Monday, November 8, 2010

this is what 1155 words looks like

"If I don't go to school, how will I learn?"

Oh, dear.

I hereby promise that I won't feel insulted if I catch flack or become the subject of side conversations for saying so, but questions like the one above leave me feeling sad.

My kids have never been to school, and they're learning quite a lot -- in spite of life's recent efforts to ensure otherwise. Since we've been dealing with my wrist, the past two months have seen a massive decrease in the frequency of formal lessons. There are days where we feel like we're living in the car. With the girls' speech therapy, my twice-weekly OT appointments, the girls' fortnightly Wednesday ruckusing-for-homeschoolers group, the dog's fortnightly Wednesday playgroup, soccer, karate, hip-hop, and ballet-tap-jazz each week, I'm glad we bought the audiobook version of our history text.

We're also reading several other books in audiobook form -- Meet Josephina (for next Wednesday) and the entire Unfortunate Events series. In science, we have unexpectedly focused on biology -- we're watching the Life series and the Becoming Human series; I think there's a show about Darwin somewhere on the queue, as well. Spelling has been hijacked by their speech lists and grammar has been shoved aside in favor of their NaNoWriMo stories. (For several days, now, the girls have heard me bemoaning the fact that none of my characters are cooperating. I started out writing a Young Adult novel, and now it's a mainstream mystery. Nothing in my novel is where I put it in October. Today, Penny met me at the door as I entered, bearing the sushi for our book club (we read Mr. Popper's Penguins); she was ecstatic because a new character for her story had appeared out of thin air. She hadn't planned for him, but there he was, and she wrote so much that she filled up 75% of an 8.5 x 11 sheet!)

We started this school year as eclectic school-at-homers, and I don't know what we are now -- except maybe seat-of-the-pantsers -- but the learning hasn't slowed down. They certainly don't need textbooks, an overworked teacher, and twenty other kids around them in order for learning to happen.

Humans are a driven species, and we can't easily be stopped. (Just think about the last time you really wanted your kid to fall asleep a little early. It didn't happen, did it?) We didn't need to go to school so we could learn how to walk or talk -- walking and talking were things that we learned naturally. Babies see a toddler walking, and they try to pull up on the edge of the table and make their feet do the right thing. Toddlers see a four-year-old running or jumping, and they mimic these motions, trying to run as fast or jump as high. Five-year-olds see their parents or older siblings writing, and they grab a crayon and paper, and try to write something that makes a word they know. Learning is a process that happens naturally, and it's something that we are intuitively drawn to; it is not something that's done to us, but something that we initiate and control as individuals.

Although I am weary at the things I hear from my non-homeschooling friends (It's okay for you, you were a teacher! I would never have the patience! My kids and I would probably strangle each other! How do you know what to teach them?), the last thing I expect from any of them is some sort of conversion. Admittedly, I would break into song if only a few of them realized that our decision to homeschool was simply a decision to do what was best for our kids -- just like seeking out various therapies were their decisions to do what was best for their kids. When a child needs something, a parent will do whatever she can to meet that need. The solutions Dan and I found just happened to include homeschooling, and that's the solution we liked best.

I have a very hard time believing that my non-homeschooling friends could even begin to think that learning is some mysterious thing that only happens in that town-owned building. They're all intelligent women and fantastic moms, and I know they love and respect their children as deeply as I do my children. I know they help their kids follow their passions and explore life with gusto. I've seen them in action, and they're lacking nothing.

So, why does the question above make me feel sad? It's a damn cute thing for a five-year-old to say. This little boy loves school, and can't wait to get there, because learning is important to him. He's a sponge, and that's something to crow about.

I feel sad because for me, that question is also a boundary. I don't know if it's okay for me to joke that my kids have never been to school, but they've learned quite a lot. As a left-leaning, attachment-parenting, homeschooling freak in a sea (no! in a school! hahahaha!) of normal individuals, I often wish I could see a few buoys or even a lighthouse in the distance. I really don't want to run aground.

When I'm part of a conversation about one friend's frustrations at dealing with thoughtless individuals, lip service, and a Shelob's Lair of red tape just to get her child the help he needs, I don't know what sort of reaction is palatable from me. If I just commiserate, and hope things get better, am I being callous? If I try to reassure her that homeschooling isn't as hard as it sounds (knowing that she has often thought, "Oh, I should just teach him myself!"), am I pressuring her to do something that she's not sure is best? If I encourage her to keep fighting and share what little information I know from my own time as a high-school teacher, am I brushing her off and sending the message that I think she'd suck at homeschooling her son? (She'd totally rock, btw.)

I want to support my friends, not push a homeschooling agenda. Other times, I want to be the goofball that I am, not insinuate that Homeschooling Is Better. But sometimes I do want to say something that could provide some food for thought -- especially if that friend seems frustrated with the solutions she has already been offered.

