Tuesday, November 30, 2010

True Story

Stuff No One Told Me ( but I learned anyway ): 39: "Am I the only one seing the irony here?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tying One's Shoes

I don't like having shoes that tie for the boys because it requires more effort on my part and honestly, don't I do enough already? Alas, they'd both outgrown what they were wearing by a size-and-a-half. All they had in 13.5 at the store involved laces, so Aleks wound up with some sweet black and red Nikes. Now he must learn the agony of tying. So he does.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learn Free Documentary

Learn Free is a short documentary introducing unschooling. It gives a decent overview of most of the usual FAQs of unschooling in an accessible and well-tempered format. My little sister made it and we're in it, along with the folks over at Almost Always Hungry.

Learn Free from Lillian Mauser-Carter on Vimeo.

I can't believe I forgot to post my sister's documentary. I'm an idiot! She finally published it online in September. I forwarded it to every unschooling list I'm on but somehow never put it on my own dang site. Way to go.

Speaking of Divergent Thinking

I got that term from this brilliant RSA Animate from Sir Ken Robinson on changing educational paradigms. You should watch it if you haven't. It's brilliant.

Books to Encourage Creativity

Heather bought Aleks the Wild Things Imagination Catcher Journal when I was pregnant with him. I bought How to be an Explorer of the World last winter because I love Keri Smith's work. I find her accessible and inspiring. Inspiring in a highly accessible way. Like you could do what she does without being wealthy or brilliant. She really makes it seem like genius is as common as dirt. That's what it is. Finally, The Boys' Doodle Book made its way here the other day by way of a very belated birthday present to Aleks. He refuses to work in the one I got him, but the others he likes quite well.
I wonder sometimes about creativity like this, but I suppose there are worse things than trying to teach divergent thinking.

Gods and Monsters

Aleks became obsessed with Gods and Monsters while reading listening to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series this summer. He was also given one of those scratch to draw books full of the things around the same time. He's really quite skilled, I think. He and his friends would also study all the monster books they could find rather intently, learning tons of facts about all the different myths of the world.

Come to think of it, the monster thing goes back to when he was about 2, maybe younger. He was always fascinated with the dark side and Halloween and Scooby Doo. What kid wouldn't be with all those influences out there? Here's some of his drawings.
And here is a lego minotaur he made many months ago. He was a gift for me and lives in my bedroom.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rock On with Your Socks On

Well, technically, they're off. This is Bastian drumming on the couch with size 13 aluminum knitting needles. Heather always said he was a drummer.
The boys were listening to Sum 41 on YouTube. I'm not sure if this should be a hopeful indication of the general right direction of things, or a sad indication that they like terrible pop.

Gentle Discipline Wisdom from Endnotes

I found this in the endnotes of a section of Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born in a book of essays on motherhood (bolding mine):

1986: the work of the Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller has made me reflect further on the material in this chapter.... Miller identifies the "hidden cruelty" in child-rearing as the repetition of "poisonous pedagogy" inflicted by the parents of the generation before and as providing the soil in which obedience to authoritarianism and fascism take root. She notes that "there is one taboo that has withstood all the recent efforts at demystification: the idealization of mother love. (The Drama of the Gifted Child: How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of Their Talented Children [New York: Harper & Row, 1981], p. 4). Her work traces the damages of that idealization (of both parents, but especially the mother) upon children forbidden to name or protest their suffering, who side with their parents against themselves. Miller notes, "I cannot listen to my child with empathy if I am inwardly preoccupied with being a good mother; I cannot be open to what she is telling me." (For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence [New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983], p. 258). Miller explores the sources of what has been defined as child abuse - i.e., physical violation and sadistic punishment - but she is equally concerned with the "gentle violence" of child-rearing, including that of "antiauthoritarian" or "alternative" prescriptions, based on the denial and suppression of the child's own vitality and feelings. Miller does not consider the predominance of women as primary care-givers, the investment of authoritarian or fascist systems in perpetuating male control of women's sexuality and reproductivity, or the structural differences between father-as-parent and mother-as-parent. She does acknowledge that in America, women especially "have discovered the power of their knowledge. They do not shrink from pointing out the poisonous nature of false information, even though it has been well-concealed for millenia behind sacrosanct and well-meaning labels" (For Your Own Good, p. xii).

