Sunday, December 31, 2006
I'm losing my mind. It has been one thing after another lately, and last night I reached peak overload. I threw in the towel and called everything off. All of it. Homeschooling. Motherhood. Cooking. Cleaning. Breathing. I. Can't. Do. This. Anymore.
Have you ever been there?
My resignation lasted all of a few minutes. Of course I can do this, I just seem to have temporarily misplaced my sanity. It all started with the car accident and not being able to do much of anything physically. Just trying to situate myself to pee took my breath away the first few days. Then girls started acting out-- Sunburst with her open defiance, and Moonshine with the incessant whining. Kitty Bill started climbing on the tables and whacking things off the counters. No one was sleeping. Our rhythms got totally and completely whacked out, and then came the vomitting. All this and Christmas, too!
Moonshine vomitted all through Solstice. There was no greeting of the sun or gathering of friends, reverance, symbolism, and candlelit spiral bliss. There was just vommit. It subsided just in time for Christmas morning, thankfully, but by then we were simply worn out.
Since the vomitting sickness, Moonshine has been less than agreeable. She has been throwing a tantrum a day. These are all-new tantrums. Special tantrums. Flailing, kicking, screaming, shrieking, crying until you can't breathe, vomitting, and then crying some more tantrums. We have had at least one-a-day for several days now, and the slightest thing sets them off. Last night was perhaps the pinnacle of tantrumness, just as dinner was put upon the table. And that was it for me. Maximum overload. I threw in my proverbial towel and had to step away from the child.
There's a lot I don't understand about my kids. Now, I cried a lot as a kid. I did. You just had to look at me wrong, and there I would go, off like a sprinkler. But to kick and scream and cry hard enough to vomit? When I've lost people I loved, I've cried that hard. But at four? Over a lost sticker? A piece of candy? Dinner?
It's too much to deal with. It's too much for me. It's certainly too much for Moonshine. She gets on this roll, and she can't stop herself. Seriously, she shrieks and cries and flips out for over an hour until she literally can't breathe and starts gagging. And the only thing I've found that works is if I get down on her level and hold her close to me with a hand covering her eyes and tell her a story. I have to block out reality... the smells, the sounds, the sights in the room, and I have to give her this illusory world to live into. As quickly as I can come up with something. A story of Jenny, the weaver's daughter working on her wedding shawl. Hear the shuttle breathe against the warp threads. See the pattern of doves on the fabric. A story of the whirring snowflakes, sparkling in the moonlight and all the animals and fairies gathering round for a wintery party. Oh look, there's Mr. Squirrel peeking out of his nest. Won't you come join the party, the fairies cry to him? We've plenty of nuts! And Ms. Mouse scurries out wearing a red silken gown. She's brought a plate of the finest gingerbread cookies to share, and the fairies catch scent of them and squeal with delight...
And on I go, for half an hour or so. As long as it takes to get her breathing and still and safe. To get her sorted out and functioning back in our world long enough so I can clean up the vomit and wipe her face and get Kitty Bill off the table again.
In thinking about it all, it's no surprise to me that I'm going crazy. I feel like my world is imploding, that everything is coming to a head. And it is. Apparently it's supposed to be. I'm 34.
I've been reading this book, Taking Charge: Your Life Patterns and Their Meaning, by Gudrun Burkhard. It's an anthroposophy book dealing with biography work, similarities, and life stages. Supposedly there is a life crisis somewhere between the ages of 30-33. You know, plus or minus. At age 35 you begin a new life phase. This crisis is a catalyst for that new phase. A change, a metamorphosis, a becoming... and apparently this is mine.
Biography work is amazing stuff. I've gone through a lot of major changes since I turned 30. We got rid of almost everything we owned and moved to Texas. My dad died. We simultaneously had a baby, sold our house, and moved to the midwest. Things were going swell, and then WHAM! Car crash wake up call. And this summer, we will move again, and start over for the third time in four years.
Einstein is ecstatic about that. He can't wait. But then again, he's 37. He's at that major turning point, according to the book, where people change their jobs and plod forward with bold enthusiasm. Me? I just want to stick my head into the sand. Call me when it's over. When the kids stop screaming and the floors get cleaned and my body stops hurting. And I'm not coming out a moment sooner... I wish.
Today I woke with a plan. Starting with getting our rhythm back into place. I walked on eggshells around Moonshine today and spoonfed her syrupy words and catered to her every need. I fed her before she knew she was hungry. I held her before she knew she needed to be held. I coddled her in every imaginable way... and there was no flailing and crying. A few shrieks, yes, but no knock-down, drag-out vomitting freakshow. It was a GOOD day.
And what's more, I even managed to get in a few minutes of homeschooling time with Sunburst. I fed her some Anansi stories to match the soap-on-your-toothbrush antics she's been up to lately. And she lapped them up like honey and asked for more.
We're off to a better start just in time for the new year. And tomorrow, joy of joys, Moxy Jane is coming! Here! To my house!
Surely, things can only get better.
Friday, December 22, 2006
How long? As long as it takes.
They're labeling it as a bony contusion (bruised bone) at this point, and if I can't bear pressure on it in a month then they will do an MRI to check the extent of the damage, just for fun. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to crutch it, and the doc told me it would probably hurt for awhile. How long is awhile? Months, apparently.
Doesn't the universe know that I have THREE SMALL KIDS? That I don't ship them off to school and preschool and daycare everyday? That we're home and learning and that they need me? I've been eeking by the last month with help. We've been on our own for a week and I'm struggling to keep up. It takes me all day long now to do an hour's worth of cleaning. Add to that Moonshine's vomiting and Kitty Bill's ear infection, and I'm just like a wet piece of toast.
I've got my heart on my sleeve this week. I'm sad and confused and angry all at once. I want to be feeling the joy and singing the carols. It's Christmastime! Solstice is here! But I'm not here, not present in the moment, not really. I've got a heavy load.
Einstein is back on the job market. He missed an interview in England the week after the accident because we couldn't walk. In two weeks he'll be interviewing for a position at in Utah. The thought of picking up again already is painful and scary. I knew it was coming, that we were still transitory. But I also didn't expect to like the midwest so much. Sure, I miss the mountains out west, but there are some truly amazing folks here. The homeschooling community is diverse and welcoming and just full of some really fantastic people.
