge would have agreed. Anyhoo, it was finally our turn to stuff the cat. And OK, so watching your kid put in a fabric heart is really pretty sweet. I could just imagine how extra sweet it would be once she picked out a matching pink frilly outfit (complete with pink ballet sparkle shoes!) for her tabby cat.

After the stuffing comes the fluffing (hahahahahahhaha) and then the dressing. I showed Sassy all the girl outfits for her cat. $17 is well worth the price for a kinder, gentler toy for Sassy to play pretend with!

Sassy skipped ahead of all that. She quickly assembled the outfit that she wanted her tabby cat to wear.

and…

well…

I’ll just let you see for yourselves.

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A Darth Vader outfit, complete with mask and cape. Black converse shoes. A pair of underwear ($3!) pulled on OVER the vader outfit.

“This cat is going to DOMINATE!!!!” she squealed. The boy behind her looks afraid, very afraid…no?!

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I’m sorry Frito. I tried, I really did. But it looks like Sassy has one more toy to dominate us all with.

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The Circle of Life in 15 Minutes.

Jun 22, 11 The Circle of Life in 15 Minutes.

There is an awesome homeschool park day every Monday around these parts. Part of what makes it so amazing is the expansive park it’s held at. There are trails, bridges, a little river, a big lake, a little lake, a water feature, a big hill, 3 playgrounds, and lots and lots of trees. Most of the amazing comes from the people who come to it, though. Dozens and dozens of moms and dads with kids in tow. These are the kind of people who share what they have…blankets, chairs, food, toys, stories, a listening ear, advice, and a cooler when someone (me) keeps bringing melty chocolate bars (every week) forgetting how quickly they really melt (immediately).

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On this particular day, the younger girl crowd was exploring the perimeter of the smaller lake when all of a sudden squeals of delight echoed through the park. They found a turtle among the rocks! And not only a turtle, but also a little turtle baby! This sent them all into little girl *squee* overload, because when I say little turtle baby, I mean this fella was maybe the size of a silver dollar. A green, tiny, silver dollar sized turtle that appeared to be just getting his lake legs. While mama turtle hid under some rocks and bushes, baby turtle started swimming. Swimming and swimming. Quicker than you might imagine a thing that size could go!

The girls ringed the lake in an attempt to be there when the baby turtle made it to dry land. All us moms looked at each other in the exact same way, as if to say, “We better do something about all this turtle enthusiasm or this little fella is never going to survive the onslaught of loving, but ultimately fatal, 7-year-old-girl hand hugs.” So we held an impromptu “how to have manners in nature” crash course.

“OK girls! We love the turtle! But it’s a wild animal, so we don’t show the turtle this with our hands! Wild animals stay wild and we keep our hands off, right? Because we don’t want to hurt the little guy! We want him to be free to swim around anywhere he wants, anytime he wants! And we don’t want him to get to used to human beings. So let’s give him some space!”

We humans may be the top predator, but check us out! Teaching non-predatory and tender loving care skills to our little ones. Of course, if turtles tasted anything like filet mignon alongside a nice bernaise sauce, his ass would have been mine. His mom’s ass, too. Assuming turtles have asses*.

Anyway, we all reassembled around the lake. The baby turtle was swimming this way and that, using his newfound swimming skills to impress all the girls! They were calling out to him to try and draw him closer, but he remained safely out of reach in the middle of the tiny lake.

That’s when the duck flew in.

Landed in the water.

Scooped the turtle up with his duck beak.

Swallowed little fella up in one go.

Swam away.

*end scene*

The girls faces slowly dropped. None of us could believe what we had just seen. Justlikethat!!!! Bye bye little fella. Your life was short and sweet, and now you’ve gone to the big lake in the sky, where you can swim to your hearts desire.

It only took 15 minutes, but we all learned a lot.

*Mama turtles are really lazy.
*Baby turtles love to swim.
*Turtles are really cute!
*Baby animals are like kryptonite to little girls.
*Ducks are assholes.

(I couldn’t stop wondering if turtles have asses, so I googled “do turtles have asses” and guess what?! Not only do they have them, they can breathe through them!)

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The Myth of “Getting (Educationally) Behind”.

Jun 21, 11 The Myth of “Getting (Educationally) Behind”.

I decided to put educationally between the ‘getting’ and ‘behind’ because I’d hate for anyone to misread my title and decide that I think behinds are myths. Or that I don’t believe in getting behind something.

No, I’m talking about the idea that people have about education being something that can leave you in the dust.

I hear it all the time…”How are you sure your kids are staying up with what their peers are learning?” This is said with a fair amount of stress and panic. Catherine Zeta Jones and some other celebrity mentioned that after dealing with terminal diseases with themselves or their loved ones, they were thinking about taking their kids out of school and traveling around as a family. Because, you know, when you deal with life and death you tend to get new priorities that don’t involve sending your kid away for 7 hours a day so they can sit at a desk and memorize shit. The public backlash was interesting to see. “You can’t take your kids out of school! They’ll never catch back up!!!!” was the overall reaction.

Guess what. I’m not sure if my kids are keeping up with other kids their age. Or, rather, I’m quite sure that they aren’t.

Guess what else? The idea that kids are “keeping up with” other kids in their grade is bullshit. Yeah. I’m calling it. Because OK, so your kid is top of their class at school. Can you be sure they’d be the top of the other classes in their grade, in their school? What about all the classes in their grade in the school district? In the county? In the state? In the surrounding states? In the country? In the world?!

