Thursday, September 29, 2011

Okay, okay. The Education post.

About once a week I get a question on our schooling for kids.  And usually, my answer is so convoluted that the person likely comes away thinking, "Wow, I'm sorry I asked."

Some of it is because of my inarticulate babble, but a lot of it is because our education really IS that complicated.  Any one-word tag on it completely misses the point of how we're educating our children. But I doubt anyone cares enough to read a whole book about it, so I'll just cram it into a blog post.

Here's the thing:  When I look down the check-boxes for the three primary schooling options, I don't associate with ANY of them.  Homeschool, private, public.  Nope, nope, and nope.  

I fill out our NOI with the state to be a homeschooler, but that always feels like a lie when I categorize myself that way.  

Never even once have I sat down at a table and taught my kids anything. We don't do curriculum at all.

And yes, there are gaps.  I took Jack in for assessments when he was 4, and she asked him about skip-counting.  Whoops. Forgot that one.  

More organized, polished homeschooling moms might cringe about my gaps.  I do know that.  I'm not here to prescribe our method of schooling -- I'm just here to tell you what we do. :)  Flaws abound, I assure you.

But I also have seen how quickly gaps are filled in when the situation comes up.  Once he knew about skip-counting, he figured them out quickly.  So many of the "learning goals" are filled in with one video, one class, one morning of watching PBS-Kids while I scramble to catch up on my teaching work.

There's a term called "unschooling" that's supposed to cover it, but I'm 100% positive that isn't us.  During a week, my kids go to 2 full days of co-op, classes at museums, private language lessons, the W&M SEP program, Cosmic Kids Club, and other happenings meant to formally teach kids. 

I'm just not doing the one teaching. So I guess we're not homeschoolers?  I'm not even the one doing the choosing.  My children pick every book they read.  Every class they take at co-op.  Every museum program. 

I think I might be an imposter in every schooling label.

To be honest, I'm that way with nearly every area of my life.  Religion, politics.  All the standard-issue categories don't fit with my understanding of the information.  It's the curse of being a gray-area thinker.  No easy definitions.

I DO know what my philosophy of education is: I want children who are in love with the process of learning, so much so that it extends beyond any particulars I can teach them.  

As a child, I had missing math homework but was coming home and reading the encyclopedia.  I was a voracious learner, but ridiculously uninterested in school.  In the end, I think it's much more about my "voracious learning" than formal schooling that created my interests.  

It took getting to graduate school to really click with the love for school, and I think that's because it's when it became my own.  I was writing tuition checks, I was choosing to go.

I want to give my children that independence in learning earlier than age 20. Especially because it is working.  

I wanted to take this year in Williamsburg to scale back, lessen our schedule.  And now I'm driving back to the Southside, an hour each way on Tuesday and Friday, because not one of my children wants to skip a semester at co-op.  For Christmas last year, Simone asked to go to "school" (co-op) as her present.

The way we're educating our children, a-la-carte style, is definitely not without its drawbacks.  Yesterday, we saw that the public school bus stops RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE to pick up the kids.  And on those days when I just need a chunk of quiet space in my life, I wonder if I can flag down that bus to bring my children to school for the day.  They will come home fed and have learned a few things.  Instead, they spend the day strewing LEGO blocks and dress-up clothes all over the house.

But then, there are complications to the public and private schooling options too - like getting your child back at the end of the day, and filling family time with homework instead of playing Monopoly.  

I am vehemently NOT of the mindset that there's a perfect way to educate all kids.  I could never be an activist for homeschooling, public schooling, whatever.  I'm a huge activist that every.single.child deserves the best education possible.  But how that looks in each family...even for each so different.

For specifics that are often asked about, these are the two co-op programs we attend:

This is the SEP program we love:

Jack attends Cosmic Kids Club at the Air and Space Center.  And the others will too, when they're old enough.

And here is where Jack attended language immersion camp (Russian and French) in Minnesota:

Am I forgetting anything?  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eating on the floor with Cinderella.

We are in our new home.  Definitely until December 16th, but likely we might be here until May.  This seems like an incredible expanse of time to stay in one place, in our minds.

For how at ease I felt floating around the country in our Sienna and stopping at hotels for months, I have to say:  It's also really nice to put something on a shelf and know it will STAY there for a few months. :)

It's also really nice to have all our belongings in one place.  We've spent most of our last year with things in storage  - and for the first time, we have it all right here.  And, we actually pull our clothes out of a REAL DRAWER instead of a suitcase.

