community · education · family fun · gardening · Kids · waxing philosophical

Day 127: Orchard Schooling

It began with a Facebook post: “Does anybody have any leftover white latex paint?”

I did, of course. When we were building the house we tried what seemed like hundreds of different whites before settling on Chantilly Lace. For the last two years their sample-sized pots have been lined up like soldiers awaiting deployment. I couldn’t throw them out — surely they’d come in handy one day, I thought.

“One day” was today.

The Facebook post was from the woman who runs the stewardship group at our local community orchard. Throughout the year a group of volunteers takes care of the fruit trees — feeding, mulching, watering, and doing anything else they can to ensure a successful harvest. The white paint would be diluted and painted onto the trees’ trunks to protect them from insects, animals, and the sun. I immediately offered them my paint and then volunteered my children (and myself) to do the painting.

K has had a lot of difficult, unproductive days in the last week. It’s not that she’s unmotivated; on the contrary, the fact that she can’t get herself to sit down and do her work is very upsetting to her. I’m not sure what’s wrong or how to fix it in the short term. In the long term, I think some executive function coaching might be in order.

This morning, though, K was at her best. She mowed the lawn before breakfast. When we arrived at the orchard she sprang into action, first mixing the paint with water, then moving from one fruit tree to the next to coat their trunks with white paint. She worked without a break for an hour and a half. In that time I heard no complaints or yelling. She asked questions about what we were doing and why, and really listened to the answers. In short, she was a model volunteer.

R and E painted a tree each, and then a pet tortoise arrived at the park with its owner (a friend of the stewardship coordinator) in tow. I didn’t get much more work out of them after that, but they spent an hour learning about tortoises.

Our time in the orchard reinforced so many of my beliefs about homeschooling. The biggest one is that school focuses on such a narrow band of disciplines and skills that K doesn’t get to exercise her strengths very often. This morning she had to observe the trees closely (to see if there was any seeping sap or other indicators of disease); communicate problems and questions; listen attentively; and do a thorough job of the task she was assigned. Moreover, the work she was doing had a clear purpose and utility, and it was appreciated by other people.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Purposeful, real work with others in the community can turn a frustrated, sometimes combative kid into a cooperative and industrious one. School doesn’t allow enough time for that sort of thing (heck, they don’t even trust the kids to retrieve their own coats.) Homeschooling, on the other hand, is chock full of opportunities for children to discover their strengths and use them to become valued members of the community.

community · education · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 111: Boundaries

Well, I just got read the riot act by a friend of mine. I was lamenting how difficult it was for me to say “no” to things like playdates; she pointed out that I don’t owe anybody a reason for not wanting to make plans. “No” is, apparently, a sufficient answer.

Mind. Blown.

I grew up with the notion that when you’re invited to do something, you say yes unless there’s a direct conflict. And when you have to say no, you explain why you can’t do it so the other person doesn’t feel bad. Mr. December was the first person I knew who would actually say, upon being invited to something, “No.” And when asked why not: “I don’t want to.”

That was news to me. I could just skip events because I didn’t want to go? Wow.

So back to my friend and her words of wisdom. She said, “Sara, you and I are forty years old. We are too old to be letting people deplete our energy when they’re not even particularly close to us!” Well, when she put it that way, it sounded absurd. Why on earth would I say “yes” to something for someone I rarely (if ever) see or speak to, and then be too tired to read my kids a book at bedtime? How messed up is that? And how messed up is it that I couldn’t really see that for thirty-nine years of my life?

As Ontario gradually opens back up and people are allowed to gather in small groups again, I’ve felt my anxiety level rising. I’ve been very happy in this little cocoon, with my closest family, on our own schedule. Saying “no” to other people is always a bit stressful for me, as if I feel responsible for their feelings if I say no to whatever they’re asking me to do. I’ve found myself wishing more often than not that I could just live this life for a few more years.

The truth is that I should be able to craft the life I want for me and my kids. Mr. December and I had a conversation on Friday (standing in the freezing waters of Lake Ontario) about how we’d like to do something brave or outrageously different, like homeschooling for the year and travelling with the kids. Or something far simpler, like putting a six-month moratorium on evening or weekend extracurricular activities, in order to preserve time for a work period in the morning and family time in the evenings.