If this were true, then all you California publicly educated people would be screwed. When I moved from So. Cal. to New Jersey at 12, I spent the last year in California going to a private Episcopalian school to get me up to speed with what my peers were doing back east. And when my parents moved back when my brother was 12, it took his school in So. Cal. two years to get to anything new that he hadn’t already learned back east.

Also screwed would be the entire United States of America. In case you haven’t heard, we don’t do too well keeping up with our foreign counterparts when it comes to education scores.

Going to school is no guarantee that anyone is keeping up with anyone else. Does this doom everyone in the state of California to a life of ignorance and bondage to their educationally superior east coast compatriots? Does this mean that all the students in the United States will remain educationally ‘average’ for all eternity?

Does it mean that my oldest daughter, who didn’t read until she was 12, never ‘caught up’ in literacy with all the kids who started reading at 4 or 5? Does it mean that Sassy, who is most likely dyslexic and who cannot write her name or recognize the alphabet, will never be literate at all? No! That’s totally not true. The bullshit starts when we treat it like that, though. When we mistrust that our kids will find a way to learn what they need to know, and instead put value on a system that does, admitedly, leave kids behind. Naturalist was left waaaay behind. Why else would they even create a “No Child Left Behind” act if kids weren’t being left behind?! But the fault isn’t with the kids who are being left, the fault is with a rigid system that places more value on standardization than individuality.

I have this opinion because my two girls, dyslexic, couldn’t have kept up ‘educationally’ even if they wanted to. Which they both do. They are both bright, driven, smart kids. But they both struggle with letters, words, reading, writing, and doing a whole bunch of academic ‘milestones’ that kids their ages are doing. The best I can do is give them the time to figure stuff out in their own way. I can do this because unlike an unnatural system that leaves people behind, I know that real and true learning is lifelong. It doesn’t rush or expire. Learning is everywhere, and it happens anytime, not just during school hours when school’s in session. I am OK if they aren’t performing on anyone else’s schedule, or keeping up with anyone else, as long as they are staying true to themselves and where they want to be.

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This is part of my 2e Tuesday series, where I blog about different learning styles, dyslexia, learning differences, giftedness, and other things that can create a quirky, unique kid!

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The Lesson of the Balloon Sword::You Are Enough.

Jun 21, 11 The Lesson of the Balloon Sword::You Are Enough.

Last month, you may recall, was the Tour de Pacific Northwest, culminating in a visit to the Life Is Good Conference in Vancouver! The conference was this crazy awesome blend of speakers, circle chats, rooms full of toys and games, chaos, laughter, trips to the hotel bar, and bonding of every kind. I would without a doubt encourage everyone…unschooler or not…attend an unschooling conference if you have one local and accessible!

Each hour there was a selection of talks, chats, and activities for adults and kids alike. One of the hotel rooms hosted a balloon art class that Sassy really wanted to go to. Naturalist was off with friends, and Golfer was playing basketball outside, so just Sassy and I went to it.

We walked into a room filled entirely with hundreds of balloons and dozens of kids screaming with happiness.

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There were some amazing balloon creations in this room! Fancy princess hats, pirate boats, suits of armor, and animals of every kind! It was a do-it-yourself kind of thing…you would just find some balloons, inflate them, and then start crafting awesome things.

Except.

I don’t know how to make anything out of balloons. Not an animal, not a princess hat, not one. stinking. thing. Sassy was running around picking up balloons and telling me all her grand ideas for balloon creations I could make her, and my heart was sinking. I was feeling totally out of my league and a little panicky with the sudden push into balloon artistry. I looked around and marveled at all the other parents who looked like they went to BCU–Balloon Creation University. The mascot is a balloon monkey, I believe. Anyway, everyone else was so good at it. So crafty with the balloons! This made me feel extra bad.

While Sassy was finishing up collecting all our balloons, I desperately asked the woman beside me, Renita, to show me how to do something quickly. “How about 3 seconds? I can show you how to make a sword in 3 seconds!” she offered. Deal! And here is my interpretation of her instructions:

Sassy showed up right as she was finishing my one and only tutorial on balloon sword making.

First Sassy wanted some balloon hats, and I improvised marginally. I tried to convince her that postmodern deconstructed balloon hats were WAAAAY cooler than dorky princess balloon hats.

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Then she looked at me expectantly, bouncing up and down in anticipation with I swear twinkle stars bursting out of her eyes. “What are you going to make now, Mama?!” she asked.

I groaned inwardly. Parenthood is filled with insecurities, but none more than sitting in a room full of balloon masterpieces with only one stinking sword idea that may or may not turn out right.

I expected Sassy would take one look at my measly sword creation, compare it to the undersea creature motif (complete with mermaid!) going on beside her and tell me how lame I was. Or at least think it as she walked around to try and find a better balloon making mama. But I tried anyway.

“Sassy! Right before you’re very eyes, I will make something amazing! Are you ready?! Start counting, cuz this will happen so fast!!!!”

And voila, a sword appeared where there was none. And Sassy, bless her heart, freaked the freak out.

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“ANOTHER ONE! MAKE ANOTHER ONE!” And so I did.

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and another one!

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You should have seen her face! Oh, wait, thanks to my iphone, you can!

