better homes than yours · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 670: I Give Up

Once upon a time, my living room looked like a living room: couches, shelves for board games, hammocks, an ottoman. The only adornments on the wall were a few framed paintings done by the kids. The wall unit had open shelves where we displayed some beautiful Judaica pieces, vases, and other items that were both pretty and practical.

Then we started homeschooling, and Mr. December wanted to clear some of the open shelving to make room for the kids’ binders. I resisted, relenting only because the kids’ binders are all colour coded and their colours are all part of the colour scheme in our house.

The binders slowly encroached on more shelves. Mr. December asked for his own space to store his books and papers. Still, it was just one wall unit. The rest of my living room was still school-free (when we cleaned up.)

One day I decided it would be great to have a timeline on the wall that we could add to when learning about historical events and people. It had to go somewhere; I mounted it just below the window that separates the living room from the kitchen, rationalizing that at least I wouldn’t have to look at school stuff when relaxing on the couch, which faces the opposite direction.

A wipeable map of the world joined the timeline. Then a map of Canada. By this point that wall was full, so when I made the kids’ magnetic schedule boards, I had to hang them between the dining room table and the stairs. At least they weren’t in the dining room, I told myself.

I used to harbour dreams of moving all our homeschool stuff down to the basement, so that we could have our classroom next to the Makery and not have to look at all the school stuff all the time. But somehow we always end up at the dining room table or on the living room couches, and so our stuff has migrated there too.

I’ve given up. I’m letting go of how I thought my house should look. I’m trying to, anyway, because I think it’s healthier to accept and work with what is rather than “should-ing” all over myself and my family.

Last week I wanted wall space to hang some of my Hebrew materials: the days-of-the-week chart, the months of the year, and the weather poster. Heaving a sigh of surrender, I pinned them up on the wall at the head of the dining room table.

“It looks like a Grade One classroom in here,” K said.

“Maybe because it is a Grade One classroom?” I shot back defensively.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she soothed, “at least you chose nice colours.”

I put the final nail in the coffin today: remember that wall I said was completely full? Yeah, it was only full below the timeline. There was plenty of space above. It took less than ten minutes to put up some 3M hooks for the kids’ clipboards that hold their “to-do” lists and music practice charts. I also hung up the giant Post-It chart paper, because I couldn’t think of any other way to store it without it getting folded or bunched up.

“I love that you have school stuff all over your walls,” K’s bestie told me earlier this week. “My mom won’t even let us put up a wall calendar. She says it ruins the aesthetic.”

“She’s right, it does.” I responded. “But I’ve decided to stop fighting it and embrace that my house is a school.”

When my kids were babies, I only bought wooden toys and toys in solid colours—no plastic, no characters, no flashing lights. It wasn’t for health or environmental reasons, I just didn’t want my living room to look like Toys R Us had just thrown up in there. Nowadays it looks like Staples threw up in my house… and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s any better than Toys R Us.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids

Day 669: Snow Day II

We’re snowed in over here. Even after digging our car out of snowdrifts up to the windows, there’s a giant pile of snow at the bottom of our driveway that the snowplows kindly left for us. Much of our school day today was spent in “gym class”—in other words, shoveling. K worked for an especially long time; she was quick to point out that she expected to be excused from our family workouts for the rest of the week.

We gathered by the fireplace, hot chocolate in hand, to read Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast from 1756. The kids acknowledged that the original story is far closer to the myth of Psyche and Eros than any of the other versions they’re familiar with.

I sat down with R for her first fashion design class on Outschool. Today’s lesson was about necklines and how to sketch them on a croquis form. R was completely absorbed in it and in the follow-up assignment, which was to search our closets for examples of as many different necklines as possible. She found nine and photographed them to post to her class chat board.

