Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 977: Junior Chef

I think I might be getting a cold. While this is annoying, it has led to a whole lot of learning for E.

You see, I really don’t feel up to cooking, but apparently that doesn’t mean kids don’t still get hungry. When E announced that she wanted hash browns (the diced, frozen kind) but there were none in the freezer, I told her she could make her own from scratch.

What followed was a lesson on knife skills and the most efficient way to dice potatoes. Then I helped her with the oil, taught her how to turn on the stove, and instructed her on how to stir. It wasn’t long before she was happily munching. The potatoes must’ve been good, because she made more this morning—for herself and K.

This evening she wanted pasta. Before I could even moan in protest, she asked me how to make it… and then she did it by herself (first time ever!). Sure, I had to help her strain the pasta, because a heavy pot of boiling water is not something for small hands to carry across the kitchen, but otherwise she did it herself. She was glowing with pride as she announced, “I learned how to cook two things this weekend!”

7-year-old E dicing potatoes with a santoku knife.

And now that all four of my kids can cook real food, I can retire to my bedroom and hope that the sore throat and sniffles are just allergies.

family fun · Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 843: To Market, to Market

(No pigs, fat or otherwise, were harmed or bought in the writing of this title.)

It was a beautiful summer day today; all I wanted was to be out on the water.

“Just give it one more week,” Mr. December cajoled me, “just until next weekend.”

Instead of the beach, we went to a nearby farmers’ market. It was small and manageable for me, in terms of walking, and we needed to buy fruits and vegetables anyhow. The vendors were friendly, the produce was beautiful, and there was even live music.

“If I had my druthers,” I told Mr. December, “I’d want to always buy my fruits and vegetables this way instead of at the supermarket.”

Wrist deep in a plate of jerk chicken, he looked up and asked, “Why? Not for environmental reasons?”

(We’ve had this conversation before: apparently small farms are worse for the environment than large ones—I presume there’s economy of scale.)

Of course not for environmental reasons, nor for cost savings. Shopping at a market just feels more… human, I guess is the word for it. You get to chat with the people producing the food you eat, you have to choose from seasonal produce rather than an international assortment—and I appreciate this not because I think importing out-of-season fruits is bad, but because being aware of (and eating) seasonal produce can make us feel more connected to our natural surroundings.

(I also won’t deny that in the event of a zombie apocalypse or other worldwide disturbance, I think it’s a good idea to maintain some capacity for local food production—just in case.)

A small farmers’ market is also an ideal place for kids to gain some confidence. E saw a cupcake she wanted, and asked me to buy it for her. I was sitting and my knee was sore, so I sent her to find out how much it cost; I watched as she spoke to the vendor, then came back to me to ask for four dollars. It’s a small thing, but buying her own cupcake is a start towards independence. And the reward was (according to E) delicious.

Homeschool · Independence · Kids

Day 839: Free Play

We spent five hours in the park today. Wednesday is the weekly homeschoolers’ meetup, which we try not to miss when we’re in town. E and K spent five hours hanging out with their friends outside, doing what I think kids should be doing—playing games, talking to each other, riding bikes, climbing trees. The parents, meanwhile, sat and talked. Everyone was happy.

It was like I used to tell my kids: “You’re a kid, and your job is to play with other kids. I’m a parent, and my job is to talk to other parents.” That philosophy doesn’t always work out in the average Toronto playground; there’s a lot of helicopter parenting, which makes it hard for kids to play together without adult intervention. But these homeschoolers are clearly my people: only infants and toddlers get closely supervised. From preschool age on up, the kids organize their own games, run around together, and look out for each other. It’s a beautiful thing. I am so glad I found this group.

For the record, E has gone back to her screen-watching ways. Yesterday’s event was still a heartening reminder that she can and will get bored of it eventually. After five hours of active outdoor play, she can hardly be blamed for wanting to sit and do nothing. In fact, I think I might do the same thing, possibly with some strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

crafty · IKEA · Independence · Kids · quilty pleasures

Day 643: Another Quilter

E started making a quilt tonight.

She got inspired by the huge number of flanel prints I have in very small quantities. “Too small for a baby blanket,” I told her, indicating the pile of fabric, “but they’d make a great quilt.”

Before I knew it, E had chosen a few fabrics and was arranging them on my design wall. I talked her through sewing the blocks together, but she did all the sewing by herself, on the IKEA sewing machine I bought at least a decade ago.