I suppose my wariness and frequent censorship in such situations is really no different from the tendency of my non-homeschooling friends to inadvertently cause me to wince as one of them says, for the twelfth time, that she would never have the patience to homeschool her kids. Both reactions stem from the desires to connect, to disregard unimportant differences, and to enjoy and celebrate our friendships, knowing that we're with people whose struggles are similar enough to our own that they've drawn us together.

Shit. I just learned something!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night.

Here I am, on the verge of my first NaNoWriMo and the excitement is truly contagious. HOW contagious? Penny & Emma have each signed up on the YWP site to write 500-word stories. They've been working on their characters' backgrounds, and thinking about their plots, and are looking forward to telling their stories. They've even got more writing buddies than I have! (More than a few local homeschoolers are doing NaNo with their kids, and on one of my lists, we all exchanged our kids' usernames.)

As for me, I think I'm ready. I certainly don't have any more time for preparation, in any case. The most frustrating thing about my preparation efforts is the fact that my characters and plot kept morphing into things I didn't expect. Yeah, I know that's the way it works, but it's still confusing when the characters who were born in my head become virtually unrecognizable, yet I must still work with them.

In other news, my wrist is recovering well. According to my surgeon, I'm right in the middle of the progress curve. My OT therapist disagrees somewhat, using the word "gangbusters" to describe my progress. (I'm inclined to agree with my therapist, though, since by the time I saw the surgeon, I'd had almost a whole week with far more splint time than usual. Dan was out of town, and we had more appointments each day than I care to remember. "While out and about" was my primary Splint-Required activity.) Either way, I'm free of the splint, and I've been given clearance to do whatever the hell I want to, as long as my wrist can handle the activity or weight. All this bodes quite well for my November plans.

Now, it's time to sign off so I can get Chewbone upstairs and plugged in before midnight. Yes, I'm going to write tonight. Seriously? You doubted that?

Friday, September 17, 2010

it's up to you, yeah you


Here I have all these knitting projects I want to do, and NaNoWriMo, and massive amounts of attic wallboard that still need to be mudded, and meals for Debbie & Barry I want to make . . . and I go and get my wrist broken.

Not just broken, mind, but spectacularly broken, borderline shattered.

I'm not terribly upset about the forced rearrangement of my to-do list -- at least I've gotten 98% of the critical knitting done, and I can do NaNo in longhand. I'm not even terribly upset about the injury itself. I get that accidents happen. I get that I would have been better off wearing wristguards with my rollerblades. I'm beyond grateful that I only broke my wrist, and my left one, at that.

What I'm most upset about is the behavior of the girl who caused my fall. I'm talking to you, Girl in the Blue Shirt. Yes, it was by accident that you fell, then slid into me from behind and knocked my legs out from under me. But as you got back to your feet, as your eyes met mine, and as you heard me say, "Ohhhhh, that's broken!" -- why did you feel the best thing to do was to just get up and skate away?

Shame on you for leaving me there on the floor, and shame on your parents for raising you to cover your own ass instead of attending to the person you've hurt. When my daughters were four, they had more integrity and compassion than you do as a teenager. They saw what you did, and it scared them. It was an accident, but you were still responsible, and you chose to shirk that responsibility. We were at the rink for a solid 5 minutes longer, getting everyone's skates off and shoes on. One man who saw the accident got me a bag of ice from the snack bar. You never came around to apologize or check on me. I don't care if you were scared -- you hurt someone and walked away.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

everyday, everyday, everyday . . .

Now I've gone ahead and done it . . . signed up for NaNoWriMo 2010.

Those who've known me since high school will have no trouble remembering me with my open journal in my lap as I sat cross-legged in one of those clunky metal and "wood" chair-desks, head down, blissfully unaware of the activity around me, working on yet another poem. (What's that? Wendy, please solve for X? Wait, I'm in Algebra? I thought this was World History . . . )

Most of those who've met me since college will have no trouble scratching their heads, looking puzzled, and mumbling, "Huh?"

Yeah . . . I Used To Write, and I miss it like I'd miss breathing. I've been wanting to get back to writing for almost two decades, but in spite of how out-of-sorts I feel as a Former Writer, I kept letting everything else get in the way. I mean, I'm not avant-garde enough to be a poet, anymore. I don't have enough cool ideas to be a freelance writer. I don't have enough time to be a novelist. I don't think blogging counts. I don'tdon'tdon'tdon'tdon't . . . I don't want to miss that part of who I am, anymore.