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I’m not kidding, she ran outside to tell Golfer all about how amazing I was at making balloon swords and he came in to see. And even HE freaked the freak out, as much as an 11 year old boy can. They both begged me to make more, so I kept ‘em coming.

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I was unexpectedly touched by their enthusiasm and support. Inside, I was thinking, “If they only knew how totally lame I am at this, compared to everyone else, they would be disappointed in the sham of a mom I am!” but their childhood happiness wore off on me and I realized the opposite is actually what I needed to think. If I only knew how totally awesome I am to them, then I would never feel like a sham of anything.

If you only knew how totally awesome you are to your kids, you would never feel inferior, either.

To this day, one of my favorite things that my mom does is draw a happy face. Circle, lines for eyes, dot for nose, half circle for mouth. When I was little, I would watch her do this forever, and it seemed so amazing to me! It still makes me happy. My dad used to have a bowler type hat and banjo, and he would do this silly song and dance that would make me laugh and laugh. My mom isn’t an artist and my dad isn’t a professional banjo player, so they paled in comparison. But that didn’t matter, because parents are mythical in a child’s eyes. Larger than life. Every time I make pancakes, Sassy tells me how magical I am to make a solid pancake appear using only a liquid batter.

Realistically, are there things we could all do better? Ways we disappoint our kids? Emotions to deal with more effectively? Have more insight about? Yes. yes, yes, yes, and yes. The list is potentially endless, I guess. We are human, after all. Flawed. But that’s not even the point. The point is, we start where we are with what we have. And the one thing our kids can teach us is all about loving acceptance. So start with yourself, flaws and all. See yourself as your child sees you, focus on what you can and are doing without comparing yourself to anyone else. This is so hard in an age of facebook and blogging, where we peer into other people’s lives and sometimes wish it were our own.

Trust that you are enough. Start there and don’t look back.

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Houston, We Had A Problem! Of Awesomeness!

Jun 18, 11 Houston, We Had A Problem!  Of Awesomeness!

The day before yesterday you might have noticed that if you visited freeplaylife, you were greeted with a message “Account Suspended”. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, because the tens of people who read the blog are patient and kind, and had already read the last post I made, “Cleaning Without Compulsion“. But…those tens of people shared it with their dozens of people, and those dozens of people shared it with their hundreds of people, and so on and so on. This happened the same time as the same thing happening with the posts “A Life of Yes” and “Dyslexia Watch 2011” (thanks to facebook, I can see how many times each post is shared!). This created a kind of stampeding frenzy on the server, and it overloaded my bandwidth so they shut me down. That’s an awesome problem to have! They shut it down like the police on an out of control party in the Hollywood Hills, where everyone is jumping into a pool with their clothes on, doing nose shots of cocain off people’s stomaches, hanging from balconies without their clothes on and blaring electro music at 4 am*.

The interesting thing is the way my web hosts handled it. I didn’t get an email telling me what happened, instead I learned about it after getting facebook messages asking why I was suspended. I felt panicky and nervous, just like when I was busted for skipping a day of high school and had to go to detention. Except this time I didn’t know why my website was in trouble.

So I emailed the host very professionally:

My account has been suspended, could you clarify the issue for me?

And they answered back that yes it was suspended and it was a bandwidth issue, and that I needed to buy more bandwidth.

So I did.

And it remained suspended.

So I emailed back very professionally that it was still suspended and they answered back that as they reviewed my files, it appears I have a potentially bad script running and I needed to update or erase it before they would unsuspend my account.

So I tried and tried to get into my control panel to update or erase it, and for the life of me could not log in. I tried for hours! I reset my password, and futilely typed and retyped my account name and password over and over and over again.

I began to suspect my webhost tech guys were playing a nerdy joke on me. I pictured Mark, the dude who initially answered me, laughing at his desk when he sent me the email about updating the bad script, thinking to himself, “I wonder how long she’ll try to get into the control panel before asking me if any of her files are accessible while the account is suspended?!”

So I send a desperate unprofessional email:

I’m still suspended! And I can’t get into my cpanel to fix anything! Is it my fault, or can I not get in because of the damn suspension?! What do I do?! How can I fix it??????

And Mark, noting that I took me 3 hours to figure out his little game, sent back this reply:

Yes, the suspension is preventing you from getting to your cPanel. Our admin team can disable the script for you so your account can be unsuspended safely. They need your permission to disable the script. Then you will be able to get into your cPanel to update it.

Regards,

Regards my ass! Why they didn’t point that out when they first told me the issue I don’t know. It’s all a part of their sick little geeky game, I suppose. They must get desperate for drama after being tucked away in their cubicles day in and day out.

So I quickly answer back in a message less professional and more sexual than I realized:

I want to give it to someone! Who do I give it to, and how do they need it?!?!?!?!

This must be how to talk dirty to a computer programmer.

It must have worked, because they unsuspended my account and fixed everything. Again, why they couldn’t have done it in the first place is beyond me. Poor poor tech dudes must be so starved for affection and human contact, they draw everything out like this.

So, I’m back! Thanks so much for all the shares on facebook and twitter. As you can see from the picture, the huge spike was the traffic generated all before 9 am. You can imagine what it would have been like if the day had gone on unsuspended! Epic!

Feel free to share your hearts out anytime you read anything worthwhile in here. I now have a huge amount of bandwidth and can totally handle it!

*I’m not sure if this really happens, I may be stereotyping what wild parties are from old ’80′s movies?

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Cleaning Without Compulsion.

