Thursday, March 28, 2013

Things I learned during spring break

1.      There isn't enough time not to snuggle.  Soon she will be embarrassed to say "I love you" and give public kisses and cuddles.  Soon she won't want to climb up on the arm of my chair while I'm working to snuggle with me.  Or ask me to come into her fort and read with her.  Nothing is so important that I can't stop and enjoy a snuggle with my baby.

2.      Having a temperature of 104 and barely being able to sit upright much of the time means the house is going to get messy and you're not going to be able to clean it.  Get over it.

3.      A trip to the ice cream shop for a $2.00 scoop of ice cream is just as special, if not more so, than a considerably more expensive trip to Disney.  Especially when I forget my smart phone. 

4.      I need to forget my smart phone more often.

5.      There is no such thing as enough pictures and videos.  You never know what tomorrow will hold, and it may be all you have (more on that later...maybe).  Don't apologize for being amateur paparazzi for your kids.

6.      We have a serious need to simplify our lives.  We have too much "stuff".  Not just physical stuff, though there is that, but time stuff.  Due to a serious flu bug, we were homebound for much of this week.  It may sound strange, but I enjoyed it.  Not the flu part...that blew.  But spending hours reading to Lily and listening to Harry Potter on tape and doing crafts and snuggling made me realize that I don't take enough time to do those things.  It seems like we are always rushing somewhere (and we are most often running late...yes, I am *that* mom) and I realized that, while I enjoy being busy, I miss those quiet times we used to have to just be.  I realize with homeschool, working from home, Lily's extracurricular activities, and my dance classes and musical theater (more on that later), we barely have time to just enjoy each other lately.  And when I don't make time for the little things, I miss out on awesome moments like this:

And on that note, here is a wonderful little post I stumbled across.  200 Ways to Bless your Children with a Happy Childhood. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Adventures in homeschooling

I have returned to my long-neglected blog because I have felt compelled recently to chronicle my and Lily's experiences with homeschooling.  So bear with me as I post what, to some, will be quite a boring blog post.

Why did I decide to homeschool?

This seems to be the second-most often asked question when people find out Lily is homeschooled (I will get to the most often asked question in a moment).  I answer honestly.  My original motivation was that Lily would miss the cutoff to start kindergarten by less than two weeks.  The cutoff date in my district is very strictly adhered to.  No exceptions.  Now, at the risk of sounding like one of those annoying parents who thinks their is perfect (although, anyone who has met her knows Lily *is* perfect ;)), I absolutely believed (and still believe) that Lily was ready to start kindergarten this year.  Academically, definitely, but in other aspects as well.  Socially, she would have been on par with her other kids in her class.  Her maturity level is high, no doubt due to the fact that she is an only child and mainly associates with adults.  And she has an uncanny ability to concentrate for hours on a task.  The list goes on.  But no amount of explaining made a difference to the school district.  They did not make exceptions.  She had to wait until next year.  So, being the contrary person that I am, I decided to homeschool her for kindergarten and allow her to sort of "test in" to 1st grade next year.

There you have it.  Not the best reason to decide to homeschool, but it is my reason.  Which is a nice segue into the most often asked question I get when people find out I am homeschooling Lily:

When are you going to put her in real school?

I get this question so often, with varying levels of rudeness, that it makes me want to scream.  I get it, I do.  At the beginning of the year I would have laughed and answered that she would be put in real school next year, showing how cleverly I have bypassed the school district and their silly rules.  Now, however, I feel very differently. 

