Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where I Admit a Host of Parenting Flaws and Fail to do Laundry

I admit it. I hate laundry. Well, specifically I hate folding and putting away laundry. Especially the daughters’ laundry. I can manage top undergarments because they’re different sizes so the difference is easy to spot. But they generally wear the same size shirts and some crossover in pants sizes so I can’t tell whose is whose. So I tend to put off doing laundry until a crisis arises. Crises like, “Mooom, I don’t have any clean bras! Or pants.” From the tone of their voices when issuing declarations of this nature, the bras are issues of national importance, while the pants are a nuisance side-note, more informational than anything.

My laundry avoidance occasionally leads to some interesting conversations in our household. I line the kids up and ask, “What do you need me to wash right now, in the load I’m putting in the washer this instant, if this is the only load I do tonight, so that you will have a full set of clothing to leave the house in the morning?” I’m sure you notice the oddly specific nature of this question. The reason will soon be revealed. Eldest responds, “I don’t have any jeans and I’m not wearing a skirt to school but other than that I’m ok for tomorrow.” The Younger adds, “I’m fine on everything. Except underwear.” This last is, in fact, a side-note to the kid. Underwear is apparently not essential clothing in her world, nor are socks. A boob harness is vital but underpants are less important than lip gloss. I don’t get it either. I look both kids in the eye. “So you,” pointing to The Eldest, “need pants to wear tomorrow. And you,” my finger turns to The Younger, “are out of underwear. So if I throw some jeans and underwear into this load y’all are going to leave the house in the morning fully clothed, right?”

The Eldest nods eagerly. The Younger comments, “Well, I’m not actually out of underwear; just sort of low. But I have a few pairs; enough for tomorrow and the next day.” My face pinks slightly. My mind screams, “This is not the question I asked!” but I keep my cool. “So you don’t actually need underwear in this load right now?” She shakes her head hesitantly, sensing my lack of cool.

I try again, “You,” pointing at The Eldest, “need jeans. You,” The Younger, “don’t need anything for tomorrow.” The Eldest again gestures in the affirmative. The Younger pauses a split second before saying, “I need underwear. And pants.”

Wait, what?? This conversation is degenerating rapidly. She now needs two items. But she doesn’t actually need one of them. But it’s easier to just go along now. What’s a pair or two of underpants in the load, right? “OK. I’ll go wash what you guys need and… Wait a minute, you have pants! I just put a pair in your pile and you put them away not five minutes ago!”

“Well, yeah, but I’m generally sort of lowish on pants. I think I only have like three pairs.”

“But – but – that’s not what I –“ I splutter, my face taking on the hue of a tomato. I sigh, take a deep breath, count to five and continue in resignation, “OK, I’ll wash you some pants and underwear.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Show and Tell

I read the saddest thing this morning. It was just a sentence or two but it broke my heart a little.

[Mood and tone] are often confused and middle school students can't seem to find a way to differentiate the two, no matter how many times they are told that tone is what the author/narrator's attitude is towards the text and that mood is the reader's attitude toward the text.

Wow. That attitude just takes my breath away. "No matter how many times they are told" seems to me an expression of frustration. How often do we as parents and educators share that feeling? "I've told you and told you...!" Or, as my mother often phrased that same exasperation, "Do I have to jump up and down on your chest to teach/remind you to breathe???"

If nothing else, I've been very forcefully reminded lately that only the smallest portion of learning comes from being told something. And yet as adults we persist in believing that if we tell someone a thing enough times it will sink into their [presumably thick] heads and they will finally learn it. Stop and watch children convey information to one another. They use their entire bodies, miming actions, sketching pictures, holding up finished products, imitating sounds. Remember the old school assignment where you write instructions for a simple task such as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I don't know how that assignment played out for others but in my class the teacher proceeded to demonstrate following our directions to the letter and made a huge mess. Because telling conveys only a small part of the experience. Imagine if we had been allowed to make the sandwich while describing our actions. Imagine if we had gotten to add a diagram of the steps or even a picture of a completed sandwich. Teaching incorporates so much more than telling, telling, telling.

What have you been telling your kids that you could express in another way?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plank Pullin' - The Prickly One

This is one I've been meaning to do for some time. I have plenty of planks to pull. So let's start the deconstruction!

I'm brittle. Sensitive. Whatever word it is you use to say "I get my feelings hurt far too easily and frequently feel snubbed or slighted when no such thing was intended." The Hubs will pick up something laying on an end table and I fly into defensive mode, determined to show him that I am NOT a bad housekeeper - the jerk! How dare he insult my homemaking skills! By - um - errr - picking up - after him - self? My mother-in-law and sister-in-law will run out of town shopping together and one will ask if they can pick anything up for me. Steam begins to billow from my ears. My eyes cross. Blood boiling. They've snubbed me! They could ask me to go but noooooo, they just - kindly offer - to do me - a - favor?

