So I seem to have a habit of giving people more than they’re [really] asking for.

Gerald, my Toastmasters mentor, called up over his lunch hour and opened with some species of “How’s it going?”

I’m often very good at giving the standard flippant response, but I’ve been mulling over that same question all morning, so instead I said, “Well, I’m a little traumatized right now, actually.”

“Ah,” he said, still in convo-lite mode. “That snow coming down.”

“No,” I said, suddenly realizing I’ve been surprised by it all four times I’ve walked out the door since it started. “I had a trauma yesterday– The goat went into labor, I spent two hours with my arm inside her trying to straighten out a baby that was too big to get out anyway. We ended up getting her a C-section and the baby was born dead. So, yeah, traumatized is a good word for ‘how I am’ right now.” Then I rushed on, recognizing there’s probably no way for him to recover from that statement. “But that’s not why you called, how can I help you…?”

More trouble is that the surgery cost twice as much as the goat did, and she’s still not voluntarily walking around, she’s shivering in the warm barn, and too many things look swollen that shouldn’t be, so I am still concerned for her life/health, and the whole thing doesn’t feel over yet.

I had two appointments Thursday morning, because usually I take the kids to school and it’s a good day to get stuff done.

I had to cancel the doctor appointment, but it looked like I could make the consultation at the IDEA (homeschooling) office, so I pressed into that.  I felt really shaky, and every time I told the next person (four people over five hours) what I was doing/looking for and why, I got teary and self-conscious.

But I kept pressing because I wanted answers. I wanted something solid and concrete so I could wipe this question off the front of my mind.

The result is that I came home shaking and exhausted (I hadn’t brought any food or eaten lunch) but I had all the pieces I needed to loop the loose ends together and make a coherent whole.

Winterdust wasn’t then and still isn’t now seeming better as I’d hoped, and I’ve fallen back on my old standby (denial?) just staying inside and moving slowly forward on some small projects, like getting that broth canned, so it’s not wasted, and running the dishwasher.

One sad thing is that being the time of year it is I can’t even de-stress by catching up on TV shows, because they’re all finales, so my whole reason for watching shows right now (closure) is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Along the same line I’ve been delaying the dive-in to the next novel (Shadow Swan, NaNo 2010), because I dipped my toe earlier this week and all my intensity jacked up, full-throttle. That is, I usually feel the tension/stress of my stories until they’re completely written– which explains why I haven’t had the emotional energy to do a lot of work sometimes.

NaNo has been the exception– the pace of writing (and the legitimization of making the Story almost my main world of occupation…) it seems to work out.

There’s a *lot* that needs to be fixed and added to finish it from “just” 50,000 words, and I need to treat this like a marathon, not a sprint. But that looks like it’s going to take some rewiring.

School Plans for Fall of 2012

We are very excited (nervous, anticipatory– not anxious) about school this fall.

As you may know, this year is Jay’s “turn” to travel to Antarctica again (because this is the internet I’m not going to specify when. Those who need to know and don’t should have our email).  Because of the combined weight of single parenting and the other challenges during his absence we looked into “away” school as a means of lightening my load.

The result is we’ve picked a Christian school (uniforms and all) that we’ve committed to for the fall semester. We’ll reevaluate at Christmas as to whether the children will finish out the year there.

Natasha is already excited, Melody already trepedatious, and Elisha vaguely positive, but mostly neutral.

School starts early enough in the day that Jay will take the kids on his way to work, but that will mean retraining everyone’s sleep schedules: they’ll need to leave with Daddy before 7:30 in the morning, which means they’ll need to be up around 6, which means we’ll have to try and have everyone down by 7:30.

We’ll experiment with some of those changes (up and down) closer to school’s start in August.

And for me, now that I’m settled that Fall semester (at least) is happening away from home, I’m trying to wrap my head around the implications. Of course there’s the ~6-hours alone each day, and that currently seems like a fairy tale.

Continue reading

Schooling (and a birthday trip TMI)

Melody wrote this story shortly after Grandma Florie let her bring a pillow home.

“The tale of Melody’s bed.”

“My bed is the best bed in the world. It has a pillow which came from Grandma’s house. It has a dinosaur blanket on it. Like I said, my bed is the best in the world.”

She read it aloud to me, which helped me translate it for you. This is the longest stint of voluntary writing she has yet done, and she was very pleased with it.

Her face and body language as she shared it reminded me irresistibly of a puppy, tail like a propeller, nearly jumping our of her skin with joy.

BTW, this is what school looks like at my house. When I’m not there with them (say, reading aloud) they have their set of workbooks they plow through.

I’ve been very thankful for how motivated they are by workbooks: being able to say they’ve done X# of pages, or that they’re this close to the end of a chapter spurs them on better than any of my praise or requirements.