At the start of the year, I had it all planned.  I knew exactly how I was going to structure our days.  And believe you me, there would be structure.  *My* daughter was not going to fall behind.  I had a minimum of four hours scheduled academics each day.  And I stuck by it.  For about three months, I stuck by it.  Then I started noticing something.  Lily, who had always had a love of and enthusiasm for learning, was beginning to dislike school.  I mean, *really* dislike it.  So I made what turned out to be the best decision for both of us.  I took a month off school.  I took a month to let Lily relax and recapture her joy of learning.  And I took a month to read.  I read everything I could get my hands on regarding to homeschooling.  And I talked to Lily.  I realized during this month that I had been structuring our homeschool to mirror a public school classroom because that is how I thought it should be done.  But when I talked to Lily about it, I realized how oppressive what I was doing was to her natural inquisitiveness.  In my fear of doing something that would limit or even damage her abilities once she did enter "real" school, I had actually been damaging something much more precious.  It was during this month that my entire mindset on homeschooling changed.

At the end of our one-month hiatus, we were starting with an entirely new approach to homeschooling.  I suppose you could call it "unschooling", though I think that is such a misunderstood phrase that I am reluctant to label us with it.  However, for purposes of explanation it will have to do.  We start off almost everyday with a nature walk (weather permitting).  Each week we pick a topic together that Lily wants to learn more about and we go to the library and find as many books as we can on the subject.  Then we spend the entire week reading about them.  I let her pick out a movie or two on the subject if it is available and we watch them together (a treat for her, since I banned television...but that is for another post).  I read a lot to her.  We still have "academics"...sort of.  We spend time each day snuggled on our big comfy chair in our living room and talk about things, like telling time and counting and addition and subtraction.  There's no pressure behind it and I don't stress if she isn't "getting it".  The biggest difference is how much we talk.  We talk about everything.  The atmosphere changed from teacher (me) lecturing student (her) to us being a team in ensuring she gets the most enriching education possible.  Lily knows that there is no topic that is off-limits and there is no confusing concept that I won't at least attempt to explain.  And if I don't know the answer, we find it together.

I have seen a huge difference in my daughter from the beginning of our school year to now.  She sees everything as a learning opportunity and questions everything and everyone.  At times, I am certain there are adults who interact with her who find this aspect of her personality trying.  But I love it.  I love that she won't take someone's word for it just because they are an adult.  If someone answers her question with "because", she will tell them, "because isn't an answer."  Impertinent?  Most definitely.  But I believe that fostering this aspect of her personality will best aid her in her lifelong education.  She is learning to think and discovery for herself and, I hope, she will never allow another person to do her thinking for her.

Now I look at homeschooling Lily in the long term.  There is no cutoff date (although I may, eventually, put her in a public or private school if that is what becomes best for her).  She learns at her own pace and in her own way.  Yes, I am there to help her and to explain difficult concepts to her.  But her education, as it is, is largely guided by her.  And surprisingly, she is doing exceptionally well.  I don't have to use flashcards with her and give her spelling tests in order for her to learn how to read.  She is learning all on her own.  I don't have to do math drills with her.  She is constantly working on her figures (if you look at her artwork, most of it will have some sort of simple math problem).  She writes labels on everything.  Not because I spent grueling hours forcing her to learn sight words, but because she wants to be able to express herself through the written language.  I worried when we started this that she would lag behind her public school contemporaries, but I realized that her education isn't a competition between her and anyone else.  As long as she is being challenged and engaged in her education, then she is right where she needs to be. 

I wish I could go back to the beginning of this adventure and tell myself to just take a deep breath and *look* at my daughter.  To realize that I was doing this for her, not to make some sort of silly point about public school.  My focus needed to be on her and what was best for her.  But I can't go back; I can only press onward and hope the instances where I get it right outweigh those where I get it so terribly wrong.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Elephant In The Room

And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

So said Friedrich Nietzsche.  I remember reading these words in high school.  I wasn't a huge Nietzsche fan, but much of what he wrote spoke to something in me.  Even before I truly understood it.  As I have grown and matured and gained life experience, I've grown to love his work.  According to Nietzsche, there are no facts, only the interpretation of events.  We all come to a situation with our own upbringing and biases.  And when I say "we all", I mean ourselves as well as others.  That is a difficult thing to understand.  Most people don't fully understand why they say and do what they do.  They accept their convictions as Truth without reflecting where these convictions come from, historically and evolutionarily. 