I think what makes it worse is that this trait reminds me so much of my mother. How often would that woman irrationally fly off the handle at some perceived slight that never happened? I've really felt convicted about this lately. The funny thing is, what kicked off the conviction was an incident that I'm still not convinced wasn't an intentional slight. Either way, though, it brought to my eyes the fact that too often I respond with a flash of anger to a perfectly harmless thing somebody does. And as I think about my own mother and her responses I remember that constant feeling of walking on eggshells around her, trying not to break the wrong nerve and cause her to lash out. This is what I've probably been doing to my own husband and daughters.

I can't promise an overnight change but at least I finally noticed the giant log in my eye so I can start taking steps to fix it. Possibly one toothpick at a time, but that's better than nothing. And I promise, if you chime in with an opinion here, I won't bristle up and snap at you ;-)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


It's a little ICU ala Bohemian Bowmans.

This week we want to: survive the week. That's pretty much my only goal. Shannen wants to do other things like hanging out online with friends, "getting" another math thing that's frustrating her, read more books, and generally have fun.

The kids are: amazing me with their drive to do things that I can't imagine wanting to do. Like the math thing. They're spending time on Khan Academy, watching lots of Netflix documentaries, scouring my DVDs for musicals, and driving me crazy begging for carbonated beverages.

I am learning: compromise. I stink at it. But I'm learning. I'm also learning a lot about learning. Which is neat.

I am struggling with: compromise. LOL Seriously, it's hard (she whined obnoxiously). Have I mentioned that hubby and I are not in total agreement about how to best educate our youngsters?

This week is the first time: I've gotten to sleep before 3 AM in a looong time.

I am grateful: for the time I'm able to spend really CONNECTING with my kids and the chance to watch them become amazing young ladies that I'm proud to count as friends.

One thing I have changed in the last year is: how I'm able to talk to my girlies about subjects that make me very uncomfortable.

Tales from Public School 1

This will probably be an ongoing series for a while. I intend to chronicle the silly, the ridiculous, and the downright stupid that I notice in my older girl's public school. Texas is now 2 days into the 2011-2012 school year. Here's what has tickled my funny bone so far:

The first day of school, Mindie came home talking about her classes. This year they have a new class called "Teen Leadership." Apparently the purpose of this class is to, in Mindie's words, "teach us how to work in groups and feel good about ourselves." I'm going to refrain from commenting on how often those two are mutually exclusive goals. What I would like to point out is how the teacher began this class. They were to introduce themselves by standing up and saying, "I'm [name] and I like myself." I asked Mindie if this increased her self esteem. Her eyes rolled back up in her head and she replied, "Yeah. Because if I say it enough it'll be true, right? I'm Mindie and I like myself. I'm Mindie and I like myself." She continued the chant for a while, becoming increasingly silly with it. This is one of my pet peeves with "self esteem" as preached by public schools. Apparently, to hear educators talk, self esteem is something that can be obtained through repeating untrue mantras and collecting hollow compliments. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of self esteem. It is, to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons Shannen is staying OUT of public schools this year (and hopefully for the rest of her years.)

The second day of school brought two more funnies. Apparently there was a school assembly this morning. They watched a movie about "a guy with no arms and no legs who goes around to schools to talk about stuff. A lot of the females in the audiences get all teary." I asked Mindie what the point of the movie and/or the speaker was. "I don't know. I got bored and kind of zoned out. Don't be different or something." Since I'm reasonably certain the school didn't put on a presentation about the joys of conformity hosted by a differently able person I can only assume that this presentation failed in an epic way.

The other funny was a little more subtle. Mindie told me the school is cutting down on the amount of time between classes. In the midst of major construction they now have 4 minutes to move between classes. She also outlined the new tardy policy. On the first tardy of the semester students will be assigned a 30 minute after-school detention. The second tardy will get a student "swats." Obviously this isn't a "ha-ha" funny situation but I find some gentle humour in the thinking behind these two changes together. I wonder if anyone at the school even put these two policies together in their head before setting down rules.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Fork in the Road

If this process we're going through toward unschooling is a roadtrip, we've hit a fork in the road. After much thought, discussion, and prayerful consideration we've reached a decision for the next step in the journey. Shannen will be staying home this year. Mindie will be returning to public school for another year.