Jun 16, 11 Cleaning Without Compulsion.

There are lots of ways to get kids to clean. Sticker charts. Bribes. Threats. Commands. Begging. Treats. Chore charts. Prayer.

I did all that when I had one kid. And a little bit when I had 2. But 3 kids put me over. I really had to simplify, and drop unnecessary energy expenditures to save it all up for making sure everyone was healthy and alive at the end of the day. Their dad was traveling 5 days of the week, so I had to streamline. Around this time I also started unschooling, and people who embrace unschooling embrace it not just for educational purposes but also as a lifestyle choice. It rests on the idea that coersion, bribes, and threats have no place in a relationship between parent/child.

But if you take all that away, will kids really clean?! Will they learn the value of taking care of what they have? Responsibility?

First, a disclaimer. I had chores and charts as a kid. One of my jobs was to vacuum the carpet in the house. I hated that job. I didn’t want to do it. So. I ran the vacuum while I stood there. I ran it for as long as I felt it would take me to actually be vacuuming. And then, being a brilliant child, I realized that the lack of vacuum marks on the carpet would give me away. So after I’d run the vacuum, standing still for 15 minutes, I’d turn it off. Then I would carefully go back and forth on the carpet to make the lines. This would take 15 minutes. So, see, I was made to vacuum but I made sure NOT to vacuum. And then my mom would tell me to redo it because it was still dirty, and then we’d get into a big tizzy because I wouldn’t want to do it, but then I would do it while crying, and be all pissed off. This is how I handled all my chores. Don’t I sound like a delightful child?!

When I left home, I stopped cleaning. I felt good about this. Don’t I sound like a delightful roommate?!

So, back to the question. Will kids naturally clean? No. And yes. It depends.

In my house, there are no chores, charts, gold stars, rewards, or threats. And is it clean? The answer gets down to semantics. In the words (approximately) of Pres. Clinton, it depends on what your definition of “clean” is. Spotlessly so…no. Can you eat off my floors? I wouldn’t advise it. Do toys get put away each night? No, because often the game set up needs to remain so it can be played again the next day…and the next…and the next.

But, we’ve fallen into a rhythm. Everyone has the right to claim “This is way to dirty” at any point in time, and everyone pitches in to pick it up. We clean up after meals in this same self appointed way. At any point in the day, whenever I start picking stuff up, I set out a big container full of lots of different cleaning supplies and thingamajiggies. Cool stuff like dust wands or swords (depending on if you’re Golfer or Sassy) which is a stick that you put a dust rag on. Or a dish cleaner/scrubber that spins around. Even toilet wands are pretty cool.

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They dive into it, each picking up whatever thing they want to use for that day and then using it. I’ve found that when it’s not forced, kids can have a really fun time cleaning up. Golfer loves to sweep. Naturalist loves to mop. Sassy loves to spray stuff on walls/cabinets/tables and wipe it down.

I’ve tried to keep the play and fun in cleaning. For me, growing up, cleaning meant a potential punishment if I didn’t do it the right way. I’ve kind of let go of that, and made cleaning about keeping the house a place we all want to be in, in our own way. Naturalist has a messy room, but has to have a clean bathroom. Golfer has to have a clean room, clean bathroom, clean kitchen…I swear, if he didn’t pop out of my innards while I was watching the whole damn time, I would think he came from a different mother.

A favorite fun thing about cleaning is when we scrub down the kitchen. The sink is full of bubbles, and that bubbly water needs to be spread all over. So…

step one:
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step two:
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step three:
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BUBBLE FIGHT!!!!!!!

I don’t have a super clean house. My dishes aren’t always put away. Toys are underfoot. Each kids room is in a different state of disarray. To my knowledge, not one of us makes our bed in the morning. My kids don’t do things for candy, allowance, fear, or stickers. They just do them because they see the need to do them, and they want to. No anger, no tears, no punishment, no cleaning just to please me. When they clean it pleases themselves, and I like that trade off a whole lot!

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2e Tuesday::Dyslexia Watch, 2011.

Jun 15, 11 2e Tuesday::Dyslexia Watch, 2011.

Dyslexia is a sneaky bastard, for those who aren’t aware of it or had personal dealings with it. There are so many different types and symptoms of dyslexia, and diagnosing it and/or understanding it is a rather complicated and tricky thing…and no one has identical signs when they have it.

Because Naturalist does have it, and because there are other people in my extended family with it, I watch the other two kids to see if it is an issue with them. I do this with bated breath, because after watching Naturalist deal with it I’d much prefer no one else that I love would have to go through that level of frustration, anger, and hurt. Even though I know that I wouldn’t change anything about Naturalist and we both agree thatthere are a lot of strengths of dyslexia,
“>, there also are a lot of reasons to freaking hate it.

Golfer breezed through reading and spelling without any hitches. He went to Kindergarten, then when we pulled him out to unschool he pretty much taught himself to read, spell, and write without any formal lessons. After watching many kids make the transition from illiterate to literate, I believe that it usually flows in a very easy, organic way, like it did for Golfer. Schools lead us to make the assumption that without phonic lessons and daily spelling tests, kids wouldn’t learn any of it, but that’s not true. Literacy, in a general way, follows passion and interest, and kids are driven to read, gather information, and self express.