I also dragged myself away from my computer and opened up an escape-room-in-a-box that’s been on our shelf for a year. The kids have never been keen to do these with me, so I decided to stop making it a family activity and just do the puzzles by myself. N came over while I was doing the first puzzle—a number puzzle requiring algebra—and insisted on working it out by himself… so I got some kid participation. Maybe next time I should work on the puzzles with a bowl of Skittles next to me, and when the kids ask if they can have some I’ll just say, “These are my thinking Skittles. If you want to work on the puzzles, you can have some while you think.”

I’m sleepy. Last night around 10:30, Mr. December looked over at me (we were both reading in bed) and asked, “Ready to go to sleep now? Or would you rather read for another two hours?” He knows me so well. I turned out the light at midnight, which is two hours later than I should have. My goal for tonight is to only read until eleven.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 668: Snow Day

The doorbell rang. I groaned, rolled over, and looked at my phone. 8:00.

I hope someone gets that, I thought as I closed my eyes again.

The doorbell rang again.

We have a similar problem with the phone. Nobody picks up—I guess everyone assumes it’s for someone else. Or it might be the duct cleaning companies calling again. Either way, a lot of phone calls go unanswered because the people closest to the phone can’t be bothered to pick up. Either that, or one of the kids has taken the phone from its base at my desk and I’m sitting here yelling, “Who the heck took my phone?”

Anyway, back to this morning.

When I eventually went downstairs, I learned that we had a guest: K’s bestie from down the street, whose parents said, “Snow like this is magical, and it’s criminal to make you sit at a desk all day doing online school. Go to K’s house.”

I guess they didn’t think about how homeschoolers might not have snow days because the snow is no obstacle to our daily routine. K’s friend became our first ever “exchange student”; she participated in Mr. December’s science class this morning. Two hours of equations later, she was still smiling.

We didn’t do any more school today—the kids were shooed outside to play in the snow, which according to our metre stick was about 47cm deep (that’s around 18.5 inches, for those of you still mired in the Imperial system.)

They spent hours trudging up a hill so they could zoom down it; they came home sweaty and flushed (and that was after a rest at K’s friend’s house a mere block away. It’s that hard to walk in snow this deep.)

I just found out that tomorrow has been declared a real snow day for the local school boards. Will our kids get the day off as well? Maybe, if they actually go outside and take advantage of the snow. Otherwise they’ll be doing school—with or without exchange students.

ADHD · better homes than yours · DIY

Day 667: Small Improvements

I’m in a weird place today, mentally speaking. I can think of about six things I want to do to improve the house, but I can’t do any of them to completion. I started decluttering the extra table in our living room and then stopped because too much of it depended on other people’s participation. I decided my workbench could use some tidying, but that was too daunting so I left it for another day.

You know that ADHD song I posted a link to a while ago? The whole thing was pretty descriptive of me, but the best part was this:
Imagine the human brain as a gigantic mixing board
Most people can use these sliders to move in and out of chores
A little of this and that and like that all the chores are gone
My brain doesn’t work like that, man—my brain just goes OFF and ON.

And oh, man, is it ever true. People who say things like, “Your kid doesn’t have ADHD, he can pay attention just fine when it’s something he wants to do” are missing this crucial piece of information: for some of us, attention is all-or-nothing. So is motivation.

I consider it a victory if I can manage to finish a project within a week or two of having started it. Today’s victory is that I finally hung the wall-mounted self-watering plant pots with all the baby spider plants in them.

I can already see that maybe I should have picked a different kind of plant for at least some of the containers—something trailing would be nice here—but the spider plants were here and handy, and one plant separated into so many little ones, and I felt bad throwing out the extras. So I planted them all.

“I love it!” I enthused to Mr. December. “It’s so colourful! Should I buy more of those pots and put them all over the wall?”

(Because right now, as far as this project is concerned, my brain is ON.)

“Why don’t we wait and see how these hold up,” he suggested, “and then we can buy more.”

“Right.” I say (and try to convince my brain to turn OFF for this project.)

Hey, it’s small improvements. Maybe by next week I’ll have decluttered the table.

