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my thoughts

i am starting to anticipate that all very difficult moments of parenting are somehow paired with moments that affirm and amaze. it may not always feel that way, because the beautiful moment might happen right before the horrible one and then that horrible feeling is what sticks for awhile. and maybe it is just my way of looking for balance, grasping for meaning, or searching for a way to accept this roller coaster.

anyhow, these are the moments that help me make sense of it all.

we have all been sick for a couple days. lots of moaning, coughing, sniffling, etc. – yesterday i thought we might be at the tail end of it. then again last night, a ton of coughing and sleeplessness. ugh. we woke up this morning to a puking child with chills – not how i had anticipated spending the morning. then there is the dreaded future of the other child puking and of course then myself puking. not great.

viv puked for the third time this morning – since i was tending to her i didn’t notice ida wander off. when i was finished comforting and cleaning up after viv i wandered into the kitchen and found ida sitting at the table sharpening pencils and writing letters. when i asked her what she was up to she said,”you push the letter button and then write the letter again.” and then she showed me, tapping her pencil on the square with a letter in it and then copying that letter again. she had copied the letters into the squares off the edge of the water color pencils she was sharpening. she is 4.5 years old. i have never tried to teach her to write letters. she has written the name/word “pia” for about a month now, over and over. other letters have visited her drawings on and off. this is ida teaching herself how to write the alphabet, ida style.

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now i must go snuggle with my sick child who is calling me from the other room. one sure way to move toward puking myself. while puking, i will try and meditate on the paper typewriter, the birds of paradise. (why the birds? more later)
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last night at capoeira a friend asked me this question. i am starting to recognize it as the most frequent question i am asked whenever i run into a friend.

i usually say something non specific and all encompassing like, “well, my days are hard to define. we usually wake up with no plan and at the end of the day we have some books that were read, an animal we researched, a person we looked up, many drawings or paintings we made, words that were written and of course many questions were answered (or thought about?). the girls play a lot. we see friends. we take walks and bike rides. we eat a few times both out and at home and in the evening they are into watching avatar: the last airbender. funny enough, jason and i are into it too.”

here i will try again to answer as best i can, more generally, more specifically…hah!

once we made the decision to not go to school, i signed up for a class on each day and left fridays for social stuff. the classes were noted in a previous post: trapeze in spanish, science at the exploratorium, capoeira 2x (viv and ida’s classes on different days) and then friday was free. the week ended up being quite busy and very social actually!

quickly i realized this was a mistake. after the first week it became clear we were right back into the same power struggles to leave the house as when we were getting ready to leave for school. the girls continually wanted to “stay home”. they were even avoiding playdates! it was when i finally gave into this desire that i started to understand what was going on. when you read about a child’s development you remember that they are still growing their little minds and bodies. the adult world, especially here in the city, is a little intense. i think if we had a huge field in our backyard the girls would want to be outside exploring more. i do not doubt as the world at large becomes more of a draw for them we will venture out beyond the neighborhood more.

it seems that viv (and ida) are happy to explore their inner worlds here at the house and in the backyard. a walk around the neighborhood is sufficient or a park visit or a bookstore exploration or just people watching on the corner. unschooling allows me to get back into my inner world as well which i have been missing a lot lately. reading, drawing, writing, etc… the structure will grow as they do i am sure. no doubt there will be ideas to pursue and plans to act out. i am noticing we move at the perfect speed for us. four days a week there are three people and it requires communication to make sure all needs are met. three days a week there are four of us – jason has sat, sun and mon with us. more negotiations!

i think the other major factor in the girl’s wanting to stay home during the week, is that when their dad is home, he is a big adventurer and loves to go hither and yon – all over the bay area really. saturday, sunday and monday you might find all four of us (or the three of them) down at the beach or up on san bruno mountain or on mount tam or in the east bay or in china town or even just downtown. jason likes to be on the move. so i think when tuesday rolls around, the three of us are ready for some serious down time.

unschooling just feels natural to us at this time. if the girls are hungry i encourage them to fend for themselves or ask me to help them prepare what they are in the mood for. usually i am the main cook. though earlier today they got smoked salmon, carrots and cucumber out of the fridge and ate them straight. now, it is 3 o clock and they are hungry again – they got cranberries out of the cupboard, i am warming up some miso and boiling water for some bowtie pasta. it won’t be long before they can do all of this on their own!

we walked around the block today in the rain. talked about how weather encourages different things – both going out and staying in are enjoyable in the rain. the light is different in the rain. people are in a hurry in the rain. people duck into bookstores in the rain – we did that and enjoyed two books illustrated by maurice sendak and written by sesle joslin – what do you say, dear? and what do you do, dear? they stomped in puddles and played with their umbrellas letting some rain drops hit their heads and some land on their tongues.