I see a trend in our country of extremities of ideologies and it frightens me.  We have adopted this sort of either/or philosophy.  This is doubly frightening because much of our morals and ethics seem to be formed and solidified due to reactions to emotive soundbites and Internet memes.  These kind of morals breed bigotry and hate.  They burn bridges rather than create them.  Another lesson I've learned from reading Nietzsche is that we must take care when fighting monsters not to become one ourselves.  But in the current political climate, it seems we are poked and prodded at all times by poisonous monsters demanding we join one of them in their vitriol.  In trying to prove we have The Truth, we become the monsters we are railing against.  We lose our capacity for empathy.  And what's more, the monsters we initially set out to slay are winning.  Politicians work to maintain the status quo while we bicker back and forth and nothing is ever accomplished. 

In order to uphold the Constitution, we must begin to be proactive, rather than reactive, in protecting the rights of the majority AND the rights of the few.  If there is one thing that the Occupy Movement accomplished, it was changing our dialogue, at least temporarily, from soundbites about cutting taxes and spending for crucial institutions, to the idea that there is a vast economic inequality in our country.  Until we stop letting the plutocracy define our economic beliefs, class warfare will never go away.

I wish we could take that understanding beyond economics and bring it into our moral and ethical understandings.  If we could understand that our own convictions and beliefs are affected by by decades of biases and moral development based on fear and subjugation, we would be more empathetic and understanding toward others.  We would understand that soundbites only work to further the gap between understanding.  We would know that our "Truth" is not everyone's "Truth".  And that's okay.  But by understanding that, you can allow others to live their lives according to their own understanding of truth and morals.

Keeping homosexuality in check and passing along our prejudices to keep it a taboo achieves nothing of any human value.  There was a time in our country when people were uncomfortable drinking out of a fountain with a black person.  This wasn't considered bigotry because it was a widely upheld belief that black people did not deserve the same treatment as their white counterparts.  People opposed to the Gay Rights Movement, much like those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement, have many reasons that justify their deep-seated bigotry.  They dress it up in pretty phrases like "protecting traditional marriage" and wrap it in religious dogma.  But beneath all of that, it is bigotry plain and simple. 

It is easy for me to see this and be appalled by said bigotry.  But what I have had to remind myself of is that I have come to my understanding of this, and many other polarizing issues, from a different background and set of biases than the people I am "fighting".  To them, I am the monster.  In reality, neither of us are the monster in this scenario.  The faulty maxims on which we have built our lives are the monsters, and until we understand that, we cannot slay them.

In Pluto's Allegory of the Cave, a man is experiencing life through shadows projected on a cave wall as people walk past a fire behind him.  His whole life, he believed he was truly living in the world, until he was told that there was a great big world full of sunshine and dimension and color just outside of the cave opening.  His journey out of the cave was difficult and painful.  It made him uncomfortable and long for the safety of his cave.  But in the end he realized it was better for him to leave his cave behind.

We all have our "caves" we must leave behind.  It is scary and difficult and part of us will always yearn for the safety of our "caves".  I have my own caves that I have had to claw my way out of.  Gay Rights was one of them.  But I have many more.  Still, it hurts me that there are people who feel justified in marginalizing an entire group of people based on their beliefs.  Our government's job is to protect our right to freedom insofar as our actions do not infringe upon the rights of others.  Religious freedom only goes so far.  The moment a group begins attacking the rights of a minority based upon their religious beliefs, that freedom ends.  Understanding that people with these beliefs about homosexuality have a biological legacy and generations of baggage behind those beliefs is one thing.  Allowing them to legislate based on their religion is quite another.