Of course I said that about Texas, too. We seem to be making family wherever we go. I'm just tired of going. Tired of packing up and putting myself out there. Doing the little homeschool dance with a new community. Will they like us? Are we too different? Will our kids fit in? Will it be enough?
This is the first time I've felt these questions so deeply because as tired as I am of moving, this is it. This is what I wanted. These jobs are permanent, forever, put your roots down and watch your kids grow up too fast. There are still a dozen applications out there, and there's no telling how many of them we'll get to choose between. How do you choose forever? By the scenery? By the job? By the homeschooling environment? By the community? It's hard.
Maybe I've got to put down my heavy load, and as terrifying as it is, let forever choose us.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I know some of you were waiting for the gruesome details of our car accident. It could have been much worse, really. But I'll give you the low-down. Suffice it to say that we had a very full vehicle. We had company in town. Remember my step-mom who had just been in ICU for a month? She was in the front seat. She had come to visit, and we were having a lovely time. It was her last day with us, and we were taking her to see the lake. She's from Tucson where naturally occurring water is a mystical thing. Anyway, we didn't quite make it to the lake that day.
I was in the middle of the backseat with the three kids. I had just unbuckled my seatbelt because Kitty Bill was screaming. I felt Einstein hit the brakes, and I turned my head just in time to see this car SMASH right into us. Next thing I knew I was in the front seat and the car was filling with smoke and the kids were screaming their heads off.
We all got out of the car, and I registered the fact that my head and leg were hurting more than a bit. But Kitty Bill, 14 months old at the time of the accident, had a mouthful of blood. BLOOD. I rememember thinking, OMG! MY BABY'S BLEEDING! Maybe I screamed it a few times. My memory is a bit fuzzy about that. The girls, Sunburst and Moonshine, were screaming, too. Crying and screaming. And of course Kitty Bill was screaming. He bit his tounge pretty hard... though at the time, I had no clue why he was bleeding so much.
I couldn't stand. It was 30-some odd degrees outside and sort of raining/sleeting. But my brain didn't register that. It only told me, SIT DOWN. So I sat in the cold, wet grass rocking a bleeding baby. Completely helpless to calm my girls. Completely incapable, especially when I reached back to touch my pounding head and came away with a handful of my own blood. The back of my head was soaked with blood. It was dripping down my neck, and the paramedics told me my neck was cut. At that point, they could have told me that aliens were dropping out of the sky. The shivering and shock started to set in, and some nice bystander brought me a blanket while we waited to be loaded into the ambulance.
My stepmom took out the glovebox with her knee and shin. Einstein ended up with swollen knees. Sunburst cut her knee. Moonshine and Kitty Bill... let me just say, carseats really are worth every penny. Those thick metal clips that you're supposed to use when you're fastening a carseat to a shoulder harness belt? Those clips actually BENT from the force of the accident. Oddly enough, we were congratulated in the ambulance by a local firefighter for having our carseats properly installed with those clips. It was a weird moment.
And me? Physically, I'm okay. The insurance adjuster surmised that I flew through the car: bent the driver's seat with my body/leg, busted off the rearview mirror with one part of my head, caught my hair (where a clump of it still hangs to this day) on the visor clip, and then proceeded to smash another part of my head into the passenger's side windshield. I've been told that had I weighed more or had we been going a tiny bit faster... or had I not been impeded with bending that driver's seat... maybe I would have gone though the windshield?
But, I didn't. I'm here.
I've had just about every part of my body x-rayed and/or CT-scanned by now. I'm making progress. I've been able to wear a shoe on my left foot for a few days now. I'm finally hobbling along without crutches, though I can't bear any weight on my left heel-- still waiting on the results from that x-ray. My ankle is still a beautiful shade of blue-green. In the ER they originally thought my leg was broken and put me in a knee-to-crotch immobilizer for a few days. They washed and examined my bloody head and offered to staple it closed. They ran some kind of dye and iodine solution through my system and stuck me in a machine to see if I impaled any of my organs when I flew around in the car. Luckily, all I did was break an L-2 transverse process. In layman's terms, that's one of those wings that stick out on the side of my spine in my lower back. Apparently it breaks only when you twist really hard... and four weeks later it hurts when I twist or lift anything heavy or bend wrong or pull or push or sneeze hard. So I'm trying not to do those things.
Emotionally? I think we're all messed up. Einstein and I are both a bit freaked out when we drive. The girls are having trouble sleeping and having behavior problems, and Moonshine seems suddenly obsessed with death. "Because sometimes even loving mothers die, like in Cinderella." They have been playing "Dead Princess," over and over and over. Maybe it's all a coincidence? But I'm thinking that now that I can walk somewhat it's time to check us all into some kind of post-accident therapy.
We were so blessed to have such wonderful help over the last four weeks! People brought us lunch and dinner and Thanksgiving pies. They helped shuttle our kids various places, loaned us crutches, rescued us at the ER with warm tea and vegan treats, and took our girls home, bathed them and put them to bed. Amazing folks! We also had family here helping out. Einstein's parents came for five days, and then my youngest teenage sister flew out from California for two weeks. Since she's homeschooled, she can do that!
With my sister's help we managed to eek out some birthday cheer for Einstein, get the shoes out for St. Nicholas Day, decorate for Advent and Christmas, and do a Santa Lucia breakfast. Plus, she made me laugh so hard I cried. Truly. And of course she helped enormously with the kids- leave it to Kitty Bill to learn how to climb on the dining room table the day after the accident!
And there you have it. The long, full story of why we haven't done any formal homeschooling in the last month. And now, we're moving on into the Christmas hooplah, and then hopefully we'll be back to our regularly scheduled program. Heart, hands, head. Homeschooling and all that.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Sunday afternoon we were hit head-on by a 16-year-old who lost control around a slick curve.
We hurt. There were six of us in the car, including the kids. It happened so fast. It was terrifying and horrible and crazy.
We're still trying to assess the extent of our physical damages. They carted us all off in an ambulance, and we got to learn all kinds of things about x-rays and cat-scans and ivs and saline and iodine. We learned about broken bones and wheelchairs and leg immobilizers and crutches. We learned how much a head-wound bleeds versus a tounge-wound. We learned about shock and shivering and that we don't EVER want to learn about this stuff again. As long as we live.