a lot of letting go is involved. whenever i ask myself what it is we are doing, i hesitate and wonder if it is because i am bored or directionless myself in that moment. then i try my best to not get too frustrated with the sensation and try to redirect myself. often when i feel this, the girls are completely engaged with something and i try and take it as a sign that it is time for me to do something for myself. that way, when they are ready to engage, so am i. or hopefully? there are moments when i want my alone time to continue, and this is where i have to practice both setting limits and being flexible. i am human and lose my cool and act like an animal too, but i am trying to be a good example now and again. i think it is important for them to know i am not perfect and that i do not know everything and that i am growing too.

they both still take a capoeira class once a week. they both still love it. viv still takes trapeze in spanish on mondays.

i am trying to go to yoga once a week and stretch every day. sometimes with success. some weeks with none.

oh right, social stuff! well, we are lucky that we have a lot of amazing people in our life. a day usually doesn’t go by without a visit to someone’s house or people visiting here. some are adults, many are kids, and really it is hard to keep up with making sure they get quality time instead of too many people at a time. when people express concern that the girls will not be properly socialized i have to giggle. these girls have plenty of friends. playdates several times a week and then on the weekend they are lucky to be exposed to our adult friends, some who have kids and some who don’t. that is one thing that city living provides – a lot of different people doing different things with their life. i feel a little guilty that ida doesn’t have many friends her same age, but that is the plight of the little sister. i am sure this will change with time. she is only four years old.

some recent happenings…

we made our halloween costumes. it took an entire day. ida was princess mononoke and i was her giant white wolf. viv was nausicaa – princess of the valley of the wind. jason was the comet that flew over the mission.

we marched in the day of the dead procession here in the mission. viv painted her own face – jason and i collaborated on ida’s. many good friends marched with us.

we also made a teepee on our garage roof out of bamboo clippings that were abandoned in the alley.

our cat passed away recently. we buried him under our fire pit in the backyard. in his honor, ida has been making many drawings of him on the iphone.

we ate apples on san bruno mountain.

how’s that for a ramble?!

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we have not gone back to school since my last post. we officially withdrew on monday. our current schedule: trapeze class taught in spanish on monday, science class at the exploratorium on tuesdays and capoeira on wednesdays. ida has her capoeira class on thursday. the time in between and fridays are reserved for play-dates and other spontaneous stuff.

we are all quite happy to have finally arrived at what feels like a final decision. that said, the one thing we all have learned about this is that nothing is final. each decision is merely a transition into the next moment. we will not be going back to school this year, this is the only certainty due to the rules of school. how our days are spent from here on out is continually open for discussion.

we were walking home from capoeira last night and crossed paths with a neighbor and her two children, all of whom we had not seen in awhile. we were catching up on ages and interests when grade level entered the discussion.

(some version of the following conversation has happened with many families we know.)

“where did you end up going to school?” she asked viv.

viv paused and thought about it and then said excitedly, “i don’t go to school! i homeschool!”

“how cool!” the mother said.

“i want to homeschool!” said her daughter, a 2nd grader. “i don’t want to have to listen to teachers yelling at me all day.”

“you can come to school at our house!” said viv. “we are making our own school.”

the mother responded to her daughter, “i’m sorry, but your parents aren’t patient enough to homeschool.”

the mother is a 1st grade teacher. i believe she must have some amount of patience to teach a room of 25 – 1st graders. and she seems like an amazing mother to boot! i think the real answer is that both of your parents have jobs and this is just how the world works. many people do not have the choice to homeschool given their financial obligations. and most people also think that it would make them crazy doing it. they have no desire to try it.

i feel we simply must try. i am also excited and relieved to be here. seems we have been headed here all along. (7 years?!) in that same breath, i make room for a future change of heart. but until that happens, i embrace this experience and all of it’s complexities whole heartedly – even the super crummy days which one has regardless of where they are spending their time.

i realize it is not for everyone. this statement is evidenced by most interactions i have with adults on the topic. though when pressed, these same adults come around to admitting that “school sucks” – it is an age old mantra.

and ask any kid if they want to stay in school and i do not doubt that the majority would say what the little girl said up above.

the current mindset does not support this decision. how can we help change that?

 

 

“When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.”