But Sassy. Oh, Sassy. I’ve been keeping my eye on her for a while now, and think I’ll start sharing what I notice as it’s becoming clearer to me that she is dyslexic like her sister. There are a lot of people out there either unknowingly dealing with dyslexia or who know someone with it, and I hope that by making our process public it will help shed some light on what dyslexia is like. The symptoms of dyslexia start out innocently and in ways that, taken individually, don’t mean much. But when you put them all together it adds up to trouble when it comes to reading/writing. These are the things I’m noticing in Sassy that may or may not indicate dyslexia…

She has a hard time remembering her nouns. Sassy makes up words. For a long time, stars were ‘gips’. She’d have other nonsensical stand in words of her own making for other common words. When she isn’t making up her own language (she’s kind of slowed that down the older she’s gotten), she will mix nouns up. She’ll say a random noun instead of “Taco” for instance. Or, when I say something like “spatula”, she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about until I describe it to her. Then she knows what I’m saying. But words, especially nouns, don’t have a lot of meaning to her without context. Often dyslexia makes it difficult to associate meaning to symbols…and words are symbols for an idea.

She knows the value of reading, but still can’t. In my experience, as soon as a kid realizes that there’s a world of words out there to be tamed, and then finds a reason for taming them, that’s when reading starts. And usually once this combination locks in, it’s fairly unstoppable. I can’t remember…stop me if I’ve said this before…but literacy, in a general way, follows passion and interest, and kids are driven to read, gather information, and self express. Sassy has the strong desire to read, sees other people reading, but still can’t.

This is in spite of working with letters and words for years. We have enough games, toys, songs and books to give her a good toehold on literacy. She still doesn’t have an order to her alphabet, or much letter recognition. I’d say she knows maybe 10 letters by sight. I become the lightning rod in this area of her development. When family/friends/strangers realize that she can’t read/doesn’t know her alphabet, they immediately put the focus (blame?!) on me. Because I unschool. Because if she were in school she’d be doing all this. Because I’m not a teacher and she obviously needs a teacher. Etc., etc. But, Naturalist was in 4th grade when we pulled her out, and she couldn’t read, so I know that’s all bullshit (I’m calling it!). But it is hard to deal with the outside opinions.

This inability to do something she wants to is uncharacteristic, and frustrating. Many people with dyslexia are bright, gifted, creative people. Sassy is no different, and when she puts her mind to something, she always finds a way to do it. Except read and write. This exception leads to extreme frustration that is always on the verge of turning inward and becoming a negative self reflection. The more I sit down to try to help her focus on practicing learning letters/words, the more frustrated and upset she gets. If I were the Tiger Mom, I would make her do it come hell or high water. But I’m not Tiger Mom. I have more respect for my kids as individuals than to agree with that nonsense.

So, what am I doing about it?

Well, I’m doing what I wish I would have done for Naturalist when she was little. Nothing. Actually, more than nothing, but less than Something (with a capital ‘S’). Let me rephrase. I’m actively staying calm, upbeat, supportive, and unafraid. I’m focusing on the things she can do and work around all the things she can’t do (yet). This runs counter to every parental fiber in my body when I see a child of mine in distress with a potential life altering issue facing them. What I want to do is freak out, find experts, put her in a program that will make her mind read, bribe her/force her/help her NOT have any dyslexic symptoms and then pretend everything is OK. I know this is what I want to do because it’s what I did with Naturalist, and it didn’t work out so well for her.

There’s a big push in our culture today for early intervention, and there are lots of resources to put Sassy into to try and “fix” this. I resist this, though. I know it’s not to be ‘fixed’, first of all. Second of all, I want her time to be spent exploring what she can do, not sitting for hours at a time focused on what she can’t. Thirdly, I know that dyslexia won’t stop her from being independently literate but it will have to happen in her own time. For Naturalist, this happened around 12. Fourthly, I don’t want to tamper with the way she learns but I do want her to understand it. So when she gets angry and frustrated because she can’t read, we talk about it. About how her brain might not be ready to remember how to read even though her friends brains do. And for the fifth thing, I prefer to take my nervous energy out in research and not out on her. So I use my time to understand dyslexia (thanks to brilliant places like this) so that I can help her best. I do want experts to help me help her, but I’ve discovered that dyslexic kids are their own experts. Given enough time, space, and encouragement, they have remarkable capability to accommodate and work around their issues.

So right now I’m giving her time, space, and lots and lots of encouragement.

I’m doing what I try to do with each of my kids: accept them for who they are right at the moment and then take my cues from them as to how to help them be who they want to be.

x marks the spot.

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Math Monday::Calling All Math Haterz!

Jun 13, 11 Math Monday::Calling All Math Haterz!

I love that math is one of the few things you can admit to hating, without sounding ignorant and simpleminded. This standard doesn’t apply to much else…it’s not like you can walk around saying, “Oh, I hate reading. I never do it if I don’t have to” or “I can’t stand history. I’m totally phobic about it!”

I do hate that so many people hate it, though. I hate that I used to dislike it so much, I would literally cry anytime I had to do it. I hate that in school, math is taught as mainly a way to do computations, and misses out on the beauty and sublime patterns of numbers. Yes, beauty. Poetry might be the language of lovers, but math is the language of life. And once I discovered that, I fell in love. Mad, deep love! Then when I fell in love, I shared it with my math phobic and traumathtized daughter who also fell head over heels in love. This is saying something for 2 people with dyscalculia!