Sometimes fear creeps in: If our kids take a year off extracurriculars (dance, choir, etc) will they be very behind most kids their age when they go back? Will they be missing out on gaining skills and mastery in those areas?

Maybe. But maybe they’ll be just where they need to be — at home with us, playing outdoors with their best buddies, spending time with their grandparents, and learning the importance of family, community, and being able to set your own boundaries.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · DIY · education · Independence · Kids · parenting

Day 110: The Curriculum of Life

Today we set up another assembly line, for baking this time. Two people measured ingredients and passed them to the next two, who worked the mixer and then passed the batter to the last two, who spread the batter out to fill the pans. All together we made one hundred brownies and sixty-five strawberry oat bars; tomorrow we’ll deliver them to Ve’ahavta, who will distribute them from their street outreach van.

Mr. December and I are leaning more and more towards homeschooling this coming year. I know we need to do more than just math and English, so I’ve been reading books and researching curricula. I’m pretty sure that baking for the homeless qualifies as community service and Home Ec (do they call it domestic science now? I have no idea…) I think shop class will also be pretty easy for me to cover: last week I taught K how to change the windshield wiper blades on our van. She enjoyed that so much that I ended up showing her what’s under the hood of the car, where the car’s fuse boxes are, and how to open the gas tank.

So I don’t know yet how I’m going to teach them history. So what? At least my kids will be able to cook and bake, perform basic car maintenance, and contribute to their communities. Maybe real life is the best curriculum we could use.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · education · family fun · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 104: Contentment

As I type this, I’m sitting on our back porch being caressed by evening breezes. The sounds of my children playing (long past bedtime, but isn’t this what summer is for?) and the birds calling from tree to tree are a backdrop to a live online concert of camp tunes. The clouds look like cotton candy. Right now, everything is all right.

This morning we made one hundred and seventy-six sandwiches for the Ve’ahavta street outreach van. Mr. December made the kids (one at a time) be the supervisor, and coached them to figure out a method, maintain quality control, and keep the assembly line moving at a steady rate. The three older kids also got to practice their handwriting by making labels for each of the 176 sandwich bags, and they got to see how multiplication is the simplest way to count large quantities of items.

We talked about assembly lines and how they revolutionized manufacturing. The kids knew that Henry Ford was famous for making assembly lines very profitable (apparently they learned that from the musical Ragtime.) We chatted a bit about children’s work in times past.

“You know,” K observed, “E is the best person to bring us the bread and carry away the sandwiches. It’s easy work and it lets her keep moving.”

“That’s why throughout history little kids often did those kinds of jobs. It freed up older children and adults for the skilled tasks,” Mr. December responded. “If you had been born a couple of hundred years ago, you might have had jobs too.”

We decided to bike the sandwiches over to Ve’ahavta’s office, which is about five kilometres from our house. That was five kilometres, uphill, on a bakfiets (which weighs 100 pounds) carrying E and all of the sandwiches. Within fifteen minutes my legs were shaking, but — and this is one of my favourite things about biking for exercise — we had to get those sandwiches to their destination, so I persevered.

We biked to my parents’ house for a swim, and then found reasons to hang around a bit longer. I’d forgotten how nice it is to just be in their house with no particular agenda.

And now it’s long past the kids’s bedtime, and I must put E to bed. The sun is down, the leaves are rustling, and a few diehard birds are still chirping to each other. It’s peaceful. Everything is all right.

community · gardening · waxing philosophical

Day 62: Bees, I’m so sorry.

It was a beautiful day today. The sun was shining, the temperature was warm(ish), and when I woke up and went outside I was greeted by my garden: Sweet purple flowers, blue forget-me-nots and beautiful yellow blooms everywhere. It was gorgeous.

And I’ve gone and killed it. Now it’s flat, boring, mostly lifeless.

Some people would say I’m being pretty melodramatic about mowing the lawn. To them I say: I hate lawns.