I will end with one more thought.   I hope to pass on many things to my daughter.  My love of literature and music.  My propensity to break into showtunes and dance madly around the house.  My deep-felt need to create.  But there are things I try everyday not to pass onto her.  Some are easy to avoid.  My fear of heights, for instance, and my hatred of mushrooms.  Some are much harder.  Biases and prejudices I'm not even aware I have are the hardest.  My own lack of empathy and understanding to people who have different opinions is a close second.  But these are also the most important aspects of myself to NOT pass on to her.  My hope is that she will be better at loving and accepting and understanding than I am.  I want to leave her a world with less bigotry and prejudice.  And I worry because it seems those things are growing daily.  I've thought a lot about how to help stop it.  I'm still thinking.  I don't have all of this figured out, but I know that it is crucial to open a dialogue based on actual understanding and hearing where the other side is coming from.  Understanding that our understanding of the truth is not absolute and others may have something valid to contribute to our quest for said truth.

I'll close with this picture because it is a reminder to me why I have to uphold my beliefs and put my opinion out there even when I am scared.  I am protecting my family from hate and small-mindedness (on both sides), and reminding myself the reason why I can't give up on finding a solution.

Monday, June 25, 2012

the grief that does not speaks whispers o'er the heart and bids it break

There is something about me that most people don't know. Now, before I make my big reveal, let me warn you that this will not be a happy post. In fact, it may even be considered depressing. If that is not what you are looking for, move on now.

Now, as for my big secret, here it is: due to complications after Lily was born, I have been told by several doctors that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to carry another baby to term.
Now, being the contrary person I am, I refused to accept this and set out to prove the cynics wrong.

A few weeks ago, however, I had yet another miscarriage. So not only have I had to mourn the loss of another baby I very much wanted, but I get to listen to a non-stop tirade of criticism from that annoying voice in my head. The one that tells me I am a failure as a woman. The one that looks at my reflection and tells me I am a fat slob. The one that reduces me to tears with its taunting every time I see a woman with a happy, healthy baby.

But that isn't all. Oh no.

I also get to deal with the water weight (and, I'll be honest, depressed overeating weight) that has made me look puffy and swollen for three weeks.  And (yes, AND) I get to be on this crazy emotional roller coaster that has turned me into a bipolar terror.  Poor Ernie and Lily never know which Jamie they're going to get from one moment to the next.

I want to be back to normal. I want to wallow in my grief forever. I want to be happy again. I want to give the world and all the people in it the bird. I want to take out my uterus and give it a hearty kick. Then spit on it for good measure. I want to remind myself to appreciate the little things that not a month ago gave me such pleasure.

I was talking to my Aunt the other day about all these feelings, and about how I couldn't shake them off of me (I am usually so good at pushing painful and conflicted emotions out of my way). She told me something profound. Well, profound to me, at any rate. What I'm going through is awful. I have every right to feel awful about it. Those painful and conflicted emotions aren't bad. In fact, they're necessary for me to heal. I need to own them and let myself feel mad/sad/pitiful about this horrible thing that is happening that I have no control over.

So here I am, allowing myself to feel it all. To cry and bleed and feel everything and know that it is okay.  The next step is getting proactive. About losing weight (AGAIN!), about having another child, if that is what we want. About letting myself grieve, but then allowing myself to be happy again.

And if you've gotten this far, thank you for allowing me to go through this process.
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Nature of Abuse

I almost didn't publish this post, but I feel like it is an important one for me, personally, to remember.  I've been working on it all day and have gone back and forth many times over whether or not to post it.  So bear with me.

I'm sure many of you have seen or heard about this video.  I saw it first posted on facebook by a friend.  Then another.  Then another.  All the responses were along the lines of "Good for you for standing up to your daughter!"  And I'll confess that, while aspects of the video were deeply disturbing to me (mostly the ending when he unloads nine rounds into his daughter's laptop), I was thinking more of how bratty the daughter's letter was than how completely inappropriate the father's reaction to it was.

I've thought a lot about this video over the past forty-eight hours.  I've discussed it on facebook, I've discussed it with just about everyone who knows me in real life, and I've now written about it here.  And I still find myself conflicted.  I realize most people will read this post and think, "man, lighten up.  It wasn't a big deal."  But for me it was.  Mostly because I always thought myself to be sensitive to abuse of all kinds. 