I included the whole endnote here so that I could provide some of the context, but the bolded parts are what really struck me. It's something I've thought about often, I suppose: that how I parent has this subtle effect of either upholding/sustaining or denying/defying the dominant paradigm. We provide the seeds for authoritarianism and fascism to continue by growing in our children. Parenting is a political act.

The other part of this, of course, is that if I'm focused on providing our life for my children, I often lose compassion for them in my goal to accomplish certain things and thereby fail to listen to them and to honor them. This contributes to a cycle of authoritarianism and upholds the racist/sexist/capitalist structures that we all live in.

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Blog, Perchance to Dream

I was thinking about why I blog here. In spending all this time and effort trying to catch up on what we did since July simply by posting the photos and offering brief explanations, it occurs to me often that others may not be too terribly interested in all that. A photo blog of my children being children with no context is really not that fascinating. Why would anyone read it? Why would I write (post) it?

Naturally, there are lots of possible reasons. I use the blog as an ongoing record of what we've done. For our end-of-year assessments, I need to have some evidence that we did anything at all for the certified teacher evaluating the children's work. My step-father does those assessments and generally has a good working knowledge of Aleksander's abilities, interests, and activities, but I refer him to the blog in case he wants to skim and get a quick overview in visuals.

In a similar vein, the blog additionally serves as a bit of a scrapbook, both for our own record and for our relatives and friends far away to take a peek at our daily lives, to see how we live, to create an ambient awareness of our day-to-day.

But surely there's more to it than that? Indeed. I write this blog to tell myself a story. I post the photos to prove to myself that we do more than sit around the house, that there is learning and a life happening here. One would think that this might be obvious to me. I live this life after all. Surely I'm aware of its ins-and-outs and its highlights and downturns. And I am. I do know this in some capacity. And yet, in many ways, I must remind myself. I must remind myself for all those inevitable moments when I am plagued with self-doubt.

Being that this choice is so bizarre in America - despite its growing popularity - I must remind myself that the life looks like this, the children learn these things, do these things, inhabit and become unique little versions of themselves. Perhaps this last factor is the most fabulously apparent: that my children are truly themselves, free from an institutionalized modality that restricts, stifles, and limits their creativity.

Certainly, there are things here out in the world that help to socialize them to a way of being, that are restricting and conforming and which help them to become zombified little consumers like everyone else. We live in this world and we participate. We have computers and internet and DVDs and video games. We have the accouterments of modern life that help best program the youth for a proper American existence and economy. We buy things. We buy name-brand things. We participate quite effectively in this capitalist culture. Oh well.

Initially, I think I tried to avoid putting our participation in that culture on display, but I have since relaxed my grip a bit. I have a fear in me that it exposes my failures as a homeschooler/mother/person. I have not learned how to let it go - either the video games or the fear and belief in my own failure.

That fear in my failure is the prime motivator for having to convince myself. I do not believe it when it sits in my own head. There is a process to it. There is the slow unfolding of rewiring myself to let go of the norm - wherever it lies, be it the crunchy mama norm of restricting gaming, the APA norm of restricting screen time, the mainstream acculturated norm of using screen time to babysit or the radical unschooler norm of letting go of involvement in the matter (use this metaphor to apply equally to the timeliness of learning to read, the restrictions on what arbitrary academic skills are basic necessities, learning to ride a bike, or interest in creative projects).

So I tell the story. Some nights I look back at the blog as proof that I've done something in the last eight years (or three, rather) that benefits the children and that benefits the world. I'm beginning to think that this may not be the best use of my time and effort, however. Comparing myself to myself be it at my best or at my worst, is likely just as damaging as comparing myself to other unschooling families or other crunchy mamas or other writers or other artists or other people at all. I cannot ever measure up. My thinking always affects my perspective, my longing for the reassurance that I am an utter failure or the reassurance that I am awesome. It's like Schrodinger's Cat. I have an ache in me to prove me wrong or right. I must find a way, for me, for my children, to undo the history that says what I must be and undo the agony of being forever not good enough. I hope to tell myself with the story that it is good enough. Not perfect. Just good and whole.

Nerd Trifecta

We had a list of errands to run that amount to us being the biggest nerd family there is. I referred to these three items as a Trinity of Getting One's Nerd On. Our To-Do List this afternoon included:
  • Go to the comic shop for Pokémon cards promised to Aleks last week in a tense negotiation for alone time with adults (yes, that basically amounts to a bribe, but we were going to do it anyway after the place had been recommended to us, so, it was less a bribe and more a bargain. Okay, it was a bribe. Sue me.). Playing this game is what little nerds do before they grow into big nerds who play Magic the Gathering or whathaveyou.