A few of my blogs on the matter, talking about number circles and patterning, caught the eye of Sue over at Math Mama Writes. She asked if she could republish it in a book she’s working on, “Playing With Math”, and of course I said yes. Irony is one of my favorite literary concepts, and what’s more ironic than me being published first in a math book. Ha! Revenge of the Math Hater! All them bitches that failed me in math classes can suck it!

I have two favors to ask on this matter. One, is to take this poll, which would help Sue out. It quite possibly could be the easiest thing you do all day!:

[polldaddy poll=5139728]

Next, she’s looking for people to join a reader response team:

If you’d like an early peek at the book and the glory of being in the acknowledgements, you can sign up to be a part of the Reader Response Team. You’ll get 3 to 5 chapters a week to read (starting this Wednesday). We don’t need close editing for grammar and spelling at this point. What we need is your opinions as reviewers: What works? What doesn’t? What’s missing? And a rating for each chapter (Keep, Toss, or Wow!).

You’ll make a commitment to review the chapters within the week; it will take 11 weeks to read through the whole book. (Or you can pick the Summer Speed Reading option, and get the whole manuscript all at once.) Each week, discussions among the Reader Response Team will bring new depth to the already wonderful writing.

We are especially looking for people who love to read and do not like math. You are our acid test of the book!

If you’re interested, link through and leave a comment on her blog. Not only will you get a chance to get a sneak peak of a revolutionary math book for FREE, you will also pick up some amazing ideas about math. It’s a win/win!

tiptoe on the number line.

Math Haterz Unite!

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A Life of Yes.

Jun 09, 11 A Life of Yes.

It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself perched on top of a hippogriff (half horse, half bird), wearing a full coat of armor complete with pointy shoes. It is a ridiculous idea and a ridiculous situation…so outside the realm of normal or what’s to be expected in daily life, but there I was! I’ve always wanted to ride a hippogriff. Ever since I was 11 and started reading Piers Anthony and other science fiction/fantasy books! And why was I there? Actually, that’s not important. It’s not the “real issue” at the center of this post. What the “real issue” here is, is that life is full of magical surprises around every corner. Kind of like driving the Oregon coast, actually, but longer.

In short, life is completely and totally unfathomable and wild! It’s all a part of her beauty and charm, I think.

And yet. And yet. People! The older we get the more we try to fathom and tame her. What’s worse, we try to get our kids to fathom and tame her, too. I know this because parents and other people tell me this every day. I’m not shy about being an unschooler, and people aren’t shy about telling me what they think about it. I welcome the exchange.

In all my 6 years of doing this, I have heard a lot of reasons for why I should have my kids in school. Here’s a run down:

*only school can prepare a child for ‘real life’
*my kids need to learn to control themselves and sit still.
*my kids need to learn to follow direction from authority.
*my kids need to learn how to deal with rules, grades, and authority so they will fit into society better.
*my kids need to learn how to fail so they handle disappointment.
*my kids need to know that life isn’t about them.
*my kids need to know that life isn’t all fun and games and doing whatever they want.
*my kids need to learn that life is a lot of work.

I wish I were kidding about this. I wish I could put in there that people felt school was important because they learned so much amazing information there. That my kids needed to be in school for a free exchange of ideas and knowlege. That school was a place that fosters individual growth that they want my kids to have.

Instead, they are reacting to the idea that the open, free, happy, joyful, passion filled, interest driven space the kids and I have created in our lives is somehow false. A la-la land. A construct that won’t last past when my kids are old enough to get into the “real world”…as if the world we’re living in now isn’t real but pretend.

I call bullshit.

It seems 2011 is “year of calling bullshit”, and so I’m calling it. Hard. On all that nonsense.

I mean really. If we want kids to know that life is all work and hardship, then there is more we could be doing to foster that. We could buy our kids ice cream cones and then smack it out of their hands after the first lick. We could catch a butterfly, show it to them, and then smash it between our hands. We could buy their favorite candy and then make them watch us eat it without sharing any. Right?!

There is a lot I don’t know. There’s some stuff I think I know. And then there’s a little bit of stuff I really truly understand. And this is one of those things: Our life is our own creation. Our kids lives will be their own creation. And not to be cliche, but the possibilities are endless. I’ve discovered that I’d had the law of allowing all wrong. I thought it was a lot like wishing for something, but wishing implies that something doesn’t exist that you hope would. Allowing is different. It implies that something does already at this very moment exist, and all you have to do is say yes to it.

In this town I live in, there’s a guy who runs a deli, but his passion is soda. There are literally hundreds of soda bottles in every style and flavor, and he knows each one. There’s a haberdasher who wears a zoot suit and bowler hat and sells things like mustaches on sticks and old typewriters, but he loves hats of all kinds. I see him sweeping outside his storefront every Saturday. I asked, and both of them were told as kids, “Stop dreaming! You can’t make a living on soda/fancy hats!” and yet they have. They’ve made themselves a life that no one believed in except themselves. They said yes.

I bet there are tons of kids out there hearing “Stop dreaming! You have to do homework/take this test/get good grades/sit at school all day/learn this stuff/pay attention/stop playing so many video games! You can’t make a living if you don’t!”

I wish I could show them all what I’ve seen and experienced, especially after getting back from the Life Is Good Conference. A world where kids don’t do homework, are free to play as much video games as they want, who will never take a test or be made to write a paper. Kids who grow up without sitting at a desk or memorizing meaningless facts.