I know right now some of you are shaking your heads and declaring me a heathen. Hear me out: a perfect, green, velvety lawn is a sign of affluence — which is the whole reason lawns were invented. They were a statement that the homeowner (lord of the estate, whatever) owned so much land that he could afford to plant one with a purely ornamental crop that has no practical or economic value whatsoever.

Still, I’d have labelled lawns as pretty innocuous if it weren’t for the fact that we’re seeing declining bee populations; no wonder, since there’s less and less for bees to eat. Know what bees and other pollinators love and rely on in the spring? Dandelions. Suddenly, monoculture lawns (as in, a lawn made up of only one specie of plant) look a lot worse from an environmental perspective… and that’s before we’ve even considered the air pollution, noise, and excessive amounts of water that are involved in maintaining that perfect green carpet.

I know it’s better for the earth and for the pollinators to leave the dandelions alone. I know it, and I still mowed my lawn.

The fact is that I have neighbours whom I like, and I’d like for them to like me. They’re the sort of people who will actually go outside and pluck the dandelions from their lawns one at a time (which to my mind is a colossal waste of time, but whatever.) When they look at my lawn, all they see are millions of dandelion seeds waiting to take flight right onto their lawns. They see me making their life more difficult… and they hate looking at my “ugly” lawn, sprinkled here and there (and everywhere) with flowers. So in the interest of being a good neighbour, I mowed them down (the flowers, not the neighbours.)

I feel like I need to apologize to the earth and the bees. I’m sorry — I tried my best and then caved to peer pressure. Maybe when it all grows back I’ll try something else, like a lawn sign. Ah, lawn signs — instant credibility.

41rbli

community · It's all about the Bordens · The COVID files

Day 49: Where does the money go?

I’ve heard some people say they’re spending much less money since the shutdown, since they’re not going anywhere or doing anything. I can see how that’s possible, but it’s not what’s happening over here.

Ever since school closed and Mr. December started working from home, it feels like we’re singlehandedly propping up the economy. It doesn’t help that I have my VISA card number memorized, right down to that 3-digit number on the back. It’s just so easy to hop online and order… everything. But what have I bought?

Since we’re talking about financials, I figured a chart might help: Where does the money go_

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time teaching my kids the difference between “want” and “need” — and I try my best not to buy things we don’t actually need — at least, not too often. But lately we’ve been trying to support more local businesses, which means that we’re buying things we normally wouldn’t: a dozen spelt flour chocolate hazelnut cookies, or sweet peppers at double the No Frills price, or ice cream “because we really want the ice cream shop to be there when this whole COVID thing is over!”

Anyhow, I wanted to figure out the answers to a few questions:

  1. How many of the things we’ve bought lately did we actually need?
  2. Was there anything we really needed that we didn’t (or couldn’t) buy?
  3. Are we buying things in the right quantities?

I think this chart captures the answers pretty well:

Quarantine purchases

Fine, so we didn’t really need those chicken-feet socks. And buying several kilograms of tapioca pearls for bubble tea might have been excessive. But I resisted buying tranquilizer darts, a bouncy castle, and an alpaca farm. I think that shows some restraint. Don’t you?

bikes planes and automobiles · community · The COVID files · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 48: May Day

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I thought this day would never come. It was always tantalizingly out of reach, giving us glimpses of warmth and sunshine. But it looks like it just might be… spring?

Lots of things are growing now: Daffodils and tulips; buds on our fruit trees; dandelions; Mr. December’s beard and mustache; My unibrow (Yup, I’m letting my inner Muppet out to play.)

I biked out to pick up our grocery order today, with E as my adorable sidekick. My knee was hurting but I didn’t really care — as far as I’m concerned, happiness is a bike ride. And maybe some baked goods every now and then.

Speaking of baked goods: A friend posted on Facebook that she wanted some raspberry canes to plant in her yard, and she offered baked goods in exchange. I didn’t need to be asked twice — now I can hardly see where she dug them up and I’m in possession of some beautiful-looking cinnamon buns (can we all say “dessert for breakfast”?)