And it seems to help, too, when they have similar subjects.  I can be frustrated by their attention to fairness, but it creates a mellow endurance for work they’re not interested in, and I am thankful for that.

~ ~ ~

Yesterday, for Jay’s birthday, he took they day off and flew our family to Tok in his mom’s 172 (it lives at the Fairbanks airport and is the plane Jay used when he learned to fly). Once we landed back in Fairbanks Jay and I had a forehead-smack moment where we realized we hadn’t taken *any* pictures on the trip. Continue reading

Now That’s a Nice Curriculum

We went to a Christmas party tonight, where we got to watch the pod race from the Star Wars (I) movie in the movie room: widescreen, 3D TV with surround sound speakers making it impossible to hear anything else.

Elisha wandered in partway through and couldn’t move for watching (I scooped him up and brought him to my lap on the couch).

On the way home Jay made a comment about reminding himself not to be jealous; that he had plenty of nice things that he liked, and he just chose to spend his money differently.

From the backseat Natasha piped with a surety that convinced me she’d picked it up at Sunday School: “Some things God chooses not to give us and we should be content with what we have.”

Jay didn’t hear her and asked Natasha to repeat herself, which she did, word-for-word, adding shyly, “I memorized it from my science book.”

The Other Difficulty With Differences

I outlined my basic observation of differences here.

Another angle is that by doing things differently we begin to measure personal success in terms of success of the model we employ.

For example some parents (usually of only one child), directly attribute their child’s good behavior to their exceptional parenting skills.

This could be accurate, or it could be self-delusion.  I tend to take their gushing advice with a grain of salt, wary of such a small sample size.

Just yesterday I was talking with another mom about homeschooling and we were comparing methods (not competing, just finding out. She’s literature-based; I do half our subjects with workbooks and the other half orally).  I felt a warm, cozy comfort at our easy conversation, how we both tied our choices to our personalities and lifestyles, rather than the inherint *rightness* of the method itself.

I said so to her, saying how thankful I am to have several years “this way” behind me now, so I can compare a  track long-enough to let me see both when and how my method really works and when it doesn’t.  But how, over all, it averages out as effective.

My biggest discomfort in these “differences” interactions (whether it’s about parenting or schooling) is when someone attributes to the method what could just as easily be individual variation.  For “failures” or “successes.”

Natasha was reading by age five.  Melody, in the same environment, was still slogging through her phonics workbook at age six.  Some people asked if we were doing the right thing. If we were using the right curriculum.  And I did compare it to some other options, but felt nothing offered more than what we were using already.

Now seven, and nearly finished with those questioned phonics workbooks, Melody has a *solid* foundation that she builds on every day.  She has developed independent study skills, problem-solving skills (we’re still working on focus and speed, but we’ve got time), and I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress she’s made.

~ ~ ~

There is so much individual variation between children that I really think once you have something solid (by any objective standard you can measure), as long as it’s not actually making life more complicated (we had one of those, too), it’s a matter of persevering.

Elisha has begun the same series of workbooks– despite my intent to hold him back one more year– and I can already see that he, like Melody a year ago, isn’t quite clicking with it.

~ ~ ~

I haven’t decided if I’ll do an enforced hold until he’s older (my original plan) or keep working intensively with him.  One of the reasons I love the 50% workbooks approach is that it allows me to work independently too.

The books we use are so gradually advancing that the kids can frequently “self teach,” which is really important to me.  Not because I want to keep them out of my hair (they wouldn’t be homeschooled if that was important to me), but because I se my life as been one long string of self-teaching.

I consider it one of the most-valuable life skills they can learn, so I’m thankful to have found texts that reenforce this value of mine.

~ ~ ~

One of the reasons studying personality has been so important to me is how it allows me incorporate that understanding of equality into interactions where differences could start to look like mistakes. Like someone “getting it wrong.”

What I want to remember, what I want to extend grace over, is that correct can be a lot-broader of a path than I choose to walk myself.

Natasha’s First Story

So Natasha’s English curriculum guided her through writing a “personal story” paper, and I coached her.  She did the steps over a couple days.

Listing topics

This was actually traumatic because she knew what she wanted to write about and I still wanted her to write at least one more thing down.  She doesn’t like writing any more than I did at her age, so I’m always looking for functional reasons for her to write to get a bit more practice.

Picking one (Check.), making a list of things to mention in the story, and then deciding the order of presintation of the list. Then she was supposed to write, self-check/revise and then rewrite it.

I added the steps of telling me before she wrote her first draft because (as a storyteller, and knowing how discouraging the physical mechanics of writing can be) I wanted this oppertunity to stay wonderful.

It was wonderful. Somewhere between making the list and deciding what order the things should be presented in she realised she was preparing to write a story.  Like Mama writes stories.