Last year, I found out about NaNoWriMo over Thanksgiving weekend and I promised myself I would do it this year. Now that September 2010 has rolled around I *almost* passed on it because "I have too much knitting to do." (Seriously!! That's what I told myself!! Do you see how easy it is to cheat yourself and keep from doing something you love??? Learn from me, people. Learn from me.) Fortunately, a new friend pshawed my excuse and rather pointedly informed me that even if I don't complete the challenge (50,000 words in one month), I'll have written more than I would have otherwise. See, that just can't be argued with in any sort of logical fashion. There's nothing but truth in that statement. Even sitting here trying to come up with a sample argument for the sake of showing you how ludicrous it would sound makes my eyes get stuck in Glazed Over Mode. So, I did the only logical thing I could do -- I kept my promise, and signed up!

[singsong] I'm writing a novel! [/singsong] (Yeah, I know it's supposed to be <> but you try and get <> to show up as text if you're using them to write a pretend html code -- for a few minutes, it looks like everything will stick, but once your work autosaves, BOOM! the fake code only shows up in the html editor. I'm sure Dan could fix it, but I would rather leave this little rant in place, instead.)

Yes, 50,000 is a blasted short novel, but I don't have to stop at 50,000. I just have to get at least that far. My novel won't go (49,994) Susan smiled, reached towards Carl and (50,000)

In fact, I don't have either a Susan or a Carl. So there!

I'm excited and twitchy and I so want to get started, but the trick is that you're not allowed to begin actually writing until November 1st. Until then, I can fill my mind and my journal with all sorts of outlines, character sketches, background information, story arcs, and research. I can't start writing, yet. But in the meantime, I can get all that knitting done.

Friday, July 9, 2010

baby, you can drive my car

Wow. We've just made a decision (and acted upon it!) that I never would have expected from either of us a year or two ago. We've sold Dan's car and become a one-car family. Even though our plan is to only stay this way for about a year, I'm still pleased (though a little surprised) that we're doing it. We're both excited about it, though, and I know I'm looking forward to the adventure. I'm also glad for the opportunity to show the girls that there are creative ways to solve problems, and that even adults share!

The backstory is pretty simple: Dan's Audi has not had the track record we expected of an Audi. The year before the girls were born (so, 8 years ago), he sold his Single Guy Car, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, and bought a Audi A4. (I wanted him to get a car with four real seats, and he wanted a car that went Vroom.) The first few years were all well and good, except for the recall on the coil packs. Of course, in the interests of Audi's bottom line, owners could only get their coil packs replaced once they had actually failed. Ours were eventually replaced (twice!); we've also had issues with the timing belt and, most recently, the catalytic converters. See, the car has been failing to pass the state inspection for the past 2 months, after having the O2 sensors replaced. The computer just wouldn't reset, and eventually the Mass RMV Dude was able to clear out a few error messages and get the computer to reset . . . at which point the computer told us that the catalytic converters were blown. Frustrated, Dan took the car up to Audi for an official, manufacturer-provided diagnosis (over the phone, Audi claimed it was "probably just a sensor"). It turns out that in addition to the cats being blown (which is very possibly a result of the multiple coil pack failures), there are several other things wrong with the car . . . at least some of which may also be the result of the coil pack failures. (Can you say Domino Effect??) So we took it to a used-car dealer who looked it over and said he'd buy it (most likely to auction off).

In the meantime, though, we are officially a one-car household. We're squirreling away the proceeds from the Audi until Dan goes car-shopping next summer, and until then, we're going to get even better at scheduling. (Anyone who has seen my desk-blotter-size, color-coded family calendar knows that that is nearly impossible, but I'm sure I'll find a way.)

I love a good adventure!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

on secular homeschooling . . .

Sigh. We homeschool our children for many reasons, but religion is not among them. Articles like this one are hugely misleading. See, what happens is that people see bits like, "the majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians," and then they find out that we homeschool. They reel back in shock and surprise, often commenting that they didn't know we were Religious.

"We're not," we reply, and then it begins. We must help dispel the myth that most homeschoolers are religious, or that every homeschooler's idea of a fun evening is a high-stakes spelling bee, or that as homeschoolers we don't allow our children to associate with other kids.

Most of the homeschoolers we know are not evangelical Christians; some are not even Christians. Never mind the diversity of my own circle of friends; people should know (and so I'm saying it now) that the HSLDA does not speak for all homeschoolers. It doesn't even speak for all Christian homeschoolers. Most homeschoolers, quite frankly, are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves . . . we do it often, and loudly when necessary.

The truth is that homeschooling is growing nationwide not because there are more evangelical Christians removing their children from the clutches of the God-hating leftist heathens who are in charge of public schools but because parents in general are increasingly dissatisfied with the environment of public schools.