I’m just going to put it out there: I have a couple of old boxwood trees and a whole ton of hydrangeas. Anybody who wants to come dig them out and take them away is welcome. I won’t even ask for baked goods; at this point I’d also be happy for a short in-person conversation with someone I don’t live with (but I wouldn’t say no to chocolate if you insisted. Just sayin’.)

I discovered something today: we have neighbours! There are actual people living in the other houses on our street! I mean, sure, okay, I knew theoretically those homes couldn’t all be vacant, but I think that was my brain’s assumption because we’ve never seen at least half of the families who occupy those houses. It’s a shame it took a pandemic for them to come out of their shells; if we had met before, our kids could actually have played together. Now the closest we can get is hollering from the bottom of their driveways, “Hey, nice to meet you! Give us a call if you survive COVID!”

But seriously, friends and neighbours, I’d like to see more of you guys. Especially if there are baked goods involved… just sayin’.

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community · crafty · Kids · parenting · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 20: Bad Hair Days

Those who know me in real life have probably heard about my haircut schedule. I get it cut really short, then style it differently as it grows. When I can’t get it to look good anymore, usually about five months later, I go and get it cut short again. It’s a cycle that works for me.

For the record, I last got my hair cut in July. It has just reached the point where it’s really beyond redemption. Sadly, hairdressers are non-essential so they’re all closed. No haircut for me until this whole COVID thing blows over — which means that every day is a Bad Hair Day.

With a sigh of relief that I couldn’t bear to part with my huge collection of headcoverings, I’ve taken to wearing headscarves  again. My kids like it. I’m not loving it (they keep slipping off my fine hair) but it’s better than the alternative right now.

Today I committed to getting a new curtain panel sewn and put up in our bedroom. I tweaked the design so that the curtain would extend all the way to the ceiling. Now when Mr. December asks whether we can achieve total blackout conditions, I can proudly say, “We’re closer than ever before!”

(Fun fact: Anyone who laughed at that last line is between the ages of thirty and forty-five.)

My singleminded focus, difficult as it was for my children to comprehend, paid off: the curtain is up, and it’s better than the first two prototypes.

But just so you know, a day of focusing on one job doesn’t look the way I thought it should. There were the inevitable tech support requests from children who had clicked their way out of the class; Challah dough needed to be made early because it tastes best when I let the dough rise for three hours or more; Repeated interruptions by a kid updating me every time he finished another page of math (so, every two minutes); frequent whining for more screen time (“Only after you spend 20 minutes outside”, I’d answer); and, of course, cleaning up the dining room table and floor because there’s no way my Makery is clean enough to do a project this big down there. You can rest assured that I snapped at the kids anytime they so much as breathed a hint of a request that they didn’t really need my help for.

I can confidently say that it took me three hours of work to get the curtain done. I could also truthfully say that it took me all day.

I’m looking into volunteering to make fabric surgical masks, since apparently there’s a need for them. Tonight at dinner I told the kids that we each needed to find something we could do for the good of the community right now.

“Like what?” Asked one kid.

“Well, I’m going to sew masks. You know how to use a sewing machine. You could do it too.”

“That doesn’t sound very interesting,” she commented, “I don’t want to do that.”

I also mentioned that a few hospitals are asking for scans of children’s artwork that they can print and give to patients who need to be cheered up. That idea got rejected too.

Mr. December and I were disappointed. “This is not about whether you’re interested in doing it,” I pointed out, “This is about having the ability to help and the willingness to do what needs to be done. You have to help people the way they want to be helped, not the way you want to help them.”

I think my lecture fell on deaf ears, as most parental lectures seem to do. My kids seem so entitled right now. Mr. December suggested that maybe it was time to impose some hardship, like refusing to go to the grocery store for fresh fruit and dairy for a few weeks and instead serving only the non-perishable stuff that we have in the basement (all of which is pretty healthy and pretty plain: rice, beans, oatmeal. Not fun food.) My determination to improve my kids’ attitude in this area was further cemented by a Zoom call with my parents: when I dropped off challah at their house this afternoon, I also picked up the souvenirs they bought for the kids during their cruise. The children loved the gifts, but one (I’m not naming names) kept asking for this other thing she saw that was not for her. She asked repeatedly, until I said, “Ask again and the answer will be No forever.”