The biggest thing we're appreciating right now, though, is that the kids each have their own bedroom. Yes, they are sleeping on camping cots for the time being...but they have their own rooms.

We knew resolutely that we weren't "stuff" people. I would trade a moving van of belongings for one meaningful experience.  And we knew that we didn't need a large space.  We were unloading our belongings at the same time we were moving out of a 4-bedroom home, so we always correlated the two.

But now, we're trying -- for the first time -- having very few belongings but a large, 3-story space.  

The house looks funny, indeed.  A big kitchen but no table.  I do want to remedy that, though, as that's a functional item we need.  We've had eating-counters and stools for the last few places we lived.

One TV but two living rooms.  We have 2 recliners of our own right now.  An we ordered a futon to be delivered this week, as right now Steve and I have no bed.  We have a make-shift pile of sleeping bags and comforters in the living room, which gives the children the entire upper floor.

There is so much wide open space, and I love it. 

Maybe this is our new learning nugget from this move.  There's always *something* we learn from each new home...each new experience.  And what I see now is that the big homes weren't what I didn't like, it was what filled them.  Each child having a room that they can fill with their art and special items, but not overgrown with toys, seems to be the secret ingredient. 

Jack is taking so much pride in having his own room.  Even in the 4-bedroom home, 2 of the rooms were downstairs, and our kids were too young to be a floor away from us.  So they were all sharing the giant upstairs bedroom, and 2 rooms weren't really used.

This is the first time he's had his Own Space.  Watching him set things up, being so proud about hanging all his clothes in his own closet, cracked my heart a bit.  Had we deprived him of something, that this is the first time he's had it?  But then...maybe he wouldn't appreciate it in the same way?  He doesn't seem resentful that he's shared a space with his siblings; he just seems thrilled to have his own room now.  

We told him he could stay up as late as he wants if he's reading, and I walk past his room to see him sitting there with a book, hours after the little two have gone to bed.  "All I really need is my bed and a basket of books," he told me about his room. 

I feel like he matured about 2 more years when he got a space to create for himself.  Putting his clothes in a hamper.  Stacking the books on his shelf.  He has a chance to have responsibility for space that he's never really had before.

I think this might be our new realization:  It wasn't the excess of space, it was the excess of stuff.  Having that small-place, temporary home section of our life was critical to really defining our items for us.  We were forced to analyze what we needed and wanted.  Even if the choices were illogical at times (we still have that giant bunny suit, y'all)...they fit our family and the scope of our dreams for our life.

I posted to Facebook last night about our kitchen table: "We need a temporary kitchen table for this place, so we went to 5 different thrift stores yesterday. We still have no table (my children eat their dinner like puppies, plates on the floor), but we came home with *15* different Halloween costumes for the kids. Tonight I am dining (on the floor) with Cinderella, Wolverine, and Iron Man. This should be a festive next month in our house."

This is our life, folks.  If words could form a family picture, these would be the words to be framed on our mantle.  We are sleeping on camping cots, wearing dress-up clothes, don't own a kitchen table, but are taking private Russian lessons.   

It doesn't make sense to anyone but us.  But it works.  For now. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why children are awesome, even (or especially) on bad days

Snuggling with Andrew, I said: "Today has been a rough day, hasn't it?"

Andrew, giving me a huge hug:  "I accept your apology."

He wasn't being flippant.  He'd "heard" the apology, even though I didn't say it.

A very-bright spot to my crabby day was that (A) he instinctively knew I was sorry... (B) understood it was my problem and not his...and (C) was still willing to accept my (unspoken) apology.

Crabby mommies aren't very fun, apparently

The more I need space, the more my children need to be the entire day.

An unfortunate reality.

I understand it on a psychological level.  They want to connect with their mom, and their mom is trying to run away from them (sorta figuratively, sorta literally).

"I flee who chases me, and chase who flees me."  True in love and in parenting, apparently.  Thank you, Ovid, for that annoyingly true truth.

My plan for the day:  Pass out breakfast, turn on TV, and hide in my room most of the day with a book and my own remote.  Find a Law and Order marathon -- isn't there always at least one?

My children's plan for the day:  Have the neediest, clingiest, most owie-getting, hitting-each-other, crying-est, whiniest, and HUNGRIEST day of their lives.

There are two doors into this bedroom, and the minute I'd quietly hide in here and shut the door....*someone* (varied about whom) would be knocking on one of them.