We live. We're alive. ALIVE! And it blows my mind and heart wide open.
There's so much to be thankful for.... but now, I need to go lay back down. More to come.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
This time out, our heroine Clara (your average Wiseman's daughter who lives in an age of castles, horse-drawn carts, gnomes, talking dragons, and good sturdy walking shoes) is making her return journey home from helping nurse a sick family in a neighboring village. On the way she encounters an odd man on the side of the road. He is deep in contemplation but then abruptly looks up and yells out fantastic numbers, "1, 342, 105!" And then "2, 684, 210!" Clara interrupts him and they begin a great discourse on all the possible things you can count. Birds, ants, clouds, cows, trees... He even does some quick calculations to count the leaves on a nearby tree, assessing the number of branches, first, and then the number of leaves on each branch, and WOW! What a huge number of leaves! And WOW again, what counting!
I decided for the introduction to this lesson, that I would just put it all out there-- the BIG PICTURE. I wanted Sunburst to get a taste for the possibilities. My goal was to inspire her with the grandieur of large numbers, the quickness of counting, and how it can be used like a trick or entertainment. Numbers are fun and fantastic, and there are no limits.
Lucky for me, it worked. Sunburst was awestruck, and she loved how fast the man counted the leaves on the trees. She repeated the same trick on Einstein while we were sitting at the dinner table with some creative math of her own. She just made up some wildly large numbers and threw them out there, filling up the air with some kind of mathematical magic. Abracadra, I'm counting into the millions! And with that exciting introduction, we were off!
I gleaned this introduction and story idea from a book called The Man Who Counted which was written by a Brazilian mathematician in 1949. It's a marvelous story, and I'm finding a lot of useful story material that needs little adaptation to make it meaningful and useful for what I'm trying to present. It would be useful for any grade, with a bit of tweaking here and there, and that's precisely what I aim to do.
I'm also throwing in a bit of Aesops and other stories (fairytales, Sikh stories, legends, etc.) to mix it up a bit, deepen the work, and balance it out so that we keep it centered in the heart. We'll still practice our rhymical counting with games as we go along, too, but for Sunburst, a good story is everything. It has to move her and inspire her to carry us through.
The first thing we did was draw a picture of Clara encountering her new counting friend, Beremiz (yup, straight from the book.) At the top of the picture we put one of those astronomically large numbers he was calling out. Sunburst loved that. She got to write a number that was in the millions! Then we counted the leaves on the trees, but not into the millions. We counted much smaller trees --and ended with totals like, 16, 24, and with Sunburst's suggestions, 90, and 120. We counted from whole to parts and parts to whole, just for fun.
Next, Clara and Beremiz decided to walk together and the two were met by Clara's trusty horse, Penny (Sunburst is feeling deep horse-love right now.) The three were going along when they encountered three brothers arguing over the division of a pasture of horses (again, from the book.) They were trying to divide 35 horses between them, as per their father's will, by 1/2, 1/3, and 1/9. We worked it out and it necessitated cutting up a few horses-- a head here, a flank there (the gross factor works every time.) But Beremiz had a better idea - a trick!
This is what I love about this book. It's all about tricks and surprises, which is just where Sunburst is developmentally at. It just fits so well. Anyway, Beremiz offers to add Clara's horse to their hoarde (it's okay Clara, trust me) and everything turns out peachy. Each brother gets more horses than they would have gleaned from the original 35, and look! There are two left-over. Penny, which belongs to Clara, and another for Beremiz. Tricks and happy endings.
Sunburst wanted to draw the two horses and then we worked out a horse division problem on a smaller scale: 12 horses, divided between 3 brothers: 1/2, 1/3, and 1/6. She really, really understood what was going on. It was fantastic! Until she swallowed one of the marble counters we had been using to count horses... unfortunately, it was the one she had carefully selected to represent Clara's horse, Penny.... Poor Penny, down the hatch!
That night Clara and Beremiz stayed at an Inn. It was awfully cold and stormy, so to pass the time that night Beremiz and Clara sat in the parlor with their thick mugs of tea and played a dice game called "Twelves." Each person takes their turn at the same time, rolling two dice each. They add them up and keep a tally sheet. The goal is to get to (or surpass) twelve. If both players reach twelve on the same turn, they both win (which happened quite often.) If only one player does, then he or she wins. No one loses, really, because you just pick up your dice and play again and again and again. It was good counting and adding and estimating practice. And Clara enjoyed the game very much.
Next Clara taught Beremiz a dice game... this was Sunburst's idea. It was called something like, "Get to the Boat." We have a striped area rug in our living room. This was the sea full of logs. At the end of the sea is a loveseat pretending to be a boat. We used a large die we fashioned out of cardboard awhile back and took turns rolling it. Each roll of the die told us how many stripes we could move forward. The game was made more interesting by the fact that some of the stripes are skinny and hard to stand on without falling over, SPLASH! Finally we both reached the boat and then we had to ask the die questions, like Should we swim back? Should we cook dinner now? Rolling a 1 or 2 was a YES answer. 5 or 6 were NO. It was some kind of magic 8-ball dice thing, and all of this was made a bit more difficult with Kitty Bill's repeated attempts to abscond with our die.
Eventually we managed to swim home again and make dinner, but you knew that already. As for Clara and Beremiz, we left them stuck at the Inn... and who knows what counting fun they will encounter next! I've got a few ideas mapped out, but we'll have to wait and see...
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Last night we went on our lantern walk to celebrate Martinmas-- bringing light into the darkness, lifting our voices in song, and trying not to get caught in the forecasted downpour.
This was our fourth Martinmas celebration-- just our little family. I don't know what it's like to walk en masse with a group of torch bearers, but there's something about the symbolism of this celebration that's deep, even with the light of one lantern lighting a path through the darkness. We've walked in the woods. We've walked in our neighborhood. And for the last two years, we've walked through the twisting, dimly-lit, forest paths of a university campus, singing our songs and bringing smiles to those who cross our paths. There's something about that... bringing this ethereal image to touch the lives of unsuspecting others that made our last two walks the most rewarding of all.