Far from being compromised when they reach adulthood, they have set themselves up for a life far richer and more fulfilling than what they would have if they’d given up on their passions and interests in lieu of some standardized form of acceptable dreaming. They go on to have productive adult lives doing whatever it is they’re passionate about. They have lived and will continue to live a life of yes, without a lot of interfering “no” from outside sources.

My kids have a life of yes, unless I’m PMS’ing in which case it’s all no, no, no until I recover. And because I’ve been able to say yes to my kids, I’ve been able to say yes to my own neglected self. Saying yes to all my dreams no matter how silly or improbable. And that is how I ended up on a hippogriff.

Say yes more, and see what happens to you! Say yes to your kids more, and see what happens to them!

Happiness should be like an oasis...

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Christmas Card Neurosis.

Jun 06, 11 Christmas Card Neurosis.

A large part of unschooling is about accepting your kids for who they are and not pressuring them to be whoever you or someone else (school/society/friends/family/etc.) may want them to be. It’s about letting them have the freedom to express/create/investigate/say/do/think/feel everything they want without fear of being punished/shamed/unvalidated/misunderstood. Unschooling is all about authenticity in thought, word, and action….fostering this both in yourself and in your children. This is a lofty goal and an awesome ideal to shoot for in my day to day life. But there is one thing that sabotages me from doing this every time I come across it.

The trouble always starts out on roadtrips. It’s not the traveling though. And it’s not deciding where to go and what to see. Yeah, art museums and libraries are fine and well and totally educational, but if my kids would rather tour a chocolate museum and see kitschy 20 foot tall Presidential busts that’s all good and educational too! But then we get to an iconic place, usually something amazing and photographic like the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, or most recently Haystack Rock off the Oregon coast.

At these places, my camera comes out (rather, lifts up, since it’s never put away but always hanging around my neck) and my need for a group picture of my kids overtakes me. Mainly because I want to print it up and put in on a christmas card to send out. Simple enough, except I get manic and rabid about it. At first, I focused all this manic rabid energy towards my kids. I picked out special, clean and ironed matching clothes for them to wear, even if they hated them. I did their hair nicely, even if they hated it. I positioned them into nice and tidy poses, even if they didn’t want to.

I’ll try to recreate a little scene about how these photo ops used to go. First, I would bark at them from behind the camera, “Smile! Naturally! Look at the camera and smile! I’ll give you a treat if you can just do this one thing for me!”

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but eventually, as they got more and more antsy, it would devolve into me going totally crazy and saying things like, “This isn’t hard, why are you making this so hard!”

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“We’re not moving from here until I get a good smile out of all you guys AT THE SAME TIME, so just DO IT!”

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But it wasn’t until I said the following that I realized how out of control my christmas picture mania was. I believe I yelled out “DAMMIT, YOUR FACES ARE RUINING MY PICTURE!!!!”.

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What was happening here?! Their faces weren’t the issue. I love their faces! They don’t ruin anything. My issue was the issue! And it all stemmed from this mad desire to keep up appearances.

I wanted this Christmas card of the future to be not just any christmas card. I wanted it to be THE christmas card. The one that all my friends will pick up and ohhh and ahhh over. The one that will make them insanely jealous and wishing they could be me, with perfect kids and perfect house and perfect life. It would be the one that would prove to everyone that unschooling is the way to go. The one that would show how genius, beautiful, and awesome my kids are; ergo, how genius, beautiful and awesome I am. I wanted my christmas card to kick the asses of all the other christmas cards sent by everyone else during the entire season! The kind of card that is so over the moon amazing, my friends would send it to their friends because of the sheer awesomeness of it. This is why I was getting bent out of shape when my kids wouldn’t cooperate or live up to the ideal I had in my mind.

My issue, but I was taking it out on them.

I haven’t gotten rid of this deep deep desire to send the most ass kickingest Christmas card in the world. So when we get somewhere that is christmas card worthy, I tell my kids what’s going on. “OK, dudes, I want this on a christmas card! You know what that means. I want you looking and acting perfect, and it gets me all twitchy and bossy.”

The first time I owned up to this, they prodded around in my mind for a bit, in the way kids have that makes you realize how hypocritical adults really can be…”So, you care more about what people think of us than if we’re happy right now?” “I thought we weren’t supposed to care what other people thought as long as we were being ourselves?” “Why is it so important to you to make other people like us?” “Why do we have to pretend to be perfect and happyif it’s not who we are? We’re not perfect, and it’s more fun to be silly.” “Shouldn’t our Christmas card show who we are? Then why does being who we are make you so angry?”

This is usually how things go. It’s not like I became an unschooler and all of a sudden found my place of zen with perfect understanding and patience. But when I started unschooling, I learned to separate my issues from my kids. So when I do get frustrated or bossy, I own up to it as being from my own need. Sometimes they think about it and are OK accomodating me, so instead of me forcing anything to happen using threats and punishments, it becomes a joint effort. Sometimes they think about it and call bullshit. Which is what they did with my Christmas Card neurosis. They all decided they would rather be who they are than go along with my grand delusion of pretending to keep up a mythical appearance for other people. This is their way of telling me to check myself and walk the authentic walk.

Which is why our Christmas card this year might look like this:

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Chop Chop!

Jun 03, 11 Chop Chop!