“We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” – Dr. Michael Anderson

cut the budget and up the stimulants? this as an answer to children’s under performance in school? i realize that parents are desperate, especially when they are facing financial strain, but why is this okay with our government?

introducing stimulants to young children, is a really bad idea. that seems obvious. clearly there is a lot of desperation out there. people need help on so many fronts. when it comes to their children taking stimulants it is hard to fathom how parents come to see this as a rational decision when their child is struggling. that said, we all know what a long road it can be to finding ways to support our children. options take time, energy and a clear mind. most parents lack all three of these things.

a revolution is in order. so much needs to change. most urgently, children should not be taking drugs to perform better in an unhealthy environment. the alternative is obvious – the environment must change to better support the development of children’s minds and bodies. with the continual cutting of funding for our schools, the environment is deteriorating at a very fast rate. the curve seems to be quite steep, cliff-like really, after having existed on a gentle downward slope for so long. the tree is falling fast. class sizes are growing, recess time is shrinking, testing has completely infiltrated the classroom on all levels, and students do not know how to occupy their own time. meanwhile they are expected to sit still and be quiet. it has been a broken system for too long – one in which people are not seen for who they are, but are expected to be on the same path, walking at the same rate as everyone else. good grades are demanded in a mind-numbing environment. the only way to succeed is to avoid asking questions and do as you are told. how can one grow into a healthy mind and body in such an environment? i know humans are adaptable, but please.

current answer: give them the pill form of a straight- jacket. a perfect idea when considering the circumstances.

really???

toward the end of the article they mention a casual observation of the diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. having risen as sharply as school funding has declined.

why do people not see that we are past the triage phase – the environment is not only unhealthy, it is dying.

click here for article

so much has happened since august 22nd, it has been hard to find the time or the words for all the shifting that has occurred. staying in the moment often means not being able to define the experience or predict the trajectory of an action or decision. so until now, i have had no words.

viv attended her old school for two days, thursday and friday. that friday i received a call offering us a place at the charter school we had been hoping to get into since applying for kindergarten. i started laughing when i heard where the woman was calling from and what she was offering. we would need to show up on monday, meet the teacher and perhaps have a trial day and make our decision by the next morning – tuesday. hah!

i called jason and he too found the news hilarious. of course this would happen at this moment. should we have expected anything less? anyhow, the big question of course is how viv would receive the news. she had enjoyed seeing her friends again and seemed to really like her new teacher. however, without hesitation she said she definitely wanted to try the charter school even if it meant losing her spot at the old school. wow.

so we called in sick monday at the old school and attended a day at the charter school. the contrast was astonishing. whether this was perceived or actual i did not care. i knew that this would be a necessary experience for our family, i just hoped that viv would feel the same.

she came away from the first day excited to go back. so, the decision was made – she was now a student at the charter school.

all the change was a welcome breath of fresh air. the start time almost an hour later, we could ride our bikes together as a family, the ride home with both girls brought the city back into view as a dynamic and fun place to live – the whole experience was a step back toward our natural family rhythm.

since we had planned on not attending school this year, we had a week’s vacation scheduled with jason’s work. this week arrived just one week after starting at the new school. we worried that it might be too soon, but we all had been so excited about the camping trip we felt we could not postpone. so off we went.

without going into all the details of the camping trip, i will mention the most important and relevant ones to this blog. the trip itself was all that we hoped for. a success on all counts. unschooling at it’s best. a week in the eastern sierra!

topics covered while out of school:

fear has purpose

glaciers move rock

aspens and pines

point of view, space-relativity-how do you know the difference between up and down?

high desert vs. mountain, satellites – can you live on one? – space stations

stars vs. planets

climbing terms – off-width and crack climbing, etc.

indians choosing same places to hangout – evidenced by morteros carved in rock – what is human nature – what is territory

small market in bridgeport “closed” – sign of times – everyone shops at costco – small business vs. big business

military base – bob dylan singing about war – viv’s ?s about military base: training is like school? have they been to war? will they go? do they want to? what if they don’t want to go?

before streets there were trails. how were they made? how are streets made now?

horses and cattle – how they are used today – how they were used in the past – too many, too much – tearing up the land. contributing to problems in the water systems

and these are what i got down on paper! the list goes on in my mind.

anyhow, on our way home an interesting thing happened. again.

we had intentionally talked very little about school. we had done some of the homework packet given to us by the teacher – viv chose all the creative assignments of course. journaling and her ABC book – both assignments were to be written and illustrated by herself. left the worksheets until the night before they were due (a week after we returned from vacation!)

but the moment i am getting to was most surprising because it was completely authentic. we were driving home and had just an hour left of the drive. we had been drawing and listening to music and books on audible to pass the time. viv announces, “i don’t want to go to school anymore. i want to be an unschooler.” yes, of course, i was happy to hear this again. however, jason and i had finally come to a certain comfort level with the idea of her being in this particular school. we felt it might be the right fit. so, what followed was a very interesting switch. we started to feel like we needed to put our foot down and tell her she needed to give it a good try before making the decision. we said things like: “if there is a school we feel good about, it is this one. we should try it this year and then make our decision.” and she said, “but i don’t want to give it a try, i want to be an unschooler. i want to make our own school. a place where you don’t have to sit still and do what everyone else is doing. a place you can be with other kids and have fun learning.”