We carry very simple folded-paper lanterns that we painted with watercolors. For the lanterns below we used medium-weight drawing paper that measured 30x40 cm. After folding, cutting, and gluing (see pattern,) we attach pipe cleaner handles with a hole puncher and tape tea lights in the bottom. They turn out fairly sturdy.
Friday, November 03, 2006
What we do is use unschooling (child interest) as our foundation where-upon all things rest/build. Last October Sunburst asked for something "more school-like" and I turned to Waldorf Ed and presented her a lesson. She loved it and wanted more, and that's how we got here. She still wants more and LOVES the stories, so we're still using Waldorf as a guide.
So far almost everything that I've offered up to her she has latched onto and wanted to see through to the end, though again I think it's that idea of school and authority. She loves to play school and have the idea of school. And I think she craves the authority of having someone else come up with the ideas. I have no doubts that her varied interests, if pursued, would give her a full education. But I think she really needs/wants to share the load of responsibility there. By handing the reins to me, she's free to sit back and learn. It's a lot of work to constantly run the show and be in it!
If one of my lessons hits a brick wall, I would have to really examine if it was lack of interest or poor presentation. I'd probably ask her. I think we're close to that brick wall with this tree stuff we're doing... probably because it comes less from me and my creative process and more from a book, so we've shelved it for now. I've asked her if she wanted to work on it, and she's told me, "No. Not right now." It's easy to tell when something just doesn't excite her.
I also use her interests to guide lessons. For our letter stories last year, one of the main characters was a girl that had similar interests to Sunburst, and Sunburst really latched onto her. I weaved that same character into our Intro to Numbers lesson, our introduction to the flute, in presenting the four operations, and into the math stories for grade two. Sunburst is currently into horses, so our current maths lesson is rife with horse-work. I've noticed that if it engages her heart, her current interests, then everything else just falls into place.
We don't have a set school time. It's really something impossible with an infant in the house. Kitty Bill's needs seem to trump everyone else's right now. Usually during his naptime I'll suggest we do school, and most of the time she's into it. Sometimes she'll ask to finish what she's doing first. Or do it tomorrow.
The handwork comes naturally, so I don't have to push that. It's monkey-see, monkey-do around here. I do have to instigate music lesson time, and she loves it, but it's not usually something she remembers she loves until she does it. Again, I try to tie the music in with her interests. A flute song will come from a story or it will be a song we've been singing in the morning. And oftentimes if I pick up the flute and play, she instinctively HAS to grab hers out and play with me. It's contagious.
Also there are times when I plan a lesson, and she likes it, but has a different idea of how it should work or what she wants to draw or what should happen in the story. So I try not to be too attached to my own ideas. Her ideas and needs are important, and I often seek them out. She helps name story characters all the time or will guide the plot with a simple question. And if she asks for a story, like more fairy tales when we've clearly moved onto something else, I will oblige her and work it in. That's probably not so different than what most homeschooling parents do. It's all about making it work and making it fun.
For the last two weeks there has been little impetus to do school, so I haven't pushed it. Sunburst has had her nose in a few books, and she's been content just to spend her time reading or outside raking leaves or playing with the neighbor's dog. And I'm okay with that. We also had the Biography Fair, Halloween to prepare for, and she came down with a fever two days ago, so there were no lessons. At least prepared lessons. I'm sure she's learning something, even if it's just what the warning signs of a concussion are-- we spent last night in the emergency room with Kitty Bill who inadvertently climbed up the bunkbed ladder and plummeted onto his head!
Even when we're not "doing school," there is this very Waldorf-inspired presence in everything we do, probably from all the books and information that I've digested over the last few years. I really think Unschooling and Waldorf can mix remarkably well --at least that's our experience right now. It may not always work like this as Sunburst changes and grows and wants less authority. But for now she wants school-time, and how can I say no to that? It's an open door. An opportunity, and I would be a fool to let it slip by.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
In putting together our maths block, I recently looked up the mathematical standards for my state and discovered that we've mostly covered their expectations:
- Addition and Subtraction of Whole Numbers
- Estimation of Mental Arithmetic
- Number Patterns
- Sentences and Expressions
- Order of Operations
- Identifying and Classifying Basic Shapes
- Congruence and Similarity
- Measurement (time, length, money, temp, weight, area, volume, etc.)
- Graphs and Tables
- Strategies, reasoning, connecting problems
- Checking calculations
Then I flipped open the Waldorf book, The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner/Waldorf Curriculum, giving serious thought to my purpose, my goals, my role as the educational facilitator. Do I really want to tie us into the Waldorf School goals of Grade Two? Last year we didn't even come close to the ones for Grade One. And in looking at them, I have to wonder, how deeply does a class of 30 little kids manage this?
Let me show you:
- Counting up to 110
- Learning up to the the 7 times table by heart and rhythmically
- Intro of four processes with numbers up to 20
- Notation from whole to parts (ie. 7 is 3+4)
- Number riddles
- Intro to mental math
- More mental math
- Using four processes with numbers up to 100
- Combined calculations
- Intro to number connections (even, odd, primes, etc.)
- Up to 12 times table by heart
- Represent tables in drawing
- Written calculations, including parts to whole (i.e. 3+4=7)
Class 1: Can she count to 110? By ones - yes. Without fail? No. She skips a few numbers that end in 4, like 14 or 44. She knows she skips them, and it's not a big deal, I don't think. Does she know her times table up to 7? No. We've worked on it a little bit. Counting by 2's. Counting by 3's. Counting by 4's. By 5's, by 10's, by 100's. If I had to wager a guess, I would say she knows her 1's, 2's, 5's, 10's, and 100's. But only if it's phrased correctly, like 6 groups of ten, rather than 6 times 10. The rest of the list we've done, in small bits.
I'm also thinking about math attitudes. About the relationship of a girl's self-esteem to her math ability, as painted in Things Will Be Different For My Daughter by Bingham and Striker.
"According to the AAUW report, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America," girls who like math and science have higher self-esteem, aspire to more ambitious careers, cling more tenaciously to those career goals, and even feel better about their appearance than girls who do not like these subjects."They say that a girl's math ability has everything to do with attitude and expectations. I think that can also be transferred to boys. Attitude is key. Math needs to remain fun and exciting and applicable. I don't want to rush or push or squash anything.