Sassy has always had a hate/hate relationship with her hair. This pains me, because it’s such great hair and so much of it! And it’s always been my dream to girly up my daughter’s locks! If they gave out gold medals for french braid skillz, I’m pretty sure I’d have one. But she’s never liked me to touch, style, comb, or in any way mess with her hair. Sometimes she’ll catch me looking at it with a particularly longing expression on my face, and even that’s crossing the line.

The day we left for the Pacific Northwest was the day it all became too much for her. “I want my hair short! SHORT! Like you and Naturalist!”

Well, Sassy, why ever would you want it short like mine when yours is so great as it is?!

What’s that you say? It’s too tangly?

I can’t argue with that.

And how does this make you feeeeeell, all these tangles? What do you think about them? What does it make you want to do?

Oh. It makes you all slumpy. That’s never good.

I was hoping to leave here by 10, and the haircut will delay us by a couple hours…I don’t know about that! Can we cut it when we get back in a few weeks?

OK, OK! Let’s get it chopped off! If that will stop the slumps, I’ll do anything!

And so, we waited, and the woman cut and cut and cut. “Man, she has a lot of hair!” the woman said. Indeed.

And then, it was done, and Sassy was sporting a short and truly sassy haircut. No more tangles, brushing, or other hair related torture!

So, Sassy, how does this make you feel?

What’s that? You don’t want to talk about your hair? What do you want to talk about? How long our drive to Seattle will take? Well, it’ll be 3 days of driving, sweetie. How does that make you feel?

Oh. Slumpy.

It’s just one of those days.

But at least it’s not hair related anymore!

Sassy really loves her hair, even though she gets called a boy a lot. So does Naturalist, and probably me too if I didn’t have an obsession with this:
and this:

And so now, we all have boy cuts. And honestly, life has never been easier in the morning for any of us! Get up and go, that’s our new style of living!

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Unschooling Advice::Get Off The Highway!

Jun 03, 11 Unschooling Advice::Get Off The Highway!

When the kids and I planned our trip up to the Pacific Northwest, we had some choices to make. The most important was who would have the food and snacks by their seat. The second most important was what route we’d take. We could go right up the 5, and get to Seattle in 16 hours. Or, we could get off the highway and take the back roads…this would add another 10 hours onto our trip. 10 hours in a small minivan and stinky kids who don’t have a huge love of long road trips (so ironic, since we go on them so often!). So, we went back and forth discussing the pros and cons of taking the highway vs. side roads.

The highway was appealing in a lot of ways. It would be quicker, for one thing. We’d get to our destination faster. It would be easier to keep track of things like time, speed, distance, and ETA, since we’d be on one highway going one speed most of the time. It would also be convenient…we’d have food, gas, and lodging the whole way up. What town doesn’t have a McDonalds, Chevron, and Holiday Inn?! In fact, that’s about all there is on the side of a highway. Same restaurants, same places to stay, same strip malls, same everything. It would be safe. Reliable. It would be….totally boring. Uninspiring. Monotonous. Routine. Impersonal. Soulless!

So we took the road less travelled. We got off the highway…we even got off the side road…and blazed our own trail!

It took us a lot longer, yes. We gave up the idea of knowing how long we’d be in any one place or when we’d actually get in to Seattle. We didn’t see a McDonalds for 3 days! We lingered when we found something beautiful and inspiring, and drove quicker in places we didn’t care to be. Anytime anyone yelled out “Oh! I want to see THAT!” we stopped on the side of the road.

We ate pancakes as big as our heads and met pastry baking pirates!

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We saw big giant rocks floating up from the ocean and sunsets melting into the sea.

Haystack RockI've died and gone to heaven.

We saw groves of trees give way to building sized sand dunes. We marveled at every new turn. It was exciting. Inspiring! Full of personal connection and meaning!

It was a trip that is unique to us, at that time. We could go back and try to recreate it, retrace our steps, and we still wouldn’t be able to. We sacrificed time, efficiency, and traveling down a highway that everyone else was on. We traded in sameness and routine for other things like experience and individualization.

Mukilteo Beach

The parallels between these two different traveling modes and unschooling are uncanny. Whoever said that there is no more new frontier has never met an unschooler. We see new frontier all the time. It’s in the world around us, reflected in ourselves, and we see it with our own eyes. The current method of overstandardization and curriculum frenzy forgets this important part of the learning cycle. Exploration! Passion! Time! Interest! Excitement! An unblazed trail! The current system values efficiency at the expense of these things. Sure, it may get kids from point A to point B in a speedy, planned out manner, but they end up at point B sometimes wondering how they got there at all. Wondering if maybe point C wouldn’t have been better. Wishing they could have traded in some of the boredom for some of the fun.

This is where my patience comes from when people ask me things like if I’m worried that my daughter isn’t reading even though everyone else in 1st grade is. Or if I panic when my kids spend their days drawing or playing instead of working on worksheets or sitting in class. I’m not worried or panicked. I know that our journey is taking us places and down roads that are curvy and windy. I know that we’re not on a highway with only one destination. I know that we will eventually get there, but we’re having a lot of fun and seeing a lot of other things along the way!

young girl and the sea.

Learning and standardization should never go hand in hand. Learning is, in fact, one of the most exciting journeys we go on in life. So why spend it on a highway, eating at McDonalds and seeing the same strip malls out the window when there’s so much more out there?

Big sky, rolling hills, telephone poles, roadtrips...

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this is part 4 in a series I like to call “Advice for a wannabe unschooler”. Parts 1 through 3 can be found here!

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