we had unleashed a rabble rouser!

funny to find ourselves so resistant. however, we realized that the social stuff is what most compels viv and we wanted her to realize how important it is to her. we were nervous about being able to replicate it ourselves. odd really, coming from the two of us.

anyhow, after two days at home, mulling it over. we decided she should give it a try again.

she went with her dad on monday morning and for the first time in her life, she cried and cried at the door of school and refused to go. jason was shocked. he hung around for an hour and viv’s tune did not change. they came home. when she returned she said she wanted to go tomorrow and she was excited to go and hang with her new friends. because her dad was not back at work yet, she wanted to be with us. in retrospect i realize that this was a result of taking a week away after a big transition. it was like starting all over again, but somehow scarier to her.

so, tuesday she went and all was good from then on. we have had two solid weeks of enjoying the school.

this weekend however, the conversation started again. “i cannot wait for the four day weekend next week”. “i want the friends i just don’t want the school”.

how can we achieve that? there is no perfect solution. i am of course willing to give it a go. today is tuesday and it is our second day out of school. she says she will go tomorrow to see her friends. we have told her she cannot go to school two days a week. if she is going to do school we need to do it well.

again, we shall see. i am feeling surprisingly patient. (now that is.)

(for kicks)

so, here we are. after a summer of occupying the space in between asking a question and arriving at an answer. we emerge slightly less conflicted but happily more grounded in our decision. ambivalence is an interesting and complicated state. one can get used to hovering there. however, it is clear that movement is essential. no one wants to feel stagnant or frozen in a state of indecision. there is a natural progression in every decision making process. some are slower than others. fortunately for us, there was a moment the decision needed to be made.

we started the summer relieved to have school behind us. having our family back moving in our natural rhythm was similar to coming home after a challenging trip that lasted too long. if only we had returned sooner? but it is easy to say that in retrospect. growth of some sort results from most experience. summer allowed us to reflect on the experience of school and compare the positives and negatives. my personal challenge was to listen to viv without expressing my feelings too concretely. one of the unexpected results of these conversations were my memories of the positive elements of school. the things that could not be curated into a homemade experience. the social stuff. while dysfunctional in many ways, was also really amazing. a true random sampling of our city. interestingly the role reversal made viv feel comfortable to talk about what she didn’t like. not so surprisingly lots came up that i had never heard before – a sort of flood gate really.

the switching sides was an interesting exercise, but i realized it was only an exercise for me. i had such strong feelings about wanting her to stay home. so, i felt great relief when she stuck with the same decision for a month. she would be staying home after all! so happy was i to imagine all the unplanned days ahead of us. how great to continue the good vibe of the summer. making just a few really good plans – do not want to be a slave to the schedule.

so, kind of perfectly, we ran into a friend/neighbor on our way home from dinner monday night – our first official day of unschooling. her kids had started school that morning. she and i have always had very interesting talks about school. she is a big public school advocate. a BIG advocate for many things. she is a powerful lady. i respect her. but this conversation with her has been challenging for me because she refuses to acknowledge that “school sucks” for some reason. also, that it could be different. i do not buy the “real world” argument or the “my kid’s just aren’t so precious”. these really bother me. there is nothing “real world” about the school environment. and even if it does represent a section of the real world, why do we accept it? after all, i do not want to prepare my child for life as a cog. i don’t want that for anyone. and for that matter, everyone is precious. i do not place my children above others. i may love them more, but this is natural. i want them to know that they are one among many. i want them to feel comfortable with that notion. i am not trying to raise superior humans. no. just thoughtful ones.

we need more than one revolution in days like these. so, i hope that our choice does not seem like one in which we are trying to pedestal our children. this is not about them being precious. it is about voting for something different than what we are offered. last night i once again, spent the night really weighing out the realities of not being in school. i continued to feel great relief and frustrated with the way most of the world thinks about school. i am beginning to understand why some unschoolers are starting to say they send their kids to private school. i don’t want to argue about it everyday. and people are really defensive in this area. and i’m tired too.

so again, this is about voting for something different. i feel good about that.

and, didn’t i mention, we’re sending our kid to private school cuz she’s precious!

have a great day.

today is the first day of public school in san francisco. we are not there. so i guess it is official – viv will not be going to school this year. we are all excited and happy to have slept until 8:45am this morning. i will try and write more about the process we went through this summer in arriving at our final decision. i just now sent the email to the sfusd announcing our intention, so in a way the final decision was not made until last night when we decided not to set our alarm. but that is the simple explanation of a very long and interesting conversation. i hope to share some of that soon.