So yeah, we're secular homeschoolers. We embrace a science curriculum which recognizes evolution as the well-observed scientific phenomenon that it is. We also teach our kids that there are people who don't "believe" in evolution because they think God just poofed us all into existence one day when he was bored because there was nothing on tv. (Well, there wasn't!) We haven't told them yet about the people who don't "believe" in gravity.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crazy for Maisie

Well, we've reserved our new puppy, a 3-day old beagle we've named Maisie. Our breeder is a little over an hour away from us, in central MA, and just a wonderful woman to speak with. We met Maisie this morning and although we couldn't hold her yet, we were able to take a few pictures of her markings. We'll visit again close to Valentine's Day -- at which point we'll be able to hold and play with her for a while. Right now, though, it's more important for her to bond well with her biological mommy.

We did get to spend a few minutes playing with some of the grow-up beagles today -- Sugar, Jessie and Rebel. Jessie is old and mellow, just the way Penny & Emma remember Masha, but Sugar likes to give kisses and was actually a little annoyed when we had to leave! Rebel, the proud papa, traveled back and forth between us and the door to the puppies' den; his face reminds me a bit of Masha's face (one of her more beagle-ish characteristics).

We're looking forward to getting to know Maisie, and will have to start planning our puppy-proofing strategies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Made with Real Girl Scouts

Penny & Emma are Daisy Scouts. They look so cute in their weird blue aprons, which are sporadically and asymmetrically growing petals as their troop works on various service patches. Yes, aprons. Weird, permeable aprons which have not once kept paint, frosting with sprinkles, or glitter glue off my daughters' clothing.

The un-apron-like aprons are not the issue, though. The issue is that the Girl Scouts of America as an organization doesn't really seem interested in serving its Girl Scouts.

Whenever I contact the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts about pretty much anything, it is a slow torturous process to get a helpful response, or a proper phone extension, or a return call, or any sort of timely action. I had to beg to get Penny & Emma into a troop in Chelmsford (when we lived there). When we relocated, they didn't really feel like reassigning us to a troop in Tyngsboro, even though I called and called and called. Eventually I gave up and kept the girls in their Chelmsford troop. So I'm again begging to get contact information for the neighborhood Tyngsboro troop, the theory being that we can cultivate a relationship and get the girls joined up for next school year. Maybe I'll just have to wander the neighborhood and see if anyone is willing to put me in contact with the troop leader.

Begging sometimes works. When I became Cookie Mom for Penny & Emma's troop, I was told to attend a 90-minute training session . . . scheduled 2 days before Thanksgiving. When I arrived (in spite of all the cooking I had yet to do), I was told that since they didn't know how many girls were in the troop, I could have 9 cookie packets. I begged, and they relinquished 2 more. It turns out there are 12 girls in the troop. My daughters actually had to share a cookie packet.

So here I am, a few days before the cookie orders are due, still waiting for those last straggling orders. I check out the GSEM website to get a preview of the cookie entry process -- maybe I'll go ahead and enter the orders for the girls whose forms I've already received. But, wait . . . what's this? A note stating, "There are features of this system that work only with the Internet Explorer browser. You should not be using Firefox, Safari, Netscape, or any other browser."

That can't be right. It makes no sense! Maybe it works best with Explorer, but *only* with Explorer? Nobody does that anymore!

But wait . . . the Cookie Advisor Book states otherwise. There's a little grey box on page 5 letting me know that unless I use Explorer 6.0, I will be "unable to adjust nor [sic] assign boxes to girls using any other browser." In the brief Introduction to the 2010 . . . Web Cookie System, I learn that the GSA has chosen to use a program which is "designed to work with Windows and Internet Explorer 6.0, SP1 or higher" and that there is no Mac support.

Do you know why there is no Mac support? That would be because there are no versions of Explorer for the Mac after Explorer 5.x -- because Mac users now have Safari. Even before Safari, I never used Explorer because quite frankly, it's so bulky that even I can tell the difference.

So anyway, the Cookie Lords attempt to encourage me by letting me know that I can do the data entry a little at a time over the duration of the cookie sale. (How am I supposed to know how many boxes each girl has sold? I'm still missing 3 girls' orders, and it's 2 days before the deadline. All the other girls' orders came in today, and I consider myself lucky to only be waiting on 3 orders. Clearly the Cookie Lords have never met a procrastinator, or been held hostage by one.) There is a further attempt to mollify me by suggesting that I use "any (non-Mac) computer at home or at work or at the local library." Really!? Any (non-Mac) computer? How about my husband's company-issued computer? It runs OpenSolaris.

I thought not.

We're a happily Windows-free household, and have been since we became a household (that's 11+ years ago, for those who don't know). While some people might say that we get what we deserve, I beg to differ (See? I'm begging again!) and must point out that I've never before encountered a situation that couldn't somehow be resolved without resorting to invading the library and using their Windows machines or downloading VirtualBox and using Dan's work-copy of Windows.

Come on, Girl Scouts of America. Get a clue.