Then the real question for me is this. How important is memorization of the times table for a seven-year-old? What are they going to do with it exactly? How is it meaningful? Sure, it can be made into a fun game. We've worked with it on that end, but is it useful? Can they apply it to anything much in real life?
That's the angle that I shoot from. Application and usefulness, as well as interest. My kids may grow up to be computational geniuses and need this stuff, but right now? Not exactly. Not unless it comes up. Not unless it's meaningful to them to memorize it. For now I'm satisfied with introducing mathematical ideas. Situations. Thinking adventures. Numerical fun. Mathematically themed stories to ponder on. Strewing the path to numeracy, so to speak. And I've got big plans there. Stay tuned.
Until then, my friends, what do you think?
He's been peeking out of the shadows in my mind all week, playing tag with my thoughts. I don't know if it's because it's that thin veil time of year or what, but I really miss him. More so this week than last. You know, it fluctuates. More at holidays. More when I smell pine trees or cigarette smoke or Polo or woodburning fireplaces.... More when it snows at night or when the leaves change. More when I hear Jethro Tull, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel or the sound of snow crunching under my boots. More when I really, really need a hug, the kind that only your dad can give you. And more when I need to talk about something that only he would understand.
The last time I saw him we passed around Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscaglio. We all knew his time was short, though none of us said it outloud. We planned his funeral, together. We sat quietly. He played with the girls. We took him to the Alamo. We watched funny movies. We hugged and kissed and I spent a lot of time feeding him, holding his hand, holding his head in my hands, feeling the energy dissipate from his body. Trying to get a sense of what was going on. Trying to connect.
He died a month later.
It has been two and half years, and I'm still trying to connect. To understand. To work it out. I have, largely, but I don't think death is something you ever have worked out once and for all. It's more like getting your hair cut. For a while it's fine, but it changes, it grows, and you have to work it out again and again.
The kids and I were planning on celebrating his life for Dia de los Muertos, something I have purposefully neglected to celebrate since he died. We took part in a parade before he died, just to feel it out, knowing that his death was pending. That year I was interviewed by the local press: "What's a white girl like you doing at a parade like this?" they asked. Feeling it out. Thinking about death. Thinking about my dad, and myself, and my children. Thinking there has got to be another way to handle dying, I said.
Moonshine asked me today, "What does dying feel like?"
She's four. Where does she come up with this stuff?
Last night I missed my dad a lot. He was the King of Halloween. He loved everything about it --the pumpkin carving, the gooey candy, the spooky sound effects you can attach to your door to scare unwitting little children. He was a jokester, but in a good way. A fun way.
That's not to say he was perfect, mind you. He was also the self-proclaimed "meanest SOB that ever walked the face of the earth." And he was, for a time. He was very human. Smoked too much, drank too much, cursed too much, yelled too much. It was a life of excess. Read too much, loved too much, told way too many bad jokes. But he also loved to cook and bake and decorate for the holidays. Over-celebrate. Sing. Dance. Crank the music up louder and grin madly like a five-year-old.
I see him in that twinkle in Sunburst's eyes, and when she grins because she's up to something. He used to call her his little Meg Ryan. She remembers him as being a playful grandpa. The kind that read her stories, held her hand, carried her around, jumped on the trampoline, made funny jokes, and cuddled her in his arms. And he was. Moonshine remembers his face, nothing more. And Kitty Bill came after, as a promise to give my dad a body to reincarnate into. As freaky as that sounds, he did ask, and we were planning on another child anyway.
And me, what do I remember? How do you sum up a life in mere words? He would always tell it to me straight. He had an answer (or a joke) for everything. And he was deeply romantic about nature and ideas. He loved a good story and a good snowfall. And he gave the best hugs.
He caught me as I came into the world. He was my dad. Period.
And I'm still working it out.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
The kids all sat on the kitchen floor and scooped out their carving pumpkins. Kitty Bill was grossed out by the pumpkin goo at first, but he soon got into the fun and helped. As the girls removed their stringy seeds from their pumpkins, he scooped them up and dropped them back in. It was a hoot. Until he decided to smear them around the room...
Sunburst saw some Halloween ideas in a Family Fun magazine, and she was amped about trying them out. We each made a goblin from magazine cutouts and lunch bags.
Then we made whole wheat skeleton cupcakes and whole wheat cookies, saturating all those whole grains with sugary goodness. I know, it's some kind of backwards healthfood trick, isn't it? But Mmmmm, good.
After our spooky dinner of witches brew (pumpkin soup,) goblin lungs (corn on the cob,) witches fingers (stuffed grape leaves,) and crusty old bread, they dressed up in their finery-- Princess Rosemarie, Karla the Super, and the fierce baby Tiger-- and we were off!
I took them trick-or-treating all the way down to the really decorated house, which was only a few blocks away, but it was COLD... well, enough to see your breath. 36 degrees. The girls wanted to stand around chatting it up with every person that answered the door, which I guess is some kind of trick. They're obviously not about the candy, though they take it anyway. They love the experience of trick-or-treating. The meeting people part. Talking to them about their costumes, decorations, pets, flowerbeds, whatever...
It's not that my kids are some super-evolved alien species, oh no! They actually DO love candy. But we're vegans who also eschew artificial colors, and they know full well that most of the candy they collect on Halloween isn't on the menu. Two years ago Sunburst talked me into trick-or-treating for the fun of it, and we've been doing it ever since. And it works out.
We came home, frosty, but none the worse for wear. The girls decided to run back out and share their cupcakes with all the neighbors, and then our little party began. The girls got down to snacking on their own happy chocolate skeletons, and I surprised them with a Halloween show, Little Goblin Bear, something we hardly ever do anymore. Then we dumped out their bags and sorted the loot. They each ended up with six pieces of candy they could eat, thanks to my knitting buddy across the street. And they were elated. In three years time, that's the biggest score yet.