Jewy goodness

Day 666: Acheinu (Our Brothers)

Right now, three people are being held hostage in a synagogue in Texas (one was released, uninjured, thank God.) It’s been ten hours now.

If the link worked, below you’ll find one of my favourite songs. The words are from the liturgy, and they say:

Our brothers, the whole house of Israel
Who are in distress and captivity,
Who are standing between the water and the land–
May God have mercy on them
and bring them out
From distress to comfort, from darkness to light,
From slavery to redemption,
Now, swiftly, and soon.

Amen v’amen.

(How I wish we didn’t need a prayer that says this.)

mental health

Day 665: Look Who’s Back

Close-up of me sitting in a hammock chair. My eyes are closed and the

It’s the sun! It came back! I thought it would be gone forever… and it’s back. I felt about a hundred times better today.

While I was holed up in my bedroom hammock corner I noticed that it gets full sun right around noon (in the winter, anyway. I think the sun is too high in the summer.) Huzzah! It doesn’t matter that it’s minus-Bill-Gates’s-salary outside: I’ve got sunshine, a hammock, and a view of the Douglas fir tree outside. I feel all better now.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 664: Still alive, still here.

Today we all woke up grumpy and exhausted, so instead of our usual lessons we opted for watching educational videos. Mr. December and K watched some math stuff (I really can’t be any more specific than that—I wasn’t there) and I watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The kids learned about the origins of the universe, the history of the cosmos, DNA, and evolution. Not bad for a morning of school, right?

Mr. December and I got our COVID boosters yesterday. The pop-up clinic was so empty we decided to return today with the three younger kids. Two out of the three have now had their shots. I don’t want to name and shame the child involved, so I’m not telling the story of how our afternoon went south; I’m mentioning it by way of telling you that by the time dinner rolled around, I was irrationally angry at said child, as well as at anyone else who dared ask me anything. I spent the rest of the evening alone in my room.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids

Day 663: Cinderella, you slut.

E has been on a “finishing workbooks” kick lately. Last week she completed her cursive writing book. Today she worked for four hours (or so) on finishing her Kumon math book. I didn’t interrupt her for other things like reading or social studies; just like you should not wake a sleeping baby (unless you have to for specific medical reasons, obviously,) you should not interrupt a kid who’s intently focussed on working towards a goal. There’s something magical about letting kids finish what they started instead of switching subjects every forty minutes.

Long story short: she finished her Grade 2: Measurement and Geometry workbook today.

Math workbook opened to a page titled, "Counting money". Next to it on the table, there are Canadian coins with a child's hand pointing to one of them.

Actually, we did sneak in some social studies: when E’s book got to the “counting money” section it was all in American currency. I pointed that out to her, then went to dig up some change and a few bills so I could show E what Canadian money looks like (and the denominations for the coins.) After looking at the bills, we watched “Heritage Minute” videos related to the subject of each bill. So E learned a bit about Viola Davis, Vimy Ridge, Canadarm, and the invention of insulin; we also watched a video about all the neat features of our banknotes.

I’m fibro-flaring again, possibly because I had a couple of late nights in a row. So I wasn’t as quick to fill the children’s time as I might have been otherwise. In the absence of instructions, N sat down with his sheet music and figured out all the notes to Waving Through a Window, then went and practiced playing it. He also helped E with her math work.

In the afternoon I read them two versions of Cinderella: the first written version by Perrault (published in 1697) and then a version by The Brothers Grimm. R was most displeased that at the end of both versions, Cinderella forgives her stepsisters wholeheartedly. K was amused that the eighteenth-century translation used the phrased “decked out” to describe the stepsisters all dressed up for the ball. We also encountered the archaic use of the word “slut” as in, “A slut like you can’t go to a ball!”

I preemptively explained that “slut” used to mean “messy” or “dirty.”

“Okay,” Rebecca said, “but what does it mean now?”

(I guess my explanation hadn’t preempted anything after all; sometimes I forget how young my kids are.)