And her motivation was so high it was adorable and a delight.  When she got to the writing stage she sometimes had to ask how to spell words. I’d help her sound things out (unless they were sight-words.  Then I just told her), and before the end she was sounding out her own words.  And feeling GREAT about that, too.

Every sentence was a triumph, and after each one she had to stop to read me the whole piece from the beginning.

There were so many fun things coming out of her mouth I kept tweeting them, so here’s the train in 140 characters or less:

  • So excited! I’m coaching my oldest through her first writing project. “1st draft. Just get the words down- ideally where they make sense.”
  • Me: Good use of commas. N: What are commas? (The power of good reading and writing-play.)
  • Me:The little curly things after the names. What do you think they’re for? N: They’re like *ands* only… not.
  • Thank you Daddy for taking us to that rocket launch. This is so great. N (singing): This is so fun! This is so fun! I’m writing a *story!*

After we went over her first draft she rewrote it, and this is her final product.

At 1:00 AM, January 28, we went to a rocket launch. I went with Mom, Dad, Melody, and Elisha. At 1:40 AM, the rocket launched and it made a big light on the horizon. When the rocket got into the sky it made a big BOOMing noise. Then we went home and went to bed.

The End.

The Amalgamation of Childhood

Listening to my children play is like picking apart the seeds of dreams.

Elisha and Melody have been play slave-escape stories again tonight, and Elisha restarted a scenario, carefully setting it up:

“The White Dragon will protect us from the Red Dragon–Kill it! And then help us escape to Freedom.  Carry us. But not in its jaws, on its back.”

Care to see the sources?

I love the way my kids produce stories.


I still think my favorite quote from the TV show Bones was from an interview the title character gave on daytime television.

Interviewer (paraphrased): How do you balance your two careers as world-renown forensic anthropologist and best-selling author?

Brennen: I do one, and then, the other.

~ ~ ~

With the least provocation my mind can leap nearly anywhere, and in the last month I’ve been trying more and more to consciously single-task.

That is, for a while I thought even if I couldn’t do multiple things at the same time, I could be really coordinated and mathematical, overlapping things in a way that would allow for multiple finishes falling out after multiple beginnings. But I learned even that is still beyond my skill-level.

I’m trying to decide if I’m okay with Brennen’s technique (that is, I know I’m not, but I’m wondering if I should be).

There are two things I’m currently learning about single tasking.

  1. To stay focused on what I’ve started, and not get anxious about what’s not happening when my mind jumps there (I still haven’t ordered ballet stuff or pictures, but I am not going to let this food go to waste).
  2. Figure out where to put that collection of littles so they get done (I need to order ballet stuff, so it’ll be here by next class, even though we won’t have it tomorrow).

~ ~ ~

On Wednesday, yesterday, I got more done on a to-do list than maybe I ever have since the beginning of creating to-do lists.

I read to my kids, too, and broke up bickerings and soothed bruised feelings, but I was really focused on the to-do list, and had to wonder if that’s why siblings were so efficient at bruising (albeit not physically) one another.

~ ~ ~

On Tuesday, the day before, I had one of those “ultimate” homeschooling moments that went on for at least an hour.

We had a long drive to make, and (thankfully) my children travel well.  The car is a sort of way I get my physical/mental “space” in the day (children are in their places, I’m in mine; they usually entertain themselves and I can zone out in my own thoughts or with the music).

On our way out of town we passed a long line of cars with Joe Miller signs, spurring questions and I began to talk about elections. I tried to say he was running for Senate, but my 4-, 6-, & 7-year-olds didn’t know what Senate meant.

In the last year I’ve been through the whole DVD series of The Truth Project where the lecturer in one episode pointed out the three branches of government came out of Isaiah. So, starting with that verse I began an extemporaneous description about the three branches of government that lasted something like an hour.

It began with political signs and culminated in a touch on the Civil Rights Movement and a character portrait of Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old black girl who represented the integration of education.

Now, granted, the children were a captive audience, but the amazing thing was that I kept getting distracted (oops, we missed our turn-off) and every time I’d stop talking one of the girls would beg (just like they do when I’m telling a story), “Keep telling us about the Three Branches of Government, Mom!”

When I got to the part about President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation (We’ve been reading a lot of slave escape stories) the back seat erupted in cheers. And I was sad to tell them it didn’t mean anything till the end of the war, and even then it took about another 100 years before Ruby Bridges, a little 6-year-old (“Just your age, Melody!”) was allowed to go to the same schools as white children.

“But that’s not kind, Mama!”

Oh I am thankful for my children’s tender hearts.

~ ~ ~

If I’m allowed to look at my days as a whole, I know I am doing everything, and getting better at doing it well. But looking at my children’s needs, I know I need to do differently.

At some point I hope to learn how to multi-task well enough to give that kind of talk while I’m making “fabulous progress” on my to-do lists.