And the rest of it? The reeces, m&ms and giant hershey bars? Einstein will lug it to school and unload it on his unwitting labmates. But first the girls want to disect that gooey candy hotdog. They've been taking turns fingering it through the wrapper; it boggles the mind.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Every so often during the "school" year, our local homeschool community hosts learning fairs. Obviously they don't fit into a rigid Waldorf curriculum for littles, but my kids love them. It's a chance to be a part of a larger, collective, learning community of their peers. It's a chance to find out what they're interested in, explore it for a bit, and then share it. Through writing. Via art. And of course to talk their heads off in front of a captive audience.
This time around it was the Biography Fair, and Sunburst knew just what she wanted to do. She had been reading the new Magic School Bus book that recently came out: Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition. It contains biographies of scientists, and she had a hard time choosing between Gallileo and Madam Curie. In the end Madame Curie won out. We did some heavy researching online, and Sunburst came up with this:
The portrait is watercolor and ink. I like how her lips and eyes bled... it makes her seem a bit "mad" scientist-like. Anyone that sleeps with radioactive material on their bedside table is probably a bit mad, or well on their way, don'tcha think?
Moonshine had co-opted Sunburst's last three presentations, but this time she was completely unsatisfied with the idea of doing a bit part project to go with her sister's talk. Oh no. This time, she had to do her own thing. She insisted on her own topic, her own presentation board, and her own air-time. That's right, she presented. Fearlessly.
You've got to love homeschool groups. They don't even bat an eye when a four-year-old wants to join in with the bigger kids. The range of biographies went from Tinkerbell to Genghis Khan, and it was really very cool. That said, Moonshine didn't do Tinkerbell (though she was awestruck by the idea.) She did "The REAL Alice."
The Other Alice which talks about the creation of Alice in Wonderland and the friendship between Charles Dodgson (aka Carroll) and the child Alice Liddell. It's a book Moonshine has spent hours looking at on her own, and it was fun for her to pick which pictures she wanted me to copy for her presentation board. We also grabbed some off the internet for her to color, and she asked me to make a line drawing she could watercolor, just like Sunburst did. I helped her with the eyes and lips (to stave off any tantrums) but Moonshine felt she could handle the rosy cheeks on her own.
And Moonshine really knew what she was talking about. A few times I prompted her with some ideas she had expressed interest in while we were gluing pictures down. Some of these ideas she had me write on the board for the benefit of people who could read. "Did she have any brothers and sisters?" and "Why couldn't Alice marry the prince?" Even without prompting though, that girl can talk! And she was hillarious. "So she married somebody else... whooooo mom?" "Uh, Reginald," I told her. "Reginald," she told them. "Reginald whoooooo?" "Hargreaves?" I whispered. "She married Reginald Hargreaves and had only boy children. This many. Three. No girls at all. Just boys. Hahaha."
Preparing for this fair pretty much dominated our week, but it was worth it. The girls had a great time.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
"It's true?! It's really true?!!!"
"What, the story?"
"You mean the statue really did catch the ball?!!!" Her eyes were as big as her open mouth. I grinned at her and mirrored her amazement. And then she closed her mouth and sighed, contentedly. And that was that. Another seed was nurtured. (Miraculous things happen all the time. There's something more out there. There's a connection. Can you feel it?)
But that's not all. You see, I've noticed something really fantastic in the last few weeks of these lessons. The forms have begun to emerge in regular ol' everyday artwork. The artwork that I like best-- the kind with zero involvement from me. No hovering, no instruction, no rules whatsoever. The girls worked on these mainly during our quiet time, the time in which I beg, plead and bribe them with snacks, a ream of paper, coloring pages, Super Ferby pencils and Crayola markers to be quiet enough to allow Kitty Bill, their baby brother, to fall asleep. Whatever it takes, just let the boy sleep.
And they draw stuff like this:
See all the forms? The spiral from last year. All the circles --apples up high and down low, the apple tree, ornamentation on her dress. The mountains on her crown, also from last year. The stab at symmetry on the pine tree. The loops on the saddle. The pyramid of lines on the unicorn's horn. --I also love that the princess is riding side-saddle (because of her foot problem?) And I love the depth.
Sunburst drew this freehand in pencil, erased the lines she didn't want, and then went over it with an ink pen. She brought it to me to copy, as a coloring page for herself and her sister, Moonshine. I thought it was remarkable.
And then I uncovered a stack of drawings just like this, with different themes. In each one you can see at least one form working itself out. It blew my mind... and it wasn't just Sunburst's drawings, but Moonshine appears to have absorbed quite a bit of our lessons just from being in the same room. Spirals, circles, and lines.
I don't know what this all means, but it's neat to watch. I have to tell you though that when we did the pyramid of lines drawing (plates) Moonshine came over to the chalkboard and informed Sunburst that she wasn't drawing it correctly. I didn't know whether to cringe or to laugh.
There's no holding these younger siblings back. As much as I'd like that to be the case, it's a monkey-see, monkey-do scenario. She's going to pick this stuff up. All of it, and probably fairly quickly. Moonshine is finding her footing. Sinking her teeth into new ideas and trying them out. "C starts cat. And rhymes with rat. And rat has this letter (R) in it." But not to worry. It's not sinking in too deeply. She's still dreamy enough to walk into oncoming traffic. We've still got plenty of time yet...
Sunday, October 22, 2006
We both come from a long line of readers, Einstein and I, and when Sunburst started making her first attempts at deciphering text we were giddy with enthusiasm. We couldn't wait to share with her all of our favorite literary adventures. We were excited, all of us, to see her world opening up page by page. At 7 1/2 years, she's now voraciously reading over 100 pages a day, completely captivated by the power of the written word. Reading changes everything. It's amazing...
Except when it isn't.
You see, I entirely forgot there was a downside to reading. Aside from the magazines headlines at the check-out counters (as if the pictures weren't risque enough...) Aside from the local war protestors with their faux-blood spattered signs proclaiming things like "Stop KILLING CHILDREN in Iraq..." Aside from the fact that I will have to start hiding my Christmas lists, even in cursive... I forgot that there are books out there that are just plain drivel. Books that suck.
Today Sunburst went to the library with Einstein and brought home some books that were just plain awful. Usually we're very commited to sifting through her library loot before we reach the check-out counter, but this time two books slipped through the cracks on a very busy Saturday afternoon. They came home with her and those books and I passed like ships in the night when I slipped out of the house to get some very needed "ME" time.
While I was out, she read them. Both.