Image description: a child with long hair is seated at a low table. She’s holding a strip of fabric squares and guiding it through a small sewing machine.

The quilt top is almost finished (ten more minutes of sewing will do it.) Tomorrow I’m going to teach her how to iron it; then it’s time to choose a backing and do some very simple quilting. She’s so excited. I am, too.

Image description: E, with two front teeth missing, holding up a quilt top in front of herself. She’s standing beside her sewing machine.
Costa Rica · family fun · Independence · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 589, part one: Otherworldly

Turrialba Volcano, Costa Rica

It looked like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Everything was covered in black ash; all the trees were dead and some were crumbling; the water was orange. Even eerier, it was completely silent—when my kids stopped talking for two seconds, that is.

We were all breathing heavily, which was unsurprising at 2500 metres above sea level. Our hike had started out on a stony dirt road, and then progressed to fields and slopes covered in springy grass; then we finally stepped into this otherworldly landscape. Just one utterance of the words “post-apocalyptic” from Mr. December, had the kids’ imaginations working overtime. Within minutes, we’d been hired as their photographers as they invented scenes and poses for a music video set after some great disaster.

They clambered over fallen trees, crawled into sheltered spaces in tree trunks, and crossed the orange water to get the footage they wanted. Of course, this extended the length of the hike, but as Mr. December put it, “You want them to connect and get excited about the place, but when they do, if you tell them it’s time to hurry back, you’re not letting them explore and enjoy—which was your goal in the first place.” So we waited patiently while they got “just one more shot.”

The hike was 4.2 kilometres in all—not a great distance by any means, but we were climbing uphill at high altitude, which made it much more tiring. Still, the kids were amazing. No complaints—just photo requests. And they listened to our guide and learned about how the path we were hiking was made by flowing lava, and the trees were killed by the acid rain that followed a major eruption. The eerie water was orange thanks to iron and copper from the volcano.

Everyone was in high spirits as we returned to the car (unlimited snacks, a bottle of Powerade, and more oxygenated air will do that.) On our way down the rutted, potholed, winding mountain road, we stopped to answer a question that E had asked numerous times: “What does it feel like to stand in a cloud?” As it turns out, it feels humid and cool.

A little while later, my ears popped repeatedly as we descended the mountain on our way to our next stop: Blanco Y Negro, an organic farm owned by two sisters with a passion for the land and for creating community… but that’s a story that deserves its own post. I’ll tell you all about it next time.

family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 572: She’s so High

We went to our homeschool meetup in the park this afternoon (K, who still feels ill, stayed home.) R was so reluctant to go that she extracted a promise from me to bring along a board game and play it with her; N took along his Pokémon cards; E was very excited to see her friends again.

I was actually kind of looking forward to playing a game with R, but as soon as we got to the park she ran off to see what the other kids were doing (hunting for crickets or grasshoppers, apparently.) She abandoned me! I had to actually sit down and talk to other adults.

(Kidding. My mantra, which you’ve probably heard before, is “You’re the kid, and your job is to play with other kids; I’m the mom, and my job is to talk with other parents.”)

As I conversed with a new member of the group, another parent came to me. “The girls really want you to see how far they’ve climbed,” she said, and led me over to a tall pine tree.

“Hi Eema!” I heard, and looked up into the branches. R was sitting in the tree, but where was E?

“I’m up here, Eema! And I want to climb higher!” E called down.

She clambered up to the top of the tree—effortlessly, it seemed—while I tried to figure out when I could politely excuse myself. Not because I wasn’t proud of her, or because I really needed to get back to my conversation, but because every fibre of my being wanted to yell, “Great! Now please come down!”

It’s a reaction that’s at odds with everything I believe in: I want my kids’ childhood to involve hanging out in the trees. Truly, very few things make me happier than seeing kids get muddy, dirty, and scratched up while enjoying nature and playing with dangerous things like pointy sticks; but when it comes to things that have the potential for real danger, like hiking near deep crevasses and climbing a cliff with no harness, I can’t watch. What I really want is for the kids to do the thing and then tell me all about it and show me pictures… after I know they’re okay.

I don’t need the anxiety, and they don’t need my fears to cloud their own judgment of their abilities. So I generally tell them how awesome what they’re doing is, and then politely remove myself from the immediate area… except when I stay and watch because “I might need to describe this to the ER doctors later.”