On the one hand, I can console myself by saying I was disturbed by the man's actions in this video.  On the other hand, I condemn myself for thinking, even a little, that the daughter deserved it.  But as I read through the comments on this video and heard so many people patting this father on the back for what was basically psychological and emotional abuse, I felt more and more ashamed of myself.  I would NEVER do anything like this to my own daughter.  So why would I think it was okay for this man's daughter to be treated this way?

I understand why people wouldn't initially think of this as abuse.  But consider, for a moment, the unconscious messages of this video.  First of all, this man is so angry he is having trouble forming coherent sentences.  He is obviously humiliated, though I suspect his humiliation stems more from the fact that his daughter chose to air their dirty laundry in front of all of his friends rather than what was actually said.  Regardless of the reasons for his humiliation, he chose to retaliate against his own daughter by humiliating her even more.  In his mind, he needed to put her in her place.  That'll teach her to ever humiliate him again, won't it?!  He makes the money, he does the work, so his feelings and thoughts are more relevant than hers!

The reality is that this girl did not ask to be born.  Her parents chose to bring her into this world.  And it is a choice.  They could have used contraception, they could have had an abortion, or they could have given her up for adoption.  But since they chose to have her and raise her, they have a responsibility toward her.  Part of that responsibility is to teach her morals and responsibility, to be sure, but the most important part of that responsibility is to love her unconditionally.  That includes clothing her, feeding her, putting a roof over her head, and making sure her emotional and psychological needs are being met. 

So you have been taking care of her physical needs for fifteen years?  Good for you.  But just because you do all these things doesn't mean she is required to blindly obey you in everything you say.  As any child is wont to do, she will test her boundaries.  You cannot say "If you ever question me or defy me I won't provide food and shelter for you anymore", because then CPS would swoop in (hopefully) and remove her from your rather questionable care.  To me, whether he consciously intended to or not, that is exactly what this father is saying to his daughter.  "Do what I say and behave how I dictate or else you'll know exactly how hard life can be", is not something that should ever be said to a child.  You may as well tell them straight out that your love is conditional on how good of a child they can be.  You'll be constantly testing them and judging them to see if they measure up.  To see if they deserve your love today.  I pray that my daughter will never feel that she has to earn my love or that it ever comes with stipulations. 

A couple years ago, when Lily was really starting to exert her independence and test her boundaries, we started time outs.  Lily is a very sensitive child and if she ever perceives anyone as being angry with her, it is upsetting.  But especially me or Ernie.  So after putting her in time-out a few times, I noticed that she was getting more and more hysterical each time.  Something just wasn't right.  So I sat her on my lap and explained to her that when she does something she shouldn't do, there has to be a consequence.  Namely, sitting in time-out for a minute to consider her actions.  But I also told her that there was nothing she could ever do that would make me stop loving her. It would never happen. 

After that, she was no longer hysterical over time-outs.  But ever since then, every time she gets reprimanded or I get upset at something she does, whether she gets put in time-out or not, she asks, "Do you still love me, Mommy?"  At first I was worried that I made her doubt that I would love her somehow.  But then I realized that she just needed the constant reassurance that my love was unconditional.  So every time she asks me, I tell her yes, that I will always love her and I give her a hug.

I am not a psychologist by any stretch, but I think that is something that kids need on a basic level.  That reassurance that there is always someone who loves and supports them no matter what happens.  But there is something that happens to adults when children reach the teenage years.  We somehow dehumanize them and put them into the category of "kids these days."  They're disrespectful.  They're brats.  They're selfish.  They're unappreciative.  But weren't we all?  That doesn't mean that we get to start treating them differently.  When Lily is a teenager, I hope I can still reassure her, just as I do now, that I love her NO MATTER WHAT. 