"What are some things you can do independently?" I ask, in my fake-sweet, burned-out mama voice.

They stare at me blankly.

It's a rainy day, and normally puddles are better than chocolate to their little mess-loving souls.  Today, not one child wanted to run around outdoors.

The low point?  When I begged my children to just for 10 minutes, and my sweet-souled 3-year-old daughter walked away crying and saying: "I just....wanted...TWO...snuggles!"

Low. Point.

For the record, I did scoop her up and snuggle her.  Apologized for being the Worst Mother In The World.  And then mentally counted the seconds until she'd emotionally recover and go play independently.

I did have to get out of my froggy pajamas to do an emergency RedBox run -- and spent $3 on 3 movies that they'd never seen.  And right now, $1 of those RedBoxes is playing in the living room, and my children are all in here asking me for a 4th lunch of the day.

Can you sense my burnout?

I sent my husband a text and asked him for 2 minutes of his time for me to bitch about my day via phone.  And to his credit, he actually DID call me in response.

I love that man.

And truth be told, I really-really-really-really-really love these crazy monkeys who are wreaking havoc on my ability to do absolutely nothing today.

I just want to not see any of them for the next 24-48 hours.

I hope, from the deepest place of my soul, that one completely rotten mothering day won't completely derail all the years of investment we've made in their lives.  Because if one day could, it might be this one. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My biggest goal right now: Not to change out of my flannel froggy PJs until Thursday morning. 

It hit me hard and fast.  So fast, in fact, that I wonder if I'm fighting some virus.  Simone is sick, Steve said a lot of classmates are out in his program, so it makes sense that I might be.

Last night, I collapsed into bed and said to Steve, "Why am I so tired?" 

Steve: "Maybe because we've moved every 3 days and you've had the bulk of the duties every time?"

Oh yeah.  

Steve's current schedule means he's gone every day until after the kids go to bed.  Normally, I'd catch my breath on weekends, but he spent the entire Saturday and then Sunday afternoon and evening (until 3AM) on a group project.  He came late to the Aquarium overnight and then had to leave when we got home.  So every move in and out of a place fell on me, while he could only offer emotional support via phone.

Andrea today: "How are you not insane right now?"

Me: "Truthfully?  I'm a lot more borderline than I was before last Friday."

Moving around all summer, being on the road -- that was no big deal to me.  It was more energizing than exhausting, and even the instability didn't seem that rattling.  We knew where we were staying and when. 

But now, being in limbo but still maintaining our Regular Life -- well, I'm not as big of a fan.  I spent about an hour hunting down lunch sacks in the storage unit last week.  We're starting to need our fall clothes that are packed away. Blah blah blah.

Andrea reminded me that I never really got to recuperate after our summer before jumping into things, and I was grateful for that reminder.  She's right.  We haven't. 

We have nothing on our agenda tomorrow.  No co-op, no play-dates, no field trips.  None of those First World distractions to what I really want to do tomorrow:  Not leave the house.  Not leave my pajamas. In an ideal world, I wouldn't even leave bed.  But I have a feeling my children will need me once or twice.

Tomorrow will be about eating leftovers off paper plates.  Exorbitant amounts of television and Kinect and anything else the kids can do without my intervention.

Tomorrow will not be about being Super Mom.  It will be about survival -- and having the lowest possible standards I've ever had.  :)

I can't wait.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Too confusing for a blog post, but whatever. I'll try anyway.

My goodness, it's been a long time since I posted.  Especially in light of how many things have changed.  Sooooo....*here* is our current housing situation.  As Erika said to me about my other "where we are now" post, we need a flow chart! ;)

I've spent about 9 months researching a place for us to stay this fall.  Hundreds of emails (no exaggeration) and calls to every single option in Williamsburg who *might* offer short term leases.  Most places didn't even write us back, even though we offered to pre-pay the entire 3 months.  They only deal in 12 months or longer.


Margaret, our truly amazing friend, was standing in line at an ice cream shop and started chatting with the woman ahead of her.  Conversation turned to the woman's upcoming move, Margaret asked about a short-term lease, and voila!  We have ourselves a three-month lease on the woman's beautiful townhome.

Thank you, Margaret.  

Everything from our short-list (three stories high, so no one below us; we don't have to show the house to potential buyers; and it's unfurnished)...and even from our dream list, like a fenced backyard and hardwood floors.

Best part?   We have the option to extend it through May, if Steve's CPA internship ends up being in Richmond.