I’ve always said that my job is to help my children use their unique talents for good and not for evil. Right now I feel like I’m failing at it. Maybe before this worldwide crisis is over the children will come to understand that they can and must contribute to the common good. I really hope they do.

But tonight, right now, I’d settle for them understanding how to contribute to the common good (read: silence) by GOING TO SLEEP!

community · education · Independence · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Social Distancing, day 4: Online Schooling and Drive-by Ice Cream

After the debacle that was yesterday, I woke up in a body that was on the verge of a fibro flare. In times past I would have gone back to bed, but we do what we have to do, and I got up and dressed. (Although come to think of it, I can’t remember whether or not I showered. This not-leaving-the-house-or-encountering-other-humans thing is causing all kinds of norms to slip, isn’t it?)

After my coffee (made by the fabulous Mr. December – thanks for having it ready every morning when I get up, honey!) we had a forced march family walk in the bracing air. All except for K. She had a meltdown about not being able to go out with her hair the way it was (tangled and unbrushed) and how nobody was helping her with it. Welcome to the teen years, ladies and gentlemen. Two years ago she would have had a tantrum for the opposite reason.

As five of us walked past restaurants with signs that said, “TAKEOUT ONLY” and bakeries with nobody in them, we talked about how important it is to support local businesses right now. We asked the kids to tell us which stores they thought we could still buy from while staying away from other people. Naturally, their first thought was for Baskin-Robbins (ice cream), so we made a plan to phone today and order something from them that we could pick up at the door. I think tomorrow we’ll call the French bakery for a couple of baguettes to have with soup for lunch, and when we run out of bread we’ll call the bagel company and make some kind of arrangement. Oh, and the small local grocery store that sells fruits and vegetables. Loblaws will survive this pandemic without our support. The local small businesses might not.

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On our way back we crossed over Allen Road and instead of bumper-to-bumper traffic, we saw a nearly empty expressway. It was oddly surreal.

We returned from our walk refreshed and energetic, and the kids got down to work on their respective assignments. E played phonics games on the computer; N worked on his diorama (after a brief mom-lesson about how to do papier-maché.) K shut herself up in the library to work on math. And R…

Today was the first day of online school for R. Unlike some other schools that are doing live Zoom conferences with the whole class, our school is using Google classroom as a way for teachers to post assignments and brief videos. I’d have thought that would be a better system for us because it’s on a more flexible schedule; truthfully it’s much, much harder because instead of messaging the teacher (who may or may not respond immediately) R would rather just yell “Eema? I need you!” and expect me to come running.

You know what subject my kids seriously need to work on? Resilience. Reasoning skills too. For the last three days I’ve been exasperated at how they can’t seem to figure things out for themselves. I keep delaying my response to them, even when I’m technically available, just to see if they manage to figure anything out on their own (so far the answer is no, not really. But that’s probably because they’re spending all that time yelling for me to come instead of thinking about the problem at hand.)

I know it’s just the first day, and it’s the first time the school has ever done this, so there’s a learning curve on both ends. It will get better. It had better get better — otherwise I might decide that we’re “unschoolers”. I can’t be constantly available for explanations and so on when there are three other kids who need things too. 

IMG_2611Remember how yesterday someone did a half-assed job of his kitchen duty? Well, no cleanup elves showed up last night: when I wasn’t running between kids who needed my help, I was cleaning up the kitchen. E even came in and offered to help – she scrubbed the little sink while I scrubbed the big one. Somehow the morning passed quickly and I put out the ingredients for PB&J sandwiches along with some raw veggies. Each kid came up to me and asked, “Will you make me a sandwich?” to which I answered, “No. I think you can do it yourself.”

They did. For twenty blissful minutes the kids made their lunch and ate it.