The Child’s Attention to Schoolwork

This excerpt gave me a new perspective on a frustrating pattern in our homechooling experience.

From the book Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder originates and what you can do about it, p. 126

The nagging hunger for emotional contact explains the oft-observed “paradox” that many children with ADD are capable of focused work in the presence of an adult who is keeping them company and paying attention to them. This is no paradox at all, if we see the opposing roles of anxiety and attachment in influencing attention: attachment promotes attention, anxiety undermines it.

When the child is not concerned with seeking emotional contact, his prefrontal cortex is freed to allocate attention to the task at hand, illustrating that what we call attention deficit disorder is not a fixed, unalterable physiological state; it’s a physiological state, yes, but not fixed and unalterable.

The warmth and satisfaction of positive contact with the adult is often just as good as a psychostimulant in supplying  the child’s prefrontal cortex with dopamine. Greater security means less anxiety and more focused attention. The unseen factor that remains constant in all situations is the child’s unconscious yearning for attachment, dating back to the first years of life.

Where this need is satisfied, ADD problems begin to recede.

Quick! Why are you different than me?

A couple weeks ago I was in a McDonald’s Playland, thankful my children weren’t markedly increasing the decibel level, when one of my girls ran up to me (towing a 3-year-old Korean girl) and introduced her new best friend.

I had been eying the mother, wondering about introducing myself, and very shortly had my opening.

It is my opinion that about a third of parents in such a setting are very eager for conversation. The trick is recognizing which ones they are.  Assuming I, too, am one of that minority on a given day.

The other mother talked about her challenges, what brought her to Alaska, and got around to asking me what school my kids went to.

I’m beginning to think this is the SAHM’s substitute for the generic “what do you do for a living” conversation staple.

When I said I homeschool my children she was genuinely surprised. In a completely non-nasty way she asked, “Why in the world would you do that?”

And I realised I didn’t have an answer for her.

That isn’t to say I don’t have an answer.  I mean I didn’t have an answer for her.

In the 5-10 minutes I’d been talking with her, I had gotten the broad picture of a person battered in her opinion of herself and her ability to best care for her children.  Any meaningful reasons would sound in her ears like the need for her to teach them how to walk on water.

I fell back on my generic “Oh their father and I were both homeschooled. It’s our normal.”

But she was genuine enough that wasn’t enough for her.

“I’ve heard all sorts of scary stories from my [Public School Principal Friend] about former homeschoolers who were utterly unprepared academically.”

Again, this wasn’t at all oppositional.  She’d never been introduced to an alternate line of thinking.

As gently as I could (not wanting to undermine/discredit PSPF), I pointed out that PSPF never would have an opportunity to meet the homeschoolers who were thriving, and weren’t there plenty of stories about non-homeschoolers struggling in the same areas?

She acknowledged this with a look of surprise, but went on, as can be expected, to personal defensiveness.

This was what I had wanted to avoid by focusing on Jay’s and my background. There are lots of reasons to homeschool, and our reasons primarily hinge on things that will make non-homeschoolers very defensive (here’s an example, if you need it), so I try not to quickly go there, since I don’t feel it’s very productive.

She claimed, rightly or not, that her limited English would be a huge preventative to her children learning. In fact, she insisted by way of example, it was because of her that her children had been so slow in learning even to speak.

And I knew sadly I was out of my depth.

I tried to speak some encouraging things about the effectiveness of reading aloud, the success of a Korean homeschooling mother I know. I urged her not to worry about developmental tables, and didn’t even get into sign language as a stop gap for language acquisition, because her eyes were already glazing over.

But by the end of the 45 minutes together, what came to my eye was a tired mom who’d never been encouraged in (or maybe even informed of) her level of influence over her own daughters.  She was tragically resigned to “staying out of the way of the professionals.” And it gave me a new category of public schoolers.

We all categorize.  Some call it stereotyping (I think that’s too narrow a word). It helps us make sense of the world around us.

I’ve been using the phrase “outsourcing parenting” when discussing the choice to stick a child in daycare/preschool/public school, and after meeting this fearful lady, I have a new sub-category.

I will admit I’ve used the phrase somewhat scornfully about “people in general” who just do it because that’s what Americans do, and with more understanding when I actually know the people who make those choices, but with this lady it seemed to be more visceral than either of those options.

It was Frederica Mathewes-Green who made the observation, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

That’s the sense I got from this mother.  She was sacrificing herself (I might say her self-esteem) on the mistaken assumption that someone else had to do a better job than her.  Because they were someone else.

Someday, when I’m wiser, and I hope not too much older, I pray I will discover my “elevator pitch” for homeschooling. That perfect, 15-30 second soundbite that encapsulates my reasons for this decision.

Then if someone feels the need to argue and/or defend their reason(s) for a different choice, at least I know I’ve said what I should say. Because, really, if they were listening, that’s what they asked me to say.