“A sexually promiscuous woman,” I told her.

“Which means…?” she pressed.

This sort of exchange is probably why my kids have such expansive vocabularies.

Homeschool · Kids

Day 662: A Fairy Tale Lesson

We discussed fairy tales today, specifically the elements of the stories. I started by reading the kids this summary of every fairy tale ever:

“Once upon a time, there was a character who lived in a setting. The character had a problem, but magic intervened and everyone learned a theme.”

We spent a while discussing archetypal characters, fairy tale settings, conflicts, magic, and themes. Then K started a lively debate about what elements have to be the same for two stories to be versions of the same story. I pushed them to get specific by reading a book that contained four “Cinderella Stories”; the kids all agreed that the setting doesn’t much matter, but you definitely have to have the same archetypal character with the same conflict, and the same type of magical assistance to resolve it.

The kids participated so enthusiastically, it felt like I was living the happy resolution to a fairy tale.

I’m not sure what exactly made this lesson good, but I know how I’m going to keep their interest going forward: dramatic readings of fairy tales—the gory Grimm versions. They can’t wait.

crafty · DIY · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · waxing philosophical · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 661: It feels good to be bad.

“You’re old,” K tells me with a grin, every time I announce the death of some celebrity she’s never heard of.

And I reply, “Yup. And it’s so awesome!”

I’ve realized lately that there’s a significant amount of freedom in getting older. Not only do I care less what other people think: in some areas I even care less what I think. To wit: I have multiple hobbies that I’m bad at.

It feels like there’s a bell curve for hobbies. When you’re a little kid, nobody expects you to be particularly good at things because you just haven’t had time to develop skills yet. You’re adorably cute, so it’s okay if your violin playing is a bit squeaky. But then, as you get a bit older, the assumption is that you should be striving for excellence with your hobby: if you want to continue, grownups tell you, you have to practice more, take more classes, get this coach. This attitude intensifies through high school as the all-important university applications loom.

One day adulthood creeps up on you like the clown in a horror movie. Or maybe it just smacks you in the face like that swinging paint can in Home Alone. Either way, expectations of being good at your hobbies seem to plummet. It’s totally fine to try a new hobby and be bad at it… and keep doing it just because it’s fun. By the time you hit your eighties you get a medal just for showing up: “Wow, she’s eighty-nine and she plays in a community orchestra! So inspirational!”

I made a little chart for you:

A graph with an x- and y- axis; there is a line following a bell curve across the chart. The bottom is labelled "Age in years" and the side axis is labelled "expectations of excellence." The levels in the expectations axis are: none (age zero and sixty), "You're obviously still developing your skills" (ages 12 and 35), "Pretty good, but you're no [insert name of famous professional here]" (ages 16 and 28), and "If you don't perform like a pro, you're wasting everyone's time. Especially your own." (age 20.)
If you’re preparing to tell me that this isn’t correct for a bell curve because the x-axis isn’t on a linear scale, don’t bother. I’m bad at statistics, I don’t care, and I still enjoy making up funny graphs.

Now in my forties, I feel good about mediocre work for the first time ever. When I play my viola, I’m not focused on polishing a piece; I practice until I can play all the notes at the correct speed, maybe throw in a few dynamics or some vibrato, and then move on to the next piece I fancy. I’m not going in order of difficulty: I just play what I like. It’s very liberating. I’m a mediocre violist (which means I’m good enough to be last chair in a professional orchestra. Ha ha, little viola joke there) and everyone just thinks it’s cool that I play. Most importantly, I love it.

Ditto carpentry. I don’t usually spend time “honing my craft” or striving to produce professional-quality work. I just like the power tools, the smell of fresh wood, and the ridiculous amount of innuendo that woodworking injects into my conversations. I’m totally screwing around, doing a half-assed job, and most of what I make is good from far, but far from good—and I don’t care.

Take it from a former perfectionist: it feels good to be bad. I highly recommend it.