I’m having a hard time recalling what happened next. I know I printed out some worksheets for N and put them in a folder for him to work on independently. When I refused to extend her screen time, E went downstairs and busied herself with scissors, glue, and paper. I think K did some more math work. I’m positive R spent time throwing a tantrum because… well, I don’t know why. It started when I told her to go read the next two chapters in her book for novel study, but it feels like the tantrum was really about something much bigger. We’re all under stress here – and R is exquisitely sensitive to the moods of others. I snuggled her for a while, but after twenty-five minutes I had to leave her in her room to cry it out til she was done — other children needed me too.

When everyone was good and ready for another outdoor recess, I called Baskin-Robbins and explained that we were self-isolating, but we really wanted a polar pizza (it’s a cookie crust topped with ice cream and cookie chunks and yummmmm…). If we biked over, could she hand us a pizza at the door? Turns out that yes, she could. I handed over the money, she handed over the treat, and we had a lovely little conversation (standing 10 feet apart on the sidewalk) about how business has been affected by COVID.

Back at home, the kids couldn’t wait to eat their treat (honestly, neither could I.) Mr. December came upstairs from his office and we had a lovely little ice cream break around the table before going back to our own pursuits.

I had a moment after dinner when I could not handle people anymore. Mr. December and the kids were goofing around nearby when I raised my head and snarled, “I think you all should go somewhere else now,” and they backed off. Oh, well. I was patient all day, even during tantrums and yelling. I really just needed quiet and solitude.

So all in all, today was a good day. It could have been the sunny morning, or maybe the fact that I actually took my Ritalin. Or maybe my kids were particularly cooperative this morning?

…. Nah. Definitely the Ritalin. Say yes to drugs, kids!

community · waxing philosophical

Help

My kids like to ask for help. Their motto seems to be, “Ask early, ask often.”  And while I do try to help when I can (because I would want them to do the same for me), sometimes I ask them to wait. Do you know what usually happens next?

“Oh, nevermind! I did it myself.”

Let’s just say they often ask for help when they don’t really need it.

I’ve only realized lately that there are people on the entirely other end of the spectrum. In the past few months I’ve had conversations with a few friends who, despite some particularly challenging personal issues, flat-out refuse to ask for or accept help. “I just don’t feel comfortable asking for help,” one of them told me. I was flabbergasted.

Do I live in a bubble? Off the top of my head, over the past year I’ve given and accepted the following help:

  • A friend helped me organize our home library.
  • I helped a friend declutter his overwhelmingly overstuffed home office.
  • Other parents at my kids’ school have picked my kids up when I’m running late, and I’ve done the same for them.
  • I’ve taken in packages for our next-door neighbours so they don’t get stolen.
  • I’ve given kids rides home from my daughter’s dance class.
  • I’ve made challah for neighbours who were just having a crappy week.
  • I’ve offered the use of my laundry machines when a friend’s machines were broken.
  • I’ve borrowed and lent out tools.
  • An acquaintance asked me to connect her daughter’s friend with my husband, who works in the same field, for job hunting help.

And let’s not forget the biggie – when a concussion had me unable to drive for months, my parents and in-laws pitched in and made sure that my kids got everywhere they needed to go. And they babysit our kids regularly so that Mr. December and I can have date nights or time to work on the house without distractions.

I seem to be swimming in a sea of help: help requested, help offered, help received, help given. As Mr. December often says, most people are pathologically helpful. At least, in our experience they are.

So who are these people who aren’t comfortable with asking for help? Do they also not offer help? Do they believe that they have to do everything themselves? Or do they fear rejection and prefer not to even ask than to ask and be told “no”? Are they afraid of being a burden? I don’t know. I don’t get it at all.

I (jokingly) threatened one friend that I would be seriously offended if she needed help and didn’t ask me for it. She seemed to think the associated guilt might tip the scales in favour of asking me. I hope it does.

People, we can’t do this life alone. Humans never have. Humans have always had help, whether free or bartered or hired.  It really does take a village.

I’m curious – so please do comment below – what’s your experience? Do you live in a bubble of reciprocal helping, like I do? Or do you avoid being helped? And if you don’t like asking for help? Why not?