They are so opposite of the lives we live, of the values we're trying so hard to instill in our children, that they made me sick. For one, they're "schooly" books, reeking of peer pressure and "fashion disasters," cliques, cheerleaders, and ridicule. But they also promote lying, materialism, and disobedience --as in, my parents said no, but I'm going to anyway. They're just absolute, over-the-top crap, hand-picked for her by the children's librarian.
I realize that I can't protect her forever. Slowly but surely she'll be exposed to the excrement that permeates our outside world... it's happening already. And though it pains me, I can't stop it. All I can hope for is to impede the flow.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
For starters, we went apple picking! On a cold and frosty morning, no less. The girls had a grand time, and it proved to be quite a learning experience for all of us.
Mom learned: MapQuest will get you within TEN miles of your destination. Which is close... but c'mon mapmakers! Ten miles is a good stretch off.
The girls learned that the term "hayride" is completely open to interpretation, but that apple trees are much shorter than they imagined. They got to tour the apple processing plant and watch the apples move through the production line getting washed, polished and picked over. They saw the oldest tree in the orchard, still putting out despite the inside of the trunk having rotted out. Then they got to pick a few apples.
We all played the game, "What's that smell?" as we toured the facilities. It was unbearably awful! One child suggested vomit, though the tour guide said it was a mix of apples, wood, and insulation. Chemicals and rotting apples, maybe? It was bad. But we soldiered on, and made it through the building without adding to the smell.
Once we cleared the back door of the plant, I was startled to see a cemetary bordering the orchard. Now I don't know a heck of a lot about water tables and casket permeability, but it gave me a sudden case of the Soylent Green heebie jeebies. Nonetheless, the girls were determined to bring home some apples to make pie...
Next up, we co-hosted our co-op get together. We hiked around in the forest on another cold and frosty morning and collected leaves with the few families that were daring enough to brave the near-freezing temperatures.
The kids had a great time, and I got to put my poison ivy knowledge to use. I made up some posionous plant identification necklaces for the the kids to wear, and we were able to identify both poison ivy and poison oak on the walk.
Then we took another early-morning, FREEZING COLD, field trip to a local farm. The kids got to ride a donkey, feed some goats, hold baby chicks, pet a cow and a horse, and go on a hayride... complete with actual hay! The bumpy hayride took us through a shallow creek and to a huge corn maze. The girls ran ahead and Einstein raced along to keep track of them.
Meanwhile, I bumbled my way through with Kitty Bill, who after several twists and turns decided corn mazes weren't his thing. And he fussed, and kicked, and screamed, and inadvertently kicked the digital camera out of my coat pocket.... somewhere... along the way... in the maze of corn....
I didn't notice right away, of course. It's some kind of Murphy's Law. We walked a good way ahead of it, trying new paths and twisting ourselves around. It wasn't until I gave up and sat down amidst the corn and nursed him that I realized I didn't have the camera. Of course Kitty Bill and I had to turn back at that point. Luckily, we met up with Einstein and the girls just then and I let him know about our camera misfortune before winding my way back through the field, trying to retrace my steps through the maze. I kept asking Kitty Bill, "Does any of this corn look familiar?" But he wasn't having any of it. He only wanted to nurse, again.
Amazingly enough, I finally found the camera. But it took me a bit longer than Einstein expected, so while I was coming out of the maze entrance, he had gone back in the exit trying to find me. He shouted my name and worked his way deeper into the maze. I walked around to the exit and shouted his name to no avail. It was absurd, and awfully cold, and we still had a pumpkin patch to wade through.
After collecting Einstein, we headed over to the great pumpkin hunt, where in a large field of pumpkins and bramble there was ONE pumpkin marked with an X. The finder of said pumpkin was promised great treasure. So several families looked along with us, but after an hour we finally gave up thinking it must be some kind of a joke. Then to prove us wrong, the farmer drags Einstein back out into the field to show him... but he can't find it either. Finally, he wades through a thick patch of bramble and there it is, a wee little thing, marked up just like he said. The treasure? Blowpops. We talked him into letting us take home a small pumpkin instead, and made our way home. Whew!
And the adventure continues...
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Sunburst is always wanting to play animal games where she is a horse or a dog and I'm the owner, or the other way around. It gets repetitive after a while and I'm always looking for ways to mix things up. So yesterday I thought, what if we read some little
snippet from the Becoming a Tiger book, and then act it out.
The first snippet I read was about the sharp-shinned hawk, which apparently isn't born knowing what size food it should be hunting. So when some ecologists went out and watched what sharp-shinned hawks tried to catch they found out that baby sharp-shinned hawks tend to go after food that is too big or difficult to catch (like pigeons). Adult sharp-shinned hawks know better and only hunt little guys like sparrows.
Perfect. First we got out the bird book and I showed Sunburst what a sharp-shinned hawk looks like.
"You be a young sharp-shinned hawk," I said, "and I'll be a pigeon."
Peck, peck, peck!!!
Lots of pigeon and hawk shrieks, and then the pigeon has some sharp-shinned hawk for lunch.
"That's not how it goes, Dad. Pigeon's don't eat hawks."
"Okay. Now I'll be an adult sharp-shinned hawk and you be a sparrow."
I pick her up and fly her up on to the couch, where I eat her. Yum.
never gets boring.
This is unschooling in action. Buying and using these books were entirely her idea. She taught herself to read using these books and is determined to work her way through the entire set, knowing full well that it will take a long time. She's near the end of the third book now (Second Reader.) These books are from the 1800's and she equates them with Mary and Laura Ingalls-- hence they are her passion.
The lessons in these books are mostly done in a serif typeface, similar to Times Roman font. But some of the lessons, here and there, are written in script. These script lessons are meant to be copied out on your slate board to practice your handwriting. We haven't been doing that at all. Instead, Sunburst has wanted me to copy them over in print so that she could read them. She tried copying my print, but it proved to be too tedious at the time, and she was happy enough just to read them rather than write. Her reading skills have far exceeded her capacity for copywork.
Yesterday was different though. She wanted to do some slate work. She wanted to copy something out. Certainly not the whole lesson though... this need coupled with two letters she recently received from friends in Texas with curious cursive signatures seemed to lead us down an obvious path. So I showed her her name in cursive. I so remember longing to write in cursive at seven or eight. I would fill page after page with loops upon loops, pretending that I too could write in this mysterious language.