The silly twist is that we were supposed to move in last Friday, but Steve and I have a 48 Hour Curse on housing.  This is the 5th time (5th time!) in our life together that lined-up housing has fallen through in 48 hours before we're supposed to move.

We're now experts on last-minute housing.

Our real date is now the 23rd.  In between Potential Move-In Day and New Move-In Day?

Driving home from the kids' schooling co-op on Friday, I literally had NO idea where we were going to live that night. Steve made some last-minute reservations at a hotel for us via phone (based around whether it had a divided suite), and I went to the office to pick up the keys.

First, the owner handed me a bottle of roach spray (not a warm-fuzzy check-in gift, in my book).  Then, I saw some seriously seedy dudes outside the room where we planned to stay.  After 15 minutes in the room with about 20 red-flags of doom, I loaded the kids in the car and started driving. Phoned Steve to tell him I'd rather sleep in my car than that hotel, and he said: "Whatever you need.  Anywhere.  Find a place you feel safe."

Back to check online for options, and found a great deal on a week's reservation at the Historic Powhatan Resort, where we'd stayed last time our housing fell through last minute.  Phew.  We love this place.

We had already had reservations with friends at Great Wolf Lodge for 2 nights and an overnight at the Virginia it's been a weird week for us.

At this point, my children are well-trained on chaos. They don't even blink.  I'm not sure if that's a sign of solid resiliency or solid foundation towards future mental illness, but we're crossing our fingers on the former.

Our life right now:  Simone's sleeping bag is in the walk-in closet of our hotel room.  My boys are in sleeping bags in the living room.  Last night, we slept under the submarine in the shark section of the aquarium.  Two nights before that, a luxurious theme suite of Great Wolf Lodge, with a bunk bed sub-section of the room meant to look like a cabin for kids.

My children's lives are so ridiculous.   I wasn't sure if Simone would even process that you're not really *supposed* to sleep overnight at the aquarium.  That it's actually a special thing to do.  As Jack said: "Our family sure sleeps in some straaaaange places" (as we were rolling out our sleeping bags by the shark tank).  I was grateful to see they were thrilled about it, because that means they haven't burned out on novelty. 

This is just the framework of our housing, which is enough for one post.  More to come.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"It's so nice being a family again." - Simone, 3

It is really good to be home.  And by "home" I don't really mean Williamsburg, although it will be nice to get into our fall routine.  The entire summer of travel with Steve, I could be in any city and be fine.  Once he was gone, for the last 5 weeks of the trip, we all felt his absence.

Yes, it was nice to come home to flowers and sushi and that he learned to play "Storybook Love" on his guitar so he could serenade me (albeit jokingly).  An important detail is that he doesn't play the guitar.  Just the first few stanzas of that song, which he found online while we were away.

And, it'll be nice to have my Dexter-buddy back.  We plan to catch up on the entire 5th season this weekend, so we're ready for the season premiere coming up.

But it was more than that.  There was just this overall sense of being right with the world again.  

I really like that guy.

The kids were playing in the grass yesterday, building a dam out of sticks while Steve and I talked on the balcony.  And without any prompting or context, Simone (3) looked up at us and said: 

"It's so nice being a family again.  We're all here.  We're all together again."  

And then went back to building the dam with her brothers.

Steve and I looked over at each other, dumbstruck by the sincerity and maturity - the look on her face - when she said it.  I know exactly what she means.

We're back to having no clue where we're living, as we found out at the 11th hour that our reserved extended-stay suite still hadn't been cleaned up after the hurricane.  I started scrambling for reservations, and found a 2-bedroom condo at the Historic Powhatan as a deeply discounted deal.  So we're here for 2 nights, and then a friend lined us up for another week at the Powhatan under her "guest rate" as a condo owner here.  Until the 11th, we know where we're living.  :)  My dad joked, "A week is practically a lifetime for you."  Ha!

But even with the instability of our next few months - possibly literally moving every week, bouncing around as we see fit - well, it doesn't really matter.  I feel "home."  

Saying 'spoon' - a great milestone in life

Simone (just turned 3) came running into the room - eyes lit up and a HUGE smile on her face.

"Mommy!  I can say 'spoon' now! I just said it!  Sp...sp...spoon.  Spoon!  When I was 2, I could only say 'poon'!  I'm bigger now!"

The cuteness of that moment was compounded by Jack's face of sincere pride and joy for her. "Simone!  That is so exciting for you."