A long and winding road trip · community · education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · water you paddling? · Worldschooling

Day 550: Island Time

(Just to let you know, this post is only going to cover the first day of our visit. It was supposed to be the whole weekend, but apparently I have a lot to say. I’ll post the rest tomorrow.)

Our weekend was outstanding. We went kayaking, tubing, and snorkeling over shipwrecks; we explored an old fort and learned about nineteenth-century weaponry; we discovered an island that we barely knew existed; and we met some incredible people.

We first connected with J on the recommendation of one of Mr. December’s former co-workers who retired at age 33 to travel the world with his wife. When Mr. December told this guy that we want to travel with the kids, he gave us J’s email address and suggested we call her. We ended up having a half-hour Zoom call with her, talking about homeschooling, worldschooling, and travel. She invited us to come visit her on the island anytime before the end of the month. She followed up our call with an email that essentially said, “That invitation was sincere and enthusiastic. Hope you can come.”

We left home early on Saturday and drove three hours until we arrived in Kingston, Ontario. We texted J to say we’d arrived; she arranged to meet us at the public docks to ferry us across to the island. When we finally found the spot, there she was with her husband, T, smiling and waving.

The ride across to the island took about ten minutes, with the kids sitting on the floor of the small motorboat and the grownups crowded towards the front. Our kids enthusiastically—and loudly—filled any and all gaps in the conversation. For the first time that weekend—but not the last—I was thankful that J and T have been there and done that, parenting four kids. The energy and volume that our kids bring everywhere might have triggered some nostalgia for them, but never impatience.

My four kids sitting on the floor of the boat.

After lunch at a waterfront patio on the island, we took a walk through the village to retrieve J’s Instant Pot from a friend. Said friend warmly welcomed us and invited the kids to come in and meet their many pets. On the way back to J’s house we stopped for a while so R could climb a tree that grows next to the public library. A dog had escaped from its home across the street and came towards us with a stick in her mouth; I think it was the first time my kids had ever played fetch with a dog. We were officially on island time, where life moves at a walking pace and there’s plenty of time to climb the trees, smell the roses, and pet the animals.

T generously offered to drag the kids around the bay on a giant tube; in the end they must have been out there for over an hour. Apparently once tubing got old, T let the kids take turns driving the boat. They came back wet, tired, and happy. In the meantime, I took out a kayak—a proper one with foot pegs and knee bracing—and spent some time out on the water.

Me in a kayak, on the water. I’m looking right at the camera.

We met three of J and T’s kids over the weekend. Amazing human beings all, and the kids particularly gravitated towards their oldest daughter. She went tubing with them, and by dinnertime on Saturday they were all snuggled up to her watching funny TikTok videos.

My four kids snuggled up around H, J and T’s oldest kid. She’s holding an iPad and they’re all looking at it and smiling.

Dinner at their home was a fix-your-own tacos affair with two of J’s kids as well as her parents, who were pretty interesting folks in their own right. As the sun started to set, we got into the boat and T ferried us back to Kingston, with the most beautiful dusky sky and almost-full moon in the background.

Water with the boat’s wake in the foreground and a strip of land visible in the background. The land is dotted with white windmills. The sky is a gradient of sunset colours and there’s an almost-full moon rising.

We checked into our hotel, then went out to walk around downtown Kingston for a while. We enjoyed watching a busker—who juggled fire while walking across broken glass—in the square, introduced the kids to BeaverTails, and enjoyed our dessert in the colourful Muskoka chairs outside before going back to our hotel to sleep.

Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 516: No Pressure

Here’s something that baffles me: my kids are seemingly impervious to peer pressure. Oh, sure, you’d think that’s a good thing—we’ve all seen those after-school specials about drugs—but I’m here to tell you it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be.

Exhibit A: E still pronounces her “R”s like “W”s. All of my kids had this issue (I think it’s an effect of long-term thumb sucking) and did speech therapy to correct their pronunciation. This week, when she was refusing to do her speech therapy work, E was gently reminded that people will think she’s younger and less intelligent than she actually is. Her response? “So? It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, I know how old I am.” When asked how she thinks she’ll feel in a few years when every other kid her age is saying “rabbit” and she’s still saying “wabbit,” she said, “It doesn’t bother me. I don’t really care.”

Exhibit B: When I was buying cloth masks online, N fell in love with one that looked like a cat’s nose and mouth. It was pink. “Um, are you sure you want to take only pink masks to camp? You and I know that there’s no reason why boys shouldn’t wear pink, but do you think other kids might tease you because they think pink is girly?” He was unmoved: “I don’t care if they do. I like it and that’s the only style I’m gonna wear.”