One name quickly led to another... herself, her sister, Mom, Dad, and three of her friends. She was giddy and completely satisfied with this and practiced them over and over and over.
This morning she headed straight over to the piano and starting plinking out songs... something she hasn't done in a while. She lost her fervor for the piano and I let it sit while we focused instead on the pentatonic flute for the last three weeks. But today she plinked out three new melodies, and we wrote them down. Then we pulled out her piano books and looked through them trying to remember where she left off after that hairy sticker business. I marked a few pages for her to try, and suggested that when she had played them to her satisfaction she could initial them. And if she liked she could do it in cursive.
She upped the ante and chose to write her first name in cursive on each page she mastered, and started going back through the entire book signing her name on each page she had played... even surpassing what I had earmarked for her to do. It was like watching a fire reignite. She was thrilled with this new prospect of putting her name down in such beautiful letters. And even more so, thrilled with the idea of taking on the piano again.
After this she picked up her Reader and noticed that she could actually read most of the script lesson easily. Just by practicing a few names the day before she could now read cursive!
Saturday, September 30, 2006
By day, Senora Rosa has been hiding out in my office closet. By night, the children are sure she has been having run of the house --scattering paper and yarn and small wooly toys all over the place. (Between you and me, I think it's the cat,) but maybe it could be Senora Rosa. She does look a bit devious if you ask me... like something you'd find in one of those voodoo shops in New Orleans.* Ah, but how the children LOVE her. She's one of the family!
Ultimately we decided it was high time she earn her keep. While our beloved Poppy is recuperating from a "very bad accident," (i.e. Sunburst stepped on her,) Senora Rosa will take over language lessons. She's got a good selection of songs going thus far:
From Cante, Cante, Elephante - Mary Thienes-Schunemann
Buenos Dias/Good morning
Uno, dos, tres.../One, two, three...
Pito, pito, colorito/Good morning, early bird (my absolute favorite thus far)
From Teach Me... Spanish - Judy Mahoney
Los mas que nos reunimos/The more we get together
From The Wind is Telling Secrets - Sarah Pirtle
Mi cuerpo hace musica/There's music inside me (a kicky tune, indeed!)
*Senora Rosa is a bit of Sara voodoo, inspired by the amazing work of my favorite puppeteer and dear friend, Ellen.
Stuff a medium paper sack (the kind w/o a bottom) with crumpled newspaper and a large dowel rod. Tie securely. Add strips of gooey newspaper to make facial features. Let dry. Paint with tempera or acrylic paint. Add hair, fabric, and voila! Your own homeschool mascot/voodoo doll comes to life. Be sure to put them to work!
Friday, September 29, 2006
We got to form #3, the arch of rainbows over a horizontal line. We struggled with the mirror form, and it proved to be a bit harder than I had anticipated. Although she completed the form well enough to put in her book, the next form I had planned were those tricky circle forms. I looked at them, sighed, and decided to give the girl a break.
We deviated from the plan. Just a little. After all Giovanni doesn't just juggle circular items. As per the story by Tomie dePaola:
"First the sticks, then the plates, then the clubs,I'm not reading the story, just retelling it, so of course I messed it up a bit. First we did the plates.
rings, and burning torches.
Finally the rainbow of colored balls."
Phew! Plates were challenging for her, but much easier to draw bottom to top, than top to bottom.
Next we did sticks. This one proved to be the simplest form yet.
Then the rings, or ring, singular. A simple circle. Very plain and round. We did this last year in our Robin Red form drawing block, but it was one of those forms she just had to accept as her best work and move ahead. It was terribly hard. A circle of dread. So of course we came back to it. That's what you do with circles, you circle back around.
She did pretty well in practice the first day. We worked together drawing circles, trying to see how many perfect circles we could fit on our chalkboards. When we messed up, we erased them. But each perfect one we saved. I think we ended up with 20 apiece. Then we tried to see how many near perfect ones we could draw in a row. It was perhaps the most fun we have had yet drawing forms.
Circles aren't easy. As you can see Sunburst had some good ones. She got to choose which ones we kept, both hers and mine. I think she was a bit tougher with my drawings than with her own. Her efforts are in pink, mine are in cream.
Then we took a day off from forms for our homeschool friends co-op... and then recovery from said co-op. Today when we returned back to our lesson her circle drawing was falling off on the end. She seemed to be racing back to the top, making deformed eggs or shaving the edges off as shown below.
So we went at it from a different angle.
"It looks like you're racing home," I said. "You don't have to hurry, you have plenty of time to see everything in the garden. Out here on the right are the lovely roses. Can you visit them on your way home? They do smell so wonderful just now."
Sometimes it surprises me that she doesn't look at me like I have three heads. She said something akin to, "Oh yes. I'd love to see the roses. I'll try to go over there next time." And then she slowed down and tried to round out that right side. Extend it a bit more rather than racing to an angular finish. While she practiced I sang a little song,"
"Oh~ go the lovely way...Sometimes her circle still turned out wonky, but more and more she started going the lovely way and making a beautiful arch on that side. She even sang along with me! Once in awhile her circle went really awry, and we laughed about her visiting the garbage dump instead of the roses. Then we talked about how sometimes you might want to visit the garbage dump. Sometimes you might want that particular shape. You never know. But right now, we're making lovely round circles instead.
Oh~ go the lovely way...
Oh~ go the lovely way back home."
And she did great until we got out her book. And the circle she drew was perhaps her worst yet. I brought out her book from last year and we compared the two circles. I called this "information," and she called it, "Proof that she'll never, ever be able to draw circles." But she knew this wasn't true. When this happens in her book, as it has before, she gets to draw it on a new paper and we glue it in over top of the less than desirable form. Which is what we finally did. It's still not perfect, but it's better than last year and she's satisfied with it. That's what really matters to me. Acceptance reigns rather than defeat.
We moved right along and approached the burning torches, or just the flame end, circles within circles. She made an even better circle in her book and worked the repetitions of smaller circles inside of it. We have one more circle to make, "the golden sun in the heavens" before we move on to some different forms.
I'm ready for something more linear, myself.