The reason for this is that after talking with The Hubs about it all, we felt like Shannen had the most to gain by staying home. Public school has been hard on Shan. The bullying because the first week of kindergarten. It's gotten worse from there. Most days after school last year, Shan got in the car in tears. A clique of girls long ago targeted Shannen for "outcast" social status. By second grade when the class got two new girls, the clique had exerted enough social pressure that Shan had no friends. The clique ostracized and excluded anyone who tried to be friendly to Shannen. The new girls were told that Shannen was a "snobby b-word." One of the new girls chose to cozy up to Shannen anyway so the two are friends in isolation. They sit alone at lunch. They play alone on the schoolyard. They're not invited to anybody's birthday party and when the class is forced to sing the birthday song to either of these girls, the female part of the class silently glowers instead of singing. Now that middle school has arrived a new taunt has been added to the chorus of jeers. My daughter and her lone friend are now "lesbians" and "perverts." If either of them so much as glances at a boy, she's teased for days about being a "slut."

Academically Shannen has spent the past 7 years being an A-honor roll student. Twice now she's scored perfectly on the objective verbal/language skills portion of the state standardized test. She's been reading on a college level since 4th grade. Her math skills are weaker, but only by comparison. She's excellent at mental math but gets a little lost in writing it down sometimes. She's capable of doing math a level or two ahead of her grade.

Unfortunately her organizational skills are very poor. She frequently loses assignments, often after she's already completed them. She forgets homework, forgets to bring home the books necessary for the homework, forgets to return the homework. Her locker (as well as her bedroom at home) is full of trash mixed in with useful things. Her handwriting is sloppy and nearly illegible at times. She scares us all when she uses scissors because of the way she holds them pointed toward her belly but no matter how many times we guide her in holding her scissors properly, she always defaults back to that dangerous position. She was 7 before she learned to tie her shoes and she still has trouble tying them well enough to stay that way for very long. We blamed it all on her being a lefty for a long time but I've wondered in recent years. We've tried many, many strategies to help her learn some minimal level of organizational skills but so far haven't found one that works for her.

The other big problem we've had with her may sound familiar to parents of children with Asperger's syndrome. When she's motivated to learn something she learns in minute detail. When she's not motivated there seems to be very little we can do to get the information into her head. Luckily, so far her intelligence has kept that from hindering her at school too much but she's probably on the verge of hitting a brick wall in regards to math. Meanwhile, if "Star Wars" were a school subject she'd be operating on a Ph.D. level of work. Similarly "Harry Potter" and "Percy Jackson" are subjects in which she can share a level of detail in which probably even the authors are uninterested. As a matter of fact, most anything in the Greco-Roman mythos is intimately familiar to her.

She recently came to me complaining of boredom. I thought I might try to "teach" her how to wiki-surf. We went to Wikipedia and she entered "Greek mythology" at my direction. Then she turned to me and said, "Mom, I've already read this." I told her to be patient and click on one of the links in the article. She'd read it too. I told her to click another link. After two hours of systematic clicking and paging back I discovered that this was something with which she was all too familiar. She had already read EVERY link in the main Greek mythology link and followed each link in those articles. She's basically read Wikipedia on everything remotely related to Greek literature and mythology. For kicks and giggles I decided to try something. I found an old test in my files from a college course I took in mythology and had her take the test. All of the objective standards were 100% correct when she finished but the majority of the test was short answer and essay. I spent two days looking up some of the things she included in her answers. She was right on all of it. Beyond that, she showed a high degree of analysis of her information. I pulled up a few other mythology tests online (tests from college courses, not the silly Quizilla style things) and she aced those as well. This kid is probably capable of doing grad-level work in mythology. But it's amazingly lopsided for her. Greek and Roman mythology she knows inside and out. She grasps an overview of Norse mythology but has no interest in it at all. Japanese mythology is almost as intimate as Greco-Roman. She's apparently still working through Egyptian mythology in her head. She can repeat stories about virtually any figure in Egyptian mythology but she can't draw conclusions about that information yet or relate it to other mythologies.

With all this sort of thing in mind, we felt like Shannen had a lot to lose by going back to school. But The Hubs is still nervous about chucking it all to homeschool. I suspect that his very disapproving mother might have something to do with it. Either way, Mindie isn't as hampered by school. What harm it probably does her seems minimal. She fits in better with her peers and has many friends of a variety of ages both within and outside of the school environment. School might not challenge her as much as I would like but it provides her with opportunity for intellectual growth. It doesn't seem to stifle her creativity or curiosity since she still comes home and pursues learning and creating opportunities on her own initiative.

And so when two paths diverged in a wood, we took both paths.