  • Buy crickets for our leopard gecko, Esteban. Owning lizards that eat bugs is totally nerdy. Naming your gecko after a character from a Wes Anderson movie probably makes it worse.

  • Buy tickets for next Thursday/Friday's midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. It wasn't until I developed a Harry Potter obsession that I even became an official nerd, so it goes without saying that Harry Potter is nerdy. Buying tickets for a midnight showing of anything is also likely to land one in the category of Huge Geek/Dweeb/Dork/Nerd, depending on your favored descriptor. Buying the tickets a week in advance could also imply that we are over-eager nerds and need the time between now and then to "totally geek out." This will be Aleks' first time attending a midnight showing, so I think his path to Nerdom is nearly complete. We will additionally be in costume. That really puts the nail in the coffin there.

First, the comic book store. It turns out they don't sell individual Pokémon cards, so we ended up purchasing a complete pack instead. We were informed incorrectly. Aleks had wanted to get a bunch of energy cards too, so that doesn't work out so well. It felt like kind of a big moment for me. Like this made it super official that we like nerdy things. There were a bunch of nerdy teenagers in the place buying Magic cards and being socially awkward. The guy behind the register though was a cool older dude who reminded me of Paul Rudd or Brad Neely. Both nerds.
Aleks has been wearing this suit jacket lately as he thinks it makes him look like Artemis Fowl. I wouldn't know because we were listening to the first book in the car, but Aleks took the iPod and zoomed through the next three-quarters of the book as well as the next five books. I'm left in the dust to get the hard copies from the library and read on my own, slow time. The sunglasses also add to his looking cool.
I ran in for the crickets on my own. The dang things have gotten expensive. The price went up and the number of crickets per bag went down. I also noticed today that they stopped separating the different sized crickets so I'm paying more for a mix of big and small crickets rather than just big crickets. This may explain why Esteban is hungry all the time now.

Then it was off to the theater to get our tickets. We are very excited. I decided to not take Bastian to the midnight movie because there will be too many people. I'll likely take him to a matinee during the weekend instead so he can still see it and not be too upset. Plus our one friend who I always go to the midnight movies with is unable to go that night, so she may go with Bastian and I.

To wind down from our afternoon of nerdiness, we went to the park. I chatted with a friend on the phone while the boys and the neighborhood children all played some crazy train wreck game on the big slide. Then both boys rolled down the hill over and over again for about a half hour.

It got dark and was time to go home to dinner. Bastian asked what was in the sky, waving and pointing.
Turns out it was just the moon, but he found it particularly exciting for some reason. He does know what the moon is, so I'm not sure what was so puzzling about it.
Someone's headlights in the parking lot illuminated Aleks in a spooky way.
Coventry was busy with rush hour traffic.
At bedtime, Bastian and I played our own version of dominoes. He demonstrated excellent counting and color-identifying skills and was completely thrilled at our game. He also won by running out of tiles first, though we did not divide them evenly at all and merely took turns. I don't think this is actually how you're supposed to play dominoes, but the directions were really unclear.

He thought this particular grouping of tiles looked exactly like a sea monster. I'm not certain why, though it may be in reference to sea monsters we've made before, like the one Aleks put on Papa's Father's Day gift wrap.
For bed, I read him half of our Beginner Books collection and drank tea. He fell asleep during Green Eggs and Ham while Aleks built with Lego and listened to Eoin Colfer's Airman on the iPod.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Autumn Season Table

We started this during the equinox, but only just finished it (the final addition was the leaves). Aleks constructed monsters out of clay for a Halloween-y theme. Our acorn elves from last year were brought out and some of the sunflower heads from our garden made it in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dali Moustache

Months after I'd returned from Florida with a Dali Museum keepsake for Jon, someone bothered to discover its use.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Taking Down the Decorations

I asked Aleks to take down the spider webs from our front porch's Halloween decorations. An hour-and-a-half later, he came back thusly:
Then I told him he got into it and he could get out. And giggled a little.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sleeping Alarmingly

Jon went to check if the boys were asleep. Aleks was positioned like this. I told him to take photos before moving him. Kids are weird.