(To be fair, the mask example might really be an example of the generation gap between me and my kids. In my day, a boy would totally get picked on for wearing pink. Maybe these days kids really are that enlightened and have grown up knowing that all colours are for everyone. If so, good on them.)

There are so many other examples that, as K pointed out, “I can’t even name them because they’re so common that I don’t even notice them.” She used to refuse to brush her hair despite the fact that every other kid in her class had neat braids or ponytails; Her grade six teacher proudly told us that K was the only kid in the gifted program who made friends with kids in the non-gifted classes (“There was like an unspoken rule that was enforced by the kids on the gifted side,” K tells me now. “I didn’t really care, though.”)

Some days I’m proud of them for being their own people; other days I wonder if they don’t perceive social cues the way I do. Is resistance to conformity a feature or a bug? I have been known to wish that they’d care more about what other people think, especially when it comes to grooming; it’s definitely easier to get compliance from a child who can be swayed by what other people think.

I’m gradually learning to accept that this is who my children are. Just like their critical thinking and their willingness to question the status quo, my kids’ immunity to social pressure will be a great asset to them as adults; too bad it makes them way harder to parent while they’re still growing up.

education · Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 504: Well, SOMEONE has to be quiet…

The thing about colds is that they have this progression: sore throat right at the back of the nose, then headache and nasal congestion, then chest congestion, and then today… the “I-can’t-say-more-than-three-words-at-once-or-I’ll-start-coughing” stage. It’s an awkward stage, if you’re a talker like me.

I was hoping that my quiet presence, all gracious nods and regal waving of hands, would inspire the kids to enjoy the quiet too. It didn’t. Instead they were inspired to fill the silence—that’s one of their superpowers, it seems, but they have others as well.

I once spent a few days reading a website by Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Idle Parent. The phrase that stuck out for me was: “The less you do for your kids, the more they do for you.”

Now, before anybody jumps on this as an endorsement of parental neglect, please remember whose blog this is: I’m the one who calls out, “Child labour force to the front door!” whenever there’s a delivery of groceries, so that the kids come and do all the lifting, carrying, and putting away. I believe in raising contributing members of society, and it has to start young.

My particular child labour force is quite adept at filling in the gaps when I’m unwell. Today R and K made the challah completely on their own; denser than mine, but everyone develops their own challah style with time. R also made peach crumble for dessert. And tonight, since I’m trying really hard not to give E the camp cold, N and R tucked her in with hugs and kisses in my stead.

And all of this was done with an absolute minimum of verbal direction from me. No, I wasn’t clapping my hands and cocking my head in the direction I wanted them to look; I just quietly stated what I couldn’t do, and they sorted out who would do it. Remind me of this when they start clawing at each other over screen time, yes?

crafty · family fun · Independence · Kids · The COVID files

Day 503: While I was Sleeping

Good news, everyone! COVID test came back negative… which is neither surprising nor news, I admit, but it’s still good.

I vaguely remember, in the before times, that getting a cold used to mean walking around with a box of tissues but otherwise going about one’s day. Perhaps it’s because my immune system has been allowed to atrophy during this period of relative isolation, but this cold has knocked me flat. I spent most of the day dozing on and off in the back porch hammock, but at four in the afternoon I finally got tired of being woken up by construction noises and retreated to my bed. Next time I opened my eyes, four hours had passed.

Happily, life went on in my absence. The chicken breasts got grilled, dinner got served, and the table was even (mostly) cleared by the time I came downstairs. R quickly agreed to put E to bed so I wouldn’t expose her to my germs unnecessarily.

Now that they’re back from camp, I’m starting to realize how much I missed my kids last month. I missed R’s excited energy and generous spirit; I missed N’s need for hugs; I definitely missed K’s ability to disappear into the basement and come up later with some extraordinary craft project.

Tonight, R asked me how much I paid for the T-shirts I bought her from the craft store.

“Five dollars,” I responded. “Why?”

“Because K is downstairs painting one of them,” she explained.

As it happens, K made a very plain t-shirt much prettier. I commissioned her to paint a white baseball cap for E to take to camp; I also let her in on the location of my secret stash of white t-shirts (normally reserved for tie-dye.)

The house is buzzing with activity again, even while I’m sleeping. I love it.