The future of our world is our children.  The only real difference we can make is raising them to be the compassionate, kind, selfless, confident people we hope they become.  So it isn't enough to say, "well, at least you have food and clothes and a roof".  We have to do better.  We have to question our actions and reactions and consider the nuances of psychological and emotional abuse.  They are harder to detect than physical abuse because we often don't see our behavior toward our children as abuse.  But in the forty-eight hours that I have pondered this video, I've realized just how easy it is to overlook abuse.  Because that is what I did.  This man's words alone (and I will get to his actions shortly) constitute emotional abuse.  The scars of which are much harder to heal than those of physical abuse.

Now, let's consider the end of this video.  If you didn't watch it, just fast forward to the last couple of minutes and take a look.  In a sort of hostage-execution-video-style, he pans the camera around to show his daughter's laptop on the ground.  Then he shows his handgun.  Then he proceeds to shoot it full of holes.  After which, he pauses to say, "oh, and your mother wanted me to make sure you knew this one is from her".

Okay, I don't know the psychology behind this, but I don't think it takes a degree to see that this is messed up beyond belief.  My first thought when seeing this was that he was replacing his daughter with her laptop in order to vent his anger.  What kind of a message is that sending?  You better not mess up again or the next one will be in your kneecap?  Maybe I'm being overly-dramatic, I don't know.  But the image disturbed me.

I was talking to Ernie about this last night and he told me that I had to understand that redneck southerners don't view guns with the same sensitivity as I do.  He didn't think of it as violent.  It was just a way to dispose of the laptop.   That thought kept me up half the night.  I've concluded that it isn't enough to shrug your shoulders and cop this up to different strokes for different folks.  Just because some people don't think about the subconscious messages and psychology of this video, doesn't mean they aren't there.  Just because some people think this isn't a big deal doesn't mean it isn't.  And just because the daughter thinks the dad was justified in what he did, doesn't mean he was.   We cannot demand respect of your children without giving them respect.  They are people.  They are individuals who have their own thoughts, fears, emotions that are every bit as valid and important as our own.  Probably more.  They are not mearly extentions of ourselves.

This is not okay and I am appalled by myself in particular and society at large for vindicating this man in any way, shape or form.  I think CPS should come in and get him (and possibly his wife) mandated parenting classes.   And I think that I need to work on my own sense of compassion and think a bit more about my parenting philosophies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year

I'm a bit late in my felicitations, but the sentiment is well-meant.  We spent our New Year soaking up the sun on the beach with my in-laws and two adorable nephews.  It was a lovely way to ring in the New Year. 

Then we returned home for dinner and a lovely (albeit early) New Year's Eve celebration, consisting of noise makers, party hats, and fireworks as seen from the back of Daddy's truck.  A lovely day all around.

This year I made only one resolution.  To enjoy a more simple life.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The best things in life are nearest

I know I have to chronicle our Christmas, but today was kinda the perfect day and I couldn't wait to share it.  I love living on our little island.  Even more, I love having a husband and daughter that are oh-so-perfect for me.  But combining the two is a recipe for certain fun.  Bike riding, goofing off at a historical fort while learing about the Civil War, playing at the park, and relaxing at a beach-side restaurant.  All these things in and of themselves would have made today a good day, but sharing them with my two favorite people made it an exceptionally perfect day.  Everyday is a vacation with these two.  I kinda love them.

We started off our day by playing dress-up (I was Rayla and Lily was Aleena.  We were fairy sky queens.  We ate fairy cakes and drank fairy tea.  I bet you didn't know I was that cool, didja?).  Lily insisted that we keep the tiaras on for our bike ride.
Exploring all the fun, maze-like tunnels of the fort.

I know, right?  He looks good coming *and* going. 
Seriously? Can anyone wonder why I adore them so?

Our perfect day ended with all of us snuggled up on the couch watching Barbie Swan Lake, where we all fell asleep until I woke an hour later and put everyone to bed.  These are the days I will treasure in the years to come.  We didn't spend much money and we didn't go anywhere especially exciting, but it was perfect nonetheless.  Here's to many more.